Music: Shelter from the storm

Deacon Blue were huge in the Eighties; now their singer is making a quiet comeback. Jennifer Rodger met Ricky Ross
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Deacon Blue slipped quietly away, out of the limelight, out of existence, at the end of a tour in 1994.

"We were never going to try to be dance floor divas like U2, with the kids laughing up their sleeves," says Ricky Ross, ex-Deacon Blue front man. Not for them to morph into iconoclastic, self-parodying megastars.

While drummer Dougie Vipond sits in for Richard on This Morning, Ricky Ross is about to release and tour New Recording, an acoustic album of recent songs and reworkings of some "lost" Deacon Blue.

Catapulted into the charts with their debut album, Raintown, Deacon Blue garnered four Top Ten albums and 17 chart hits. They even knocked Madonna off the No 1 spot with their second album, When The World Knows Your Name. Firmly stuck in the Eighties formula of Genesis, Depeche Mode et al - massive stadium gigs, pop-anthem songs and folk influenced lyrics - they were media-resistant: the only whiff of scandal was when Ross's cat was found in a washing machine at a local children's home. "We didn't consult anyone about ending, we just said that this is what we were doing," says Ross. "Being in a band had all the bollocks of dealing with a record company, and I bore the brunt of it as singer and songwriter. When it ended, I didn't know whether I wanted to carry on making music."

After the band's demise, Ross stopped for a while. His father had died and backing vocalist Lorraine McIntosh gave birth to his third child. Then his debut solo album, What You Are, had disappointing sales, and in 1997 Sony ended their 11-year association with Ross. He responded with characteristic Scottish verve, set up an independent label ("a steep learning curve"), and started work on New Recording.

"I am a great believer in stopping things and starting again," he says. "The first Deacon Blue songs were written on the piano, so I wanted to go back to that as a collection of acoustic songs. The budget wasn't enormous because I was out of a record deal, but I was able to do something. I decided to do an album of more reflective and slower songs, and enjoying not having to make it up tempo. There wasn't the pressure to make a pop record that was accessible."

Reminiscent of early Deacon Blue, New Recording points to the contribution Eighties' guitar bands made to the evolution of Brit Pop (which Ricky describes as "the worst explosion of very similar guitar bands"). His voice is a husky and melancholic Glaswegian; his lyrics tell stories and carry intense emotions with simple acoustic melodies underneath. "It's leaving space around things. You have to let people come into the song and be part of it, to paint a picture and not elaborate on every bit. Some songs are straightforward: `The Further North You Go' is quite literally a conversation between two people. It's simple on the surface. Other are like little street scenes. Some are poems, hymns, even prayers.

"You have to give something of yourself to get something back, especially when performing live. If you aren't open and vulnerable to the audience, they can't enter into it either."

His solo tour couldn't be more different from the stomping stadium events of Deacon Blue. A string of clubs and theatre venues have been picked for sound and ambience.

"When I was in Deacon Blue we were always asked to do acoustic, but we could never do it simply, it got complicated. The idea is that people feel comfortable and the acoustics feel good. This isn't a big band with a light show, but people have to be able to relax and enjoy listening, maybe not participating as much as getting a vibe there. The important thing is that I am on my own, and once people accept this they will enjoy the extensive repertoire which acoustic sets allow."

Ricky is happier on tour with only a manager and sound engineer. "I'm not a band person," he admits. "I like my own company. I have friends, but I've never had a gang of mates. Even as a child I liked being on my own. But there are people who I go and write with to build things in a different way, and it works if you have a good relationship. Of course there are blowouts, little tantrums and people going quiet. Paul [McGeechan, producer and additional noises] has a huge part. His main input is recording, but he has great ideas and a store of sounds and noises. We work together and don't get in each others' way."

Now firmly settled in Glasgow, has he found a way to combine touring with a young family ? "I get to see them far too much," he jokes. "Plenty. I don't like going away for long periods, so I come back every couple of days. If not I end up watching television all the time or something!" This tour may be the last time that Ricky takes to the stage alone. "I don't want to do the acoustic show forever. No matter how well it goes, there is something strange about coming back to the dressing room and being alone."

Ricky Ross on tour from 11 March to 2 May.

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