list.co.uk/music DEACON BLUE | MUSIC
lyricism before their split. These days, their songs feel more gentle and doubting. Compare, say, 1991’s ‘A Brighter Star Than You Will Shine’ with this year’s ‘Intervals’ (‘when you grow up to be a star, don’t leave home for anything less than you are’). Before they went their separate ways, Deacon Blue released a final sign- off: a stand-alone single issued in the wake of Whatever You Say, Say Nothing, whose titles typified Ross’ persuasive certainty back then (or certainly, his impression of that). Its devastating A-Side, ‘I Was Right And You Were Wrong’, suggested Deacon Blue’s demise was always written in the stars (‘nothing lasts forever’), while its equally gorgeous flipside, ‘Bound To Love’, sounded riled by the inevitability and entrapment of ardour (among other things, from poetry to politics: Ross has always been shrewdly ambiguous). I’m not sure that their records since have ever conveyed that strident confidence.
Maybe the light – and maybe the rest – changed while Deacon Blue disbanded. The beat of 1989’s ‘constant heart’ still resounds, but now so too does City of Love’s ‘constant doubt’. What Bob Dylan nailed in a couple of lines, Ricky Ross has explored beautifully across the last four Deacon Blue albums: ‘I was so much older then / I’m younger than that now.’
Their first post-split LP, The Hipsters, was also their first as a different group. Bassist Ewen Vernal had departed (to be replaced by Lewis Gordon), but it was the loss of guitarist Graeme Kelling, who died in 2004, that irrevocably changed Deacon Blue. His absence is always felt. On City of Love, Ross sings that ‘it’s the spaces I seek’, and there’s increasing room in their music and words, for those who are gone; for those who are missed; for those (in)tangible absences Ross touches on in ‘A Walk In The Woods’ (‘holding on’s like holding rain’). Just before I fell in the fountain, I wrote my Higher English essay about meeting Graeme Kelling at a Pearlfishers concert (well, he walked past us and said hello on the stairs of Glasgow’s Old Athaeneum. That was beyond our wildest dreams). By the time of their reunion shows, he’d taken to lending us his umbrella when we were queuing outside the various venues: an impressively brave act of kindness on his part, in the
face of certified stalkers downing vodka in glass lemonade bottles. He’s always there: in the memories, in the elements, in the music, in the spaces. But it also bears noting that current guitarist and co-songwriter Gregor Philp has done a nigh-on miraculous job of allowing Kelling to still feel ever-present (and ever-missed), while rejuvenating the band, and their sound, and Ross in particular. The pair co-produced City of Love, and it stands as one of Deacon Blue’s loveliest, and strongest, records. Drummer Dougie Vipond continues to provide Deacon Blue’s variously nuanced and rousing heartbeat; Jim Prime’s keyboard action has probably instigated more dancefloor sing-a-longs than any other; and Lorraine McIntosh is the reason that some of us fell for Deacon Blue in the first place. She gave the band a woman’s voice, and presence, and viewpoint, which distinguished them from their myriad male-only Scottish pop counterparts in the 1980s, and she’s still a vital force. Her voice, as with Ross’, sounds better than ever.
They’re still a riot, incidentally. Ageing has not musically mellowed Deacon Blue. They continue to conjure anthems that celebrate love, work, faith, hope, going out, and coming home. They’re still adventurous and forward-looking (is this their first album to revel in post-rock?), but it comes with the acquiescence of what has come, and gone, before.
For those of us who’ve loved them since childhood, it also comes with the realisation that we’ll never fall in love with a band that way again. And that’s heartbreaking, but it’s also heartening: everything changes, and it stays the same. The lights go down, the lights come up, in our unmade beds and our cities of love. We get older, if we’re in luck. We try to hold those that we’ve lost. The wind and the rain falls around. City of Love is out now.
1 Apr–31 May 2020 THE LIST 91