REAL GONE GOES OUT: Deacon Blue – Dreamland, Margate, Kent 28/6/2024

Deacon Blue’s addition to Dreamland’s Summer Series of gigs may have been a little late, coming a few weeks after the confirmation of Simple Minds, Madness, Bryan Adams, Limp Bizkit and Manic Street Preachers, but since the Scottish pop band haven’t ever played in Margate before, this additional date on their 2024 tour is a most welcome one.

It’s 9pm. An excellent support slot from The Bluetones still lingers in the memory as the stage lights signify the arrival of Ricky Ross, Lorraine McIntosh and company. Taking the stage to the string sounds of ‘City of Love’s grand sounding intro, the opening of the show signifies a pleasing grandness without any feeling of self-importance, and as the main body of the track fills the air, it’s clear that this still new relative track – released during the lockdown of 2020 – sounds as great as any of Deacon Blue’s better known 80s and 90s hits. What’s more Deacon Blue’s sophisticated brand of pop sounds huge tonight. ‘City of Love’ asserts itself as a strong opener with Ross in strong voice and the rhythm section putting in some hard yards.

…And from here, those hits come quickly: ‘Queen of The New Year’ shares a rattling rhythm that’s as energised as ever. Perhaps even more so, since Dougie Vipond’s drum sound seems particularly punchy tonight, and with barely a pause, ‘Fergus Sings The Blues’ shares a superb, full sounding slab of pop rock, with the bass and keys again sounding particularly high in the mix. Both Ricky and Lorraine are in superb vocal shape too, not to mention good spirits. Ricky seems especially pleased to be here, since his dad “was especially fond of English seasides”. He tells the audience that he’d visited lots of them as a kid, but never made it quite as far as Margate. He’s finally here, and clearly already making the visit count, despite just getting warmed up.

The title cut from 2014’s ‘A New House’ provides a brilliant moment during the early part of tonight’s set since it not only captures Deacon Blue in a slightly rockier vein, but also allows Lorraine’s harmonies to cut through the crowd with a genuine clarity on one of the band’s sharper, more direct hooks. It’s definitely one of those tracks that deserves to be better known to the more casual listener. Changing the mood, ‘Chocolate Girl’ is shared in a new, acoustic arrangement, where its slower elements take on more of a stately feel, augmented by accordion. The ‘Peace Will Come’ album of stripped down re-workings isn’t hugely represented tonight – DB obviously realise those new arrangements are better suited to a more intimate venue – but this sounds rather lovely, bringing out the number’s more emotive qualities in a really subtle way.

Despite not being one of Deacon Blue’s immediate “crowd pleasers”, ‘Your Swaying Arms’ – a UK top 30 hit in 1991 – provides the early part of the set with another highlight, since it really shows off how the Deacon Blue live set is so much more than the McIntosh/Ross show. Vipond’s drums take on an almost jazzy flair during the verse, and bassist Lewis Gordon adds a warm tone, sharing huge and flowing notes with a complexity that might seem unexpected to those unfamiliar with the finer points of the band’s catalogue. The more direct parts of the track sound superb tonight too; both Ricky and Lorraine are in perfect form when it comes to the harmonies, and a rhythm guitar supplied by Gregor Philp with a clear and bright tone holds everything together with ease.

Offering an immediate contrast with the previous number,‘Loaded’ calls back to the perfect adult pop of the ‘Raintown’ LP and captures Jim Prime’s piano sound in a really sharp way, but the perfect sound mix tonight means that he never dominates, or delivers anything that’s hard on the ears. As with ‘Your Swaying Arms’, this becomes just as much about some fine bass work from Lewis, and Ross’s easy vocals capture the timeless sound of the old hit. ‘Your Town’ is, naturally, much punchier with its Oakenfold inspired drum loops and pulsing rhythm, but the clarity in which this performance comes through allows it to sit very naturally among the poppier numbers, before the country inspired ‘Cover From The Sky’ provides a huge showcase for McIntosh. Predictably, as with previous shows, her spotlight lead vocal moment is greeted with a huge roar from the adoring crowd, and has so much power that even its more maudlin approach doesn’t allow an otherwise energetic set to sag.

Everything reaches absolute peak with a trilogy of huge tunes – ‘The Hipsters’ (one of the greatest tracks from Deacon Blue’s second wave of albums), ‘Real Gone Kid’, which is greeted by a sea of mobile phones, and the rousing ‘Twist & Shout’. Despite the latter appearing a little slower than expected this evening, it still shares something akin to perfect pop, and a harmonious crowd are clearly enjoying every moment. As the main set pulls to a close, there’s still time taken to showcase the sheer variety within the band’s catalogue with ‘That’s What We Can Do’ presenting some fine harmonies on a rousing hook, ‘When Will You Make My Telephone’ ring offering a sophisticated soul tribute in a medley with The Chi-Lites ‘Have You Seen Her’ – making it a very different experience to the extended jam that provided a set highlight on the ‘Believers’ tour in 2016 – and the much loved cover of the Bacharach/David song ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’ which, predictably, involves crowd participation, but also shares some fine vocals from Ricky and Lorraine. A massively wrong note at the end of the first verse comes as a surprise from a musician as seasoned as Jim, but it doesn’t spoil an otherwise great performance.

Predictably, the main set ends with crowd pleaser ‘Dignity’, with Ricky allowing the crowd to sing the bulk of the first verse. Despite being present in Deacon Blue shows since…forever, there’s nothing about tonight’s performance that suggests obligation, or a band going through the motions, and as the track pulls to a close, there’s a feeling we’ve witnessed something special. As special as every other time the tale of the ever hopeful council man and his dream dinghy has been a shared experience. Realising time is short, there’s no encore break tonight. Instead, the band resume their positions after taking a bow, and Ross introduces the night’s final performance. It’s an acoustic rendition of the marvellous ‘Wages Day’ which, much like the earlier ‘Chocolate Girl’ has a more sedate presence, but the new arrangement allows the lyric to shine. Those remaining in the audience clearly still love this number, and take the opportunity to sing over its reimagined, quieter tones. It’s particularly understated end to a great night – perhaps it should have had a place a little earlier in the set – but the performance itself cannot be faulted.

Tonight’s set has been everything Deacon Blue fans could hope for. Lots of hits have been shared; various old 45’s have provided a jolt of nostalgia, and even a couple of semi-acoustic moments have gone down very well. It might not have had the same emotional pull as their Royal Festival Hall show on the ‘Believers’ tour, since an outdoor experience brings a very different tone and can be a little more challenging from an audience perspective, but it’s been absolutely marvellous. It’s a long trek from Scotland to Margate, but hopefully the experience has been enjoyable enough for the band to return.

June 2024

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