The first thing to say about these reissues: this is how it should be done. Reissuing the original albums with just a handful of bonus tracks wouldn’t suit Edsel and they have really come up trumps. In some cases, the original album comes with two bonus discs AND a DVD.
It basically collects everything and anything you wanted to know about Deacon Blue from their debut in 1987 to 2001. Add in a running commentary from mainman Ricky Ross and a nicely produced ‘media book’ with memorabilia and lyrics and your Deacon Blue Life is complete.
Until now I hadn’t realised how prolific the band were during this period and how well crafted the songs. In fact, to be truthful, in the pantheon of Scottish pop rock of this period I had altogether overlooked Deacon Blue in favour of Love And Money, Hue And Cry - even Simple Minds. But I found some connection with Ross’ tunesmanship and that of James Grant of Love And Money, so it was a good enough starting point. (By way of further connection the band’s original bass player Ewen Vernal now plays bass with Love And Money).
Deacon Blue also had an appealing and distinctive sound with Lorraine McIntosh occasionally stepping out of her backing and harmonising role to deliver the main vocal. This was also a bygone era of big label budgets and bands exposed to excess in all areas, as recounted by Ross in his informative liner notes.
And of course, labels were always looking for the next hit single and, of course, Ross duly obliged in the early days.
In truth, the band never really achieved the creative consistency of their debut Raintown which yielded the band’s best-known songs such as ‘Dignity’ and ‘Chocolate Girl’. Now it is expanded with two extra discs featuring B-sides and the 2006 reissue extras whilst a DVD includes their promo videos. *****
The follow-up When The World Knows Your Name includes several hit singles (‘Real Gone Kid’, the biggest) and was their biggest seller in 1989 and again two CDs include non-album B-sides and live versions and there’s a DVD with the single promos. For those who want the full-on DB experience in band breakthrough mode, this is it. ****
An EP release of Bacharach and David covers (included now on ‘The Rest’) came out in 1990, followed by their third album Fellow Hoodlums now bolstered with live sessions on a bonus disc and the ubiquitous DVD with promo videos.
The original album saw Ross eschew the hit single formula for something a bit deeper, more akin to their debut and perhaps more ‘authentic’ as a result. ***1/2
After an abortive attempt to release a self-produced album recorded in Glasgow in late-1991, Deacon Blue salvaged three songs and ultimately put out their fourth album Whatever You Say, Say Nothing in 1993 produced by Paul Oakenfold.
Again this package includes single B-sides and a bonus disc and DVD. The album offered up the infectious ‘Your Town’ – now featured with five remixes. ***
This album effectively book-ended the first chapter of the band’s career and by 1994 they had split although reforming for Homesick in 2001.
As Ross explains, this originally came out on a small label without any real promotion. Unusually amongst these reissues it is a single CD although featuring bonus tracks. ***1/2
Finally, The Rest brings together all the ‘odd’ material not directly associated with an album release. So we get the Bacharach and David Songs EP, ‘Our Town’ (originally a greatest hits compilation)B-sides and songs first released on ‘Walking Back Home’. The two discs are complemented by a DVD of promo videos. ***1/2
Sadly original guitarist Graeme Kelling died from pancreatic cancer in 2004 but the band re-emerged in 2006 with the ‘Singles’ collection and released a new album ‘The Hipsters’ in September 2012.
Deacon Blues fans need to tread a little carefully before purchase as – for example – the ‘Legacy’ Raintown bonus disc is recycled. And ‘The Rest’ merely collects some of those errant tracks that have already appeared either on EP or compilation. But for the completist and newcomer it is a veritable Aladdin’s Cave.
The amount of bonus material is indeed itself testimony to the band’s prolific output not least in the live situation, as evidenced by many tracks reflecting their arena-filling status, as much as the more humble (if no less significant) Glasgow Barrowlands recordings.
These reissues reflect a fascinating body of work, and the packaging job is fully complementary and a shining example to other labels. It not only enhances the original albums it invites further exploration and a long-overdue re-evaluation of an enduring band.
Review by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
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