SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ Films on the Seat at the Back playlist right now: KIDS IN LOVE; JUNE; CURVE; WILD, BARELY LETHAL; GODDESS OF LOVE; THE VATICAN TAPES .. What a night in!

Monday, 13 April 2015

'DEXYS: NOWHERE IS HOME' // A live tour documentary reminds how the likes of Dexys Midnight Runners, Bow Wow Wow, Adam and the Ants and Frankie Goes To Hollywood traded in punk for chart domination - and corrupted the nation's youth in the process (including myself!)

Despite the 1980s having something of a bad reputation for its horrendous eye-melting fashions; fluffy floppy hairstyles and bouncy bouffant skirts (and that was just the men) it was also the decade that identified itself especially (though of course - every decade has done much the same) with 'outsiders'. Many of the bands and solo artists who grew up in late 70s ear-splitting punk cacophony adapted to the 80s desire for pop trash and smooth beats with a posher kind of punk - more preening and eminently dandy, if no less angry and volatile. Think Frankie Goes To Hollywood teaching the youth of day to 'relax' and not 'do it' - even 'when you wanna come'. It would make even the Sex Pistols blush . .

Of course, the punk heritage and rawness of early Frankie was taken and polished by an 80s Svengali - Trevor Horn of ZTT Records (who Holly Johnson later fell out with - putting the temporary brakes on a brilliant career). The same with Adam and the Ants. Having grown up in the hotbed of sex and slutty punk strutting, gigging alongside the Sex Pistols and The Damned; those yelped vocals and scuzzy guitars in the late 70s soon gave way to, well - more scuzzy guitar and yelped vocals.

But this time a difference; a boys own makeover and infusion of pin-up glamour that was never less than exciting, frenzied and powerful thanks to their own Svengali - Malcolm McLaren (with whom a love/ hate relationship developed for life - similar to that of Factory Records boss Tony Wilson and members of Joy Division/ New Order). McLaren snatched some of the original Ant members to team up with nubile newcomer Bow Wow Wow - fronted by 14 year old punkette Annabella Lwin - and shocking the nation, a bit, again.

It was still sort of punk when Adam refined the sound to move away from feedback and car trouble to tribal drum beats and (eventually) being dandy and handsome. But if both the Ants and Frankie Goes To Hollywood had adapted both look and sound to snare previously elusive commercial success and become kings of the centre spread in teen pop magazines up and down the country and across the world (but maybe especially in Smash Hits) - it was still, in perhaps the most anti-establishment body blow of all - music for sex people and ageing punk rockers (oh - and disenchanted teens and adventurous 10-12 year olds everywhere).

Never had such potentially divisive music united so many ragtag followers before; the dwindling (but by no means dead) punk movement had found a rebirth in a spunky, yodelling, well-heeled, punk-pop spin-off - and only some of the old guard still refused to play ball and instead blame the likes of Adam Ant and Holly Johnson for abandoning their punk roots and selling out and all that (but Holly, and perhaps especially Adam - who still relishes and performs his punk back catalogue today - never really did; they never really could).

The charts were in the firing line for the new breed of pop punk deliciously aiming their sex rays at bedroom walls across the nation (while the tamer, sweeter likes of Haircut 100 - who I had something of a brief fondness for, I must admit - and ABC, kept things calm at the back). The old guard were still corrupting the youth even while still (just about) in their own youth; and even when dressed up as a dandy highwayman - or an armour-suited glam knight in extremely shiny armour!

Of course - lots of 'cooler' music fans despised the Ants and all they stood for. I had a stand up row once with a friend at school over how The Jam 'made real music' and the Ants didn't. Guess whose side I was on? I didn't like to tell him that I liked both bands really. And anyway; the Ants were extra special - I even emptied out a tube of toothpaste once to get that famous 'white streak' across the face. It bloody stung too.

You know - all the new Ant fans all still went out and bought the original 70s classic punk album 'Dirk Wears White Sox' with its prevalent themes of S/M and a relentless obsession with penetration. Of course - far more exciting at that age (for an 'on the cuff' teenager) even alongside listening to songs about Deutscher Girls ('lovers of mine - from down on the Rhine') were the double-drummed songs about charming princes and being kings of the wild frontier from the new look Adam and the Ants.

Those new songs represented escape and freedom from teenage hormones and school drudgery. 'Dog Eat Dog' from the second Ants album  - 'Kings of the Wild Frontier' (1980) (but first to launch the warrior image that would become so iconic) defined, for me, youthful energy and lust for life. 'It's easy to, lay down and hide, where's the warrior without his pride?' - sang Adam, and I reckon he meant it.

