(photo: Brendan Mulgrew)
As I waited on Deacon Blue coming on stage at the Féile an Phobail (West Belfast Festival) last night, I realised that it was 29 years since I had first got to see them at the Henry Wood Hall in Glasgow. As we chatted to friends after the gig I concluded that this is the best time to see this band live, as those thirty years have honed them into a stage savvy tight Festival pumping outfit.
Ricky’s voice has gained, not lost, more gravel and authenticity. Lorraine has still that MacIntosh stump and knows how to connect with a crowd. The band are tighter than Dougie’s tightest drum. Jim’s keyboard grace notes soar higher than ever. Gregor and Lewis, the non originals seem as if they have always been there; Gregor even looks like the late Graeme Kelling for goodness sake!
They then add to that musical expertise the maturity of how to put a set list together. A band with a thirty year history and most of a Festival, not just Deacon Blue, crowd familiar with the older hits, Ross has this ability to pace the evening. They drop in new songs and follow them by the bigger hits. Ross has also become the consummate frontman stoking the crowd from the get go and involving them in the newer songs to prevent any temptation to be distracted by the beer tent.
Steeped in Ricky Ross lyrics, that I have no doubt over analysed down the years, I was being peppered throughout the gig with little depth charge one liners, couplets and verses: -
“Born in a storm… is that the only excuse you can give” (Born In A Storm)
“This long narrow land/Is full of possibility” (Wages Day)
“I gotta love that I hang onto” (Loaded)
“And I'm thinking about home and all that means
And a place in the winter for dignity” (Dignity)
We talk, forgive, we give - everything that love allows
Cause that’s what we can do (That’s What We Can Do)
My particular favourite tonight lies in the middle of a love song that is deep in content and sense of place. Your Swaying Arms throws out:
`Cause I've been longing
For a new world waiting
I've been hoping
To be sent
I've been picking up
All the love we squandered
Hold me in your swaying arms again’
I love that idea of picking up “the love we squandered". As a pastor I started pondering what that would look like. The “hope of a new world waiting” is a little lyrical explosion of the overall feeling of positivity that radiates from Deacon Blue.
In my own work in reconciliation there are times when we know the importance of breathing hope into certain situations. Deacon Blue music pumps hope through the veins of rock songs out into ‘the great big world out there.”
Never get the idea that this is blind optimism. Deacon Blue have always been politically active, their social comment always intelligent. In both they have always been poetically articulate. However, songs like Loaded, Real Gone Kid, Dignity, Win… they are full of belief in something better! Introducing the brilliant new song The Believers which actually encapsulates a thirty year vocation, Ross says that it is not about any specific religion or politics. It is about humanity.
It is written with the shadows and sighs of refugees, dying and surviving as they cross the Mediterranean seeking a safer life, all over our televisions. It is an attempt to not lose the stories of those lost and give impetus to the stories still to be written. The lost are found and find a home among “the honeysuckle and willow trees.”
The message is to be compassionate and understanding - believe in the preciousness of every human being - “The believers, know its going to get better/you better/ believe it.” It’s an urgent soundtrack to the biggest issue in our world right now. It’s also brilliant and will hopefully preach it all our airwaves this autumn.
This brand new The Believers is as good as any of the well known hits that they crowd please with tonight. This band are still doing it and, as I say, doing it better than they ever have. The fans left Falls Park satisfied tonight, the neutrals, who were there for just a good night out at the Féile, had been won over. I left exhilarated with the sounds, the words; the desire to “do what I should have did” pulsing through my soul.