From the Jamming! Magazine Archives: Kevin Rowland, 1982, Foreword
“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.”
It’s early 1982, and Kevin Rowland has broken his self-imposed exile from the interview process to promote the new Dexys Midnight Runners single ‘Come On Eileen’ and album Too-Rye-Ay. Jamming! Magazine co-editors Tony Fletcher and Pedro Romhanyi are taking their allotted time in turn in what memory recalls to be a record company office, firing sometimes suspicious questions at the Dexys front man who occasionally responds, as above, with deliberately barbed comments about the biggest band in Britain, a group with whom he knows his interviewers are on first name terms.
Rowland has, by 1982, well earned his reputation for being difficult and argumentative, and even this new-found co-operation – a sudden (and some claim desperate) decision to play the interview game and promote his new album by all means necessary – is of itself a typically contrary move. And while he’s thrilled that people are paying attention to Dexys once more, he obviously can’t help himself when it comes to dissing the competition. But it irks Pedro and Tony, for they consider themselves among Dexys Midnight Runners’ keenest followers; indeed, they’re part of a crowd who have been heard to discuss the idea that the new-look Dexys might just be the finest band in Britain.
The love affair had started in 1980 with the first Dexys Midnight Runners album Searching For The Young Soul Rebels (which Pedro insisted Tony purchase to delve deeper than the hit singles ‘Burn It Down,’ ‘Geno’ and ‘There There My Dear’). It had then gathered steam when that original group imploded over the failure that was ‘Keep It Part 2’ and a new Dexys line-up exhuberantly announced its arrival with the near timeless singles ‘Plan B’ and ‘Show Me’. But it really took hold in November1981, when the (flop) single ‘Liars A To E’ signified a bold turn away from brass to strings, and when Kevin Rowland brought this new-look Dexys Midnight Runners to the Old Vic Theatre in London’s Waterloo for three nights of what he called the Projected Passion Revue.
This writer remembers those concerts as possibly the most enervating and inspirational he’s ever been fortunate enough to attend. This was the dawn of the 1980s, a time when the post-punk youth was only just weaning itself off the exhuberant pop-politics of 2-Tone, else acclimatizing itself to the synth-pop future of the Blitz Kid generation, or stubbornly buried deep in defiantly uncommercial indie experimentation. The Projected Passion Revue represented a complete rejection of all such business as usual. By seating his musicians around him like a double quartet, by mixing up brass and strings while mostly eschewing rock band instrumentation, by dressing the group in uniforms of track suits, by having that group bring pre-rehearsed actions and words and movements to a theatrical venue, and most of all, by singing his heart out to the extent you thought it might burst in front of you, Kevin Rowland showed that there was a different way to present live music than those methods which were tried and tested, and becoming very very tiresome.
Pedro and Tony attended at least two of these Old Vic shows each and found themselves on something like talking terms with Kevin Rowland in the process. Still, all attempts at getting the Dexys front man to break his interview silence during this period proved fruitless; Rowland preferred to present his ca(u)se via the written word in print advertising and on record sleeves. A few months later, his ‘Old Vic’ Dexys line-up had morphed into the group that delivered the album Too-Rye-Ay and he embraced the media with a mass market promotion campaign that culminated in the fiddle-led, gypsy-clad band topping the charts in Britain and America alike with ‘Come On Eileen.’ The image of that Dexys may now cause us collective twinges of embarrassment, and that single may have been played out at one too many drunken weddings, but the album was, again, something beautiful, and fully deserved its success.
Too-Rye-Ay featured re-recordings of both ‘Plan B’ and ‘Liars A To E’ but, it could be argued, some of the originality and urgency was lost in the process. Kevin Rowland essentially admitted as much on his newly launched myspace page, when he asserted that the line-up that played the Old Vic “was the best of all the Dexys,” and his regret that he had neither recorded those three life-changing shows nor made an album with that band and that sound. (To which I should add my own sadness that he never got to extoll that group’s virtues in a printed conversation.) However, a new compilation, simply entitled Projected Passion Revue, gathers together those three interim singles from 1981 along with a BBC In Concert show to provide proof of what was and what could have been.
The interview that follows could and probably should have been about that Projected Passion Revue line-up, because that’s the Dexys Midnight Runners that did, really, change our lives (in music). But by the time Tony and Pedro found themselves across a table from Kevin Rowland with a tape recorder running inbetween them, events had moved on. We found ourselves talking instead about Rowland’s constant use (and change) of image, about his famously difficult reputation, and about his ongoing desire to present Dexys Midnight Runners as anything but another rock group.
As ever, Tony cringes somewhat at his and Pedro’s questions, which scream of youthful idealism bordering on complete naivete; to a large degree, his sympathies are with our subject. Anthony Blampied, who typed up the interview in January 2007 from a photocopy of Pedro’s hand-written transcript Tony has kept since 1982, strongly disagrees. “Pretty depressing stuff,” he wrote as he returned the manuscript. “It reminded me at moments of R.D. Laing’s transcriptions of interviews with schizophrenics.”
In the years that followed, Rowland did indeed appear to go over the edge. After the 1985 album Don’t Stand Me Down (which some iJamming! readers consider the finest of them all) floundered commercially, Rowland released an even less successful solo album, The Wanderer, and there then followed drug addiction, financial ruin, a disastrous solo album of covers for Creation Records and a bizarre appearance at the Reading Festival. Perhaps now, a further decade later, it is time for redemption: Rowland has reconvened the Dexys Midnight Runners name (with which he also toured in 2003), made available a superb song (albeit only in demo form) called ‘Oh Johanna’ at his myspace page, and is making appearances around London as a DJ. The release of the Projected Passion Revue album will hopefully serve to remind that under the contrary, self-destructive personality there lies real, if sporadic, genius.
THE iJAMMING! KEVIN ROWLAND INTERVIEW STARTS HERE