DEACON BLUE singer Ricky Ross reveals what really inspired the band’s latest album and why he’s still wild at heart
THIS has been a memorable year for Deacon Blue singer Ricky Ross. “Yeah, I suppose there’s been a lot happening,” he says. There has indeed. In September, the group released their eighth album, A New House, only their second full-length record together since 2001, and they are about to embark on a tour of the UK, with 16 dates between now and Christmas. And then there’s the role Ross played in the build-up to the independence referendum, during which he was a vocal supporter of the Yes campaign.
Yet there’s a sense that Ross wants to put clear blue water between his support for Yes and his music career, so we start by discussing the new album, which is even more mellow and reflective than 2012’s The Hipsters, but still as naturally personable and steeped in wary optimism as the best of Deacon Blue’s work.
“Putting out a record’s a funny thing,” says Ross. “You put it out and often you don’t get anything back. You get reviews and you get comments on social media these days, but it isn’t until you play live that you really get a sense of how it fits in with people’s view of you and your music. So I guess that’s what spurred us on with this one – there was a real feeling that we’d got something right with The Hipsters, that people accepted the songs alongside everything else we play.”
Throughout A New House, the feeling persists that what’s referred to by the title is Scotland, although Ross disputes that interpretation. The other recent project which served as indirect inspiration for this album was his 2013 sixth solo album, Trouble Came Looking, and a tour which took him to the remotest regions of Scotland. “I saw parts of the country I never knew,” he says. “When we travel with the band it’s usually to the industrial cities, but this made me feel frustrated about the fact there are so many places at home that I haven’t spent time in and gotten to know. It’s brilliant and beautiful, and there was a sense of falling back in love with the landscape that spurred me on.”
Part of this came from a commission to write a song about the Scots-born conservationist and founder of America’s national parks John Muir, for the Year of Natural Scotland, which was instead released on A New House (“all of me feared the wild things in you / the truth is that I never forgot you,” he sings on it, like an émigré pining for the unexplored Highlands). The process got Ross reading about Muir. “I knew about the importance of him to the Americans, but I don’t think a lot of people even realise he was Scottish. You think about these things, you mull them over and before you know it they emerge as a record.”
The album was written and recorded in late 2013 and the early months of this year, with production from Paul Savage of Chem19 studios in Blantyre. “The secret of Deacon Blue is that we really enjoy being in the same room together for that recording period,” Ross says. “We play off each other. It shouldn’t feel like a band, it should just be a laugh. What we like to do is bring as much of what we do on the live stage into the studio with us as we can.”
Given that the record was released ten days before the referendum, it’s tempting to assume that the new home referred to by the title is an independent nation. It’s not hard to imagine that lyrics like Win’s “when tomorrow comes / we’re out of here / gonna pack some things / gonna be our year” or Wild’s “we’ve all stopped ever believing / this world would allow us to leave / no-one can stand in our way” were veiled comments on the political situation.
“I think that’s probably fairly untrue,” says Ross. “Of course it was all going on in the background, but Win might even have been written before the referendum was declared. I’d be disappointed if anyone thought these songs were specifically about that. I never like songs which are focused on one specific subject, because what are the chances they’ll then be available to people in the future to enjoy the same way? It was a memory which got me thinking of a new house, it was remembering moving with Lorraine [McIntosh, Deacon Blue’s other lead singer and Ross’ wife] to our first house in Ayrshire from Glasgow, looking out over fields and thinking of the possibilities. I remembered this sense of a fresh start and controlling our own destinies, and I thought, ‘I’m not sure what that all means but I like it’.
“People listen to things in the context of their circumstances, though. When I think of Dignity, the context of that was Thatcherism and unemployment, but 30 years on that’s all fallen away and it feels much more aspirational. As a songwriter you’re always looking for a song with a long view.” As if to prove the point, Dignity was the song the band performed at the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony in the summer.
On the subject of the referendum, he’s keen to stress his public disengagement from politics now, saying that the vote was a unique time in the nation’s history. He’s disappointed that Yes lost, but also glad that he’s been invited to return to his show on BBC Radio Scotland, a source of great enjoyment from which he and his bosses agreed he should take a leave of absence if he wished to become politically involved.
“Yes, groups of people did fall out,” he says, “but it’s always best to look at what you did wrong and not pin the blame on someone else or try to accuse unspecified dark forces. Yes, we lost this time, but look at all the good things that happened – the amazing engagement of young people, for example. Three of our children [he and McIntosh have four] were old enough to vote, and they engaged totally.”
That part of the future is unwritten, but what about his own? “The nice thing about this part of life is that I have no plans,” says the 56-year-old. “That slightly worries me too, but I have enough plans for next year to know I’m doing something [he alludes to a theatre project which will “definitely” happen later in the year].
“Musically, no-one needs a record, it feels like it’s just another bit of plastic out there that clogs up space, so I think you’ve got to feel compelled to make one. I surprise some of my friends when I say how much I’m enjoying it, and have been since The Hipsters, but for me it’s about the excitement of the band right now.”
Deacon Blue play the Grand Hall, Kilmarnock, 29 November; Music Hall, Aberdeen, 30 November; Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow, 1 and 2 December; Caird Hall, Dundee, 4 December; Inverness Leisure Centre, 5 December; Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 20 December. A New House is out now on Rhino