WHEN I finally moved in with my better half in 1994, there were very few LPs we had doubles of, but one was Deacon Blue’s Raintown.
It was quietly acknowledged as part of our personal soundtrack by then – five years after we met – and perhaps told us something about each other before.
While that 1987 album unmistakeably had its roots in Glasgow, my big-hearted girl from the North Country and I could relate to the wider themes – love and hope, heartbreak, fears and frustrations, ambitions and dreams. And it was just as much about our own townscapes, at opposite ends of England.
Last year, Deacon Blue undertook a sell-out tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of that debut and their return to form with The Hipsters, in what proved to be their biggest tour in more than a decade.
When Ricky Ross and his band-mates take to the stage at Glasgow King Tut’s this Friday, September 6, they’ll be at the start of a 26-date tour that will culminate back in their adopted home city (this time at the Hydro) a few days before Christmas.
That also includes a prestigious appearance at London’s Royal Albert Hall later this month and dates across England and Scotland as well as in Belfast, Cardiff and Dublin.
With six million album sales, 12 UK top 40 singles and two No.1 albums to their credit, the Scottish outfit might have had good reason to stick with their back catalogue.
But as Ricky stressed – on the phone from his Glasgow home – it’s not just about the old chart hits like Real Gone Kid, Dignity and Chocolate Girl these days.
Raintown was the first of a string of best-selling albums, with When the World Knows Your Name (1989), Fellow Hoodlums (1991), Whatever You Say, Say Nothing (1993) and the double-platinum Our Town – The Greatest Hits (1994) compilation following.
The band then went their separate ways, Ricky building his career as a songwriter and solo act while also leading Deacon Blue’s more low-key period, including Walking Back Home (1999) and Homesick (2001).
But last year proved something of a revelation for the band, a series of tours between other projects leading to The Hipsters, with plenty of fresh radio airplay following.
It’s clear that the flame still burns brightly for Ricky and his band-mates, somewhat re-invigorated today and retaining a love for live shows.
He said: “I imagined I could do without it. I enjoy being in the studio, but last time around it was a good experience and such fun.
“The thing was that the demand was out there. That always increases your enjoyment about the whole process of touring.
“It’s great to have old stuff recognised and people loving it, but it makes a nice change when people tell you they’ve heard you on the radio, and it’s not something from 25 years ago.
“I’m always at pains to say how grateful I am for that recognition of the old songs, and there’s no doubt about that.
“But it just gives the band a bit of life, and gives everything we’re doing a bit of urgency when there’s a chance to include new material, playing different shows on different nights.”
I’m guessing you wouldn’t be happy just playing the ’80s retro circuit?
“We get plagued all the time to do these shows and we’ve resisted them.
“No disrespect to people that do them, and have good fun doing them. Our audience say ‘why don’t you do this sort of ‘Rewind’ thing? That’s fine, but when you’ve your own show you want to do …”
Ricky stresses that the band took a different route to the top than many bands from that era, slowly building up an audience, not least in the North-West.
“When we started we didn’t really do support gigs. We just built our audience, at places near you like the Boardwalk in Manchester. You grow that audience, that’s the kind of show you want to do.”
So are you still producing a lot of new material?
“New material always comes. Whether it’s any good or not is another thing! But I had a nice moment with a solo album before the Deacon Blue album and that gave me a chance to go out and do that, then put that aside.
“Then I was ready to start writing stuff for the new album. I’m starting doing that now. It’s a long process and we’ll see how that gets on.”
Do you tire of playing the old hits?
“We definitely used to. I think back towards the middle of the ‘90s, when we were thinking, ‘I don’t want to do that’.
“But I think we’ve totally got over that now, to such an extent that I look forward to the moment when we do a show to do Dignity, as that’s what our fans have asked for and bought.
“It’s important to respect that. To see people just delighted and happy, you’ve got to pay respect to that.”
Last year’s Raintown 25th anniversary tour certainly proved a success, and Ricky added: “To have an album like that which people still treasure after all that time was lovely.”
I pointed out that Raintown was one of the few LPs my partner and I both possessed when we merged our album collections in the mid-90s.
“That’s a real compliment, and it’s now gone full circle with it coming out on vinyl again!”
That’s because Raintown, along with follow-up When the World Knows Your Name and most recent offering The Hipsters were re-released by Demon Records on limited edition heavyweight, coloured vinyl, each one individually numbered, re-mastered from the originals especially. So I take it you like your vinyl?
“I do, but not to the extent that I’m one of these people who has to insist on vinyl. I really enjoy it but equally don’t over-care too much.
“I’ve said to a few people, we all listened to pop coming out of tranny radios, scratchy 45 records and cassettes, and various other things that didn’t even run on time, and I think we have to be realistic. How will a kid know the difference?
“Also, I’ve been in a band for 25 years, I’ve been stood in front of amps, so how good is my hearing?!
“So I’m not entirely convinced we’re as sensitive to the thing as we like to think we are. But I do like the warmth of vinyl, and also the visual impact of the cover, and so on.”
After 25 years together, do you all still get on well?
“I think we get on better. When you have your first phase of a band, you get all your angsty stuff out.
“You go through different phases, and if I’m really honest, we’re a bit like a family.
“The closest analogy is that we don’t all go out together, we go out now and again, go on tour and kind of enjoy the fact that when we come off we don’t necessarily see each other for a few months.
