From the Jamming! Magazine Archives: Kevin Rowland, 1982, Part 2
-Do you think you’re succeeding if your music comforts people – maybe makes them happy or sad? In short, moves them.
Yeah, I think so. That’s what it does to me as well. Again, though, I don’t sit down and think, “This is going to fucking move them.” It’s just a natural thing, you don’t think about it. It’s great that it does move people and get that response. As for other groups [he had just registered his distaste for The Jam], I just think it’s shit – really shit. Why should I have to like groups? People say to me, “Oh, you don’t want to know. You’re stuck-up.” Why should I want to go ‘round with them people? I’ve got my own friends that I respect much more. They’ve got nothing to do with groups and I find them much more interesting – much more intelligent, without a doubt. But because I’m in a group, I’m expected to go ‘round with other groups and be friendly to them when I see them and say nice things about them. I’ve got nothing in common with them, I can’t think of anything nice to say. I believe in groups of people – individuals coming together to do something – and I also really strongly believe in the individual. But groups, musicians – it’s just a waste of time.
-When Dexys got to No. 1 with only their second single, it seemed to a lot of people that you were just another group – the type you despise – and we weren’t really aware you were trying to do something different until last year when you decided to get away from that: the Old Vic shows, not doing interviews or playing games, getting a following together who were really aware that you were different.
Yeah, the idea of last year was to have, and work to, a small audience and do as much as we could within that sort of framework, because I was just fed up. Like, the first tour we did in 1980 was a joke. It was so frustrating – the most frustrating time in my life – and I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I was quite relieved when it all started tumbling down. It gave me the chance to do what I wanted. There’s quite a few people like you; turncoats, we’ll call them.
-Do you think there’s a danger that you’ll lose the audience who’ll want to keep things small rather than the ‘in’ thing?
It’s obviously a danger, but it’s not good enough for me really, because I think it becomes a bit safe.
-It seems now that Kevin Rowland is a pleasant person.
I think you’ve got to blame yourself for believing the “Mean Streets” image a bit much, or reading too much into the iron bar incident. My manner I don’t think is that much different than it was two years ago. Obviously, I’ve changed to a certain extent. What can I say about it? I can’t answer that question for you, because what you said isn’t a question.
-You said the first tour was a joke. Why?
We were going to do a tour, but I didn’t realise there were 40 dates or whatever. I said I wanted to play in theatres and unusual venues like St. John’s Ambulance or bingo halls – and they told us that was what they were going to do, but they booked horrible places that weren’t right for us.
-On that tour, I’ve heard stories of you really attacking the audience.
Yeah. I used to drive them away.
-Did you want, say, 50 people out of an audience of 500, so you drove off the rest?
Something like that. I actually went on radio and said “90% of our audience should go away”, which caused an awful lot of trouble for the record. But of course that got turned around – the way I meant that was not really the way it came across. At Christmas on “Rock On” or something they had me saying it again, with the bloke going “Ha! ha! – 90% of his group have left now, as well as the audience.”
-Do you think you were too harsh, or the audience too unreceptive?
At the time I was in a very confused state. We were on this long tour I didn’t like, had a manager who was a total arsehole, and I was doing everything – running the show as well. I had a group who were just fucking sitting there stoned. I was saying, “Look – he’s nicking all our money, we’re playing in shitholes, getting nowhere,” and they just went, “Aah man, it’s all right…” And then on top of that we had problems with the record company. We’d nicked the fucking tapes, so I was negotiating with them in London and then playing Bristol or somewhere every night. I had all these problems. A manager who was just trying to nick as much money as he could and I hated him. He was fucking thick. I carried him from the word go and hoped that he would improve. I was trying to get him a part, but he was a complete fucking idiot. Didn’t know what he was doing, going ‘round drunk all the time, stoned, and telling everybody how he did this and that, and “Drinks for all my friends at the bar!” So I had all these problems, on top of which I had to go out on stage every night. Almost fucking impossible. I mean, I could have just gone through all that, “Oh yeah, clap your hands”, but I didn’t want to do that, and anyway I didn’t like what I saw. They were all there, sieg-heiling. The new Madness audience. No disrespect, but people like the Jam audience. I really never wanted that fucking audience. Never wanted them, so I wouldn’t play to them. I’d challenge them. We’ve got a different audience now – the audience we want. They are prepared to try something. They’re much more mature – dare I say it, clever. I never wanted the fucking rock people that come down the front everywhere and go mad. The kind of people that shout. Never ever wanted them. I was always interested in the person who stays at home, doesn’t come out to see shows. Much more interesting. They wouldn’t come to the front and start shouting and grabbing you. They’re not that kind of people. They’d stand at the back, or if they came in the dressing-room and said hello… well, they wouldn’t really come to the dressing-room… they would never come up and start talking to you. They’d stand at the back and maybe not say one word to you, but they’re the people you want to talk to, which is so frustrating, because 20 might be talking to you and one at the back will say one word and you’ll know they’re the interesting people you’d like to talk to – but you can’t, because there’s someone at the front who’s got much more confidence but nowhere near as much to say.
