Ricky Ross New Recording BBC Radio Ulster 1997
This is the album that I have yearned for, for ten years. In May 1987 I fell in love with an album called Raintown by a brand new band called Deacon Blue. It was pop meets the classier side of pop and an album that became the soundtrack of my life. There was something about the songs that drew me in deep, as though, if I was a better poet than I am, then I might be writing lyrics like Dignity, Spencer Tracy Now or Love's Great Fears. In November lead singer, chief songwriter Ricky Ross and backing vocalist Lorraine McIntosh appeared on some Channel 4 programme, sat at a piano and proceeded to play a pre band arranged version of Ragman, just piano and vocal. My head was blown as it later was by the piano version of Raintown that appeared on a b-side or Circus Lights and Bethlehem's Gate whose acoustic versions also graced EPs as the story unfolded. It was the uncluttered songs of Ross that I craved.
And so to October 97 and for my 36th birthday here it is - New Recording. It is tender, it is quiet, it is gracefully beautiful, it is filled with love and longing, faith and hope, work and home. It is the best showcase for the muse of Ricky Ross yet released. No doubt Ricky would disagree with me when I say that it seems the big record company pressures had made his work become more about radio designer trends and sales in recent years. Whatever You Say, Say Nothing is my least fulfilling Deacon Blue album, the acoustic version of Bethlehem's Gate proving me right that a great work was hidden beneath dance rhythms and mixes and though I loved the raw energy of What You Are the live gigs were again unsatisfactory showcases of one of our richest talents.
Not so New Recording. Here there is no place for the songs or the voice to hide. You get only the naked brilliance of a craftsman. Reviews of albums will always change over time so I am reluctant to favour this and dismiss that (though I guess on a Web Page I can easily revise!) but my initial feelings are that the openers are the weakest and that this album goes amazing from the opening lines of The Further North You Go. Having heard this in a surprise acoustic gig at Greenbelt in '95 I am glad to eventually see it released. It is a celebration of not having to live in the south of England, a reoccurring theme in Ross's work, and has a stunning performance by Lorraine McIntosh. How good to hear her on record again and like her hubby without all that clutter. In Cover From The Sky mode she sings - "The further north you go/ The rain comes harder down under (?)/The people seem so friendly there/ They really seem so warm". Yes, I know! This one is probably as close to a Raintown feel as anything else here.
Another throw back to early Deac days is a new version of Undeveloped Heart which is certainly different enough to merit inclusion here. More longing in Ricky's voice with a looming guitar strum it also shows the difference in the economy of words in more recent compositions. I Love You is a victory at the challenge of Boo Hewerdine to write a song with that title. Indeed Hewerdine is a close reference point for this kind of album.
I sense that all these songs are going to creep slowly but profoundly into my soul over the next few months but other initial highlights are Here's A Singer, Cresswell Street and the last one Ash Wednesday. It was with great sadness that I missed Ricky's gig in Belfast due to being in London. The pain increased with the knowledge that he dedicated this song to me! Apparently he spoke too of having been refinding his faith since his father's death in 1995 had shaken it to the core. Ash Wednesday he said is about that and includes a reference to St. Peter and the woman whom he made a saint when he was God for the day on Simon Mayo a couple of years back; his Aunt Margaret. It's a great finish to a great birthday present. It's the beginning of a Raintown like love. Love it with me! Steve Stockman