DEACON BLUE

DEACON BLUE - RIDING ON THE TIDE OF LOVE

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!


WHAT IS RICKY ROSS DOING THROUGH CORONAVIRUS TIMES?

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

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.


ONLY GOD AND DOGS - MY RADIO ULSTER THOUGHT FOR THE DAY 5.6.19

Odie

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.


DEACON BLUE LIVE AT THE ULSTER HALL, BELFAST - 13.11.18

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.

 

Believers.


RICKY ROSS IN CONCERT & IN CONVERSATION; 4CF18, FITZROY, BELFAST 7.2.18

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!


RICKY ROSS at THE EMPIRE, BELFAST - 7.12.17

Ricky Set list Belfast

In the Short Stories Notebook that he was selling after the gig, Ricky Ross tells us about him and his wife being at a play in New York that was simply the story of a man’s life. Ross writes, “It struck me then that someone telling their story front of an audience might still be the most potent kind of night we could experience.” 

Tonight Ross created exactly that. When Ricky Ross goes solo, it is not a stripped back economical way to tour Deacon Blue songs. Not that he doesn’t do Deacon Blue songs. It is just that this is a different kind of art… and art it is. 

The Empire is no easy venue. A bar running down the side of it has been the bane of many a good concert. Ross himself did a gig here a few years ago where the audience had come to party to Real Gone Kid, getting more and more frustrated as the concert progressed. The drinking without an outlet to party made it a tricky night.

Not tonight. Tonight there was rapt attention from the first chord striking the piano on I Thought I Saw You. The bar shut and the noise hushed. Ross said that we would hear songs of love and marriage and children and divorce and all of life. He pretty much covered every area. In a sense with the storytelling conversation in between this is like a theatre performance. It’s not a bunch of songs to fill a couple of hours. Each one is chosen carefully and every one matters to someone in the crowd, somewhere on their journey. 

That way of reaching an audience in personal ways is highlighted when Ricky send out a song to Jonny whose mate Michael wants to say ‘thanks and keep thugs going’. Ricky songs Gentle Teardrops for Jonny and then goes into a song he wrote for one of his daughters We Shall Overcome The Whole Wide World. It’s like a pill of resilience, straight to the soul. 

There’s a smattering of well known and some rare Deacon Blue and Ricky Ross songs. I imagine that even fans were off home to remind themselves where Earth A Little Lighter and Looking For My Own Lone Ranger were from. 

Introducing Undeveloped Heart Ricky told us about never quite getting it right, which explains the different versions he has released. He also talked about adding a Beatles segment to the recorded version but his manager had warned him off, fearing a law suit. “I blame Yoko,” he joked. Tonight we got I’ll Get You, b-side of She Loves You, right there in the middle.

The big cover tonight is Springsteen. Even then it is not a hit but Factory from Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Dedicated to the Belfast Shipyards it is a reminder of the commitment and toil of the working man. Cue Dignity, but not a Deacon Blue encore Dignity. Tonight it is how it would have sounded had Springsteen wrote it from Nebraska. “Home… work… faith…” felt more important than ever. This reinvention suggests Short Stories Vol 2 will have many reasons to come into existence.

The highlight for me tonight was again Only God and Dogs. I first heard this the last time he played The Empire and it came out on Short Stories Vol. 1. It is a perfect song, throwing out the life of a dog who chooses a homeless guy instead of a big house in the suburbs. When Ricky sang:

 

I'd give you everything of me

Knowing you can't return it back in full

That's why I love you

The way only God and Dogs can do

 

… the hairs on the back of my soul stood up. Preceded by The Germans Are Out Today and followed by In The Garden, an old hymn, as covered by Johnny Cash on his My Mothers Hymn Book album, this was the homily section of the evening.

Not that everything tonight didn’t have a spiritual hue. Ricky Ross doesn’t write a song that doesn’t have a contribution to make. Even Boys, Boys, Boys about his son’s ability to break things has conversations going on among mothers after the gig. 

In the end it happens. What Ricky told us he would do with songs about family and life in all its seasons is what the chat is about among friends as they leave. That is what this art of the concert should do.

 

I am thrilled to say that Ricky Ross will be back in Belfast on February 7th as part of the 4 Corners Festival in Fitzroy... more details to follow


RICKY ROSS - SHORT STORIES Vol. 1

Ricky Ross Short Stories 1

I was a Deacon Blue fan before anyone else I knew. Until Dignity was re-mixed and re-released no one was paying attention. I was near obsessed. I heard they were on a Television show one Sunday on Channel 4. I recorded it. It is probably still in the attic!

