Hello Blue World
NME 22nd April 1989
Rain, travel, seafood, and soap operas! It's a thrill-a-minute if you're a member of Deacon Blue.As their new LP attempts to sit on the top of the world, Andrew Collins tracks down the DB's main man Ricky Ross on his way to a life of stadium-filling rock and discovers the truth about Paddy MacAloon, Mat Johnson, The Cowboy Junkies and life in the light brigade.
Talk about weather! l've never seen so much of it. When our plane left Heathrow it was snowing. We've just touched down in Raintown and, naturally, the sun is shining. And it's bloody freezing. Why does that bastard hole in the ozone layer always look like it's laughing ? Raintown, otherwise known as Glasgow, is all set to be a cultural beacon of the Euro-'90s - " miles better" claims Mr Happy, the city's foster- mascot, from giant hoarding and car sticker alike. Better than what, Mr Happy doesn't say. "it's a rain-dirt-town-job-hurts" proclaimed Deacon Blue's Ricky Ross, the E E Cummings of big music - and if ever an LP relinquished the need for accompanying BBC sound effects of inclement weather, 'Raintown'did just that. Born in a storm and inspired in a downpour, Deacon Blue have done nothing more or less than fulfill their own forecast. Heralded as a force to be reckoned with back in '87 by the Jack Scott of A&R, NME's Adrian Thrills, the surefire six-piece sailed into the charts on a ship called 'Dignity', followed by 'When Will You (Make My Telephone Ring)' and 'Chocolate Girl', which allowed the parent LP to re-stake its claim and sink a total of 350,000 copies. They might have made the map, but Deacon Blue was now a name under high pressure to live up to itself.
"I now describe my country as if to strangers. . . And the bunting and the distance stretches over our sound" (Orphans') " You can have it all" ('Wages Day')
'When The World Knows Your Name', Deacon Blue's crucial second offensive,
reads like an autobiography, a report from the frontline of fame, if you
like. The lyrics are honed down and steeped in starry-eyed self- reference.
The sound is world-wise and warm hearted. Where 'Raintown' inspected its
own shoes,'When The World. . .' checks out the grand architecture of life
that sits above shop sign level. As blue Lou Reed sings on 'New York'- "it's
the beginning of a great adventure." My initial hunch was a simple one -
as plain and irrefutable as Scotland's patchwork countryside that met me
as we flew in - travel broadens the mind. "Not so broad that we can't get
in the door, " points out Graeme Kelling, the band's guitarist. "Yes, there
is a wider title, but I think it's more like the angle from which things
are looked at, " explains singer/songwriter Ricky Ross.
"I mean, if you're not stuck in a place constantly for six months, then clearly you're not going to write as intensely about that place and those streets - but what you are going to do is, every time you come back to the place, it's gonna hit you again each time. Which is what happens to us. " I came back from New York for a weekend and Jim (Prime, sometime co-writer) had this really good track, based on an R & B track, and I had this bunch of lyrics. He came to my house and played the track, I said 'Oh yeah! I've got this lyric, it's really good! and it was just, like, basically a Scottish rewrite of 'Living For The City' (he chuckles ). Instead of Stevie Wonder coming into New York it was me. It was the most awful, awful piece of trite travelogue nonsense I've ever come across. It made the British Airways magazines read like Finnegan's Wake! It was the most obvious thing you could've done." OK, so it's no Phileas Fogg snack, but does the album reflect your own globe trotting success?
It does and it doesn't." he says helpfully. "Most of the success has happened in the last six months - and most of the album was planned out ' before that. I think there's a sense in which we were addressing the last two years. I had no doubts when we chose the title of the record as to the fun that would be had with it."It was like leaving the door open for cynics - 'Yeah! Here we go! Bon Jovi!' I thought it was a good idea, it would sort out the sheep from the goats really, People coming up to us and going, 'Love the title of the album - so true isn't it'." ' Fun? Now there's a thing. Ricky's . taking the piss! I'd been warned he was ' an over-serious, paranoid press junkie and yet here we are gaily munching our seafood in a favourite Raintown eaterie, and our two reps from Deacon Blue are acting like an off-duty double act, a couple of swells. True, I've just sat through the journo's nightmare - witnessing the band reading your review of their album (one misplaced metaphor and the interview Was doomed, I thought) - but we're all still here, and Ricky seems dead jovial over his oysters.
