Dear Mr Boogaloo,
It has been raining here for weeeeeks. Blowy and cold spiky rain. Gary is supposed to be laying a patio. It’s very muddy.
We’d heard a few bits of Dexys' new record (One Day I’m Going To Soar) online but [sigh] not released yet (Editor: Available June 4 in the UK, and June 12 in the US on import-only apparently).
We thought, Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to go to the record shop and get it? Maybe listen to it in the shop. Chat with the man behind the counter.... You know, like in the good old days...Then the tickets went on sale. And I thought I blew it. Then Geoff Deane emailed me to say There are tickets. And there were tickets. Then it rained some more.
Then, it was the 8th May and the sun came out. We polished our boots and tucked in our shirts and drove over the westway to Shepherds Bush. We even parked in a free parking space!
I think you’d like to know that the venue is old. It just missed being bombed in the war. It used to be an old music hall and still maintains that charm inside. All red and gold. Then the BBC took it over and broadcast their black and white entertainment programmes from it. All the National Treasures you can think of who are Knights and Dames now, used the dressing rooms and clicked and clomped the boards. Names that don’t mean much to Americans, probably. The 02 Empire, Shepherds Bush.
Anyway, we got there, and this is what it was like:
(Continued after the jump)
Just inside the tiny lobby, there was Mr. Johns from Hunky Dory (outfitter to Mr. Rowland), looking very spiffy in his three piece suit and watch chain. Back in the day, Mr. Johns supplied amplifiers to the Roxy Club. We said hello and witnessed him get his after-show passes as we started our ascent to Level 3.
The staircases to the place are like arteries and veins - up two, round the corner, down, round and finally, wa-la - The Gods. There was a bar in a broom cupboard in the corner and a sign that said "Dexys will play the new record in it's entirety". The seats are red. The ceiling is gold. It immediately reminded me of a show called The Good Old Days that used to be broadcast when I was a kid. The audience used to wear Victorian outfits and sing-a-long.
But as I looked around, I noticed I was surrounded by blokes. Young men with their dads. Lads in fedoras. Some in flat caps. Some heavy geezers. I went to the bathroom and oddly, I was alone. I am rarely alone in the Ladies at gigs. I swear I heard a ghost giggle.
Down below the tiers of red velvet seats, the stage was set with two keyboards on either side and Dave Ruffy's drumkit in the center. I sat down.
Ken Boothe sang: shelter you from harm. Cilla Black: You're my world, you're everything. And then an announcement I suppose I was ready for - "Ladies and Gentlemen the Queen of Burlesque."
A Joan Collins bird lady in heels came to the centre of the stage wearing a black bikini with a thigh length fringe skirt and a big fantail of long feathers. Someone cued the music and we got the jungle drums of "Baby please don't go!" and she shimmies and shakes. Off come the feathers. The second tune is a “sleazy” jazzy wah-wah trumpet and we get to see her tattoos, woot – her very nice bottom, and ta-da! Her nipple tassels and then we are back to the warm up music.
Who was that? The boys liked it! Looking around now, [Bryan Ferry singing "Lady Luck"] it was very hard to shake the good old days. The Burlesque Lady had fed my music hall nostalgia.
Still. Blokes everywhere. In the row behind I overhear young lads, one pretending he saw Dexys Midnight Runners the first time around. When the question is asked "are any of the original band members going to be playing tonight?” and the pretender amongst them stumbled, I thought I'd better wrap his cod for him and put some salt and vinegar on his chips.
"If you saw them the first time round, you'd be 50." I said.
My boyfriend kindly explained, "We are going to see Big Jim Patterson, Mick Talbot from The Style Council playing keyboards and a living legend on drums - Mr. Ruffy formerly The Ruts." He's busted. But he doesn't mind.
The lights went out. Nine figures take the stage. It's hush. Talbot piano plays the opening bars. In the dark Kevin Rowland starts singing:
Well it was way back in the forties
from the western part you came
and in them rocky fields ... Arrans ... were no more than slaves
but once we knew higher things
and that comes out in you
your tearful voice
your natural grace
in your sad irish face
The lights go on and Pete Williams is singing:
Attack The Track I said Attack Attack and you smile because Kevin Rowland has his mate up there.
And there’s an instant reconnection. It’s as if these two mates have been talking about life and girls and this and that and it’s us that went away.
Violin player. Beautiful high-waisted trousers. Trombone player in his dungarees. Not just any trombone player. It’s Big Jim Patterson.
Oh I know that I've been crazy
and that cannot be denied
but inside of me there's always room
a secret urge for flight
you see I've dreamed about things
the brightest things
I know you know what i mean
coz in my youngest years it seemed to me
that anything was possible
The truth was out there. And he was right. We did know what he meant. His voice was warm and deep and weighty. He didn't seem nervous or angry. He was steady. Then he sat down and sang “Lost.”
