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LIVE: Dexys – York Barbican, 05/09/2023

Released in July, The Feminine Divine was the fifth album of original material to have arrived under the Dexys banner since their formation 45 years ago as Dexys Midnight Runners. The record marked a creative reincarnation for Kevin Rowland; musician, composer, and front person of the band. In 2016 following the release of Let The Records Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul (a selection of Irish ballads mixed with some other songs), Rowland said he was finished with music. He’d said all he wanted to say in that regard.

The new Dexys album also signalled significant shifts in Kevin Rowland’s attitudes, most notably towards women and the concepts of femininity and masculinity. These dramatic changes were born of a period of deep reflection for Rowland, his being drawn to the teachings of the Tao and Tantra, and an unexpected resurgence of his artistic energy.

A direct consequence of these developments is that The Feminine Divine will provide the first half of every Dexys’ show on this 13-date tour of the UK and Ireland of which York is the opening night. The band will duly play the album in its entirety from start to finish. But not as a concert, Kevin Rowland is at pains to point out, but as a theatrical performance, a drama, in which Rowland takes the part of the leading man and the female protagonist is Claudia Chopek, who also happens to play violin and sing in this current six-piece incarnation of Dexys.

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The four other members of the sextet are Kevin Rowland’s principal collaborators on the new record, Mike Timothy and Sean Read (on a combination of keys, synths, saxophone, and vocals), drummer Tim Weller and trombonist Alistair Whyte. Together they create a sonic platform that shifts effortlessly from the cocksure soulful strut of ‘The One That Loves You’ – during which Rowland’s testosterone-fuelled character locks horns with his potential love rival, Sean Read – through the rabid electro-funk of ‘Goddess Rules’, the beautiful piano ballad that is ‘My Submission’, and finally onto the cathartic sensual release of ‘Dance With Me’, each melodic change reflecting the various stages of Rowland’s personal metamorphosis.  

For a man who has openly confessed that he often wishes he never had a past –speaking specifically about the manner in which he feels Dexys have often been wrongly categorised purely on the basis of their early ‘80s hit singles – Kevin Rowland is still willing to revisit many of these songs. And this he does in the second half of this show. There is a celebratory blast of ‘Come On Eileen’ – still sounding as joyful as it has ever done – and we also get to hear a truly wonderful ‘Geno’ which lends itself far more to the original version heard on Dexys Midnight Runners’ debut album, Searching for the Young Soul Rebels than has subsequently often been the case.

Kevin Rowland has also indicated that this “selection of Dexys classics” will change every night on this tour and there are certainly some most welcome surprises here in York. ‘Until I Believe In My Soul’ is quite simply stunning. And ‘Free’ from One Day I’m Going To Soar gets its first public outing in nearly a decade. But the absolute highlight has to be the concluding ‘Carrickfergus’ performed here in front of a video montage of the many changing faces of Kevin Rowland over the years. His voice has never sounded better, never stronger, as if it is somehow saying that those days are now gone and all we have left, and all that really matters, is the here and now.

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Photos: Simon Godley

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.