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The Blue Nile

+ {Paul Buchanan}

Glasgow’s The BLUE NILE were never the most prolific of bands, but when an album eventually surfaced, it was well worth its “wait” in gold – so to speak. Master of the croon, the Edinburgh-born Paul Buchanan, polished up the trio’s sophisti-pop synthetics, and if they’ll be remembered for one other thing, it’d be for the classic, roll-of-the-dice set, “A Walk Across The Rooftops”.
Formed in 1981 when Scotland’s Postcard Records were clawing at the heels of the majors and SIMPLE MINDS were usurping fading stars, SKIDS, songwriter Paul Buchanan (vocals/guitar), Paul Joseph Moore (keyboards) and fellow university graduate Robert Bell (bass), made available their first single. Released on R.S.O. (Robert Stigwood Organisation), `I Love This Life’, sold poorly initially, but that mattered not when the label went belly up, leaving The BLUE NILE up shit creek without a paddle. Their name incidentally was taken from an Alan Moorehead historical book, the 1962 sequel to The White Nile.
Floundering on the side-lines for a couple of years, their second break came when they were offered an unusual record contract by East Lothian label, Linn Records. The electronic/hi-fi manufacturer used their home-made tape as a demonstration disc, and were subsequently surprised with the quality within its vinyl grooves. Impressed with its made-for-stereo cool sounds, Linn duly signed the band up for a newly-formed music business venture.
Accompanying initial single, `Stay’, the label issued the languorous and dreamy pop debut album, A WALK ACROSS THE ROOFTOPS (1984) {*9}. Garnering gushing reviews, this classic set of understated pop elegance created enough of a buzz for Virgin Records (A&M in America) to take over distribution. Its relatively low peak chart position (No.80) belied the record’s influence and impact; in its favour was the intensity of the aforementioned 45, `Tinseltown In The Rain’, the almost horizontal `Easter Parade’, the title track and the shimmering `Heatwave’. Any one of them hit singles fodder – in another lifetime.
It would be another five years before a long-awaited follow-up, as the trio locked themselves in the studio and diligently attempted to create another masterpiece. After a few false starts, they finally emerged in 1989 with HATS {*9}, a record which arguably topped their debut in the late night sophistication stakes, its moody atmospherics delicately caressed by Buchanan’s silky swash (a singer who undoubtedly had the potential of being the next SINATRA). If one can imagine PETER GABRIEL or SCOTT WALKER combining forces with STEELY DAN, then romantic songs like `Over The Hillside’, `The Downtown Lights’, `Headlights On The Parade’ and `Saturday Night’ (the latter three all minor hits), would be just down your foggy street. A near Top 10 breakthrough, the record’s success saw The BLUE NILE leave their studio cocoon at the turn of the 90s for a tour of America where they ended up working with such luminaries as ROBBIE ROBERTSON and RICKIE LEE JONES, amongst others.
Now signed to Warner Brothers, it looked as if The BLUE NILE were finally destined to leave cultdom behind with a third set, PEACE AT LAST (1996) {*6}. Another classy effort, again the trio enjoyed critical plaudits and modest chart success while simultaneously failing to corner the wider pop market; `Happiness’, `Sentimental Man’, `Holy Love’ and `Love Came Down’, proved that soft was the new rock.
With exponentially wider gaps between album releases, one might’ve expected The BLUE NILE’s fanbase to have floated away down the proverbial Swanee, yet the 8 year-coming HIGH (2004) {*7} – their first for Sanctuary Records – was another instant Top 10 breaker, and in most quarters another unqualified critical success. By 2006, Paul B had made a series of rare solo appearances (plus a collaboration `Sleep’ with fellow Scots, TEXAS); this more or less signalled that The BLUE NILE had finally run dry.
Without his trusty chums, the solo PAUL BUCHANAN was never going to change the habit of a lifetime, and, in turn, go into top gear. Instead, it was another 8 years before he itched towards releasing a set. MID AIR (2012) {*7} was a decent enough stab at the mainstream market, although sales were disappointing; many but the converted, either dropping out of the recession-torn CD-buying process or not associating the 50-something BUCHANAN with The BLUE NILE, until its peak chart run had subsided. The album itself was The BLUE NILE in all but name (okay, minus Bell and Moore), the songs recalling Glasgow’s deserted Sunday morning streets or even New York’s similarly-evoking dumbing-down nights out, the choice cuts coming through the title track, `Cars In The Garden’, `My True Country’ and of course, `After Dark’. Can one expect another album any day soon (by all accounts 2020)? – who knows!
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD / rev-up MCS Jun2013

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