Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Deacon Blue Welcome Us To 'Raintown'

Earlier this year a song came to my attention by an English group called The Guillemots. The song was called ‘Get Over It’ and it reached #20 on the U.K. charts during March of 2008, though its success didn’t translate to Australia. What’s this got to do with music of a bygone era? Well, on first listen, and each subsequent to that, I’ve been struck with how much that song reminds me of the sound of Scottish outfit Deacon Blue, who had a string of top 40 hits during the late 80s/early 90s - including their biggest hit, and my favourite Deacon Blue track, ‘Real Gone Kid’.

Deacon Blue began life in the thriving Glasgow music scene during 1985, with the line-up built around former remedial school teacher turned singer/songwriter Ricky Ross. The band’s name is in reference to the title of a song by Steely Dan, whose jazz/soul style would be one of the influences on Deacon Blue’s sound. Their first major show was as the opening act for The Waterboys (see previous post) and the band went through a series of line-up changes during their first year. By the summer of 1986 Deacon Blue’s roster had settled on Ricky Ross (vocals), Graeme Kelling (guitar), James Prime (keyboards), Ewen Vernal (bass) and Douglas Vipond (drums). In a moment of inspiration Ross invited his girlfriend Lorraine McIntosh to start singing with the band on a few tracks, and such was the chemistry that she became a fulltime member, and a key component of the band’s future sound.

During 1986 Deacon Blue contributed the track ‘Take The Saints Away’ to a compilation album titled ‘Honey at the Core’, which also featured contributions from other up and coming Glaswegian artists Wet Wet Wet, The Big Dish, and Hue and Cry (see future post). The band then recorded a three track demo cassette, featuring the tracks ‘Just Like Boys’, ‘Dignity’ and ‘The Very Thing’, which led their then manager Muff Winwood (ex-Spencer Davis Group) to secure them a recording deal with CBS in August of ‘86.

Producer Jon Kelly (who also worked with Chris Rea and Kate Bush) was brought in to oversee production on Deacon Blue’s debut album, which began in December ‘86 and continued over the gloom of the Scottish winter till February ‘87. One of their original demo tracks ‘Dignity’ was chosen as the lead out single in March ‘87, but at first attempt the tale of working class self-esteem was a low key performer on the charts (UK#86/OZ#72). There was a theme of inner city oppression/confinement throughout the tracks on the groups appropriately titled debut album ‘Raintown’ (UK#33/OZ#82), which was released in May of ‘87. The cover photo of a rain drenched city was appropriate to the title, but the style of music within fluctuated between soulful Celtic pop through more melancholy fare such as ‘Chocolate Girl’. The album received some good reviews across the music press and prompted favourable comparison to the style/sound of English counterparts Prefab Sprout (see future post), but both it and the initial single releases of tracks like ‘When Will You Make My Telephone Ring’, ‘Loaded’ and ‘Chocolate Girl’ experienced low and slow sales (perhaps the gloomy, wintery title/cover just didn’t appeal at the height of a Northern summer).

The band (and label) had enormous faith in the album ‘Raintown’, and following a hectic touring schedule over the second half of ‘87, Deacon Blue were ready to re-launch both album and several singles at the British public. Second time around record buyers, and radio stations, were much more receptive to the Deacon Blue brand. ‘Dignity’ was re-issued in January ‘88 and climbed to a solid #31 on the British charts (and later became one of the few Deacon Blue tracks to register even a blip on the U.S. radar - #22 Mainstream Rock Tracks). The singles ‘When Will You Make My Telephone Ring’ (UK#34) and ‘Chocolate Girl’ (UK#43) were both re-issued and by mid ‘88 the profile of Deacon Blue had been raised considerable across the British Isles. ‘Raintown’, along with a limited edition bonus album called ‘Riches’ (featuring B-sides and live tracks), reached #14 on its second attempt. The sun was about to shine brightly on Deacon Blue.

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