Blueprint For Success
Insight Number 29 1989
With the chart success of ‘Real Gone Kid’ Scottish band DEACON BLUE were on their way to worldwide domination. Or at least the recording of their second album, the aptly titled ‘When The World Knows Your Name’.
ABOUT A YEAR AGO, in the offices of CBS Records, I was chatting idly with a top executive, when the name of Deacon Blue cropped up. “I don’t know,” said the exec, despairingly, here’s this fantastic group, great songs, terrific live, the critics love them, and we’ve tried everything we know to get them hits but it just isn’t working. There’s got to be a limit to the amount of time and money you put into breaking a band.” Luckily, the limit wasn’t reached before Deacon Blue hit the Top Ten with Real Gone Kid’. Even before that, their debut album ‘Raintown’ was selling slowly but steadily. amassing a staggering 350,000 sales without the benefit of the usual three hit singles which the industry now believes almost essential before an album can chalk up decent figures. “We’ve made some mistakes along the way.” acknowledges a somewhat harassed Ricky Ross. dashing between interviews, phoners and radio appearances. “One was that we went out to California to get a decent tan sorry.., to do some recording. We were looking for a poppier singles feel but, while we were there, we discovered that’s not us. We’re a vibey, live rock band.
The new album, ‘When The World Knows Your Name, certainly rocks harder than ‘Raintown’. It’s much more how we’ve always wanted to be,” explains Ross. “We’re beginning to discover that our instincts about what we want are more often right than the things we’re told about how it’s done. We should have more faith in ourselves.’ Faith is something Ross knows about. He comes from strict and religious family, and the first music he can recall hearing was hymns. “My mother used to sing hymns around the house, things like ‘Deep And Wide’. We’d go to the gospel hall in Dundee and hear the preachers and all sorts of things flow from that.” Things like his interest in charismatic leaders. “I’m fascinated by people like Jesse Jackson, or Martin Luther King. When they speak. I’m drawn totally into their world. I get a real excitement, and I think that’s crossed over into my music. I like to tell a story in words, to paint a picture with my songs, the way they do when they speak.” This desire to paint sound pictures spurred his dislike of the rock video as a means of promotion. ‘Video deprives you of the ability to create your own images to fit the music. It provides hand made images, and discourages using your imagination.
Ross is as an English teacher when he moved from Dundee to Glasgow in 1985. ‘‘I went primarily to take up another teaching job but it was also in my mind that Glasgow has a thriving music scene. somewhere I could get a baud together ‘ With drummer Dougie Vipond he started a country outfit which only slowly evolved towards rock. adopting their name from a Steely Dan song. ”I identified with the character in the song recalls Ricky. “He’s a hungry sort of guy. restless. He wants to lose himself in this rock n roll mythology. drink a lot. play the saxophone and die behind the wheel of his car. He wants success, and so do we.
The success they ‘ve .already earned came despite CBS’s nagging doubts and, as is often the case. Ross thinks he knows why. “Word of mouth. We played a lot of gigs. people told their friends. the friends came to the next gig and more bought the album and so on. As a result of all that, the radio picked up on ‘Red Gone Kid’ and then the biggest factor has to he appearing on Top Of The Pops in front of ten million people.’’ What he's describing is the traditional rock route to the top - gigs and word of mouth — which broke Deacon Blue when the undeniably powerful marketing expertise of a major record company was finding it an uphill struggle.
The thousands who’ve seen Deacon Blue live will find the new album a more direct reflection of that exhilarating experience than ‘Raintown' was. but the songs retain an air of mystery to them, as if there’s more going on than first meets the ear. “I feel no need to spell things out in my songs,” says Ross. “Many bands I love. I know nothing about them but I identify with something in the songs. Sometimes, if my stuff seems mysterious, it’s because I’ve used the device of speaking with several different characters’ voices in one song. Once you begin to realise that, you can make more sense of them. but it really doesn’t matter. People can take my songs at face value or look for something deeper if they’ like.” Ross’s manager, polite but persistent, arrives at his elbow, reminding him he’s due on a plane back to Glasgow. “Sorry’, got to go,” he says. And, just like that, he’s gone. Johnny Black