Dexys' Dynamo: The Enchanting HELEN O'HARA


Helen O'Hara tells all about her time with Dexy's

Violinist Helen O’Hara has an amazing story to tell. She’s written it all into a memoir titled ‘What’s She Like’, named after the Dexy’s Midnight Runners song that she herself inspired. It’s an exuberant, joyful account of a classical musical student who suddenly finds herself on Top of the Pops.

What’s She Like takes in O’Hara’s time working with Tanita Tikaram and Graham Parker before she walked away from music for more than two decades at the start of the 1990s. But inevitably her relationship with Dexys front man Kevin Rowland –both personal and professional – is at the heart of the book. It is even emblazoned on the cover, in both the image used and the name on the spine. Helen O’Hara is, after all, her Dexys name, the one Rowland gave to her.

She was born Helen Bevington in Bristol in 1956. But when Rowland invited her to play with his band as part of a string section, he renamed her O’Hara. Helen began playing the violin when she was nine. After playing in bands and studying at the Birmingham School of Music, she made a decision that changed her life. She had been offered a position with the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra in Spain. But she went with her gut and hitched her wagon to Dexys. At the time, joining the orchestra was certainly the safer option. Dexys may have had a number one single in the bag, but there was a lot of tension within the band.

Come on Eileen was the song of the summer of 1982. Helen says she was 19 at the time and Too-Rye-Ay became one of the key romantic texts of her student life. The recent re-release of the album and it’s title still perplexes her.

To tie in with the 40th anniversary of their multi-platinum selling second album, Dexy’s Midnight Runners released Too-Rye-Ay “as it should have sounded”: Kevin Rowland was never happy with the final mix of the album, released in 1982, despite its huge commercial success. So with Helen O’Hara they decided to mix it again. Kevin Rowland says that for many years, he’d been haunted by the mixing on Too Rye Ay. It wasn’t as good as it should’ve been! Finally, they were able to right that wrong. The album’s cover has also been re-modelled, using the preferred image from the “Come On Eileen” single sleeve.

1985’s album, “Don’t Stand Me Down was unlike anything else around. It didn’t do well with the likes of Phil Collins, Madonna and others claiming the charts. The band was burnt by the lack of response and Dexy’s began to wind down. Helen recorded a solo album and then went on to work with a new 18-year-old singer called Tanita Tikaram. In 1991, she walked away from music altogether and she wouldn’t return to it for 23 years. 

Finding music again

Helen married and had two children. Rowland, meanwhile, struggled with addiction and depression. But in 2012 Dexy’s returned with a new album, One Day I’m Going To Soar. Helen picked up her violin again in 2014 and hasn’t stopped playing since.

Below, one of the highlights of her life – playing at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham 2022.

My interview with Helen O'Hara here