Deacon Blue: Exclusive in-depth interview
with the returning hitmakers
Cross Rhythms 19th September 2012
Dougie Adam met up on 10th August with Ricky Ross of mainstream pop
rockers DEACON BLUE
Ricky Ross has become adept at keeping several careers running simultaneously. When I interviewed him in 2005 he had just begun broadcasting with BBC Radio Scotland and now seven years later he has two runners up Sony Awards for his Another Country programme and also hosts a Sunday morning programme and has deputised for Bob Harris on BBC Radio 2 and made the occasional programme for Radio 4. The radio work alone would keep most people busy as there is a stream of new albums to become acquainted with, research to carry out on guests, live sessions to oversee and weekly blogs to write. He has also continued to perform as a solo artist and as well as one half of McIntosh Ross and spends much of his time co-writing for younger artists including James Blunt, Will Young, Ronan Keating, Emma Bunton, Cathy Burton, Eg White, Beth Nielson Chapman and Jamie Cullum. This year alone he has already recorded a brand new stripped down low-tech solo album which should emerge early next year and been part a multi-artist, multi-discipline play, book, album and film called Whatever Gets You Through The Night and also has been writing with Kenny Inglis for an album project to be released as Elko. All this is often done at the same time as holding the fort at home on the occasions when Lorraine is away on tour acting in another play or film. Then of course, from time to time, there is the subject of today's interview: his involvement with Deacon Blue.
When I caught up with Ricky on one of the only hot sunny days in Glasgow's summer, he and his wife Lorraine McIntosh had been holding court in a Glasgow café doing a round of face to face interviews which had lasted from breakfast time into the early afternoon. Deacon Blue are back with a new album 'The Hipsters' out on 24th September and in October the band are playing concerts in Scotland and England on a three week tour. Their new record company are releasing the band's entire back catalogue in remastered audio in six case-bound book multi-disc sets. Lorraine introduces herself and gives me a warm welcome before handing in her apologies. The morning interviews began late and overran and after my interview the two of them are supposed to be available for a round of phone interviews with journalists from across the UK and Lorraine disappears to contact them and reorganise the time slots while Ricky stays on to answer as many questions as I can squeeze into 30 minutes.
The New Deal With Edsel Records/Demon Music Group
We begin by talking about the band's new record deal with Demon Music Group's imprint label, Edsel Records, and Ricky explains how this has been key to the new album coming out as well as all the remastered reissues. "For a while we wanted to find someone who would look after the back catalogue and it coincided with this new record. We were looking for a release for the new record and basically we put those things together and it meant that everything is going to be in the one place and long term wise hopefully everything including my solo stuff will be there as well, so I think it was the answer to a lot of different needs and I also love the people at Demon when I met them. Someone once said to me about our previous record company Sony, 'It's like walking into a youth club'. With going to Demon you are talking to people of your own age and experience and who like the same kind of music and they do the reissue stuff very thoroughly, they are very, very good at doing that. I've been really very impressed with the stuff they have put out by other artists, it is really well done."
One of the other key players in putting the new album together has been Gregor Philp who joined the band in 2008 after having played with drummer Dougie Vipond in The Swiss Family Orbison and written and produced a range of work for film and TV including Balamory, Monarch Of The Glen and Taggart. As well as co-writing a few songs on 'The Hipsters' Gregor was also responsible for working with Ricky on the demos for the album and also recording Ricky's next solo album which was completed earlier this year. Ricky explains, "Gregor is such a great friend of everyone. He is a very good personal friend of Dougie's and he has become a good friend of ours, Jim and Lorraine and myself. We're very close friends now. It's lovely when that happens."
I ask him about "The Hipsters" video which is now online at the band's official website and on You Tube. The track is the first opportunity for fans to hear something from the new album. "Well the video is good because we're not in it!" he chuckles. "We wanted to make a kind of viral thing. I don't think videos really have much of a life other than being viral these days. So we wanted to make something where people would say, 'Oh look this is something that I got sent on my facebook page, do you fancy having a look at this?' So it almost looks as if it is just a piece of film that happens to have our music running with it and I quite liked that idea. So it's a really cool piece of film made by Jack Laurence at Armoury. We scouted around for these young very good film makers and designers and it all involves kids and it's really good."