“But we’ve a great respect for each other and two relatively new session players that have come in these last couple of years and made a big difference, gelling everyone. We’re grateful to them too.”
The band was rocked in 2004 by the loss of founding member and guitarist Graeme Kelling, who died of pancreatic cancer, aged just 47. But his memory lives on.
“We got used to him not being there. He’d been ill for around five years and did very well to have that five years from that strain of cancer.
“We miss him. He was a big, big character. He was around for all these times we still reminisce about. You’re constantly looking at the photographs, listening to his guitar parts.
“Yesterday I did a lot of radio shows, and they were playing a lot of old stuff, so I was trying to put myself back into that room. It’s funny, it’s so alive, but he’s not. Yeah, we miss him.”
Ricky has another family too, enjoying a domestic life often over-spilling from his professional life, not least as his wife is Lorraine McIntosh, fellow Deacon Blue vocalist, songwriter and one-half of husband-and-wife side project McIntosh Ross.
“We’ve three children, and I’ve an older daughter. They never really used to know much about the gigs, then suddenly because we started playing again, the girls who hadn’t really grown up with it at all started coming to gigs.
“Lorraine and I’s eldest daughter has just turned 21 and their friends are re-discovering us, while Georgia is now 18 and working in a bar, where she says they finish Saturday night discos with Dignity!”
I’m guessing after all these years he’s got used to the Glasgow rain – a recurring theme on the band’s debut LP – having moved to the city not long before after growing up in Dundee.
“We never get over that. You kind of still live in hope that the weather’s going to change, but we know it won’t!
“I’m just back from London, and someone there said, ‘have you ever thought of moving down?’ We had, occasionally, but for family and various other reasons – probably rightly – we’ve stayed.
“I like Glasgow, I like living here, and lots of good people I’m fond of live here, so we’ve never moved.”
That doesn’t mean he’s switched football teams though, continuing his love for Dundee United.
“I’ve now inflicted that particular illness on my young son, who for his soul is also a now a Dundee United fan.
“We tend to go to more away games, but we were at the opening game of this new season, travelling hopefully, it was a 0-0 draw, but let’s see what happens.”
I’ll gloss over a full update there since our interview, but at time of going to press Ricky’s beloved Terrors were mid-table in the SPL, with just one win from five so far.
Moving on, aside from his Deacon Blue work, Ricky has released five solo albums and written for or with artists such as James Blunt, Ronan Keating, Jamie Culllum and Nanci Griffith, among others.
So does he decide which project his newly-written songs are going to?
“I wish it was that simple. It would be great. It’s a hard graft, and you’ve really got to be in the groove for all that.
“I’m a bit out of that loop at the moment, because I’ve been so busy doing my own things.
“But I’m having a meeting with an artist next week, keeping my toes in the water if someone’s looking for a song. I like to do that, and take on lots of writing projects.
“It keeps you fresh. You go off to write a song, thinking it’s for someone else, and it might end up for yourself.
“That’s how we ended up with Turn on the last record. It was a song-writing session I did for someone, then felt, wait a minute … I like this.”
Those other projects included 2009’s The Great Lakes, the much-admired McIntosh Ross debut LP with Lorraine, and Ricky added: “We’re still talking about trying to follow that up.
“That’s on the long list of what we’d like to do. There are different things in the pipeline, different projects, and I like doing that.
“But occasionally –like with Deacon Blue – it’s a great big machine and you need to really work hard to get touring and everything. You need time spent on all that.
“That’s our priority at the moment. These are the things hopefully, if we’re all spared, if nothing else happens, we’ll get around to them.”
Ricky also presents his own radio show, Another Country with Ricky Ross on BBC Radio Scotland, and recently presented a TV show tracing the history of his hometown Dundee.
“I really love that, I’m going off to do my Sunday morning radio show. I pre-record that, then get back to my regular Friday night show next week.
“That’s old country, Americana, and a really enjoyable two hours on my week. It keeps me in touch with a lot of music as well. I discover great things.”
Does he get out to see bands?
“I go to a lot more than I used to. It’s a bit of a busman’s holiday. A lot of musicians don’t do it, and don’t listen to a lot because they’re so involved.
“But because I do the radio show very often there are people I’m interviewing I want to see. There are also older artists I like to see at least once and younger artists I’ve not seen before.”
He name-checked Tift Merritt and the Alabama Shakes as examples, and added: “Hopefully once or twice a month I nip down to King Tut’s or one of these places and go see a gig. I keep my nose to the ground and see what’s happening.”
So how does he get away from it all? “If we can, we walk. Living in Glasgow we’re 40 minutes away from some beautiful parts of the world.
“You can be up in the Highlands very quickly. We’ve a new pup now and he needs a lot of walking, so he’s a hobby at the moment. Lorraine and I run too, which keeps me much fitter.”
When Ricky moved to Glasgow in Deacon Blue’s formative days, he was teaching. Now he’s 55, I put it to him that he might be retiring from that profession if he’d carried on.
“I taught English and Latin. I was working with kids a bit disaffected with the school system, and it was quite rewarding in that I got time to spend one-on-one.
“I’ve no regrets at not carrying on, but like working with younger people and kids. If there was a way of combining it in a creative way I’d love to, if I had the time.
“You always get a lot back. I occasionally do talks to kids, I love all that.”
* This is a longer, revised version of an article the blogger wrote for the Lancashire Evening Post, published on August 22nd, 2013. For the original, head here
* For more details of Deacon Blue’s forthcoming shows, head to their website here
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