The Big Interview : Ricky Ross
The Courier 4th November 2017


Deacon Blue frontman Ricky Ross performs his new solo show at Dundee’s Gardyne Theatre on November 14. Gayle Ritchie catches up with the Dundonian singer-songwriter in his favourite cafe

There’s a faraway look in Ricky Ross’s eyes when he remembers boyhood camping trips in Angus and Fife. It’s an area he enjoys taking his family to these days, and he spent a weekend camping near Carnoustie with his 16-year-old son in the summer. “I’m keen on road trips and wanted Seamus to see the beauty of that neck of the woods near Dundee, where I’m from,” he recalls.

Back in July, Ricky – who cites Lunan Bay in Angus as his favourite place in Scotland – toured the iconic North Coast 500 route with his wife Lorraine. “We camped at Fortrose and went up to Durness and John O’Groats,” he says. “Lorraine was keen to wild-swim but I had to point out it wouldn’t be as warm as France!”

I’m catching up with Ricky in one of his favourite hangouts, the Glad Cafe in Glasgow’s Southside. With the release of a new solo album in September and a tour this month, he’s in an excitable mood. Helping to set the upbeat tone is Otis Redding’s (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, which booms out though the speakers. I order us cappuccinos and we settle down on leather sofas for a chat. “The new album is like a souvenir of my solo shows, which are a very different beast from Deacon Blue,” Ricky muses, adjusting a button on his denim jacket. “It’s a collection of tiny little stories which are intimate and minimal, and it’s a place for what I call my ‘homeless songs’. There’s something very raw and honest about it. “It’s a chance for me to revisit songs that started out life with just piano and vocals and take them back to their roots, as well as play some new songs inspired by recent times.”

Thirty years ago, Deacon Blue’s debut album, Raintown, spent 77 weeks on the UK charts and sold more than a million copies. The 1989 follow-up, When the World Knows Your Name, reached number one. The band were originally together for eight years before splitting in 1994, reforming in 1999. Ricky’s solo album contains voice and piano versions of Raintown and Wages Day, and a take on Carole King’s Goin’ Back.

There’s also a song called A Gordon for Me, written for Joe, the partner of Gordon Aikman, the motor neurone disease campaigner from Edinburgh who died last February aged 31. Another, At My Weakest Point, was inspired by a woman Ricky met while visiting Zambia with Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund, for whom he is an ambassador.
She told him her vision was to have her own water supply.

My personal favourite is Only God and Dogs, written from a dog’s perspective. “It’s about a special love,” explains Ricky. “I saw this dog on Byres Road running over to his owner – a jakey homeless guy – like the happiest dog in the world. “I thought, what is it about dogs? They have no hierarchy. As long as someone loves them, they’ll live anywhere.” Having been on the scene with Deacon Blue since the 80s, does Ricky feel he’s matured musically?

“You like to think you’ve got better but you’ve maybe got worse!” he beams. “One of the reasons I like to do old songs like Raintown and The Germans are Out Today – a song I wrote in Dundee in the early 80s – is to feel there’s a kind of conversation going on between old and new.”

So does he never get fed up playing the big hits? “Not at all. Although if you’d asked that question 15 years ago, I might have answered differently. “I actually enjoy them more as I get older because instead of thinking, ‘aw, we’re doing that again’, I know that it brings a level of happiness to people. “If you play it like you mean it, with conviction, then something will happen every time. People will be happy and then they’ll listen to ten other new songs.”

It’s been 35 years since Ricky, who went to Dundee High School, left the city for the bright lights of Glasgow but he’s still friends with people he met while working on a youth project attached to a church and recently put on a benefit gig for them. He’s often in Dundee to watch his beloved Dundee United FC in action with his son, and to meet Gregor Philp, a guitarist in Deacon Blue. “I love going up. It’s one of the great train journeys. Every time I’m in Dundee, it’s nostalgic in one way but it’s also lovely to be aware of all the exciting things happening.”

On the subject of Dundee’s bid to win the 2023 European Capital of Culture bid, while Ricky reckons the city has a “valid” chance of winning, he also thinks it doesn’t matter too much. “When Hull got the award earlier in the year, Dundee didn’t need it because it was doing its own thing anyway,” he reasons. “It’s more about the process. But the one thing I’d like would be if they built a new concert hall. “Caird Hall is a great orchestral hall but it’s not so great for rock and roll.”

Despite his love for Dundee, Ricky doubts he would ever move back. He and Lorraine, a singer for Deacon Blue and actress in her own right, brought up their kids in Glasgow and Ricky’s mum moved there to retire. His daughter studied in Dundee for four years but “never really threw herself into it”, he says. “Because she’s Glaswegian, and her boyfriend at the time was from Glasgow, they would come back here a lot, so she never really truly got into Dundee,” he explains. “But it was nice to be able to have that connection. A bit of me would come back in a heartbeat, but it’s not up to me.”

As his (whisper it) 60th birthday approaches in December, Ricky is optimistic about the future – “At least I’ll get a bus pass!” he jokes. And he’s more than happy to admit that he’s mellowed with the passing of time. “I think there’s still a bit of me that will always jump into things but I’d like to think it’s a little bit subdued,” he says. “I was always a bit impulsive, a bit more angry about things, and now I’m hopefully a bit more reflective.”

During the heady heights of Deacon Blue fame, Ricky couldn’t walk down the street without being asked to sign autographs. These days, if he’s floating around Glasgow, very few people give him a second look, he says, although when he’s with Lorraine, it’s a different story. Not that he’s bothered and in fact, fame is something Ricky isn’t fussed about. “I can’t think of many good reasons for fame,” he says. “I can understand fortune but fame is a very strange one. “It’s great when you have some success and you’re able to do the thing you want to do; if it affords you the ability to determine your own career.”

One of the low points of fame came in the form of a stalker who plagued Ricky and Lorraine in the early days. “She got a bit obsessed and starting annoying my family,” he scowls. “It got really odd; I don’t dwell on it too much.” When they’re not working, Ricky and Lorraine enjoy running together, mainly in Pollok Park – accompanied by their Labradoodle.

And while most people know Ricky from Deacon Blue, he also presents two radio shows on Radio Scotland – Another Country and Sunday Morning – and writes music for and with other artists, including James Blunt, Ronan Keating, KT Tunstall, Emma Bunton, Will Young and Jamie Cullum.

In 2015, he wrote a musical, The Choir. There’s talk of this going on tour, but Ricky reckons it needs a bit more tinkering. Alas no chat with Ricky – a strong voice in the Yes referendum campaign of 2014 – would be complete without mentioning politics. At this, he groans, clearly fed up of the subject. “I feel quite strongly about keeping our powder dry. I made my opinions known during the Referendum but are we really going to label everyone a remainer or a leaver?” he sighs. “If the question comes round again, then we might want to have a discussion about that, but I don’t think about my life as, ‘I’m one of them’ and I think it would be really limiting if we did. Do I want to be out of Europe? No. But you’ve got to live in the place you live and appreciate the good things.”

As Ricky heads out to do a photo shoot with our photographer, I ask him one last question – any advice to those who want to follow in his footsteps? “Don’t go into music unless you really want to,” he warns. “It’s harder than it was when we started out because people don’t buy records in the same way. “If you want to do it, it’ll test you, and if you really want to do it, you’ll do it.”