Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Dexys’ Kevin Rowland

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz an artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Dexys (fka Dexys Midnight Runners) frontman Kevin Rowland takes the ultimate test

Which 1999 Simon Pegg-created/starring cult sitcom has a memorable scene where a character dressed as a member of Dexys Midnight Runners is punched out in a club while your chart-topping 1982 single ‘Come On Eileen’ is playing?

“Hmmmn…I’ve got no idea!”

WRONG. It was Spaced.

“That doesn’t ring a bell. Ali G was around that time, and I really liked him, but I don’t remember Spaced. I’ll check it out.”

How do you look back on the mammoth success of ‘Come On Eileen’?

“I don’t look back. As an artist, you’ve got to keep moving forward. I’m grateful for ‘…Eileen’ and the money means I can live and do other projects. It can be frustrating that in America we’re seen as a one-hit wonder, but here and Europe it’s not like that, especially amongst music fans. My focus is always on what I’m doing now.”

In what unusual locations did Creation Records boss Alan McGee claim to have posted 10,000 posters of the cover of your 1999 solo album ‘My Beauty’?

“We did talk everything through, but I can’t remember that.”

WRONG. According to McGee’s autobiography, Creation Stories: Riots, Raves and Running a Label, he posted the billboards of ‘My Beauty’’s cover image – featuring you in lingerie, ballgown and stockings – around accident blackspots in the UK in an attempt to cause a crash for publicity.

“You’re joking?! That’s insane and I had nothing to do with that. And I don’t know if that’s true.”

‘My Beauty’ – a covers album which boasted reinterpretations of songs such as George Benson’s ‘The Greatest Love of All’ and The Monkees’ ‘Daydream Believer’ – received mixed reviews upon release, with its artwork attracting vitriol in the laddish ‘90s. But in recent years, it’s been revaluated as an ahead-of-the-curve classic…

“Three years ago, when it was re-issued and I saw all the love for it, it was very moving. It’s amazing that clothes could have triggered something so deeply in people, because they got so angry at the cover! I was shocked. I was really happy with it and thought it might ruffle a couple of feathers – which is no bad thing! – but I didn’t think it would get that level of reaction. I’m even getting it now. In our latest publicity pictures, I’m wearing a full-length skirt and there’s Facebook comments complaining: ‘What’s he wearing a fucking skirt for?!’ [Laughs]”

Which three radio snippets does Dexys Midnight Runners’ 1980 debut album ‘Searching for the Young Soul Rebels’ open with?

“‘Smoke on the Water’, ‘Holidays in the Sun’, and ‘Rat Race’.”

CORRECT. By Deep Purple, Sex Pistols and the Specials respectively.

“Great, I’ve got one right! [Laughs]” The Specials were good enough to invite us on their tour [in 1979] and we repaid them by putting ‘Rat Race’ on the beginning of the album, and said: ‘For God’s sake, burn it down!’ before ‘Burn It Down‘, which was out of order!”


During a support slot in 1983, you reportedly wound up a French audience by saying which headliner was “full of shit” and a “bad copy of Bryan Ferry”?

David Bowie.”


“Nobody’s ever asked me about this before. We had to be escorted out of the area! [Laughs] I’d been taking strong sleeping tablets prescribed by a private New York doctor. Whenever I took them, I’d be grumpy and didn’t give a shit about anything. We were about five songs into our 12-song set and it was going well, and I could see the applause going right back in this massive open-air venue. After we’d finish each song, around 50 people in the front were chanting and waving their hands in the air, so I’m thinking: ‘This is great! They’re really into it!’. I thought they were chanting in French, and went over to the drummer Seb [Shelton] and asked: ‘What are they saying?’. He replied: ‘They’re shouting ‘Bowie! Bowie! Bowie!’ at you. So I just lost it! [Laughs] I was really disappointed. Because we were going down really well apart from these 50 people in the front, who were all half-naked, muddy and looked like hippies – not what you’d think of as Bowie fans.”

“So I went up to them and said something along the lines of: ‘You’re sitting in a fucking field all day in a load of mud waiting for fucking David Bowie! He’s just a pale imitation of Bryan Ferry!’ As we went to start the next song, the plugs were pulled. Bowie had been at the back of the stage and heard it. We were supposed to do two nights, but they didn’t want us back for the second.”

“Apparently Bowie was really upset about it. Many years later when I got into recovery from cocaine addiction, I wrote him a letter apologising, to make amends, and said if he ever wanted to talk about it, please contact me. I know he got the letter, but I didn’t hear back. But that’s OK.”

Which band did you present the Best Album Award to at the 2015 NME Awards?

“That’s a good question! I remember being there….oh, fucking hell, Kasabian?”


“I wanted to fucking clout Tom [former Kasabian frontman Tom Meighan] because he started singing ‘Come On Eileen’! [Laughs] I think he was off his nut. I said: ‘That was a long time ago!’ His manager thought he was trying to tell the audience who I was, because maybe they wouldn’t know me. But I didn’t like it. It didn’t feel good.”

An easy one: who did Dexys Midnight Runners replace on the famous 1979 2 Tone Tour?

Madness. It was always going to be that they’d do the first half [of the tour] and we’d do the second.”

CORRECT. You performed alongside the Specials and The Selecter. Did you enjoy it?

