Thursday, December 9, 2021

Deacon Blue - Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 8 December 2021

The more that things change, the more they stay the same.
It’s thirty-odd years since Deacon Blue’s glory days, but when they get on stage it seems like yesterday.  Ricky Ross still looks like a cool Modern Studies teacher, albeit now one that’s recently retired.  Dougie Vipond may have branched out into TV presenting, but he still looks and sounds perfectly at home behind a drumkit.  Jim Prime is still the quiet man on keyboards, overseeing proceedings with a sometimes studied, sometimes genial look.  Lorraine McIntosh
"Has anyone seen Lorraine?"
still dances like no-one is watching, still bashes a tambourine like a maniac, still hits the sweetest of high notes as a foil for Ross’s more grounded vocals.  And they still know how to put on a damn fine show.
They play in front of back projected films, photographs and kaleidoscopic images that lend gloss to proceedings, but it’s the human element that makes Deacon Blue a sight still worth seeing – and hearing.  There’s the personal connection that Ross is always pursuing, whether through his occasional bouts of pseudo-Springsteen patter, which he delivers with a knowing twinkle in his eye, or occasional dedications that highlight the meaning songs can convey more than words alone.  There are the thoughtfully rendered covers that nod to influences and put little twists on the mood.  There’s the joie de vivre they’ve rediscovered in this later phase of their career.  And then there’s the songs.
Oh man, the songs!  A clutch of tracks from 2020’s City Of Love stand up well next to their back catalogue, ranging from the opening title track, a sweet but insistent hymn to resilience, through the fresh and piano-led ‘A Walk In The Woods’, to the elegiac ‘Weight Of The World’.  But when a band has three or four albums in their locker that are stacked with magic moments, these newer efforts can really only be appetisers.
They gradually reel the audience in with ‘Twist And Shout’ and ‘Your Swaying Arms’ bracketing ‘Chocolate Girl’, into which they insert a slice of James and Bobby Purify’s simple and soulful ‘I’m A Puppet’.  And then with the foreshadowing of ‘Born In A Storm’, they roll into ‘Raintown’ and really get down to business, the crowd instantly clapping along.  Deacon Blue are often tagged as a pop band, but here it’s evident that Dougie Vipond’s drums make them rock, with the guitar and bass of relative newbies Gregor Philp and Lewis Gordon crunching in to underline the point.  And on the more subtle ‘Bethlehem’s Gate’, embellished by Jim Prime’s Hammond organ and chocolate box piano, Vipond’s drum fills create neat shifts in punctuation.
Ross’s songs are always seeking to connect, whether in relationship tales like ‘Chocolate Girl’, the contemplation of the human and the infinite of ‘Bethlehem’s Gate’, or the connection between the personal and the political - as on ‘Loaded’.  “I have found an answer,” he sings.  “I don’t think you don’t care.  You just laugh ‘cause you’re loaded.  And things look different from there.”  On the day that Allegra Stratton tearfully resigned after being caught laughing about a 10
"Ah, there you are!"
Downing Street party that should never have happened at a time of Covid lockdown, the pertinence is obvious.  But Ross doesn’t leave any room for doubt in a spoken interlude.  “We’ve been singing this song for 30 years,” he says reflecting on the song’s roots in the days of Thatcherism, “and it was always about power and wealth.  But now it’s about power and wealth, and lies.”
The more that things change, the more they stay the same.
“Still,” Ross reflects with a smile, “tonight can be about cheering ourselves up!”
And if they weren’t doing that before, they set about it with a will now.  The optimism of ‘The Believers’ packs a punch, as a warm-up for the everyday rough and tumble of ‘Wages Day’, and the lesser known ‘That’s What We Can Do’ is the cue for footage of their younger selves on the projection screens.  “God, they look so young!” is the natural thought.  But so were we all back then.
So when ‘Real Gone Kid’ is unfurled, the joint starts jumping, though perhaps a bit arthritically these days.  ‘Circus Lights’ is an electro-bleeping, bass twanging, groove drumming swirl, leading to the defiant set closer of ‘Your Town’.
During the encores they stitch a take on the Chi-Lites’ ‘Have You Seen Her’ into their own love-letter ‘When Will You (Make My Telephone Ring)’, which makes me wonder why Ricky Ross presents a country music show on radio, given the delight the guy clearly gets from old soul music and Brill Building songsmithery.  And then the inevitable ‘Dignity’ and the rousing ‘Fergus Sings The Blues’ bring band and audience together in expressions of hope for the future, in life and music.  They deliver a sensitive acoustic reading of Dylan’s ‘Forever Young’ as a parting shot, but it’s those two songs of their own that bring the real moment of communion, rekindling that world of possibility they first sparked years ago.
Even after 21 months, in a world of vaccines, masks and QR codes, live music can still make magic happen.
The more that things change, the more they stay the same.

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