Stripped Back To Blue Basics The Independent April 2nd 1998
Ricky Ross Jazz Cafe, Camden, London 31.3.98
It's interesting to see Ricky Ross in Camden among the cosmopolitan diners, when his old band, Deacon Blue, sung about small towns, unemployment and dark hours. Like a Scottish footballer planted in an English shirt, Deacon Blue's glory days saw them asa novel import at Wembley Arena gigs. Tonight's solo incarnation has Ricky playing both sides, giving London a stripped sound with the parochial authenticity of acoustic folk, conjuring feelings of a whisky-sodden hovel in Fife. No foul play here as whatever shirt he is wearing, Ricky is a mean player.
After a foot-stomping welcome, he commanded reverential quiet at the Jazz Cafe, joking that we pay while he gets some therapy through the personal out pourings in his songs. There was at least one person in the audience thinking of her first love,although gone are the tight leather trousers (now to be seen reaching parts of U2), the generous vocals of the bust- in-basque figure of Lorraine McIntosh and the pitch-filling anthems of Deacon Blue. The Sean Connery of Scottish pop stands alone;charming, quietly talented, and adding credibility to his pop background.
Ricky Ross played the piano, harmonica and guitar - like the lone piper left over from the ceilidh-like circus of Deacon Blue sets, a dextrous tunesmith banishing the memory of solo failure after success with the band. He called the audience's support "nice", but this was an unnecessary sign of gratitude, as there was no mob to lynch him for abandoning Deacon Blue, especially as he filled the stage himself with his growls and shouts. Most songs came with an amusing anecdote and there was a tangible and hard-won intimacy, more than comparable to watching "Later With Jools Holland" from the couch.
It wasn't until half-time that Deacon Blue's bittersweet "Love and Regret" and "Dignity" were played, and the audience were on the terraces, singing their national tunes. In the mid-80s, Deacon Blue's debut album Raintown had created the soundtrack forgrowing up: "Dignity" and its story of dreams and nightmare jobs; the adolescent yearnings of "When Will You Make My Phone Ring"; the obsessive first-love trappings of the "Chocolate Girl". By choosing to play "Dignity" (which catapulted them into the charts) as well as a track that was not released as a a single ("Love And Regret") Ricky revealed his new goalposts as somewhere between chart-unfriendly folk and catchy hit material. The Deacon Blue highlights were full of impressive acoustic dribbles and vocal swerves, never straying into their stadium-rock days.
The support were the serene Hank Dogs, with a harmonious folk set building on their debut album produced by Joe Boyd - the first time he has been involved in this type of music since working with Nick Drake, the McGarrigle sisters and Norma Waterson.Unfortunately the "STFU-During Performances" sign was too subtle a warning. Though well worth seeing by themselves, in tonight's setting the Hank Dogs served more as a reminder of the need for the kind of audience-friendly pop hooks that Ricky Ross does so well, and a warning that a pared-down live set is a difficult thing to pull off.