Rome wasn’t built in a day. And neither was the highly reputed reputation of The Blue Nile created over one musical night. As the band hits almost thirty and begins its fourth decade in the music industry, they are in no rush to add to their discography which consists of five lines, including the band’s name.
A mere four albums have been sung, sealed and delivered since the release of their first album, ‘A Walk Across the Rooftops’, however it is this honest, grafted attention to quality rather than quantity which gives their work an enduring edge which ages gracefully.
Their approach to the making and producing of music is distinctly J. D. Salinger-esque. They like to be left alone; in their own space. Undisturbed.
So what lies behind the music of The Blue Nile ? Cue « From A Late Night Train ».
From a late night train
Reflected in the water
When all the rainy pavement
Lead to you;
The cigarettes, the magazines
All stacked up in the rain
There doesn’t seem to be a funny side;
From a late night train
The little towns go rolling by
And people in the station
The song is a direct reference to the River Clyde, and more significantly Glasgow Central Station.
The trio of Paul Buchanan, Paul Joseph Moore and Robert Bell have and always will possess a great sense of sensibility. A sense of what has been done; and what is still left to do. This is more than aptly summarized in « I Would Never »:
I have walked
A thousand miles
I have worked
As fast as I can;
And I have gone
Up and down
Yeah I have wandered
From place to place
And I have raised my weary hand
To my face.
Late last Spring, I was passing through the Merchant City in Glasgow and I stopped in at a Café to kill some time before the next bus. After walking in the door the waiter ushered me to a table against the wall. It was the middle of the afternoon and the place isn’t too busy.
As I sit down on the bench going across the back wall, placing my jacket to the right hand side the waiter hands me a menu. I look to the table to my right, and notice the guy sitting beside me has two Long Irish Coffees: the first almost full; the second looking like it has just been ordered as it’s still giving off steam.
As I order a drink I take a closer look at him. He looks like Paul Buchanan. On the table in front of him is what seems to be a hand-written sheet of music, an artist pencil and a dictaphone. Mr Buchanan appears to be listening attentively to something on his headphones and stares down at the music tabs in front of him.
He’ll listen to something, rewind it a couple of times, then delete something from the music sheet replacing it with some new scribbles. Occasionally this process – not dissimilar to a 19th Century Watch Maker in Switzerland – is interrupted by the need to murmur something into a dictaphone.
Maybe it’s not Paul Buchanan, and even if it was, I wouldn’t dare to interrupt, wouldn’t dare to disturb. But I imagine myself leaning over to strike up a conversation with the enigmatic Blue Nile vocalist anyway:
« So, Mr Buchanan; the rumours are once again circulating of some new songs filtering out the slow Blue train line. A CD of some potential demo tracks which was recently plundered from a bin outside your recording studio in Glasgow contained what appeared to be four different takes of the same song , including a 12 minute instrumental version. Could you shed some light on any potential projects which The Blue Nile may have on the horizon? »
« Well, here’s a little snippet ». He goes into his messenger bag and pulls out a compact disc player. He presses Play and the Next button three times; then passes me the headphones.
« I can’t guarantee this version is in any way definitive, but it’s getting there. Gradually.. » he adds.
I begin to listen :
The analogue synths are back, which kick off with some late 80s panache. Back too are the simple understated piano’d arpeggios, harping back to « Headlights on the Parade », the fourth track from Hats of 1989 which spanned more than 6 minutes but seemed to last a lifetime. In fact 20 years on from that album, nothing has really changed – this track could be.. even might have been a B-Side or outtake from that album. But then again when you have a winning formula – their current sound engineer maybe asked – why change it ?
« You’re kidding me on, Mr Buchanan. This is not a new song; no way. It’s just an outtake from Hats, isn’t it? ».
The song sounds perfect: the intro, the chorus, the crescendo ending with the subtle edition of some strings.
« No, it’s a new one alright. Recorded last week in fact. Just hasn’t yet got a name. Nor is it quite complete».
Of course, as the conversation develops in my capacious imagination, this gentleman continues to work his way towards the bottom of his page of music all the while deleting, re-winding, murmuring, re-writing. Then he looks at his watch and suddenly appears startled that time has flown by so quickly.
He gathers up all his belongings, unplugs his headphones from the CD player carefully winding up the cord, goes into his wallet, leaves a £20 note on the table, and bolts for the door.
I would never see him again.
Did I really get an insight into the soul of The Blue Nile? Only time will tell.
Photo by Leonard Tam
Buy The Blue Nile at the Dear Scotland Shop