Dexys legend reveals Twitter Listening Parties revived love for early albums

“I've never wanted to be a band that just goes out and plays the hits and then throws in a couple of new songs for our own amusement. I have always wanted to make a statement.”

Kevin Rowland is not usually a man to look backwards. But the Dexys (previously Dexys Midnight Runners) singer and songwriter breaks the habit of a lifetime for The Big Issue’s Letter To My Younger Self this week.

What’s he like? Well, he is open, funny, honest, engaging – and still fighting off the lingering effects of Covid-19. But for more than an hour, Rowland talked about his long career, a difficult youth in which he was arrested four times before leaving school at 15, the advice about sex he wishes he’d been given and his troubled relationship with the success that followed iconic singles Geno and Come On Eileen hitting the top of the charts.

“I would like to revisit the original 1980s Dexys period and enjoy it more,” he says. “We made some good music but I’d tell my younger self just fucking chill, man. Have some fun. You’ve been on Top of the Pops, you’ve had a number one, in a couple of years you will have another one – so go and enjoy yourself.

“I enjoyed success… for a couple of weeks. You think it is gonna take away all your feelings of low self-esteem and it doesn’t,” he adds. “I started to feel like people could see through me, like they know I’m not worthy. I felt it even more after we’d had a number one single.

“Now there’s a phrase for it: imposter syndrome. But I didn’t know any phrases like that. These thoughts totally dominated me. It’s a ridiculous way to live. It’s exhausting.”

The recent lockdown listening parties set up by The Charlatans singer Tim Burgess have helped Rowland reconnect and make peace with his earlier work.

“I got approached to do Tim’s Twitter Listening Party,” he says. “At first I said, I’m not into that, I am not into looking back. But after being convinced by manager Tim Vigon to give it a go, he dusted off his old LPs – starting with Dexys Midnight Runners’ 1980 debut.

“I listened to the Searching For The Young Soul Rebels for the first time in decades in its entirety. All I could hear was the mistakes. I just thought it sounds a bit dodgy, my singing is crap, blah blah, blah,” says Rowland. “But then I listened to it on the night and it just sounded so much better. I heard it how other people have heard it in a way, and I could see what they had seen in it 40 years ago.”

Rowland went back for more. Soon, he was digging out second album Too Rye Aye (1982) before joining fans to live tweet his reaction to hearing the songs and offer insight into the recording process.

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“I wasn’t happy with the mixes at the time,” recalls Rowland. “I thought the production could have been better. But the record company wouldn’t give us any more money to work on it.

“I always thought the songs were great, but I thought it could have been executed better. But when I heard it at the listening party, I was just like: ‘Oh, yeah. This sounds really good!’ So it has helped me, listening to those albums again.”

Rowland was talking to The Big Issue ahead of the re-issue of his solo album, My Beauty, which he believes was poorly treated when it was originally released in 1999. Why was it overlooked or dismissed? Because the singer had the temerity to be wearing dresses at the time.

“It was a labour of love but was overlooked through a lot of ignorance around the clothes I was wearing,” he says. “Now, I look back and think it’s ridiculous – the people saying I was crazy for wearing a dress? I would not go to them for style advice. But it was a difficult time. I had been clean from drugs for a few years and when it came out in 1999, I had been wearing those clothes for four years. It was a lifestyle choice not a gimmick.”

My Beauty is out now on Cherry Red Records. Read the full interview in this week’s copy of The Big Issue.