It is 26 years since I first saw Deacon Blue live. For twenty of those years they have been doing nothing or at best been part timers. Yet, last night in Belfast I saw them as vital as ever, tight, rockin’, crowd pleasing and yet fresh and still evolving. Ricky Ross hyped the crowd to a near religious frenzy with a call to make The Waterfront “a cathedral of holy voices” and then gave them a rich resource of songs to make it all happen. It was tangibly electric during the big hits, Wages Day, Real Gone Kid, Fergus Sings and The Blues and Dignity, all particularly floor bouncing roof lifters. Then alongside the accessible pop, for those with ears to hear Your Town, reformed from its Osborne/Oakenfield dance experiment added much menace and A Brighter Star Than You Will Shine was another reminder of how much breadth and depth this band exudes.
The radio friendly hits are Deacon Blue’s big advantage in the live setting; songs that people have lived with and loved for 20 plus years. The disadvantage is that a Deacon Blue audience may not be as interested in what’s recent, even in what is recent in the career of one of their favourite bands. So, the advantage of a brilliant new record like Hipsters, gives a real current energy to the art making on the stage but might be a little more difficult to connect to an auditorium reliving their youth. Yet, tonight the musical maturity of the band paced the show perfectly, throwing in brilliant new songs like Stars, The Outsiders, The Rest and Here I Am In London Town among the ones deeply imbedded int he hearts of the fans. That latter song was one of those slower songs more for emotional impression than for euphoric impact. Ross spoke of Here I Am In London Town as a conversation between who he was in the band’s early days compared to now – “I can picture you now/But there's still so much I can't remember/And so much to forget/But it's forgetting that makes it easy/That's how we survive.” The man’s wisdom is worth listening closely too.
The prophetic poignancy of Spencer Tracy Now was a grace drenched lament as Ross drew on the humanity of Harold Agnew who was involved in the atomic bomb drop on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and linked it to Syria today; the “he cries all night...” refrain was haunting and sorrowful. For Belfast and our particular troubles, sorrow and grief there was a rare outing for Take Me To The Place, a personal favourite song of mine and an introduction by Ross humbly recognising that songs can touch lives in ways the writer can never imagine or dream.
Add to all this an encore that included an Abbey Road medley and I was pretty near musical heaven. I left with a few thoughts. Firstly, I had forgotten just how many hit songs this band had. As they reappeared for one last song I wondered what was left. When Will You (Make My Telephone Ring)! Of course. Wow! What a tune! I also concluded what I have thought for some years; Dignity is probably the song I wish most that I had written. It is perfect. Story. Humanity. Justice. Hopefulness. Home. Faith. Work. And... “a place in the winter for Dignity”. Indeed. That it rocks the socks out of any venue is a bonus. Finally, I had a bizarre moment. Twenty six years ago I travelled across the Irish sea to the Henry Wood Hall in Glasgow because I loved this band so much. I was a Deacon Blue obsessive. I bought a t-shirt off one of the roadies! In the two and a half decades in between the band and myself have grown up and lived life and I ended up getting to know Ricky Ross through our other lives. Half way through Wages Day Ricky was no longer that guy I Facebook or guest on his radio show or he once on mine. He had morphed back into a rock star hero of one of my favourite bands. It was a weird moment in my head. I was obsessive again, back in 1987 with a band still writing and performing great songs in 2013.
Deacon Blue are back with a sold out show at the Waterfront to end the first half of a UK and Irish Tour reconvening again in December. They are touching the nerve of a particular generation’s emotions again; entertaining the faithful and meeting needs way beyond a good night out. And what a good night out it is!