Is 'When The World...' the best album Deacon Blue have ever made? - " I think you'd have to ask in a year's time, " is his wise reply. 'Raintown' did box office, but not exactly overnight, It's the kind of album you find you're still listening to when other, more short term effective chocolate boxes are relegated to the back of your archives. 'When The World . . ' eclipses 'Raintown' on all of the following counts - size, depth, breadth, length, space, range and magnitude. It's a grander affair all round. If there'd been a 'Raintown'
songsheet passed around at cub scout camp, I'd want to get hold of that, rip it up and start again, " states Ricky, rather harshly,. 'Raintown' became a kind of embarrassment, in the sense that it hung around - you wanted to kick it out and say 'Go home, f*** off, have your breakfast, do something else!' "We really wanted to move on, but it was there, people were still listening to it, two years after we made it. Whether this one will manage to do that..." Dot dot dot. Time will tell. Size, remember, isn't everything -'less is more'. And yet Deacon Blue are currently flaunting theirs. "The time is right to bring people into what we're doing. If Lloyd Cole hadn't Called his album 'Mainstream' two years ago; that's what I would've called this one. Maybe we should've called it 'Showbiz'! You've got to screw your head on and say, where are you'? I think 'When The World . .' is actually a Deacon Blue record , where the other one was a record by a band that had been together for six months. I had a complete shock about six or nine months ago when I realisied, being interviewed by someone, that they had no idea that we thought of ourselves as a Rock Band. Then I'd read these press things where we were compared to Prefab Sprout - but wait a minute, this is not where we want to be at all - no disrespect to them. "
"Oh you're so young / And you know so much" ('Queen Of The New Year')
Deacon Biue are thoroughly waterproofed for all critical weathers; Ricky
Ross has seen the (spot) light and he wants to stand in it This is
one band who aren't afraid to sell out, as long as it's sell out huge auditoriums
around the world. "I love this word 'stadium'," says Ricky, meaning it amuses
him and it wears him out sometimes, and he doesn't love it at all., "I think
our next album will be called 'Stadium'. What do people actually mean? I've
been in clubs in Glasgow which hold 200 people and the performer hasn't managed
to get beyond the second row. There's been nothing intimate about it whatsoever.
And I've been in Sheffield United Football Club and seen Bruce Springsteen
and, you know, my heart turned and I walked out in a different direction"
"Because someone makes a £35 million movie, does that mean to say it's
invalid?" Graeme adds. " Intimacy is an art, you create it. It's not an art,
its a craft - as a performer you learn it, learn how to create moments. You
don't do it by appearing at the Marquee and not the Hammersmith
"There's a track on the new LP called 'The World Is Lit By Lightning' and for me, it sums up the new Deacon Blue in one neat turn of phrase. 'Raintown' was drenched in water imagery ("Course, it's all sex, " winks Graeme. "Absolutely, " adds his straight man) meanwhile, 'When The World. . .' is bathed in light (songs like 'This Changing light' Circus Lights' shine for themselves but almost every track contains some reference to What surely signifies the bands sense of hope. "Dance hall neons", " The street lights in her eye ", "All the stars in heaven "). It strikes me that Deacon Blue's world hasn't changed much - the weather's still shite but the outlook's different. Ricky's not scared of a bit of basic symbolism.
"There's a kind of determination on this album which the light image is sometimes very useful for, because sometimes it's there and you're seeng everything in its starkness, and other times you're losing them altogether. " Paddy MacAloon - ( You brought him up, not me) - now he basically worries that Bruce Springsteen has one image for life" Life's a highway, right? "You worry about that, Paddy? You seriously worry? Paddy where are you?" he shouts into my tape machine. "I love that idea. If I could find one image, if I could find one bloody chord, I would keep it. If I could be like Van Morrisson and write'Astral Weeks' in about three, or even two, I'd be the happiest man alive! God's truth! Your whole life is about trying to get rid of all the shite " Let's get down to basics here. We like this, we like this, we don't like this. we don't watch Eastenders, we don't waste our time with that half-hour, we don't waste our time with F Major 7th, we move onto other things. If somebody said to me 'Wages Day' that was a bit of a single, it was, like, three chords - I think' Great!! 'Wages Day' is where I want to be.
I was reading NME about Matt Johnson, how he thinks his music's more imporfant than others .. I think that's f***ing shite! I've never read so much claptrap in my life. If you believe in Pop music, you believe in the plurality of Pop music, that yours is as good as anyone else's - thats the whole basis, it's Popular music, it's not the Arts, it's not some kind of pyramid. It's Pop music, it's no more than that" Phew. So in fact, the next album's more likely to be called 'Pop' than 'Pyramid'. Fair play. Deacon Blue are serious; they're serious about their own brazen, aspiring drive to be universal, and the taming of their new, improved dimensions.
Ricky Ross would love someone to do a cover version of one of his songs. And he knows that some things hurt more (much more) than cars and girls. "The problem with the record industry is we've got this cut throat approach - there are some albums about that you and I talk about, but as far as a lot of the folk who go into record shops, they'll never get around to buying them, because they've got five quid in their pocket - they've got a choice between a Deacon Blue album, if you like, and The Cowboy Junkies,What are they gonna buy? If I'm in there with them. what am I gonna say? I'd be really torn in that situation I'd probably have to say, as a music fan, look, buy the Cowboy Junkies." Dramatic, epically sweeping pause "'Cos likely as not,. the girl next door will have the Deacon Blue album!. Andrew Collins.