Into The Blue
RCD Magazine Issue 10 1993
Having established a nice little earner from churning out catchy AOR, the last thing you'd expect from Deacon Blue right now is a stab at the yoof market. Yet here they are, six thirtysomething Scots, cutting an album with the doyens of the dance scene Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne. Whatever You Say, Say Nothing still sounds like a Deacon Blue album of course, but by collaborating with the rave merchants behind the Happy Mondays and Primal Scream, the band might just be challenging their audience for the first time, and also testing preconceptions of a press always eager to rip them to shreds. 'We knew that we had to make an album that was not the logical successor to any of our others,' admits frontman Ricky Ross. 'We'd already made three and that's as much as some bands manage in a whole career. As you sell more records, the tendency is to reaffirm what you've done and the more people you meet, the more people are going to slap you on the back and say what you're doing is really good. That was the last thing we wanted and Steve and Paul were really forthright and they'd say "no" to certain arrangements, even "no" to whole songs. I personally think it helped the band to develop a lot.'
Hits like Wages Day, Fergus Sings The Blues and Real Gone Kid are testament to Ross's talent for penning strong if stodgy pop rock songs, so why the flirtation with dance now? The man's 34 and has a daughter with fellow DB warbler Lorraine Mclntosh, so shouldn't they be aiming to be more Macca and Linda than Sean and Bez? In truth Ross has always been something of a late developer - perhaps explained by a childhood that was a world away from the typical teenage rampage of wannabe rock 'n' rollers.
Staunchly middle class, the Ross family had their own business and were members of a Christian sect who frowned upon such hormone-fuelled irreverence as dancing, drinking and going to the cinema. At school, the young Ricky was bullied and nicknamed 'Sap'; he left to study at teacher training college and eventually became a youth worker for the church. Despite the dramatic change of career in his twenties he insists 'The fact that my success in music came late is neither here nor there. A lot of people do a lot when they're 17 or whatever but by the time they're 25 they're bumed out. We're in the very fortunate position of being able to have a nice time and to know enough about life to keep things in perspective. We've all done other jobs and I still know what it feels like to desperately want to go into a recording studio and not have the money.'
If there's one image of Ross, this is it; the got-lucky ordinary geezer as pop star, with a tune in his head and (just a little) anger in his heart. Deacon Blue have played anti-Poll Tax benefits, played gigs to raise money for a rehearsal and recording studio for Glasgow's young, and (in the likes of the new album's Cut Lip and Peace and Jobs and Freedom) written increasingly political songs, but Ross's boldest statement of intent came in '92 when he acted as one of the prime movers in Scotland United, a non- aligned pro-independence group. 'The day after the last general election, heads were down in such a big way,' he sighs. 'Scotland United just came about to try and force the government to listen to the 75 per cent of people in Scotland who had voted for a Scottish parliament. We did a show to raise money, partly because politicians were so bad at actually talking to each other about this issue, but they wanted me to do more and more. The final thing for me was when I got a phone call from Scottish Questions which is basically Question Time on BBC Scotland. They wanted me to come on so I said, "Right, who else is on it?" And it was Donald Dewar who was then the Scottish Secretary, Ian Laing the Scottish Secretary of State, a Liberal democrat MP and me!
I just would have felt totally out of my depth. Donald Dewar's a QC, Ian Laing's a very bright guy - not that you'd know - and I just knew I wasn't ready to do all that. It was an important decision to make 'cause if you do one of those things you end up doing all sorts.' From being canonised in the mid-'80s, the political pop star is now little more than a figure of fun - in many ways, it seems typical of Ross that he realised his limitations before he made a fool of himself. He parries the question of how political his songs are with a curt, 'Well, how political do YOU think they are? 'Ultimately,' he argues, 'what you say in a song has to work in the context of a song - ie without any prior knowledge, you've got to be able to listen to it in the car or the kitchen or the workplace, and then it's got to work outside Britain. On the other hand, you've got to make sure you're not wnting songs that are so bland that they have no sense of where you're coming from, no sense of history or environment. If you don't put enough thought in, you end up writing songs like INXS which are just a stream of cliches thrown together. They're sexy, hooky kinds of songs and I suppose I quite like them at that level but I don't think they actually MEAN that much to people. It is a thin line that you have to walk.
Peace And Jobs And Freedom might sound naive, but it's just us asking a few questions about the times we live in - I guess that defines how political we are as a group. But we are just a pop group, and if we're not allowed to ask a few naive questions then who is? 'You've got to keep things in perspective, and I still see myself as one in a line of 2,000 musicians who are all in the same boat - if we don't sell records and earn the record company people money then we just won't be allowed to do what we want. But for now, it's a good job to have! If you went down the list at school... airline pilot... fireman... policeman... pop star... Doesn't seem too bad does it?' Michael Leonard