But Adam was a crafty ant and in-between all those glammed-up, adrenalin-stuffed masterpieces of pouty pop that stormed the charts - were those other songs tucked away on the albums that you didn't let your parents listen to, with titles like: Killer in the Home, Mile High Club and S.E.X. Or later solo tracks like the smouldering Desperate But Not Serious ('your body drives me delirious'), Navel to Neck and the dirtily flirty - Strip! Then there were the odd cracked (whip) b-sides like Beat My Guest or Christian Dior that were clearly just perverted in every way possible.

All those hidden layers in Adam's music is probably a reason why, after years of wilderness wandering, the man that left the Ants back in the 80s has been able to bring about a stonking great revival (that began in London's 100 Club just a few years ago with a mostly early years, Dirk Wears White Sox punk set mixed up with a few tentative 80s classics - including a stripped down Stand and Deliver) that nobody thought was naff or redundant. I was loitering at the back and it was a thrill to see the older,  slightly snider punk come back at his best; slightly wired and unpredictable; he stormed out of the 100 Club's fire exit at the end of the set into the Soho night air, without a word to his entourage or any fans - who were all wondering where he'd been suddenly spirited away to. Had he even been there at all?

The revival was boosted, of course, by the fact that Adam also had a new album out to show for his sins ('Adam Ant is the Blueback Hussar in Marrying the Gunner's Daughter' - phew!) that was seriously, really quite desperately vibrant and fresh; still really kinky - still how an authentic punk pop snarl born of the 70s should sound today.

Even in his advancing years, Adam Ant still knows how to set the stage alight with sex and passion - ripping off his shirt mid-set at the 100 Club and snivelling with that same ambivalence to the establishment and any current chart acts who he thinks may have done him wrong. Because it's a friggin' fight in the riggin' out there you know - still!


It's good to have the guts to dare to wear what you like and cultivate a distinct image - pop stars in the 80s loved dressing up. Today, some of that foppishness looks pretty silly and modern pop doesn't yelp or holler as much as perhaps it did back then. Pop music today often has a wonderfully darker touch and edgier videos that can go from being be like a kinkier take on an old Bergman movie (Chloe Howl - 'Rumour') or the more twisted films of David Lynch and Nic Roeg (Sky Ferreira - 'Night Time, My Time'). But back in the 80s - everything went, and dressing up was de rigueur! 



Frankie Goes To Hollywood fans were especially lucky in the 80s - we were given music videos of world leaders slugging it out in a boxing ring (a step up from the band's earlier message of 'Relax', the release of the single Two Tribes meant Frankie now said - 'Fight!') or a dandy highwayman leaping through a stained glass window right on top of a dining table full of posh diners (Stand and Deliver) and even the one that featured Diana Dors waving a magic wand at a scruffy former punk rocker to turn him into a silver spandex-clad prince of the ball (Prince Charming).


Adam Ant's solo hits included 'Puss 'n Boots' - the video for which saw the crown prince of pop all dressed up and going to London with a white pussycat while being surrounded by giant media mice. The cat turns into a scantily clad woman and it all ends up - of course - with the cast of two making out in a haystack. Adam Ant never wore dandy clothing to be part of a scene (the New Romantics) but to play a role and become something other than just another pop star.

Emerging from the London punk scene and being a frequent visitor to Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's iconic SEX fetish clothing shop on the London Kings Road - where ridicule was probably something actually to be scared of - it was no surprise that Adam Ant's music found itself all dressed up in kinky clothing and driven on by - sex. Or even (a little later) - pirates!


But that's nothing compared to Soft Cell's video for Sex Dwarf (1982) that put into reality what it said on the tin (plus a chainsaw) and found itself banned by MTV and seized by the police in the early 80s for it's Sadean imagery. Admittedly, Sex Dwarf is probably positively prudish today compared to Gaspar Noé's astounding promo for Placebo's Protège-Moi in 2004 (baiting the mainstream with curiously distorted, sexually explicit content).


Pop promos can still cause a fuss today, even after decades of shock tactics. A video for Australian singer Sia's latest release 'Elastic Heart' earlier this year caused some controversy. It featured actor Shia LaBeouf tussling and sparring violently with 12-year-old (and deliberately made to act feral) Maddie Ziegler (of US TV show Dance Moms). They fight in what looks like a giant bird cage while clad in dirty and minimal flesh-coloured outfits in an exhausting but brilliantly choreographed routine that lets LaBeouf flex every muscle he has available. Critically-approved; it angered some with its (fairly restrained) violence, but still shockingly rough and raging content - and also its young star's traumatic-looking involvement. But, hey - take that quiet world!


