Blue For You
Sounds 28th March 1987
I BLINKED more than twice when I heard Deacon Blue had signed to CBS. Not because it was CBS, just because it was a remarkable lapse into good taste for any major label to spot, tempt and net the most impressive emergent Scottish talent in recent years in what seemed like less time than it took me to listen to their first demo.
Deacon Blue themselves aren't too surprised. But they know they're lucky. "I was reading that magazine I hate to read,'' grumbles singer . and songwriter Ricky Ross over coffee at the Columbia Hotel. "Music Week. All these business 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 the record companies to promote fewer new acts and establish long term acts . . .
"Everyone knows there's bands who could be doing things, there's guys in their bedrooms who do brilliant things, there's girl singers. I know..."
THIS IS Ricky Ross at his most vitriolic. Deacon Blue are a mild-mannered lot, which seems odd after you've reeled away from the Self-assured offensive of their live shows. Onstage, Ross seems the sort who'd leap down your throat machete-handed given half a chance . . . and yet here they are, professing no more than a desire to get on with the work in progress.
Deacon Blue are "doing things" as Ross would say. Whether with CBS or someone else, it would have happened. The other day I threw a very advance tape of their album on the deck and one of my older advisers, in a fit of pique, reeled off the sources as the tape rolled through its collection of eloquent, passionate songs. Prefab Sprout, he muttered into his tea. Kevin Johnson, Jackson Browne, Mike Scott, he growled, growing more and more outraged.
And so what, I thought, because every so often a group arrives whose talent lets them live in the company of their influences without being submerged by them..
"i think,'' Ross explains unabashed, "there's a desire to want everything . . . at. points, wanting to be The Roiling Stones, at points wanting to be Bobby Womack, at others wanting to be Gram Parsons, or Funkadelic, or something. ''And it's totally impossible," he laughs. "We'll never be any of those things. But that's probably the most ambitious thing about the band, just to try and get all those things that we love , . ." Deacon Blue know there's danger in aspiring to create ultimate rock. They know they're going to get some flak for their eclecticism. But, in the words of keyboards player Jim Prime, they're "big enough and ugly enough to take it".
The rest of Deacon Blue are guitarist Graeme Kelling, drurxlmer Dougie Vipond, bassist Ewen Vernal and astonishing backing singer Lorraine McIntosh. Ross and Prime at least are no spring chickens, Jim is a veteran of several Glasgow groups, including the final incarnation of Altered Images, where he watched the transformation of la Grogon from pop singer to struggling silver screen understudy. Ricky is a 29-year-old ex-English teacher. One of the others recently landed a temporary gig with The Platters. . . all hardly stuff of legend, but enough to give them a philosophical outlook. The way this band clicked, though, meant such an outlook was barely necessary. "When I got involved with this lot," says Jim, "the rate of work Ricky and the band were going at was really exciting. I mean, most bands sort of struggle around for their whole careers with something like three songs. This guy had books full of lyrics . . ."
Deacon Blue's debut single, 'Dignity' seems to have compressed all their moods into a few minutes and thus, perversely enough, it's not completely indicative of the greatness of ' which they're capable. An ironic ode to the dignity of everyday people in mundane situations, it rides a strident hook that borrows stylistically from The Waterboys' 'The Whole Of The Moon' and, if anything, it eschews the subtlety of the album's best moments - 'When Will You Make My Phone Ring', 'Loaded', 'Ragman'- and charges into the kind of sustained climax that tends to feature in every song of their live set. If one criticism can be levelled, it's that this group have too much faith in the power of music to move. "There's an expression in Dundee that goes something like, Grab all the swetchies you can, and then cause havoc," Ross agrees. "That's a Dundee word for sweeties, by the way. And I think there's a slight mentality of that in this band. Like you're only out there for 40 minutes, f*** it, go for it"
On the other hand, it may be that their sometimes overbearing live attack os only a temporary reaction to a year of plaing in Scotland, where an ancient by-law decrees that the band shall be at least tem times quieter than the disco it interrupts. On the album, the songs shine and the group are as concerned with coolly beguilling the listener as they are with jangling their nerve-ends.
Ross is a talented writer. He can go over the top with a metaphor but most of the time, his songs are economical, unpretentious and possessed of a quite individual imagery. There does, though, seem to be a preoccupation with the luck of the luckless. 'Dignity' is a prime example...
"There's just been a feeling for a long time that it would good if we could have full employment. Every liberal person that I know- myself included - has gone along with that. And when you stop to think about it, think about someone doing some job in some place... you can't think of any job you've done that you'd like to be in. And the whole idea of the dignity of labour seem to me to be a dubious one.
"There are a lot of songs where the word work comes up, for some reason. I don't know if it's ironic or not. I think it's more that just our background is one where we've been working."
Ricky Ross confesses to be amazed when he reads a review of Deacon Blue which insists that the reader trust them.
"I thought, God, that's the last thing you should do with any group you know..." .Robin Gibson