Deacon Blue record song as tribute to Scots-born conservationist John Muir
Scotland Now 3rd September 2014

SCOTS band Deacon Blue have recorded a tribute to the Scots-born founding father of American National Parks Association. Frontman Ricky Ross has penned the song For John Muir on his band’s new album A New House, released next week.

The song comes 100 years after the East Lothian-born ecologist’s death. Ricky said: “It came about after Phil Cunningham and I were asked to work together on a possible commission. The commission didn’t come off, but it got me thinking about John Muir again. I remember being in Dunbar years ago and then we went on holiday to Yosemite National Park in California and I was taken by his amazing history, from Dunbar to America. It focussed a lot of things for me.”

Born in Dunbar, East Lothian, in 1838, Muir emigrated to the American state of Wisconsin aged 11 and went on to become a hugely respected figure in the study of nature. He lobbied American presidents Roosevelt and Wilson over the protection of delicate US ecosystems and was massively influential in the establishment of America’s National Parks. His legacy is such that the Scot is now known in America as the Father of The National Parks because of his pioneering insight.

This year in Scotland, the John Muir Way was opened to mark the 100th anniversary of his death. The long distance walk stretches 130 miles from Helensburgh in the west to Dunbar in the east.
Former English teacher Ricky’s song was also inspired by Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem Inversnaid, while another track on the album, Bethlehem Begins, was influenced by the work of Irish writer WB Yeats. Ricky said: “It’s an idea from his writing about two sides of history coming together, the idea that you have to go back, rather than forward, to find the meaning.”

And he revealed how he moved to ensure the album wasn’t released in the same week as the Scottish independence referendum. He said: “Our management originally wanted us to bring it out in the second week of September, they were sort of unaware of what was going on then. We told them that was a week to avoid. Timing wise, it was just a case that the album was ready. And the title isn’t a metaphor. It’s about what it says its about.”

Drummer Dougie Vipond added: “You never know how these things are going to turn out when you start working on them, but this has turned out brilliantly. The way the songs developed in the writing process is something I’m really proud of. “Ricky has always been very open to other people’s ideas and the difference between his solo stuff and the band’s stuff is really apparent, I think. You can hear there’s more than one person’s ideas on it.”

Meanwhile, backing singer and Ricky’s wife Lorraine McIntosh, admitted the Deacon Blue didn’t expect to play the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony last month with Lulu and Kylie. The band were asked by organisers to play their song Dignity as a thank you to the thousands of council employees who helped make the games a success. She said: “We played at the party when it was announced that Glasgow had won the bid for the games, but that was seven years ago and to be honest none of us thought we’d still be doing anything as Deacon Blue the time the Games came about. It was fantastic to be part of. There was so much joy about Hampden Park that night, I don’t think I’ll ever experience anything like it again.”

Ricky added: “The invite was really to the song, more than the band. They wanted it because it’s a song about Glasgow and a song that people relate to. For that reason alone, I wanted to make it happen. It’s fantastic that this song has become so accepted. Sometimes a song doesn’t go much beyond 50 people. But they’re all your babies.”

Despite having formed the band almost 30 years ago, the frontman still harbours ambition and has hinted at another album. He said: “I still have that creative energy and there might be more stuff to come out of that. I’m just really enjoying focussing on Deacon Blue at the moment. I wake up in the morning thinking about what Deacon Blue will do next, not what I’ll do next. Paul English