Oh, ambivalence - is there any word greater? It doesn't mean you don't care; it just means you will never do what you are told, while - as all the cleverest outsiders are always aware - working within the establishment to the extent that you control it and use it; hate it. But never lose it. That connection to the mainstream that keeps the most active provocateurs alive.

The true thorns in the side to the music establishment from the 80s balanced their pop hits with eventual dismissal of the industry and the ability to go it alone, even with the support of the very people they loved to hate. You know what? This ability to make music for fans that never grew stale but moved on; and bit even harder, often didn't please critics or record industry suits. But true fans supped it up - didn't want the status quo.
Hell - even Status Quo didn't want the status quo and changed their image from 60s psychedelic folk trippers to ripped denim, right-angled (as far as their legs went) rockers in the 70s before toning down their rawk a little in the 80s for more mainstream and chart-boosting tracks like In The Army Now and Marguerita Time.

A new recruit to the Quo in the mid-80s was John 'Rhino' Edwards who had also been a prominent member of Too-Rye-Ay era Dexys. Recently, Quo have gone back to basics with an original members reunion tour as well as an acoustic live set (documented by a new album). There was even a comedy action film - 'Bula Quo!' to keep fans happy in 2013. You know what they say about not being able to keep old rockers down . . 
Still not keeping it down . .
Think Primal Scream and their legendary 2005 Glastonbury gig that ridiculed hippies and any apathetics in the crowd and was - for want of a better word - audience abuse. Guitar-fed, snarling disgust at those watching from lead singer Bobby Gillespie and co.

It's why Liam Gallagher spat at the BRITS whenever he went up to collect an award. Or why Mark Hollis, Talk Talk's frontman - fucked the corporate side of the industry with a couple of increasingly beautiful, but mesmerizingly inaccessible (if you are looking for 3 minute pop tricks) commerciality-punching albums (that made EMI spit expensive daggers) called 'Spirit of Eden' and 'Laughing Stock'. After years of mainstream adoration, Hollis retreated to the wilderness - perhaps fed up with the whole thing in the end.
Or why Portishead released the experimental, resolutely glum album Third (including the most hypnotically depressing track they've ever recorded - 'The Rip') after the pitch perfect melancholic trip hop of their previous albums livened up swanky wine bars across the nation. It was still Portishead, but not; angrier and more hunched - afraid of something more. It was an entire album's worth of complete head disintegration and slow-falling breakdown.

The Cure, a depressive enough 'goth' (kind of - well, at least sometimes, dear Charlotte!) band at the best of times, did it too - reaching a peak of disillusionment after years of deliberate anti-goth pop chart success (and to frontman Robert Smith they were always much more than black-clad doomsayers and shoe shufflers). They were boosted in their new misery by an encroaching fear upon Smith of getting old; even older than, well - he was the year before.

The result of Smith's glorious sulk - a return to downbeat introspection and to the cover of darkness. It's entirely appropriate they called one of their most celebrated and certainly most soaringly encroaching and melancholic of albums 'Disintegration' (although it's the equally defining, earlier pre-pop squawk of 'Pornography' that really blueprinted the gloom on deep black vinyl).
If anyone knows about gothic soundscapes and growled howling at the moon it's Cure contemporaries - The Sisters of Mercy. A rock band which, like The Cure, comes with a lead singer (and in this case the only constant human member of the band - Andrew Eldritch) deliberately refusing to give in to the media goth tag and deconstructing much of the band's earlier witchy, dark imagery (in Eldritch's case; for a peroxide blonde crop and ray-bans).

Eldritch refused - due to record label disputes of which nobody is entirely sure exactly what about anymore - to release any new albums after their first three (recorded between 1985-1990). Ever again. Not even since being freed from contractual obligations. Luckily, that early stuff was good enough to keep fresh when played live and is injected with new tracks today, even if those tracks are never officially released - including, the excellent: 'I Have Slept With All The Girls In Berlin'.

As a consequence of that record company rift - specifically with Warner subsidiary EastWest Records around 1994, Eldritch recorded a whole album of loops, beats and hushed shades of nothing to fulfil an album contract on the sly, that - strangely enough (or maybe not so strangely, considering the loyalty of fans) - developed something of cult fanbase; but which the record company kept unreleased. The contract-fulfilling new material was recorded under the name 'SSV', that stood for:


(or - 'Screw Shareholder Value - Not So Much A Band As Another Opportunity To Waste Money On Drugs And Ammunition Courtesy Of The Idiots At Time Warner', for short!)


