AT last! Dexys will play York for the first time in their 45-year career tomorrow on the opening night of this month’s The Feminine Divine Live! tour.
Kevin Rowland’s revived soul band had been booked to play York Barbican on last autumn’s 40th anniversary Too-Rye-Ay As It Should Have Sounded Tour. However, his need to recuperate from a leg injury in a motorbike accident and “some health issues that will take some time to recover from” forced the September 30 2022 gig’s cancellation as early as March last year.
July 28 saw the arrival of The Feminine Divine, Dexys’ fifth album of original material in five decades, 11 years since their last studio set, 2012’s One Day I’m Going To Soar.
Rowland, who turned 70 on August 17, will front Dexys as they “dramatically perform the new album from beginning to finale, followed by a selection of classics and hits” at York Barbican in the only Yorkshire show on their 13-date British and Irish tour.
“The first half is not a concert,” Kevin stresses. “It will be The Feminine Divine, completely acted out. It’s a theatrical performance, a drama, like we did for One Day I’m Going To Soar, but this is a completely different narrative. Last time we had Madeleine Hyland [from London folk group The Amazing Devil); this time Claudia Chopek will be the protagonist, playing the female in the songs.”
The second half will have a concert format. “We’ll probably change the set list each night, but we have a pretty good idea of what it will be, with a lot of the Too-Rye-Ay album, which we were due to tour last year, but had to cancel,” says Kevin, who will be touring with a six-piece band. “I think this show will be even better.”
Produced by Pete Schwier, along with session musician and producer Toby Chapman, The Feminine Divine is billed as “a personal, if not strictly autobiographical, record portraying a man whose views have evolved over time”.
“I don’t think I could ever do the same thing twice. I can’t see the point of that. It’s not something I ever think about. It’s intrinsically important to me,” says Kevin on his Zoom call, explaining the album’s gestation.
“We weren’t looking for a theme. There was none of that. After the last album [2016’s Let The Record Show: Dexys Do Irish And Country Soul], I was drained and didn’t want to do music and didn’t feel I had the vitality.
“I needed to get away to work on myself, and actually I was almost violently against doing music, thinking ‘I want to do other things’. But in 2020-21 I had a surge of energy. I wanted to do music again.”
“What songs have we got?” pondered Dexys’ front man, suffused with a new-found positivity. Original Midnight Runners trombonist Big Jim Paterson, now a non-touring band member, sent him tunes he had written; Rowland reactivated a 1991 song, The One That Loves You, for the opening track, and a first side full of music-hall swagger duly took shape.
“Then I thought, ‘OK, let’s ask Mike [Timothy] and Sean [Read] to collaborate’,” Kevin recalls, leading to a second side “like nothing Dexys have done before” in the form of a saucy, synth-heavy cabaret.
Synths, Kevin? “I’ve always liked electronic music; I was into house music in the Eighties, so we were going to record some house tunes at the time, but we never got round to it, but I was well into it,” he says. “I thought about making the last album electronic too but went a different way with that one.”
The lyrics to title track The Feminine Divine became the driving force for Dexys’ new focus. “They came pouring out of me, and it told me what the theme should be. I started writing about my experience in recent years,” says Kevin. “Once I had a list of the titles, and put the songs in order, I thought, ‘there’s a narrative here’, so it was all serendipitous.”
The resulting track listing reads: The One That Loves You; It’s Alright Kevin (Manhood 2023); I’m Going To Get Free; Coming Home; The Feminine Divine; My Goddess Is; Goddess Rules; My Submission and Dance With Me.
Those songs reflect on “not just on women, but the whole concept of masculinity Kevin had been raised with: an education and an un-learning traced across the arc of The Feminine Divine”.
“I think women are just incredibly powerful, but I didn’t realise that before,” says Kevin. Why not? “I have no idea. Perhaps my upbringing to some extent. I wasn’t given any sex education at school or at home, so any sexual feelings I had at 13/14 were secret and not talked about. I carried that with me.
“I had desires that sometimes were satisfied, sometimes weren’t, but I never understood women. I’m not saying I do now, but I started doing some courses, some tantra, some Dao, and all of this recognised the sexual energy and the power of women as goddesses,” says Kevin.
“The more I got it into my head, I realised that if anything women are superior to men. They’re more flexible than men, who are set in their ways.”
Rowland ruminates on femininity and masculinity from second track It’s Alright Kevin (Manhood 2023) onwards. “It’s about recognising my own femininity,” he says, as he first did on the cover of his 1999 solo album of cover versions, My Beauty, the one with Rowland in lipstick and black dress, the hem exposed to reveal knickers and stockings.
He doubled down on that look in a white dress and pearls at Leeds Festival that year. “A lot of people were triggered by it,” he says. “But I believed in what I was doing. I don’t think I can do anything unless I believe in it. One hundred per cent that was the case at Leeds Festival.
“There are women with feminine energy and women with masculine energy, and it’s the same with men. It’s big part of me, and men should acknowledge it: if you don’t acknowledge things, it’s not healthy.”
Working instinctively – “if something sounds good, and I think it will work, then I’ll do it; if I get a good melody, I know it” – Kevin “doesn’t ever think about the past” or a new record’s connection with Dexys’ history. “That’s something for you to consider, and whatever you come up with, that’s cool,” he says.
“I don’t think about continuity. There’s been no continuity with Dexys. Don’t Stand Me Down  was totally different, like Too-Rye-Ay  was from Searching for The Young Soul Rebels  because they were like new bands, so to me it’s like I’m a new artist every time I make a record. This new album took 11 years to evolve.”
His past was framed in a childhood in Wolverhampton, then Ireland for two years and north west London from the age of 11, surely influencing his restless music-making since then? “Probably,” says Kevin, pointing to the Irish roots in the Celtic soul and fiddles of Too-Ry-Ay. “We expressed it at the time, in 1980, ’81, ’82, when people didn’t want to hear it. Like on BRMB [the Birmingham radio station]. When they played Come On Eileen, they apologised for it because there’d just been a bomb in London…but what had that got to do with us?” he asks.
Kevin has had his up and downs, not least when consumed by cocaine addiction and living in a squat after Dexys Midnight Runners’ split post-Don’t Stand Me Down at the end of the 1980s.
Now, however, he is “definitely in the best place I’ve ever been, sometimes good, sometimes not so good, which is OK, and that’s something I wasn’t aware of when I was younger,” he says, revelling is his latest rush of creativity.
“There are a lot of people who are close-minded who just want to talk about the past. Their lives are over. I don’t know why people do that. They get into that thing that things were better in their day. No, they weren’t.”
Dexys play The Feminine Divine Live! at York Barbican on September 5, 7.30pm. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk and dexysofficial.com. The Feminine Divine is available on the 100 Percent label.