Ricky Ross talks about new solo album
Sunday Mail 7th April 2013

THE Deacon Blue frontman reveals how the new LP came about and admits a lot of it is inspired by the current climate in the UK.

AFTER returning to the Top 20 with Deacon Blue album The Hipsters last year, Ricky Ross will tour the UK with new stripped-back solo LP Trouble Came Looking, out on Monday.

We caught up with the songwriter, appearing during April at Kirkwall Arts Centre (26), Ullapool Village Hall (27), An Lanntair Stornoway (29), then in May Dunfermline’s Carnegie Hall (May 1), Gardyne Theatre Dundee (3), Stirling Tolbooth (4) with support from My Darling Clementine. Visit www.sundaymail.co.uk/entertainment to see two exclusive live tracks from Ricky’s new album, recorded especially for 7 Nights.

How did the songs on Trouble Came Looking come about?

Very quickly. I had already written two songs, Now I Smoke Like I Used To Pray and Trouble Came Looking. It occurred to me there could be a whole album about people struggling through the sort of circumstances facing so many today. They have barely been touched since the first recordings in my front room at home. It’s just guitar and banjo.

The album is a reflection of the recession and the ongoing climate of cuts. What was behind the decision to theme the album?

Several things. My wife Lorraine was in National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Ena Lamont Stewart’s Men Should Weep. They had a folk singer, he performed a version of Hard Times by Stephen Foster, a song I know well. I realised that this play and the song, both written years ago, were just as relevant now. The centenary of Woody Guthrie was another inspiration – Woody wrote songs very quickly. And my Radio Scotland Sunday morning programme was another aspect. Through that, I’ve met people through the likes of the Poverty Truth Commission, who are all at the sharp end of poverty.

Some would say that a songwriter with such commercial success as you’ve had might not be as exposed to the sharp poverty as many.

True. You can live in a middle class suburb of Glasgow but 500 yards down the road you can see a completely different environment, another world, really. You can’t turn a blind eye to it, and that’s one of the good things about living in Glasgow. You don’t need to experience these things first hand to be aware of the decisions folk have to make with limited resources. I’ve also been making a documentary about people leaving prison. You learn that some of these guys, had they come from different areas, would have had people in life who’d have intervened and changed the direction of their life. It didn’t happen for them.

The album’s title track almost sounds like the binman from Dignity’s dinghy-dream gone sour.

Very much so. I turned my back on that style of narrative storytelling over the years. The naive optimism in Dignity is certainly crushed in Trouble Came Looking. There’s something malevolent in it. People struggle, try to pay the bills and hold a job. But five years ago when this all started, it felt like there was a force out to get people. That song almost wrote itself but there’s a song called Strange And Foreign Land about the Morecambe Bay cockle pickers. It was the first historical song I’d written since Spencer Tracy on Raintown. Difficult to write, such a heartbreaking story – these people gave up everything to come here to be used and abused.

You’re playing T In The Park, V Festivals, Royal Albert Hall and The Hydro with Deacon Blue this year. Are you looking forward to playing smaller venues around the UK with this album?

If you asked me two weeks ago, I would have honestly said that I wasn’t sure. But now I’m really looking forward to it. This is the first time I have ever made an album that really suits smaller venues. We loved touring The Hipsters last year, but it’s great to mix things up. It’s a real joy playing songs to an audience who want to listen. We might do some more dates at the end of the year. I’d actually love to do solo shows as a way of life .

Who are the best solo artists you’ve seen?

I remember seeing Springsteen at the Playhouse and Kris Kristofferson solo too. Just them, the songs, all very minimal. Jimmy Webb. Randy Newman. I’ve sat in the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville with tears rolling down my face at some of the Nashville rounds with the likes of Gretchen Peters. People are so reverential there. All you need to do is listen.

Will you be playing solo versions of the songs made famous by Deacon Blue?

It wouldn’t be representative of me not to. I wrote them and I love them. We have lots of plans for Deacon Blue this year and more stuff from McIntosh Ross is within the realms of possibility.

Paul English