We should also include - if talking about knifing your own brilliant career in the back and refusing to follow the expected power, corruption and lies route of record company expectation - the legendary Shaun Ryder and his raggedy indie trip dance, funk band Happy Mondays. The band spent much of their record company budget for a follow-up to the mesmerising, juicy gush of 1990 hit album 'Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches', it's been said - mostly on crack cocaine. This was in Barbados, where they were holed up in musician Eddy Grant's home recording studio and not actually writing any lyrics but doing just about everything else, mostly less legal.

Factory Records, waiting patiently back in Manchester - went bankrupt shortly after the band returned home with little to show for their suntans except some lyric-free tunes. The planned fourth album did get a release (and some lyrics) in 1992 as the very-difficult-to-love (and which, considering all previous era-defining material, should have been brilliant) - 'Yes Please!'.

Rather depressingly - 'Yes Please' was ok, but not great. This was especially cruel to fans as it would have been such a perfect ending to the whole fuss if the 'madder' album of the Mondays had turned  out to be their masterpiece - but it probably has improved with age, and has a certain aura around it now that borders on the sleepy genius at times. One day it'll probably shine even more. But all the same - it was kind of what we (the fans) expected the Happy Mondays to do to us; start a riot in a recording studio at the expense of a perfectly recorded tune. Their time in Barbados recording 'Yes Please!' still ripe for retelling in a standalone film version, one day, of their adventures. This was - in retrospect - serious shit. And brilliant.


I'm not saying I approve of what they did to Factory Records and the trust that the record company placed in them - I'm just saying that it was probably what we expected to happen. And maybe it backfired; poor reviews of the album led to the eventual deconstruction of the band (until later triumphant revivals) - but this behaviour defined anarchy and blueprints the outsider in rock. Even the kind with a dancing Moog and a pair of maracas behind it.
Some bands regurgitate albums like mother birds to hungry chicks, each one sounding much the same. Others do something quite different every time . .


SUEDE - a Brit art pop band that achieved (deserved) an over hype-fuelled dose of fame in the early 90s (and lasted the distance to the present day) with a blistering, dirty, alternative and artistically minded debut - simply titled 'Suede', as if a declaration of intent. An album that gave us a walloping great frenzied rash of singles: The Drowners, Animal Nitrate, Metal Mickey and So Young but never followed up that scorching early 'Brit Pop-tagged' (and 'Brit Pop - ugh!' is what lead singer Brett Anderson would think to reading this; or 'exorcise me - now' if you dared say it direct to his face) energy of their first album.

Oh yeah - Suede seemingly hated being part of that Brit Pop scene along with contemporaries (and sometime rivals) such as Pulp and Blur. And they hated this tag because they genuinely never were part of that scene and proved it by wallowing in Byronesque oblivion and scorched, stripped lyrics stuffed with unrelentingly depraved (and probably mostly illegal) desires and literary/ cinematic/ pop culture references for their outstanding second album (for me - perhaps one of the best albums ever recorded) - 'Dog Man Star'.

SUEDE's fanbase get passionate with singer Brett Anderson!

When guitarist and co-songwriter Bernard Butler quit the band after working on most of Dog Man Star, Suede followed all that melancholic meandering and delicate thrash glam with a far giddier pop thriller of an album called 'Coming Up'. This release took the band back into the  happier heights of renewed chart success (and a newly secure line-up featuring schoolboy  guitarist Richard Oakes!)  with radio-friendly singles including Trash, Filmstar and Lazy - and even more front cover magazine exposure on ever trendier fashion titles. Stubborn as ever; they only went and followed this rebirth with an almost spitefully (and inexcusably to a few critics) harsh, raw and scattier 4th album - the appropriately named 'Head Music'.



As often as Head Music was gorgeous, swooning and excitable, it was also occasionally clunking (certainly in the face of the mainstream) even if in a kind of genius and making weird sense sort of way - a bit like 'Yes Please!' from the Mondays perhaps. The clearly drug-infused Head Music, while challenging and often borderline psychopathic, was also - to many harder core fans and liquorice centred (no, not sure why 'liquorice' - but hey, this is Head Music territory we're in now!) critics see this album as the real Suede masterpiece; even topping Dog Man Star (which it could never do really). The point is - everything was different; every album made waves and effortlessly ruffled the right feathers.


Head Music was the biggest two-fingered salute to the mainstream possible (despite a number of radio-friendly, and beautiful hit singles including 'She's in Fashion' and 'Everything Will Flow' that were trawled out from the asbestos-coated paranoia and random munchies of songs that literally made the head shudder - including the different planet infectiousness, childlike stomps of Elephant Man and Savoir Faire). Among SUEDE's best work may well have been their most recent - the album Bloodsports (2013). Again, a bit more sensible now they're all older and drug-free; and brokenly romantic - but no less irritable and isolated and some way above many younger pretenders on that overcrowded ledge of tortured pop nobility.

