Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Real Gone Kid Lets The World Know Deacon Blue's Name

With renewed optimism Deacon Blue re-entered the recording studio across the Northern spring of ‘88 to record their sophomore album, and all the while maintained a frenetic touring schedule. In October ‘88 the advance single ‘Real Gone Kid’ hit the airwaves and stores across Britain. The anthemic pop-soul song is insatiably uplifting on every listen, and it propelled Deacon Blue from a solid Glasgow drawcard to mainstream pop-rock stars. ‘Real Gone Kid’ peaked at #8 on the British charts before the end of ‘88, and when it was released in Australia climbed to #13 in early ‘89. Naturally some critics started to bark the words ‘commercial’ and ‘sell-out’ in reference to the band’s new found popularity, but in reality it was just a case of a hard working band finally getting its just reward. The driving melody and infectious keyboard hook on ‘Real Gone Kid’ was no fluke, and Deacon Blue followed up in early ‘89 with another strong single ‘Wages Day’ (UK#18/OZ#64). As ‘Wages Day’ was working its way up the charts, Deacon Blue were nominated for their first major award with ‘Real Gone Kid’ up for the best British single at the Brit Awards (it was beaten out by Fairground Attraction’s ‘Perfect’ - see future post).

Their highly anticipated album ‘When The World Knows Your Name’ debuted at #1 on the British charts in April ‘89 (supplanting Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’), and held sway over the competition for two weeks. The title could be seen as mildly prophetic of the band’s burgeoning profile, and before long the album was sitting inside the top 40 in Australia (#32), though the U.S. market remained as elusive as ever. Some reviewers compared the scope and scale of the album’s sound to Scottish contemporaries Simple Minds - as if that’s a bad thing - by way of lament to Deacon Blue relinquishing some of the finer subtleties of ‘Raintown’. When the band launched their next touring phase in May ‘89, fans voted with their feet as each and every show sold out. Deacon Blue’s May performance at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow sold out in then world record time. Their tour kicked off to coincide with the release of the single ‘Fergus Sings The Blues’ (UK#14/OZ#73) which gave Deacon Blue their third consecutive British top 20 hit. The album ‘When The World Knows Your Name’ yielded two more top 30 British hits, with ‘Love And Regret’ (UK#28) and ‘Queen Of The New Year’ (UK#21) helping to round out a stellar fifteen month period in Deacon Blue’s career. The Scottish outfit had gone from playing pubs and clubs to being among the headline acts at rock festivals like Glastonbury and Roskilde during 1990 - the world, or at least a large part of it, really did know the Deacon Blue name.

The band rounded out 1990 with the release of two substantially different recordings. In August they released the low key four track EP ‘Four Bacharach And David Songs’ (UK#2) which to no surprise featured four Burt Bacharach/Hal David penned classics, including ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’. They followed this up in September with the album ‘Ooh Las Vegas’, comprising B-sides, film tracks and session material. Such was the public’s appetite for all things Deacon Blue at that time, that ‘Ooh Las Vegas’ peaked at #3 on the British charts.

When an artist sets such a stratospheric level of commercial achievement, as Deacon Blue had with ‘When The World Knows Your Name’, historically it has been a rarity that anything to follow should ascend to the same heights. The band took a well earned break from the road to record their third album in early 1991. ‘Raintown’ producer Jon Kelly was back on board to oversee work on ‘Fellow Hoodlums’. The album featured another strong mix of pop/folk/soul influences (very Van Morrison like) and shot to #2 on the British charts soon after its release in mid ‘91. The lead out single ‘Your Swaying Arms’ (UK#23) failed to make the impact of ‘Real Gone Kid’, but was a solid appetizer to the main meal on ‘Fellow Hoodlums’. The radio friendly ‘Twist And Shout’ returned Deacon Blue to the British top 10 during July ‘91, but it would be their last visit to the upper echelon of the charts. As Deacon Blue kicked off a fresh tour of Europe, the single ‘Closing Time’ reached #42, though by the time single number four ‘Cover From The Sky’ peaked at #31 in early ‘92, it was clear that Deacon Blue’s phenomenal run of success was on the wane.

