Deacon Blue: The band whose songs would become unofficial Scottish anthems

Their songs would become unofficial Scottish anthems and whose shows would pack out the country's concert halls and arenas for decades.

One of the images from the new Deacon Blue book, To Be Here Someday, by Paul English. Picture: Simon Murphy

Deacon Blue emerged from Glasgow’s thriving late eighties music scene to become one of Britain’s biggest bands by the time the decade drew to a close, toppling Madonna from the top of the UK album charts.

As Glasgow basked in the limelight as European City of Culture in 1990, they headlined what remains Scotland’s biggest ever free concert, before 250,000-strong fans on Glasgow Green.

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Within four years, their fans were left heartbroken when the group disbanded and bowed out with farewell shows at Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom – only to make a surprise comback in 1999.

More than 20 years later, they are still going strong, with five new albums in the last decade, memorable appearances at Glastonbury and T in the Park, and a performance at the closing ceremony of Glasgow's Commonwealth Games.

Now, the highs and lows of Deacon Blue's story have been fully documented in the band's first official book, To Be Here Someday, authored and edited by Paul English.

He traces the band's origins to the unlikely location of a long-lost Lanarkshire music pub, the Heathery Bar, in Wishaw, where Woza, the band Dundee-born Ricky Ross was playing keyboards with, supported rising stars The Waterboys in 1984.

Ross recalls: “All the mainstream stuff at that time was Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Duran Duran. But I remember thinking The Waterboys sounded like Bob Dylan.

“Seeing Mike Scott with The Waterboys was a Damascene experience for me that night. I thought if someone could make music from the heart like he did, then I had to stop what I was doing, and I had to do what was in me.”

Ross was able to give up his job as an English teacher in Glasgow and focus on forming a band after securing a publishing deal with an early demo of his songs.

Keyboard player Jim Prime, who had already toured with John Martyn and Altered Images, was working in Glasgow pub The Granary when he was handed a cassette of Ross’s early songs and then tracked down by the singer.

He says: “We’d get together in the basement of what is now Princes Square, in a huge printing factory, with everything covered in printing dust.

Deacon Blue pictured in Washington in 1987 with their original line-up of (clockwise) Jim Prime, Graeme Kelling, Ewen Vernal, Dougie Vipond, Ricky Ross and Lorraine McIntosh.

“Ricky had about a half a dozen songs, and some of them needed a bit of work. I already had pop sensibility, having been in Altered Images, so I’d be asking about the hook line, the singalong bit, and keeping it all to three and a half minutes. ‘Dignity’ was one of the first songs I remember working on.”

While guitarist Graeme Kelling, drummer Dougie Vipond and bass player Ewen Vernal were also recruited from the Glasgow music scene, the band worked with several backing singers, including Lorraine McIntosh, who fell foul of tour manager manager Gill Maxwell when she turned up late for a gig in Glasgow.

She recalls: “I was told to go and get changed into whatever I was wearing in a broom cupboard, and I was like: ‘This is what I’m wearing’!”

McIntosh thought she had blown her chances when she was asked to go on tour in England, but instead went on holiday to Greece, then discovered they had signed a recording contract with CBS.

Deacon Blue in action at the Party at The Palace festival in Linlithgow in 2019. Picture: Michael Gillen

Despite word of mouth and a loyal fanbase building from the band’s live gigs, early recording sessions for their debut album were not going gone well, until new producer Jon Kelly suggested bringing in the singer he had seen them perform with in Glasgow.

A hand-written note was pushed under McIntosh’s door in Glasgow asking her to fly to London right away.

She says: “The first song I did was ‘Raintown’, and that felt like make or break time for me. I knew I had to do really well, or I could be going home tomorrow and not be on the record.”

Ross recalls: “When she came into the studio, we realised Lorraine was fearless. Some people come into the studio and get nervous, but when the light went on, she loved it.”

Released in May 1987, debut album Raintown would eventually sell more than a million copies, but it was not until one of its singles, Dignity, was remixed that the band secured a breakthrough, reaching No 31 the following January.

The band were soon selling out the Barrowlands, but behind the scenes Ross was embroiled in disputes with record company executives producers over their future direction and sound.

The current line-up of Deacon Blue are Gregor Philp, Jim Prime, Ricky Ross, Lorraine McIntosh, Dougie Vipond and Lewis Gordon.

However a revamped version of a live favourite, Real Gone Kid, would finally rocket the band into the UK top 10 in October 1988.

Prime says: “To be honest, ‘Real Gone Kid’ felt like it was a last-ditch thing.

"Initially, we didn’t sell a huge number of copies of Raintown and the record company had piled a lot of money into it. There was no big single...The writing was on the wall that we were going to get dropped.”

Vipond say: “We were trying to focus on how to make things more radio-friendly. Raintown had been trundling along, and there hadn’t been a big hit. But when ‘Real Gone Kid’ came out, the only album fans could buy was Raintown.”

Real Gone Kid was nominated for a Brit Award, shortly before Raintown’s follow-up, When the World Knows Your Name, and its hit singles Wages Day, Fergus Sings The Blues, Love and Regret and Queen of the New Year, was released.

Vernal recalls: “The thought that there were more people into us in the UK at that time than Madonna was surreal.

"Madonna was at the height of her powers at that point. But I thought we were too. If I was being flippant, I’d say we expected to knock Madonna - or anyone – off the top spot at that time. We had a lot of pride in what we had done.”

Deacon Blue signed their first recording contract with CBS on the bonnet of a Cadillac in Finnieston.
Deacon Blue singer Ricky Ross performing at Edinburgh Castle in 2017. Picture: Calum Buchan
Deacon Blue singer Lorraine McIntosh. Picture: Michael Gillen
Paul English's new book, To Be Here Someday, charts 35 years of Deacon Blue.
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