26. Dignity – Deacon Blue

Deacon Blue first came to broad public attention in 1988, with the release of their debut album, Raintown, fortified by the re-release of the 1987 single, Dignity. Decades later, Threehundredsongs is still coming to terms with quite how wonderful Deacon Blue were. (And probably still are: remind me to make a note to check that.)

The cover of Deacon Blue's Single 'Dignity'

Dignity is the tale of an ageing yet irascible street sweeper, presumably in songwriter Ricky Ross’ home town of Glasgow:

There’s a man I meet, walks up our street
He’s a worker for the council
Has been twenty years
And he takes no lip off nobody
And litter off the gutter

The children call him Bogie

Bogie works away diligently, day after day, quietly saving his hard-earned pennies and planning his retirement:

He let me know a secret about the money in his kitty
He’s gonna buy a dinghy
Gonna call her Dignity

It goes without saying that the boat is a framing device for the character’s escapist dreams and a metaphor for freedom and, well, dignity, obviously:

And I’ll sail her up the west coast
Through villages and towns
I’ll be on my holidays
They’ll be doing the rounds
They’ll ask me how I got her I’ll say, “I saved my money”
They’ll say, “Isn’t she pretty? That ship called Dignity”

Here’s the original music video:

Looking back, it’s gratifying to think that while the UK charts were adrift on an endless ocean of Rick Astley, Mel & Kim, Pepsi & Shirley and a surplus of further Stock Aitken Waterman-produced lowest-common-denominator codswallop, genuine quality, truly original bands like Deacon Blue could still get a look in.

In fairness, I could have chosen any Deacon Blue song from this era. For example, When Will You (Make My Telephone Ring), also featured on Raintown, is as fine an example of mournful singalong blue-eyed soul as you could imagine emanating from Scotland, Wet Wet Wet notwithstanding.

Fergus Sings the Blues, from 1988’s follow-up album When the World Knows Your Name, begins with one of the greatest opening lines I can remember:

Fergus sings the blues
In bars of twelve or less

“Fergus Sings the Blues” – Deacon Blue

Any songwriter would be justifiably proud of that, and the fact that the joke might be lost on a few non-musos doesn’t compromise it.

Real Gone Kid, also from When the World Knows Your Name, is a paean to delightful serial muse Maria McKee, alongside whom Deacon Blue toured while she was in Lone Justice. That man Adam Duritz was similarly taken with her:

Maria came from Nashville with a suitcase in her hand
She said she’d like to meet a boy who looks like Elvis

“Round Here” – Counting Crows

Brian Fallon was clearly listening:

Maria came from Nashville with a suitcase in her hand
I always kinda sorta wished I looked like Elvis

“High Lonesome” – Gaslight Anthem

Anyway, we digress. Back to the matter in hand, Dignity. I’ve plumped for this song as it very much resonated with a teenage Threehundredsongs: trudging the streets of a northern town in the rain at the crack of dawn, diligently delivering the neighbourhood’s newspapers and saving my own scant pennies for an undetermined future meant I felt something of an affinity for old Bogie here.

The song takes an unexpected twist towards the end, with Ricky co-opting the narrative just to tell us about his fancy-pants holiday in, I guess, Turkey:

And I’m telling this story
In a faraway sea
Sipping down raki
And reading Maynard Keynes

Lucky you, Mr. Ross. Lucky you. But the redemption is there: even our narrator is dreaming of his own Dignity, if perhaps not the Scottish weather, and echoes Bogie’s own words:

And I’ll sail her up the west coast
Through villages and towns
I’ll be on my holidays
They’ll be doing the rounds

And I’m thinking how good it would be
To be here some day

On a ship called Dignity.

We’ve only touched on a few of the better-known singles here, but Deacon Blue’s back catalogue is a bit of a goldmine: still going strong, they released their eleventh studio album, Riding on the Tide of Love, in 2021; they continue to tour, and you can currently pre-order two forthcoming anthologies prior to their release in September 2023. These are the rather cleverly-named All the Old 45s, a singles collection; and You Can Have it All, a 14-CD boxset comprising every Deacon Blue album to date.

Artist: Deacon Blue
Album: Raintown
Writer: Ricky Ross
Producer: Jon Kelly
Released: March 1987; Columbia. Re-released and finally charted in 1988.

All lyrics © Ricky Ross/Deacon Blue except where noted.

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