Live review: Deacon Blue, SSE Hydro, Glasgow, Sat 15 Dec
- Nicola Meighan
- 17 December 2018
Local heroes return for their biggest indoor Scottish show to date
It always comes back to the Finnieston Crane. Over 30 years ago, it dominated the Glasgow skyline on Deacon Blue's debut album, Raintown, and it's been a landmark for the band ever since.
They signed their record deal at the foot of its structure; the SECC, the Clyde Auditorium and the Hydro are all stood in its shadow; and it's watched them grow from poetic local heroes to anthemic stadium straddlers, and back again.
Raintown made way for When The World Knows Your Name – an album so successful it knocked Madonna's Like A Prayer off the top of the charts, and gave rise to a terrific live film, The Big Picture, filmed at the SECC – while the promo shots for their intimate third album, Fellow Hoodlums depicted them all huddled under the same Finnieston walkway that many of us trekked across for an outstanding Armadillo comeback after their 1994-1999 hiatus, and trundled over again on Saturday night – in the driving sleet and rain – to see the band play a sold-out gig at the Hydro. It was their biggest indoor Scottish show to date.
The landscape's changed, no doubting that. And we've all got older, lost people, gained some, if we're lucky. It's an odd and heartbreaking and wonderful thing to realise that your voice is cracking, your knees are creaking, your wolf whistles are waning (if no less impassioned), in the company of the band who soundtracked your primary schooldays, your coming of age, your attempts at the adulthood that has ensued, and by virtue of this, they can never be touched.
Deacon Blue kick off a momentous two-and-a-half hours with 'I Was Right And You Were Wrong': an epic, yearning drive-rock psalm that was the band's sign-off when they temporarily split in 1994. It's a stunning reminder to those of us who spent that year's farewell shows bawling our eyes out that it'll always be the best surprise to see the band – and fellow fans – on this long, narrow stretch of land. 'The thing Alan never learned was, you need people to come with you,' says songwriter and vocalist Ricky Ross, of 'Chocolate Girl's maligned protagonist at one juncture in the performance, and we're with him. We're right there.
Oh, there are singalongs. You can imagine. Thirteen thousand people hollering 'Real Gone Kid', 'Wages Day', 'Fergus Sings The Blues', 'Loaded' and 'Dignity' is a communal thrill for the audience, and for the band, going by Ricky Ross's reaction. (Has a man ever shouted the word 'Glasgow!' into a crowd, and been met with such a rapturous rammy, or broken into a wider smile?)
More than anything, they feel like home. At one of many lovely points in this celebratory show, that very word – 'Home' – flashes up behind the band in neon, and incites both a deafening cheer and an onset of greeting across the arena.
But while they're familiar, and still elicit unbridled affection, Deacon Blue will never settle for retreading old steps, or shadow-dancing with old songs. They casually shirk the heritage route by interweaving 80s and 90s favourites with tracks from excellent recent albums The Hipsters, A New House and Believers, all released in the past six years.
Further defying the passage of time, the silhouettes of original members Ricky Ross, Dougie Vipond, Jim Prime and Lorraine McIntosh cut as youthful a dash as ever, presumably due to something in the water. Probably the rain.
A point to note about Lorraine. When the band broke through, in the late 80s, one of the things that elevated them from their fellow Glasgow melodists was the fact Deacon Blue had a female voice and vantage point. Singer, musician, dancer, muse, feminist and force of nature: she'll always be a well-loved linchpin brandishing a tambourine. To quote a somewhat enraptured man in front of us on Saturday night: 'She's still amazing and totally on it.' Well, quite.
The rest of the band aren't far behind. 'Your Swaying Arms', 'Your Town' and 'He Looks Like Spencer Tracy Now' all underscore the cardinal input of drummer and percussionist Dougie Vipond, Jim Prime's keyboard riffs remain among the best in Scottish pop, and relative newcomers Lewis Gordon (bass) and Gregor Philp (guitar) seem right at home. The latter's take on 'Love and Regret' is particularly rousing, and echoes the band's much-missed Graeme Kelling, who died in 2004.
Ricky Ross still stands the way he did in The Big Picture 30 years ago; still sings the songs of love, work, hope that have brought us together – at Christmas, in Glasgow – to rekindle old memories and fire up new ones underneath that big old crane. His voice cuts through the rain, clears the snow.
It is now 29 years since the band – founded in Glasgow and famously named after a Steely Dan song Deacon Blues" – released their million-selling debut album, Raintown, in 1987. A string of bestsellers followed, then a reunion show in 1999 and a follow-up album in 2001, and the band continued to reconvene whenever there…