A few weeks before Deacon Blue went into the studio to record the new album Ricky returned to Brazil's MST project with a group from Christian Aid. He explains how the trip came about and what he felt about the visit. "I'd been there in 1998 and the folk out in Brazil asked if I would come back and see what had been happening since then. So it kind of really was to do with that. It was a really great trip, lovely people and a great cause. Often when you do these things people fully expect to hear a story of heartache and sorrow, you know, 'I went out to see a project in the third world - Brazil is not third world obviously but it's that kind of development situation - and it's really tough and I want your money'. It was quite nice to say, a) it wasn't heartbreaking and b) I don't need your money, as they are well supported, but if you are supporting Christian Aid it is good to know that your money is going into these real development projects where they are allowing local people to make a lot of decisions about their future and I think that is a pretty good model as well. So, Christian Aid are not the only people who support MST; Oxfam and a lot of the major charities do as well but MST is a great movement and I think people will hear a lot more about Brazil over the next few years. In two years time they're hosting the World Cup, four years time The Olympics and in between then I think the Pope is going to be there, so there is going to be a whole lot of stuff about Brazil and I hope that their story will be able to get told."
Deacon Blue Decide To Record A New Album
We turn our attention back to Deacon Blue and speak about the fact that it has been 11 years since their last full length studio album and two and a half years since Ricky announced the band were taking time off from their concert schedule to make time to write and record a new album. I ask if the process took longer than expected. "Yes, it has taken a while," he laughs. "I initially thought that if we did an album it would come out last year. I kind of knew that 2012 was an anniversary year even though the anniversaries are a bit vague. Did we get together in '85? Yeah, kind of." The first Deacon Blue gigs took place that year even though the line up changed right up to the release of 'Raintown'. "We sort of got together in '86 but our first album came out in '87." It was only after the debut album's release that Lorraine became a permanent member of the band. "So this is sort of the 25 year period. We wanted to do something around this time and if we were going to do a tour - I just felt that we could tour and a certain amount of people would come and see us doing old material, but I felt that to go out and tour with old material again would be really hard especially when we are always writing new songs and not to do any of that stuff would be really hard. I just thought that's depressing and you don't want to go out on a tour and feel like that. Much as it was really lovely to do some of these things, it was always good to do new material whenever you had it."
Deacon Blue, 1986With the new album now a reality and the band pleased with the results the prospect of going out on the road again with new material to play appeals to Ricky. "Now I am really excited about going out not because we are going to play wall to wall new material, you wouldn't want to but it's just nice to get the chance to really hear the new songs in front of an audience."
Ricky begins to chart the long and winding process which led to the album being written, demoed and recorded. "It was about two years ago in the summer I had a meeting with the guy who was going to become our manager, and he did it for a year and then it didn't work out but in a very amicable way. But he sort of inspired us and said, 'You've got to make a Deacon Blue record'. I was really going in to talk about the next McIntosh Ross record as Lorraine and I had a couple of songs already demoed and we had some stuff written for that and I was thinking that was the next project. As it happened he said, 'No, you've got to make a Deacon Blue record'. I thought, 'Well if we're going to make a Deacon Blue record I'm damn sure we're going to make a good one and I really need to knuckle down'. I just thought if it's a Deacon Blue album we've really got to concentrate on it. I sort of control my own schedule. Normally I would be writing for other people and I just thought, right, Lorraine's going off on tour, she's off in a play, I'm just going to put the next few months aside and work on writing songs and every few days or so I would get one down and I'd phone Gregor and say 'Do you fancy coming through, Lorraine's away and I'm looking after the kids, come and stay and we'll work on songs'. So it was great. I would get up in the morning and get the kids to school and Gregor and I would work and we'd stop at tea time then later on get Seamus to his bed because he's the youngest one and then invariably we'd go back and start recording again. So it was really great for working, having the studio in the house. That was really when a lot of the work was done, 2010 and 2011, I would say."
