A Word With The Deacon
Cut 1st November 1986
Next to catch the hip and money-laden train to big success via the major label recording deal, DEACON BLUE have their ticket ready for the inspector... John Williamson was at the platform..
It would be easy to write off Deacon Blue as another in the long line of recent Glasgow designer bands. After all, they have the right haircuts, the necessary background in countless other local bands, they drink in the right places and they talk at length about their collections of Stax and Atlantic soul records. They pay the obligitary respects to icons of the Glasgow scene like James Grant and Graeme Wilson, and most importantly, they have recently signed on the dotted line with CBS records, in a deal that commits them to recording eight albums.
Added to all this, frontman Ricky Ross is dangerously close to being a Hipsway clone - having already mastered the dreaded Skin dance routine. Nevertheless, Deacon Blue after almost a year trying to find the right line up are now able to surpass the great majority of the competition through a mixture of talent, intelligence and originality.
Ricky Ross (vocals, lyrics) and Graeme Kelling (guitar) seem pretty happy with their lot at the moment. Why not? The deal with CBS means that there is now a strong possibility of big record sales, big bank balances and all the other attractions that stardom brings. Although the current line up is easily the best the band have had in the last year, it looks like the nucleus of the band - Ricky, Graeme, Jim Prime (keyboards) and Dougie Vipond (drums) - will have to face up to yet more change, as bassist Raymond Docherty is heavily committed to the Big Dish, and backing singer Lorraine McIntosh is also primarily engaged in working with other bands. Having now achieved most of what they hoped for in terms of the band's progress, I enquired as to whether they felt that signing to one of the world's biggest record companies would mean that they would have to quietly dispose of the current high plans and ideals in order to make music that was considered commercial:
"I don't see why we should have to sell out," says Ricky looking horrified. "I think that if you plan and stick to it then nothing should go wrong."
"There's no reason why success and artistic credibility should be mutually exclusive," adds Graeme.
While I admire his optimism, the machinery of major record companies has eaten up several good Scottish bands (Sunset Gun and Sugar Sugar - both with CBS and Sideway Look to name a few) and I have to wonder how closely they can adhere to their current plans. Would they let the record company decide what would be released as singles?
"I wouldn't record anything if I didn't believe in it," continues Ricky, "in theory I wouldn't mind what is released. I don't subscribe to the thought that everyone in record companies is stupid. They are paid to decide what makes a single and what doesn't. I am not against advice on what we release."
Trying to establish the plans that Deacon Blue have for the future is less easy than I had expected. It would appear that most of the decisions regarding their future are still to be made, probably as a result of the fact that they have been with CBS for such a short time. Even so, the conversation regarding their recording plans, filming of videos, commercial appeal, and the production of their records verges on the ridiculous.
Ricky on their first single:
"It will probably be called Friday Afternoon And The Headlights Are Still On - and the follow up will be I'm Blue For You And Fast Turning Pink ..."
Ricky on the image that they are trying to portray:
"Sex-macho and over-developed. Isn't that obvious?... It is slightly immoral that so much time and effort should be put into producing a 3-4 minute fils. It's just not worth it."
"Added to that it is absurd seeing Midge Ure trying to look like the guy next door, driving about in a Cortina," laughs Ricky.
I also find out that the reason Lloyd Cole is more successful than the Waterboys or Prefab Sprout has to do with freemasonery, and that they expect their records will go down well at the Grab-A-Granny Zip Around With A Zimmer Night at the Savoy disco...
Listening to them is much more fruitful when I give them something to enthuse about. So who are their musical heroes?
"Singers," suggests Graeme, "people like Paul Buchanan and Billy MacKenzie."
"I would say that the Blue Nile album is one of the best of the last five years," agrees Ricky. "But there is also a whole lot of people that we really love that have no real effect on our music. Classic songwriters like Rogers and Hart, Bacharach and David?"
"And then there is soul..."
"I have listened to more Stax and Atlantic soul in the last year," he enthuses.
"There is greatness all through these records. Great singing and great arrangements. It was only last year that I saw Otis Redding on Ready Steady Go for the last time. That was easily one of the best performances I have ever seen. It's only now that people are unearthing music which is great - in my childhood most music was terrible."
Deacon Blue have now reached a stage where they are in possession of some superb songs. Take your pick between the power and drive of Raintown, the brilliant lyrics of A Ship Called Dignity, or the joyous Take The Saints Away. In general a large number of Ricky's lyrics are inspired by religion or politics, although they stress the importance of not sermonising or trying to force their beliefs and ideas down peoples throats.
They may not be the best band based in Glasgow at the moment, but they can certainly lay claim to being the most improved. They are now less derivative and more musically cohesive than they were a year ago, with both of these facts greatly enhancing the quality of the live show. Whether they will be able to continue such an improvement within the confines of a major record company remains to be seen, but whatever results, you can be sure it won't be through a lack of effort or talent.