- 24 Jul 17
Shortly to hit the Punchestown Music Festival, Ricky Ross of Scottish pop heroes Deacon Blue on massive chart success, their celebratory live shows, and encountering legendary Beatles producer George Martin.
Of the sizeable crop of Scottish pop-rock bands that emerged in the mid-1980s – including Wet Wet Wet, Danny Wilson and Hue & Cry – Deacon Blue have remained among the most enduring. Their appeal and longevity isn’t all that difficult to work out. Fronted by the easy-on-the-eye husband and wife team of Ricky Ross and Lorraine McIntosh, the Glasgow outfit perfected a brand of intelligent, melodic pop, combined with a formidable live prowess that has stood to them through the years.
Taking their name from a Steely Dan song, their million-selling debut album, 1987’s Raintown, included hits like ‘Dignity’, ‘Chocolate Girl’ and the gloriously melodramatic ‘When Will You Make My Telephone Ring’. But it was the follow-up album, When The World Knows Your Name, that launched them into the big time. Featuring radio and dancefloor staples such as “Real Gone Kid’ and ‘Fergus Sings the Blues’, it remains their most successful LP.
“It’s true that we became very successful very quickly,” reflects Ricky Ross. “We played sell-out shows in places like Wembley Arena and the Point in Dublin. We didn’t really expect that to happen and I don’t think we took it for granted. In fact, to this day I still have the mentality when playing live, that you have to keep the audience with you at all times. I keep thinking that they might disappear and never come back.” Soon after that first flush of major success, Ross says he began having doubts about playing huge venues.
“Yeah, I thought, I don’t really like playing these big places all the time,” he says. “We decided to take it down a notch or two. It’s something we always did in terms of moving away from the thing that we were doing and trying something else. In those days, we never made a record with the same producer, for example.”
True to their word, they took a sideways step and followed a number one album with an EP featuring four classic Burt Bacharach and Hal David tunes. To their surprise, it gave them their biggest hit to date with lead single ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’, which hit number two in the UK. But for a band known from the start for their songwriting chops, releasing a batch of covers seemed an odd move.
“Maybe it is a Scottish thing or a Celtic thing,” considers Ross, “but we all go to parties and when it comes time for a sing-song, you don’t do your own songs, you do something that everyone knows. Or maybe it’s us recognising that there’s something there already, and that you don’t always have to be creating something from scratch.”
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Raintown and it’ll no doubt get an airing when Deacon Blue play at the Punchestown Festival at the end of this month. Are they doing anything special to celebrate the occasion?
“We hadn’t thought much about commemorating it initially,” notes Ricky, “but we’re doing some summer shows, including a big one at Edinburgh Castle. Raintown was very important to us and it stands the test of time – I think it’s probably our best album. It was a memorable time for all kinds of reasons. When we were recording it in Air Studios in London, I remember George Martin was remastering The Beatles’ Revolver for its very first CD release in another room. We’d go in and listen to it from the master tapes which, thinking back now, was an incredible experience.”
Ross, meanwhile, also holds down a gig as a BBC radio presenter, as well as penning songs for the likes of James Blunt, Ronan Keating, Jamie Cullum and Nanci Griffith.
“It’s the nice thing about playing with Deacon Blue these days,” he says. “We’re all doing different things and our lives have changed quite dramatically. But when we get together, it’s fresh.”
Deacon Blue play the Punchestown Music Festival, Kildare on July 29.