In 2010 a 10-song Deacon Blue demo compilation had been lodged with Ricky's publishers Warner Chappell Music and a few songs were included which didn't make the final cut, "Kind", "I'm Not Supposed To Care" and "This Year's Drug Of Choice". By the spring of 2011 the band had finished recording two new songs in the studio and fans began waiting expectantly on a release date and news of a tour. The band played a handful of summer dates where one new song "That's What We Can Do" was unveiled but there was no news on when the album would be released. If the process took longer than originally anticipated then the delays had some benefits in the shape of new songs written after the first set of demos had been lodged with the publishers the previous year. "We had everything done demo-wise, we had everything done a year past in the spring and then the nice thing that happened was we had three key songs which happened after that and they were "Stars" which Gregor and I wrote together, a really important song "Is There No Way Back To You" which came later on and also a really important song "Here I Am In London Town". All these sort of happened and so it was kind of worth waiting for."
When the album sessions got underway the band turned to former Delgados drummer Paul Savage to engineer and produce the project. At first glance he seemed a surprising choice given that most of the acts he had previously worked with were indie hipster acts like Franz Ferdinand, Belle And Sebastian, Mogwai, Teenage Fanclub and Arab Strap. However, Ricky's work in radio meant that he began to notice a steady stream of great albums which were bearing Savage's name in the credits as engineer or producer and in 2011 Savage picked up the Music Producers' Guild Breakthrough Producer 2010 award. Recording took place in the newly built Gorbals Sound studios and also at Chem19 outside Glasgow. Ricky explains the choice of producer. "Initially, we were looking for someone fresh that would work with the band live, and also initially we were looking for someone that was nearby because we thought well you can go round the world and sometimes I question that whole thing and then other times I go oh aye, and we go off to California and record ['The Great Lakes']. I just thought when a couple of records started to arrive on my old horizon then you are doing something right. The Sparrow And The Workshop thing was the first thing that I heard he'd done and I thought that's really good and then when I met him to chat he said, 'You should listen to Admiral Fallow' and that was really good, in fact the new one is really good. I love the whole natural sound of it and also just the imagination in it without being clumsy, without being 'producerly'. The next thing was to try a couple of songs. We did two songs with him [in spring 2011] and we really enjoyed it." When it came time to choose a producer, the band decided to stay with Paul as they were happy with what he had done with the demos.
I ask Ricky how many songs the band cut at the sessions in the hope that we'll get to hear some outtakes as b-sides or downloads at some point. "We recorded just 13 songs because we were really short of time. So there were more demos recorded but we had 13 songs and it was just a case of just knocking off two. Actually, Tim Young, who mastered the album and has mastered all my previous albums, said he thought the songs were good enough to keep on the record. But I like my albums to be a set length. When CD became the main format for albums lots of people began making albums longer just because you could. I like albums to be about 40 minutes and I actually think 'When The World Knows Your Name' was too long and had too many songs on it." After the 13 songs were recorded the band brought in Ash Howes to remix a couple of tracks before the album went on to be mastered and readied for release.
Next we chat about the album cover and the fact that once again the band members are not on the cover! I ask where the photo was taken and what it represents. Ricky begins by joking that it is a good thing the band members are not featured. "I always think our sleeves have been great because of that," he kids. "I've loved these photographic sleeves. The temptation is to go back and do a '60s black and white nostalgia but that's not what it's about. We wanted to get something that was kind of modern but slightly off-kilter modernist and we were looking for hipster images. The trouble was they were coming up very literally. You just have to go through images until you find something and so we found this bowling alley we really liked and that was kind of sad. It was like an American bowling alley that had long-since stopped being used and I said 'I really like that' and the designer said 'actually we've got some more'. We picked this other one and it just had a slightly detached thing which probably asks as many questions as it answers. We all went 'Yes, that's it'."
