Short Takes.... Deacon Blue
Record Collector June 2001
Joel Derby reports on the re-formation of the perennial Scottish popsters
Having made only a minor impact on the UK charts in the late 80s and early 90s, it will come as a surprise to most that Deacon Blue have decided to re-form. But although their regrouping lacked the media attention enjoyed by the likes of Roxy Music, the Sex Pistols or the Velvet Underground, the success of Deacon Blue’s recent UK concerts suggests that a loyal fanbase is still intact. After signing to CBS in 1986, Deacon Blue’s first Top 10 single, “Real Gone Kid”, arrived more than a year after their debut release, while the accompanying album, “When The World Knows Your Name”, topped the UK charts a few months later. The “Four Bacharach And David Songs” EP (issued in August 1990) proved to be the high point of the band’s commercial success.
After two further studio albums, the band split amicably in 1994. The years
that followed saw the members take off in different directions. Lead vocalist
Ricky Ross released two solo albums, “So Long Ago” and “What You Are”;
co-lead vocalist Lorraine Mcintosh became an actor; and drummer Dougie Vipond
embarked on a career in television. But commercial interest in the band never
completely died, and after the release of the “Walking Back Home”
compilation in 1999, they re-grouped for a series of concerts. It was then that
the idea of recording together again developed. Papillon Records have just
released the new Deacon Blue album, “Homesick”, and a new solo album from
Ricky Ross will follow. RC caught up with the frontman at Whitfield Street
Studios, where the vocalist spoke of the problems of new material being assessed
against old, his issues with record companies and how the new album contains the
best song he’s ever written.
What do you think of bands that re-form?
I’m against them, usually!
People are often quite cynical about them.
What you forget, unless you’re a musician, is — and this struck me, as a couple of my pals play in a covers band — if people do other things they’re never totally happy. It’s like footballers who become managers: what they really want to do is play football.
Did re-forming and promoting the new Deacon Blue album represent a fresh challenge to you?
Definitely. Going from not recording at all to suddenly making two albums was like waiting for a bus: two came along at once!
How did recording the two albums side-by-side work out?
My solo album was done more like how Deacon Blue used to work, which was mostly by recording live. But with the Deacon Blue record, not everyone was around at the same time, so we worked in a more modern way by programming bits’n’bobs and then playing live on top.
The song “Everytime You Sleep” on “Homesick” is great.
I love the song — occasionally you say to yourself, “Oh, this is the best thing I’ve ever done”, and usually you’re wrong, but with this one I do think it’s the best song I've ever written. I wrote it when I was doing my solo album and I put it away for Deacon Blue, ‘cos I thought it would work really well with Lorraine’s harmonies and Jim [Prime, keyboards] playing on it. We originally mixed it a few weeks ago and now Dave Bascombe’s having a go.
The other members of Deacon Blue have pursued careers out- side of the band. Was it hard getting everyone together again?
Yes, because only a part of their life is Deacon Blue. It would be a Tuesday night and me and Kenny, who was producing, were the only ones there! And it was difficult with Dougie because he’s really busy with TV, which is an all- consuming beast. Lorraine had to knock a big TV part back because of the last tour, and when she got pregnant she lost a lot of ground as far as her acting was concerned. But coming back and playing places like the Albert Hall is great. When you’re doing it all the time you’re very blasé about it, but when you haven’t done it for a few years, or if like me you’ve played a few bad places, then to go back again is great.
Have you collaborated with the rest of the band on the songwriting for this album?
I was a bit worried because, having done my solo album at the same time, I thought I should try and write with other people. Jim and I co-wrote three songs together and I co-wrote one song with Gary Clark from Danny Wilson.
Are you hoping that the new Deacon Blue album will help your solo career?
Well, in a sense, I hope it does help. At the end of Deacon Blue I really wanted to be off Sony, and it didn’t seem to matter what I did because I was always going to be assessed against what Deacon Blue had done in the past. So it was very hard to make a clean start. But with these new records both coming out on Papillon, we’re all working towards the same end.
In 1989 you said that “anything was possible” for the band. Do you feel the same way now?
Certainly 1989 was a very successful time for us, and things were beginning to happen in different parts of the world. We’d worked really hard and toured for very long periods of time. When we got to America at the end of that summer, Lorraine saw a specialist who said she had nodules in her throat, and that she had to stop singing. And on the strength of one guy’s opinion, we cancelled what was going to be a very big European tour the following September. And when we returned home she saw another specialist in Glasgow who said she just needed a rest! It was a real classic turning-point in the life of a band: what would have happened had we gone on and done that European tour? We would have been playing in 2000-seat venues, much like the places we were playing in Britain. It would have brought things into line.
Towards the end of Deacon Blue you seemed quite down on your record label. Why?
Sony were a real pain in the ass in the end. We’d given them commercial success with the “Bacharach And David EP”, we were on a sold-out tour of the UK, our album was at No. 1 and they decided to reissue the “Dignity” single, which had already been out twice! We were like, what do you want from us — blood? It left a really bad taste in our mouths. But we also got terrible press when we released the B-sides album, “Ooh Las Vegas”. They absolutely slated us. But the reason we did that was because Sony had brought out a B-sides album called “Riches”, which they coupled with “Raintown” and people had to re-buy “Raintown” in order to get the bonus tracks! So we brought out “Las Vegas” to stop ripping people oft, but Sony pushed it as our next studio album. Sony can’t just put something out quietly: they’re a big machine, and once the machine gets going they can’t think in any other way. It’s like having a Rottweiler and trying to train it to catch balls. They’re a big beast, and what they want to do is sell records and sell them any way they can.
Was your first solo album, "So Long Ago" ever commercially available?
There was a band on Sticky Music who recorded one of my songs, and the label asked if I’d do an album. We did 200 cassettes and that was it.
As is the nature of these things, following the band’s success, it was reissued in 1993, wasn’t it?
To be honest, it wasn’t the best record I could have made at the time and, apart from one or two songs, I didn’t really want it to come out. So I phoned them up and asked them not to release it, and they’d already mastered 500 copies. They suggested selling it through mail order, but they tried to palm off copies for £40! We said to them, “Send us the masters back and we’ll burn them!”
What are your plans beyond Deacon Blue?
I’ve been commissioned to do a musical but, realistically, getting the new Deacon Blue record out and getting my solo record out is going to be a year’s work. So after touring for both albums there’s not going to be a great deal of time. I’d like to think that if my solo record turns out to be the last album I ever make, I’ll be very happy. I think the Deacon Blue record is a brilliant record but my own record is the one I’ve been striving to make all my life. Joel Derby