Short Stories 2

Only the second in the series of Short Stories but already a coveted extra slice of imaginative songwriting creativity from Ricky Ross.

Ricky is best known as front man and main songwriter in Deacon Blue. With the band his songs soar across stages in anthemic hopefulness, the likes of Real Gone Kid, Fergus Sings The Blues and Dignity teasing crowds to sing their lungs out.

These Short Stories records have given Ross a whole other outlet. Here he sits at the piano and with any lack of clutter gives us surmises on home and work and faith in more of a downbeat way.

This second volume has a couple of interesting contributions. First, that it was recorded in lockdown. The shadowy covid years has these songs yearning for space and the outside, walking mountains and finding The Unpath. Ricky had his Spanish Shoes ready to go when restrictions lifted into a New World - maybe not up those mountains though! 

Secondly, as he was conjuring these songs he was also writing his first memoir Walking Back Home. As a result we get stories of family and loss. 

Still Walking has both. A camping trip with his son, turns into a special moment that ends with a daughter on a train heading away from home. I sensed his relationship with his father dropped in too - “Still feeling the hand of the Lord, resting on my shoulder”. I love the geographical details. Just like the memoir I am surmising my own family relationships. 

As with Vol. 1 we get a few old Deacon Blue songs refreshed and revived. I Am Born originally on the rather half baked Homesick needed fully cooking. Bethlehem’s Gate and Your Swaying Arms maybe not so much. These are such quality songs and they sit beautifully here.

We have had a piano version of Bethlehem’s Gate before as a b-side but surprisingly this is the first such version of Your Swaying Arms. I think I even have an Acapella vision of that. A beautiful song that incorporates all of Ross’s strengths - story, sense of place, romance and little lyrical depth charges - “the love we squandered”. I surmise that one a lot.

Short Stories Vol. 2 is a slow burn of an album crammed with the finest of songs. Every return brings a surprise of piano melody or poetic line. Bring on Vol. 3 and in my dreams Surprised By Joy and Thunder Road as performed side by side in The River Tent at Greenbelt in 1990! 


Ricky Ross plays Fitzroy, Belfast on November 25th, 2022 - TICKETS HERE


Walking Back Home RR

Deacon Blue’s Ricky Ross set out out his career stall on his very first single, that I picked up by seeming chance in the Corn Market Caroline Music, March 1987. In the middle of one of the best rock songs you are ever likely to hear, about a ship called Dignity, Ross sings ”And I'm thinking about home/And I'm thinking about faith/And I'm thinking about work…”

Ricky’s memoir Walking Back Home is basically a book where the rock star, songwriter, broadcaster and now writer ruminates on home, faith and work.

Deacon Blue fans will no doubt buy it to read about the band. If they want a chronological history then Paul English’s To Be Here Someday published late last year will be a more informative read. What we have here is a look before, behind and around the corner of the band’s main lyric writer.

Not that there are not some wonderful Deacon Blue moments captured. It is his work after all. Highlights for me were Ricky’s early years which through other friends I knew something about but never knew that Tom Morton had covered Surprised By Joy.  

There is a kairos moment when the first classic Deacon Blue finally comes together after a whole lot of previous group efforts.

There are other kairos moments too. A spiritual moment when Ricky’s realises at a solo concert in Dublin that this his songs had potency whatever the audience - he calls the moment spiritual. 

A wonderful moment at Glastonbury in 2011 when, having been scheduled in a tent at the same time that Coldplay were playing Mainstage, the expected no one to bother with them… and then the crowds arrived for what Ricky calls “the true second coming of Deacon Blue”.

Best of all Ricky shares a beautiful scenario before a Hogmanay gig at George Square, Glasgow when a council worker requests Dignity at a soundcheck. The song had come full circle. Sweet sweet moment.

Faith is maybe the strongest piece of yarn threading through the weave of the book. Ricky grew up strict Brethren and has ended up Roman Catholic. That’s not a dramatic story in the book but his stories of faith journey to there, not a ripping of traditions as much as a blend, on a path of discovering God particularly in joy and hope.

