The Herald on Sunday
Gritty, glam and a wee bit gallus, the band that made Glasgow its muse
This week: Deacon Blue - Fellow Hoodlums released 1991
WHEN a Glasgow taxi driver looked in his rear view mirror at the dishevelled figure of Ricky Ross slumped in the back seat of his cab, he decided a bit of drastic action was required. “Do you want me to take you up to The Budgie for a livener?” he said, full of concern for his passenger.
His offer could have been a lifesaver. Ross, lead singer of Deacon Blue, had caught an early flight home from Paris with the band’s drummer, Dougie Vipond. Both were feeling fragile.
The Budgie is the avian nickname of The Blochairn Bar in the city’s east end.
It enjoys special dispensation from the licensing board to open at 7am to cater for night shift workers at the adjacent Fruit Market.
“I’d never heard that expression before,” revealed Ross.
“I said to the driver, What’s The Budgie?’ He told us it was where all the guys in the market went in the early hours for a drink. He must have looked at us, all bleary-eyed, and thought – they could do with one too. I really loved that whole idea, so I held on to it.”
The line was immortalised in the song The Day That Jackie Jumped The Jail, one of my favourite tracks on Deacon Blue’s third album, Fellow Hoodlums. A new version of the record – which peaked at number two in the UK charts – was released on Friday to celebrate its 30th anniversary.
“It’s very strange to think of 30 years of Fellow Hoodlums, because it doesn’t seem that long ago,” said Ross.
“You’ve almost got to put yourself back to 1991 and consider would anyone of a younger generation be interested in a record made in 1961 – unless, of course, it was one of those life-changing albums?
“But it’s nice to think that Fellow Hoodlums is worth celebrating and that people still listen to it.”
Ross claims it’s the album they made “when we really knew who we were”.
The Glasgow band had set the bar high with their first two releases. Raintown, their 1987 debut, reached number 14 and stayed in the album charts for 18 months.
The title song – plus singles Dignity, Loaded, When Will You (Make My Telephone Ring) and Chocolate Girl – established them as one of Scotland’s most exciting new acts. Two years later, When The World Knows Your Name hit number one and produced a brace of successful singles including Real Gone Kid, Wages Day and Fergus Sings The
Blues. In 1990, the band also scored with I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, from an EP of Bacharach/David compositions.
But in the lead-up to Fellow Hoodlums, Ross had an uneasy feeling. “Raintown was made when the band were still coming together,” he recalled.
“There were different people in the line-up and we fell into the record in a sense that we didn’t really know each other that well.
“When we made When The World Knows Your Name, I didn’t really enjoy it. I think I put pressure on myself to make an album with hit singles. To try to be something we weren’t. But on Fellow Hoodlums we just relaxed and said ‘Let’s make the album we really feel is US’. So I wrote a bunch of songs I felt confident about lyrically, which each
DJ and super-fan Billy Sloan brings you the stories behind some of Scotland’s favourite albums
told a story. That’s what Deacon Blue sound like at that point. It was a celebration of those six people.”
Ross, his wife Lorraine McIntosh (vocals), Graeme Kelling (guitar), Ewan Vernal (bass), Jim Prime (keyboards) and Vipond rehearsed at St Clair Studio in Glasgow prior to Christmas 1990.
They were reunited with Jon Kelly who had produced both Raintown and the Bacharach/David sessions. “Previously, we’d demo-ed our songs to within an inch of their lives sometimes,” admitted Ross.
“You’re always looking for that spark and that often happens in the demo. This time, we didn’t do that. We really wanted to keep the new songs as raw and fresh as we could.”
In the New Year, the group decanted to Studio Guillaume Tell on the outskirts of Paris. The former 1930s cinema, whose list of clients include The Rolling Stones, Johnny Hallyday and Michel Legrand, proved the perfect location
“It was close enough for us to get home easily and far enough away to avoid the record company constantly popping in,” said Ross.
Your Swaying Arms, which the band had road-tested live, was one of the first to emerge. They also recorded basic tracks for a string of songs including A Brighter Star Than You Will Shine, Cover From The Sky, Twist And Shout and the title track, which were later overdubbed at CaVa Studios in Glasgow.
“Brighter Star was rehearsed a few months before we started recording,” recalled Ross. “I gave my idea to Jim and one day when I went into the studio he was running through it with the rest of the guys. Occasionally, he’ll come up with things that are just perfect. It’s a beautiful song which was originally going to be the second single. Then everyone got cold feet when the first release, Your Swaying Arms, bombed.”
Lyrically, Ross’s songs provided vivid snapshots of Scottish life and culture.
“In my head, I almost had a map of Glasgow and put these characters in different spots,” revealed Ross, who was born in Dundee. “I could actually see the songs happening in places I knew – like the back of Sloan’s restaurant or Buchanan Street or Kelvin Way. I could visualise all these bus journeys. The songs were very much about an area I knew well.”
None more so than The Day That Jackie Jumped The Jail.
“The song is the story of a guy getting out of jail just for one day, but he knows he’s going to have to go back,” said Ross. “It started when we visited Lorraine’s brother at Hogmanay in 1989.
“As we walked into the close to his flat there was a massive explosion. It was the fireworks going off in George Square to mark Glasgow being named European City of Culture. Weirdly enough, the story also goes back to when I had a summer job in a department store called McGill Brothers in Dundee.
“An older woman I worked with was on the phone to her pal making arrangements for a night out. “I heard her say ‘Naw, Jackie won’t be there – he’s in the jail’. It was funny overhearing that and you collect these lines.”
To launch Fellow Hoodlums in May 1991, the band played a surprise club gig at The Tunnel in Glasgow. A neat touch, for it occupied the former Imperial Snooker Club in Mitchell Street, which is also referenced in the song. The album hit number two in the charts and its success tasted all the sweeter for having been achieved on the band’s terms.
“All of us have very happy memories of Fellow Hoodlums,” he said. “Jon Kelly was great for Deacon Blue, he always made everyone feel really valued. On the record, I just wanted to hear other people’s input. There were times when it went in directions I wasn’t so sure about.
“It was almost an album out of time in some ways because it wasn’t like a lot of records being made then. But really, it was an album celebrating songs and the simplicity of them. It was to try to make everyone be the very best they could be.
“We had When The World Knows Your Name behind us. It had done really well and was probably still selling. So I think we all felt artistically free to just be who we were.”
The success of Fellow Hoodlums helped the band reconnect with their live audience.
“We had hoped to go over to America with the album but we didn’t get the support of Columbia Records in the States – and that was a little annoying,” Ross recalled.
“So with Fellow Hoodlums we went back to theatres like Hammersmith Odeon, The Royal Concert Hall and Edinburgh Playhouse.
“Those venues were dead right for the record. They had a real intimacy. And that felt good.”
In my head, I had a map of Glasgow and put these characters in different spots – the back of Sloans or Buchanan Street or Kelvin Way