Lonesome Road The Big Issue 16th March 1998
Miles Slater Talks to ex-Deacon Blue frontman Ricky Ross about the lo-tech appeal of going solo.
It's becoming a trend.Singers who have peviously been in bands are happy to go introverted,downbeat and somewhat perversly in the age of techno and jungle,acoustic.Off they go ,touring the country's venues armed with only a piano or acoustic guitar.Keeping the audience hanging on every intimate moment.
Recently we've seen a spate of singers ditch their backing bands in favour of the solo option Tori Amos,Mike Peters from the Alarm,John Butler from Diesel Park West,Labi siffre,70's heroes Steve Harley and Tom Robinson.Even Errol Brown from Hot Chocolate has had a go at it.So why has the singer-songwriter approach become so popular in recent years?
Ricky Ross,who once fronted Glaswegian popsters Deacon Blue, is soon to take his turn at the "solo and acoustic" tour, with a string of such gigs in the north this month. Ross believes economic considerations are often important reasons for going it alone. "Why do artists do it? The cynical answer is it's cheap," he laughs. "It costs a lot of money to take a band on tour, so it's a viable option to do it as a solo act. It's too expensive otherwise. Also, musicians do it without any subsidy, and I've got a lot of sympathy with anybody for taking the same approach as I am.
" It's tempting to consider that doing a solo tour is an easy option for professionals who have been in bands. But, says Ross, it's not as easy as it looks. "People do it because they can. There are some acts that you can't imagine doing the solo thing - Bono from U2 for instance. It would be very hard to imagine him doing concerts on his own. "Not many people can do a solo show and pull it off, ' so if people are doing solo shows and audiences are coming and paying money to hear them, the artists must be doing something right.
But I've always been a singer and songwriter, I was working on my own before I was in Deacon Blue, so it makes sense for me to do this.Ross remains admirably practical about the realities of the music industry After seven good years with Deacon Blue, selling a healthy five million albums, he was unceremoniously dropped by his record label, Sony, when his first solo album, What You Are, failed to deliver significant sales.
"I don't think anyone should go into a major record deal and expect that when the sales stop that the company keeps them on," he says. "And in terms of the record companies, I don't think there are any that are any worse or any better. The companies are not there to take risks. If I've got any complaint, it's that I'd been part of a band that made Sony a lot of money, and then I got dropped pretty quickly when the sales ,veren't so good. "My reaction was to do something without a major record company, and I was glad to do something that didn't involve anybody else, when the record companies are involved, there are frustrations".
Ross's response was to create his own label, Internazionale, using it to promote his second solo release, last autumn's New Recording. It's an album that sees Ross edging away from the big production employed by Deacon Blue and heads for sparser and simpler territory. And the subject matter for Ross's songs has changed. "Gone are the young man's concerns with love and the excitement of life, to be replaced by songs written for his children and quiet reflections on mortality. Changes within his own family have clearly made an impact. "The songs are different because I'm getting older," he says. "I'm 40 years old now. My father died four years ago, and a big part of the show on the last Deacon Blue tour was me talking about his death. "It affected me so much. I don't want to ,write about being in love anymore.
I felt that when I was younger, but I don't feel it now. I try to be as honest and open as I can." And realism is just what the "solo and acoustic performance" is all about. Such shows present artists with an uncompromising situation. Without other musicians to rely on or big stage effects to distract the audience, their gigs are often focused and intimate affairs. And these days, playing such a gig is an art form in itself It's lo-tech, but it's beautiful.