I mention that I had spotted that a few of the songs were co-written with the band's new guitar player Gregor Philp and Lorraine and invite Ricky to tell me more about those collaborations. "Yes, and I also wrote 'Turn' with Eg White. Well Gregor was about so I would just say to him, 'Look why don't we write together?' and sometimes I would just start things and say 'Look, we've started here, we're co-writing now!' and he'd say 'No, we're not!' and I'd say 'No, no, no, I want your input', so for example 'The Outsiders' was very much like that. I said, 'Look, we're just throwing ideas down very, very quickly'. With 'Is There No Way Back To You' Lorraine came up with this melody for this chorus and I said 'That's brilliant, I think I may have a verse for that'. We were trying to punt it to someone else, someone was looking for a song for something and we did a version which was just piano and vocal and strings. Then the song just hung around and I sang the demo and then I thought it would be great for our album. It was just at the last minute and we tried it one night and went through it very quickly. Jim's keyboards on it are beautiful because he starts this thing and it just kind of builds and builds and builds. It's great."
I glance at my watch and also at the long list of questions in my notes and worry that time is against us and jump to a question about Ricky's personal favourites on the new album. "Well, I suppose 'Laura From Memory' is one of the songs that I really love and it's very personal, about my cousin Laura. Again, a lot of the album is about the band, but Laura was one of the people that championed the band in the early days. We had a demo tape of 'Just Like Boys', 'The Very Thing' and 'Dignity'. I was staying at her house and she went around the house playing it for two days, incessantly playing this. She loved music and it just upset me a lot when she took her own life. My cousin was very, very dear to me and I had kind of always wanted to mark it. I had never done this before but I wrote one song and thought 'Nah, that's not right but I'll take some of the lyrics and I'll try again' and I did. Normally you scrap things when they don't work but I thought, 'No, this is too big'. So I took the lyrics and rewrote the song. Actually it was a real breakthrough song in the writing of the album and I thought, 'This is good. This album is about something that matters'. Then I guess 'The Hipsters' is hard to get round. I'm really pleased with it. It's just poppy and there's hardly any lyrics in it but every lyric counts. I nearly went spectacularly wrong with that song on two counts. One was, on the original version it stopped where the middle eight stops there was a long, long bit that was just going to be a long monologue and Lorraine said 'Are you serious?!' and she was right, it didn't work. Also on the demo it was 20 beats per minute slower. Anyway, at some point you'll hear the demo and you'll see what I mean."
We move on and chat about the recurring themes on the new record. "It's hard when you're starting, you don't know what you're doing. But because I was starting with 'The Hipsters' thing I was making a radio series about interviewing people who were imagining meeting themselves coming back and writing a letter to themselves as if they could talk to themselves, which is quite an interesting exercise, and in a sense that's what I was doing about us in the band. It's really just about this little club of people that went through these things together, that no one else could experience because they weren't there and I'm hoping that might extend to people like yourself who were maybe in the audience and they were part of that and they'll feel included too. But it's really about just that experience. I was saying this to Nicola who was here earlier but being in a band is not like having friends who you sometimes see and don't see. Having a band is like having a family so you have them whether you like them or not. At times when they really, really drive you mad they are still your brothers and sisters. And you love them as well, so if something bad happens to them it just breaks your heart. You want the best for them and if someone has a pop at one of them you feel very protective. We're very like that you know. The album is really about them, it is about my relationship with these people, all of them, Ewen (Vernal, bass player from 1986-2001) and any of them who have been in the band. Ewen and Graeme (Kelling, the band's original guitar player who died in 2004 after a long battle with cancer) as well, very much. Graeme is a part of that whole story, a huge part of the story."
Ricky's open love letter to the band is most evident in the opening "Here I Am In London Town", which he began writing while fooling around on the piano in Jamie Cullum's studio. After improvising the first few lines, "Here I am in London town/Waiting for the world to begin," Ricky was transported back to 1986 and sitting in AIR Studios in London cutting 'Raintown' with producer Jon Kelly and being young and full of confidence that they could go out and win an audience and make a name for themselves. The rest of the lyric is a mixture of reliving that first burst of excitement and idealism and recording how his older self has changed and moved on since those days while holding on to a love for the people in the band and the times they had. On "The Outsiders" another retrospective on the heady Deacon Blue experience is offered up: "We took the road, any road, every road out of here/Forgot the past, cut the strands, made a path, took a stand/Chased the day, raced the night, grabbed our chance didn't look/Back to where we'd come from/So we kept right on running/And this world seemed so much lighter/When we were the outsiders."
