Banging His Own Drum
The Sunday Times 24th December 2000
Elisabeth Mahoney meets Dougie Vipond
It is the ultimate drummer's revenge. After years of being the one at the back of the stage, some way out of the limelight, former Deacon Blue drummer Dougie Vipond now gets bothered in supermarkets. People come up and talk to him like he's an old friend.
It was not always thus. During the Deacon Blue years, front man Ricky Ross and his vocalist wife Lorraine McIntosh were very much the public face of the band.
"I could still go anywhere, do anything I wanted," recalls Vipond, 33, over coffee in the canteen of the BBC's Glasgow office, occasionally pausing to wave to fellow stars of the small screen across the room. "I could go home and still have a normal life."
These days this is more of a challenge, but not because hordes of fans get in the way. His now hefty workload is far more likely to stop him getting back to the Kilbarchan home he shares with his wife Elizabeth McCormack, an opera singer he met while studying at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD), and their two young sons, Fin and Angus.
Vipond has three regular jobs as a television presenter on the Holiday programme, the Kirsty Wark Show and Sportscene Match of the Day, and occasional extra assignments such as presenting next week's BBC Hogmanay Live with Jackie Bird.
"I'm beginning to p*** myself off actually," he laughs, sending up his new found ubiquity as one of BBC Scotland's favoured faces of the moment.
A serious achievement lies behind the jokes. After all, drummer to high-profile television presenter is not the most obvious of career paths, even allowing for the special place Deacon Blue hold in many Scots hearts.
Vipond has made a point of not trading on his musical connections. He got his first break as a presenter on Scottish Television's arts programme NB and relied on hard work rather than reputation to get beyond the first interview.
"I wanted to do it on my own, without telling people I had been in Deacon Blue," he says. "For the NB application you had to put a showreel together, so I made a tape of NB-type items filmed around Glasgow. What I did not do was stand in front of a fixed camera and say, 'Hello, my name is Dougie Vipond'."
For the second stage of the selection process, which involved going to see a play, a film and an exhibition, and then reviewing them to camera, Vipond was vastly overprepared: "I'd never really gone for a job before; I didn't know what you did. I had gone from being an 18-year-old music student at the RSAMD into a band that toured the world."
A natural presenter, Vipond has handsome if somewhat bland features - there is something of a young Dale Winton about him. On the day we meet, his inoffensive looks are nicely set off by trendy jeans, a slogan T-shirt and an expensive-looking chunky-knit jumper. It's a look, well turned-out but unthreatening, that matches his friendly, engaging TV manner. Jokey, blokey and amiable, there is no discernible edge to Vipond on or off screen.
He was never the wild man of rock - "a few pints and some late nights" is as bad as the antics got on tour. Nowadays the only vice he cites is an addiction to crisps (two packets a day, minimum). "I worry them off," is how he explains his trim physique, despite being too busy to keep up the sports he loves, especially basketball.
When he cannot resist having something to munch on over his coffee he opts, after lengthy deliberation, for an 85% fat-free flapjack from a selection of snacks. This is about as rebellious, I suspect, as Vipond gets.
In some types of television work this lack of danger would be a limitation; as a presenter of mainly middlebrow television, it appears to be his strength. It means Vipond can do reports for Holiday, a show he admits doesn't involve "delving into the depths of your brain" and where the voicing of opinions is actively discouraged.
He has even been invited to stand in for Richard Madeley on This Morning. On the Kirsty Wark Show he is the fluffy sidekick to her "political megabrain", using his sense of humour and natural ability to talk to anybody, anywhere.
"She brings so much class to whatever she does - I'm there to make things as unclassy as possible," he says, with a self-deprecating smile.
The jokey, blokey attitude that has Vipond telling me he is coaching two-and-a-half year old Fin for a career with his beloved St Mirren - "he has a wicked left foot on him" - makes him shine on Sportscene, a job he relishes. "I'm a fool where football is concerned," he says. "I'm like a kiddie in a sweetshop. Eyes wide open with the guests. I could sit and listen to their stories all day."
