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Blue Nile

Blue Nile

A palpable case of quality over quantity, The Blue Nile have weathered years of record company politics and internal strife as leader Leader Paul Buchanan tells David Davies about the bravery required to scrap months of work, the struggle to remain true to your values, and why songwriting is really not so different from sheep-herding...

Paul Buchanan has spent a good portion of the eight years between Peace At Last and last years High simply trying to keep his band together. By his own admission, this period was not the happiest for all concerned. Signed to a major label (Warners) then too embroiled in a corporate shakedown to focus on such a tender artefact as a Blue Nile album, the trio – Buchanan, bassist Robert Bell and keyboard player Paul Joseph Moore – began to question exactly where they had ended up.
“We had a little bit of a rough patch,” admits Buchanan, softly spoken and modest to a fault. “We’re notoriously polite people, and we had to publicly represent the work and just try and co-operate with everybody – and eventualy it got very difficult. There were many things where I just thought, This is actually holding up the process now. It’s like a footballer doing too many fashion ads – it starts to disrupt the football.”

Label-less and looking for a unifying goal after several traumatic years, The Blue Nile began a search to recapture the intangible magic that had infused their first two albums, A Walk Across the Rooftops (1983) and Hats (1989). Still one of the most original debuts to be released by an act affected in even the slightest way by the vagaries of pop, Rooftops was a highly visual piece of work, its combination of judicious atmospherics and Buchanan’s surging vocals evoking the traffic-clogged, rain-lashed vistas of their hometown, Glasgow. The beautifully-measured follow-up, Hats – the result of five trepidatious years of work that saw them ditch an entire album – was arguably even better: a seven-song cycle touching on futile romances and the need for reassurance. The return to their roots that followed the more guitar-based Peace At Last (1996) was not without its drama – not least, a reprisal of the pre-Hats episode that saw them scrap a whole batch of songs.
“It wasn’t the most pleasant of decisions,” admits Buchanan, “but it just wasn’t working. I would love to pretend that they were hidden treasures, but they weren’t. We’re just gentlemen amateurs, really. They weren’t up to scratch, and that’s it.”

Blue Nile Exquisite and emotionally resonant though their last album High was it was not an easy sell for new label Sanctuary, especially in an era when the prevalent assumption seems to be that the listener’s attention span for new music is only marginally longer than the latest advert for The Gap. All too aware that it’s tricky to describe the qualities The Blue Nile continue to search for without sounding overly precious, Buchanan is adamant that the desire for more involving culture – be it music, movies or books – remains strong. “[the same messages] are pushed in your face every time you switch on your computer or sit on a bus and look at the adverts. The same things get shoved at you all the time – there’s a club and you’re not in it. ‘Are you embarrassed by your ringtone?’ I mean, what?? I could never say you have to listen to us differently... but not everything is crashing drums and riffs. I’ve no patience with the keynote artefacts that crop in music over and over again. You’re supposed to have a certain kind of reverb on the drums on a dance record, and so on – it seems to me to be reducing our senses and reducing the experiences that we can have,” indeed it is Blue Nile’s willingness to seek out this very quality that continues to make their work so special.
Buchanan concludes: “We’ve done it from scratch instinctively in the hope that if we do something that’s free of our personalities to some extent, and free of any techniques that we might have in other areas of life, we’ll stumble across something more honest and more true.” Long may they continue to do so

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