If life in Deacon Blue used to be hectic then the same theme permeates the relationships between the characters throughout the songs who often find themselves late at night looking back at how life is unfolding. In most cases the busyness of life and distance sometimes separate the characters and tension creeps in even when they are trying to muddle on through and do the best they can. "I don't know where I'm going/Know full well I can't start caring/Nothing seems to matter more than now/This night sky's full of warning/But I'm going through till morning/Need to stop and think but don't know how/There's hundreds of things to do/But I just want to spend my hours with you" ("The Rest"). If life in the present is often an exhausting blur then there is still hope for the future based partly on escapism and a hope that when people are genuinely trying to give their best things will work out right in the end. "This cruel world seems full of such unhappiness/If our lives collide we may get out of this. . ./We can catch a rocket ship and fly away/Through meteors and moons and galaxies/To the avenue of stars. . . We'll go. . . Tomorrow" ("Stars"). "We trust, we change, we move one place to another/'Cause that's what we can do/We talk, forgive, we give everything that love allows/'Cause that's what we can do" ("That's What We Can Do").
I suggest to Ricky that previous Deacon Blue albums as well as his more intimate solo projects have often wrestled with spiritual issues such as faith and doubt, birth and death and enquire if there were any spiritual themes in the latest offering. "I think in my songs they are all over the place and they are always there. I think the McIntosh Ross album was a funny one in that it was a very overtly spiritual record. We had both done this thing called the Exercise of St Ignatius that made a huge impact on our thinking at the time and we both just splurged all that out in that record. So sometimes you have very obvious records that are like that. I think that with this record nothing has changed particularly for me but there is just that thing of getting older and why you do things. I think one of the key lines in 'Here I Am In London Town' is about forgetting and that's how we survive. I think a really important part of everyone getting older is that you are able just to leave things behind. You have to do it and you have to move on otherwise you're going to be stuck in the past and you have to just somehow allow yourself to forget things. I think that is like a mantra for me now."
Before we move on to talk about the reissues and tour I have to ask Ricky about my favourite unreleased song of his, "Starstruck". When I interviewed him when 'Pale Rider' came out he said he had tried the song at those sessions and hadn't been satisfied with the results and had decided to keep the song for Deacon Blue to record instead. Why didn't it get included this time round? "There were a few songs that never made it. The reason I didn't use it was I have always had this idea of doing a Christmas album or EP. Although 'Starstruck' is one of those songs which comes up that I still want to do something with, I just love the idea of doing something that is a proper Christmas record. Lots of people do Christmas records, like Bob Dylan's where it's all old songs about the Christmas holidays. But I'd like to make a record that's about the real Christmas, so at some point that is my plan, but it's got to get in queue."
The Back Catalogue Reissued
In October Edsel Records are releasing the band's five previous studio albums in a reissues series which sees all the albums, b-sides from singles, remixes and odd tracks from compilations brought together and remastered and released as six multi-disc sets and housed in lavish casebound book packaging. "It's great to get all our material archived and presented in a way which respects the music," Ricky says.
Ricky Ross, 1989When our interview took place Ricky was still working on some of the tracklistings on the last couple of albums in the series. Those have now been announced. On 22nd October the first three releases in the series are due out: 'Raintown' (3CDs with 49 tracks + one DVD with six promo videos); 'When The World Knows Your Name' (3CDs with 49 tracks + one DVD with six promo videos) and 'Fellow Hoodlums' (2CDs with 34 tracks + one DVD with five promo videos). 'Raintown' almost bombed commercially until CBS made the band re-record and re-release some of the early singles and they finally began to chart modestly. Eventually in time the debut album sold steadily and peaked at 14 in the album charts where it would eventually spend 77 weeks in the top 100. 'When The World Knows Your Name' famously entered the charts at number one, knocking Madonna off the top spot, sold over one million copies and also stayed on the chart for over a year. The album marked the band's commercial peak even if it wasn't their best studio effort. 'Fellow Hoodlums' from 1991 was a return to form and reached number two.
