What's Your Problem?
Vox May 1994
Formed by Dundonian ex- school teacher Ricky Ross, Deacon Blue signed to Sony in 1986 and have proved the most consistently successful of the song-based Scottish bands vaunted at the time. over the course of four studio albums, Raintown, When The World Knows Your Name, Fellow Hoodlums and Whatever You Say, Say Nothing they have racked up enough chart singles to pack a new compilation, Our Town: The Greatest Hits. Yet, for every one fan who digs Ross's blue-collar perspective, there are two who Perceive Deacon Blue's polished pop as epitomising corporate blandness. Despite Ross's decision to ditch the style that brought him his greatest rewards in favour of Bacharach And David standards, acoustic folk and an inspired collaboration with producers Steve Osborne and Paul Oakenfold, he seems destined to be forever misunderstood.
Over the course of Deacon Blue coming together, I abandoned any strong views of what sort of band I wanted to be in and rather let it take its course. Hence ie fairly ad hoc nature of the formation. Looking back,l'm not really sure why we did many of the things we did. The one strong feeling I always had was for the song, really. Songwriting has a tendency to make itself important in your life. Like smoking or going to the football on saturday it becomes one of those things you cannot help.
If there was a zeitgeist when we got started in 1985, it was that people in Glasgow wanted to hear the song again. They wanted the band to arrive sober and offer up their songs rather than turn up drunk and throw bottles off the stage in the way that I guess the Jesus And Mary chain had been doing a couple of years before. Bands based on songs? The Blue Nile were the paradigm, I suppose; the Wets when they started. The Big Dish, as well; and Love And Money.
The fact that Raintown was a popular success but not a critical one didn't surprise me at all. I grew up the same way as anyone else and I'm sure I share a lot of emotional and cultural reference points with other people my age, separated only by the fact that I'm in a band.
So I have all the same prejudices, too. I heard John Peel once say on the radio that he wished most rock groups could be born and then die very quickly, and I thought: 'Only someone with a pensionable job at the BBC would say that.' It takes into account absolutely nothing of the kind of things musicians have to go through. It illustrated for me that musicians and critics are clearly looking for two completely different things.
In 1987 I got hurt and annoyed about what people said about me. Now, I can see why they do so, and privately, I'd do so myself. There's also a terrible tendency towards hyperbole from critics. You read these quotes about a band: 'Trust them with your life'... 'Hand them your tenner.'And that's what always worried me the most, even before we had anything released: the sycophantic, Great White Hope school of criticism.
Had Raintown not been our record, I'd have been sceptical, too. I'd have thought: 'who the fuck do they think they are, talking about my city?' Without realising what they're doing, critics put these labels on you: 'Deacon Blue are the authentic voice of Glasgow,' or whatever. You try to say: 'I'm not, honest! There are lots of better ones,' but the hype gets translated into the fact that you yourself think you're this regional spokesman. Then the reaction is for other critics to write that you're pompous and bombastic and have delusions of grandeur.
None of this matters if you're not successful---everyone is happy to encourage a nice, wee band who are the equivalent of Blackbum Rovers trying to get up from the second division. But who likes Blackbum Rovers now? Runrig are the classic example. It's great to have a Gaelic-speaking band playing clubs and struggling along. But suddenly they're playing abroad and selling 40,000-seaters. Isn't that wonderful? It's make-your-mind-up time and the answer's 'no'. Thank God they're now seen as the Scottish group. Please guys, take that honour. It's all yours.
The worst career move we made was releasing a double album of B-sides 1990's Ooh Las Vegas. I dislike pretension and it was intended as populism-we just wanted to bang it out there, in the way The Smiths had done with Hatful Of Hollows but it got misconstrued. We got such a lot of flak for that album, and not surprisingly really. The Smiths doing that kind of thing with Rough Trade is one thing; Deacon Blue doing it with Sony is quite another. You can't present an album to Sony without them going: 'Right, we're going to get this fucker in the charts!' Great. The sales guys are really brilliant. I feel closest to them of all the people from the company that I meet; they really support the band and want your stuff to be successful. But that wasn't the game-plan on this occasion; it was just a junk collection of songs that might be interesting for fans. It was not a new album. In retrospect, we'd probably have done better just letting it filter out through the bootleg network.
The last album was like someone getting in a car and diving it off a bridge. Sink or swim. commercially we sank-it didn't do well at all. But I know one of its tracks, 'Bethlehem's Gate', is the best song I've ever written, and 'Your Town' is the best single we've done. I think it should have been our biggest-selling LP, but it was the least successful. That made it strange when we came to our Greatest Hits package, because the most came from the record I liked least. If it sells a lot, I know I'm going to get the pressure of: 'So now you know what people are looking for from the band.' But I'm determined not to take any lessons from it. Alan Jackson