I arrived at the Vue Cinema in Piccadilly Circus not really knowing what to expect. What I certainly did not expect was that one of the first people I would see at the venue would be Kevin Rowland himself - or that he would provide a personal introduction to the film before it began. He was keen to stress that this was a film about Dexys - not a "Dexys film". He also explained that he felt there was too much of him talking in the film but had been assured by the film-makers that this was necessary for the project to work as a film rather than just concert footage. After the brief introduction, with an audibly apprehensive Rowland admitting that he's better at singing than talking, the opening credits rolled and there was a reverential hush from the sizeable audience in Screen 4.
It was little surprise that the film opened with a live rendition of the introduction to "Now" which itself was the opening track of Dexys' latest album "One Day I'm Going To Soar". This set up the fairly predictable premise that the film would follow the album's tracks through in sequence just as their live shows have done over the last two years. The interview sections were then spliced throughout a montage of musical moments from the band's performances at the Duke Of York Theatre over three nights in 2013, with Kevin Rowland's comments generally punctuating the pauses between each featured song. It was reminiscent of the way in which the music on so many Dexys songs is "interrupted" by spoken word sections and I couldn't help noting the irony that a man who feels more comfortable singing than talking spends so much time on his own records talking rather than singing.
The segments of interview which were clearly filmed back-stage at the venue featured Kevin Rowland sitting side by side with the un-sung star of the show, Big Jimmy Paterson. While Kevin did ninety-nine percent of the talking, often seeming to agonise over every word of his self-confessionals, Jim just sat stoically, staring into the middle distance, expressionless and occasionally nodding sagely. Somehow this gave his rare contributions an added resonance - whilst he also displayed perfect comedy timing and a deadpan demeanour. There were quite a few laugh-out-loud moments throughout the film, the first of which being Kevin's comment that "it's easy to be in a shit band... there are lots of shit bands around." Shortly afterwards, following a lengthy monologue from Rowland about forming the original Dexys, he tried to bring Paterson into the conversation, saying that "eventually Jim came and joined us, didn't you Jim?" to which Paterson responded with a perfunctory "Yeah." and then, after a perfect pause (which was filled by laughter from the audience on the night), he added in his distinctive Scottish drawl "I didn't even want to BE in a band."
The filming of the musical sections was expertly captured and managed to achieve a far more intimate feel than most live concert footage, really getting in amongst the performers and portraying the theatrical nature of the show. Kevin Rowland wore an ever-changing caleidoscope of colourful clothing, his face filling the screen, displaying close-ups of the archetypal tortured artist. Kevin's on-stage object of obsession, co-singer Madeleine Hyland demonstrated a real screen presence which helped to overcome my misgivings about her singing. One particular scene during the show in which she kissed Kevin on the lips, leaving him to sing the rest of the song with bright red lip-stick smeared around his mouth somehow encapsulated the humour, honesty, awkwardness and absurdity of Dexys in a single moment.
The sound - mixed by long-time Dexys associate Pete Schwier - was also exceptional throughout and really pounded through the speakers during the set's louder sections. This drew my attention to the odd dynamic of listening to a selection of live songs whilst being seated in a cinema environment. The venue I was at was just across the road from the old Paris Theatre where Dexys had performed their "Projected Passion Revue" in 1981 and yet this felt very different from watching a band playing live - or even listening to recorded music in the privacy of my own home. The temptation to sing along or clap in time to the music was supressed by a strange sense of detachment from events on-screen as part of an audience who were not 'there' but instead were watching people who 'had been there' watching a show. As footage of "She Got A Wiggle" reached its conclusion some members of the audience finally felt the urge to applaud as though they were watching the original live performance - perhaps mindful that Kevin Rowland, along with keyboard man Michael Timothy, were in the crowd - and this set the tone for the rest of the film.
The versions of songs featured from "One Day I'm Going To Soar" were powerfully performed with excellent musicianship, making me want to revisit the album with fresh ears, but the hi-lights for me were from the film's climax as the classic Dexys material was given a run-through starting with a rousing version of "I Love You (Listen To This)". It was at this point I remembered that we were supposed to receive a limited edition single featuring that song together with "Nowhere Is Home" for having booked our tickets early. The fact that my brother and I somehow managed to miss the man handing these out while virtually everyone else in attendance seemed to get a copy was one of the evening's few disappointing aspects for me! What did please me as I watched the latter stages of the film was the sight of Sean Reed, sax in hand, standing side by side with Jimmy Paterson pumping out the emblematic horn riffs from "Tell Me When My Light Turns Green". For me, Dexys were always about that "brass sound" and as much as I love Jimmy Paterson's trombone-playing there are few things I love more in life than the sound of a sax and trombone harmonising together on a punchy riff.
Finally the scene was set for the last act - an inevitably barn-storming performance of the "Don't Stand Me Down" classic "This Is What She's Like". Explaining as part of the song's spoken pre-amble with Pete Williams that he'd try to be "concise" in explaining what she's like - another line which drew laughter from the knowing members of the audience - Kevin Rowland then launched into an intense and passionate delivery of the song which many fans regard as the pinnacle of his musical creativity. It was interesting in this context to notice the absence of "Come On Eileen" - a song which has been a mainstay of Dexys' return over the last couple of years - from the set featured in the film. The publicity for the film had alluded to the fact that most people know Dexys from their Number One singles "Geno" and "Come On Eileen" whereas most fans prefer other songs from their back catalogue. During one of the interview sections of the film Rowland commented that he had turned down many invitations over the years to perform "Come On Eileen". It felt as though this film made a conscious effort to move Dexys another step away from being "the band who sung 'Come On Eileen' back in the '80s" and towards a more rounded reflection of their body of work. The protracted play-out of "This Is What She's Like", during which a camera-man followed Rowland as he left the stage and made his way through the theatre's corridors and stairways up to one of the balconies and then back to the stage - singing throughout - was a fitting finale to a fine film.
THIS is what they're like.