Greame Kelling Interview
Guitarist July 1999
Deacon Blue's Graeme Kelling was stunned when one of their songs accompanied his son into the world. He talks to Paul English about childbirth, guitars and band reunions...
He may have co-written some of the songs that helped make Deacon Blue a household name in the 80s and 90s, but Graeme Kelling couldn't have penned a spookier script for the moment his son, Alexander Joseph, popped into the world.
"My wife was just reaching the final stages of delivery," says Kelling, picking up the story. " For some reason or other they had the radio on in the corner, and just as things were nearing their conclusion, Real Gone Kid came on. It was utterly unbelievable. My wife was lying there screaming - 'Get that thing off'. It has to be one of the most uncanny things that has ever happened to me."
After the band unplugged for the last time in summer 1994, its driving force, Ricky Ross, went solo, Lorraine McIntosh took a part in the films My Name Is Joe and Psychos, and formed a new band called Cub, while drummer Dougie Vipond became a TV presenter and occasionally plays for The Swiss Family Orbison.
Guitarist was lucky enough to meet their ex-guitar weilder and proud father, Graeme Kelling...
There must have been a few times at the height of the band's success when you had those 'I really can't believe this is happening to me' vibes.
Totally. My full time occupation when I was with the band, was making nonsense
of it, because it's a totally unreal situation to be in. I spent eight years
living out a fantasy, selling millions of records and touring the world with
six other people. I played along with legends like Chris Rea (on 'Raintown')
and Little Richard at a tribute to Woody Guthrie in the States. But it had
its down sides too - we went busking once on Buchanan Street once and only
After Deacon Blue split up, Ricky Ross claimed that the band had run its course. Did you agree?
There was a period after it had been announced when we were on our 'Greatest Hits' tour when some of us said 'Why are we splitting up?' But we felt that we'd achieved all we were going to achieve musically. After a time, you get really familiar with the way that everything's played and you get really used to doing things in a certain way. We worked with Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osbourne on our last album to break that up. But in retrospect we were trying to force ourselves in to another jacket - a terrible looking spangly one - and didn't realise that what we had was actually quite special.
On the last studio album, 'Whatever You Say, Say Nothing', guitars became the major focus. Were you happier to see things going in that direction?
Yeah, I suppose a lot of songs before that were keyboard orientated, but Ricky wrote that album on guitar, and the songs were a lot more direct. Woody Guthrie had Guitar Kills Fashion written on his guitar, and that to me is what guitar playing is all about. I think people have lost a bit of the attitude that guitarists have. They can give you the directness to go straight for the jugular with a song.
What was the thinking behind bringing in Mick Slaven (of Del Amitri fame) as second guitarist for the reunion gigs?
It was due partly to the fact that Mick had already worked with Ricky on his solo album, and it seemed good to have another guitarist on board. But on most songs there are two or three guitar parts anyway. So when you come to playing songs like Bethlehem's Gate - which has about 14 overdubs on the album and would need a guitar orchestra to be played live - he gives us that added dimension.
What's your favorite Deacon Blue riff?
I love the intro to The Day That Jackie Jumped The Jail which is a bugger to play on my own. There's this bottleneck guitar part and I have to quickly scramble right down to the bottom of the neck. I think it was always crap when we did it live, but Mick does it now. That song also has a bottleneck wolf-whistle and I regret not having done more in the way of musical effects. A lot of what Frank Zappa did musically fitted the lyrical idea perfectly. So many of his tracks are amalgamations of musical ideas fitting lyrical ideas, and that's immensely entertaining.
How well have you maintained your old guitars?
I have a Gretsch Silver Star which is a reissue that I bought years and years ago when they first came out. I really like custom guitars and old Fenders and so on but they're buggers to keep in shape and you end up messing about with old machineheads and rusty bits and pieces and you're forever rewiring. After you've replaced all the crap, you're left wondering, 'Is this the same guitar?'
What's your favourite?
My guitar technician introduced me to Gary Levinson's guitars round about the time of recording 'When The World Knows Your Name', and they happened to have a blue one that Gary Levinson played. It had a great neck on it and it's a really nice guitar to play. You can plug straight into an amp and there are two or three different tones that you can get instantly, irrespective of pickups. You don't even have to go anywhere near your amps or change guitar. The Gretsch is a very loud guitar, and it's a monster when you crank it, but it has a really sweet tone too. I play it on Your Swaying Arms. I've got a vintage Les Paul as well, which I used to record Your Town. Lorraine took my Takamine acoustic on stage with her quite often and succeeded in battering lumps out of it.
It is strictly 'three gigs and out' or will there be more?
We were totally stunned to hear that these gigs sold out in hours and that there were still so many people out there who would come and see us. The other night, Ricky only had to count the crowd into Dignity and they took it from there. We're all enjoying it so much that I think we would look favourably on doing it again. But we can't go tramping on too many memories. Folk met their wives at our concerts and you can't go fucking around with that! Paul English