Which reminds me . .

And then - there is Kevin bloody Rowland! Frontman and prickly genius of edgy, tainted pop soul band - Dexys Midnight Runners (or 'Dexys' as they are now known). A man who grew up in the punk arena before deciding that soul singing was his life blood (despite the spirit of those formative punk years still crackling on inside and threading the new melodies with a proper snarl and occasional snide remark). Rowland led his ever-changing band on to four (and counting) triumphant and obsessively individual albums: Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, Too-Rye-Ay, Don't Stand Me Down and the latest - One Day I'm Going to Soar.



Too-Rye-Ay is probably the most commercial; or most chart-friendly if you like - but it's no sell out. It's still a difficult beast full of choked-up and meandering vocals and triumphant, clattering, possessed sound - like an exorcism in a folk club. There is also, of course, the hit track Come on Eileen (perhaps these days ruined by hen nights everywhere) and Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile) - a song from which the yelping central melody was chanted out by fans at a recent acoustic Glastonbury gig as the band left the stage. It still didn't get played. though! 

Too-Rye-Ay was stuffed full of perfect pure soul; the agitated energy of northern soul - with a brittle heart of punk folk threaded through. Maybe not punk so obviously in terms of sound (though, like the more pop-friendly work of Adam's Ants, it never lost some of that pricklier infusion of melodic noise that the punk era gave us) but definitely punk in terms of raw passion and anti-establishment (and anti-music press) stance. Album opener The Celtic Soul Brothers remains the standout track for me and there was a time when I spent a few lost years studying religion (no - me neither!) in North Wales (in my youth - and for my sins) where I would melt the eardrums of equally lonely wandering souls with this track - played on very-loud-repeat as the wine flowed, and the nights grew cold. Alternating perfectly with Bowie's Space Oddity and Brian's Pet Sounds.


It was - I thought - a magnificent album; one that excited in the way Kings of the Wild Frontier had excited. Like Adam Ant, Kevin Rowland didn't just sing - he fucking sang it. Not only with sheer primal joy and giddy, youthful expectation - but with deep sadness; a battered old soul in a (reasonably) young man's body. Today he may sing with a still battered young soul in a slightly older man's body (though he remains remarkably unchanged over the years) but it's no less a thing of great beauty, what he does.

The first album from Dexys Midnight Runners was 1980's Searching for the Young Soul Rebels - a mix-up of tragic, vibrant, perfect soul pleas and stomps that included the UK chart-topping 'Geno', that also topped the US charts.
Shouts of insolence and rebellion or random (though perfectly choreographed by their frontman) banter between Kevin and band members defined the Dexys sound to this day and the pleading; one moment sour and dripping - the next chanting brass of Tell Me When My Light Turns Green is a track to relish and has the most inspirational/ totally screwed lyrics this side of a flipped coin, or a crumpled-up betting slip.

Geno had seen the band dressed in the 'mean street' chic of the New York docks and then, for a while, they morphed (thanks to a new group fitness routine demanded by Rowland) to resemble a bunch of hooded bare-knuckle boxers heading to the gym.

After the huge success of album #2 - 'Too-Rye-Ay', with the band dressed up as roaming travellers armed with fiddles came the band's perhaps more 'difficult' third album, and the last for a whopping 27 years. This time the band ditched the dungarees and bandanas (and became a four-piece at first - before losing another member to become just three) and took a shave; splashed on some preppy aftershave, grabbed some college books and came out with a highly stylised look that gave us a more precise and perfect, but emotionally draining and deeply personal, album - 'Don't Stand Me Down'. It was a new image that was as deliberately equally stylised as before, but somehow more resolutely anti-commercial (despite some accusing the band - wrongly - of looking like the very essence of commerciality and corporate identity) than ever before.