'Whatever You Say, Say Nothing' from 1993 saw the band team up with Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne and change musical direction but the album was a relative commercial flop, 'only' reaching number four and spending a mere three weeks in the top 20 albums and falling out of the charts entirely seven weeks later. This bravest and most underrated album in the band's back catalogue is released on 29th October as a 2CD + one DVD set alongside another 2CD + one DVD compilation, 'The Rest', which collects together the material from 1990's number two hit 'Four Bacharach & David Songs' EP, new material recorded for 1994's number one compilation album 'Our Town', new material and unreleased archive material from 1999's 'Walking Back Home' and finally the new recordings which came out in 2006 as part of the 'Singles' compilation. 2001's 'Homesick' originally made for the ill-fated Papillion label is also released on 29th October in a single disc expanded version which now includes the remastered album and the extra b-sides and radio edits which came out at the time.
I begin by expressing surprise that given how well the albums sold when they were released and the fact that the band still have a loyal and sizeable live audience that Sony never got round to remastering the back catalogue before now. After all in 2006 when they put out the 2CD Legacy Edition of 'Raintown' and the remastered hits compilation 'Singles' they were already a good way down the road as far as the studio albums were concerned. Ricky agrees, "I just kind of thought that they would go on from there and carry on, but they're hopeless! You know, they are nice people but Sony is just a corporation so the thing they wanted was just to pass the back catalogue on to someone we didn't know, and we said if you are going to pass it on, pass it on to someone we'll work with. So we said, 'Right, we'll take charge of this' and fortunately now it has been dealt with. I mean people who bought 'Raintown' remastered might not want to buy this, but they might still buy it because in actual fact it has got more on it, the DVD is on it and so on. I mean, 'Raintown' was done beautifully, I thought Sony actually did that really, really well. There is a new package of 'Raintown' now because it has become a big set now with all the other albums." From glancing at the new 'Raintown' set's tracklist there are another 25 remastered tracks and six promo videos there which weren't on the first remaster, so perhaps the new release isn't such bad value for the avid fan after all.
I ask Ricky how involved he has been with the re-release process and he cackles, "Ask Lorraine! It is impossible not to be involved because you get asked a million questions and unfortunately I am the only person that can answer them." As well as having the final say on the running orders and tracklisting Ricky has also written new liner notes for each set and typed up all the lyrics to all the songs for the package and raided his loft for previously unused photos and other mementos. He gives an example of how time consuming and painstaking his involvement became. "I was in Nashville co-writing in the beginning of June and I am also doing a lyric book which is coming out which is more selective. It has got all the album stuff on it and also songs that probably mean a lot to me. So I had to get all the final copy together for that and checking all the lyrics. The guy who is looking after the back catalogue, Val, said, 'There are 46 lyrics of b-sides that you haven't got' [in the final copy] and I said 'Yeah? We never printed lyrics for them before' and he said, 'But they are coming out in these reissues. . .' so there has been lots of checking and checking and checking. We just signed off on the 'Raintown' set's tracklisting last week and we did the 'When The World Knows Your Name' one earlier this week and it has gone back and forward, back and forward, choosing pictures. It looks brilliant and you get all the b-side lyrics and I've also written liner notes on them all. It has been a massive job and it is still going on. When I go home tonight after I finish today's interviews 'Fellow Hoodlums' is waiting to be checked."
In the run up to the interview my inbox on Facebook was full of questions from fans wanting to know the specifics and minutia of the reissues. Ricky kindly agrees to answer those questions as best as he can even though some of the tracklistings had still to be finalised. I ask whether the albums are going to be released separately or as a box set, or if there could be a box set at some point. He begins, "They are coming out in separate albums initially but you never know what might happen. I'm hoping there might be a vinyl thing as well if demand is there. It's all to do with demand really, how the numbers add up with these things."
What about the DVD content? Is that going to include live footage or concentrate on the promo videos for singles? Ricky explains he is viewing the video content as a bonus or freebie that comes as part of the remastered audio; "It is just the music videos from every album, so it comes free with every album. I don't know how much it costs but it is quite a nice package."
I also mention that Sony had a habit of issuing compilation after compilation - at the last count they had issued no less than 10 Deacon Blue compilations out of material from the four albums recorded with them - and had a habit of missing things out which fans felt should have been included. Ricky assures me, "Everything that ever came out on a single or on a b-side is all going to be on these albums." I know that in many cases he was never a big fan of the extended mixes and remixes of the band's singles and press him on that point for the sake of clarity. Once again he laughs as he begins his answer, "For whatever reason. . . the idea is to put everything together, because if we don't people will say 'Why is this not on it?'"
