Monday, May 26, 2014

‘Dexys: Nowhere is Home’, Monorail Film Club screening at the GFT, 25th May

At the Q & A after the film, people didn’t want to ask questions so much as to tell Kevin Rowland how much his music means to them. They wanted to tell him what it’s like, living with this impassioned, insanely well crafted quicksilver, that can ground you even as it soars, pull you together as it explodes. One woman said she felt that One Day I’m Going to Soar surpassed even Don’t Stand Me Down, and asked him which record gave him more personal satisfaction. ‘One Day I’m Going to Soar,’ he said. ‘Massively.’ Against the myth, he thought that the earlier record hadn’t had a bad reception, there had been some supporters, but everything had come right this time around. From finding singer Madeleine Hyland through a friend at a market, to the way songs written over a period of years clicked together into a single narrative, even that the run of shows at the Duke of York’s Theatre fortuitously extended to allow Kieran Evans and Paul Kelly time to put this film together. If I had had a question, it would have been, ‘You know some of us put My Beauty up there with your other four masterpieces?’, because it’s well overdue the kind of resuscitation afforded Don’t Stand Me Down over its several reissues. And he would have said ‘What’s the question?’ as he did when one chap asked about Searching for the Young Soul Rebels being so, so great. ‘No part twos, ever’, he said, when he asked why they hadn’t made another LP like it.

I was lucky enough to see one of the One Day I’m Going to Soar concerts, at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh (there’s a slightly perfunctory review of it, and the following day’s soup, here), and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life, of course it was. The oddest aspect was the burlesque act which opened proceedings, but this, if it was the same in London, didn’t make it to the film (and neither did ‘Come on Eileen’). Instead, it begins with: ‘You know what? I was a no-hoper. Prison was a possibility’, those striking words from the trailer; but in the film they’re not a voice over, Kevin’s head fills the screen, and you think you’re in for some big confession. Then the quiet opening bars of the album play over twilight shots of the theatre and its immediate surroundings, of people coming and going. Then another segment of interview, in which Kevin and Jim Paterson, seated in the stalls of the empty theatre, signally fail to follow up on the prison comment. Then into the second half of opening song ‘Now’: ‘Attack, attack!’, suddenly you’re there in the front row, or onstage with them, as the show kicks into life.

And what a show it is. Where there had been a screen on stage in Edinburgh with a projection of Madeleine Hyland for ‘She Got a Wiggle’, in the film she’s lounging on a divan with a cigarette holder, behind and above Kevin and the rest of the band. Not wiggling, for sure, but the song has a tightrope to tread: to convey how sexy this woman is, while displaying her, wearing a big leather frock and suspenders, somehow without objectifying her. The way the drums lock in to that slow foreboding groove give the imagined wiggle menace, though, and titillation seems a million miles away. The character Hyland plays is about as developed as a Dickens heroine, there is nothing to her beyond her looks and her clothes. I’m not criticising her performance, which is great, but she acts solely as Kevin’s muse, the out of focus flame to his well delineated moth, an ideal with no rough edges, no characteristics beyond a smouldering sexuality, hurt, and a combustible temper when the occasion calls for it. Which it does half way through ‘I’m Always Going to Love You’, the tipping point of the album and the show. Kevin coaxes Madeleine with unconditional devotion, and she joins in, singing ‘I’m always going to love you’ back to him. This registers, and he sings: ‘We’re always going to, we’re always going to love...’. But there is nowhere for the syntax to go, other than ‘each other’, which would be an inconceivably ugly end to the line, so he sings instead, ‘I think I’m going round the bend / Now we must end’. And everything falls apart.

Back at the Q & A, asked about compromise by Duglas T. Stewart, Kevin showed himself to be a little more flexible than might have been expected. He talked about the 2003 shows he did with Dexys, when he was broke and about to get married. He did them because he needed the cash. But he got too interested in them, he got more into Dexys than he was into the idea of getting married; and anyway, he said, they spent so much on rehearsing and staging them that they didn’t make any money. In the film, he talked about how he didn’t want to be too chummy with his audience: if you’re a fan he’s not your mate, he’s not on Facebook chatting and stirring up a buzz. He wants to make the records, perform the shows, and that’s his audience interaction, the fact that he’s paid us the compliment of making something that’s good. So good. Again and again, five times now (is it six? I must track down The Wanderer). It’s scary that this is so far from the norm as to sound like a revolutionary idea, but I think he has hit on an important truth. Work can so easily be diluted by marketing, and marketing is no longer the preserve of corporations, any more than releasing records is: everyone’s at it.

The film continues beyond the One Day I’m Going to Soar material into the encores, including the beautiful, slow version of ‘Tell Me When My Light Turns Green’, and climaxes with a full-length ‘This is What She’s Like’, which automatically makes it a brilliant film. The interspersed interview doesn’t slow the show’s momentum, though Kevin is quite guarded (he was a bit less so at the Q & A). There are some deft directorial touches, like the screen test style shots of fans outside the venue towards the end, standing still, looking into the camera; or the startling shot of Hyland looking into the mirror after performing, close to tears. For the most part, though, this is a concert film, documenting a spectacular stage show, and coming closer than should really be possible to matching the live event for thrills.

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