Ricky Ross Live in Belfast

Songs and stories, Deacon Blue frontman Ricky Ross goes it alone with stunning solo show in Belfast's Fitzroy Presbyterian Church.

Ricky Ross Live in Belfast

Fitzroy Presbyterian Church

This was a rather special evening, full of warmth, melody, wit, nostalgia, and fun, with Ricky Ross sharing songs, stories, readings from his autobiography, and typical acidic scotch humour. The intimate surrounding Of Fitzroy Church lent itself to a real homely feel, a night in with old friends. That is if you are friends with a master lyricist, a fantastic singer, and Kevin Bridges! Organisers Steve and Janice Stockman even supplied free tea and coffee for that front room with friends feel.

The evening started on a high with a support slot from Hannah White. I reviewed Hannah’s ‘Nordic Connections’ album two years ago, and suggested that she was an artist of real merit, ‘in for the long haul’. I hate to appear smug, but now having seen her live, boy, did I get this one right! Hannah, brilliantly supported on guitar by her husband Kieron, possesses a quiet beguiling voice that draws you in, to songs that demand you listen, at times hugely emotional and raw.

‘Car Crash’ is such a song! Shortlisted for song of the year by UK Americana, it’s a hugely personal tale of the shame she felt when whilst living in a homeless hostel, having escaped an extremely abusive relationship, and having her clothes stolen in the hostel, she was caught shoplifting to try and feed her young son. The huge applause at the end of this hugely affecting piece seemed to say the audience felt the shame should lay with society for placing a young mother looking for help in such a desperate position.

“All I needed was a hand” she sings. It seems no one was listening or continues to listen in a society where this abuse of women continues to happen, seemingly with impunity. Hannah delivers a powerful, dynamic, and deeply emotive statement.

Watch out for Hannah. She is a huge talent.

A point recognised by Ricky Ross, who, in one of his many guises as a radio presenter, is a man who knows real talent.

Deacon Blue are beloved by swathes of fans for their blistering live gigs, and sing-along hooks, sense of community and, I would proffer, a certain ‘Joie de vie’ in their response to life.  Ricky Ross is Deacon blue, albeit distilled to its essence, and reduced in decibels. Tonight is a joy. Some reviews really do write themselves.

Ricky has a hugely engaging presence on stage, which is essential in a one-man show! He has an easy-going charm, on stage and off, as the line of punters who queued in line for a signed album or selfie for an hour after the gig will testify. He presents a varied show of lesser-known songs and hits in a trawl through his own family album. Songs are placed in context in his life and take on a hitherto unknown depth. A tale about his mother’s deep reticence about going to hear her son sing, is told with humour and love, that reaches out to the audience. Some of the humour is laugh out loud, such as his encounter with a Glasgow taxi driver and his commentary on the driving abilities of other road users, (insert your own expletive here), ‘And that my friends, is Glasgow’, before giving a wonderful rendition of ‘Raintown’.

But mostly, the stories are warm reminiscences that make you smile. Inside and out.

Ricky recounts how his beloved Dundee United finally win the Scottish Cup, after 6 losing final appearances, and the win is celebrated in memory of his father, who sadly passed away on the day of the semi-final. The stories, like his songs, hit a cord, but never in an over-sentimental manner. There is a bitter-sweetness to some, ‘Love and Regret’ indeed.

Many of the songs played tonight, feature on his appropriately titled ‘Short Stories Vol 2’ album. They are presented here tonight, much as they were recorded, stripped down to bare bones. Tonight Ricky alternates between piano and guitar, and the plaintive sound, resonates all the more, perhaps almost subliminally because of the setting. I’ve been to Deacon Blue gigs and found myself lost in the joyous euphoria of a collection of fans revealing in the moment together. Tonight, it was a much more singular experience, but no less uplifting.

A number of artists have used this more theatrical approach to their audience, Bono did so recently in the Olympia to tie in with his autobiography, Damian Dempsey has just announced a string of 15 nights in the Gaiety with his good self in the lead role of a self-penned play, and most famously of all, Bruce gave us ‘Springsteen on Broadway’.

Ricky is a natural raconteur, and his lyrical skills really shine in this format.

The last time I heard him sing ‘Your Swaying Arms’ I was surrounded by swathes of fans, and the anthemic nature of the song turned up to 11. Playing, accompanied only by the piano, the beauty of the lyrics speaks for themselves:

‘Cause I’ve been longing, for a new world waiting I’ve been hoping, to be sent I’ve been picking up All the love we squandered, until you Hold me in your swaying arms again

The songs are played and placed in context in Ricky’s life, more in a folksinger delivery, than rock.

‘Dignity’ remains the archetypal Deacon Blue song, a song that encapsulates so much in 4 minutes.  ‘She gets Me Inside’, ‘Looks like Spencer Tracey Now’, a wonderful ‘Circus lights’, with its apt summary of the night

‘You want to display your charms on this bright night’, and what charms Mr. Ross has!

Deacon Blue are due to play a major greatest hits tour next year, and no doubt will be an outstanding success. But tonight, with Ricky on his own, there is something in the air, and he produced a gig that will remain long in the memory.