Portrait: Bruno Murari
Kevin Rowland’s last LP was 2016 covers set Let The Record Show: Dexys Do Irish And Country Soul. “The whole experience around that, I just found really draining,” Rowland tells Mojo today. “I had no interest in doing music. I mean, like, 2017, 2018, 2019, no ideas were coming. And then probably two years ago, maybe, I thought, I’d actually like to do something now.”
Songs co-written, individually, with Dexys trombonist Big Jim Paterson, keyboardist Mike Timothy and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Sean Read, were demoed until late 2021. In 2022 work continued in studios including Read’s Famous Times in Hackney, Timothy’s set-up in Willesden and producer Toby Chapman’s space in Catford. Sound files were exchanged on e-mail, with Rowland singing some of the string and brass parts.
“Sometimes it’s synthesized instruments on there and sometimes there’s natural instruments,” says Rowland, who confirms that violinist Helen O’Hara is not part of this Dexys configuration. “I’m not prejudiced against them at all. You know, whatever sounds good.” When Mojo suggests some songs have a vintage soul influence, Rowland is mildly nonplussed. “It’s intuitive,” he says. “I didn’t really think about styles but I think we’re always trying to make the music soulful.”
At one point what Rowland calls “a slight fall-out” between him and Chapman made him doubt the project would be finished. “There were some very frustrating moments and we stopped at one point. Some things Toby was doing were really good and some I didn’t like at all. Then I spoke to Pete Schwier, who’s co-produced us for years, and he just sort of started to oversee the project. He was just a calming presence, and we were able to pick it up again, and then I was really pleased with what we got.”
A guy who’s pretending to be completely macho ends up somewhere else completely
Some of the material pre-existed his writing drought: It’s Alright Kevin (Manhood 2023) was played live in an earlier form on Channel 4 in 1993 and recorded for a 2003 Dexys best-of. Now the song is part of a wider concept. “I felt we could get that song better and I could say something new with it,” says Rowland. “[The album] is about women and it’s about masculinity and to some extent, femininity. It’s a journey.”
“It’s as clear as day that there’s a narrative, he adds. “A guy who’s pretending to be completely macho ends up somewhere else completely.”
The journey begins with The One That Loves You, a song of ‘Are you looking at my girlfriend?’ violent promise. “I wrote that with Jim when I was in that place in the early ’90s,” says Rowland.” Then It’s Alright Kevin (Manhood 2023) is saying, ‘actually, that’s not how I really feel’, the next one he’s getting free from external restrictions… by track five, The Feminine Divine, he’s starting to look at women in a completely different way, looking back at his past and saying, ‘Wow, I’ve just had this all wrong.’”
They’re going to tour it in a similar theatrical way to 2012’s comeback One Day I’m Going To Soar, with an unnamed female vocalist playing the ‘Goddess’ female lead. Rowland adds ideas are still coming. “It comes quickly when the mood is with me, but it’s getting to the mood that’s the problem.”
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