“I didn’t like it and it felt wrong for us. They [the Specials] wanted to use our brass section on their album, ‘cause they recorded theirs in the summer of ’79 and we hadn’t recorded anything by that point, but our brass was distinctive and it was important to keep that. When they offered us the tour, I told our management I didn’t want to do it but they said it was gong to be the biggest tour of the year. It felt like being at somebody else’s party. As the tour went on, we became more accepted by their audiences. Jerry [Dammers, the Specials] wanted us to sign to his 2 Tone label – but we wanted to build our own thing.”

What do you think would have happened if you’d signed to 2 Tone?

“It would have been more one-dimensional. We’d have cut a limb off and been bracketed as a 2 Tone band. I regret going on that tour. Don’t get me wrong – they [the bands] were all great, nice guys and I respected them, but it was the wrong move for us.”

Name the 1992 track by the Hackney rap duo Shut Up and Dance that you play guitar on.

“Oh yeah! ’Raving I’m Raving?’ No – that was the hit single off the album? What song am I on?”

WRONG. It’s ‘Autobiography of a Crackhead’.

“Wow! I do remember it now! [Laughs] That came about because we doing demos of a lot of songs that didn’t come out – some of which we’ve used later. Some of them appear on the new Dexys album ‘The Feminine Divine’. As I was playing rhythm guitar on this demo, the engineer – who also worked with Shut Up and Dance – asked me to play guitar for then. So I went down and did it. Not only that, I wrote some uncredited music for it – a chord sequence. They gave me some cash as well which was very useful because at the time I was broke.”


What is track six on Dexys’ new album ‘The Feminine Divine’?

“That’s easy! Let me run through the tracks: 1: ‘The One That Loves You’; 2: ‘It’s Alright Kevin (Manhood 2023)’; 3: ‘I’m Going To Get Free’; 4: ‘Coming Home’ 5: ‘The Feminine Divine’; track 6 is…‘My Goddess Is’”.

CORRECT. What inspired the upcoming LP?

“Years of experience. The album isn’t 100 per cent autobiographical but there’s a lot of me in it, and the character is saying I’ve had the wrong approach to women and not understood them – and that’s certainly true of me – so I talk about that. The album has a narrative. On the first track [‘The One That Loves You’] he’s got a macho position and says if anybody touches my girlfriend, I’ll beat ‘em up. I wrote that one in 1991 and that was exactly how I felt at the time. That was my ‘act’ – even though I wasn’t aware it was an act – which was the macho culture I grew up with that’s impossible to live up to. The second song, ‘That’s Alright Kevin’, is the truth and says: ‘I tried so hard to live a lie/Pretending I was some tough guy/But now I’ve had enough/I can’t carry on this way no more now’, with backing vocalists asking me questions like: ‘Were you always feeling edgy? Afraid the mask would slip and they’d see?’

“So it looks at masculinity and femininity and then the character talks about his relationship with women. On track 5, ‘The Feminine Divine’, he realises that women are goddesses and he gets into a relationship on ‘My Goddess Is’ and by track 8, ‘My Submission’, he’s ready to completely give himself to her.”

You previously claimed you didn’t want to write music anymore. What changed?

“In 2016, I poured my heart and soul into [the Dexys album] ‘Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul’ and was really happy with it, but I found it difficult dealing with the music business and was drained by the end of that year. And then my mum passed on New Year’s Eve, and I felt down and low. I went to Thailand and did some body work and some courses, and started to see what was my true self – not the bullshit that I’d been posturing with. It wasn’t to the extent that it was in 1980 – which involved arguing with the record company and stealing the tapes* and battling the press – but that kind of posturing hadn’t left me completely. And I also came to realise that women were goddesses.”

“Five years later, in 2021, I thought: ‘Now I can finally write something!’. Because at the end of 2016, I had nothing to say and wanted to get away from music. I had got a certificate as a qualified meditation teacher and thought I’d maybe do that.”

“But as result of doing all that work on myself, it shocked me that by 2020/2021, I wanted to do music again, so looked through the old demos for music and wrote the title track ‘The Feminine Divine’ in one night. Then I wrote a lot of the other songs from intuition and realised at the end that if I put the tracks in an order, it had a narrative, so I leaned more into that theme.”

*When they signed to EMI, Dexys Midnight Runners thought the royalties were too low and stole their own master tapes of debut ‘Searching for the Young Soul Rebels’ until the label relented

What four songs did your pre-Dexys Midnight Runners punk band the Killjoys perform on their first John Peel session that was recorded in October 1977?

“I can only guess, but ‘Recognition’? ‘All Night’? ‘Naïve’? [Laughs] What was the other one?”

WRONG. You only missed ‘Back to Front’.

“Ah! I wouldn’t have remembered that! The Killjoys were a good example of what not to do – that’s my main memory of that!”

In 2004, the band 4-4-2 released a novelty football song version of ‘Come on Eileen’ titled ‘Come on England’. What number did it reach in the charts?



“Number Two?! It didn’t sound that great! I think a crappy version like that detracts a bit. It’s a hard song to cover – there’s not many good covers of it. Badly Drawn Boy did [a good] one but No Doubt did a ska version that didn’t work. It was too much of a rhythm change in the chorus. Not my cup of tea!”

The verdict: 5/10

“Better than I did at school! [Laughs]”

Dexys’ new album, ‘The Feminine Divine’ is released on July 28 and is available for pre-order. The band tour the UK in September.