Deacon Blue's Ricky Ross and Lorraine McIntosh
On Pop and Politics, The Yes Campaign And The Bands Enduring Success
Daily Record 22nd August 2014
AS the lead singer and songwriter of Deacon Blue, Ricky Ross has never been
one for hiding political messages on his records.
FOR as long as he’s been in pop, Ricky Ross has been into politics.
As the lead singer and songwriter of Deacon Blue, the Dundonian has never been one for hiding political messages on his records.
He openly snarled at early 90s Thatcherism on Your Town and asked questions of the Labour Party on a song called Peace and Jobs and Freedom.
He also penned a tune after Jim Sillars’ landmark SNP victory in the 1988 Govan by-election called Don’t Let The Teardrops Start and, most obviously of all, has seen his simple story about a binman’s dream to buy a boat become an anthem for the working man.
But the founder of the Glasgow favourites has confessed he once feared his politics might have ruined his mates’ careers.
Ricky has been a strong voice in the Yes referendum campaign and again finds himself in a situation similar to one he was in 20 years ago when his band split up, with dual profiles in the worlds of records and the referendum.
The singer and wife Lorraine McIntosh arrived for interview at a cafe in Glasgow’s Southside two mornings after Deacon Blue’s appearance at the Commonwealth Games Closing Ceremony.
And that came several weeks after Ricky’s appearance on BBC1’s Question Time debate on independence. At their commercial height two decades ago, the band appeared on political stages at the likes of CND rallies.
The lead singer memorably raged at both the Tories and Labour while headlining 1990’s The Big Day, shown live around the UK on Channel 4 when poll tax riots hadn’t long flared up and Ravenscraig steel works wasn’t long off cooling down.
The more things change, the more they stay the same?
“I used to think I’d ruined the band’s career when we split up,” said Ricky, 56. “If you get so immersed in political campaigning, people see you for that thing. But I actually think it was coincidental. Those were the end times for us as a band at that point. And within two years of all that political activity, the band had stopped.
“But that wasn’t the main reason. We needed to split up. We hit a wall.”
Ricky, along with the likes of Elaine C Smith, writer William McIllvanney, broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove and poet Edwin Morgan, was a founder member of the Artists for An Independent Scotland group in 1990, in response to Tory lockdown in Westminster.
Lorraine, also a campaigning face on the Yes trail, sees then and now differently.
“There was much less separation between you as a person and the band then,” she said, addressing her other half. “Not everyone in Deacon Blue is a Yes supporter. It just so happens Ricky and I are.
“We can’t expect Deacon Blue to represent the Yes campaign, it’s such a personal thing. But it’s a much bigger separation. The band was our whole life then. It’s not now.”
The founder members all spin the plates – Ricky writes songs and broadcasts on Radio Scotland, Lorraine acts on stage and screen, keyboard Jim Prime is a university music lecturer and drummer Dougie Vipond a TV presenter.
Ricky admits that his campaigning intentions in the impending referendum did raise a conflict of interest – but not with Deacon Blue.
“It was more to do with working for the BBC,” he said. “I thought if it means holding on to my radio show [he presents American music programme Another Country on Radio Scotland] or saying nothing at the most important time we’ve ever lived through, then it’s a no-brainer.
“I’ve got to be involved in a way that I can manage and is sensible. So I don’t do my Sunday morning show [a topical discussion programme] any more and the BBC have allowed me to go off and do this other stuff.
“For all the paranoid stuff they’re accused of, I can’t speak more highly of them for that.”
Having reconvened in the late 90s, the band have now been together longer in their second incarnation than they were during their hit single days.
Then, success was measured in No1 albums and top 10 singles. Now, it’s measured in having their singles A-listed on Radio 2’s playlist.
Next month, they’ll release their seventh album, A New House. Recorded at Chem 19 studios and produced by indie producer of choice Paul Savage, it’s a follow-up to their 2012 “comeback” album The Hipsters and sees the band return to a major record label – Warner –for the first time in 20 years.
On first listen, it’s an album about nature, love and land, with references to high hills of snow and memories of playing in woods and kissing on winter streets. But the album’s standout comes at the end – I Remember Every Single Kiss bursts from meandering piano to a thundering chorus of drums.
“It’s my favourite song on the whole record,” said Lorraine, 50.
“They were all in the studio hitting those drums. But there’s just something about the lyrics,” she said, addressing Ricky again. “When you write songs like that they take me to a certain place – like someone kissing you as a teenager standing under a streetlight in winter.”
Ricky concedes he wrote it for his wife.
“It’s one of the many songs I’ve written for her,” he said, with a sideways nod.
“I didn’t know that,” replied the song’s subject, deadpan. “Stop embarrassing me.”
The title track single is a piano-led reverie of childhood days of rivers and fields, its cover art a hill thick with purple heather.
The question seems obvious – an album released weeks before a referendum entitled A New House. If this is a metaphor, it wouldn’t appear subliminal.
“It’s not a metaphor for anything,” said Ricky. But the message on the track Our New Land is indisputable.
“It is a song about the referendum,” he said. “In Scotland, there’s a sense of longing to be something we don’t quite understand. It’s more than a vote, it’s about a whole generation of people wanting to achieve something more. I have friends who are No voters but we never fall out over politics.”
“Nobody wants to fall out or think less of people,” said Lorraine. “You have to respect people’s opinions. Twenty years ago, I might not have been able to do that. I’d have thought I was right and they were wrong.”
The band will shortly tour the UK, with plans beyond that regardless of what direction Scotland turns next month.
“I still have creative energy and there will be more to come out of that,” said Ricky, more pop than politics. “We’re in a great place.”