'Don't Stand Me Down' still featured the deliciously soaring strings of Too-Rye-Ay's new recruit - Helen O'Hara, on fiddle and violin, but some critics seemed a bit bemused by it all and reviews slated the introspective, personal and elongated journey into the centre of Kevin Rowland's heart and soul that accompanied the clean cut, sharp suited image. Moments of silence, chatter and long introduction - and elongated meanderings on love and life - make this one of the all-time greats of beautiful introspection; but it wasn't a commercial hit. It's an album that's hard to describe - you just have to listen and take from it what you need. But one of the highlights - still played live by the band - is the track 'This Is What She's Like'; a meandering, bursting into song, sprawling meditation on love featuring spoken banter and a kind of slow-dive rise towards some kind of lonely payoff and answer - to what? Maybe just life, the universe - and Kevin Rowland's everything.
Anyone expecting a 'Too-Rye-Ay 2' was well out of luck. Even I, must admit, felt a bit cheated as the previous album seemed like, well - perfection. Why change what works after just one outing? Now I see it all as Kevin Rowland's master plan - from Z to Q (or just anything other than A to B) and it all makes more sense. I never lost faith, I just wondered what the hell he was up to! Artists - real auteurs or provocateurs - like Kevin Rowland, David Bowie or Brian Wilson  always seem to know best (even if you should ever doubt them). Sometimes to regain creative control you have to kill the demon inside and break up the band - or deconstruct the blueprint. To really live - you sometimes have to die a little first. And Kevin Rowland's band jiggled members so often that you sometimes wondered if one day it would just be him left. For a while, it kind of was.


Dexys released a new album in 2012 - their first for 27 years - called 'One Day I'm Going to Soar'. It snatched back a renewed soul swagger and came armed with 1930s Parisian nightclub style branding. The new resident femme fatale, on album and on stage (for the documentary of the band's 2013 residency at the Duke of York's Theatre in London) comes in the towering form of Madeleine Hyland who adds charisma and caustically smouldering vocals to the new sound and style.

There's a new sensuality to the tracks as well (similar to that added by O'Hara's presence to Too-Rye-Ay - almost like an addition to a script as well as to a band) and a steel-eyed provocation of the Dexys frontman dominating on songs that chide and tease a clearly-in-turmoil Kevin Rowland. Hyland's red-lipstick is brighter on stage that any spotlight could ever compete with - clad in stockings and suspenders under a silk night gown. It's a delicious torturing of the male ego (of which Kevin Rowland has a generously sized one to have knocked back  down to size).

Had wayward Rowland really found love - at least on stage and on (brand new) record? Did he even want that love to happen? And what do his friends think - how will it all end? Listen to tracks from 'She Got a Wiggle' to 'I'm Always Going to Love You' and 'Incapable of Love' to find out!


The new Dexys album seems to be full of lyrics that linger on thoughts of why, when you suddenly have it all (love, success, popularity - the feeling of being desired) do you throw it all away - that stability? Even if maybe it's what you need  to do the most. Whether portrayed on stage or just by listening to the new album - One Day I'm Going To Soar/ Nowhere is Home is as much a reflection of the life and times of this band and especially of Kevin Rowland's own trials and torment as it is any fictional character being developed. It's why, on stage - the banter feels real. Ok - it's orchestrated and a performance for the crowd (like that of a movie at times) but it still feels real.
Kevin himself comments wistfully (in one of the many direct-to-camera interview spots threaded throughout the 'Nowhere Is Home' documentary alongside concert footage of a riveting performance consisting mainly of tracks from the new album) about the time a drunk man came up to him, said he recognised the singer from Dexys Midnight Runners - and then told him: You could have done it you know. And: "Yeah," - Kevin acknowledges on screen - "we could have."


'Nowhere is Home' director (alongside collaborator Paul Kelly) Kieran Evans, has worked on a number of other highly-regarded music documentaries, including 2003's look at London cultural life over 24 hours with pop dance band Saint Etienne - 'Finisterre' (also co-directed with Kelly). He's best known for the excellently scuzzy (and agonisingly romantic), sexually-charged movie - 'Kelly + Victor'.

The film captures the intensity of the Dexys gig like a voyeur - leaning in ever closer to the action, but keeping a safe distance. It's stark and simple in the way the camera lens grabs what's happening but always feel like it wants to show us more - increasingly exciting to watch and be a part of as we move in close and end up like we're crouching on the stage floor at times; right in front of the band. Footage of eclectic fans outside the venue or of members of Dexys in their dressing room (tilting their trilbies in front of a dressing room mirror or wandering around the almost harsh and unloved - but deliciously baroque in other places - theatre corridors) enliven the film's potentially repetitive structure. There is little focus on the past - to be fair, the present is always a better place to be in for a band not wanting to dwell on past glories, anyway.

A couple of classic hits at the end of the filmed gig include 'Tell Me When My Light Turns Green' and a joyous 'This is What She's Like' which do finish the film off with an extra flourish - but the new album has a vibrant, chatty and determined soul stomp and swoon that bewitches; it's equal to the more familiar tortured recordings of Rowland's wild youth.

