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
Going home.

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.


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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.

Leonard Tam

Photo by Leonard Tam

Buy The Blue Nile at the Dear Scotland Shop

Comments

  1. When i first came to the states in 2001 I played blue nile ‘hats’ for my college roomate and he thought it was some amazing new, futuristic band, even though the album was from 1989! Epic band.

  2. I am from the states and have been a fan since Hats came out. Am anxiously awaiting another offering from Blue Nile and in the meantime placating myself with the few new pieces captured on YouTube. I found this by searching “Blue Nile new album.” Thanks for writing this but I have to say, if it was me, I would not have been able to resist talking to him! My hope is that someday I will either travel over to the UK to see them or they will come here on tour.

  3. Saw the Blue Nile live here in Ireland in July 2008 and they were playing a couple of new songs around that time including one achingly beautiful one called: ‘Meanwhile’. Do a You tube search and you’ll find a live version of it 🙂

    I can’t wait for it to be released…. Poetry of the Ordinary married to a deep commitment to offer beautiful music…

  4. Over the years I have seen Blue Nile live in Manchester, Galway and Gateshead. My favourite band, its impossible to get any news on what they are doing, if they intend more tours, its difficult being a fan.
    Their first two albums are classics in my opinion..

  5. They have performed only once in my home country, the Netherlands. I was on the front row in Paradiso, Amsterdam. The Blue Nile concert was an experience I will never forget. What a magnificent sound! Miss them…

  6. The Blue Nile is incredible!!!! My favorite band ever. I love all their albums…Peace At Last is severely underrated (GREAT album)…I love them all equally!

    Please, please, please let me get what I want…and release a new album!

  7. The Blue Nile and their music touch your soul like no other band.

    Their London Palladium show in the autumn of 1996 was probably the finest concert I have ever attended….

  8. LOVE thes guys and the music and the emotions they stirr..

    a new biography of the band called FROM A LATE NIGHT TRAIN is now available to buy, on ebay uk, £12,99 incl p&p a must for all NILE devotees. I have just finished reading it and really enjoyed it.

  9. I am from Boston Mass area and I saw the Blue Nile a very long time ago at a small club called the Paradise theatre. They were late taking the stage and my friend wanted to leave. We stayed and were treated to a night i can only describe as pure magic. One of my best music memories ever.

  10. i must agree with the above guy,i was at the 96 palladium show ,and remember shedding a few tears after they played Family Life…….a truly beautiful pure sound

  11. I have been a fan for nearly twenty years and first experienced ‘hats’ on a £10,000 Linn Sondek system (not my own by the way).
    I saw them live in Belfast back in 2007 and actualy was brought to tears by Paul’s voice.
    Thet are my favourite band and I have trawled Ebay to find and purchase any rare B sides and outtakes.
    i just spent £35 on two different versions of ‘Happiness’ and a CDR of outtakes, but it was worth it.
    Hope and pray that they get that newalbum out this year. It is being advertised on Amazon.co.uk as TBA.

  12. Patience is a virtue. They will never disappoint us, and I don’t mind waiting for another album to come out. Their music is beyond beauty, it’s pure art.