The Great Escape
Melody Maker 4th July 1987
Attempting to take us where words melt into emotion, Deacon Blue have taken to touring.Mat Smith caught up for some on-the-road verbals.
"I CAN remember the turning point really well. The key moment when I understood why I had to do it, I was in a band with Ewen the bassist and we were supporting The Waterboys at their first ever gig in Britain. I was unhappy cos I was playing keyboards and the band wasn't going anywhere, the Waterboys were soundchecking and they had this great big rig and I thought Who is this bunch of hippies?' I just remember Mike Scott plugging in his guitar and saying, 'Right, "All The Things She Gave Me"'and there was this mighty, mighty noise, an incredible sound and I just went'OH YES! YES YES YES!' It really was everything!"
MUCH has been made of Ricky Ross' fandom, simply because much of it is undeniably
true. This man's fanaticism and lust for life spreads throughout Deacon Blue
and its members, its songs, its very existence. Within minutes of meeting
him you find yourself arguing, reminiscing, swapping tales like two old drunks
who haven't seen each other for years - all motivated by one thing - music.
Its almost as if the Tom Waits, Van Morrison, Associates and Ronnie Spector
tapes that litter the floor of their tour bus are the standards this band
are out to better. Deacon Blue know the essence of what is and what should
always be. They want to make you laugh so loud those around will think you're
barmy, hurt so deep, the scars will never heal. They want to whisk you off
on a whim yet want you to still be with them years after the initial romance
has faded. Deacon Blue want it all and it looks like they'll get it.
"I saw Lone Justice at The Marquee recently and there was this girl who just wanted to overpower everybody, she just wanted to go totally further than was necessary. Then I saw Alison Moyet and she was doing it all wrong and I just felt like saying 'Oh no no no! with a voice like that, you should be breaking people's hearts.' People don't want to go home after a gig and have a curry. They want to cry or fall in love. Its more important than all those things it's like . . . it's like football!" Ricky Ross is holding court in the bar of a Norwich hotel where Deacon Blue are resting halfway through their current tour. "To me, the worst thing about Brtish pop now is its cynicism," he continues. "lf they're gonna be cynical about it, then I wish they'd be cynical about the whole thing. People indiscriminately slag off folks who work for record companies but I've seen people who work at Charly lovingly take out old records, dust them down and present them as if they were dressing their kids for a Barmitzvah. Thats what pop should be like. You can't stand there and rationalise that cos clearly its naked stupidity." If you've been moved like that, if you've waited for hours to hear a record on the radio cos you couldn't afford to buy it or if you've queued overnight in the rain for tickets when you should have been at home studying for exams, you'll know exactly why Ricky feels like this. You'll understand why he still stands by his infamous ideal that he wouldn't trust anyone without a decent record collection.
"I did an interview with this guy from Sky Channel and he was just so jaded
I felt sorry for him. He'd seen a video of us doing 'Dignity' and he was
saying 'So, do you think you can sustain that kind of emotion all the way
through a gig?'and he clearly thought we were some chest beating crashing
snare drum sort of band. I asked him what emotion he meant and he didn't
know. He had no control over his language and he'd just used the word emotion
as a weapon to attack us with. And I said 'you sneering bastard. What are
you doing here? There's a million emotions in that song you haven't even
listened to the fucking thing.'And this was all on live TV." "Dignity" is
Deacon Blue's prettiest song. A fantasy tale about a council worker who saves
up his money, buys a dinghy and simply sails away from all the shit he's
had thrown at him for the last 20 years. Simplistic maybe and gloriously
escapist, yet the feeling of pure unadulterated joy has rarely been communicated
"I don't know where that song came from but I know why it works. It's that 'YEAH!' element. Its like at the end of'Angeliou' when Van Morrison says 'I've got a story too,'and he just goes 'Aaah!' He can't quote Tennyson or Yeats anymore, he just has to go 'Aaah!' Almost all of Ricky's songs have that engaging dual articulacy and lost-for-words love, tiptoeing gracefully between feeling and describing. "it's hard to describe but there was a lot of me that felt disappointed about growing up and realising that things become much more complex and dificult and that all the innocence and joy of it all disappears. I've always wanted to write songs that are indicative of that. When you reach the age of 25, you assume that everything will work itself out and it just isn't like that at all. 'when you're young and you read other people's experiences of life - James Joyce living in Dublin, George Orwell living in Burma - you begin to think how could your own experiences compare. Then you realise that they're just taking one experience and magnifying it and you begin to value your family and background and realise that they are unique.
