Out Of The Blue
Skyscraperusa.com May 23 1999
Dark-shaded pose-striking nihilists singing through megaphones and going semi-techno? It was never going to happen. But Deacon Blue's forthcoming sell-out Glasgow gigs bear testimony to the great affection in which they are still held. Pat Kane examines their appeal.
HOGMANAY, 1988. A certain Glasgow West End flat is heaving, somewhere after the Bells and before the bowel trouble. There's a lot of gel smeared on heads, many denim jackets combined with a number of ill-advised trilbys, and a cigarette aroma that is only faintly suspicious. I'm the brother-in-law of a sister-in-law who's going out with a guy who knows Ricky Ross: that's why I'm here.
But something is jangling my jazz-tastic sensibilities. I wander through an unfamiliar cloud of conversations, which seem to veer between impassioned arguments about liberation theology and the Ineffable Bruceness of Springsteen, trying to locate my annoyance. And there it is: the house TV. Playing, without a shadow of a doubt, a U2 live video. I zip my Duffer of St George jerkin right up to my chin. There' s a chill wind blowing. They like "rock'n'roll" here.
No matter how you rated Deacon Blue - and there is, shall we say, a spectrum of opinion on this one - you must remember that they were always on the side of rock'n'roll. Meaning not punk, and not funk - but arm-waving, chord-crashing, crowd-pleasing, piano-bashing, tub-thumping rock'n'roll. So far 8000 or so people have sold out two nights at the Clyde Auditorium to see the reformed Deacon Blue - and they haven't come there just to sit in their seats, tapping their souvenir programmes lightly on the armrests.
No, there will be hipswaying and airpunching, there will be dry ice and stadium lights, and there will inevitably be a ragged, bellowed chorus of one of the weirdest end-rhymes in populist UK rock. "I' m gonna buy a dinghy/And call her Dignity ..."
Let's stay with the boat. It's not difficult to identify this song as the one that explains why Deacon Blue, at one point, were knocking Madonna off the top of the album charts. For who could deny that, in those weird, shadowy years between '87 and '92, there might be a mass market for soft-rock socialism? For songs that roared about "wages days" and "fellow hoodlums", or referenced Robert Oppenheimer and "Maynard Keens", and did so with professionally arranged vigour?
The whole thing carried forward by an on-stage double-act who looked like a pair of triumphant young marrieds leaping around on stage, happily defying all the frazzlement of the times.
Which, incidentally, is exactly what they were. When Deacon Blue did love songs - and they went for it, big-time, twice: Real Gone Kid and I'll Never Fall In Love Again both number ones - anybody who knew them knew what the deal was. Listen, Ricky and Lorraine invited me to their wedding in 1990. What can I tell you?
Only what I saw. Ross was wearing a nice suit so badly, so uncomfortably, that you' d think he kept the denim jacket on underneath it: McIntosh had a garland of flowers in her hair, and a cupid smile across her face all day. This was a totally Scottish wedding - with ceilidh band, reputation-shattering speeches, some spectacular dad-dancing, and one-singer-one-song performances to curl the crust of the freshest ham-sandwich. But in love? Does Bruce rock?
There's another inner thing you should know about Deacon Blue, which was evident on Ricky and Lorraine's wedding day: that is, the Christianity thing. As a Skafflick, used to altars like icing cakes and florid men in lurid-green vestments, I almost missed the moment of them getting married. The service was so conversational, so casual, so acoustic-guitared, that it seemed more like a rehearsal-jam than a betrothal. That's your radical Christians for you: no ceremony, just the straight spirit. And you won't be able to understand why Deacon Blue got so worked up about things without understanding Ross's Brethren roots, or his connection to religious activism (he was in South America earlier this year, on behalf of Christian Aid). Christian rock, of course, has never had much of a rep: mutter the words "Cliff Richard" and you can believe you've closed the argument. Which disallows, of course, Nick Cave and his Bible readings, Al Green and his gospel ministry, Prince and his profane holiness ...
So to say that Deacon Blue had a whiff of the kum-bay-ah about them is not necessarily to damn them. But it is to understand why some people got into their music with a real fervour, and why some people just didn't feel part of the congregation. And I suppose that's why their last makeover in 1994, with the Paul Oakenfold-produced Whatever You Say, Say Nothing, didn't really ring true with anyone, supporters or detractors.
Deacon Blue as dark-shaded, lantern-swinging, pose-striking nihilists, singing through megaphones and going semi-techno? Weren't they ... well, nicer than that? Yes, they were, and are. It's a fact: any Scottish band that's ever tried to fill a stadium always seems to be cruising for a critical bruising. Two scuzzy Manc siblings to rock out Loch Lomond? Event of the year. Those droning depressives from Atlanta, with the name taken from a medical read-out? Murrayfield - the place to be. Bombastic Dubliners blowing fortunes on a po-mo stage set to distract from piss-poor songwriting? Yeah, had a ticket for Pop-Mart, couldn't be bothered ...
But Deacon Blue, filling the big halls in their hometown again? Some will head for the hills, screaming. Others will be in those seats, standing up, chanting along. The rest of us will have a bit of a Proustian rush - about less hopeful, less capacious times than these, on whose soundtrack Ricky, Lorraine and the rest will forever feature. Woo-ooh woo-ooh woo-ooh woo-ooh, indeed. You'd still have to chain me down to watch a U2 video, though.