With a new album and a 25th anniversary tour, Deacon Blue are back with a bang. The band’s frontman Ricky Ross talks to Chris Bond.
ANY music fan will tell you that the albums they grew up listening to as a teenager are the ones that often mean the most to them.
For those of a certain age it might be David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, or T-Rex’s Electric Warrior. For others it’s London Calling or All Mod Cons. But for many people, like me, who were 16 back in 1989, When The World Knows Your Name will always have a special place in their heart.
Deacon Blue were never cool in the way the Happy Mondays or the Stone Roses were, but what they had in abundance were well crafted songs like Queen of the New Year, Wages Day and Real Gone Kid. And their brand of soulful Scottish pop has proved popular over the years with six million album sales and 12 Top 40 UK singles.
Now, 25 years after they announced their arrival on the music scene with the brilliantly understated Raintown, they are back with a new record, The Hipsters, and an accompanying tour that lands in Sheffield next month.
It’s a welcome return for a band whose last studio album was 11 years ago. But singer and songwriter Ricky Ross says it isn’t a cynical attempt to milk their anniversary date.
“We didn’t have any plans and I didn’t want to go on tour without new material. It’s nice to play the hits, but you also want to feel like you’re being creative.”
But once back in the studio the old chemistry clicked into place and the subsequent album is a collection of finely-tuned songs that shows the vocal play between Ross and his wife Lorraine McIntosh has lost none of its harmony. The opening track, Here I am in London Town, sets the scene as Ross conjures up an impression of how his younger self felt as he sat in a studio “waiting for the world to begin.”
“I was remembering what it was like starting out, coming down to London for the first time,” Ross says. “You were hoping someone would open a door and your world would start.”
You have to travel back in time to 1985 and north to Scotland, to trace Deacon Blue’s origins. “I had an idea that I wanted to be a songwriter and Glasgow seemed a good place to go because it had some recording studios, even though it’s three times as wet as Dundee,” says Ross.
“We built up a reputation gig by gig playing university halls or small clubs and if 200 people turned up, then it was a good night.” There was, he says, “a wonderful kind of mayhem” about those early days. “We just wrote about things that were happening to us and we weren’t pretending to be something we weren’t.”
Their debut Raintown earned widespread praise but it was the follow-up, When The World Knows Your Name, that made them famous. Although this didn’t sit comfortably with Ross.
“I enjoyed being successful but nobody sensible wants to be famous,” he says. “It happened to me. I got to play big arenas and I didn’t enjoy it. Maybe I should have done and maybe if I had, we might have taken a different turn. But my first reaction was to want to play more intimate venues.”
The band took a step back and their third album Fellow Hoodlums (1991) was a less pop-orientated affair and by the mid-90s they called it a day.
Ross then spent time writing songs for other artists before the band reformed for a reunion gig in 1999 and two years later they brought out a new album.
They lost guitarist Graeme Kelling to cancer in 2004, since when they have limited themselves to occasional tours.
Now they’re back, although Ross says they aren’t trying to compete with their past. “When you put out a record you want it to do well and if people want to buy it in their millions, then that would be great, but we’re not expecting miracles. I’m actually enjoying the whole process more this time because we’re not doing it constantly.”
And after 25 years, he’s happy just to be making music. “It feels like it’s gone in the blink of an eye, but the fact our music gets played on the radio and people still want to own our records, that’s a nice feeling – you’ve got to be happy with that.”
Deacon Blue play Sheffield City Hall on October 16. For tickets call 0114 278 9789
Their new album, The Hipsters, is out now.
Deacon Blue: The life and times of the real gone kids
Deacon Blue formed in Glasgow in 1985, taking their name from a Steely Dan song.
In 1987 the band released their debut album Raintown to critical acclaim.
The follow-up, When The World Knows Your Name (1989), reached number one in the album charts and spawned a string of hit singles including Wages Day, Fergus Sings The Blues and Real Gone Kid.
Over the past 25 years they have sold six million albums and had 12 Top 40 singles in the UK.
Their new album, The Hipsters, is the band’s first since Homesick in 2001.