A is for Astronaut but H is for Homesick
Wondrous Stories Issue 111 April 2001
Ricky Ross and Deacon Blue back again
It had been two years since my last conversation with Deacon Blue front man and songwriter Ricky Ross. At the time the band had just gotten back together and he had said to me, “Yeah, we’re back for a tour and we’ll see what happens.” With a laugh Ricky told us why the band were still as one and about to release a new album titled ‘Homesick’, “Yes, well, probably at the end of the tour I felt less like making an album but it’s always good to keep things open, you never know quite what will happen. sometimes when you’re in the middle of things you don’t feel like doing more, but everyone in Deacon Blue is now open to doing things or not doing things.
We’re not bound by anything and if things come up and we want to do it we’ll do it”. Back two years, the headline in Wondrous Stories said Deacon Blue Are Back, but that wasn’t necessarily true. No it was really just a tour at the time but working together was good and positive,” said Ricky. “The thing is if Lorraine and I want to work together, which is a big part of what we want to do, we will do and it all comes from a need of wanting to do it. Deacon Blue is very much about keeping us singing together and Jim, the keyboard player, and me writing together”. On the morning of this interview it had been announced on the national news that the sales of CD singles had dropped dramatically. Deacon Blue had in the past relied on the sales of singles as much as albums.
Rick: “They were dying at the time and we were releasing them before and then everyone was saying that no one buys singles anymore. They’ve been dying for a long, long time and eventually people will find a different way of making up singles charts. It will be down to radio play or whatever, which might not be a bad thing. They can be a rip off and if the chart were to be down to what people hear on the radio it would be different. In honesty the only reason that certain singles are higher is because kids have had to buy them twice and in the old days three or four times and much as you didn’t want to be a part of it if you released a single you had to go along with it and that’s what’s happened in the past”.
Deacon Blue set out in 1985 and in that space of time between then and now there has, of course, been a series of ever-changing music. “The thing about music is that the industry is still quite young and still forming and the medium has changed so much in a short time. The big change that happened in the 80’s was the CD and since then there have been many other formats, all of which have been changing music again. First of all there was the mini disc and the DAT and there was digital tape and now MP3 and all the other things on the internet, so in as much time as to get from ‘78’s to ‘45s and ‘33’s, which were there for about twenty years, in a short space of time we’ve had many different formats. That will continue to happen as long as the medium itself changes then music will be changing as well”, said Ricky.
With the advent of the way the charts are made up today, with rap and cheesy boy and girl groups Deacon Blue may well be relying more on album sales than single sales. “Yeah I think so but I never see these things as a threat and I grew up with music at a time when they were saying that home taping was killing music and nothing could be further from the truth. No one ever taped a record in their house that threatened the likelihood of music because all it did was turn people on to the music. Today people who use Napster are music lovers and I don’t think for one minute that they are going to stop buying records. You’ve just got to find a way of paying musicians what they deserve obviously, but I think all these things make people listen to more music. I never could worry about these things too much”.
Ricky Ross has had a career outside of Deacon Blue and that will continue. “It’s still rolling”, laughed Ricky,” there’s an album in the can. I actually recorded my solo album before the Deacon Blue album. I’d been waiting to do my solo record but when I finally got the deal from Papillion Records last year I decided to record that album because I was ready and so that’s all there and that will be the next project for me after this certainly. Yeah I want to keep both thing s going as much as possible and it’s much more interesting for me to have something else. Everyone else in the band actually has other projects and it’s good for me to have one too”.
Ricky Ross Set out with Deacon Blue wanting to simplify what the band did and having had the pleasure of listening to four preview tracks from the album ‘Homesick’ it does sound that this is the remit for him and the band. the tracks do sound very laid back and it is the original line-up again. “I don’t know, it’s very difficult for me to analyse and whatever you think it is probably right”. laughed Ricky. “I think the initial thought is that when people get a chance to listen to it and it sounds like Deacon Blue and that’s a compliment because that means that everyone is coming in on it has made it sound representative of the albums that they know. Bringing something new into the mix is always tricky because people will either view it as an impostor, late edition or they could take a different attitude about it. The fact that people care to say it sounds like Deacon Blue is great and that’s what’s important for me because it’s a combination of the people involved”.