Before we get to home, I should mention that there is much travel too. Whether that is while touring with Deacon Blue, spending time in Nashville through his songwriting years or his work with SCIAF (Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund) to Zimbabwe and latterly along with Lorraine to Democratic Republic of Congo. Again the stories are at times funny, meeting Bruce Springsteen, swimming with Bono and Edge or incredibly poignant in meeting Claudette who told her of horrors violated upon her as she sat beside Claud who did some of the attacking.

Home? Home is Dundee and Glasgow, Scotland and family. He loves his home town and adopted city. His early youth work in Dundee and teaching in Glasgow are fondly described. The most fascinating, heart warming and inspiring stories in the book are of Grandads and Grannies and particularly his mum and dad. The poignant stories with them often seem happen in cars but they are the tale of a man who didn’t follow the vocation that his Brethren parents would have chosen or been comfortable with but how love held them strongly together so graciously.  . 

There’s a car journey late in his mother’s life where his mother talks about a broken engagement and it gets linked to Ricky’s failed first marriage. It’s a powerful familial moment. This conversation says a lot about his mother’s coming to terms with her son’s life. I cannot help thinking that her grace is alive and well in the Ricky Ross that I have been privileged to spend some time with over recent years. I have admired his longing to bring different voices together, to listen with respect of the other. I reckon that is his parents living on right there. 

There’s another culmination of events, I need to highlight. Deacon Blue’s last ever concert, or so it then seemed, was May 20th 1994. The day after Ricky and his dad’s beloved Dundee United are playing in the Scottish Cup Final. Ricky and his dad had already attended six such occasions and lost every one. This time they win and Ricky almost gets arrested on the pitch celebrating. Sadly, Ricky’s dad had died quite suddenly in hospital five weeks earlier, actually on the evening of the semi final replay. As they drove home celebrating they passed the hospital.

If you are looking for rock n roll gossip and stories of sex and drugs and rock n roll buy some other book. If you want to know what Real Gone Kid is really about, then check out other places. If you want a wonderfully well written memoir of a life that found his God given niche and touched so many of our lives then this is a beaut. 

As I was writing this review I got to hear Ricky reading some of the book at the Féile an Phobail in Belfast. With that accent and voice, that we have heard for 35 years, the book came even more literary and alive. I’ll be adding the audio edition to the hard back for sure. 


Ricky Ross plays Fitzroy on November 25th 2022 - BOOK TICKETS HERE


Deacs 22

(photo: Janice Gordon-Stockman)


There was a moment during Deacon Blue’s set at the Ulster Hall when I realised something else about this amazing band. It is during the spoken word On Love from the recent City Of Love record and Ricky Ross is doubled over like a demented man repeating “What you trying to make sense for?/What you trying to make sense for?”

Right there I realised that everything Ricky Ross and his band mates have tried to do since the mid eighties has been to go digging for us. With poetry and melody they hurl themselves right into the deep mental, emotional, spiritual and social state of the world and our lives. Trying to make sense of it all, they end up pontificating about love and its potential for freedom, justice, peace and healing.

From Loaded where Ricky wants no one left out and the political upheaval in Your Town, so appropriate tonight, to the personal need for Cover From The Sky through to a spiritual conclusion - The Believers, a brand new song for the times we are Peace Will Come, and the social, spiritual and personal ocean of dreams that is Dignity. Everything is about eking out “new” “hope” “faith” “love”.

Gigs by the best artists are multi layered. You can have a drink and enjoy the hits, though those beside us were having so much drink and toilet stops that they might actually have missed all the hits.

A two era band like Deacon Blue can split the evening. Those who loved the early 90s glory days bounce around to Fergus, Real Gone Kid, Wages Day etc (it was lovely to have I’ll Never Fall In Love from the summer I fell in love with Janice).

Then there is the second wave - the past decade of equally thoughtful, equally literary songs. Walk In the Woods, A New House, That’s What We Can Do, In Our Room all deserve the same respect as Chocolate Girl or Raintown but the crowd’s response differentiates. 

