Deacon Blue Picks Up Where They Left Off With Riding On The Tide Of Love
American Songwriter 5th February 2021

 

Ricky Ross usually pens Deacon Blue songs alone or with musicians from his inner circle. Yet, during an initial trip to Nashville some years ago, another songwriter’s live performance proved so memorable that a future collaboration seemed preordained.

The award-winning tunesmith was Tia Sillers, whose credits include Lee Ann Womack, Dixie Chicks and Kenny Wayne Shepherd hits.

Watching Sillers, her late husband Mark Selby and others in the round at The Bluebird Café moved Ross to tears. He thought he’d “reached the Holy Grail” and felt “these are obviously the people you need to work with.”

“I just made it my job—I want to write with this woman,” recalls the Deacon Blue front man, in a recent interview with American Songwriter from his home in Glasgow. “She’s just amazing…a really great storyteller.”

Ross later met Sillers, returned to Nashville with Deacon Blue guitarist Gregor Philp, and together, the trio wrote “Not Gonna Be That Girl.” The elegant adult contemporary song is among several standouts featured on Riding on the Tide of Love, the Scottish pop/rock group’s refined new album, available digitally February 5, with physical CD and LP formats due March 5.

Ross brings to mind early Jackson Browne as he sings vivid lyrics to subtle piano and acoustic guitar, eventually giving way to breezy horns: I saw her standing beneath the streetlamp/Gold beams falling down on her hair/Made it look like she was wearing a halo/She was surely heaven sent.

The sextet released its impressive 10th studio album City of Love (a top 5 charter in Scotland and the U.K.) last March shortly before the first COVID-19 lockdown went into effect abroad. Ross calls it “the album of my life. I honestly felt that I’d poured everything into City of Love that I could. I was disappointed that we couldn’t see it through and do the tour.”

Riding is a continuation—three songs were completed during the City sessions and the rousing title track was rediscovered by Ross while “going through stuff on my computer.” Boasting a joyous vibe, it contains background chatter partially inspired by “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.”

“I always loved that bit” in the Bob Dylan song. “I nicked it,” Ross admits. “Always made me laugh.” When time came for the musicians to flesh out the remaining City demos individually in quarantine, they decided to leave the effect intact because it “just puts you in a good mood.”

Since starting the band in the mid-1980s, Ross says his songwriting process has gone from not giving it “any thought whatsoever” to now asking himself “have we done that before” and “are we going over old ground?”

A romantic atmosphere often envelops Deacon Blue music thanks to sublime vocal interplay between Ross and wife Lorraine McIntosh. Key Riding examples include “Look Up” and “Send a Note Out.” The latter effortlessly evokes Memphis soul of the late ‘60s. It revolves around “the importance of telling people” what’s on your mind before it’s too late. Once Philp added tasteful guitar lines to James Prime’s organ work, the result “gave it sort of an (Otis Redding/Stax Records vibe) and felt great. That’s the kind of music we love,” says Ross.

Deacon Blue —also comprising original drummer Dougie Vipond and current bassist Lewis Gordon—first emerged on the Glasgow music scene with their 1987 debut album Raintown, an earnest ode to working class life in Glasgow that drew comparisons to Bruce Springsteen. The group followed up with a sleek international breakthrough, When the World Knows Your Name, eventually notching half a dozen top 20 U.K. hits and several gold or platinum albums before breaking up in 1994. They reunited five years later.

Due to U.S. label problems and a decision to focus efforts squarely on the U.K./European market, Deacon Blue hasn’t toured America since 1989.

“We should have just got in the bus and done it,” Ross concedes, adding that they “never felt we quite got the support we wanted. There was [a lot of] bad luck.” He recalls “the first [time] we ever played in America was an amazing night. We probably needed to put in more time.” The missed opportunity “was a real shame.”

Now, with better worldwide label distribution, Ross would jump at the chance to tour the U.S. once concerts are back to normal.

“We’ve often talked about doing a coastal thing there,” adds Ross, who often travels to Nashville. “If someone could offer us a few gigs and we could not lose money, we would be there at the drop of a hat.” George Paul