I expect that I was a rather impressionable boy in 1987. It was the height of Thatcher. There were strikes, unrest, changes in economic structure, increasing privatisation, growing wealth and increased polarisation with the poor, shifts in power, conflicts across the world and hunger. But as a counterpoint, there was Timmy Mallet, Bruno Brookes, Sinitta and Howard the Duck. In my own life at this point, I was taking my O-Levels, the last school year to do so, I was falling in love, I was spotty and I was trying to work out what to do with life.
I recall one Saturday morning watching The Wide Awake Club when a band came on to do the song at the end of the programme. They were Deacon Blue, and the song was ‘Dignity’. I have no idea how or why the song affected me so much. I did buy the single, and I still have the gatefold 7″ that contained four Deacon Blue songs, including ‘Dignity’. I remember, as well, buying the cassette which contained the song – ‘Raintown’ – in the Lancaster branch of WHSmith for £4.99 from a girl called Allison. ‘Raintown’ was a great album – earnest, perhaps, but what’s wrong with that – and full of vivid images, stirring songs and outstanding lyrics from the pen, primarily, of Ricky Ross. Obviously set in Glasgow, and telling ordinary tales of home, work and faith, the music and imagery of the album has not only accounted for a life long love of the band, but helped shaped my cultural, social and political opinions.
‘Dignity’ itself is an aspirational tale of a public sector worker who sweeps the streets and packs a lunch each day, but dreams of sailing around this country. It’s my perfect anthem for driving through the northern parts of Lancashire where I was raised and where I’m still drawn back – home, the hills, the sea.
My highlight of ‘Raintown’ though is ‘Loaded’, a song which I like to think of as coming to terms with one’s place and one’s resources, being content in life without materialistic possession; ‘I have found an answer/I don’t think you don’t care/Just you laugh, cause you’re loaded’. I recall my first Deacon Blue gig in Manchester in 1989; Ross dedicated the song to striking ambulance workers in Motherwell.
And so, I followed the band through the years to 1994, when they split. The writing had remained consistent; the storytelling, social and political commentary, memorable lyrics combined with strong melody. A experimental move into dance territory in 1993 jarred a little, but spawned the hypnotic, ‘Your Town’ (and the Perfecto Mix is utterly entrancing). By this time, I’d completed my A-levels and finished two degrees in two northern universities. I suppose politically I was still a bit of a mess, but leaning toward the left and contemplating work with a Council, but not as a street sweeper. I was on the verge of getting married for the first time and buying a house. Deacon Blue perfectly bookend the most impressionable part of my life, and etched themselves on much of what I do and think right through to the present day. My musical tastes are rooted in Glasgow, Scotland, Country and Americana. Even my daughter was born on May 1 – Labour Day and, astonishingly, the anniversary of the release of Raintown.
There were a couple of brief reunions between then and the present day, not least another album, ‘Homesick’, in 2001. Ricky Ross has maintained a critically acclaimed, if not commercially successful, solo career, and recorded an album with his wife, Lorraine McIntosh, in 2009.
But as the 25th anniversary of Raintown comes about, we have a brand new Deacon Blue album, ‘The Hipsters’. Reunions of old bands tend to be haphazard affairs borne out of nostalgia, desperation and a need for cash, and so it was with some caution that the news was received. However, Deacon Blue appear to be wholeheartedly committed to the new music, and have dedicated much time and space to promoting the album and playing live, both as part of nationwide tour and as part of radio sessions.
And the album itself is an absolute pleasure. Perhaps more upbeat and uplifting than previous albums, lyrically bright, reflective and tender. ‘The Rest’ and ‘That’s What We Can Do’ both thunder along joyously, the latter mildly reminiscent of ‘Real Gone Kid’; ‘Turn’ has an angry underbelly and title track, ‘The Hipsters’ has a gently repetitive string riff which is instant, comforting and commercial, yet doesn’t become annoying. There are familiar themes; the allure of the coast, the importance of home and friends; the draw of the city, and a recognition of the fact that Deacon Blue were never hip. It’s goose-bumpingly good.
And with that, a relationship which was always present but infrequently at the forefront is pushed back out there again. And I look forward greatly to what must be close to my 20th Deacon Blue gig at The Roundhouse in a couple of weeks. More than I deserve, I’m sure.