I stand disappointed surmising that City of Love and Believers are maybe the most paradigm Deacon Blue songs. Not that I don’t belt out “I saved my money” on Dignity! 

I had a wee smile as I remember a Twitter thread where Ricky waxed lyrical about Paul McCartney’s recent set list choices at Glastonbury. Deacon Blue know how to raise the roof, sit for a few campfire songs and raise the roof again. Whatever the layers the surface is the most vital and that’s well covered tonight. 

But me… I am off home with Believers, Peace Will Come and Dignity as a trilogy of spiritual belief and action. Deacon Blue had dug deep and lifted my humanity out of the pit, set it up with its full potential that I might find that same humanity in everyone I meet scattered across my City Of Love. 



Few other records have so saturated my life as Deacon Blue’s Raintown. In May 1987 I was smitten with it and played it to death pretty much over the following two years. I had the record shop publicity boarding on the wall of my lounge in Central Park, Antrim town.

No one who talked to me about music in that period left without being aware of this band and this record. Many people were convinced, or peer pressured, into buying it. That it took its place on perpetual rotation on my turntable just a matter of weeks after the release of U2’s Joshua Tree gives some perspective on its impact in my musical heart.

What was it that caught my attention and the deep affection? The simple answer is Ricky Ross’s songs. There might be better songwriters on the planet, and I am sure Ricky and I would agree on some of them, but Ross’s lyrics resonated with my head and heart and soul like no one else. I thought that if I could write good lyrics they would be very much like these.

I already had the 12” single of Dignity before the album was released. I had heard of Ricky Ross in the pages of Strait, the magazine of the Greenbelt Festival. He had the same name as my best mate growing up. I thought I would give it a try. 

Wow. The lyrics - “sipping down Raki/And reading Maynard Keynes”. The story of a street cleaner dreaming. This was about more than a boat and I was particularly caught by the idea of “a place in the winter for Dignity.” Then there was the: “And I'm thinking about home/And I'm thinking about faith/And I'm thinking about work.”

Home, faith and work. Deacon Blue were like the band next door. They were singing about the streets of their city, the working men and women of that city. These were subjective songs yet all dressed up in objectivity. There was sharp social observation and critique but it all felt personal. Though never explicit there was something about faith in there too. 

Then there were the stories. As well as the road sweeper of Dignitythere is the title track that gave you the mood of the Oscar Marzaroli’s grey bleak photograph on the cover. Chocolate Girl about the wrong kind of guy. Not confining it to Glasgow on Looks Like Spencer Tracy Now we got the atmospheric story of Harold Agnew, an American nuclear physicist who wanted to collect personal photographs of the Hiroshima bombing. 

In the end though it is a record set in Glasgow. It is not a concept album by any means but the way it is sequenced is a little artier than the normal debut album of the time. The slow little vignette of Born In a Storm was no hit them with a hit intro but it was creatively perfect and by the time you get into the second verse of the closing Town to be Blamed you feel a circle completing.

Then there is the sound. Raintown has a full energetic sound that shifts moods and styles. There is a pop sound immediacy but it has too much artiness and it rocks too. There are the wondrous Gospel harmonies on When Will You (Make My Telephone Ring), there are the hints of Springsteen and Morrison throughout.

Yet, in a sea full of Scottish bands like The Big Dish, Aztec Camera, Del Amitri, Blue Nile, Danny Wilson et al Deacon Blue’s sound might never be called unique but it had a pumping energy that carried you right through the entire piece.

That sound was built by a gathering of the best players in town. Dougie Vipond was the crack young drummer. Add the sophisticated bass playing of Ewen Vernal and you had a back beat like no other. Jim Prime was the experienced session man with Altered Images and John Martyn and his piano playing made Ross’s songs soar. Graeme Kelling was playing guitar with every cool band in Glasgow and every riff or fretboard dance added detail to every song. Lorraine McIntosh added her whirling dervish in sound and vision. These guys rocked. It would have been a more remarkable story of they hadn’t made it big!

