The Scotsman 27th March 1993
Deacon Blue’s new image is so different that some of their fans just don ‘t want to know. Are they imitating U2 too long after Zoo TV and trying to jump on a dance bandwagon that already departed? Alastair Mabbott finds out from a mildly exasperated Ricky Ross
'MOST people have to split up their bands to do different things,’
says Ricky Ross, “but with Deacon Blue it’s nice, because we’ve been able
to do things that we want to do together.” Deacon Blue have been causing a bit
of a fuss, for a change. A hit single, Your Town, and a new album, Whatever You
Say, Say Nothing, on which they worked with dance producers Steve Osborne and
Paul Oakenfold, have pricked up a few ears which had previously been resistant
to the band’s alternately excitable and melancholy pop, and in the process
they have disappointed some of their long-term followers.
It was Oakenfold who was credited with bridging the gap between rock and dance with his remix of Happy Mondays’ Wrote For Luck in 1989. Now, three years later, Deacon Blue are fending off accusations that they are clutching at trendiness-by-association by jumping on a long-departed dance bandwagon. Ross claims not even to have known at first that Oakenfold was a DJ. Their motivation, he says, was to work with creative producers who were “totally outwith our experience ... At that stage, we actually wanted people to come in and dick around with the music. “Our last album, Fellow Hoodlums, set off a whole train of events. There’s this treadmill you get on to where you have to do things bigger and better, and we wanted to do a tour playing to half the number of people we had the previous year. With that, we probably alienated a lot of people, because certain fans want you to be successful, and a lot of really culty fans want you to become theirs. It made me realise then that you’ve got to try to please yourself. It made me feel that if we’d taken that step, which was not really that radical a step, then we should take a bigger one.”
The end result, by virtue of being their most straight forwardly poppy album to date, has attracted praise from quarters where extracting a kind word about Deacon Blue would have been substantially harder than pulling teeth. But one attribute of the band’s that is not being hailed from the rooftops, despite the welcome success of Your Town is their timing. Last year, U2 shook off their shackles of worthiness by getting weird and loose, infusing their Zoo TV live shows with fractured visuals, tack and state-of-the-art hardware. And now here are Deacon Blue, introducing those elements into their own image. Ross uses a mikestand inspired by a toy of his daughter’s which sprouted coloured balls on springs, the band wear shades and matching suits which take high fashion into the post-apocalyptic age. They’ve discovered camp. Like everyone else, Ross read about Zoo TV, and approved of the tackiness and technology, but as much of the inspiration for Deacon Blue ‘93 can be traced to his all-time favourite live show, Torn Waits’ Big Time, “a brilliant notion of all sorts of wee things going on”. Meanwhile, the U2 analogy reminds him of some of the other comparisons used to pin his band down, such as The Waterboys Meets Prefab Sprout, or The New Simple Minds — “because we’ re from Glasgow” — and that serves as the springboard for an angry digression. “I’m really tired of being from Glasgow,” he announces, suddenly. “It really pisses me off! I. wish we were from Bolton or somewhere like that. I hate being Scottish, actually it’s this whole thing of ‘Scottish, Scottish, Scottish’ — it’s not really that relevant.
It happens to be where we’re from, but constantly having to come up with these aphorisms about Scotland!“ His voice momentarily trails away, in something close to disgust. I thought Billy Connolly was great when he said he’d rather be Bosnian than Scottish. I totally understood what he meant, because you’re constantly carrying this guilt, this mantle of Scots aspirations. Scots move in packs. ‘Who’s the band we all like now? Simple Minds! No! It’s Runrig!’ and there’ll be someone else. That’s something you don’t need.” The “mantle” he complains of is an attitude he roughly sums up as “this whole thing of ‘We want you to be ours, and we want you to be a spokesperson for all our aspirations, but we never want you to get too big-headed, and we want you always to do the songs we want.’ And if you’re in a band, that’s no use, since the whole point of being in a band was to do what you wanted to do.” That said, he doesn’t regret his support for Scotland United, nor does he feel that he was used as political cannon-fodder.
“It was a good thing,” he concedes. “Our role in that was really to encourage people to talk to each other. The last week (the SNP’s support of the Government over Maastricht) has just blown all that apart anyway. The deals, the Labour hypocrisy, SNP stupidity and Liberal Democrat inertia. What can you do as a band, what can you do as a citizen, with these kinds of people running around?” What indeed? Do nothing? Say nothing? For all his exasperation, Ricky Ross seems unlikely to take his own album, title literally. Alistair Mabbott