It's A Dog's Life For Ricky
 Evening Times 9th September 2017


RICKY Ross was waiting at traffic lights on Byres Road when a dog – boundlessly happy, its tail wagging – crossed the road on its own. Its owners, he noticed, were a couple of homeless men.

It was the sort of incident that wouldn’t detain anyone else - but Ricky’s mind clicked into gear, and a lyric began to form.

Which is why there is a poignant song called Only God and Dogs on his great new solo album, Short Stories Vol 1, which is out on Friday. Written from the dog’s point of view, its title came about when Ross mentioned the canine’s unconditional love for its owners to his wife, Lorraine McIntosh, and she remarked, yes, it’s something like “dogs and God kind of love”.

“Even as a child,” Ricky says, “I was obsessed by the fact that ‘God’ and ‘dog’ had the same letters. Only God and Dogs was a classic example of how a song gets written. It literally caught my attention – the happiest dog you’ll ever see.”

His wife is knowledgeable about homelessness, he adds. “She says a lot of homeless guys cannot get a place in a hostel because the hostel won’t take their dog. So the dog becomes this big kind of character for them. But it struck me that dogs are so biddable. Our own dog is great but I think, ‘You could have landed in different places, and you’ve landed here, and it’s quite nice.’”

The album, which contains new songs, voice-and-piano versions of two of his greatest works, Raintown and Wages Day, and a lovely take on Carole King’s Goin’ Back, was recorded in Hamburg, with strings added in Glasgow. It continues a resurgence of activity by the band he put together in December 1985.

Thirty years ago their 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. By this time the band was renowned for anthemic, observant, heart-tugging songs that people could relate to: Raintown, Wages Day, Dignity, Real Gone Kid, Fergus Sings the Blues and Town to be Blamed (with its fatalistic sign-off, “work, work, work/ in the rain, rain, rain/ home, home, home/ again, again, again”).

Deacon Blue found themselves caught up in constant touring, studio sessions and TV appearances. They were one of the biggest acts in Britain. Other albums appeared – Fellow Hoodlums, Whatever You Say, Say Nothing – but in 1994, the same year in which a greatest hits album topped the charts, the band went their separate ways. It would be another five years before they reformed.

A couple of albums were released, in 1999 and 2001, but it was with 2012’s Top 20 album, The Hipsters, that Deacon Blue’s second act really began. A New House, in 2014, continued the trend, and last year’s Believers, gave the band its highest albums-chart placing since 1994. It’s good to have them back.

Among the songs on Short Stories Vol 1, which Ricky is touring in November, is one called A Gordon for Me, a piece written for Joe, the partner of Gordon Aikman, the motor neurone disease campaigner who died last February, aged 31.

“I found Gordon a really amazing character, though I didn’t know him that well,” he says. “He and Joe asked me to sing at their wedding, which I did.

“I had been in London before that, on tour with the band, and we had gone to a mass on a Sunday night in a little Dominican church in Kensington Church Street [Ross converted to Catholicism a few years ago]. It was one of those dingy ones where you think, there’ll be no-one here, but the priest turned out to be this big guy from northern England. He pulled out a newspaper and said: ‘I was reading this thing today about Gordon Aikman,’ and I thought, ‘That’s Gordon – he’s doing his whole homily on him.’ And he did a beautiful sermon on love and understanding.

“Gordon was making inroads into places he had no idea about, and that’s what amazed me. By the time he died he probably didn’t know half of what he achieved. Doddie Weir [former Scotland rugby international] is now talking about MND as well. It’s a horrible illness. I thought Gordon was so open and he helped so many people by talking about it.

“I couldn’t make the funeral, sadly, but I have been feeling for Joe. This was a great couple, two lovely human beings, and Joe has been through so much, so in a sense that song is as much for him as it was for Gordon.”

Another new song, At My Weakest Point, was inspired by Vainess, a woman Ricky met on a visit to Zambia with Scottish Catholic International Aid (SCIAF). She said her vision was to have her own water supply - like so many others, she makes an hour-long round trip every day to fill a container for her family at the communal village pump. “She really touched me,” Ricky says. “You think you know a lot of things, and then you encounter someone like her. There are millions of people like her. They are very articulate.”

Ricky, who turns 60 in December, has done hundreds if not thousands of gigs around the world. Does he ever lose that sense of wonder when an arena full of joyous fans is singing his words back at him?

“You know what? I think the surprise has gone. But I think I got to a point in my life when I valued – not over-estimated or whatever, but just valued – how much love I was getting back from that. Talking about it I find quite moving. Because you don’t have a right to have any of that stuff. It has come because people have taken these songs on. They’ve taken our music and let it come into their lives. All of us in the band feel enormously honoured by that.”

Will there be a second volume of Short Stories? “I would love to do another one, because there are old songs I’d like to revisit and there are old songs I’ve never released I would still like to go back to,” he says. “ I’m still enjoying the writing process, but I’ll have to see if anyone likes this one first.”