On this show Ricky and Lorraine were being interviewed sitting at a piano. At one stage Ricky explained how he wrote the songs and they did a stripped back version of Ragman. It was beautiful. I was entranced. When they released a similar version of Raintown as a B-side of the aforementioned re-mixed Dignity I lapped it up. Over the next few years we got piano versions of Wages Day and Circus Lights. I craved more.

Thirty years later and I have my album. Twelve songs with Ricky Ross at his piano, with minimal embellishments from a few cellos and other strings. It is all done in the template of a Ricky Ross solo concert. There are a few Deacon Blue hits scattered throughout and even The Germans Are Out Today from Ross’s very first album release, So Long Ago. Carole King’s Goin' Back gets taken out of its 1990’s Deacon Blue incarnation as well.

Around the better known songs Ross adds in the new ones. At My Weakest Point and Only God and Dogs particularly resonate with me but there might be more blogs about those. Without the band arrangements there is an extra emotional and spiritual intensity. Ricky’s uncluttered voice brings a beautiful mettle of melancholy to songs about loss, injustice and human brokenness with his usual sprinkled grace notes of hope and love. 

Gorgeous!

 


DEACON BLUE - BELIEVERS

Deacon Blue Believers

Three albums in four years! Come on! I don’t believe that Deacon Blue believed that this would happen but Believers is here and this Trilogy of albums (Hipsters, A New House, Believers) seems to not be so an Indian summer of a career as a brand spanking new and relevant contribution to a music world that as a band they walked away from over 20 years ago. 

Believers glides in melodic flight, the harmonies make it soar and Jim Prime’s piano gives the updraft. These are are immediately accessible rock pop songs that bore their inedible beauty through your skull. 

Ricky Ross has always added to his melodies a wonderful light touch of lyrical flair. His images, his rhyme, his look at the world creates three minute sermonettes that can nourish the soul without having to preach.

Perhaps it’s in Gone that we find the core thought of Believers:

 

“Everybody’s lost

Not just the ones you know

We are reluctant travellers

All trying to get home.”

 

Ross has said that the record was written in the shadow of newscast stories of refugees risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean for a better life. The greatest refugee crisis in history could not be ignored. Gone, Birds and the title track are most pointedly about beaches, waves, boats, movement, hopeful new beginnings and tragic endings.

Yet, the lyrics make the travelling inclusive of us all. Ross says, “This album is about the journey we all take into the dark. You come to that point in your life where – whatever you’ve been told, whatever the evidence you’ve been presented with – you just don’t know what the answer is. At which point you can only rely on instincts of your heart. You either take the leap or you don’t.”

So, Deacon Blue drop the weightiest depth charges in the gentlest ways into our journeying souls. 

 

“Oh the toughest test

is not the way we came into this world

Or the way it ends

yes the toughest test

Is what lies between and what we do

With the time we get

 

There’s a hole in the middle

We gotta work out how to fill it in.”

(Meteors)

 

You can’t know everything

You’re such an innocent soul

You can’t learn anything

Unless you let somebody show you

And you’ll not know everything

Even if you started right now

You must trust someone

Cause someday darling trust’s all you know”

(You Can’t Know Everything)

 

With Deacon Blue they can journey into that dark but they always carry light and hope and faith and indomitable love. The Believers believes in a better day: 

 

Step on a boat

Go on a journey

May it take you to heaven

And never bring you back again

So you no longer fear the boatman

Or the swell of the ocean.”

 

Birds believes that “one day we’re going to be free” and:

 

“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.”

 

This Is A Love Song maybe says it best of all:

 

“Love is enough

Love will do

Love last longer than

Anything we’re going through

Love is enough”

 

The lyric sheet is called The Believers Hymn Book. It’s a subtle pointer to the spiritual surmises, questions and insights that this collection of songs contain. There is little question that Ross’s faith is an underwriter here but he’s not proselytising. This is about belief in humanity, in the right choices to side with those whose journey into darkness needs our helping hand. It’s an inspirational piece of rock music to fire imaginations and make wake up calls:

 

“I can no longer watch

I can no longer wait

I can no longer hope

I have come awake.”

(Come Wake)

 

It is likely to bring Deacon Blue their highest chart placing since 1994. Who’d have believed it! I’m a Believer!


DEACON BLUE at Féile an Phobail (West Belfast Festival) - 13.8.16

Deacon Blue Feile

(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

Until you

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.

Deacon Blue feile Set List