The backing is sublime too - the percussion punctures the spine and a single trombone solo is almost like a cocky strut; like a backstreet lad showing off football skills to a bunch of cocky mates and preening girls in a local park. The trombonist here (who also appears in the interview sequences alongside Rowland) is original band member 'Big Jimmy' Paterson.

Also in the documentary, look out for former Dexys bass player (still recording his own well-received solo albums) - Pete Williams. Rowland brings him to the front of stage for the gig as joint vocalist and it adds extra force to the battered two-way banter we've seen in the past as he spars with Rowland on stage; like bickering mates doing it all again - down at the docks before a night on the town.


It's a true spectacle and as good as live gigs get. Rowland laments that he never really felt completely happy in the Midnight Runners (or rather, never felt content with all of his previous work) and has always had concerns that his voice might one day falter - despite making a lot, as he freely admits, of 'very good music' over the years! But with this new album (Rowland tells us, towards the end of Nowhere is Home) he feels like he has finally found a kind of contentment - that his singing is as good as it gets. Or as good as he wants it to be. This is one of the best frontmen in the music industry and one of the most legendary, finally making music that he feels happy with.

Could this be a changed, less confrontational Kevin Rowland? He does admit to being changed in that he feels different to the man he once was. This is what he's like - now, then. And it's reflected in a new urgency to the music and of a more relaxed (and - if I have interpreted this right) comfortable state of mind.


Of course, Kevin Rowland has always been an opponent of the expected and even of the polite; he's well known as one of the most prickly and stubborn of 80s pop stars and teenage bedroom wall pinups (and he'd probably really hate that tag - or was it his intention all along?). This is especially around that chart-whipping time when the release of 'Come On Eileen' was the track everyone would get up on the dance floor to jig along to - as soon as the opening strings kicked in.

And the 80s was an incredibly inspirational time for Rowland. A 9 minute performance of There, There, My Dear on Channel 4 music show The Tube in 1983 (originally a 3 minute single from the first album - Geno) is one of the greatest live TV performances ever recorded - totally reimagining the original version with slow-burning, passionate, almost overwhelming attitude from the Too-Rye-Ay team. The audience in the studio that day surely expected something quite good - but probably nothing quite like that!

What else has Rowland done to wind up the mainstream? He changes image and style so quickly (replacing horns with strings for Too-Rye-Ay didn't go down too well with the rest of the original band's brass section - who mostly all quit) and can refuse to release more commercial tracks (out of seeming spite for expectation - notably on the album Don't Stand Me Down) that other band members can seem to get fed up with as well and move on from (although - significant of the affection felt for Rowland and of the man's unique vision - past members can still be happy to return to the fold, a bit later on; after the dust has settled).

Memorably, Rowland also refused to be interviewed by the music press (and instead put out 'essays' updating fans on what the band are up to) and has held EMI to ransom over low royalties by having his band help kidnap the master tapes (to the album 'Searching for the Young Soul Rebels') - eventually getting his own way as a result. Reminisces include how Rowland would glare and spit at any musician not keeping time with how he wanted his song to sound - no deviation allowed.


Our Kevin also - and I think rightly - has little time for retro adoration and no time at all for fans who just want to be his mate (as we find out in Nowhere Is Home, from the plain-speaking mouth of the man himself). Which doesn't mean he doesn't respect his fans - but there's a distance here between performer and follower.

The NME is again ridiculed in the documentary by Rowland for focusing on the 'hippies' of the music industry (shades of Primal Scream's vicious assault on the Glasto crowd) and he tells us that he only ever wanted to be a soul singer - it was his calling in life. Starting out, Rowland cut his teeth on the late 70s punk rock era (The Killjoys) and even features by default in another documentary celebrating bands of that era - Punk in London (1977). After never fitting in at school and becoming the essential (to music stardom) archetypal outsider; he knew that the one thing he could do well - perhaps the only thing - was sing. So he did; initially mostly in class!



You know what - I'm never been all that into soul music, northern or otherwise (although I want to be - the energy, identity and intensity would be intoxicating if I allow it in). But Dexys are different. Rowland's voice is gruffled and sweet and soaring and dark rich - like a roasted coffee grind from a forbidden container whose owners have fought and charmed and lost their lives protecting; like nothing else.

Dexys has always been as much about punk rock and edgy pop to me as it has been a 'soul thing'. Although the definition of soul is clearly also the definition of Dexys. And much like the grime-hued torch songs of Marc Almond and the dirty northern soul covers of Almond's earlier synth pop band 'Soft Cell' - Dexys will always be beautiful, angry, agonised soul music at heart. But it's dirty stuff, sometimes trashy - definitely a bit more dangerous and unpredictable than the rest.

