This review is by Kirstie Bleakley, a life long ‘super fan’ of all things Deacon Blue and Ricky Ross and a resident of Billericay – or should that be #BillerRicky?

Christmas came early on Friday 24th November 2017 as Rev. Paul Carr hosted his biggest and best live music event to date! It was standing room only at a packed Emmanuel Church and a beautifully decorated Christmas tree provided a festive backdrop adorning the front of the church which doubled up as a stage for Ricky Ross and his piano, to the delight and enchantment of the audience, some of whom had travelled far and wide to be there.

Having travelled quite literally the length of the country over the years to see my all-time favourite band Deacon Blue and their charismatic lead-singer Ricky Ross, I couldn’t believe my luck that Ricky was indeed coming to Biller – well – Ricky! And the hashtag #BillerRicky was born!

Back in February this year,  I attended the ‘Lewis and Leigh’ concert at St.Mary’s Church in Billericay High Street after spotting one of Paul’s tweets. We had both seen them support Deacon Blue on their ‘Believers’ tour last Autumn. During a chat with Paul at the gig, he mentioned that he’d been trying to get Ricky to play in Billericay for a while. I couldn’t believe it! Although nothing was confirmed at this point I was full of anticipation, promising I’d help sell tickets to as many family and friends as possible!

What seemed like an eternity later, Ricky’s 2017 solo tour was announced and there was Emmanuel Church, Billericay nestled amongst some prestigious and well-known venues on the tour promotional poster and looking quite at home. Move over Cadogan Hall, The Sage, Gateshead and Edinburgh Queen’s Hall! After an even longer agonising wait, the evening in question finally arrived.

The wonderfully talented and humorous Anthony D’Amato provided the support and opened the show with some amusing anecdotes and gorgeous songs together with stories such as his struggle with the language ‘barrier’ on one of his earlier trips to the UK. (He hails from New Jersey, USA!)

After a short interval and drinks provided by The Billericay Brewing Company, the scene was set for the main event. Enjoying his role as host, Paul then gave him an informative introduction and Mr Ross appeared like an angel from behind the Christmas tree and launched into ‘I thought I Saw You’, the opening track from his new album Short Stories Vol. 1. The audience drew breath, mesmerized or maybe that was just me! Soon we were transported back to 1987 and into ‘Raintown’ the title track from Deacon Blue’s first album but we were treated to the song in it’s purest form, just voice and piano. My 7-year old had previously announced this is her favourite song from the album, perhaps the mark of it’s quality, longevity and relevance today. If my recent trips are anything to go by, it still rains constantly in Glasgow!

Ricky effortlessly switched between storyteller and performer, as he explained some of his inspiration and gave us insights into some of the new tracks on Short Stories Vol 1, even though some of them are in fact old songs. One of the oldest, ‘The Germans are Out Today’, a track that appears on Ricky’s very first solo album, the now collectable ‘So Long Ago’ (originally released in 1984) even meant an opportunity for some audience participation – and Billericay didn’t disappoint. The audience were a tuneful backing choir after a quick practice and then being given the ‘eye’ from Ricky.

Along with the new tracks, some Deacon Blue classics were also on the set-list including, ‘Chocolate Girl/I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’, ‘Loaded’, ‘Circus Lights’ and ‘When Will You Make My Telephone Ring.’ But the old songs sit comfortably amongst the new and the evening raced along. Ricky took a short break from the piano to play a couple of tracks on guitar ‘She Gets Me Inside’ and ‘Boys Break The Things They Love the Most’ both tracks from his 2005 album Pale Rider.

And after finishing his main set with the beautiful ‘Holy Night’, a nod to the festive setting; Ricky was back for an encore and kicked it off with the title track from that very album. ‘Pale Rider’ saw Anthony join Ricky on guitar and it meant another chance for the audience to sing along and by now, he had the #BillerRicky faithful eating out of his hand and we needed no persuasion to join in with the chorus – even going it alone at one point.

The evening was rapidly coming to a close, but not before Ricky’s emotional and raw version of ‘Goin’ Back’, another track from Short Stories Vol 1 but originally recorded and written by Carole King and then the final track, a co-write with UK songwriter Charlie Dore, ‘Looking For My Own Lone Ranger’. No need for me to look anywhere. I’d already found him.

The whole evening made for a memorable occasion. Rev. Paul Carr is not only putting Billericay on the musical map but also making a name for himself as a credible independent music promoter. Everything was well-organised and Emmanuel makes for a beautiful, intimate venue. I’m certainly looking forward to more big names in 2018.