Years ago a band rose to national prominence with a hand clappin', foot stompin' track featuring a terrace chorus that went on to overshadow what I believe to be one of the greatest - if not THE greatest - lyrical recollection of teen awakening, street cool and the vibrancy of youth ever penned. Crowds flocked to live performances staged not in cavernous arenas or traditional "rock" venues befitting their chart-topping status, but to theatres selected by the band themselves. Support acts ranged from poets to comedy duos. Despite the obvious adoration of the paying public an unease existed between the crowd and the company on stage. In moments of careful, considered reflection bewildered audience members would cry out only for the singer and ringmaster to politely offer "I know, but try this" before screaming from deep within his soul to a tidal wave of brass.
Fast forward 33 years. Vindicated, celebrated and cherished, Dexys take to the West End at the Duke of Yorks Theatre to perform an LP that sounded like a stage play musical from the opening listen. The audience again is a curious mix of disciples, curious show-goers and fascinated new fans with the latest LP as their first Dexys offering.
Splendidly lit draped curtains formed a backdrop for a sparse stage in the front-room-with-private-boxes that is the Duke of Yorks Theatre. Despite having seen this show only recently it finally felt at home. Intimate and awe-inspiring at the same time. (Or maybe I was just so excited to be there.) If you own One Day I'm Going To Soar you know the show. The running order is identical. It's unthinkable that Kevin Rowland didn't have a stage show in mind as he toiled over his latest masterpiece. Added drama came by way of ad-libs, acted asides and Kevin's muse, angel-voiced actress Madeline Hyland, laying seductively on a period perfect chaise-lounge - the entire room swooning at her first appearance in the show.
The dramatic arc of the album works well enough as it is but upon the West End stage it goes somewhere else entirely. Rowland as artist and artiste prowls and poses on the stage like a master. Dressed to the nine's - as were the entire ensemble in workwear, cuffed denim, chore jackets and tweed caps. Always one step out of time but bang on the beat. British youth culture has always done one thing better than any other part of the planet, to collate, assimilate and evolve music and fashion. Right here it was like watching David Niven channel Otis Redding (with a side order of De Niro's Mean Streets' Johnny Boy). If it wasn't plain by now that I'm spellbound by the man that last over-excitable platitude ought to give the game away.
Kevin might claim that Geno Washington gave him "fuck all" academic inspiration but he certainly gave me an education. Handing me the work of Van Morrison, who clearly is a gigantic inspiration on the "born here from an Irish family" Brummie-cum-Harrow singer, Wilson Picket, Lee Dorsey and beyond via musical nods and sleeve notes throughout his career.
After the LP is packed and put away we get treated to the reimagined (something the band have done all their career) Geno in bordello bar style as revealed on Jools Holland's increasingly disappointing but not-the-night-Dexys-played NYE show. Pete Williams, whose voice could also charm birds from the trees, took to the stage in time-honoured tradition as the police officer investigating Kevin's incident that took place from 66-93, the crowd were on their feet. By the time Tell Me When My Light Turns Green had ended they were hailing the band and chanting the brass riff that had been played by Big Jimmy Patterson after Kev had asked him to "express this for me, tell the people". Rowland clearly enjoying the warmth then sang over it in what was an utterly charming and quite wonderful slice in time. That same warmth was extended to the spellbinding Madeleine Hyland whose theatrical swagger stole the hearts of all. Her stage presence was hypnotic - the band have said they searched high and low before finding her, they hit gold when they did.
The last song of the evening saw brother Kevin striding back and forth like a pulpit preacher declaring "this is our stuff"… ain't it just. (I went again the following night and witnessed Rowlands disappear backstage whilst still singing only to appear hanging from a balcony box still chanting to the adoring crowd below.)
Having spent some time in the wilderness struggling with his own addictions, distractions and the weight of his genius it finally feels as if Rowland's soul is at last sated. Where the band goes from here is anyone's guess. One thing is certain, even if Kevin packs it in and goes sit in downtown Miami like a retired Hollywood film star with his stage hand gang they've left us with four untouchable LPs and live shows that other acts can only dream of being able to pull off. Don't stand you down Kevin? I wouldn't dare.