It was immediate with me. From Ricky’s raspy “That hurricane day…” I was in but the general public needed more time and remixes! I felt like an isolated evangelist for maybe a year before the world caught on. I traveled to the Henry Wood Hall in Glasgow that November to be among the faithful for an hour or two as much as to experience the band live. 

Thirty five years later and the very cover of the album takes me back. Yet, don't leave these songs back in nostalgia. Dignity still has a poignancy. War and big bombs are threatening and Loaded is as good a commentary on Boris's Britain as you can find in a catchy piece of four minute rock music.

Ricky Ross would admit that this wasn’t the happiest time of his life. As he has done in his song writing throughout the last thirty years he was somehow able, in the midst of such a time, find hopefulness and even create joyful songs out of difficult times.

The old negro spirituals from the slave plantations did that. A mixing of emotions to dance while you grieve. To dare to hope in the dark. To look inside and be honest but look forward to what can still be. Raintown has all of that and more: -  

One day all of us will work

We'll stand outside this orchard and we'll talk

When all is said all is done

We'll still be thinking about home

They say that love might be the very thing

If only it could be…


DeaconBlue Riding

I took the ear plugs out and told Janice that I was listening to Deacon Blue. 

“Oh they were just on the car radio”

“Riding On The Tide Of Love”

“No one of the older ones”.

Welcome to the Deacon Blue story. Hit laden between 1988 and 94 and then almost 20 years of nothing before Hipsters in 2012 set them off mining a rich seam culminating in the stunning City Of Love album just a year ago. It is almost like two bands, two stories even though two thirds of the band are the same. 

The music is the same too, sophisticated songwriting on the fulcrum of rock and pop adding a plethora of other influences to the mix. 

Riding On The Tide Of Love is actually being presented as “a continuation” and “a companion piece” to last year’s City Of Love. Thematically that fits well but don’t think it is just more of the same. Deacon Blue are always adventuring for new nuances.

That title track. This is a whole new Deacon Blue sonic space. For maybe a bizarre reason it took me back to Don’t Let The Teardrops Start from their Ooh Las Vegas record, not in the busking sound but in the loose organic mischievous feel.

As I say Riding On The Tide Of Love is no busk. It is like a Vaudevillian Fairground romp. If Tom Waits and his wife Kathleen Brennan decided to write a song for a radio friendly rock band then this would be it. A unique Deacon Blue original 35 years in.

That one song is enough good reason for an extension to City Of Love in itself but there are no fillers with Deacon Blue. They used to put records together of the tracks they couldn’t squeeze on the official releases. Riding On The Tide Of Love’s other seven tracks offer seven other songs that are Deacon Blue all over but not like any Deacon Blue song before them.

From the stripped back Look Up, showcasing Lorraine McIntosh’s angelic voice in a sober Fairytale in New York, to the Bacharach echoes on It’s Still Early to the Memphis Soul of Send A Note Out to the gorgeous piano lead and brass of She’s Not Gonna Be That Girl.

That latter song is written with Nashville songwriter Tia Sillers and throws another hue. The imagery and storytelling took me back to Raintown closer Town To Be Blamed and perhaps hinted at the 35 years of artistic maturing in this soul filled band.

All in all, these eight songs are more silver linings of Coronavirus lockdown. As an anorak fan of artists I would love to trawl their home studios for the demoed gems we never heard. Imagine these being left on the Ross shelf.

I go back to the beginning. Riding On The Tide Of Love has verses filled with the menace of life’s challenging dark but then takes us to the lightness of a chorus filled with hope and light and love. If there is a vocal sound that best describes such a tide it is that blend of Ross and McIntosh voices, jousting, healing, soaring bringing harmony and beauty to the friction.

Ride on the tide of it when all remains is a city of… love!


Ricky In Fitz

photo: Bernie Brown at 4 Corners Festival 2018


Deacon Blue's new album City Of Love was just out and the band were promoting it all over BBC Radio when Coronavirus struck. The album's beauty and spiritual core is a consoling soundtrack for all our lock down times. Everyone needs all that remains to be a City of Love. There's even a song called In Our Room!

Ricky Ross kindly shared with me how his plans have changed and suggests how everything has changed.