Thinking back to the bands last visit to Sheffield city Hall in ‘99 I seem to recollect a wonderful atmosphere and one of the loudest audiences I have ever been part of. They were glad to see them back. “Well actually we really enjoyed the tour and I’ve got to tell you that it was great fun for us. Every night was like the first night for us because, first of all, you’re coming back and playing after a long time, so we got a great reaction every night. You’re a northerner, I can tell by your accent, but the first night we played at Portsmouth and they are nice folks, but I thought, oh that’s an interesting start to the tour. I thought that they tend to be a bit more reserved but it was unbelievable, it was fantastic and then every night was great. It maybe because of the gap and it was great. They were easy shows to do because there were so much material and we were able to change it a little bit but we also wanted to play all the old stuff. We could never do that again though and we’re going to tour again with new material and we have another album. If we were going to do it again we had to have a new album and so that was the thinking behind we’ll see what happens”.
Even though the Sheffield show was so good there is no return to the city this time? “There’s only thirteen shows on this tour, basically by the time most people have the album the tour will have come and gone so we’re keeping our options open. We love playing in Yorkshire; Bradford’s good and we haven’t done Leeds for a while and I’m sure we’ll return to Sheffield. We played York last time didn’t we; yes we’ll have a word and sort that out”. Again when I spoke to Ricky last time the band was about to put out the retrospective love songs album. That album had a purpose. “Well it was just an album we wanted to do most people already had the songs anyway and there were one or two new things on it. So yeah it was good and it worked and we were able to bring one or songs into the show actually and so that was nice but it wasn’t by any means us making a new record; it was just a compilation”.
And the reason for this conversation is the new album ‘Homesick’, a curious title? “there is a story behind the title. I was doing my own record with a friend of mine, Davey Scott, and he went out to a gig one night, I don’t know what gig he was at, but he met some folk in London and he told them who he was working with. They said ‘oh we can’t listen to Deacon Blue anymore, we live in London now, we used to live in Glasgow and it just makes us homesick (laughing) and we thought it was a nice idea. It was a combination of two stories really but the stuff that most of the songs are about is what happens to relationships”. And all of that adds more curiosity to the title ‘A is for Astronaut’. Rick laughs loudly, “No that’s a true story actually, well I like to believe it’s a true story anyway. When I was young I was at this teaching practice and this guy told me this brilliant story about when he’d been doing a teaching practice at this careers education by the alphabet, but by the time the teacher had got to sheet metalworker the kids had bunked off (laughing) so careers like astronaut and astro physicist were covered but other more likely jobs like shopkeepers weren’t quite reached by the end of the curriculum. I thought it was interesting it’ll all tie in nicely on the sleeve , it’ll come together when you see the sleeve”.
Past Deacon Blue albums have proved extremely successful and the band are hoping that will continue. “Well the four tracks you’ve heard are quite a good example. The record’s quite a good mixture of the use of technology but we love to use old stuff like guitars and amps, Wurlitzer organ, I love all that stuff, but we’ve also used a lot of loops and logic to make the record. So I think it’s best way to make music really, to use the technology there but also to have it there as a tool and because of the way we’ve made the record people tended to come in at different times. We were never all in the studio at the same time but I was there most of the time, in fact all the time, but it was that sort of record where we were setting things up and allowing people to play on where they could. It’s more like ‘When The World Knows Your Name’ really and everything on it is a potential single and so it’s a good pop record really which I think is as good as it gets.
It’s a very accessible record but not by any means dumbing down. There’s about four or five tracks with orchestration too”. Ricky is the bands songsmith and again the songs are all written by him with one co-write with Jim Prime and another with Gary Clarke. The conclusion is that of a band that are pleased with the final result, but all musicians think the latest release is the best, don’t they? “Because of the way the record was done, some having to do their bits go away and then come back, there was a great reaction to it genuinely when they returned. So I think everyone is really, really pleased with the record but as you say all musicians are always pleased with their latest work but I am very pleased with this. We sifted through a lot and when we found something we focused in on that thing and tried to make it good and compact and together as possible rather than spread ourselves too thinly.
We also started work quite late on the record and set ourselves a time scale of getting it out this year and I actually think that’s good. I mean, ‘Raintown’ was made in six weeks and I personally think it’s no problem but because we decided to go with May as the touring time we had to have the record finished. We didn’t dally around with things and if things weren’t working we chucked them out very quickly. I think it’s as good as anything we’ve done and hopefully time will prove that to be correct.” No pressure either. Deacon Blue have done it all before! “Yeah that’s right but you always feel some pressure , you always hope it’s going to work but to be honest it’s a long time since we put a new record out and it’s a completely different map out there. we certainly don’t have no high expectations, not like we’re expecting a No.1 album, so it’s not like that, no pressure there but we want to make it a success and we want people to hear it and to get it on radio. I hope the radio start playing it”.