"I went to India to this Vedic place and just sat in this garden for five weeks and had all these herbs and all that. It helped me physically a bit, definitely, and emotionally I suppose, but also I just thought, ‘I really do want to make this record.’"
Born in Wolverhampton to Irish parents, an important point he references in two tracks on the new album, One Day I'm Going To Soar, it was in Birmingham Kevin Rowland put together the original Dexys Midnight Runners with guitarist Kevin Archer, back in 1978. Their original sound was based on the distinctive Northern Soul of the UK, though those Irish roots would soon assert themselves on 1982's Too-Ray-Ay. He was 27 when their second single, Geno, off their debut album, Searching For The Young Soul Rebels, topped the UK charts in 1980. It's 27 years since Rowland released a new original collection of songs under the now abridged Dexys moniker – the last was 1985's Don't Stand Me Down – only the sixth Dexys album in their 34-year existence.
Whether there's some kind of symmetry going on here isn't something you can necessarily bring up with Rowland. He's not one to look to the past. Either way, it mightn't have even happened. The fact that it did was in part down to Rowland reconnecting with keyboard player, arranger and producer Mick Talbot, ex-Style Council, who'd been a Dexy for a year or two in the '90s. “We were getting as far as finding the right musicians, booking the studios,” Rowland, on the line from his home in East London, explains, “and, I don't know – I had quite a lot of aches and pains. Nothing really bad but I just felt really under the weather and I remember just thinking, 'I can't do this'. And my voice wasn't strong enough. I just wasn't confident about my singing and my throat just used to hurt a lot.
“And I went to India to this Vedic place and just sat in this garden for five weeks and had all these herbs and all that. It helped me physically a bit, definitely, and emotionally I suppose, but also I just thought, 'I really do want to make this record.' And when I got back, I saw my manager and we were going to, like, a football match, 'cause he's a mate really, and we got the train up to Manchester and I was talking to him – he was talking about football and this and that and the other and I thought, 'God, what I really want to talk to him about is booking a studio,' and when he stopped talking I went, 'Listen, I want to book the studios, I want to get on with this record,' and he looked at me as if to go, 'Really?' From there on it was all go and it all worked.”
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His patient manager and friend, Tim Vigon, who has been looking after his and Dexys interests for about eight years, was shocked to the core. “After we finished the record [he said] that he thought this was actually never going to happen. He was happy to be my mate and talk about making this record, but he said he'd thought to himself, 'This guy is actually never going to make this record'.” Once recording did begin, however, it was then important for Rowland, who could have released it as a solo album, to surround himself with musicians he knew and trusted and that it be a band record – a Dexys record. So he called in original members: trombonist Big Jim Paterson and bass player Pete Williams. “That was great. It just seemed right. I actually wrote some of the songs with Jim, whereas with Mick and Pete, it would be more a case of sort of saying, 'What d'ya think of this, Mick?' Jim was involved at the conception of the four songs that I did with him.”
Among the songwriting credits for another track, Lost, is the name Alex James, Blur's bass player.
“Oh yeah,” Rowland remembers. “Again, the manager I was telling you about, Tim, when I first started working with him about, I dunno, 2005, 2006, somewhere round there, I said I needed a songwriting partner, so he said he'd see if he could get me one, and then I think he phoned up the music publishers and they must have come back with Alex James. And I said, 'I don't think he's a songwriter is he?' 'cause I knew that Damon wrote the songs, didn't he? But apparently he was, so I met him in a pub in the West End and then went down to his place, miles away out in the country somewhere and he had a studio there and we just come up with some ideas. We worked on two songs, but that I liked better. I didn't have any lyrics, just a couple of melodies, which I sang over it. I took it away then and finished it off on my own really – or with the help of a couple of other people.”
One Day I'm Going To Soar isn't a concept album as such, but it's very much a cohesive piece, with a beginning, middle and end, not necessarily the story of Rowland's life but very much informed by it. Lost and Nowhere Is Home, for instance, referencing his Irish roots, are companion pieces that bookend the central five songs that look at the rise and fall of a love affair.
“Before we started recording,” he explains, “we had the whole track listing. We demo'd them all in sequence and we gave the musicians the album on CD in sequence as they are now. Apart from [She Got A] Wiggle, which was fifth and we put You in front on it. All the songs are written… I suppose [sighs] kind of from experience, like most songs. I don't suddenly think, 'Oh right, the relationship's over, I'm going to write a song about it.' It's not like that, but songs sort of come out and they tell you more about your life than you realise sometimes. But then what happened is, about seven, maybe more, eight, nine years, I suddenly realised, I looked at the list of songs that I thought I'd do for the album and I thought, 'Hang on a minute – if we put them in this order, it kind of makes sense, it's a kind of narrative.' So I thought, 'Fuck it, let's do that'.”
An essential part of that central love/not love core of the album is singer and actress Madeleine Hyland. “I'd been looking for ages for someone who'd be just right. [I] just went down Brick Lane to this art car boot fair and a mate of mine, Phil Dirtbox, a sort of London, Soho character, great guy and a poet, said, 'Oh, this is Madeleine, she's a singer,' and I asked her if she wanted to try it, and she said alright. And he'd been playing her some Dexys so although she's quite young she really liked it. She came round, we tried it and she was great.”
Dexys will be playing the following shows:
Saturday 10 & Sunday 11 November - Harvest, Werribee Park, Melbourne VIC
Monday 12 November - Astor Theatre, Perth WA
Saturday 17 November - Harvest, Parramatta Park, Sydney NSW
Sunday 18 November - Harvest, Brisbane Riverstage and Botanic Gardens NSW