Sounds 4th July 1987
Scottish sextet DEACON BLUE used to be fierce critics of the music industry, but with the recent release of their debut LP 'Raintown' the group's attitude has considerably mellowed.ROGER HOLLAND hears their heavenly chorus.
WELL ONE thing's for certain, whatever they may be, Deacon Blue definitely aren't grebos! It's early afternoon, it's pouring down and Deacon Blue and I are taking coffee and sticky buns in the lounge of that top tourist trap, London's Columbia Hotel. And although their voices are raised in occasional laughter and good- humoured argument, Deacon Blue's food stays pretty much on the plates and any coffee spilled ends up in the saucers and not on the carpet. But what Deacon Blue are actually arguing about is - whose turn it is to do the laundry! You don't get that sort of conversation on the road with Pop Will Eat Itself!
But then the last thing Deacon Blue are is Pop Will Eat Itself. They've no desire to mock the rock, no wish to take the piss, no inclination to revolutionise anything. And this doesn't necessarily mean they're boring. It just means that Deacon Blue are utterly traditionalist in their attitudes - which suggests they could go a long, long way. . Indeed, their recently released debut album, 'Raintown' has already received favourable comparisons with the likes of Jackson Browne and The Waterboys. And it seems clear that, given a good strong wind and just a little luck, this excellent Scottish six piece could go on to become as much a part of rock's tradition as some of their most obvious influences. And there is a strong wind blowing - according to a recent CBS press release. "A selected number of shops throughout the country will be able to offer cassette copies of 'Raintown' on a 'no risk buy' basis. This is the first time that a major record company has taken such a positive step to break a new act. It means that the public can purchase a cassette of 'Raintown' and in the unlikely event of them not enjoying it, can return it to the shop within a few days and get a full cash refund." "lt's a measure of our complete belief in Deacon Blue and our commitment to them," says a CBS spokesperson. "Sounds like a good idea to us," says a Deacon Blue. "Sounds like a typical chart return shop gimmick to me. Should do well," says the manager of a chart return chainstore.
BUT LET'S take a look back at Deacon Blue's debut appearance in Sounds and
how things have changed, because it was then they were complaining about
the music business. "I was reading that magazine I hate to read. . -Music
Week. All these guys theorising about music. . .and every single bit of it
was geared to them succeeding. The guy from the BBC saying, We want the BBC
to nurture established acts, we want record companies to promote fewer new
acts and establish long term acts. ..'" Four months on and with an album
to promote, they're not grumbling any more. In fact, Ricky Ross, that voice
of dissent, seems more than happy with the way his record company are setting
about establishing hit band as a long term act. "Oh yes, we're very pleased
with the way they're handling things at the moment." Can't say I'm surprised.
After all there's a huge machine working on Deacon Blue even as we speak!
There's CBS making sure they get press coverage by the bucketful and TV exposure
by the everlasting promo tour. And there's a promotional budget big enough
to raise the Titanic. So wouldn't you be pleased with life? "We've been touring
almost non-stop," says Ricky, "since we signed to CBS. First of all we toured
to get the band's name known. And then we toured to promote the first single.
And now we're touring to promote the album. And whenever we stop gigging
we have to get up early to go on the telly!" Some bands would be sick of
the sight of the Columbia Hotel by now. Some bands would be throwing up at
the sight of the tour bus. But Deacon Blue are more than happy to be On The
"We really love playing gigs. We all enjoy playing live and we're promoting the band at the same time. It's great! Everything revolves around gigging at the moment, and that's fine by us because gigs are the best possible description of what we as a band are about." And what Deacon Blue are about is attempting the perfect new rock heart beat; about bringing together the disparate elements of trad white rock marvellousness and sweet soul rhythms. On their album, the former quite consciously dominate the latter, but live it can be quite different. Deacon Blue aren't simply pushing their album (neither they nor their record company see 'Raintown' as a make-or-break one-off they're also busily learning their trade. "When you're U2, every gig you do is set up specially for you. Every gig is exactly the same. The whole point is to make it all exactly the same. At the stage we're at, we have to go along and fit in with whatever's happening, and the great thing about that is that every gig's different! "it's all tremendous experience. The more gigs we play, the more we're going to learn. And hopefully in a couple of years, it'll all payoff."
