Back To The Blues
Daily Express Saturday Magazine - 9-15 October 1999
It's 10 years since Deacon Blue topped the charts with tracks such as Real Gone Kid and Dignity. Now the Glasgow band are back together with a new album and a UK tour. Verity Smith meets front man Ricky Ross and his wife and backing singer Lorraine McIntosh
When Deacon Blue announced they were doing a charity gig in Glasgow last May, tickets for the event sold out within hours. Not bad going for a band once dismissed as one of Britain's least fashionable. Their particular brand of melodic rock - once denounced for being shallow and bombastic - has survived largely unchanged. Their lyrics and harmonies on the new tracks are as poignant as ever, the dignity intact.
But not everyone is impressed. The taxi driver who took me to Glasgow's new Groucho club for the interview was tight-lipped about the band. "My wife won't listen to then any more," he claimed as we made our way under a torrential Glaswegian sky. "He left his wife with a wee kid for that singer That's no good." 'He' in this conversation, is lead singer Ricky Ross, who is now married to 'that singer', Lorraine McIntosh, with whom he has had two daughters, Emer and Georgia. That his former wife, Zara, was pregnant with their daughter Caitlin, when he left her, alienated who knows how many fans. But Deacon Blue had already garnered a devoted fanbase.
I remember seeing them on Top Of The Pops in 1989 and being gauchely impressed by how bouncy and happy they looked. I so wanted to be like Lorraine - a sort of Betty Boop in Doc Martens, with her black curls, round eyes and stompy blitheness of spirit.
When I saw them getting out of the taxi outside the bar, I thought at first that they looked frail and wan. But everyone looks older in the rain and as soon as we'd settled inside, I realised that the verve is still there. Ricky murmurs his excitement with slightly uncomfortable intensity while Lorraine is more enthusiastic. "It was just a great feeling to walk back out to 2,500 people screaming for you," she sparkles, shaking her poky, wild hair. So, if playing together again was so good, you can't help musing, why did they ever stop? The band split up in 1994, when Our Town, a greatest hits album had just reached No. 1 in the album charts. Claiming they wanted to go out on a high, they did a final gig in Glasgow and then vanished. Lorraine was about to give birth to Georgia and Ricky's father had just died. They were both exhausted. "We were just tired of being in the same job," says Ricky.
"I grew up with my dad running a business which used to dominate all family discussions. I used to think, 'this is a terrible situation to be in,' yet I ended up doing a similar thing: Deacon Blue was our family business. Whenever good things happened, it affected the whole house, but in the last year the band... er, wasn't having a happy time and it tainted everything."
Ricky reminds me of a fresh faced brontosaurus - vulnerable eyes, a lot of nostril and a kind, placid mouth. He even maintains a slightly hunted expression, as if someone might appear from nowhere and harpoon him and his music into extinction. He looks mightily relieved whenever his wife takes over the talking.
They look at each other a lot throughout the interview, laugh at the same things and quietly encourage each other. In fact, if there was a prize for mutually supportive and disarmingly genial couples they would walk it, humming a perfectly harmonised tune as they went.
Since the band split, Ricky has been busy pursuing a low-key solo career. Lorraine has been forging a career for herself as a serious actress. She played Maggie, best friend to Louise Goodall's lead character Sarah in Ken Loach's highly acclaimed My Name Is Joe, last year. She has also been in Channel 4's Psychos and in the BBC's medical drama Life Support - this without any formal training. "I don't know anything about acting, but as far as I can work out the secret is that it's not a performance. Being on stage and singing feels like a performance - you're aware that it's a night out - it's a show. Acting is much more naturalistic. It's the only thing I get nervous about. There's always a part of you that thinks, I can't do this. Any minute now someone's going to walk up and say, 'OK, we've realised you can't do it and would you mind going home?'" She has just had to turn down a "really good" role in a 10-part BBC drama called Tinseltown, because it was due to start shooting as Deacon Blue go on tour. We're taking the kids with us and we just can't do everything."
The girls, Emer, seven and Georgia, four, are really looking forward to the trip. When I ask if they are nervous about taking them, Ricky answers yes as Lorraine is emphatically shaking her head no. "Och," says Lorraine, "they're such easy-going kids." The girls were there at a recent show in Glasgow, where the organisers had laid on a special room for the children. "There were crayons, paper and Cokes in the fridge," Lorraine says. "They thought they'd died and gone to heaven! Before we went on stage Georgia asked who was going to be the best. I said, what do you mean? She said, 'Between you and daddy?'" They both laugh delightedly at this. Lorraine continues, "I said, 'You tell me what you think after the show.' So we came off and I said, 'Well, Georgia, who was the best? She opened her mouth to answer when her sister said loudly, 'Say both.' But she actually said me. She's a mummy's girl!"
When I confess to Lorraine that I watched her on television with teenage admiration she chuckles. "I look back at the things I've worn on Top Of The Pops and I think how could I have thought so little about how I looked? It's horrifying." Surely she doesn't regret the DMs? "For about 10 years all I would wear was Doc Martens and then I discovered shoes. I love them now."
For all that, her current footwear is more bovver than Bally. Nor, at 35, has she changed her dress much: a wispy black skirt, thick black tights and a black body warmer cover an elfin frame. "I think go for it. People are teenagers for much longer these days."
When I ask Ricky about his plans after the tour he is evasive. "It's open at the moment. We might well want to carry on. I'm just really glad of the chance to sing with Lorraine again." So there's no desperate hunger for fame then? "All that happens where you're famous is that you get recognition for the sake of recognition. It just makes life more difficult. Lorraine and I used to go into town together and it was a nightmare. Now we only get attention from people who have kept up with the music and they tend to be nice to us. It's the best of both worlds."
I had the feeling that this former teacher would be a lot happier without all the showmanship. Fortunately for Deacon Blue fans, the combination of his quiet skill and his wife's photogenic vivacity means their working relationship will be public for a while longer. Verity Smith