|Old Favourites Who Can
Still Raise The Roof With Dignity
The Times 30th March 2003
Deacon Blue at Carling Academy, Glasgow, March 26
Pink Floyd had inflatable flying pigs. Iron Maiden had a fire-breathing monster named Eddie. Deacon Blue, have slides of little girls wearing wellies at the mouths of tenement closes and shots of shipyard workers staring into the middle distance, nobly musing upon the ironies of Keynesian economics.
No, they’re not big on theatrics are Deacon Blue. They’re big on empathy though, and solidarity and all the other things you learn about at No Nukes demonstrations. Their songs are group hugs for anyone who ever felt under-appreciated by their boss or slightly cheated by the price of photocopier toner; anthems for the little man who just wants to be loved by the nice girl from Invoicing and still get home in time to lick stamps for the Lib Dems.
And nothing encapsulates the Deacon Blue world view so effectively as their greatest hit, Dignity, a comedy classic even after all these years. It raised the roof of the Carling Academy, the newly opened rock venue in the Gorbals which the band were inaugurating.
Playing a converted cinema in the Gorbals is a very Deacon Blue thing for Deacon Blue to do. The place was also once a bingo hall, which seems strangely appropriate too.
Anyway, you must know the song Dignity. It was a hit in the days when Nik Kershaw and the Thompson Twins roamed the earth.
A grizzled old wage slave stoically withstands the harshness of his labours (“He takes litter off the gutter/Puts it in a bag/Never thinks to mutter”) and dreams of the day he can escape. He plans to do this by purchasing a dinghy.
That’s right. A dinghy.
He will “sail it up the west coast/through villages and towns” (a nautical trick, this). And, quite properly, this dinghy will provoke awe and envy in all who glimpse her: “They’ll ask me how I got her/I’ll say I saved my money/They’ll say isn’t she pretty/That ship called Dignity.”
I rather suspect that the dinghy is a metaphor here. It’s the closest a pop lyric has come to matching the heights of William McGonagall, a Homer’s Odyssey for the pigeon-fancying classes.
It was also the centrepiece of the band’s debut album Raintown, which they played in its entirety, first song to last, as though it were Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite or something. A prideful touch that gives some idea of Deacon Blue’s self-estimation; either that or a defeatist acceptance of the fact that they peaked very early.
They really do take themselves enormously seriously, in a somewhat dour, eat-your -greens, schoolteacher-type way — pop music as occupational therapy.
You can’t really blame them, though. They hail from that age when all of us were convinced that free-trade coffee and fretless basses would save the world.
Such sentiments were tastefully emoted in Raintown’s highspots: Chocolate Girl (women are commodified), He Looks Like Spencer Tracey Now (nuclear bombs are bad), When Will You Make My Telephone Ring (BT’s Friends and Family scheme has its drawbacks).
Effectively, in fact, Deacon Blue is really only its principal songwriter Ricky Ross who, as a Christian and a former schoolteacher from Dundee, is clearly not the type of fellow you’d want to get stuck with in a lift. Three or four other original members were also roped in, persuaded to forsake their day-jobs as sports commentators or to put the dinghy repairing to one side.
Ross’s wife, Lorraine McIntosh, was on hand to provide her trademark passing-train noises. She brought along the entire cast of River City, the BBC soap in which she appears and which in its glottal-stopped miserabilism is essentially just a Deacon Blue song with set decoration.
All of it is shameless nostalgia, of course. In Deacon Blue’s world it is forever 1989 and owning property is a madman’s dream. Deacon Blue belong, along with Madness and The Who, to a curious sub-set of groups who split up years ago but reform sporadically to run through their greatest hits album one more time and make no pretence at artistic progression and no attempt to flog their latest CD. It is almost a new form of pantomime, memories trapped in amber, timeless and comforting.
This week the stalls were jumping with youngsters with access to their big sisters’ record collection but the balcony upstairs provided those who were there first-time round with much-appreciated seats and a decent view. You half-expected to see sets of opera glasses, and could faintly detect a miasma of Kalpol and Bonjela. Plus ça change. Once Deacon Blue stood for workers’ unity and the dignity of labour. Now it’s for a parents’ right to rock. Wrinklies and dinghy owners still have much to thank them for. Allan Brown