Dignity Of Labour Cut Magazine, 1st July 1987
DEACON BLUE: A band to fall in love with? Glasgow's answer to Springsteen? The best debut LP for years? Lesley O'Toole is loaded with questions and the Ricky Ross crew have found an answer.
Ricky Ross is the sort of pseudonym bestowed on aspiring, baby-faced popsters christened by unimaginative parents. Ricky Ross though, is genuine and hopefully prophetic; having an undeniable 'star' ring to it. Elsewhere in Deacon Blue, however, a few prudent name changes wouldn't have gone amiss. The rhythm section - Messrs. Vernal and Vipond - sounds like a particularly nasty sort of venereal disease.
In any case, pundits in search of the Next Big Thing should look no further. (Then again, perhaps they should Such assumptions are invariably the kiss of death.) But with Simple Minds still intent on perfecting the art of stadium rock and the likes of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions and Hipsway deviating ever further from the 'Glasgow band' definition, Deacon Blue are frequently cited these days as the best band in town - and certainly the most improved.
If Dignity was a bitter-sweet aperitif, the album Raintown is everything (and more) one could hope for in a debut. That ubiquitous white elephant known as critical acclaim is flooding in and fans are starting to congregate round backstage doors.
CBS Records are onto a winner - and know it. 'No Risk Disk' offers are only undertaken by the supremely confident. CBS would stand to lose a hefty sum if inundated with returned copies of Raintown. Such a prospect is unlikely.
Deacon Blue have fared considerably better with press than radio, despite an understandable reluctance on the part of R. Ross to justify himself to journalists. "One guy actually came along because he wanted to do a hatchet job. He seemed really ill in his attitudes."
Graeme: "And little incidents were totally fabricated. I'm supposed to have walked in and said 'hey! that's the kind of band we are"
The kind of band they actually are is caring, very affable and not a little susceptible. "I would like to think we're slightly vulnerable and able to make mistakes, It's nicer to be that way than so worldly-wise and sceptical about the whole system. We'd rather be considered a group prepared to take a chance on someone as opposed to dismissing people straightaway. Maybe that could be interpreted as naive."
In terms of Radio 1 and it's disinterest in Dignity, Deacon Blue appeared to be suffering not for their art but their honesty. Honesty is unfortunately translated as either corny or insincere.
Graeme: "Maybe it's down to the fact that we don't fit in with that all-pervasive introspection of most British music. People often get round the fact that they're not saying anything by being very tongue in cheek. It's like that Morrissey song There Is A Light That Never Goes Out that goes 'if a double decker bus killed the both of us'. That's a brilliant love somg but it's because you know his character and the fact he's raising an eyebrow as he sings it."
Rest assured though, if Radio 1 doesn't succumb, Deacon Blue will work that much harder to reach the people (man). They are already following the well-beaten trail of Simple Minds, Lloyd Cole and Co. in slogging relentlessly up and down the M1. The crucial difference is that Deacon Blue do it better; being very much in their element live.
June alone saw them supporting the likes of Bruce Hornsby, the Long Ryders and Ben E King, not to mention a clutch of Oxbridge balls and myriad, dingy student unions. As manager Peter Felstead says of playing third on the bill, "Even if we've persuaded 20 people to buy the album, it's worth it."
I suspect it might have been many more; such is this group's almost unnerving ability to win over even the most lackadaisical audience. Last winter, a tight-lipped Ricky Ross used to glower at audiences, as if trying to hypnotise them into submission. These days, he smiles a lot and tells umpteen stories about favourite topics like Dundee United, Bruce Springsteen and Maria McKee, about whom the song Real Gone Kid was penned.
It's virtually impossible not to be converted by these six totally euphoric performers and, to be honest, they'd rather you saw them live than read this piece.
Having said that, Ricky Ross is more than happy to elaborate on Raintown and his songs. My only reservation about Raintown was its unrepresentativeness. Deacon Blue frequently get into the groove - Just Like Boys, Suffering, Kings Of The Western World and That Brilliant Feeling are enough to instill life into the most arthritic toes - but none features on the LP.
Having heard the why's and wherefore's, I pronounce myself won over. "In a sense, it would have been a commercial move to put Just Like Boys on it, and that's exactly the sort of album I don't like. Great albums aren't made up of singles anyway. The great Beatles ones didn't have Strawberry Fields or Penny Lane on them.
"I had a feeling that Raintown wasn't the definitive statement anyway. It's like Elvis Costello's This Year's Model. Watching The Detectives was very much part of that period and wasn't on the album but it was still perfect."
