Back in 1984, I bought The Blue Nile’s first album, A Walk Across the Rooftops, on CD from a new label started by the hi-fi manufacturer Linn Products. It was the company’s maiden release.
From the very first track, I realised that the work of this collective of highly creative individuals, Paul Buchanan, P.J. Moore and Robert Bell, was truly special and the results would endure over a long period, and they have.
It was to be ten years before The Blue Nile released their second album, Hats. To use the term ‘masterpiece’ is always difficult, but Hats is every bit The Blue Nile’s masterpiece. In the 12 years of their existence, they only released four albums. They disbanded in 2004 and went their separate ways. But their fan base is spread far and wide, and from the start The Blue Nile had a following within the music industry itself, with the likes of Bowie to Sting and Rick Lee Jones to Peter Gabriel, with the latter regularly buying 25 copies a week of A Walk Across the Rooftops to distribute to friends when it was first released.
The key to this enigmatic, highly individual group is their musicality and the major contribution of lead singer-songwriter Paul Buchanan. There is an amazingly soulful, melancholic vulnerability in his voice, from which he delivers his lyrics with utter believability, like the very best actors; it hits you deeply and emotionally and his writing is pure poetry.
For me, he is one of the finest living singer-songwriters, but to the general public he remains relatively unknown.
Unlike so many artists who just want to hit the big time and make a lot of money in the shortest time, The Blue Nile possibly had other ideas. They were perfectionists and needed time to craft their work into life and found it impossible to adhere to the demands of the commercial world. I see them in the same light as filmmakers Stanley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkovsky and Terrence Malick – rare people on the outside, making work that demands their total control without external pressure or interference. Spending time in close proximity with a group of intense perfectionists takes its toll, and, as one of the band put it: “If you spend a long time with folk in a submarine, there comes a time when you just have to escape from one another.”
In 1996, The Blue Nile released Peace at Last and in 2004 their final album High. Thirteen years on, there has been a groundswell brought about by social media in keeping the music of this unique collective alive, cajoling and encouraging re-releases and making obscure demos and live performances available on The Blue Nile members’ Facebook page.
Following the void created by the break-up, Paul Buchanan would often appear as a guest artist on recordings with artists from Texas to Chris Botti and Robin Danar to Up Dharma Down.
In 2012, Paul released a beautiful stripped-back solo album called Mid Air, with just a piano, a synth and his haunting voice. It is populated with moving little gems akin to Raymond Carver short stories. It is an album of quiet intensity and was well received.
Paul Buchanan deeply regrets the break-up of The Blue Nile, particularly the estrangement with P.J. Moore, and makes this known in every interview that he gives, perhaps hoping in some way that it will magically bring them all back together into the studio to create more magic. For the avid fans, and I include myself at the top of the list, we can only hope.
If you would like to know more and listen to The Blue Nile, click HERE.
Robert Bell's website