-What about this other plan you had for Dexys, where first year you’d get to No.1, second year make a film, third year form this political party. Why didn’t you? Chickened out?
No, it wasn’t that at all. I definitely had ideas then for the group. When I wanted to do that I thought that I was totally right and I’d explain it to the group, but they thought I was fucking mad. I thought, “Why are they saying that? I know this is a good thing.” I think the six of them leaving gave me a good kick up the arse, made me realise a bit. I was still thinking of doing the film before ‘Plan B’ days. We still might do it now, but I’ll do it on my own and not burden Dexys Midnight Runners with it. The Parliament one, I can’t comment on that… Well, I must admit I didn’t really know much about what I was going to do about the party. I had thought about it but I hadn’t got a proper manifesto for it. If I had, I’d tell you about it.
-Do you take an interest in politics, or still think personal politics is much more important?
Yeah, I’ve an interest in politics, but the personal politics – that was a part of a thing I was going through with ‘Keep It Part Two’. If that line (‘I’m fed up with anti-… all I’m interested in is personal politics’) hadn’t been on the poster, it would have been in the song.
-That early “Mean Streets” thing – was there any Northern Soul influence in it at all?
-Not with the kit bags, the late night slant, the dexies…?
I always hated Northern Soul.
-What about your cover version of ‘Seven Days Too Long’?
Yeah, there’s always an exception to the rule. That was the exception. It’s only a fucking idiot or a liar or a stupid twat would think we were a Northern Soul group, because we were nothing like them. All right, we had the kit bags, but we had woolly hats – they never wore woolly hats. Or donkey jackets or fucking leather jackets or little ‘taches. They used to wear trousers up to their chests, with waistbands with 26 buttons – really wide flares, with pockets on the sides. I know you’re not the only one that’s said it, but I think they’re all wrong. I just couldn’t believe it: someone said we’re Northern Soul merged a little bit with coal-miners. It’s really simple and clear-cut – how the fuck can they get it so ridiculously wrong? I’ve always hated Northern Soul. I don’t know what it is about it. I used to watch them in 1974 when I used to go to clubs – stand there and watch them, and I used to get really angry. All it is up there is a little load of kids dancing to records 15 years old, some of which are demos – not good enough to get released in the first place – and they’re paying extra money for them. I never really understood them.
-Why did ‘Dance Stance’ appear as ‘Burn It Down’ on Young Soul Rebels?
What it was – Bernie Rhodes, our manager at the time, told me the record was coming out at Christmas and people don’t want to hear about ‘Burn It Down,’ they want to hear about nice things. So I changed it to ‘Dance Stance.’ Then the record was mixed in that horrible manner. It sounded so terrible, and I realised then that I should never have fucking compromised and that was the last time I did. I thought if ever we got the chance to re-record it, we’d call it ‘Burn It Down’, which is why we did it again on the LP.
-When you’re talking about influences, you’ve always taken really unfashionable things and made them fashionable. Like soul, when you came along with Young Soul Rebels, was not a fashionable thing, but suddenly it was. And I knew nothing of Van Morrison until now. Is it that similar?
Is it, fuck! It’s nothing like him. He sings totally different to me with an American blues accent. He has used strings and he has used brass but he used it in a totally different way to us – really in the traditional sense with a classical string section, like fucking ABC.
-Because I’d be a bit upset if you were.
I know. That makes me sick, ‘cause I never had to say I liked Van Morrison. Never had to. I thought it would be interesting. I think influences are quite important, you know – where you come from. And if there was a group I was interested in, I would want to know. But you tell someone that and they just use it as ammunition against you the first chance they get. Danny Baker – when he reviewed our single in the NME, that fucking idiot, he said: “Look at the gypsy cover – looks like we’ve been studying Van Morrison chic a bit too studiously.” It just shows, these people must be fucking thick, really fucking thick. So the Van Morrison connection ends here and now. I respect Van Morrison because he’s the only artist that I know of that has done exactly what he wants over the last 20 years, without any consideration for commercial success. However, I don’t want to end up like him. I think I’m better than he is, anyway, but I respect him and I wouldn’t dream of ripping him off. Plagiarism, I fucking hate. One of those things I really detest. That’s one good reason I hate musicians, because they’ve got no ideas, they just steal from each other. All I’ve had from him is inspiration, like I’ve had from loads of other people. Not to make too fine a point of it, his last LP sold 12,000 copies, so I thought if we said we liked Van Morrison, then maybe other people would buy his records and he’d do quite well, because I thought it was a great record that only sold 12,000 – I couldn’t believe it.