EVERYTHING PAYING off in the future is a subject Ricky and the rest of Deacon Blue keep coming back to. It's a clear indication that no matter how fine your music may be, no matter how high your ideals, you still cannot avoid getting caught up in the cogs of the music business machine. Lorraine McIntosh is the Deacon Blue backing singer. Blessed with the voice of a whole choir of angels, she should never have had to dirty her hands on anything as muckily humdrum as business. But just listen to her and drummer Dougie Vipond explain how Deacon Blue came to sign to CBS in the first place. "They were the only ones who wanted us!" claims Dougie. "We did lots of gigs for the record companies and sent out loads of demo tapes," Lorraine expands. "A few companies came to see us and talk to us, but they were the only ones who wanted to sign us! "it's a lot of hassle putting on gigs by yourselves when there's no one around to help you, no roadies or anything. No one to even book the gigs for you. And so every time a record company rang up and said, Yeah, we want to come along and see you, we went, Oh no, here we go again, and we had to put on another gig. It was a lot of trouble."
"It cost a lot of money as well," adds Ricky, "lt's a very expensive process when the only people who're coming along are your pals and a couple of A&R men, so we had to be careful just how much we did." In fact, Ricky was very careful indeed. So much so that Deacon Blue had never actually played outside of Glasgow until they'd signed to CBS. "Even now it's a very expensive business. We're losing more now than we ever did before. We must be losing about £200 a day at the moment. But we've got wealthy sponsors and they obviously feel we're a good investment." They are a quality act with a repertoire which can be angled (without ever being bent out of shape) to appeal to almost any audience. Given sustained support from their sponsors they should go far.
And they're smiling because they know it. "As I said," Ricky repeats, "we're
very happy with CBS at the moment, we know we're in a great position. But
I think we have to take a lot of the credit for that. Because when you sign
to a record label very few people there know anything about you at all. It's
up to to you to go in there and get to know them, it's up to you how much
impact you have on that label. "People assume an awful lot about record
companies, but they don't really know how they operate. Record labels work
exactly the same way a writer like you works. If you hear a group and you
like them, if you work up a degree of enthusiasm for them, then you're going
to do your best to help them. And that's how it works at record companies.
"But even then when you've convinced them to give you their best shot, you
still have to be prepared to try to push your own opinions, to tell them
how you want them to work for you.
I think that by now they've all got the message that we won't let anything slip by us, because we go in there occasionally and say, Look we're not having this, we're not having that!" There's a consistent theme running through some of Deacon Blue's best songs. Through originals like Ricky's own 'Dignity'or the new single, 'Loaded', and through covers like Florence Reece's union anthem, 'Which Side Are You On?' there's persistent compassion for the worker and for the downtrodden. Take a song like 'Dignity'. "That's a song about work, not unemployment. One of the things that People have been talking about for a long time now is this thing called the right to work. But I don't think that many people have really thought through just what that implies." Ricky cites as an example a till girl at Glasgow's Queen St Station who wouldn't serve him with a piece of fish without chips because there was no numbered code to ring it up. "The one bit of decision making that girl could have been involved in, the one thing she could've done to create a spark with the customer was being denied her. All she had was a terrible job that could have been done by a machine. "And I thought, is that what everybody wants? Is that what all the fuss is about? Because if that's what it means not to be unemployed, is that any better? Sure, it may be better money, and yes, of course, there is some dignity in providing for yourself and your family, but that can't be all there is."
It'd be stupid to ask if success will spoil Deacon Blue, because success is what they're geared towards. lt'll be the best possible thing that could happen to them and their music. The real question is, Will failure ruin Deacon Blue? After all, the record companies are all attempting to establish their new range of Long Term Acts, Virgin have thrown the full weight of Richard Branson's wallet behind Dundee's Danny Wilson ("they're like the Catholic reflection of our Protestant nature") while London are looking to a revived Kane Gang. In this context, Deacon Blue are no more than CBS's iron in the current fire. Just one more product on the shelf.
"Failure?" asks Lorraine, her eyes wide with disbelief. "lf you're in a band
there's no way you can even consider the prospect. I wouldn't say we never
look beyond tomorrow, but we'd never dare to plan or think beyond the next
studio session or the next tour. "God knows what we'll be doing in ten years'time
if this doesn't work. With a bit of luck, everything'll go alright and we'll
still be doing this. I know I wouldn't want to be doing anything else." Right
now that strong wind's blowing the rain through the streets. If you listen
carefully you can hear it whisper the name of Glasgow's Deacon Blue. All
they need now is that little bit of luck. Roger