Dexys

Kevin Rowland and co play through their latest album in full at Custom House Square Marquee

When Kevin Rowland formed Dexys Midnight Runners way back in 1978, he promised his bandmates that they would wear great clothes and make soulful music. 35 years on, Dexys (as they’re now known) take to the stage in the Custom House Square Marquee with Rowland keeping true to his word.

Assembling just before 9pm, the band line up in a row, dressed like Depression-era desperados, as the opening Irish parlour piano figure of 'Now' plays. What follows is the story of a man struggling with love, commitment, loss and defiance set to some of the most soulful music these islands have ever produced.

When Dexy’s fourth album, One Day I’m Going To Soar, was released in 2012, it came after a gap of 27 years. The band showcased the album in full (and in sequence) at selected venues across the UK. Both the album and the live dates received almost universal acclaim, so much so that Dexys have revived the show for selected dates this spring/summer, including this Belfast date under the auspices of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.

Their new songs chart the singer’s journey through several love affairs. 'She Got A Wiggle' introduces the object of affection, played and sung brilliantly by Madeleine Hyland. With her blood red lips, hands on hips, and the dark beauty of a 1940s film noir femme fatale, Hyland (an actor by trade) commands the stage, and the audience’s attention.

Rowland and Hyland are magnificent during songs such as 'I’m Always Going To Love You' (with its musical echoes of Bruce Springsteen’s 'Hungry Heart'), and imbue the drama of the love story gone wrong with heartfelt emotion. There is a real sense of theatricality throughout the show, from the band's attire (including two costume changes for Rowland) to the comic asides with co-vocalist Pete Williams, who plays the part of Rowland’s confessor.

The set continues with 'Nowhere is Home', a song about individualism and freedom. The lyrics 'I was born there of an Irish family' bring a loud cheer from this Belfast crowd. However, the lines that follow – 'But that in itself is not enough for me, because national identity won’t fulfil me' – do not.

When later in the song Rowland sings of taking Irish stereotypes and sticking them where the sun doesn’t shine, it’s a stunning moment. In a country where we celebrate our accident of birth as if it’s something to be proud of in itself, it’s great to see a second generation Irishman challenge that ridiculous notion in song.

There’s no taking leave of the stage following the album set conclusion, just a heartfelt thank you from Rowland. Then it’s into some choice cuts from the Dexys back catalogue.

'The Waltz' is followed by a Latin-flavoured take on 'Geno', giving the crowd an opportunity to sing along. 'Burning' seques into 'Tell Me when My Light Turns Green' (with Pete Williams dressed as a policeman), before the band finish with a storming version of 'Until I Believe in My Soul'.

Dexys return to the stage for an encore of Don’t Stand Me Down’s 'This Is What She’s Like'. Every horn blast from Jim Paterson, each sweep of the fiddle from Lucy Morgan, and every soul moan that escapes Rowland’s lips tells us exactly how she makes him feel. That, ladies and gentlemen, is soul music.

The Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival continues until May 12.

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