-Early on with Dexys, you did some strange gigs? Firstly, how did they take to you at the schools you performed at?
Not that well, until we played ‘Geno’.
-And the Newcastle Working Men’s Club?
I thought it would have been a great experiment, but it wasn’t. It was like a rock gig, exactly like a rock concert. I’d forgotten what they were like, and then I remembered exactly what they were like. Two or three hundred people at the front of the stage, all pushed up, dancing away. The rest sitting at the back or standing around, looking interested and drinking and maybe dancing.
-After the split, it seemed that you were a lot more committed than the others who went off to form The Bureau.
Well, they were adopting my attitude to start with. I’m not kidding you, but we used to discuss what we’d say in interviews. We’d sit down and say “You say that bit, and when he…” There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s how we used to operate.
-The production on the single ‘Keep It Part Two’ – the one that broke up the original Dexys – was really harsh.
It was terrible, but that’s how I wanted it at the time. I thought it was a good production – I thought it was great. I thought it would go straight to No. 1. It was a shock to me when it didn’t. I played it to the record company and they said, “What the fucking hell’s that?” – “‘Keep It Part Two’, the next single” – and they said, “You’re joking!” – “I’m not fucking joking!” Then they said, “Don’t be fucking stupid”, and the group was coming in as well, separate to me, saying, “We don’t want this released. We’re the new Dexys. We’re going to get a singer, and Rowland’s out.” But I was going to the other office, saying, “You must put this record out!” and they were saying, “It’s going to ruin your career. It’ll be finished. Put ‘Light Turns Green’ out now and it’ll be Top 10”, but I really believed so much in ‘Part Two’ and I was genuinely surprised when it flopped. So now, looking back, I can see why.
-So now we’ve got Dexys with strings. Did you just decide that overnight?
I saw it before the first group broke up. Another one of the reasons they left is that I asked them to learn to play violins. ‘Liars A to E’ was an experiment in a way. That was the only one you heard, but last year we did a series of demos and they were all experiments – and we were getting there and getting there and getting there. ‘Celtics’ was the first one where I thought – yes! Good ideas don’t just come. You’ve got to work on them.
-Does Robin – the character in the song ‘There There My Dear’ exist?
No, Robin is a whole group of people personified. I really like ‘There There My Dear’ because at the time it came out it was so current to the day. It was about the people that really existed at that time, particularly the music business. It was all that anti-fashion type groups in mid-1980. There were those enigmatic characters like Howard Devoto, those kind of groups – real enigmas – and they were just really shit. They’d go and do interviews and say, “I’ve read this rare book by so-and-so.”
-Songs like ‘Burn It Down’ have now been totally revamped, their sound and structure changed with the latest Dexys.
It’s not something that I’ve sat down and thought, “Right, we’ve got to change.” Again, it’s totally instinctive. We went to rehearse and it was a bit tight. We had weeks to go and we thought, “Right – we’ve got these songs, let’s make it as strong as we possibly can. Cross out the weak ones, whatever” – “Right, we’ll do ‘Burn It Down,’ and I said, “Oh, I don’t know…” and everyone else said, “Oh yes!” So we played through all the songs we could do – went through ‘Burn It Down’, started doing my thing, and I thought, “This just doesn’t feel right anymore!” – sort of very last year, or even the year before.
-When you performed the Projected Passion Revue, you’d worked out a series of routine movements to put over the feelings, etc., but some people thought it was a sham, faked, because of that. They just couldn’t seem to accept it.
Well, that’s the whole rock thing – keep it natural, man. Ideally, if you get such a feeling that’ll carry you through – you don’t need to remember any movements – but there are times when you go on, that you have to convince yourself, and you bring yourself into these movements. If you think, “Fuck me, I’ve got to run forward to the crowd and really sing there” and you don’t feel it at that point, you’re going to feel really stupid doing that. So sometimes it is a bit of an act, but then it becomes pure.
-Do you expect to get heckled in the intense parts?
Yeah, I think I do, really.
-Do you ever look back on your reactions to hecklers as right or wrong? – because at the Old Vic you spat in someone’s face.
I would have hit him if I was by his side as well. I know I shouldn’t. He was literally just trying to throw me off. He was trying to put me off as much as he could. That was his aim in life.
And that was the last answer we found on the handwritten transcript of the above interview that had survived since 1982. It seems an unlikely place to have left the conversation – unless a corporate publicist walked in at that point to informed us “time’s up,” of course. Whatever. I hope this (almost) unedited transcript has provided some sort of edutainment. It’s been quite life affirming to discover just how many Dexys Midnight Runners fans there are here at iJamming! and so, on behalf of us all, I’d just like to wish Kevin Rowland the best of luck with his latest incarnation of the group and thank him for all the magic and confusion over the years.