For all their success at home Deacon Blue had still failed to secure sustained international popularity and frustratingly had not yet managed to crack the lucrative U.S. market. When they returned to the studio in early ‘92 to commence work on their fourth album, they enlisted the services of two producers Steve Osbourne, and dance music guru Paul Oakenfold. Deacon Blue opted to introduce a straighter edge rock element to proceedings, balanced by a more experimental electronic dance element, with Oakenfold overseeing a dance remix of the next single ‘Your Town’ - some cynics might have, and did, see the move as a last ditch attempt to crack the U.S. market. The dance mix of ‘Your Town’ was well received by club DJ’s and patrons alike, and flirted with the top 20 dance tracks chart in the U.S. in late ‘92. The original mix fared well on the British charts (#14), and the follow up ‘Will We Be Lovers’ (#31) returned Deacon Blue to increasingly familiar territory just outside the ‘major hit single’ range.

The band still had a considerable fan base, and the album ‘Whatever You Say, Say Nothing’ rocketed to #4 on the British charts following its March ‘93 release. Deacon Blue embarked on the ‘In Your Town’ tour over the summer period, covering dates across Europe and Japan. Two more singles ‘Only Tender Love’ (#22) and ‘Hang Your Head’ (#21) kept the band in the charts throughout 1993. In retrospect Deacon Blue’s next move to compile a greatest hits package and subsequent tour, could be seen as the beginning of the end for the Scottish outfit. Predictably ‘Our Town - Greatest Hits’ shot straight to #1 on the British album chart in April 1994, and featured a new single ‘I Was Right And You Were Wrong (UK#32) and a re-recorded version of the favourite ‘Dignity’ (UK#20). Drummer Douglas Vipond announced he was leaving the band to pursue a career in television as a presenter on STV. The band saw the writing on the wall and broke the news to their fans that the ‘Greatest Hits’ tour would be their last. Following two final dates at Glasgow Barrowlands, Deacon Blue went their separate ways.

Over the next few years the band members each pursued endeavours across a number of creative fields, from acting for Lorraine McIntosh to teaching music for Graeme Kelling and James Prime. Ricky Ross predictably launched a solo career, with his 1996 album ‘What Are You’ (UK#36) boasting guitar work from ex-Steely Dan player Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter. Ross scored two minor hits from the album with ‘Radio On’ (UK#35) and ‘Good Evening Philadelphia’ (UK#58). After his 1998 EP ‘The Undeveloped Heart’ tanked, Ross rejoined with his fellow Deacon Blue alumnus to work on the album ‘Walking Back Home’ (UK#39), a mix of greatest hits and new material. The in studio vibe was good so Deacon Blue started playing some live gigs throughout 1999, which evolved into a 17 date tour at the end of the year.

In October 2000 Deacon Blue commenced work on an album of all new material. ‘Homesick’ was released in early 2001 but gone were the days when Deacon Blue had the backing of a huge publicity/distribution machine, and consequently ’Homesick’ (UK#59) really only reached the band’s core fan base. Over the course of the year the original band members toured as their availability permitted, with Ricky Ross a constant.

The next five years saw Deacon Blue become a stop start affair on the road, taking on part-time status as its members balanced other career pursuits. Sadly, in June 2004 guitarist Graeme Kelling passed away from cancer, casting a shadow over the band’s future. 2004 was rounded out by an emotional gig in Glasgow, at which Deacon Blue played the specially written track ‘The End’ as a tribute to Kelling. Soon after they were a headline act at the Tsunami Relief concert in Glasgow, alongside Franz Ferdinand, Travis and Texas.

As the band celebrated twenty years as a unit, Deacon Blue opted for the ‘take it as it comes’ approach to their future, and have continued to tour on occasion over the last few years. Ricky Ross has also continued to record solo material and has written tracks for the likes of Ronan Keating and James Blunt.

On reflection it seems a travesty that Deacon Blue never managed to crack that final frontier into the U.S. charts, but then a lot of quality British acts were similarly unsuccessful in that endeavour - and vice versa - it just illustrates what a fickle thing the music industry is.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Hey i am a big fan of Steely Dan, but Mr Walter Becker has a new album called Circus Money, What a great album it is, just had to share that with all the Steely Dan Fans.