Deacon Blue 25th Anniversary Tour Programme
By Paul English
A version of this article was published in the 25th Anniversary Tour Programme in 2012
I REMEMBER the exact moment.
Glasgow Green, June 3, 1990. Around 10pm.
A man on stage playing a simple guitar riff, framed by a single spotlight slicing through clouds of red blaise kicked up by half a million feet.
Two kicks of a drum.
Tingling. Butterflies. Adrenaline.
Two shadows take their position, centre stage.
Two notes on a keyboard.
Repeating. Louder. Stronger.
Air crackling with the energy of a quarter of a million people.
A city's desire for a defining moment.
Keyboards, drums, guitar, rushing together now in thrilling momentum.
The stage flooding with light.
An ocean of bodies, a leaping, rolling frenzy stretching past the fairground lights in the distance.
And then, an explosion of sheer joy, unleashed across the city.
Woo-ooo, woo-ooo, wooo-ooo, wooo-ooo ...
The memory of that moment on Glasgow Green with my four best childhood friends, remains clear and vivid 22 years later, frozen in time like the Oscar Marzaroli photographs Deacon Blue used as cover art on their first album and singles.
The clip of guitarist Graeme Kelling opening his band's headline set with Real Gone Kid at The Big Day before a sea of bouncing souls still sends a thrill through me, almost as visceral now as it was to that 14 year old at his first music festival.
It flooded a teenage soul with the love of the live moment, the love of music and the love of a band which sung about real streets and real people, and the lives, hope, dreams and fears they carried.
Glasgow, I was suddenly beginning to realise, was a
city to be proud of and excited by.
It was an adolescent awakening, an awareness of the intoxicating, transformative power of a live performance.
But not just any live performance. This was something splendid. This was Deacon Blue in their pomp.
The band, Ricky Ross (vocals), Lorraine McIntosh (backing vocals), Graeme Kelling (guitar), Ewen Vernal (bass), Dougie Vipond, (drums) and Jim Prime (keyboards) won a reputation for being one of the best live acts in the country.
From 1985 to 1994, the original sextet had two number one albums, sold over six million LPs and peppered the singles chart with their unique sound, from the whoop and holler of Real Gone Kid and the billing and cooing of Your Swaying Arms, to the summertime heartbreak of I'll Never Fall In Love Again and the unforgiving snarl of Your Town. Five albums, soundtracking the life and times of generations of fans.
And now with the silver anniversary of their first release comes The Hipsters, an album of celebration, of drives in the sunshine and avenues of stars, sounding so fresh as to make the 25 year span of this band's history seem somehow impossible.
Deacon Blue's debut Raintown, a bittersweet ode to Glasgow, has had its legendary status long cemented. Documentaries have been made, lengthy articles written. It has crossed from art to life and back again: author Iain Rankin's Edinburgh inspector Rebus famously listened to it when driving west and a young Glasgow band has taken it as their name.
It spoke of a town toiling with the times, then as now. Chasing work, keeping faith, loving to dream and dreaming of love, all under those dark skies captured in those Marzaroli shots.
Skies which, to a teenager growing up on the lower reaches of the River Clyde, took on an unlikely glamour amid the post-industrial decline. This band was on the radio in the kitchen, the telly in the living room and the cassette player in the car, singing about ships called Dignity and girls made of chocolate. And all under the same skies as us.
By the time Real Gone Kid arrived at the business end of the singles chart in 1988, Deacon Blue had expanded those horizons beyond the city of 'buildings and places, memories and faces'.
Its release ahead of the album When The World Knows Your Name subsequently dislodged Pop Queen Madonna from her throne, with the LP entering the charts at number one.
If Raintown was about home, When The World Knows Your Name was a heady trip away, a skybound journey stretching from the 'Campsies over Christmas' and out 'over the sea, over the land and the city', to a willing, growing, audience.
A poster of Ricky Ross and Lorraine McIntosh from that time hung in my teenage bedroom. Him commanding the audience, floppy fringed and emphatic pointing finger; her floaty frills and Doc Martens, arms to the sky, lost in the moment.
It was a sight I first saw for real in 1989 at Glasgow's SECC, a concert subsequently released, and quickly worn out, on VHS.
Then again at that special night on the Green headlining a massive musical party to mark Glasgow's status as European City of Culture. It ended with fireworks and Dignity, as an audience of millions watched live on Channel 4. My pal Allan's dad taped it. It was repeat viewing that whole adolescent summer.
The loyal following remained as the years and albums passed. The downsizing from stadiums to concert halls suited the fiddles and accordions of Fellow Hoodlums in 1991.
Still everyone stood, everyone danced. You didn't need a seat at a Deacon Blue concert.
Then again for the surprise gear-change of Whatever You Say, Say Nothing and its live show spliced with the surreal theatre of miners, candelabras and mirrors amid the gritty snipe of Your Town and Only Tender Love in 1993.
I saw them then too, winning a competition on Radio 1 to be flown with a pal to a secret gig in London at the Clapham Grand. We'd somehow got our hands on an album sampler from Rhythmic Records in Greenock and flew south thrilled and smug that we knew the words to Bethlehem's Gate before anyone else did.
As the years passed, the Blue came and went. They split at the top of the charts in 1994, performing their last gig at Glasgow's Barrowlands in May, coincidentally on the 18th birthday of that 14 year old boy who'd experienced a musical rite of passage down the front on Glasgow Green four years earlier. An adolescence soundtracked and bookended, or so it felt at the time.
In 1999, they reformed, coming in and out of view ever since. A tour here, a one-off show there, a compilation or two along the way. Still I, we, followed.
London's Royal Albert Hall, Ricky singing The Wildness off-mic, 1999. The Homesick album launch, King Tuts, 2001. Raintown straight through, opening Glasgow's Carling Academy and Graeme Kelling's final bow on guitar, 2003.
In 2004, they lost him, the man whose simple guitar riff sparked the start of not only Deacon Blue's biggest gig that night in 1990, but so too the enduring support of just one teenager among many.
I remember the exact moment, and all it made me feel.
It's one reason why I keep coming back.
Tonight, I hope you feel it too.
I'm sure you will.
Paul English is an entertainment writer with the Daily Record.