Black And Blue
The Sunday Herald 22nd April 2001
Dropped by their record company, a bruised Ricky Ross and Lorraine McIntosh spent seven years lying low and raising children before deciding to reform their band Deacon Blue. Now they face the prospect of fame all over again. Words: Anna Burnside
RICKY Ross and Lorraine McIntosh lift their eyes up to the domed ceiling of Corinthian's dining room. "This is posh," says McIntosh. They have never been to Corinthian before. They don't get into town much. Since Deacon Blue split up in 1994, they have gone from A-list pop stardom to family life in Glasgow's Newlands, bypassing the C-list hinterland of launch parties and ostentatious restaurants completely. They are normal and charming and unstarry. They talk about PopStars and holidays in Lanzarote. Did they really have massive hit singles?
Yes, they did, 17 of them and two number one albums. That big guitar sound topped with McIntosh's distinctive woo-ooohs was, in the late and early Eighties, what excitable Americans describe as "the soundtrack to my life". Ubiquitous. Inescapable. It still is, to some extent.
In December, when McIntosh was in the late stages of labour, giving birth to Seamus, Real Gone Kid started playing on the tinny tranny in the corner. "I was out of my head at this point," she recalls. "I could only hear this really annoying backing vocal."
After a seven-year gap, Deacon Blue are making records again: a single, an album, a tour. Not that it's going to be like the old days. Yesterday's rehearsals were the first time they had played the new songs together - they were recorded by different band members at different times. A bit like those Frank Sinatra duets, says Ross. But after enjoying a small-scale tour in 1999 they felt ready to have another go. "To dip our water in the toe," says McIntosh. Then she realises she has got it wrong. She and Ross collapse into their banquette seat giggling.
For McIntosh, and other members of the band, Deacon Blue was 1985 to 1994. They enjoyed it at the time, are proud of it, and now do other things. McIntosh has her own musical projects, had a part in My Name Is Joe and has five-month old Seamus as well as two older girls. Drummer Dougie Vipond is a successful television presenter. But Ross, the band's songwriter and creative force, has found it harder to draw the line. The downside to writing powerful, memorable songs is that they have a long half-life.
"They're my songs, they're my story" he says, running his fingers through his hair. "When I go out to do stuff, no matter what I do, in that audience there's always going to be someone there who liked me because of Deacon Blue." He fought against it for a while and then gave in, combining new solo material with old favourites. Then, last year, when his manager suggested making a Deacon Blue album as well as a Ricky Ross album he thought, why not? He wanted to work with Lorraine again, he wanted to write with keyboard player Jim Prime again. After they were ignominiously dumped by Sony in 1996, there was a record company wanting two albums of his material É The way he tells it, it was not a hard decision to make.
"I'd been writing songs for four years so I was really keen to do it from that point of view," he says. "But if I was going to do a solo album afterwards I wanted to be upfront with the guys and say, 'I'm going to do this.'
"Having another place to go is an important part of the story. It's really good to have something to do together and apart because we don't want to spend all our time in a band. I never wanted to be in a band. It was the last thing I wanted and then I did it and I really enjoyed it, but I don't want to be in a band for the rest of my life."
For the first years they were together, Ross and McIntosh had a very sparkly life. Deacon Blue were big stadium stars, they played all over the world. Ross left his wife, with whom he has a daughter, Caitlin. He and McIntosh married in 1990. Their first baby, Emer, came on tour with them. "It was all very exciting, all new, it was a whole new life," says McIntosh. "Going all over the world, having money for the first time in your life."
What they didn't have was what she calls "a base of normality". Then Deacon Blue was all over. By this time they had a second daughter, Georgia, and no clear idea of what came next. "When the band split up, that was the first point when I was at home with the children," recalls McIntosh. "At first I was out of it with the kids and it still seemed exciting. But when Ricky had no record contract and I had no record contract - before I did the film or anything like that - we both kind of looked at each other. We had plenty time to sit and study each other and think, do I really like this person? And luckily we both did."
She smiles at Ross. "I think your career taking a dip probably strengthened our relationship. I don't think we've had bad dips in our relationship, in being together, being happy."
Ross and McIntosh come as a self-contained unit, not exclusive of the outside world but not exactly desperate to engage with it either. He is edgy, plays with his greying hair, speaks quickly and softly, uses the phrase "to be honest with you" when his eyes would clearly find it difficult to be anything else. She uses fewer words and more smiles. Stardom, motherhood and the intervening years have left her looking exactly the same as the last time she was on Top Of The Pops. Only her T-shirt appears to have changed. It is grey and neat-fitting, with an old fashioned scrap on the front. "I wonder if I'm too old for this," she says at one point. "I'm 36 years old."