You have to realise those strong points, I mean, as a band we know that girls aren't gonna fall at our feet and maybe we're not the most exciting or escapist thing in the world." Nevertheless, Deacon Blue are throwing themselves wholeheartedly into pop's playpen, playing the game and unashamedly playing to win. "I think the good thing is that no one has made us do anything we don't want to. Okay, we had to take out the word 'Shit' from the original version of 'Dignity' but its that whole extension of what you do and what you want to do. Do we want to make a tape and six people to hear it or do we want to make a record and sell it to millions of people. No one can tell me they're on a major label and they don't want to do the latter thing. We want to reach as many people as possible and meet them." Armed with that kind of ammunition there are those who maintain that CBS signed Deacon Blue for what they could envisage turning them into rather than or what they actually are. "They definitely didn't do that," Ricky clarifies as guitarist Graeme arrives with more drinks. "Our A&R man is high on the list of people we trust. Before he signed us, he quoted the lines of'Dignity'. He was pissed but he got them all right and he knew what they meant."
The ideas on "Raintown the band's debut LP, do have the potential to be honed further. However, one suspects Deacon Blue will turn round and do something completely different rather than refinine the original artefact until little or none of its appeal remains. "'Raintown' will be the only LP like this," Ricky confirms, "but it had to be like this. When I first met Graeme, I said to him 'what have you been doing 'til now?' and he said 'Oh this and that - trying to get out of here mainly.' I said 'I've been trying to do it at for the last three years and I haven't had much joy."' And when you do, how will you cope? "I think it will be easier for us cos our rise has been very gradual. We haven't been thrown in at the deep end like, say, Curiosity." Could you handle a Fleet Street smear campaign? "There's nothing they could smear us with," Graeme replies naively. There doesn't have to be, they make it up. "well, we've already seen that in action," Ricky says. "Our press officer was with The Beastie Boys when they flew into Heathrow and her legs were just covered in bruises cos the photographers at the airport had been kicking The Beastie Boys and anyone around them just to get them to kick back so that they'd have their front page the following morning. She came back black and blue." Certainly Deacon Blue would be prime targets. Their integrity, honesty and warmth make them prime bait for Thatchers friends in Fleet Street to catch out. Ricky's outspoken politicising from the stage at recent shows has already caused consternation in some circles.
"I was doing a lot of that stuff up until the election cos it was a focus for people. Obviously I don't want people to think that, If they go and see Deacon Blue, they're gonna get shouted at - I just thought the night before the election at the Town & Country club was as far as I could go. Why not - if its in a good cause, anything goes." The smart young things at the Cambridge Ball a few nights later didn't react quite so sympathetically. "I suppose I took a bit of a bad mood at it. I couldn't cope with it all and, by the end, I just said something ike 'Here's one for all you greedy bastards who are gonna have to sell your British Telecom shares'. The audience was so drunk I don't think they noticed. We were definitely the wrong band at the wrong place at the wrong time." Deacon Blue clearly aren't at the wrong place but they are at the wrong time. They clearly don't subscribe to the 'I'm alrght Jack' policies of Thatchers Britain yet how they would rationalise a position of power is something they've yet to decide.
Is it enough for Jim Kerr to say as he did in the NME two weeks ago 'You can either say Pepsi or Amnesty". Is that really enough to ease anyone's conscience? 'well I can't relate to Jim Kerr at all," Ricky says. "I can't understand him and I don't particularly like him. What I think is important is that the biggest band in the world right now are U2 and they're not going around sticking needles in their arms or bonking everyone in the northern hemisphere. Instead they're gigging and their singer is going down to Central America and, by so doing, is alienating half of his potential market and I think that that can't be bad . I've seen all the big bands but I've never seen a band thats been willing to do that. "I think bands should get behind people who haven't got a voice, not just necessarily give money to causes. That was what was frustrating about Band Aid. It didn't change people's ideas about spending on Third World development. Two years after Band Aid, we have a general election and no one is asking what any party's policy on Third World development is." "This is our new single, it's called 'Loaded' and tonight its dedicated to Simon Bates. Simon seemed confused about its meaning when he played it on the radio the other morning. I'm sure he understands really, cos it's all about money."
It's a rainy night in a dump called Colchester and Deacon Blue are at it again - alienating a few but endearing more. Ricky stalks around the stage hunched up like a scarecrow while, over to his left, Lorraine McIntosh wails away, lost in a world of her own where Ricky doesn't throw her in the shower and she's not the only girl among five men. After the gig Ricky is reflecting on what the last year has brought the band. "These days you don't get the chance to talk to each other. You sleep in the van or you sit in your room but, then, when you get onstage, it all clicks."
Dougie Deacon Blue's drummer, is complaining about the band's ever increasing workload. "This is only the start," Pete, the manager wams him. "it's weird," Ricky mumbles, putting down a can of lager. "A year ago we would ave jumped at the chance to play all the gigs we complain about having to do now. A year ago we were writing songs till we were blue in the face but never playing. The final track on the LP, Town To Be Blamed', was the last song I wrote at that time and its like how, when you look around and you see all the reasons that you're not doing well, it's as fatuous to blame the town you live in as it is to blame anything else. But there are people leaving Glasgow tonight as we speak on buses and trains just cos they want out - just to get nowhere - just to wander up and down Charing Cross Road and stay in that Shelter place." In more ways than one Deacon Blue have found their escape from Raintown but I know they'll always spare a thought for those left behind. You can trust bands.