Dexys were never going to release an MOR album but even still, last year’s One Day I’m Going To Soar was something of a surprise. After an 18-year gap – with a brief reappearance for some live shows in 2003 – the follow-up to 1985’s Don’t Stand Me Down (a relative commercial flop), saw Dexys at their best; soulful, pained and almost ridiculously theatrical.
It’s that theatrical side that Kevin Rowland and co are now capitalising on, with a touring stage show that’s as meticulously choreographed as any West End musical, and it’s in the heart of London’s theatreland that they’ve pitched up for a two week stint, before taking the show to Europe. From curtain-up to standing ovation, the show is brilliantly bonkers; the band are dressed in outfits that look like they’ve been pilfered from a pantomime costume box backstage. It shouldn’t work, but somehow it energises a record that was already full of life; it’s a new medium for Rowland to play with, to entertain and tell his stories.
The show starts with the piano overture of Now fluttering in the still darkness, the lights flashing on for the first shouts of “Attack! Attack!”, illuminating a reformed band including original members Pete Williams – who now acts as backing singer – and trombone player “Big” Jim Paterson. From the very beginning, Rowland is in character. We see him sitting on a box, staring into space, Les Mis-style, singing Lost; engaging in a bar scuffle with Williams; trying to seduce a woman only to reject her when he finally gets her in I’m Always Going To Love You, and feeling generally down on his luck with Nowhere Is Home.
His voice has never sounded better – looping around the ups and downs of One Day I’m Going To Soar, it’s effortless and deadly cool. Madeleine Hyland, on the other hand, is a different creature entirely. She sings on the record and plays Rowland’s dream woman; a flirty Hollywood glamour puss, she rebukes him with throaty wails that would be at home in any of the nearby theatres. Again, it shouldn’t work, but despite the over-played gestures, pouting and flouncing around the stage, somehow the audience feels outraged on her behalf at Rowland’s feckless behaviour. We feel sorry for her, and the crowd joins in with her lines in an act of solidarity.
The show is littered with warmth and humour. It portrays a lifetime of disappointment, fragility, heartache… and an ability to brush yourself down and get on with it, but it’s never scared to get close to uncomfortable issues; It’s OK John Doe, a suicidal monologue, is particularly unsettling, and the show is all the better for it.
The album’s over in a flash but, as Williams says, “We couldn’t leave it at that, could we?”, and the audience take to their feet for a greatest hits set including Geno and This Is What She’s Like, before slipping out into Soho beaming, and ever so slightly bewildered.