What were you working on before the lock down?

We were both very busy promoting our new record. It was very busy with radio and TV going on. The album came out, charted - very high which was a great surprise  - then everything stopped. We were meant to be going on holiday to see my daughter in San Francisco - but again, that all got stopped.


At what stage did you start thinking about how it would impinge on your work?

We had shows in June and August lined up, but fortunately the main touring isn’t until later this year. However we are still unsure whether that might be affected.


What are the way that this all impacts your life as well as work?

It affects everything really. My mother has been in hospital and is very vulnerable - so she needs a lot of support- and we are concerned about how this will all affect her. 

Work wise it doesn’t hugely change what I was planning to do over the next few months. I’m able to carry on with my Country Music show on the radio and am starting a series of five shows for BBC Radio 2 this weekend which broadcast from Glasgow… so all reasonably straight forward. I was also committed to a writing project which is essentially quite singular, so can carry on with all of that despite the lock down.

However, there is a much bigger answer to that question. The very nature of what we are experiencing changes everything. It changes what we thought was desirable and what we deemed as necessary. It changes our expectations of life and the degrees in which we find satisfaction. It’s is in these areas that I am finding this as interesting as I am challenging.

Do we simply return to where we left off? What have we learned? What don’t we need? How much more connected are we than we once realised. Isolation isn’t really an option any more. The world is a small fragile place which needs love and attention…perhaps that’s where our focus should be next?


What ways are you using the down time?

I’m reading more. Watching films rather than TV. I’ve been ill for a good part of the time so I’m not sure yet if I’ll get bored as I’m struggling to keep up. I also spend a good part of most days looking after my elderly mother. So down time is limited. But I reflect, pray, think more.


How easy is it for you to create in these unfamiliar, maybe anxious times?

That remains to be seen! But I think all periods of life can be creative. Usually the worst thing for me is having weeks of time in which something needs written. It never gets done. So I think I will be creative as there are three strands/projects I will be writing for. Perhaps one might get somewhere!


What can we all do to help? 

I’ve volunteered with Scotlands’ Red Cross scheme. I think that’s a good way to start. My family are all trying to look out for vulnerable neighbours and friends.  There are many ways to help I’m sure.


What plans have you for when we get out of this? New record?

I hope to get out of this and get together with my band to learn up songs for the tour. Being in one room together will be a joy! Beyond that I can’t think.


Give us three albums that influenced you that we should all investigate as we wait the Coronavirus to pass?

I shall refer you to my twitter feed where I post out an album of the day during the crisis. I’m at E as we speak and have just suggested The Electric Soft Parade’s ‘Idiots.’  Start there.


Anything else Ricky that you’d like to add.

I don’t think so. There are two ways in which we could all react to this. I think it’s safe to say that, until now, my overall impression is an increased sense of neighbourhood, community and a will to eliminate the negative. Oh there’s an album you might need…..The Hold Steady’s Stay Positive.


Deacon Blue City Of Love

It is one thing to do what U2 has done and stay relevant and creative four decades in. It is quite another thing though to soar for four albums as Deacon Blue did in the late 80s and early 90s then take pretty much an eighteen year old break (we’ll ignore 1999’s Homesick as a wee blip) and then run headlong into the richest vein of form.  

I am sure there were those back in 2012 who thought a comeback album of new material was ill advised. I am sure many thought “bless them a few new waning songs for the loyal fans”. Few imagined that in the next eight years Deacon Blue would four records that have simply got better and better. 

City Of Love is that fourth record of Deacon Blue’s second incarnation and it is quite brilliant from beginning to end.

Front man Ricky Ross released a pre Deacon Blue record, So Long Ago, in 1983 on Glasgow’s independent label, Sticky Music. Ten years later I managed Iain Archer who also released his first album on that label. I often wonder if Steve Butler at Sticky Music gave Ricky the same advice as he gave Iain - “always have a band that is better than you are”.

