Guitarist May 2001
A dog and a phone. That's the key to good songwriting, according to Ricky Ross, frontman with the recently reformed Deacon Blue.
After a surprise get together and short sell out tour a year ago, Deacon Blue's leader Ricky Ross decided that, after some well received solo albums, it was time to put the old band back together again. While no virtuoso, Ricky still finds his guitar the perfect vehicle for songwriting - when he's not doing it on the mobile phone that is...
" My sheer inability is a great thing for writing", admits the soft spoken Scot, "because it makes me stick to the plot. Towards the end of Deacon Blue's last album I started wring on guitar, then for my solo stuff and also a wee bit live. It's a classic instrument to write on - plus the keyboard doesn't have the capo, the songwriter's friend".
Ricky, however, rarely gets to record his playing; "Well, for my solo album I had two brilliant guitarists and for Deacon Blue it's the same, so I'm always the last in line. I'm very bad at chords. I don't know what to call the damn things then I forget what the tuning was. So I've recently been trying to write without any instrument".
And here's where Ross's faithful Nokia comes in. "Well, I have a dog now - I never thought I'd have a dog or a mobile phone, but there you go - so I go out for a walk, come up with something and phone it back to myself. The other day I came back and I had the verse, the melody and a good idea for the title and the lyrics, all on the phone. So I just pick up the guitar and try to get it to work, put it into different tunings".
Ricky's glad that the line up on the new album is exactly as before, plus one. " Graeme Kelling is still on guitar and I decided to bring in another guitar as well, because there were so many parts that we couldn't do live. I'd been working with Mick Slaven on my solo stuff and I wanted to retain him. So he came in and Ewan Vernal plays bass. It was Deacon Blue again!"
The band broke up in 1994 at the height of their career. " And with a number one album! Commercially we were doing fine, but I felt it wasn't going to be easy to make the next Deacon Blue album. I think we did the right thing. We did the get-together last year and the first gig sold out in a morning! It was lovely, because you realised there was a place in people's hearts which was associated with that time and they wanted to recreate it. And that tour was one of the best things we ever did; every night was like a last night or a first night".
Has the band listened to new and followed fresh styles or recording trends? "The techniques on the new album are modern, in that we use loop and stuff. We embraced the technology to make it our way, because I don't think there was ever a time when the six of us were together. I was there and we'd get the others when we could. I don't try and assess things, but it's a contemporary record in that you mix things like you've been hearing records over the past few years".
Gearwise, Ricky likes to mix the old stuff with new technology. " We used a Wurlitzer piano - in fact we had four, because they kept breaking down. That's the thing about vintage amps and guitars - it's fine when they're working and in tune! My AC30 is great, but then it breaks down half-way through a song".
Does Ross find he has 'Deacon Blue' and 'Ricky Ross' sides to his brain? "It's been like that. Even before the album came up, there was a bit of me that wanted to work with Lorraine (McIntosh, wife/vocals) and Jim (Prime, Keyboards). There was a couple of things I started which were so Deacon Blue there was a bit of me saying, 'Well, that doesn't sound right for my record', I always think it's got to be a Deacon Blue thing when it starts becoming a bigger sound. This one's got brass and strings, so it's always going to be a Deacon Blue album". The band go on the road in May, for 13 dates. "That's quite a big tour for us; quite big venues. And that can open the door to do stuff later in the year. We'll see what happens, but when you get to our age, 13 gigs is a lot of hard work..."