The Divinity of Dexys

An exclusive chat with Kevin Rowland about the band’s new LP The Feminine Divine

Kevin Rowland of Dexys (Image: Facebook)

On July 28th, Dexys (formerly known as Dexy’s Midnight Runners) released their sixth studio album, The Feminine Divine – but during a recent call from his home in London, England, frontman Kevin Rowland admits it almost never came to be. 

Even though he and his band have enjoyed massive success with the hits “Come On Eileen” and “Geno,” in recent years he’d thought he had walked away from his music career entirely.

After their last release, 2016’s Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul, “I was disillusioned with the whole [music] business thing and I just needed to get away,” Rowland says. “I didn’t have any plans to do any music – I didn’t even know if I would [do it] again. I didn’t see myself as taking a break; I felt that it was permanent, that I wanted to do something else. I tried a couple of other things that didn’t really come together. But about 2020 or 2021, I just had the feeling: ‘I think I’d like to do music again.’”

That, in turn, led him to write The Feminine Divine. Once he and his bandmates got going with this new material, “It just flowed,” he says. “We were in the zone, really.” In the end, they created a concept album that celebrates women, from the perspective of a man who evolves in his understanding of them.

“The whole album contains a narrative,” Rowland says. “The first track is basically saying, ‘If you touch my girlfriend, I’ll beat you up.’ The second song, he’s saying, ‘Actually, that’s not who I am.’ Third song, he’s still questioning. Fourth song, he feels he knows where he’s going more now. And then in the fifth song, ‘Feminine Divine,’ he looks at his relationship with women and sees that he completely had the wrong idea about them. He didn’t value them properly.” For the rest of the album, the narrator is in a committed romantic relationship.

Dexys The Feminine Divine, 100% Records 2023

As for why Rowland picked this particular theme, “It’s just what I was feeling,” he says. “It’s just what came out of me when I sat down to write. I don’t say that the album is 100% autobiographical, [but] there’s a lot of me in there, for sure.”

He believes this probably emerged out of the self-reevaluation he did during this latest break between working on albums. “When I first heard the idea of women being goddesses, I was like, ‘What? She’s not a bloody goddess!’ Then I started to realize, ‘Hang on, they are. They’re actually incredibly powerful.’ I had kind of overlooked that, really. So when I had this inspiration, this change of outlook, I wrote it down. It was simple. It just came.”

To that end, he has devised an ambitious way for Dexys to perform The Feminine Divine in its entirety at their upcoming shows to promote the album: “The first half of the show, we’re going to dramatically perform – act out – the whole of the new album, start to finish. There’s a female, she’ll be singing and acting as well. And then there’s going to be an intermission, and when we come back we’ll do lots of old Dexys stuff. Something from every album.”

He promises that their setlist will include their hits “Geno” and “Come on Eileen” this time, though in somewhat altered form. “What we do is, we change them. We don’t radically change them too much, but we’ve got to keep them interesting for us.”


VIDEO: Dexys “Coming Home”

This is also, he says, his way of avoiding devolving into some nostalgia act, because only playing their hits note-for-note “would be soul destroying.”

“I understand that people have got their memories,” he says. “They want to look back on a time in their lives that’s happy and the music can remind them of that. Me, too. But if I want to go see a real artist, I want to see them express themselves. My job has got to be to keep moving forward.”

He estimates he first felt fired up with this musical ambition when he was seven or eight years old, inspired by Elvis Presley and The Beatles. “I just thought, ‘I’d love to do that.’ I always felt I could do it, deep inside. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Whatever it takes, I’m going to do this.’ I remember having that kind of determination. I think it came from the desperation of trying to prove that I could be something to somebody.”

Still, he didn’t make much headway on this dream during his teenaged years; he didn’t learn to proficiently play an instrument or write any music. Things changed when he turned 20 and moved to Birmingham, England, to live with his brother who played in a covers band. That band’s guitarist was departing, so they offered Rowland the job – but only if he mastered all of the songs in their repertoire in six months. It was the incentive Rowland needed to finally get very serious about playing the guitar.

Studying others’ songs so intensively inspired Rowland to write his own material, though he admits that this was initially far more difficult than he expected. His first stab at songwriting was, he says with a laugh, “pretty rubbish. It was called ‘Girlie,’ and it was like, ‘Girlie, come on and give me a whirly.’ Not very good lyrics, I must confess!”

He kept refining his songs, though, and eventually formed his own band – but this proved to be another rocky start for him. “Punk was happening, so it morphed into a punk band. It wasn’t that great, really, and we broke up. Then we thought, ‘OK, we’re going to do it right this time, and we’re going to have a brass section.’ [But] we didn’t really know exactly how the brass would sound because we just didn’t know anything about brass instruments.”

Eventually finding their own unique sound that blending pop with New Wave and soul, the band (then known as Dexy’s Midnight Runners) went to the top of the U.K. music chart with the single “Geno,” from their 1980 debut album Searching for the Young Soul Rebels. As that happened, Rowland says, “I remember walking down the street where I used to live, and all the girls coming out of the dress stores they worked in and getting excited about us. I was thinking, ‘Bloody hell, something’s happening.’”


VIDEO: Dexys “My Submission”

They went on to even greater success with their second album, 1982’s Too-Rye-Ay. Releasing the exuberant single “Come On Eileen,” they again topped the U.K. charts – and did the same in the U.S., as well as charting in more than a dozen other countries. Four decades later, “Come On Eileen” remains one of the most recognizable and universally beloved songs from the 1980s. 

But, in keeping with Rowland’s determination to look forward rather than dwell on past successes, he’s firmly focused on getting The Feminine Divine and its empowering message to the world.

“I feel good about the release of the album,” he says. “I’m really wanting people to hear it, and I want to hear what people think.”


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Katherine Yeske Taylor

Katherine Yeske Taylor is a longtime New Yorker, but she began her rock critic career in Atlanta in the 1990s, interviewing Georgia musical royalty such as the Indigo Girls, R.E.M. and the Black Crowes while she was still a teenager. Since then, she has conducted thousands of interviews with a wide range of artists for dozens of national, regional, and local magazines and newspapers, including Billboard, Spin, American Songwriter, FLOOD, etc. She is the author of two forthcoming books: She’s a Badass: Women in Rock Shaping Feminism (out December 2023 via Backbeat Books), and she's helping Eugene Hütz of Gogol Bordello write his memoir, Rock the Hützpah: Undestructible Ukrainian in the Free World (out in 2024 via Matt Holt Books/BenBella). She also contributed to two prestigious music books (Rolling Stone’s Alt-Rock-A-Rama and The Trouser Press Guide to ’90s Rock. She has also written album liner notes and artist bios (PR materials) for several major musical artists.

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