This review is by Kirstie Bleakley, a lifelong ‘super fan’ of all things Deacon Blue and Ricky Ross and a resident of Billericay – or should that be #BillerRicky? You can also read Kirstie’s review of Ricky’s 2017 gig here
Almost five years since his first visit to #BillerRicky in November 2017; it was a pleasure and a delight to welcome back Ricky Ross to Emmanuel Church for another sold-out, intimate evening of songs and storytelling. Revd Paul Carr (revpacman) continues to highlight Billericay on the musical map hosting a number of well-known and up-and-coming artists on a regular basis despite a temporary pause during the lockdown restrictions. When Ricky announced the release of a new album ‘Short Stories Vol.2’ and accompanying tour dates it was an exciting surprise to see Billericay listed as the final date on the UK leg of the tour.
After visiting towns and cities in Scotland and the length and breadth of England, it was finally Billericay’s turn on Tuesday 11th October. Many people who had come to see Ricky last time and had, not surprisingly, enthusiastically returned. Some had also been in Southend for Deacon Blue’s gig at The Cliffs Pavilion last November as part of their ‘City of Love’ tour.
During lockdown as well as writing songs for the new album, Ricky also found time to write his memoir ‘Walking Back Home’ which was released in August, so we were treated to both humorous and poignant readings from his excellent book perfectly positioned between the songs.
Opening the evening was talented singer-songwriter Hannah White whom Ricky had invited to support him after playing one of her songs on his BBC Radio Scotland show ‘Another Country’. Hannah, who performed alongside her guitarist and husband Keiron, treated us to some deeply personal songs; some taken from her recent album ‘About Time’. Car Crash was particularly memorable especially after she had shared the meaning and inspiration for the song in a story that touched everyone’s hearts. Her album ‘Hannah White and The Nordic Connections’ was nominated for album of the year by the UKAMA in 2021 and she’s an Official Showcase Artist for the forthcoming Americana Music Week in January 2023. Expect to hear more from Hannah.
After a short interval, and drinks provided by The Billericay Brewing Company, Ricky took to the front of the stage with his Martin guitar and began with the opening track from his 2005 album ‘Pale Rider’, the beautiful ‘She Gets Me Inside’ – a personal favourite and a song which Ricky wrote for Ronan Keating and which also features on Ronan’s album Turn it On. He then moved to the familiarity of the piano and played ‘Your Swaying Arms’ – a beautiful version of the 1991 single taken from Deacon Blue’s Fellow Hoodlums album. After playing The Unpath (Short Stories Vol 2), Raintown, Siggi the Bully (Short Stories Vol. 1) he also treated us to ‘Surprised by Joy’ a rarely played song that appears on Ricky’s first solo album released in 1984 ‘So Long Ago’.
We were then treated to the first reading from ‘Walking Back Home’ featuring childhood memories and personal stories. Everyone listened attentively and enjoyed the words Ricky chose to share with us. This led into All Dressed Up, The Foundations (audience participation required!), Wages Day and Spanish shoes. Three out of four songs which can be found on Short Stories Vol. 2. Spanish Shoes was a song written in lockdown and told of how Ricky wanted to get out and go walking in a pair of trainers he had bought in Spain, but they had sat unused and unworn due to the Covid restrictions at the time.
Following another reading, this time pertaining to his beloved Dundee United, Ricky seamlessly played two songs from his first post Deacon Blue solo album, Cold Easter on piano, then the title track ‘What You Are’ on guitar – a song dedicated to and inspired by his father who travelled extensively for work. He then kept his guitar for ‘Boys Break the Things They Love the Most’, this time a song about the differences and shock of having a son, after previously having three daughters!
Back at the piano, an old friend ‘He Looks Like Spencer Tracy Now’ washed over the room, Ricky’s soothing tone falling softly upon everyone’s ears and after the final reading regaling a story from Ricky’s time as an English teacher at a Catholic Boys school; Ricky then encouraged the audience to sing along again with ‘The Germans Are Out Today’ but warned of the pitfalls of coming in too soon – thankfully Ricky gave us a subtle nod (!) indicating it was our turn to perform the role of backing choir and everyone duly obliged. Next was ‘Still Walking’ and then it was the final song, the wonderful ‘Bethlehem’s Gate’.
After a brief interlude, Ricky returned to the stage thanking Paul and especially his wife Paula for their hospitality and he dedicated ‘Only God and Dogs’ to Paula, appropriately enough – they have a Labradoodle named Dylan! The highlight of the encore saw Hannah and Keiron return to the stage to accompany Ricky in a wonderful Nina Simone inspired version of ‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands’ Hannah’s beautiful voice suited the song perfectly. Following a familiar favourite ‘When Will You Make My Telephone Ring’, all too soon it was the last song of the evening, Ricky choosing to finish with Pale Rider, from the album of the same name.
At the end of a beautiful and memorable evening, what struck me was how music can bring people together, unite us in songs and words, something that I’ve known for a while but in a post-Covid world I appreciated it more than ever.
Ricky Ross plays dates in Ireland and the tour concludes in Northern Ireland next month.