Dexys At Glastonbury Review: Kevin Rowland soars during stripped back set

A slimmed down Dexys win out thanks to a magnificent turn from their leader.

Kevin Rowland

by Chris Catchpole |
Updated on

Given both Squeeze and Paul Heaton have earlier delivered copper-bottomed greatest hits sets today already, for fans of a certain era of British pop, the bar is already set quite high before Dexys (née Midnight Runners) take to the Park Stage.

Kevin Rowland has more than a few hits of his own in the locker, however, which makes it surprising that he chooses to open this early evening set with one of someone else’s. Originally on 1967’s The Bee Gees 1st, To Love Somebody is here fully Dexyfied into a pleading, Bobby Bland-like soul number. As 1999’s recently reappraised My Beauty attested, Rowland has a knack for making other people’s material sound like deeply personal works of his own, and he does a similar trick with The Friends Of Distinction’s Grazing In The Grass two songs later.

Given the time constraints of a non-headling set and the spotlight of prime-time television coverage, peppering you performance with covers is not in the standard festival playbook for a beloved heritage act, but then Rowland has never been like other pop stars.

Walking on stage in a wide brimmed white hat and even wider legged blue silk trousers and matching top, the first thing you notice is this iteration of Dexys no longer follow Rowland’s sartorial cues (two present are even in *jeans*). The second is that there’s only five other people on stage. Not odd in itself, but this is a band that in the past have numbered eight to ten members, each playing like their lives depend on it and drilled to absolute perfection by their leader.

Perhaps in recognition of his past reputation as something of a tyrant, Rowland magnanimously credits Geno to Searching For The Young Soul Rebels era bandmate Kevin ‘Al’ Archer, while also acknowledging Archer’s role in coming up with the sound and aesthetic of mega-selling follow up Too-Rye-Ay.

Similarly, he says the music for Until I Believe In My Soul came from absent trombone player ‘Big’ Jim Paterson. But the power and message of Rowland’s spiritual MO detailed in it is 100% his own, and his faith in the transcendent power of music is still devout today as he stands onstage with his eyes closed as the song simmers around him.

Now aged 70, Rowland’s voice has arguably never sounded better and he flies like the soul star his fans have always willed him to be. His sometimes overlooked/misunderstood sense of humour is also evident and in a nod to the band’s performance on Top Of The Pops, a photo of darts player Jockey Wilson in the bath appears behind him during Jackie Wilson Says. It’s a joyous version and Rowland’s glee is written all over his face.

Dexys’ performances have long featured staged conversations between a chosen lieutenant (currently former Rockingbird Sean Read) and perhaps too much time here is wasted with an extended skit when we could be having the likes of Plan B, There There My Dear or Listen To This. Classics left in the locker room, but arguably neither Heaton nor Difford/Tilbrook have a song so deeply embedded in the nation’s hearts as Come On Eileen and this evening Rowland leads it into a rapturous sing/clap-along.

It’s followed by This Is What She’s Like from 1985’s Don’t Stand Me Down. A song, and album many believe to be Rowland’s finest work, and it’s here that the reduced manpower on stage really becomes apparent.

Again, it’s set up with some chit chat between the singer and Read (something similar is at least on the original record this time though) and again, Rowland himself is magnificent, but the stripped back sound the reduced band produce hinders his flight and it feels a little like an anti-climax. Ultimately though, despite not having the musical firepower of old behind him (this may in fact be the smallest lineup of Dexys in the band’s entire history), tonight Kevin Rowland still soars.

Set list

To Love Somebody

Tell Me When My Light Turns Green

Grazing In The Grass

Geno

Jackie Wilson Said

Until I Believe In My Soul

Free

Come On Eileen

This Is What She’s Like

Stay on MOJO4MUSIC across the weekend for full coverage of Glastonbury 2024’s best music, including Squeeze's greatest hits-laden opening set HERE.

Picture: Dexys at KOKO, June 2024. Credit: Lorne Thomson/Getty

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