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Concert Review by Nick Morgan

DEACON BLUE The Hammersmith Apollo, London, November 17th 2006

There’s got to be a better way of doing it than this. It’s Friday night and we’re on our way to Hammersmith for a bite to eat and Deacon Blue at the Apollo. You must remember them – Scotland’s finest from the late 1980s, fifteen Top 40 singles and five Top 10 albums (selling over six million copies) in the space of seven years or so, fronted by songwriter and singer Ricky Ross, the Dundonian who made Glasgow his, and the band’s, adopted home, celebrated in their first album Raintown.

In 1994 the decision of drummer Douglas Vipond to quit for a TV career led to the band’s splitting up (and as I recall a memorable farewell tour gig in Edinburgh), since when Ross has pursued a solo career of mixed fortunes. But a reformed band in one shape or another (guitarist Graeme Kelling died of cancer in 2004, Vipond only plays when other commitments allow – as it happens he’s here tonight) has been touring since 1999. A new album, Homesick, polarised opinions, but tonight we’re on safer ground as the band are here to promote their ‘new’ album Singles, comprising sixteen hits and three new songs. But it must be easier than this.
Let me explain. It’s about two miles from where I live to Hammersmith and the ViaMichelin website tells me we should be able to drive there in around five minutes. But it’s Friday and our departure coincides with a downpour of biblical proportions so we crawl for over an hour and a half, endure a collision with harassed and aggressive out-of-towner and arrive for supper at one of London’s hidden treasures with only about half an hour to eat – fortunately for us the place is deserted because the traffic’s so bad and the storm has closed the Underground. Now – have you any idea what a stressful way that is to start an evening of open-minded reviewing? Well, luckily Deacon Blue were more than up for the challenge and after an iffy start simply brought the house down. It was third song ‘Raintown’ that brought the audience to its feet, where it stayed for most of the night. I was reminded just how good some of the songs were – ‘Fergus sings the blues’, ‘Loaded’, ‘Chocolate girl’ ‘Wages day’ – even if a few don’t seem to have aged better than others. And whilst I have always thought Ross looked an uncomfortable rock-star he has the audience in his hand, teasing them with painful shaggy-dog stories (I believe in French Serge, une histoire sans queue ni tête) one of which, the introduction to ‘Fergus’, included a man drowning in a vat of whisky at Tobermory Distillery (punch line – “it took him four hours, he came up three times for breath”), a thought which might interest Whiskyfun readers. And even though he’s hoarse his voice is as soulful as ever, and frankly singer Lorraine McIntosh was better than on the last two occasions I saw here over twelve years ago. The fans (and believe me, they are fans) love it, they know all the songs, all the words, and they take over ‘Dignity’ completely, drowning out the band when they sing the first verse and chorus in its entirety. But you know, I still can’t get the traffic and rain and anxiety out of my mind.
There has to be a better way – and there is. For fifteen quids we walked away ten minutes after the show had finished with a CD of the whole thing (well – not quite, the new songs weren’t included, nor the Springsteen cover ‘Light of day’, for copyright reasons). Now I thought it was cool that I was able to order a CD of the Who gig at Hyde Park and get it delivered a few weeks later – and was surprised that you could get recordings of their whole European and American tour. And I was amused that at the end of the Jim White and Johnny Dowd Hellwood gig a few weeks ago we were told that we could buy a CD of the performance if we hung around waiting for keyboard player Michael Stark to burn them on his laptop.
But this ‘official bootleg’ thing is big business, run by a company called Concert Live who’ve been recording and selling at gigs for a year – covering bands as diverse as Gang of Four, the Fratellis and Keane. For Deacon Blue they are selling just 400 copies (hmmm, collector’s items, that’s nice) of each gig – you can take them away with you, or order from the comfort of your arm chair and get them delivered to your door. So you don’t have to go out in the cold or rain or traffic at all – or spend all that money on tickets.
I’m sure the next thing will be live downloadable streaming – fantastic – and don’t worry about missing the atmosphere, I can send the Photographer along with a webcam stitched to her bobble hat (on second thoughts she might need to take a ladder too). So Serge the future of concert reviewing – the armchair critic - is upon us. Watch this space. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

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