Daily Record 17th September 2016
Deacon Blue’s Ricky and Lorraine on how plight of refugees formed backdrop to
Ricky Ross and Lorraine McIntosh talk about mixing pop and politics on Deacon Blue's new album, Believers.
THE song speaks of children on a journey, of belief in better times and of hope in the face of ignorance. Deacon Blue’s recent single The Believers put them back on radio playlists with an upbeat and optimistic pop song as timely as it was tuneful. But it also split the audience.
No surprise, some might say, in these days of Brexit and the divisive debate around the ongoing refugee crisis. For husband and wife singers Ricky Ross and Lorraine McIntosh, whose songs have reflected politics and society for 30 years, there was never any doubt images in the news would colour their songs.
Lead singer and songwriter Ricky said: “The refugee story is the backdrop to the whole album. It was happening all the time that we were writing it, so it was very definitely there in the background.
“It is for many people, because I think we just don’t know how to deal with it.” The Believers, though, isn’t a straightforward reflection on international migration or religion. Instead, the band say the song, and the tone of their new album Believers, was formed from the notion of trust.
Ricky, 58, said: “You contemplate the pros and cons of any argument, relationships, buying a house, getting a job, voting in a referendum. “You weigh it all up and you make your decision based on your gut instinct. That got me thinking about how in so many situations we give ourselves over to trust and belief, and that’s how humanity works in its best possible way. “It’s that Malcolm Gladwell thing,” he added, referencing the bestselling author of Blink, a book which looks at how we make split-second decisions. “There was another story behind the song, about an Indonesian priest speaking to people on death row. “He had to go round them all and said to them, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to be far behind you.’ I thought that was beautiful, that idea of coming along behind you.”
The song’s video invited a more straightforward interpretation but attracted criticism, with some taking to the band’s social media channels to complain about a perceived political overtone. For Lorraine, 52, the response was equally straightforward. She said: “People say things like, ‘They should leave politics out of their songs – I’m done with them.’ But if you think we’ve never been political before then you don’t know much about the band. “Anyway, it’s not politics, really. It’s about people and their lives. We are part of a continent where people are washing up on the shores.
“What are we meant to do? Just pretend it’s not happening? Not let it affect us? It should affect everyone with a conscience.” Ricky added: “That song isn’t about religious belief or political belief. It’s about belief in human beings. That’s the stuff we have to work on, the stuff that gets us through.” The new album is the revitalised band’s eighth, and their third since 2012, working with producer Paul Savage at Chem19 studios in Lanarkshire.
Ricky said: “It’s not necessarily a trilogy. But they’ve come so close together and have been with the same producer. “The Hipsters was about the band, A New House was about Scotland and the land and this one is about belief and trust. But we never set out to make a trilogy. “In fact, when we set out to make The Hipsters we never intended to make another record.”
Having disbanded at their peak in 1994, they reformed five years later, ebbing and flowing with changing line-ups and the death of founder member, guitarist Graeme Kelling. Now Ricky and Lorraine with original personnel Jim Prime on keyboards and Dougie Vipond on drums are Deacon Blue Mark II, with Gregor Philp on guitar and Lewis Gordon on bass In those four years they’ve been back to Glastonbury and the Royal Albert Hall, filled the Hydro and made their debut at T In The Park.
The new album, out on September 30, includes second single This Is a Love Song, a euphoric, synth-laden best version of themselves, reworked with the help of Coldplay engineer Michael Brauer in New York. Ricky said: “It’s a very simple song about the terror and beauty of true love. It’s tough but when it works it’s the only thing that keeps us going.” Last year he co-wrote a play The Choir with actor Paul Higgins, which ran at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre.
But the experience led to an uncharacteristic crisis of confidence, despite a career selling seven million albums and penning hundreds of songs. He said: “I was knocked for six after writing The Choir, which I thought would be much easier than it was. “I came away from that feeling really uncomfortable about writing. At one point I didn’t think there was another Deacon Blue album there. “I went off to Nashville to purposely put myself in the room with other writers, almost as a sort of therapy. “I had an experience in Belfast a few years ago when I completely forgot the song I was singing, right in the middle of it. “It had never happened to me before and I’m the sort of person who thinks the way to deal with that is to go out and face the demons. So I set myself a challenge of doing a solo tour last year, too. The tour turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.”
The new record also includes the fascinating barely-there track I Will and I Won’t, which sees Ricky and Lorraine swap lead vocals to sing a song recalling the early stages of a relationship. It might easily be considered autobiographical. Ricky smiles at the idea: “I don’t think so. There are probably other songs on the record that are far more autobiographical than that one. Writing songs is about bits of truth, things you’ve experienced, trying to remember someone you were.
“I think have to let your imagination fly. When we came away from Deacon Blue in 1994, the band had fallen apart and I thought I’d never write songs to that big palette again. “But I wanted to get back to writing songs with ambition again and Deacon Blue are great musicians. They can do anything. It’s like having a big train set to play with. It’s great fun.” Paul English