Deacon Blue Mk 1 had the late Graeme Kelling whose guitar breaks were as sharp as his look and bass player Ewen Vernal who could do jazz, folk or rock and fused them beautifully.  Jim Prime’s grace note flourishes on keys could christen him the Roy Bittan of Ayrshire. Douglas Vipond’s drumming is strong solid and yet imaginatively supple too. Lorraine McIntosh’s backing vocals blended so perfectly with Ross’s lead that they had to get married!

City Of Love reveals that Prime, Vipond and McIntosh are even better than they were at the band’s heyday, more experienced and intuitive. Gregor Philp has sensitively filled the sadness of Kelling’s passing and added his own personality, particularly on the bluesy Keeping My Faith Alive all sharp guitars and dramatic space. Lewis Gordon also finds himself more embedded on City Of Love. Check the bass drive of Hit Me Where It Hurts. 

On top of all this, City Of Love has me wondering if Ricky Ross is the Scottish Paul McCartney. This is an album is so crammed full of melodies that have you inhabiting them even before you get to the end of the first listen. 

The title track itself, whether the anthemic album version or recent stripped back radio version, is most obviously going to be. It’s the first single. The first grab for the audience’s attention and boy does this one grab the attention. 

However, this is a record chock-full of catchy tunes. Hit Me Where It Hurts, Weight Of The World, In Our Room, A Walk In The Woods and Come On In. Even the final track, On Love, much of which is spoken, has a chorus that sneaks underneath the skin. Very few writers have the ability to be so prolific in such accessibility.

And I hear the naysayer shout something about Silly Love Songs and again I wonder if that proves my point. Like McCartney the accessible pop song has somehow been prejudiced against, the gift of it dismissed rather than coveted.

This Deacon Blue album is a collection of love songs. Not silly, however. It seems that Ross discovered that some of the bones of St Valentine, a forearm we are told, can be found in John Duns Scotus Franciscan Church. Apparently, Lorraine’s parents were married there.

This seems to have caught Ross’s interest and he set out on a task to write an album about all kinds of stories of love from around his adopted city of Glasgow. What a job he does. 

There is a lot of walking going on in these songs. People are walking floors and streets and even into the woods. Their journeys are seeking restoration, realignment, reorientation and ultimately redemption. 

Deacon Blue’s trademark was laid down on their very first record - HOME - WORK - FAITH. Cities are made up of the working out of those three things. Love wraps them altogether and it is in that love that brings hope even in the darkest corners.

There is always a subtle spirituality that gives a weight to Deacon Blue’s most recent releases. Keeping My Faith Alive is not only a song here but maybe a tag line to the entire deal.

The fascinating spoken word closer with its nod to 90s b-sides Faifley and It Was Like That has a gently powerful chorus:


“Love never had a reason before

So what d’ya wanna know

If it never had a reason before

What are you trying to make sense for”


Love just is. No rational science.

That of course is what the title track is about too. 


All that remains is the city of love

All that remains is the city of love

The city of love. 


City of Love is a song and record that seeks the hope of another day, another city, another way to live. All that remains is love. At the end of that beautiful poem that the apostle Paul writes about love in 1 Corinthians 13, he concludes, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Love. All that remains. 

This is a perfect soundtrack for the walk.



Deacon Blue singer, and indeed BBC Broadcaster, Ricky Ross tells a story about a dog that he watched on Byers Road in Glasgow. Ricky says that the dog caught his attention and as he watched it, it ran across the road and  jumped into the arms of a homeless man lying by a shop window. It took Ricky a bit by surprise. 

On the way home he pondered that that dog could have been in a lovely house in the leafy suburbs, with a soft carpet and an open fire but here she was giving all her love to a man living on the streets. When Ricky got home he told his wife what he has seen and Lorraine said to him that that was the kind of love that only God and dogs have. Ricky wrote the beautiful song God and Dogs as a result.

Last summer we lost our beloved dog Odie. He had had cancer and the vets told us a couple of years ago that he only had weeks to live. We were blessed with almost two extra years. After Odie left us I reflected on his life. 