We then discuss whether there will be any previously unreleased tracks on the reissues such as demos, alternate mixes, radio session tracks or previously unreleased songs. Ricky is clear on that point, "No, because there aren't really that many about. Because of the way that we worked, every time we did a single, take for example 'Fellow Hoodlums' which was the peak of this time, for every single there were four or five formats, each of which needed at least one extra track. So, a single like 'Your Swaying Arms' will have, I don't know, two, three or four songs [on the different formats for that single] times four sets of singles from the 'Fellow Hoodlums' album, which means probably 16 songs would come out accompanying the singles in addition to the songs recorded for the actual album plus mixes and live tracks. So probably something like another album and a half was recorded for the singles and that's an incredible amount of material and it became this beast which ate up your creativity. I took a very pragmatic take on it, they were b-sides but they weren't just nothings. Sometimes they were a wee bit experimental, they were things we definitely wouldn't have on an album, but I am pretty sure that a lot of them were pretty OK songs. I mean 'Wages Day' was written as a b-side. The demand was such that we went into the studio to cut a whole lot of b-sides as we needed b-sides for 'Real Gone Kid' and what was coming next before we got on to the album. We cut 'Wages Day' as a b-side and it was actually me that was thinking, 'This is pretty good you know.'"
Another reason for no unreleased tracks being part of the package is highlighted by Ricky. "To be honest with you, with the unreleased stuff Sony did not catalogue recording sessions well. So you would have to go back to masters, get the 24 track tape out; maybe at some point we'll get round to some of that and find some things. There are also a lot of live cuts and songs we tried live and didn't put out. There is at least one I know that is out there which we'll have to find. We did a lot and I had forgotten that there were certain songs that we did live and different versions of them. There was almost a hidden album between 'Fellow Hoodlums' and 'Whatever You Say, Say Nothing' called 'Sleeper' which was almost pretty well done as an album, so there is lots of stuff. So the first thing to do is to get the other stuff that was released available in one place."
A few weeks after our interview had taken place and after the tracklisting appeared on Amazon and a few other sites some fans aired minor quibbles on the band's facebook page that one or two tracks which had been released by Sony had been overlooked on the reissues and no previously unreleased tracks had been utilised, the b-sides compilation 'Ooh Las Vegas' had been split up and issued on the first two sets in the series instead of left intact as a separate release. The only track I personally have any sense of regret about is the missing "Dignity" but on the 'Raintown' set we already have the album version, the re-recorded single, the extended 12" mix, and two live versions as well as three promo videos of the song so maybe a ninth "Dignity" isn't too essential after all.
Ricky took time to reply to the fans complaints, "Firstly, there is no missing material. We don't have vaults of unreleased songs. If there are songs not on this it's because I don't think they are really any good. Frankly I don't really think a load of the b-sides are very good either - but they are what they are - b-sides. Secondly, I'm very glad we are finally looking after these records properly. They are not aimed just at collectors of obscurities - they are there for people who want to buy a Deacon Blue CD which is properly mastered, edited and compiled. Finally, on 'Ooh Las Vegas' - this album was never an album properly. It was a collection of odds and ends. Sony, however, were never able to deal with these kinds of releases in the arty way that say Rough Trade would have and it became a 'new album'. I had been annoyed at people having to re-buy 'Raintown' to get 'Riches' and wanted to avoid this with 'Ooh Las Vegas' - in the end it all got obscured. So I confess, it was my decision to delete 'Ooh Las Vegas' as I don't think it stands up to scrutiny in the way the official studio albums do. If anyone wants to share obscure songs they know about I have no objection to this, but believe me when I say there is very little there I know of any good that is not released by Deacon Blue. There are probably a ton of songs of mine floating around - but again, I don't think the world really needs them."
