From the Jamming! Magazine Archives: Kevin Rowland, 1982, Part 1
Read the Foreword to this interview here
-Pedro Romhanyi/Tony Fletcher: Are recent events [the success of ‘Come On Eileen’] ‘Plan B’ working ?
Kevin Rowland: Obviously, yeah. It was an actual plan that had to be modified along the way. I’d resigned myself to the fact that if ‘Eileen’ wasn’t a hit then I was in trouble, so it wasn’t quite as cool as that. It was getting a bit desperate.
-Do you think the LP’s caught between last year’s sound (brass) and this year’s (strings)?
No, I don’t. That’s one thing I want to stress. It’s been called folk music because it was folk or Celtic, but it isn’t really – it’s a mixture of the two things and where it works best is when we mix it, like ‘Precious’. Every track apart from ‘I’ll Show You’ has got brass and strings, and ‘Celtics’ has only got strings. I think the way they mix together is great. It even surprised me. I was really worried, thinking half the LP’s going to be the new Dexys, half is going to be the old – maybe we should have side one for the old and the other for the new. But I thought “Oh God, that’d be terrible.” I just tried to put them together and it surprised me how well it worked – it really did.
-Both LPs also had little end messages too.
The first one was “Everything I do will be funky from now on” – which I really meant at the time, whereas this one just felt right for the mood.
-Do you see a value in doing interviews now?
To promote my records.
-Because a lot of people say, “It’s all right Kevin having this hardline attitude, but when his records weren’t selling, he went out and did them.”
They’re probably right. I can see a point in discussing things, but I got to say I’m still very wary of discussing things with the press. I definitely hold a lot back from them. Just because I’m doing interviews doesn’t mean I’m going to tell my secrets to someone who just comes along and says he likes my record.
-Is your attitude to interviews all or nothing?
I must admit you’re looking at it from an outside point of view which I possibly haven’t got. Honestly, the reason I did it was to promote the records. I suppose I must have thought of that, but I just thought: “Fucking hell, it’s two years since I’ve done an interview, I’ve made the fucking point now. And also I thought we were suffering from it. Not so much the press, but more the radio stations. The media is definitely important and the radio stations were getting, like, “Oh, those fucking Dexys – they’re a funny lot. They don’t do interviews. We won’t play their record, we’ll play Soft Cell’s,” and we were getting a bad name all ‘round. The woman in Phonogram’s TV department was genuinely shocked when I came up to her three months ago, saying, “Maybe you should try and get us these TV programmes.” She thought we were totally anti-publicity and we didn’t want to do anything. I don’t know what the fuck people thought about us.
-Your lyrics are often difficult to apply to people.
But they mean something to me. They’ve always got to mean something to me. I have to trust my own instincts. If I start writing music for the listener I’ll end up sounding like The Jam or someone. All my music’s intimate.
-Yeah, but isn’t there a difference between writing lyrics for yourself that can at the same time apply to the listener, and the personal detail of a line like “I’m on the train from Harrow to Euston”?
Well, where do you live?
-Surbiton. (That would be Pedro.)
Then maybe you could change the words a little. When I write lyrics, I don’t think, “I’ll put that line in because it sounds good.” They all come out as ideas and I just put them together, and often I think, “That’s a bit too near the mark, or embarrassing,” but fuck it – it came out, I’ll put it in. I put in everything – I don’t spare myself any details. Embarrassing little things deserve to go in, because I really am dedicated to the cause of putting them down. But just to go back to what you were saying about answering interviews – yeah, I’ll tell anybody any details like that. What I don’t like are the sort of deep and meaningful questions, like the NME did. You know, “What does this mean to you? What do you get?” I was stupid enough to try and answer those questions.
-This all-out attack now – is it because you’ve made your point about interviews?
I do think I’ve changed a bit since then. Yeah, we made our point. Two years is a long time as well. My attitude has changed towards interviews. I definitely don’t trust them. I still feel at this very minute that I’ve put far too much work, time and sweat to then take it to someone and say – “Here, what do you think of this? You review my record. Sit down for an hour and listen to it. I’ve spent two years on it, and then you write at your whim what you think of it.”
-How much do you think you should reveal in an interview? Would I be prying if I asked about your background?
Not really. I would tend to be honest about factual details – things that most people find embarrassing.
-So did you always want to be in a group?
No. The kids I used to knock about with, we used to take the piss out of people in groups, who were student types.
-What were The Killjoys [Rowland’s first band, from the punk heyday of 1977] like?
-Is that what you thought at the time or what you think of them now?
No, they weren’t fucking useless – they had a couple of good ideas. They were, like, in a stream and they couldn’t see their way out.
