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The Windmill, Brixton
Good Friday, 14th April 2017
3pm till late

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Gig Review

Brighton Dome

Article written by Alan M - Sep 22, 2012

I was up in my loft the other day. I was having a clearout. You know, the big one, the one where you’ve finally plucked up the courage to say farewell to a lifetime’s possessions. Taking their place the next generation of clutter that your own children are also finding hard to discard. Our loft is where we send things to die. Things we once loved and refuse to let go. We keep these personal collections, stored away out of sight in our very own hospice, in loft limbo, comatose, refusing to accept the inevitable, until finally we realise we need the bed space, and we climb up that ladder, pop our head through the hatch, and switch off the life support machine.

Laying to rest my belongings was a cathartic experience. I was rather enjoying my killing spree. Football programmes, tatty discoloured copies of the NME, broken Hi-Fi systems (Amstrad, obviously), all nonchalantly tossed aside and in a heartbeat replaced by wonky skateboards, school reports in brown envelopes, mountains of lego and bust computer monitors.

Cowering beneath a pile of decorating dustsheets is a brown cardboard box labelled “cassettes and stuff”. I have an inkling this is going to be much harder to throw away. Upon inspection it’s no wonder this box has been consigned to the loft for years – crammed inside are the pathetic memories of one boy’s unrequited love. Revealed in all their hopeless and naïve glory are hours upon of hours of my compilation tapes. Painstakingly created with the sole purpose of trying to persuade a girl, any girl, to be my girlfriend. C90 tapes (TDK AD90 if you must know) lovingly crafted by teenage fingers, deft and accomplished in the underrated art of caressing ‘play’ and ‘record’ simultaneously. Sadly, it was only the tape deck buttons those virginal fingers ever got to press. (Which on reflection is hardly surprising. I had a shameful glance at one particular tape and was staggered to see Tom Robinson Band “Up Against The Wall” as the opening track. I’d like to apologise right now to the poor girl who had the misfortune to listen to that seduction tape.)

Inside the box was another reason why my teenage years were destined to be spent exclusively in the company of men. Wedged amongst the cassettes was my very own Geno hat. Knitted by my Mum (bless her), a scruffy black woollen bobble hat I wore to display my Dexys devotion that I’d presumed missing in action, was still alive. I rescued it from the box and put it on my head for the first time in 30 years. It was then I remembered why the hat was such a spectacular flop with the ladies. Once on your bonce the hat could never be taken off as prolonged wear transformed your perfectly coiffured barnet to a greasy and lank mess matted to the side of your head. Rounding off the whole Dexys look, I wore a preposterously oversized donkey jacket with the letters CEGB (Central Electricity Generating Board) painted on the back. I thought I looked the fucking business. Girls didn’t agree.

In 1980 I thought ‘Searching For The Young Soul Rebels’ was the greatest album ever made. I still hold that view today. As well as being a masterpiece, that album also perfectly encapsulated the unrivalled power of a vinyl record. The accompanying artwork, the story about the “firm” and the “caper” and being able to read the lyrics were an absolutely integral part of the listening experience. Something an mp3 file could never do justice to. It means I care about Kevin Rowland. He gave me the record that was the greatest teenage soundtrack I could ever wish for and his soul sensibilities sowed the seeds for my passion for soul music today. To be fair he also made me dress up like a docker – but we’ve all made fashion errors, eh Kevin?

Despite the drop in temperature, I decide against wearing the Geno hat tonight. I’m nervous, ridiculously so. I desperately want things to go well for Kevin. The theatre is plunged into darkness. Mick Talbot’s piano breaks the silence with the intro to opening album track ‘Now’ and after a few seconds we hear Kevin Rowland’s voice. It may be just a few crooning “oohs” but it’s enough to allay my fears. It’s joyous to hear him sing live after all these years. “Attack, Attack” and the lights come up to reveal the man we’ve all come to see. Mercifully the cross-dressing days are behind him and he cuts a dapper dash in a billowing pin stripe suit with fedora hat.

There is a huge amount of love in the house tonight for Kevin Rowland. It’s not just our affection for his music, but he’s also spent a lot of his life living amongst us Brighton folk. Unfortunately there are a few punters in the audience that want to skip the foreplay of the new album and move straight to climax with the older songs. There are cries of “Geno” and “We love you Kevin” which fall on deaf ears. Kevin Rowland has poured his heart and his soul into making this new record and he demands that we pay attention. There are to be no distractions as the band play the new album ‘One Day I’m Going To Soar’ in its entirety.

It’s performed as a piece of musical theatre with no breaks between the songs. It’s an ambitious and brave piece of staging – and it works brilliantly, with our hero giving the performance of the night, playing himself. The narrative of the album comes alive on stage in a way that it never could digitally. Rowland struts around the stage acting and singing his socks off and even some hammy exchanges with Pete Williams aren’t going to spoil the occasion. This is a very forgiving crowd. Madeleine Hyland, Rowland’s muse, is first seen on a projector screen during ‘She Got A Wiggle’ and then joins Rowland on stage for the boy-girl performances including a rousing rendition of the philly soul tinged ‘I’m Always Going To Love You’. During the final confessional track ‘It’s O.K. John Joe’ you can hear a pin drop. The last line is sung “It’s not the end of the world, cos I think I’m meant to be alone” and I just want to leave that line hanging for a few moments, but in a rather clumsy bit of timing Pete Williams immediately kicks off the upbeat refrain of “I’m Free” which shatters the poignant scene.

I’m nit picking. Sorry Pete. The band stop playing and we can finally unleash our love after restraining ourselves for an hour. I’m off my seat applauding because I’ve just witnessed something breathtaking, others are cheering because they can finally consummate the night. May I be clear on this point: this was not a night when we loyally sat through a new recording by our favourite band, applauding politely waiting for them to play the ‘hits’. The new album is an extraordinary piece of work that lit up the Brighton Dome. The fact the band carry on playing for another hour makes the night even more special.

The second half of the show is unashamedly celebratory and I’m staggered at just how good Dexys sound. I so didn’t want them to be ordinary. They haven’t let me down. We are treated to “I Believe In My Soul”, “Liars A To E”, “I Couldn’t Help It If I Tried” and of course, “Come On Eileen”. I know it’s heresy to say this, but although it’s my Mum’s favourite song, I care little for that track. It reminds me too much of drunken aunties at weddings, it’s a bit naff. And Dexys were never naff. Perhaps the band are determined to reclaim the song back as their own, and they perform an epic ten minute version that severely tests the stamina of the audience members who’d decided to have a dance. Understandably, for many punters this was clearly the night’s highpoint. But for me, the moment that reminded why I love this band so much was during the magnificent “Tell Me When My Light Turns Green” and you hear the trombone and sax blasting away on their own. It’s only for about 20 seconds, but in a flash, the memories come flooding back, and I’m 17 again, sat with my mates in an Essex pub, dressed like an industrial worker, wearing that soppy hat.

The night concludes with “What's She Like” which is perfect in every way and dovetails nicely with the new album cleverly allowing Madeleine Hyland to return to the stage to provide the focal point for the song. The evening has been a resounding triumph. Kevin Rowland and the band are visibly moved by the unashamed adulation that is being heaped upon them. I swear I saw him break into a smile at one point as he caught the eye of fellow members of the ‘firm’ Pete Williams and Jim Paterson. Kevin Rowland has had many dark days in his life, but tonight as he lifted both arms in the air and clenched his fists, here was a man that was still at the top of his game, reminding everybody that he and his firm are one of the greatest soulful bands this country has ever produced. More than anything, I’m delighted for him and I’m relieved. We don’t need to talk about Kevin.


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