DEACON BLUE - The Hipsters(Edsel/Demon)
Deacon Blue were never hipsters. With six million album sales, 12 UK Top 40 singles and two No.1 albums to their credit, they have been majorly successful and have always been adored by their fans. And their inspirational brand of soulful Scottish pop remains an enduring tonic for the troops. Indeed, when Wayne Rooney tweeted his Spotify playlist before England’s vital group match against Ukraine in Euro 2012, his No.1 song was Real Gone Kid, still one of the Glasgow group’s best-loved hits. But hip? Cool? One of the bands that you’d find hanging out with the fashionistas? That was never Deacon Blue.
“I remember saying when we first got back together that we must by the uncoolest band in the world,” says Deacon Blue’s singer, songwriter and mainstay Ricky Ross. “But I like that. And people still love us despite all that.”
So The Hipsters is a decidedly ironic title for a brilliant new Deacon Blue record, the group’s first studio album since Homesick in 2001. For beneath that faintly sardonic veneer, is a collection of finely-tuned songs which find Ross reflecting on the long-distance life and times of his group with a deep,thoughtful passion. The opening track,Here I am in London Town, sets the scene as if at the start of a stage musical, as Ross conjures up an impression of how his younger self felt as he sat in a studio “waiting for the world to begin”.
“I was remembering what it was like starting out, coming down to London for the first time,” Ross says. “You were hoping someone would open a door and your world would start.”
It is now 25 years since the band released their debut album, Rain town,and the world of Deacon Blue began in earnest. It was the first of a string of best-selling albums: When the World Knows Your Name, Fellow Hoodlums , Whatever You Say, Say Nothing  and a double-platinum compilation Our Town –The Greatest Hits , after which the group split up for five years.While Ross built up his career as a songwriter and solo act, he and the other band members set about establishing themselves with remarkable success in various other fields of the media, the arts and academia. But as their lives unfolded, they never gave up on the Deacon Blue dream. A reunion show led on to a new album Walking Back Home  which marked thebeginning of a period to the present, during which the band has continued to reconvene whenever there has been a good reason to do so, of which there have been many.
“I suppose we thought when we went down to London the first time that everything would be solved by a record deal and hit records and that’s all there was to life,” says the singer Lorraine McIntosh, who has been married to Ross for 22 years. “And then, 25 years down the line, after you’ve all gone through life, got married, had kids and lost people you’ve loved, you realise that there’s so much more to it than that.”
“We’re all the same people,but our lives have completely changed,” says the drummer Dougie Vipond, who has become a familiar face as a TV presenter on BBC Scotland. “I was 18 when I joined Deacon Blue. I grew up in the band. The only thing that concerned me was making records and playing gigs. Now I’ve got three children and all sorts of other responsibilities. So I feel really blessed that I’m still able to do it.”
“I’ve got a lot of things going on,”says the keyboard player James Prime, who runs a Commercial Music course at the University of the West of Scotland. “But playing and touring with my friends in Deacon Blue is no problem. It’s more of a wrench going back to work when you’refinished.”
The band were united in their determination to record a new album. And not just any new album. “We’d done the greatest hits thing for a while,” Ross says, “And we needed to do some new material or not do it at all.” He began by writing the song The Hipsters and then another called The Outsiders which summed up the hectic rush of life in a band: “We took the road, any road, every road out of here/Forgot the past, cut the strands, made a path, took a stand/Chased the day, raced the night, grabbed our chance didn’t look/Back to where we’d come from.”
“It’s so different to come back to it when you’re not in the thick of things,” Ross says. When you’re a young, aspiring musician,chasing success, nothing ever satisfies you. Now, after writing a couple of these new songs, I realized there was a different narrative developing. I felt I was in a new moment. Then I realized: It’s about us! It’s about being in this amazing band. It’s an open love letter to Deacon Blue.”
With the songs written and demoed,the band convened at Gorbals Sound, a new, state-of-the-art recording facility in the heart of Glasgow. Working with Paul Savage, a smart, young producer whose work Ross had discovered through presenting his show on BBC Radio Scotland, the band recorded the new album in the old-school way, with the whole band set up, and all playing and singing together in the studio – the first time they had worked like that since recording Fellow Hoodlums in Paris in 1991.
“I still get excited when the band is together,” says Prime. “We tell each other the old jokes just to remind each other how long we’ve been doing it. It’s lovely that Ricky has come up with an album of personal songs rather than stuff about towns and rivers and mythical characters. These are really heartfelt, one-to-one songs.”
The band’s 2012 UK tour was a sell out and The Hipsters went Top 20 in the UK album charts, Deacon Blue are back as strong and sure as they have ever been. In 2013 ‘Turn’, the 4th single from the album was the 4th to go on the A List at Radio 2 and they have announced their biggest tour in over a decade.
Ricky Ross [vocals/piano]: has released five albums as a solo act. He has also written songs for or with artists including James Blunt, Ronan Keating, Jamie Culllum and Nanci Griffith,among many others. He presents his own radio show, Another Country with Ricky Ross on BBC Radio Scotland, and recently presented a TV show tracing the history of his hometown Dundee. He is one half of the duo McIntosh Ross who toured and released their much-admired debut album The Great Lakes in 2009.
Lorraine McIntosh [vocals]: has carved out a career as an actor, on stage in recent productions with The Scottish national Theatre in Beautiful Burnout and Men Should Weep, on television appearing as a regular character in the Scottish soap River City and in several feature films. As a singer and songwriter, she is the other half of McIntosh Ross.
James Prime [keyboards]:is a lecturer at the University of the West of Scotland, where he and Allan Dumbreck [of the Big Dish] set up the School of Music and Recording Technology 11 years ago. There are currently 250 or so students enrolled in their Commercial Music BA degree course. “We’rearming them with everything: business,technology and performance skills,”James says. “The London music business comes here to hand-pick our students.”James also performs in several other bands,notably the Floor stompers.
Dougie Vipond [drums/vocals]:is a TV presenter for BBC Scotland.He has fronted sport, travel and rural affairs programmes including Sportscene, Landward and The Great Climb, which won a Scottish BAFTA. In 2012, he took part in an event for Sport Relief in which he sailed, ran, rowed and cycled round Britain. Heregards going back on tour with Deacon Blue as “quite relaxing. I’ve just got to sit on a bus.” He likes to remind the others that, at 45, he remains the baby of the group.
Gregor Philp [guitars/vocals]:has played live with Deacon Blue since their 2008 tour with Simple Minds. He helped Ricky to record the early demos for The Hipsters and co-wrote two of the songs on the new album:Stars and The Outsiders.
Lewis Gordon [bass]:covered a session for Deacon Blue in 2008 and has been on stage and in the studio with them ever since. A young musician who has worked with John Fratelli, he is also a songwriter who used to phone Ricky to ask his advice about the music business.
REAL GONE KIDS
Ewen Vernal [bass]:played in Deacon Blue until the 1994 break-up and now plays with Capercaillie.
Graeme Kelling [guitar]: was a member of Deacon Blue until his death in 2004 from pancreatic cancer. There’s a dedication to him on the album cover of The Hipsters. “He was the only one of us who was a true hipster,” Ricky says.“He was the cool guy with the Ray-Bans and the Katharine Hamnett jackets. Helived the life. It’s eight years since he died, and truly a day doesn’t pass without us thinking about him and very often talking about him and the stories that all come up.”