When The World Knows Your Name
Wondrous Stories Issue 93 October 1999
You have become famous and there comes a point when enough is enough and it
is time to give something else a chance. 1994 was the year when it was enough
for Deacon Blue and with ‘Our Town’, the greatest hits album, entering the
charts at No. 2 and peaking at No. 1 the band decided to go their own ways. The
final gig was at the Barrowlands in Glasgow. Ironically it was Glasgow 1999 when
the band decided to get together again for a charity show. The success of that
led to two more sold out shows and consequently an October tour of the UK. Ricky
Ross explains how all of this happened in the first place and where they go from
here Deacon Blue are back! But so what, this is a classic rock magazine, so
where do Deacon Blue fit in.
Well the answer to that would be easy for those who witnessed a televised outdoor gig the band did in Scotland a I wars ago in front of thousands of adoring Scots. The atmosphere was fantastic and to be blunt the hand rocked! Deacon Blue are just one of those annoying bands that have a true musical definitive. Pop band, yes, maybe. Rock band, yes, maybe. Blues hand even! But as many will agree it is that pigeon holing that has become the death of many a hand and Deacon Blue somehow managed to avoid that scenario with the help of extremely talented musicians and one of the best songwriters of popular music of the past twenty years. That songwriter is Ricky Ross, more recently a solo artist. but better known as the voice of Deacon Blue.
How does he categorise the band? “I sort of gave up really because when you first set out as a band people always ask you what sort of music you play and you could be explaining it all night. lint once you get recognised you don’t bother because people can cheek out the hand themselves, the songs themselves and the albums themselves. ‘l’here’s so much going on in music and so many cross references but we’ve always been a hand that sing good songs”. It was Ricky Ross that formed Deacon Blue in 1985, the name being taken from a Steely Dan song. That American duo can always be included in the realms of classic rock but were they an influence? “Kind of, but probably more a hand that we all listened to at some point. It’s the old thing where all these things go in there at some point but certainly we never had any ambitions to be like that cause it was like the jazzy thing and that didn’t interest me. I wanted to simplify what we did rather than make it more complex. But yes, that sort of music was part of where we came from, yeah”. It did come as a surprise to many when the news was out that the original hand was back together.
Along with Ricky is Graeme Kelling on guitar. James Prime on keyboards, Dougie Vipond on drums, Ewen Vernal on bass and Lorraine McIntosh on backing vocals. So what have they all been doing with themselves? “Well as you know I’ve made a couple of solo albums, jim’s been working setting up a music school in Ayr and also working with Johnny Halliday and has done a bit of production stuff as well. Dougie’s been working on television very successfully, among other things on the Holiday programme. Graeme’s doing a new version of a book and other types of music and Lorraine’s been acting including the film My Name Is Joe and other films and ‘TV”. With a band like Deacon Blue there is always the front man or woman who is instantly recognised but as Ricky briefly explained, each of the band is talented in his or her own right, Is that individual artistic talent been essential to the band.’ “Yes it has, they’re a good band, good people but the fact is if we are getting back together we have to be able to get on. Being good musicians is the most important thing and in the time we’ve been apart I’ve certainly had a chance to work with some very good players and I wouldn’t say that any of them are any better than the people I work with in Deacon Blue”.
The bands enormous success is not just down to the musicians, albums and live performances but also the Ross songwriting. Has he always written songs? “Yes that’s really what I do more than anything else. That’s really what I like doing and what I want to do and that is really my profession. ‘That’s really why I put the band together in the first place. It’s the songs that I think stay with people more than anything else”. When asked if he could remember the first song he wrote he laughed loudly ‘I think so I think I can. Way back before anything was ever released One Deacon Blue song includes the name of the famous American songwriter Burt Bacharach, that song being ‘Four Bacharach And David Songs”, and it reached No. 2 in the UK singles charts. It is amazing how many musicians from different musical cultures refer to Bacharach or cover his material. Did Ross have any ideas? “Well he’s a good songwriter and it’s difficult to get a songwriter whose material can be covered by so many different types of artist I think he’s great but I always have a standard answer to this which is that he actually worked with a great lyricist, Hal David. He’s only a good songwriter in that context because the song is not finished until you add the lyrics. He’s very talented and David’s lyrics wouldn't have meant much without Burt Bacharach, but together they’re great. ‘Do You Know ‘The Way To San Hose’ is a great song, (laughing) even ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ is a great song and the one’s that did it for Burt Bacharach are the ones with Hal David on”.
