Ricky's Loss
The Daily Record 23rd April 2005

The Deacon Blue star tells how he shared the last moments of dying band-mate Graeme Kelling and how images of their past helped them both

THERE'S a line in the Deacon Blue hit Real Gone Kid in which Ricky Ross sings about 'all the photographs that I ever got took The Dundonian frontman wasn't to know the significance of those words when he wrote the song in the Eighties.

But 15 years later, as his band-mate Graeme Kelling closed his eyes for the last time in a Glasgow hospice, the words to one of his best-known recordings took onan entirely new meaning.

An earlier visit to his sick pal had left Ricky with a 'gut feeling' that it could be his last.

So he drove home, dusted down an old box of photos with the intention of sharing some last laughs with the man with whom he'd shared the most successful years of his life.

'One of the things my sister did before my dad died was to take her wedding album up, just to give them something to talk about because he wasn't very good at conversation,' said Ricky, 47.

'What do you talk to someone about when you visit them in hospital? It's one of those things.

'So I took some old pictures up to him on the Tuesday, and he loved it so much I went home and spent the Wednesday getting more together.

'I filled a big bag with old studio shots of the band, and all sorts of things.

'In one photograph, there's a million stories. I went over on the Thursday night, and he woke up for a while. We talked and did the photographs thing.

'He was really laughing at some. But we only got through a small number.'

Ricky sat with Graeme's wife Julie as the 47-year-old guitar player closed his eyes for the last time.

'He didn't wake up again,' said Ricky. 'That was the last time he was really conscious. He died the next morning' The singer spent the next day comforting Graeme's wife Julie. 'We sat and looked at pictures and it was actually quite therapeutic,' said Ricky.

'She picked some out that she wanted for a memory box for the kids. I was really glad we did it.'

Ricky is sipping mineral water in one of his favourite Glasgow haunts, Cafe Gandolfi.

The Deacon Blue founder brushes a hand over salt and pepper stubble as he considers the impact the death of the band's guitarist last summer had on him. It seemed almost inevitable that one of the country's most prolific songwriters would find a way to express his emotions through his music.

Now, with his fourth solo album, Pale Rider, ready for release, the dad of four explains how Graeme's influence played a significant part in several tracks.

'I've been inspired by what happened to Graeme, very much so,' he said.

'I never think I will write about a situation when it happens to me, but I'm always aware that everything will come out in some sort of way, having worked its way in there. That's part of the songwriting process.' In the months after Graeme's death, Ricky wrote with James Blunt and Ronan Keating, then turned to his own work.

'There were certain songs that began to emerge, and looked like they were going to be about Graeme,' he said.

'But they never ended up being finished.They didn't go anywhere.

'Then one day this thing popped into my head, and it became In The End.'

The song was written late last year and was given a fitting baptism in the venue where Graeme last played with the band.

As images of Deacon Blue at the height of their success - headlining 1990's Big Day, performing live at Glasgow's SECC and Barrowland - flashed on a giant screen behind them, original members Ricky, wife Lorraine McIntosh, Dougie Vipond and Jim Prime played a fitting and poignant version of the tribute track in December last year.

'The song actually made me laugh when I was writing it,' said Ricky. 'And Graeme was a very, very funny guy. I was standing there in the shower one day, and the line 'They always get the fat guy in the end' went through my head.

'It's the kind of thing he would have said. He was overweight for a while, then he got ill and became very thin. And then he got big again when he was on steroids.

'The rest of the song is my story of what happened the night before he died.

'It felt really therapeutic to get the song done. So I played it to Julie, and said to myself 'If she likes it, I'll let other people hear it.' After that, when I wrote the song, I knew I'd finished finish the album.

'It was symbolic and settled everything for me in terms of finishing the record.'

It looked as if Graeme had beaten his pancreatic cancer when he joined the reformed Deacon Blue on tour in support of their 2001 album Homesick. But it returned before the band were asked to open Glasgow's Carling Academy in 2003.

Despite being badly ill, Graeme made a one-song appearance at the gig. 'I really worried about him doing that because he'd be exhausted,' said Ricky.

'It was quite a psychological ordeal, and I was really cautious about it.

'I told him he could do it if he wanted, and he called back to say he'd love to.

'I wanted to say yes right away, but I had to ask his wife Julie what she wanted to do. She felt it was important that he took part if he could.'

Despite his determination to fight the killer disease, Ricky feared Graeme's time was drawing to a close when his friend called him to break the news.

'He made a point of calling everyone up and letting them know himself,' said Ricky. 'It was a very brave thing to do.

'He didn't send an email. He actually phoned us all and told us personally. He didn't want us to hear from anyone else.

'He told us he was going to fight it and go for chemo. But from that point on, I suppose part of you thinks it's very unlikely he's going to make a recovery. ' But despite that, Ricky confessed his death was still devastating. 'Graeme was a year older than me, and it hit me harder than I thought it would,' he said.

'It was the same for all of us, even though we'd kind of prepared for it.

'It was his birthday last month too. Things like that are hard, although obviously nothing like as hard as it is for his wife and family. But it's been a very big thing for all of us.'

Another song on Ricky's album, The Streets Are Covered In Snow, was built around Ricky's reaction to his pal's call to say the cancer had returned.

A staunch Christian, Ricky won't be drawn on his belief in the afterlife.

'I'm not that sort of religious person,' he said. 'I think you have to live the life that you have.

'There are people who say they know where they're going, and that's good. I'm glad they do, but for me that's part of the mystery of faith and life.'

The experience has left him pondering his own mortality, as the new record's haunting title track, Pale Rider, reveals.

'It happens to everyone at various points in their life,' he said.' Things happen to you, and you meet people who are going through it themselves.'

His solo records are less pop-driven than those of Deacon Blue, showing more of an organic simplicity than in-your-face anthems.

His wife, River City actress Lorraine McIntosh, provides guest vocals on In This World.

'I recorded it in the house,' said Ricky. 'Lorraine came in to listen to it and asked if she could sing on it. So I put up a mike, and what we recorded is as you hear it on the album.

'We've talked about doing a one-off gig, just the two of us, if we ever get the time. I'm always telling her she should make an album herself.'

While his wife makes her mark in the acting world, Ricky's happy to grow old gracefully. 'I feel like I could do my solo shows when I'm much older,' he said.

'For one thing, I don't have to move about very much. They can just wheel me into the piano and let me get on with it. Paul English