Record Collector June 1990
David Ireland profiles the modern Scottish soul band, whose limited editions and early releases are rising rapidly in value
It is not too surprising that people used to get confused between Deacon Blue and Danny Wilson. Both bands emerged from Scotland about four years ago, with a commitment to intelligent lyrics and classy rock music, bearing a strong soul influence. Deacon Blue were named after a Steely Dan song; Danny Wilson merely sounded like Steely Dan. Both bands were heralded with rave reviews, but could do no more than establish a cult reputation, while other less ambitious outfits passed them by. But over the last two years, the comparisons have dimmed. While Danny Wilson fell to pieces under the strain of never living up to their critical reputation, Deacon Blue suddenly became one of the biggest bands in the country, with a No,1 album and a run of hit singles. Their music may be too subtle to top the charts, but their live performances are likely to ensure their continued stay at the top.
There is no great drama in the Deacon Blue story, apart from the personal relationships of the band's leader and singer, Ricky Ross, and his well-publicised liaison with the group's second vocalist, Lorraine Mclntosh. All the action has been behind the scenes, as the band toured to establish their reputation and their label, CBS, did their best to translate the rave reviews into sales.Over the last year, Deacon Blue have suddenly begun cropping up on collectors' sales and wants lists, and singles formats which were new in the shops a couple of years ago are now attracting weighty price tags. As ever, there has been a hint of over exaggeration in some quarters can the band's early 12" singles really be worth £20 or more? - but the movement is genuine enough, and in the discography at the end of this feature you'll find some surprisingly good values for recent product.
Born and raised in Dundee as part of a strictly religious family, Ricky Ross only entered the music scene in his mid twenties, around 1982. It was then that he helped form a band in Glasgow called Woza, with whom he played keyboards, sang, and wrote his first songs. The band stayed together for a year or so, eventually winning support slots behind some of Scotland's most promising names. But for the moment, the eyes of the music business were turned away from Scotland, as the media had grown bored with the Postcard scene and had convinced themselves that nothing else worthwhile could be happening there. ' In this atmosphere, Ross realised that the even the bands they were supporting had little hope of breaking nationally, so he decided that Woza had gone far enough. Instead, he concentrated on his own songwriting, eventually putting together enough material for an album length demo tape. This attracted some interest from publishers in London, but he was advised that he needed a band to perform with so that he could publicise his songs. And so were formed Deacon Blue named after the Steely Dan song from the "Aja" album, though without any definite notion of paying the American band a tribute. The band were originally a five-piece - with Ross abandoning the keyboards to highlight his singing, and leaving the synth and piano work to James Prime; Graeme Kelling playing guitar; Dougie Vipond on drums; and fellow ex-Woza, Ewen Vernal, on bass. Vernal, Kelling and Prime were also able backing vocalists, which immediately deepened the band's sound onstage.
Deacon Blue recorded a demo tape of Ross's songs around 1985 /86, which attracted the attention of CBS. Their head of A&R, Muff Winwood, was the man who signed the band, and by the end of 1986 Deacon Blue were ensconsed in AIR Studios in London, for two months of sessions which eventually produced the "Raintown" album. By this time, there was a sixth member of the group - though her auxiliary status was noted on the albuin credits by the way that she was listed separately as being 'with' the band rather than part of it. That was Lorraine McIntosh, not exactly a backing singer or a co-lead vocalist, more of a vocal counterpoint to Ross's lead lines, a combination which effectively heightened the band's soul feel,
Though the album was in the can, CBS chose to exhibit the band to the world on a single, "Dignity" issued in standard 7" and 12" formats, though early copies of the 7" came with a shrinkwrapped cassette that contained a taster for several of the tracks from the forthcoiuing LP. In addition, CBS pressed up white label test pressings of the 12", which now sell for around £30; and there are also 'Mayking Studios' test pressings of the 7" single, complete with handwritten labels, which would sell for even more, "Dignity" was simply lost in the flood of new releases in March 1987, and its dramatic production - there are hints of Bruce Springsteen and "Jungleland" in there somewhere - didn't exactly become a regular feature on Radio 1. But if CBS and the band were disappointed with that, then they must have been delighted by the reception of the "Raintown" album in May. It's moody cover imagery was an apt commentary on some of the music inside - revealing Ross's clever use of soul conventions to act as a vehicle for his observations on the depressed state of his homeland, and the treacherous life of personal relationships.
The album was offered for sale on a 'money-back if-not satisfied' deal, and few copies were returned once they'd been played. But this was still a long way from a commercial breakthrough. CBS tried again with the gently passionate "Loaded" as a follow-up to "Dignity", adding two bonus cuts to the 12" and repeating that line-up on a limited cassette single, Besides the British copies, with their picture sleeve of a pensioner wheeling all their belongings in a pram, you can pick up various European picture sleeve copies at £4-£6. "Loaded" didn't chart, though, and so CBS issued what many people thought was the best track on the debut album: "When Will You (Make My Telephone Ring)". This lovely soul number, boosted by the backing chorale of Jimmy Helms, Jimmy Chambers and George Chandler, certainly deserved success; but even the inclusion of two live cuts on the 12" couldn't take it into the Top 100. (One of those live tracks, by the way, was a cover of "Angeliou", by one of the band's heroes, Van Morrison.) The 12" edition has been spotted on sale at £18, but £10-£12 is a more average price.