I ask whether the process of listening to all the old Deacon Blue stuff again has led to him rediscovering songs he had forgotten about. "Yes, there are certain songs I had forgotten about and also at the same time I was finding stuff in my attic. I've got a pile of DATs on my desk and cassettes to go through so yeah, there are things because there is just so much stuff and I've only had time to listen to what we are putting out this year. The stuff we aren't putting out is another thing altogether!"
We talk about how prolific the band were during their first incarnation. From 1987-89 Deacon Blue released over 100 tracks inside three years as well as touring constantly when they weren't in the studio, a manic schedule The Beatles would have been proud of! I ask whether it is more enjoyable being in the band now since they work together when they want as opposed to it being their day job. "I think we enjoy it now. It's completely different because when you are young it is your whole life. But I think it is nice to have other places to go. It is great to have this and I am really enjoying doing this now and really enjoying waiting for the new album to come out and going on tour, but I know that by the end of October I'll be quite happy just to work with some other people, do other projects, do a solo project, whatever it is."
October sees the band going out on their first UK tour in five years, although UK tour is something of a misnomer as the dates are, this time round at least, restricted to Scotland and England. When the band undertook UK tours in 2006 and 2007 Concert Live travelled with them to produce instant double CDs from many of the shows with the discs available for collection 15 minutes after the last song finished. I ask if there are any plans to do something similar on the forthcoming tour. Ricky replies, "I don't think so, because to be honest with you it doesn't make us any money, it's just a lot of work. Much as it is a nice idea I think the numbers that you would need to make any money from it are pretty huge. It's probably a really nice luxury but I presume Concert Live make some money from it but as far as we were concerned they sold as well as they could sell but you still don't make very much money."
I ask whether Ricky's reviewing of the back catalogue has reminded him of any obscure songs which may get a rare outing during the October dates, but my question jumps the gun. "I haven't got that far yet," he laughs. "I tend to think in terms of openings and closings and so on. You get into a habit of playing certain songs at certain points in the show so what I am trying to think of now is how do we readdress that, but we haven't all got in a room yet, so we need to do that. Once we get in the room that will start to happen. We'll find things."
How does he approach finding setlists which strike a balance between new material, hits, album tracks and a few obscure gems? I ask whether it gets harder to narrow them down when you have more and more material to pick from. He responds, "It gets harder in some ways, also in the sense that it gets harder to leave things out because on any given night you could just go out and play the 17 or 18 singles for example. You could do the 'Raintown' album and most people would be happy if you did all of that. So you've always got to make a decision and I think that fortunately we've always been a band who, if you come on any night, it might be different, not wilfully maverick. There were times when we didn't do certain material, but now they know we'll do hits, we'll do big songs and it's really important to do them. But it's also really good to mix it up a bit and play some things that they might not expect."
We also talk about the fact that the band have a couple of new recruits in Gregor Philp and Lewis Gordon and that Mick Slaven who had played lead guitar with them since 1999 has moved on. Do the line up changes influence what songs get played and how the band perform? "It will influence things. Mick has gone very amicably and I think he just feels he wants to do other things. We've carried having two guitarists for a while as a sort of hang over from when Graeme was ill. I think really, to be honest with you, it will freshen things up as well. I mean we'll miss Mick and if he's about it would be great to get him up and we'll do something but having a young guy in has been brilliant. Lewis is a lovely guy, a really sweet guy, and he's a great bass player."
With our 30 minutes up and a few expectant journalists calling Ricky's mobile during our time together I squeeze in one last question about whether the band have any plans to work together beyond the end of 2012. Ricky rounds things off, "Well to be honest with you I would like to think that we have more touring to do. We just put these dates in for October and that was the initial step. I mean in October we're not going to Ireland for goodness sake, we're not going to Wales, we're hardly going anywhere! We keep getting things on the facebook page, 'When are you coming to Ireland?' We would like to do some of that stuff, so if everyone is free and everyone is still enjoying it, yeah, I would like to do more touring. I mean, it was good even doing the summer festivals the year before so maybe next summer we'll do a lot of stuff like that as well. Who knows? We are really pleased about the amount of tickets being sold so that has been great. Our manager has got this thing about not putting up 'sold out' signs on the concert dates because he feels that people won't check on the show but in actual fact some of the dates are sold out so we are really pleased at how its going. Dougie Adam