-How much were you their leader?
Again, totally – that’s why they left.
-People say, “I saw The Killjoys and they were terrible.” Was it a case of learning from mistakes?
Yeah, what more can I say? I don’t try and defend it and say, “Oh, it was really all right,” because I know it was no good. But definitely it taught me an awful lot, like how to get on stage. I never probably would have got on stage if it wasn’t for The Killjoys.
-Was that coming through punk? Did punk hit you?
Yeah, but I must admit I was already in a group just before. It was like an awful similarity with punk. Ideas were coming at the same time as punk and I started to read about it and notice the clothes we were wearing were exactly the same. And then with a group called Lucy and the Lovers we did what we used to think was “art rock,” and then merged into a punk band.
The Killjoys went through as many changes as Dexys did, but only in about a third of the time. It was change every month and during the month of the most intense punk euphoria we recorded a single called ‘Johnny Won’t Get To Heaven’. That was a real punky single in May ‘77, and a month after that I hated punk. I fucking hated it. I used to go around hating punks. I just thought it was a load of shit and it made me angry that I’d been conned.
-Who do you think conned you?
Well, I don’t know about con. I don’t think anybody conned me. I must admit, though, I thought: “I can relate to this.” I went to see the groups and thought: “Fucking hell, it may not be that good but – oh, it’s great.” You know, I kind of convinced myself that I liked it, when I didn’t really. Made allowances for it. I was really glad when I saw groups like The Clash. I saw them at Barbarella’s and there was this heavy rock group, and the audience pulled them offstage. I thought that was quite good, dead exciting – a new thing – like loads of people did, and then I thought to myself for a couple of short months, “Oh, we can be part of this movement and do something within it” – and then I realised that we couldn’t, but it was too late and we’d already recorded our record. So after that we changed and went the opposite to punk. We used to dress up really smart and have blow-dried hair and white shirts. Not like power pop, but we used to have P.J. Proby shirts and jodphurs and boxing boots. We used to do Lionel Blair dance routines. Instead of doing fast songs we did slow songs, but we still kept the name The Killjoys and that’s why the audience hated us. There’d be punks at the front because they’d heard the single and the name The Killjoys – and then we’d come on and do Bobby Darin’s ‘Dream Lover’, or ‘50s rock and roll and country & western.
-So when did you actually sit down and say, “I’ve learnt from that and got this ambition, this plan, that’s called Dexys”?
January ‘78 I got the idea, but I was still going in The Killjoys ‘till June ‘78 and I would still be probably going now, only they left.
-What was the earliest incarnation of Dexys? Didn’t you used to wear jeanie suits, with hair down in front of the eyes, really glam?
Yeah, that was quite interesting really. It was a bit like Roxy Music. It was early Dexys music, some soul covers…
-Did you think then that the image suited the music?
A lot of people said it didn’t, but I thought it was all right.
-So you had this plan. How did you convince the others of this great idea? Did they latch onto it or think it was impossible?
No, I had to rope them in, sit them down for about two hours, you know, and they used to keep leaving. There were loads of people in the group before them. We had about 10 keyboard players and 20 drummers. They just kept leaving every week.
-So you created the myth to be found on the inside sleeve of Young Soul Rebels, this gang of desperate men rallying together…
It’s more interesting if you put it like that. Nobody wants to know if 20 keyboard players left.
-Is it true, then, that you met Helen – part of the Emerald Express – at a bus-stop?
Umm… yes it is. I have met her at a bus-stop. (laughs)
-But when you first saw her?
No, I definitely met her at a bus-stop. Yeah, I saw her there. It wasn’t exactly as I said, but near enough.
-A feature of Dexys throughout has been your use of image. Some people think images are pretentious, invalid – others say it’s a device there to be used.
I’ve always liked the idea of image, ever since my earliest memories. I think it’s a good way of getting things across.
-But do you think people don’t understand your image changes? They’ll say, “Who’s he trying to kid? – Calls himself Carlo Rowland when ‘Dance Stance’ comes out, and now I suppose he’s Kevin O’Rowland!” Isn’t it just a device?
It isn’t that black and white. A lot of it’s instinct. You don’t want to wear the same clothes every day, so there’s a human instinct there as well. It’s not totally “Oh, I’ll wear that this year, and this that year.” But I do believe in it as a way of putting things over, definitely. I think it’s a waste of time just to go onstage dressed-up – that means nothing, fuck all, but I think this does. I think it reflects the music; the music reflects the image. It should all tie in and it’s a complete thing – the record, the pictures.
Part 2 to follow.