I was overwhelmed by what that reflection taught me. Remembering Odie was a lesson in unconditional love. Oh my wife Janice, my daughters and I loved him but nothing like he loved us. When I took him for granted, when I scolded him for barking at the neighbours, when I dismissed his very presence, Odie loved me anyway. There was nothing I could do to stop him loving me. He cared for me. He protected me. He watched for my coming home.

Lorraine was right. God and dogs. I suddenly realised that Odie had taught me more about God than any teacher in a classroom or preacher in a pulpit ever had. I had seen in Odie the kind of love God has for me. I was challenged by Odie about the kind of love I should have for others. He didn’t need words but by every action Odie taught me the meaning of God’s amazing grace.


DB Ultsre Hall

photo: Janice Gordon-Stockman


Backstage before the gig, I reminded Ricky Ross and Lorraine McIntosh that they ended their last Deacon Blue tour in Belfast and here they were starting their 30th anniversary Tour in Belfast. Last time they were relaxed, tight as a drum, smooth as a ship called Dignity on a calm far away sea. Tonight their Dignity was ready for some waves. They had done their first dress rehearsal with lights in the afternoon. As I gave a final hug fifteen minutes before showtime I sensed some nerves.

Of course there was no need. As they set up that dinghy, time and time again over the next two hours, there was no sense of anybody drowning. Yes, there were one or two wee nods to each other and maybe a few tentative gropes for smooth song transitions but I was kind of chuffed to be part of the crowd to see the new show before everybody else. 

Deacon Blue have a set list dilemma. They have made four albums at their peak before taking a long break. Since then there have been four full albums and maybe another records worth of stuff on compilations. A band that were massive 30 years ago can often draw a crowd who are looking for the hits to rekindle some memories of youth. That can make it difficult for a band to continue to develop the craft and the body of work. For me, it is the bands, like Deacon Blue,  still working at developing the craft three decades on that have my attention. This is not a a nostalgia tour!

Deacon Blue deal with this dilemma so well. There is a large swathe of the set that the nostalgia seekers will enjoy. Loaded, Raintown, Swaying Arms and Wages Day are a stepping stones across the depths of the catalogue around them. Then for the way home Deacon Blue hit them with the hits. Real Gone Kid, Your Town, Chocolate Girl, Dignity and Fergus Sings The Blues fill the last thirty minutes.

And who am I kidding, I love those songs but Ricky Ross and this band are about more. The songs I missed tonight were from the last five years, Bethlehem Begins, Gone, Turn, This Is A Love Song and That’s What We Can Do. My highlights were Stars, I Will and I Won’t, The Believers and Birds. We even got Rae and Homesick. I did say depths! 

Throughout, I was struck tonight by the poetry. Now, I have always loved Ross’s turn of phrase but tonight I was taken deeper. Perhaps it was that early song For John Muir. Not many bands write songs about environmentalists from the nineteenth century! Or maybe it was the inclusion of Van Morrison’s Sweet Thing at the end of The Wildness.

Whatever, I was hearing the themes of the land and the heart. There was something Yeatsian in the air. I have spoken recently about how rock music has been mistakenly labeled low brow. Those with ears to hear the lyrics of Ricky Ross would see that had he been a contemporary of Muir he would have been a poet. Rock is the medium to spread the power of the word. Morrison is a poet too though jazz and the blues equally his grá!

After For John Muir, Ross invited the crowd into an adventure and that is what we got. “Over the sea, over the land and the city” we indeed travelled and everywhere looking for home. From Raintown, to A New House to Birds to Homesick to Dignity, there is a thread running through this show that seeks a place of belonging, a soundtrack for all the refugees within us - “a place in the winter for dignity”. As Deacon Blue have done from their very first single they are creating art that is about “HOME, FAITH, WORK”. 

As in Birds, thrillingly dedicated to Steve, Janice and Caitlin, someday we will all be free:


We're high above jail walls and windows

We're high above the waves of worry

We're floating on the wind

Cause nothing can begin

To make us want to land again.




Ricky Ross 4CF 8931

photo: Bernie Brown

I had a dream. My favourite songwriter is at the front of Fitzroy. I am asking him questions about art and faith. I am pretty much choosing the set list. I am stretching him. A song or two that he hasn’t done for a while. Favourite songs of mine with spiritual depth. 

