Keeping Faith Melody Maker 4th
Are the new blues the same as the old blues? Is there nothing new under the sun? Joh Wilde casts a wary glance at Deacon Blue, a certified chart success with all the trimmings.
HOTEL lounge. Sunday afternoon. I'm interviewing somebody who I've presumed all along plays guitar with a group called Deacon Blue. We've been talking for 35 minutes about very "rock" concerns. Suddenly, a bedraggled foreign photographer stumbles past and says in a tinny voice: "I am for looking about Megadeth group." "Yeah, I'm from Megadeth," pipes up the guitarist, before excusing himself and disappearing to the hotel conveniences. So I'm sitting there thinking: "Well I've really blown it this time. I've even got the friggin' band wrong!" Finally the guitarist returns and eventually smiles. "l'm from Deacon Blue really," he apologises. Phew! You really had me in suspense there. "Yeah, that's the sort of band we are," he laughs. l'll put that in, I assure him. It might mean something.
DEACON Blue, the next big rock toadstool are asking me questions. "So, you have this, like, hate relationship with our music. What bits do you hate?" The blatant steals, the conscientious allegiance to the New Rock rulebook, the prosaic-ness and the primness. The asexuality of your music. Your wholesome "charm". Your right-minded, high- handed orthodoxy and the way you throw the word "faith" about like a hot potato, without so much as loading the bloody thing. "What do you actually like about this group?" Deacon Blue write these songs that simply gush with soggy sentiment and rush with something like naked enthusiasm. Sometimes, you get snagged by one of their lines or one of their hooks, you just can't help it. This doesn't mean that, when Deacon Blue are huge, they will necessarily deserve all they get. Ricky Ross and Graeme Kelling, lead vocals and guitar respectively, call me Doctor Intensity in jest, claim that it's not a cop-out to say "I don't know" occasionally, and think that "faith" is a great word. CBS Records are handing them large sacks with "LOOT" scrawled on the sides in white chalk. Their best moment so far goes something like this. "We were caught in this Glasgow traffic-jam when someone rushed over and started tapping on the window. He says, 'I just wanted to tell you about that gig you did last night. I got off with this girl and we've . . . well, I guess we've sort of fallen in love and my life feels great all of a sudden, like things make sense all of a sudden'. It might not have had much to do with the music or the actual gig but it was a magical moment. We all sat there and we wanted to cry." This is the sort of group Deacon Blue are. This isn't necessarily a bad thing.
THIS group were formed in late-'85 by Ricky Ross who always imagined that Deacon Blue would be a completely intimate group. "A lot of people listen to records alone and build up a relationship with certain songs. It's like a friend they pull out at certain times when they need it. Records have always been very personal things to me. To some people, music is a very communal thing. I've never been able to see that at all. This is very private music. It's also rock music, unashamedly and absolutely. We don't come from any other tradition. I like rock's clever use of cliches. I like it when you listen to someone like Ry Cooder where you can't even begin to think where the originality comes in but the magic is definitely there. My ambition is to narrow all my songs down to one room. I've got it down to one town and it doesn't seem to want to budge any further." Pete De Freitas walks across the hotel lounge and I tell Ross he's got the same mouth as the Bunnyman. "l've never even heard of him."
LET'S get this clear. Deacon Blue are absurdly asexual. Even considering Ricky's great ultramarine eyes or the way their songs build and build like a gigantic shag, this is music devoid of sex fluid. "I know that most pop groups like the idea of seduction," Ricky admits. "They set out to seduce their audiences. Seduction is a dodgy word isn't it? It has notions of owning people, charming people over to your side. I don't like the idea of people throwing themselves over to our music. Abandonment is a great idea but it worries me because it's all so power-orientated. Sexual language, seduction, the art of chatting-up, ownership and power seem to be a part of the same idea. I don't want much to do with that. I don't particularly care about Deacon Blue being a sexual rock group. It's not that I associate sex with power but the actual language seems so bound up with it. If anything, the words have to be brought back into the language in a fresh, new way." Guitarist Graeme isn't so sure. "There's times when I think it's dead sexy," he says. "Our songs are loaded with sexual metophors. It's hardly a sex-beat, hardly bump- and-grind music, but brimming with some kind of sex. You're saying, basically, that we don't make good shag music." This music is self-consciously time-worn, not only content to sound "old", mature even, but willing to confess its own confirmed habit of cribbing and pirating for all its worth.
Their new and first LP, "Raintown", for all its virtues, can sound like some aide-memoire to modern starry- eyed rock, traipsing through Steely Dan, Jackson Browne, Dylan, Prefab Sprout, Waterboys and all that jazz with barely a hint of guilt. Puritan rock kleptomaniacs to a man but not dishonest with it. "Sure we steal," Graeme laughs. "Who bloody doesn't? Call it eclecticism, call it plagiarism, call it whatever you want. It still comes back to the same thing. There's guitar rifts that have been played a million times over with different kinds of guitars, in a different series, but they're still the same guitar riffs, I see nothing wrong with lifting ideas at all, This might be middlebrow rock, pained Protestant inscriptions with beginnings and middles and ends, luminescent with spit-polished production, but Deacon Blue might not be complete marshmallow at the centre. This music, even at its most unstung, hardly descends like the worst of British Eighties rock. There's none of the sluggish Then Jerico melodrama or the dispassionate Immaculate Fools school of sobriety.
The most interesting thing about Deacon Blue right now is the fact that they are set to be uncontrollably huge in six months time. Mind, ineffective pop hacks can throw words like integrity, honesty and compassion about 'til the cows come home but it will never convince me that this group don't suffer from an overdose of sound sincerity, laying it on with a 10-foot trowel. "This is the feeling in Glasgow," complains Ross, "this idea that we're far too earnest for our own good. Maybe that's not hip enough? Well, that annoys me and I think it's a stupid outlook. I like sincerity and obviously the ephemeral, trendy fashion scenes are opposed to that value. They want to follow things that are "happening". Values are far down the list. Of course, we value words like 'faith' and 'dignity', I had a very strong religious upbringing and I like a lot of religious words. I use these words very naturally because they're part of my upbringing." Do Deacon Blue need to be soulful in that terribly, terribly rock way? "We're more doers than thinkers. We're more about feeling, not completely confessional, but intent on capturing the raw edge of emotions, something very private perhaps." Deacon Blue will grow bulky but not pot-bellied, that's their plighted word. Any other questions? "Well, we've been wondering. . . d'ya fancy coming back to our place for a bout of rantum- scantum?" '' . I'd love to lads-but I must be off. John Wilde