When the London-based PR firm called Dougie Adam to say he could spend an hour with RICKY ROSS over coffee the following day he literally dropped everything and set off to meet one of his musical heroes.
I still remember the moment when I realised how much Deacon Blue's music meant to me. In June 1999 a friend had got me a ticket to see one of the band's reunion concerts at the Clyde Auditorium. I wasn't sure if accepting the offer of the ticket would ruin happy memories of seeing the band in their heyday first time around in venues as varied as the SECC, Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and headlining at Glasgow Green in front of 250,000 people. A general rule of bands reforming is they never sound as good second time round. Initially I was impressed by how tight the band sounded that night but then something happened which I wasn't prepared for when the band struck up the first few chords of "Loaded". I found myself with tears in my eyes. Something about those opening chords reminded me of being a teenager when Deacon Blue seemed to me like the future of rock and roll (hey, teenagers can get carried away!) and when I went round school singing their songs with friends and wearing my "Free Nelson Mandela" and "Amnesty International" button hole badges on my school jumper. Suddenly I was reminded of a time in my life when I was filled with idealism and really believed I could play my part in changing the world. It dawned on me Deacon Blue and Ricky Ross meant more to me than their songs and albums alone. The records, the concerts and the characters within the band had inspired an idealism in me during a formative time in my life, and the idealism wasn't misplaced. The tears in my eyes told me it was great to reconnect both with the band and the music and with the idealism they fired up in me.
2005 marks the 21st anniversary of the small budget release of Ricky Ross's debut 'So Long Ago' tape on Sticky Music and the 20th anniversary of the formation of Deacon Blue. In their time together the band's five proper studio albums and various compilations soldl over six million copies and the majority of their 20 singles made the Top 40. Many fans maintained the best way to hear the band was not via a hi-fi at all but in person at one of their concerts. 2005 looks like being another busy year for Ricky Ross. Deacon Blue still play a number of concerts each year and Sony look set to mark their 20th anniversary by releasing a remastered and expanded version of their classic debut album 'Raintown'. However, while Deacon Blue remain the thing with which Ricky's name is most associated, in the years since the group disbanded in 1994 he has quietly carved out a career in his own right. His new solo album 'Pale Rider' is the latest in a series of quality solo albums which have been recorded at a time when he has stepped out of the limelight, revelled in family life and also found time to provide music for television, theatre and artists as varied as Ronan Keating, James Blunt, MOBO winner N'Jay, Cathy Burton and Fame Academy winner David Sneddon.
DA: 'Pale Rider' is being released on through P3 Music. How did you come to sign for them?
RR: Well I did the album myself, or paid for it myself because the last label (Papillion Records) had gone down the tubes actually almost before my last album came out. By the time that 'This Is The Life' came out the label no longer existed. So I decided just to get this album underway and then let people hear it when it was ready to be released. And just about the time that was coming up someone put me in touch with P3 and there just seemed to be a nice meeting of minds about what they were looking to do. But basically they responded really well to the album. They obviously don't have a huge budget because they are a small label but I was only hoping to be on a small label. We haven't actually even signed the deal yet would you believe. It's so early.
DA: The album sees you continuing your collaboration with Davie Scott. What made you choose him to be your producer this time round?
RR: He did so many things as part of the band on 'This Is The Life' and he did have a big input on it and was really helpful that although he wasn't credited it just seemed like he was naturally doing the producer's job already. I just thought I would really love to give Davie a chance to be the producer and it was the right decision I think. He was great to work with. Very often by the time you've finished an album with someone you don't really want to see them again for a while, or you think 'I'm glad that's over' kind of thing. But Davie's coming out on the tour as well.
DA: Having heard part of the album so far it seems like the sound is familiar Ricky Ross but at the same time there are new sounds and arrangements in there as well.
RR: I think you always do. I think Davie brings a lot to it. His room contributes a lot to what he does with vocals. I think the vocals are really a big part of Davie's soundscape. He tracks a lot of vocals and we spent a lot of time on them. Possibly looking back on it I think the single biggest thing he did for me was get me singing better. He loves to use a lot of instruments, cello, brass and so on rather than electronic stuff. He likes everything very live, so there is definitely that thing going on in this album.
DA: The song "Pale Rider" sounds almost like a country song which is perhaps a new direction for you.
RR: Well it's sort of in the tradition of songs I've written over a time. It reminds me of songs like "Cover From The Sky" or "Rosie Gordon Lies So Still" which was on my first solo album. You know they are very simple but hopefully just good songs I think! When "Pale Rider" came along I honestly can't remember writing it. That's the weird thing. I can't ever remember the first demo I did of it. I must have just written it and we started playing it live in concert. We did a gig at Glasgow Cathedral a couple of years ago for Celtic Connections and we did a lot of new songs that night and that was one of them. It just seemed that any time I played it to people they responded really well to it.
DA: For as long as you have been giving interviews The Beatles have been listed as an influence, but I think there is something about the piano playing and the way the brass, harmonies and strings come in on "I Know It's Only Sunday" which makes it sound like the first song you've recorded which sounds really Beatle-y.
RR: Really? Yeah, apart from "Pale Rider" and "She Gets Me Inside" most of the other songs on the album are piano songs which is quite an old thing for me but a rediscovery too. I think over the last two years I had got really bored writing on the piano and I found it quite a difficult thing to do. I tend to fall into the same patterns of writing so I usually grab a guitar and might make a few mistakes and find some new chords that way, and you've got a capo, which is a great thing. So it was really quite liberating to sit down at the piano and think "wait a minute, this is great 'cos you can have fun going up and down the keys." So, "I Know It's Only Sunday" and "The Streets Are Covered In Snow" are very piano-y songs.
DA: What are your favourite tracks on the album and why?
RR: It's difficult because really they are 12 of the favourites. There were a couple of things we left off but essentially when you do get your album there is a very good reason for every song being on there given all the stuff which has not gone on it. It comes down from about 40 songs and then there is a shortlist of maybe about 20 or 25 and then we cut maybe about 18 songs at the sessions. So that's quite a narrowing process. But at the moment I think sonically the best moment on the album is "The Streets Are Covered In Snow". I'm very happy with that song. Something like "She Gets Me Inside" is a frustratingly simple song and I wish I could do that every day. I can't see past songs like that because they are just so easy. I think that's also something else that's good about Davie's production as well, knowing when to leave a song alone and not keep adding more tracks to it. And I love the pop-dom of "Soundtrack To The Summer" which is one of the poppiest songs I've done in a long time. That will probably be the next single from the album. I feel really happy with that one. It is more chordy than people probably think it is and there are nice little chords that move around but not show off-y, you know, "here's nice chords."