Then what happened was we all sat and listened to this new album together. It was remarkable really.
Loads of bands have returned to the stage and played their whole album. Albums you have loved and bought. But no band I know of has played a whole album and illustrated it with slides and acted vignettes for you so you could decide if you wanted to buy the record or not. But that’s what was happening.
Some people will say it was like a musical – you could have thought Guys and Dolls with the way they were dressed. Some people will say it was theatrical. But really it was “Here I am NOW” and a request - “Don’t include any Irish stereo types here. That’s not who I am."
And you know, we all listened. Everyone in the place was mesmerized. They really paid attention. Like in the good old days. With your mates. It was really special. His songs came from conversations to song. They were conversations with us. With his mate on stage. With himself. He even said hello to someone off stage and told them “I’m alright.” He included everyone. I heard him say that he found it difficult to communicate, except when he sang and when he sang, he could really pour everything out in a song.
And in the song called “She Got A Wiggle” there was a projection on the wall of a film star in black and white. But her voice was present. I couldn’t work out if she was singing “I’m mad about you” or “I’ve never met you.” But she must have been important to him because the next song was called “You” and then the next song was a lying-in-bed song “I’m Thinking Of You” (with your legs crossed and when your legs are uncrossed).
The next song was “I’m Always Going to Love You” and during this song, the girl from the “movie” appeared in real life. In a dressing gown. The girl from the cover of the record. I thought for a moment she may have been the Burlesque girl in her wrap but the lads tell me no. This was a different girl. They sang together and had a horrible row about his inability to love.
He changed his mind in the middle of the song. She was like, “What?”
And he was like, “I’m confused.” And she was like, “Look – it’s all or nothing”
He asked her, “All or nothing?” She said, “All or nothing.”
It really became quite distressing.
He couldn’t say he loved her and suddenly she was singing “Kevin, don’t talk to me.” And they argued in song. And then he left the stage. She crumpled to the floor. Was he coming back?
Then she sat up and looked off stage. He had gone. And she stood up and let us see that she was crying. And the band kept playing that sort of music that holds on in case the singer comes back. And she tried to hold her head up. And the drummer saw that the singer wasn’t coming back. And the song finished. And the stage went dark. He had let us see this inability to love.
And then he came back and sang “Nowhere is home to me.”
“I now know no romantic situation, no money, success, nothing can make me happy. There’s no rose gardens for me. I’m not talking self pity. No. That’s the truth,” and he repeats that he doesn’t want to be pigeon holed as Irish.
He says "I’ve got to be what I Believe. I can’t be anybody else. I can just about be my fucking self.
Take your Irish stereotype and shove it up your arse. I’m gonna be free. I can’t be a fucking stereotype. But it’s lonely being here and living this fight.” Hearbreaking.
Next, he rocks a song called Free. And then a white chair is bought to the front of the stage and Kevin Rowland sings to the final song, “It’s ok, John Joe.” I had heard the song as It’s ok, Joanna. Now he was singing to John Joe. Maybe John Joe was his inner Irish child. I don’t know. It reminded me of Gestalt therapy where you “talk to the chair.” But it was the most intimate moment of all.
I remember feeling it was a hopeful song. And at the end of it, he almost whisphered, “we could leave it there, couldn’t we?” And the whole place stood up and gave him a long standing ovation. It was really, really warm and loving. If he really didn’t know what love was, or if he felt incapable of feeling love, I think it was the whole damn theatre’s hope that he could feel our love for him. And he didn’t leave.
He took the bow. And then he changed the words and went to the old songs. And ha ha ha, he started the next segment, with "Old." But he didn’t sing the old lyrics. He sang new ones. “I don’t want to live in the past” I heard him sing.
Then there was "Until I Believe In My Soul." And then THAT trombone. Man. "Tell Me When My Light Turns Green."
And then, a policeman came on stage for a bit more of “Until I Believe In My Soul.” And we heard him talk to his past with a policeman and he told us how he was burning until 1993. And then he sang "Come On Eileen." And then he sang “I Couldn’t Help It If I Tried” and then "Liars from A to E."
And then the two men stood together for “This is What She’s Like” and the crowd was probably up here in the Gods.
Excuse me. I think I need a tissue.
Yes. Lots of lads. Lots of emotional lads. Lots of love, sweat, tears, truth. A bit of facing ourselves. Facing our past. Being here instead of there. Maybe the blokes saw themselves and their mates and dads on stage, I don’t know. I still want to go to the record shop and get the record. And chat to the sales assistant about it.
Maybe you can feel at home in a song?
She Got a Wiggle
I'm Thinking of You
I'm Always Going To Love You
Incapable of Love
It's Ok John Joe
Until I Believe In My Soul
Tell Me When My Light Turns Green
Until I Believe In My Soul - a bit more
Come On Eileen
I Couldn't Help It If I Tried
Liars A to EThis Is What She's Like