Deciding not to follow the continental example of issuing "Raintown" as an
A-side, CBS chose to go back to the original selection, "Dignity". This time
they realised that art wasn't enough by itself: they had to use marketing
as well. And so "Dignity" appeared as a 7", 12", numbered 10", four- track
7" EP and CD single (the first in the latter format). Four new songs by the
band were included on these various releases, "Suffering", "Just Like Boys",
"Shifting Sand" and (another tribute) "Ronnie Spector"; and together with
the extended version of "Dignity" on 12", these were enough bait to finally
take Deacon Blue into the singles chart, reaching No. 31. (Watch out also
for the US promo CD of "Dignity" on Coluinbia (CSK 1047, selling for
£6-£10.) As it had worked once, CBS tried again, this time with
"When Will You (Make My Telephone Ring)". This time the formats included
a picture CD single alongside the silver variety; and a limited edition 7"
box set which came with postcards and an appropriate telephone design.
Collectors should also watch out for another US- promo CD, this time worth upwards of £15 ; plus a variety of 7" demos from the States, Spain and Germany, each worth around £6. CBS made two more forays into the back catalogue that summer, tantalised by the No. 34 peak position of the last single. This time it was "Chocoiate Girl" which was picked as the A-side, spread thinly across four formats, one of which was labelled 'The US remixes EP'. For some reason, the 12" and CD versions of this single seem to be attracting very high prices at present: we've seen copies of each on sale at £20, while the 12" has also been sighted for as low as £6! Besides issuing six singles from the "Raintown" album, CBS went a step further in 1988 by reissuing the record with a bonus LP. Titled "Riches", this set was a mix of single B-sides like "Which Side Are You On", "Angeliou" and "Shifting Sand", together with a 'piano version' of "Raintown". The double LP set, limited to just 10,000 copies, was something of a slap in the face to longterm supporters who had already bought the "Raintown" album, but it sold out immediately, and now sells for anything up to £40. During the summer of 1988, Deacon Blue had to suffer the ignominy of being supported by Fairground Attraction. Ignominy? Well, the problem was that their support act won better reviews than they did, and within a couple of weeks Fairground Attraction's "Perfect" single was on it's way to the top of the charts, while "Chocoiate Girl" languished outside the Top 40. Balance was restored, however, when the first of the band's new recordings appeared at the end of the year. "Real Gone Kid" was tougher and rockier than anything on the debut album, and it also welcomed Lorraine Mclntosh to her new position, centre stage alongside Ricky Ross, As a hint of their new-found strength, the band even threw in a cover of Husker Du's "It's Not Funny Anymore" on the CD and EP versions of the single'.
"Real Gone Kid" finally broke Deacon Blue on a national scale, peaking at No, 8. It is also the release which offers most scope to the collector, not just with its five UK- formats, but also with another US CD promo (worth £15-£20), and a variety of European 7" and 12" singles, the most collectable of which is probably the single sided Spanish promo at £8. "Wages Day" proved another popular choice for a single early last year - though as on the previous single it was noticeable that the band had slipped into the lazy modern habit of making the 'bonus' cut on the 12" single merely a remix of the A-side. But there was a hidden bonus, in the shape of a cover of Julian Cope's "Trampolene" on the CD and gatefold EP formats, more proof of the band's eclectic musical tastes. April 1989 saw the long-awaited release of the band's second album, "When The World Knows Your Name". No-one doubted that it would be a hit; but even the band were surprised when it made No.1 in the UK charts, and showed up as a steady seller for many months thereafter. Like the preceding singles, it revealed that the band had sharpened up their sound since the sessions for the debut album, giving more punch to the uptempo numbers and providing a harder rhythm accompaniment for the ballads, And the success of this slight change in approach, which took their recorded sound closer to the impact of their live shows, was revealed when another single from the LP reached the Top 20. "Fergus Sings The Blues" was helped along by a bewildering array of' different formats, however, including two different versions of'the 12", and another special, limited edition 7" boxed set, packaged as a souvenir from Scotland'.
Since then, the band have followed through with two further singles from
the second albumi, "Love And Regret" and the opening track, "Queen Of The
New Year". Neither was quite as commercial as the initial batch of singles,
and consequently hit the Top 30 without making any great impact despite the
plethora of different formats on offer But the album is still selling, Deacon
Blue's live reputation has been cranked up another notch along the way, and
the band seem to have gained the kind of secure popularity which bodes well
for whatever they choose to do in the future.They are obviously a band whit
will not be tempted into rushing into a project, so it may be a while before
they are ready With an entirely fresh set of top-notch new material. Until
then, the amazingly lengthy discography for a band who have been recording
less than four years - will keep any Deacon Blue collector occupied!