Ricky Ross was in fact reasonably unique in as much as he never played in a band at school and the band didn't really know each other prior to becoming Deacon Blue, the one exception being Lorraine (a flat mate of Ewen s) who Ricky knew socially before the band. Ross grew up in Dundee. which he describes as a tough place but not with the reputation of Glasgow. ‘‘the rest of the band came from quiet suburban existences”. added Ross. Unlike felllow Scot and band frontman. Don- tue Munro (interviewed in last months magazine). Ross wasn’t brought up on a diet of traditional Scottish music. “I didn't really grow up liking folk music. I like some of it now and I like ‘The Chieftains, I thought Irish music was great, but that sort of Scottish stuff you saw on the Tele. was terrible (laughing), I wanted a million miles away from it. Then you realise there’s a lot of stuff you’ve never heard, and a lot of that was good and I really became a big fan of Dick Gaughan who’s done a lot of traditional music. That was much later when I heard him so I didn’t grow up with that, He can he a bit radical but he’s a lovely man and very committed to loads of good causes.
One of the big things he does is to champion not being a singer songwriter which I hind quite interesting because that’s completely the opposite to what I see my role as to perform songs I’ve written. Dick says his role is to keep songs alive and it doesn’t matter who wrote them”. As Dick Gaughan goes out there as a solo artist Ricky Ross has done likewise, but now being back with the band does he feel easier in that environment? “I love doing then both. I’ve done a lot of gigs on my own in the last couple of years, just me and piano and guitar. I like to play guitar when I can get away with it. I think there’s a special thing you can do on your own that you cannot do live with a big band. Equally there’s something you can do with a band, they’re two different things but they’re both great”. And now Ricky Ross is back with the big band and obviously delighted about it. “Yeah we’re back for a tour and we’ll see what happens. I kind of enjoy the idea of that and we’re enjoying it. We enjoyed the gigs we did together in May and June. We’re able to come back and do the level of concert where there are really nice places to play and have a good night and we’ve got a lot of stuff we can play. There’s a whole lot of things we haven’t played for a long time.
There is new material too and some of that’s going to come out in the form of a retrospective album. It’s a theme album of love songs really called ‘Walking Back Home’ and on it there will be three unreleased tracks that were always meant to be b side kind of things or got left and three new songs and two songs which were released but which were quite difficult to get hold of. One of the songs is ‘Christmas In Glasgow’ which is one of the finest love songs we wrote but only came out on a charity album. So that’s the new material, as it were”. The future of Deacon Blue may well depend on what happens with the October shows but what is Ricky’s gut feeling? “My feeling is if it is a one off tour it won’t be a big fond farewell. If it is a one off tour and we haven’t played in say five years that’ll be it but yeah, we’ll just see how it goes. I think that’s the best and the there’s no pressure on anyone”.
In the meantime Ross intends to get another solo album on the way but Deacon Blue business may hinder that. One other big project is a commission to write a theatre musical in the next year or two. And highlights of the Deacon Blue story so far for Ross? ‘I don’t really have one. A lot of them are really private things that we’ve enjoyed and were good fun. I think what I’ve always said is that the highlight was that we were allowed to record. That as a musician was always the big thing for me and then to be allowed to get back in and sell enough records to bluff ‘em again (laughing) and hope no one finds you out. But looking back it was all a highlight, it was great. Most people that you know that play in bands would give anything to be in a studio or do a gig. It’s great fun and if you’re lucky and it all gets too much for you, you should take a step back and have a rest”. MH