Vipond's childhood in Inchinnan, Renfrewshire, sounds comfortable. "It drives me mad when you see people on Parkinson going on about the hard times, how their dad had to chew gravel. My own childhood was quite unremarkable: we lived in a semi, and I had my brother, a dog and both sets of grandparents living nearby. It was fine, lovely. We watched Hogmanay programmes together."
It was while listening to his brother's copy of Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen that he first noticed the drums. He began playing drums first on his parents' pillows and cushions, then on the kit they bought him. He soon joined the school band, and went on to study orchestral percussion at the RSAMD. There he met a saxophone player who was working with Ricky Ross in the first incarnation of Deacon Blue.
Ross, a teacher, was nine years Vipond's senior. Vipond was only 19 when the band signed their first record deal; 22 when they had their first No 1 album, When the World Knows Your Name.
"At a very young age I was being flown around the world so much I got blasé about it," he says. "It wasn't until the last few years of the band that I made a point of exploring places. We were in Berlin about a week after the wall came down. Straight after the gig we went straight to the wall. I chipped a bit off of it and had a cigarette with one of the East German guards who, a week before, would have killed me for standing there."
In the meantime he had met his wife, who, he acknowledges, has made sacrifices to allow him to indulge both his career and his role as paterfamilias.
When they were first seeing each other, McCormack was as successful in her own field as Vipond was in pop. Their courtship had some magically glamorous moments, with each taking time off from touring to meet in far-flung locations.
"You'd fly across a country to meet up and then have two weeks of arguments and love in four hours," he says.
The very early days were rather less impressive, however, at least on Vipond's part. They were introduced by friends, but he says he was "a bumbling idiot" in her presence. McCormack was two years older, and seemed very sophisticated.
"It was her 20th birthday three days later and she invited me to the meal she was having at a curry house. I was still living at home, and had only ever had a curry once before - I was too scared to go because I didn't know what to order, so I pretended I had a rehearsal instead," he says.
Once together, both of their careers flourished and the couple moved to London, later returning to Scotland for "the quality of life". In the early days of his television career, when the phone would go for days without ringing, Vipond sometimes questioned this move. He was still freelance when his first son was born and confesses to a flood of anxiety soon after. "There was this very bizarre Neanderthal thing going on with me, thinking I must go out and feed my family, I now have responsibilities."
To their fans' dismay, Deacon Blue split in 1994. It was an amicable break-up, largely brought about because of wrangles with record label CBS, part of the Sony empire. "If George Michael had won his case against Sony we might have stayed together and moved to a new label," says Vipond.
He found it hard to adjust to being on his own. "I made a real effort to get everyone to meet up for drinks and would get really upset if people didn't show," he says. "It was silly of me - everyone needed their own space for a while to get back to some sort of normal life."
Vipond loves the idea of being in a television studio over the bells. Not only does it neatly solve the what-to-do-on-Hogmanay dilemma, but he has a nostalgic fondness for the idea of families gathered together around the television at new year, as his did when he was growing up.
"It's a shame for my wife because I've worked quite a few Hogmanay shifts over the years so she does tend to see in the bells watching me on television," he says.
With a recent addition to the family, however, in the form of one-month-old Angus, a wild night of partying was never on the cards this year. An exception was made to the work rule last new year, though, with Vipond seeing the bells in on Bute with family and friends.
"Fin woke up at dawn - it didn't matter to him what time we had got to bed - and we sat together and watched the sun come up. I said to him, 'This is the first morning of the new millennium'."
Deacon Blue reformed last year for a charity concert and have recently completed work on a new album to be released next year. A tour is scheduled for May, but Vipond is unsure whether his other commitments will allow him to take part. With precious little time to invest in his own band, The Swiss Family Orbison, and a desire to spend more time with the Scots family Vipond (a Huguenot name, apparently) he may just content himself with the memories of being in one of Scotland's biggest-ever bands. He smiles at this thought and reminisces about their greatest moment, playing the Big Day on Glasgow Green in 1990 to 250,000 people.
He obviously does not wallow in nostalgia that often, however. "I can't find any of my Deacon Blue CDs," he says. "I've got all the cases but not the discs. Maybe during some drunken evening I took them out and ritually burned them."
He is reaching for his last piece of 85% fat-free flapjack as he says this. Somehow, with Vipond, the drunken ritual sacrifice does not seem an option.