Tour Programme 2013
Paul English August 2013

Facebook. 24 April 2012.


Ricky: You free tomorrow? Coffee and a song or two? Ricky.
Me: Of course. Where am I going?
Ricky: Come over to mine and I’ll play you a couple. Just don’t tell a soul yet.
I was definitely free for that.

Driving across Glasgow from the Daily Record’s offices the next day, I felt like a character in a Nick Hornby novel. The lead singer in the first band I’d ever seen live, whose albums I’d saved my paper round money to buy, whose poster covered my high school English folder, had invited me up to his house to drink coffee and listen to their first record in 13 years, before anyone else had heard it.

A privileged position.

I’d interviewed Ricky Ross many times since I stopped delivering and started writing for newspapers, having grown up with his old songs and grown into his new ones. But this wasn’t a promotional tete a tete. There was no tape recorder on the table, no question and answer dance.

The invite was to the eager fan first, journalist second. I was the crash test dummy.

A precarious position.

What if, a lifetime later, I was left grappling for platitudes, angling towards the door, pining for the blind spots of my fan-boy youth when all this was just posters, sleeve notes and vinyl instead of real people?

What if I didn’t like it?

Ricky opened his Mac and set the volume. The first darting strings of The Hipsters surged into the room and two voices sung in a shimmering blend about shining, falling, glistening, diving.

I should always have known, of course.

This was going to be good.

The comeback album, like the return of a star centre forward for a second chance at the club where he first made magic happen, often suffers under the weight of exact demands. Lives have been lived and memories measured against such heydays, and anything less in the present risks sullying the past.

During 2012’s promotional interviews for their 25th anniversary year and comeback album The Hipsters, the members of Deacon Blue acknowledged as much. Experiences and anecdotes about the recording of debut album Raintown a quarter of a century earlier were shared, heady times now treasured as fondly by them as the tunes themselves went on to be by others.

It was a theme that emerged throughout The Hipsters.

Here I Am In London Town, a tentative scene-setting ode to youth, unfolded with the same subtle sense of expectation Born In a Storm had formed on Raintown.

The Outsiders, a heart-on-the-sleeve career retrospective, recalled the excitement of a young Scottish band’s early days in the record industry, the thrill of possibility, naivety and hope.

Ricky described the process of writing and recording their sixth album as a gradual realisation that he was penning “a love letter to Deacon Blue”. It seemed almost as if he saw himself as an outsider looking in on 25 years of experiences that happened to and for other people. Number one albums. Millions of sales. Splitting up. Grieving for a founder member. Reuniting. Recording. Remembering.

The Hipsters is nostalgic but not mawkish, familiar but not formulaic. And as the band themselves noted while making the album with producer Paul Savage in Glasgow, it sounded, in Lorraine’s words, “like a Deacon Blue album.” It had those key defining characteristics. The sparkling title track, the frenzied celestial escape of Stars, the wounded heart of Turn, the hurt and healing of Is There No Way Back To You. These songs did what fans hoped they’d do, putting them back on the radio, in the charts and on the road.

Four singles - Turn, The Outsiders, That’s What We Can Do and The Hipsters - were A listed by Radio 2. The LP gave them their first Top 20 placing in almost 20 years including the unlikely accolade of a No1 slot in the UK indie charts, a cute irony they’d never have expected. “We were never hipsters,” they’d insisted of the album’s tongue in cheek title.
The autumn and winter 2012 tour sold out from Aberdeen to Plymouth, with founder members Ricky, Lorraine, Dougie and Jim reinvigorated by the addition of guitarist Gregor Philp and bass player Lewis Gordon. Reasserting the reputation they won in the 80s and 90s as one of the country’s most entertaining and energetic live acts, this band on whom the critics had sharpened their pens decades before the Mumfords and Coldplay, were now the subject of ungrudging praise in review columns.
In Spring 2013, more live dates were announced, including main stage slots at the V Festivals and a debut at the 20th year of T In The Park. Their biggest tour in over a decade commences in September and ends in December, taking in a return to London’s Royal Albert Hall, bookended by two very different venues in Raintown: the hallowed sweatbox of King Tut’s and the vast futuristic showpiece The Hydro. As Ricky himself said ahead of this summer’s festival dates, even five years ago Deacon Blue couldn’t have played the gigs they’re playing now.

Fifteen months on from that afternoon in Glasgow, I watched from the wings of the T In The Park main stage with a handful of others as the darting strings of The Hipsters surged into the Balado airfield, and two voices sung in a shimmering blend about shining, falling, glistening, diving.
Tens of thousands had gathered in the arena, a new generation of teenagers now, on each other’s shoulders, arms aloft, singing songs written before they were born, phoning them home to their folks and bringing this remarkable year of silver anniversary celebrations full circle.

Deacon Blue should always have known, of course.
This was going to be good.

Paul English August 2013
Paul English is an entertainment journalist for the Daily Record. A version of this article appeared in the Deacon Blue Tour Programme in late 2013