DEACON BLUE / KOVACS Guild Hall, Preston 18 November 2007

Advance word suggested that tonight’s support would be Gary Daly, once of China Crisis, but fifteen minutes before the advertised showtime two ladies took to the stage, explaining that they were deputising for him tonight and were from the Liverpool band Kovacs. (Thickening the plot, I later learn from one of my friends that Megan Kovacs is actually half of Daly’s new band, The Visionary Mindset Experience.) Keyboardist and vocalist Megan and her co-singer Becky (seemingly the Garfunkel in this partnership) create a captivating, ethereal, feminine music that draws comparison with the likes of Kate Bush and Tori Amos without being overpowered by them; they’re a real sonic palate cleanser.

I must admit to not expecting too much from Deacon Blue, especially considering that they’ve barely released two albums’ worth of new material during the last 14 years. I tend to think of them as something of a tenth-rate Blue Nile (yes, that good!) with their cod-literate songs of soggy Scottish misery, but retain a lingering affection for their rather fine debut album “Raintown”. My prejudices are a smugly confirmed when they open with a muted “Your Constant Heart”, Ricky Ross gusting ineffectively into his mixed-down harmonica, and it takes three songs before he says a word to the crowd.

But then….he reveals himself to be a genial host and raconteur, and the band reel off a sequence of “Raintown”-era stunners that includes the title track, “Chocolate Girl”, “Ragman” and “When Will You (Make My Phone Ring)” (graced with an absolutely stunning Hammond B3 solo from James Prime) and of course I’m converted. What rarely comes across on record, and which is amply and repeatedly demonstrated tonight, is that Deacon Blue are a bunch of soul boys (and a soul girl) at heart, their sometimes freeze-dried musings on love and work warmed by unexpected diversions into “Love Is Strange” (during “Chocolate Girl”) and a thumping version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Run Through The Jungle” parked in the middle of “Loaded”. But it’s the stadium folk-pop of the “When The World Knows Your Name” era that the appreciative crowd really want to hear: I never thought I’d see an audience go so righteously mad for “Queen Of The New Year” in 2007. Ricky Ross leaves the opening verse of “Dignity” to us, and we bellow it back at him with gusto, and their charming cover of “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” had completely slipped my mind until I hear it again this evening (despite me and several friends scoring 7” copies of the “Four Bacharach And David Songs” EP for the princely sum of 20p on its release). Buoyed up by such genuine warmth and enthusiasm, it’s hard not to be swept along by the likes of “Real Gone Kid”, “Wages Day” and “Fergus Sings The Blues”, which, for fifteen minutes at least, seem like the best songs ever written.

So yeah, cynical me gets his comeuppance yet again. If you have a dusty old Deacon Blue album languishing in one of the darker corners of your collection, go see them; you might be surprised.