What else do we learn about Kevin from 'Nowhere is Home'?

What are the clear undisputed facts; straight from the mouth of Kevin Rowland himself, that need no interpretation and speak loud enough on their own terms - and that are critic proof as a result?


Well . . .

We learn that Rowland doesn't string himself up on social media and he avoids the likes of Facebook and Twitter. Also - that he has always been a follower of fashion and enjoys the dressing up part of the music industry. He can't understand those who don't want to do the same and always wanted Dexys to stand apart from all the others and take on a unique look and a stylised image - as a vital addition to the music they were performing and recording. He also tells us that he limits audience interaction and will never shout out: 'Hello London' and all that stuff, at the crowd - the chatty bit is up there on stage, as part of the performance with his band. Not towards us!

However - audience interaction in the film shows Rowland shouting 'You want to be me!' at the fans, almost like a mantra. It probably results from years where he was ridiculed at school (and sometimes on stage) for daring to be different - to be an outsider. Now, of course - he has all this. He has fame, and of course the respect. But I'm not sure we do all want to be like him - being Kevin Rowland isn't the most settled place to find yourself in, I'd imagine, at times.


And the performance on stage is draining and real. Rowland speaks of not being able to talk after a show and having to sit down and recover - by himself; away from everyone else. You never know how the gig will go each night and every performance feels different. We learn that on some nights he actually does want to go and punch his fellow band members acting out their roles within the band and on stage - or at least feels tempted to (perhaps - it looks like on stage during one such confrontation - when they argue or mock him about a girl he loves and how he feels about her, or try and steal her away). But it's not about a girl, is it? It's about taking away this life; a life that gives him a reason and a place to exist within - to be liked, and like what he does (sometimes at least). Kevin Rowland - I've decided - wants to be loved even more than you (or even he, perhaps) realises.

A place called home - on a stage; singing and performing. Knowing that it works. And for once - I reckon the success of this recent Dexys revival had been more of a surprise than the man behind it would ever like to admit. Even without having to sing 'Come On Eileen' again - not even one more time for luck.


I remember, back in the late 90s, Kevin Rowland released a selection of reinterpreted classics on a solo album and - in the ultimate fingers up to expectation after years of macho posturing in rags and docker gear or (clearly teasing) blazer wearing, the singer was mocked for dressing up in babydoll nighties, stockings and suspenders; was even booed (ok - bottled and booed) at his solo Glastonbury spot for daring to wear a white dress, matching pants and thigh highs (admittedly - something of a shock!). The irony and deliberate provocation though, was clearly lost on many.

Still, despite the jeering back then of Rowland's least expected new look and the deliberate suffocation of gender stereotypes (and come on - Bowie did it all the time; as did Brett Anderson of Suede) I remained Rowland's biggest fan and respected that individuality and prickliness (and not, as some might say - the being a prick-ness) - and then it happened.

It happened . . 

losing and boozing but I don't know what for excuse me please, you're standing in my space in heaven when you smile sounded sad upon the radio moved a million hearts in mono you know the newly wealthy peasants searching for the young soul rebels, and I cant find them anywhere

 . .
I was walking up Regent Street in London on a grey afternoon, when no tourists were bothering to tread the pavements. It was quiet. Just one man walking towards me. It was only Kevin bloody Rowland! His eyes were steely - his gaze pitched purposely ahead - and I did the same. We just walked on by. But his eyes flashed momentarily at mine. He knew that I knew. But what? Maybe - like that other drunken soul had once stated to him - that I was on the point of saying: 'Weren't you in Dexys once?'. Or: 'You could have done it, you know'.



You see, I want to imagine Rowland probably knew that this quiet, but probably quite obvious fanboy walking past him had, just the week before, gone to his local record shop and bought a copy of the new disc -

(even though it had the man himself on the front cover; topless and wearing only black stockings, pants and a cute suspender belt; and oh for the love of HMV the assistant actually said to me: "Didn't he do Come On Eileen'?).

and that he knew I was looking; or trying my best not to stare. To act cool. I think a half smile was exchanged even - but I may have started it. And we never spoke. You know - I wouldn't have wanted it to be any different. I'm just a fan. A true fan, but - I don't want to be friends with Kevin Rowland.

* The ending of this review is a 'choose your own' from the following two options: *

I think I mainly just fancied the girl in the Come On Eileen video, anyway . . .

Or -

(But why oh why didn't I say how much I cared . . ?)



words: mark gordon palmer

Come on Eileen!

was brought to you by ~ HEAVENLY FILMS
And is available to buy on DVD.

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