I don’t look back and think ‘let me sit down and listen to those old records.’ I might do when I’m 80. But not now. I’m very much alive here and now, creating
Dexys’ Kevin Rowland tells Teddy Jamieson about the inspiration behind their new album of Irish songs
HOW would you sum up this new album then Kevin? Down the phone there is a pause. “I thought you’d be able to do that,” the voice answers. “I don’t think I could.”
Kevin Rowland is in a car at the end of the day. He isn’t driving. At least I don’t think he is driving. It doesn’t occur to me to ask. He is definitely chewing on something as he speaks. That’s between chewing up the questions I’m asking him.
Dexys have a new album coming out. It’s called Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul. That’s as good a way to sum it up as any, I guess. It’s good enough for Rowland certainly. “It’s in the title,” he tells me.
Behind said title is a covers album, a collection of (over?)familiar old Irish songs, including I’ll Take You Home Kathleen, Carrickfergus and 40 Shades of Green, as well as covers of tunes by the Bee Gees (To Love Somebody), Rod Stewart (You Wear It Well), Joni Mitchell (Both Sides Now) and even Lee Ann Rimes (How Do I Live), played sumptuously by a fine band and including a guest appearance by violinist Helen O’Hara who last played on a Dexys record 31 years ago.
What does that make it? Another curious chapter in the story of Dexys, I’d suggest. Another contrarian gesture in a career marked by wilfully contrarian gestures.
Where to start with the story of Dexys? From punk days (when Rowland was in the band The Killjoys) to the present day, the band have been by turns a mad, silly, glorious, messy pleasure. The Dexys legend takes in Rowland attacking journalists, stealing the master tapes of his first record, thieving some ideas for the band’s raggle-taggle incarnation (the one that gave us Come On Eileen), making an album Don’t Stand Me Down that is near as dammit a masterpiece (and you can quote me) and yet refusing to release a single to promote it.
Then there was Rowland’s Glastonbury appearance in a dress and stockings which saw him shamefully bottled off the stage, followed by radio silence when Rowland was bankrupt, signing on and doing too much cocaine. And then after years in the wilderness Dexys returned in 2012 with a rather well-received album One Day I’m Going to Soar.
So maybe recording an album full of songs such as Carrickfergus (covered in the past by Van Morrison and Bryan Ferry of course) shouldn’t be a surprise.
“Dexys try not to repeat themselves,” Rowland suggests, “and it just felt it would be a bit of a mistake to do another album like the last. This is an album I wanted to do for a long time and now seemed like the right time to do it.”
In fact the idea of doing an album of Irish songs first occurred back in the 1980s when the band was riding high on the back of the Too-Rye-Ay album. “We just never got to do it. The idea stayed with me and it expanded from purely Irish songs to a few other songs I’d always wanted to sing.
“I didn’t really worry about how it would link together. I think we managed to make it work in the track listing, in the way one song flows into another. And it’s all the same band playing them.”
Are they mostly songs you heard in childhood, Kevin? “Not really. I’d love to say I was a child when I heard Rod Stewart but I was 18. But it moved me greatly.”
It was as a child he began to hear the Irish songs though. And when he was a teenager he’d go out of a Saturday night and come home to find his parents in the house with mates singing them. “They’d be in a good mood and they’d have a couple of drinks and then they’d start singing, you know?”
Did he join in? “I probably didn’t at that age, no. I did when I was young. When I was seven or eight. I didn’t sing when I was a teenager because you get all self-conscious, awkward.”
The other thing that happens when you’re a teenager, I point out, is you reject all the stuff your parents like. You didn’t do that? “I did, yeah. I sort of liked it but I would take the piss out of it. I’d think it was corny. I remember at a party I started singing Wild Colonial Boy but in a broad Mayo accent – which is where my folks are from – but really overdoing it, you know. I think they knew I was taking the piss. It wasn’t terribly well-received. They were right. It was just my awkwardness.”
Well, he says that. But frankly I’m with the teenage boy he was. As someone