It was McIntosh who kept her husband going through the grim days. Ross, who was 38 when Sony pulled the plug, grew up in a strict Plymouth Brethren household in Dundee, has a powerful Protestant work ethic and is a devoted father, keen to do the best thing for his children. Songwriting is the force which drives him but, for him, these songs don't really exist until they are recorded. Until they catch him by surprise on the car radio or a scuzzy pub jukebox. All of which can't have made it easy to be unemployed.
"It was the worst possible scenario," he says, looking tired of the memory. "If you start writing songs you're going to write about your torture, hopefully in a good way, but I was frantically trying to É" he tails off, shrugs and points to McIntosh. "And she said, just leave it for a while. Just start doing the garden. So I started clearing up the garden. And cooked a lovely Christmas meal."
McIntosh likes this bit of the story. "Ricky was dropped by Sony just before Christmas. Never mind turkey, we had home-made cranberry sauce, home-made chestnut stuffing. On Boxing Day we had goose."
Ross is more analytical. "There's a thing in the male, in me. I don't know where it comes from; if it's my upbringing or genetic, this need to work. I really identified, for the first time in my life, with the people I'd been singing about, people who had lost their jobs. You suddenly feel, what is it like to be approaching 40 and be out of work? I can't do anything else."
McIntosh joins in. "You used to talk about being envious of people that got to Friday night and felt, it's Friday night, the week over. You didn't feel that - there wasn't that high of having worked hard all week. It's just like any people that love each other: it's almost harder to see the person you love being frustrated and lost and all these kind of things than it is yourself." Then she laughs. "I don't worry about being lost. I'm quite happy; I love having nothing to do. But you struggle very badly with it."
Ross was 29 when he started Deacon Blue, already married and a father. His music has always addressed a grown-up agenda, the baggage of stardom co-existing with the realities of adult life. Ross's father died around the time the band folded and that, rather than the triumphant farewell gigs, is his abiding memory of that time. (That and their undignified eviction from the after-gig party at King Tut's, at the hands of a Finnieston police officer who had clearly never owned a copy of Raintown.)
Now in his forties, Ross has no trouble with the idea of writing pop songs for a living. In fact, he finds it the ideal occupation for the hands-on father. Emer and Georgia go to the local school, on Glasgow's southside. Ross often walks them there in the morning and may well be at home writing when they come back in the afternoon. They all watched PopStars together, Ross and McIntosh cringing at the A&R meetings, licking their war wounds from old battles with the suits. The little girls were enchanted with "these kids getting some place". And the dance routines.
Seamus, the baby, is coming on the next tour. Georgia and Emer will join them for the last two dates, which are near Bristol. Caitlin has just moved there, so it will also be a visit to her new home. Family is clearly hugely important to both of them. At one point Ross describes the children as "my best friends". The reason they don't come into town much, that he's never been to Corinthian before, is that they are too busy with life at home.
In the short term, the Deacon Blue revival meant no Easter holiday. Longer term, it may mean the couple's children having to readjust to having parents who are famous again.
"When Emer started school we were at a really quiet time," says McIntosh thoughtfully. "We hadn't been on telly, it was nice and quiet. I went to the playground, he went to the playground, people were nice and friendly, we were just one of the other mums and dads. It wasn't till about six months later that folks said, 'We knew who you were' - but they decided they weren't going to say anything. Now I feel for Emer when she says, 'So-and-so saw dad on the telly last night and she said you're famous'. We just go, 'No we're not. We're in the paper sometimes but that's not really famous.' So they just think of it as fairly normal.
"You want them to have interesting and happy lives, but not so far removed from the other kids round about them that they're like freaks. If you're going around school saying we're going on tour with mum and dad you can quickly be thought of as a bit of a bighead. But they balance it pretty well." She tries, and fails, to halt a proud mummy moment. "They do well with it, they do."
Then she remembers a story which puts the parents' fame clearly in the children's perspective. "Never Mind The Buzzcocks was on in the next room. All I heard was this wooh-ooh ooh-ooh and I thought, that sounds familiar.
So I went through and there was Kim out of PopStars doing my bit out of Real Gone Kid. So the next day I said to my kids, 'You know Kim out of PopStars? Well tell your friends at school today that she was singing your mum's bit of a song'." Nine years of recording and touring reduced to Kim giving it wooh-ooh. "And that was it. They were really, really impressed."
Deacon Blue's single Every Time You Sleep is out now. Their album, Homesick, will be realeased on April 30. The band plays Edinburgh Playhouse on May 25 and Glasgow Clyde Auditorium on May 26