Even the gargantuan tearjerker and forthcoming single When Will You (Make My Telephone Ring) was a late addition. "Two days before we started recording Raintown, we were about to give a tape to Alison Moyet because we didn't think it fitted in or sounded anything like the rest of the stuff."
"I'm very precious though. I think LP's should go more for atmosphere than for rocking out or even being poppy because, in a sense, I do think albums last. I know that sounds really hippyish and old-fashioned but all your favourite albums are the ones that have lasted. They're like people you go back to when things are either good or bad. Sometimes you want them to make you feel happy and other times melancholy and some you put on because they do everything to you." (Personally speaking, Raintown falls firmly into the latter category). "You want a record to do at least one of those things though."
As a songwriter, Ricky Ross is not only intelligent and discerning but sometimes positively feminist. The wittily perceptive imagery of Chocolate Girl, for example, will strike a chord in many a female heart. Perhaps it's all down to the marital influence of Mrs Ross.
There was talk of us doing a Paul Young tour. I thought that would have been really good until I saw a show on telly and it was so incredibly sexist. Just totally offensive. He was virtually pointing at women in the audience and saying, 'I wouldn't mind shagging her.' I still think he's a great singer and I'd give him any song of mine but sometimes these icons are so disappointing."
The current single Loaded arose after witnessing the frivolous bandying of money in London, and not just by those populating the higher echelons of CBS Records.
"Loaded was a real awareness of a whole lifestyle we'd never even seen before. I'm not saying I was ever poorly off; I was brought up in a good middle class home but it did throw us for a while."
Graeme: "It really was so diametrically opposed. The first time Gordon (Charlton, A&R man) took us out for a meal, we went to Mortons. (Trés exclusif Berkeley Square establishment.) It was so far removed from the amount of money we had in our pockets. We'd all been living reasonably frugally and suddenly there were gold AmEx cards flying all over the place."
All very far removed from Ricky's days of teaching at a Maryhill secondary school and playing in a band called (wait for it) Woza. "I was playing keyboards very badly and Ewan was playing bass very well but we both desperately wanted out. It was supporting The Waterboys that made me form this band. It was their first ever British gig, at the Heathery Bar in Wishaw, and I just thought, there's a guy getting up and doing what he wants to do.
"While I was teaching, I had one of the loveliest groups of people to work with but it was at a time when teachers were really dissatisifed. My boss was great though. He used to play in a folk group and was always saying to me, 'if I was your age and didn't have kids, I'd go and do it.'"
"Mark Goodier used to play my demo on Radio Clyde. I had this song called Angela And The Man Of Ideas, a bit like Chocolate Girl. One day, this girl, Rita said 'I heard your demo on the radio last night. I don't know what the song was called but it was about a girl who loves this guy but he doesn't treat her very well...' And she told me the whole story.
"I couldn't really turn round in front of the whole class and say, 'You are wonderful. You have made my day, my year!' But she had."
Ricky Ross has come a long way - and with Deacon Blue will undoubtedly go a lot further. He's still waiting for something to go wrong though.
"I wrote this brilliant song once..."
Graeme: "Modest, isn't he!" (If the truth be known, Mr Ross is one of the most humble people you could ever hope to meet.)
"No, I'm serious. It was called Children's Crusade and I had everything in my head; tune, chorus, and melody. I was thinking, this is brilliant! I got home and discovered Sting had written it. I'd been listening to his album non-stop. That's something you expect to happen just when your album's come out."
"At the moment though, the most exciting thing is the tought of playing this club where we all were last night. (We are in Bath, where Deacon Blue spent their night off boogying at Moles Club.) Graeme and I were dancing with these two girls and they just totally ignored us and walked away. I thought, this is so ironic because tomorrow we'll be playing and people might quite like us."
"I just love it when people come up and say, 'it was great' or whatever. Basically, they're saying 'you've made my night' or 'you've made me happy.' You can't necessarily do that by even giving someone a lot of money."
"If I see someone I really admire, I just can't resist going up and telling them. I met Paddy McAloon at the Columbia Hotel and I just wanted to shake his hand. The trouble is, I'm totally incapable of starting conversations or being confident with people for the first time. Unless I'm really drunk, I can't make any contact at all."
"It's such a big thrill now, to be able to communicate with people when we play because I'm the sort of person who used to go to nightclubs and shuffle around the floor, feeling totally out of place."
See Deacon Blue if it's the last thing you do. Be warned, though, you could end up as hooked as I am.