My Blue Heaven
The Big Issue May 24th - June 6th 1996
Bloke on his tea break or star in repose? Iain S Bruce talks to former Deacon Blue frontman Ricky Ross about his new solo album
THERE'S something different about Ricky Ross. Not so long ago, the former Deacon Blue frontman was taking to the stage looking like Mr Showbiz himself, adorned with spangled jackets and designer gear and with a distinctly cocky air. So much so, indeed, you'd have been forgiven for thinking that his position at the heights of Scottish pop was beginning to go to his head. Today, with his former band having passed into history, and doing the publicity rounds again as plain old Ricky Ross, solo performer, he seems more relaxed, lounging around the set of his latest TV appearance in a very ordinary T-shirt and jeans. When he greets you, it isn't with his trademark sex- bomb grin, but a natural, vaguely nervous smile, striking you more like a bloke on his tea break than a star in repose. The reason for which, it seems, is that he's enjoying the rediscovery of his rock and roll roots.
"It's great to be starting over again," he says. "It isn't like I've gone right back down to the bottom of the business, just that, even after having a lot of fun with the band, I'm finally being allowed to be myself." Our interview is interrupted by a record company rep summoning him back before the cameras. Ross willingly follows, without a hint of showbiz pique, pausing only to politely inquire: "Is that alright with you? Are you alright to hang out?" On stage, he remains just as cordial and patient, enduring endless soundchecks and re-runs without a murmur. It is only when the cameras finally start rolling that a certain swagger creeps into his demeanour, suggesting that whatever you might have thought previously, Ross is simply a professional entertainer with an onstage persona to match. Still, it's a far cry from his heyday of a few years ago, when we all thought that Deacon Blue were going to be really big, the kind of band who'd be packing out stadiums for years to come, not fizzling out quietly after three albums.
Ross nods his assent that his former project didn't live up to our inflated expectations, but asserts that for him things went far enough: "We were as big - bigger even - as we ever thought we'd be, the response to our second album was phenomenal. None of us really assessed things in those terms though, basically we did what we wanted to do and were happy with that." In the end, he maintains, Deacon Blue died a natural and amicable death: "We felt we'd gone as far as we could, so we made the decision to quit and that was that, we just stopped, I think it was the only way to do it, to end on a positive note." So here he is, two years down the road and enjoying himself enormously. However painless the split from the band actually was, Ross is clearly happy to be out on his own: "I really didn't want to be with another band, I've been there and done that. It's nice to be working on my own, you don't have to explain yourself, debate every move and you can change your mind without upsetting a lot of people. The things I'm doing now I couldn't have done under the name of a band. I'm writing about myself and things that are a lot more personal, doing what I've always wanted to do."
Without the external demands placed on him by being a member of a group, Ross's approach to his fledgling solo career has been relatively slow and easy prior to the current flurry of activity promoting the new album. A combined result, he says, of quitting Deacon Blue when the going was good and being the father of three children: "When we stopped the band just after the last album, we were still getting a lot of airplay, so there wasn't much pressure to rush out another. I needed to be more relaxed for my kids too, it's such a short time that they're young and you really need to be there for them." It took longer to write his first solo effort, he adds, because to compose it he needed to slip out of the family's north Glasgow home to a rented room for a little peace and quiet. . The result, What You Are, a less poppy, guitar-led album, will doubtless be subjected to ruthless comparisons with the stuff that made him a big name with Deacon Blue, but Ross remains unflustered by the prospect:
"Comparisons over relative degrees of success don't bother me, I'm happy with what I'm doing now. I'm sure some people won't like it but it's me and I'm pleased with it." Certainly, Ross is no stranger to flack from the press and public. Interest in Deacon Blue's activities reached highly personal proportions at times, especially over his much- gossiped-about marriage to singer Lorraine MacIntosh, for whom he left his first wife and child. But it's attention that he professes to take in his stride: "It's not something that bothers or surprises me. I suppose it does add extra pressure, but when you put yourself in the public eye people are going to watch you."Anyway, you expect people coming to see you play to put something of themselves in it, so it's only fair that you give something of yourself back." Either way, he laughs, it's better than being an English teacher, the job that first brought him to Glasgow from his native Dundee in 1983, and anyway, anyone who achieves any level of success and fame in Scotland is just asking to be knocked down.
Despite the intense nature of the speculation and pressure that Scotland bestows on its more prominent sons, Ross has no desire to to move south to the big smoke, though he is emphatic that this isn't based on any political agenda: "For some reason when you come from Scotland and do things here people see it as a political statement that you haven't left. It's not. It's just a case of where you work and where your family are. I don't see myself as a particularly Scottish artist, it just happens to be where I'm from and where I live." Indeed, Ross proclaims himself not to be a massively
politically motivated person.Which is surprising, considering that this is the man behind hits like Dignity and Chocolate Girl, searing indictments of eighties society or well-intentioned but ultimately patronising student angst, depending on how you look at things. "Deacon Blue as a band were more political because of the nature of the times," he explains. "Things are different now, as am I, and my material has become a lot more personal. "
He seems extremely happy, perhaps relieved, to be a middle league artist out on his own and free from the constraints of a band. But doesn't he hanker just a little bit for the big time again, for the stadiums he might have been filling? "Never!" He laughs, "I'd done all I wanted to and it was the right time to stop. I think people respect that. Let's face it, too many bands go on for too long anyway. I think we can all think of several who should have stopped several albums ago - like Status Quo for example - and I don't want to end up like that." . What You Are is released on June 3. Ricky Ross plays Glasgows King Tut's Wah Wah Hut on June 4-6 .Iain S Buce