He is opening up to every question… and the performances are astounding. There were a few hundred people patiently allowing me to go my own way. They seemed to rather enjoy it. It was quite a dream. It came true. Dream perfect. Dream complete. Ricky Ross played the 4 Corners Festival in conversation with me.

I have been listening to Deacon Blue since March 1987 when I picked up a 12” single of their very first single Dignity because their singer had the same name as my best friend and I thought I had read about him in a Greenbelt magazine. It was almost a year after my discovering of the band before a re-release of Dignity made the Top 40. In 1987 I was their greatest evangelist. Ricky Ross’s songs have been a soundtrack to my life ever since. 

This was a unique evening. It was not a concert, not even in the storytelling type of solo concert Ricky has been doing recently. He put himself at my mercy. He had no guitar which limited the set list somewhat but with a list in my hand I was the director, allowing one song to lead to another. While Ricky was singing one, the lyrics sent my mind racing to the next choice. There was one moment when I had three directions of possibilities. 

The reason that we had felt that Ricky Ross was the right person for The 4 Corners Festival was not just that he would pull a crowd. The conversation made those deeper and wider reasons obvious.

Ricky Ross has rarely been about the hits, which is a good thing because there were very few hits performed. No Real Gone Kid or Fergus Sings The Blues! Ricky has been about the power of the song to open discussion, to break down barriers and to change the world!

Faith has always been important in Ricky’s life. He grew up Brethren, he was a Church Of Scotland youth worker, before Deacon Blue, and is is now finding his spiritual belonging in the Ignatian thread of Catholicism. He spoke about all of that with a deep sincerity of a faith that cannot be labelled but is rich in wisdom from across the Christian traditions. 

Of particular humour and insight was his attempt to do an Ignatian exercise of Scripture reading on a plane to Dublin. The plane sadly was full of those enjoying a hen weekend. As the pop stars self righteousness started welling up into anger at his inability to be silent with God in the midst of this noise nuisance, God suggested to Ricky that actually Jesus was not so much sitting with him in his prayerful contemplation but with the women around him having a good time!

That spirituality led us to the sermonette at the end of the evening. Having been a committed advocate of the Yes Campaign in the Scottish Independence referendum   Ricky spoke of the divisions still, three years after the vote. He spoke about his concern that people were still stuck in their referendum positions and how he had found himself reaching out across that polarisation, becoming friends with those on the the other side. 

In a festival about breaking down the apartheid barriers of Belfast’s 4 Corners Ricky’s grace and intentionality of befriending those he disagrees with was a depth charge. The audience was asked to do the 4 Corners thing and get the mobile number of someone they considered “the other” and grab a coffee!

Oh… and there was music… a packed set list of songs crammed with lyrical deftness and clout at the same time, resonating melodies and Ricky’s stunning voice. My stumbling from song to song had him sing Surprised By Joy, one of the first things he ever wrote; Bethlehem’s Gate, the nativity town that Ricky comes back to often; Riches, written for pioneering youth worker Jim Punton; We Can Overcome The Whole Wide World, for his daughter Caitlin who believes human slavery can be ended; Only God and Dogs, the theology of grace in the voice of a dog!;  and A Gordon For Me that Ricky wrote about Gordon Aikman, after his untimely death, who was an opponent of Ricky’s on the Referendum vote after he passed away. 

Yes, there were RaintownWages Day, The Believers, Dignity ("thinking about home... faith... work) and many others. As well as Ricky the audience was at my mercy too. I was the one in charge of the choices and the questions. I was the one seeking out songs I hadn’t heard for a while. In the end, if I missed your song forgive me. My mission statement for the choosing of songs in this, or any kid of setting, is  “songs that are not just good but good for something.” 

The songs in this gig, I pray were just that, at a personal level and at a national level. May this Ricky Ross concert and conversation have touched minds, hearts and souls to dream up a world of shalom and then to live out that dream. Just like I lived the dream to make it happen!