A Walk Across the Rooftops is the debut album from The Blue Nile. It was released in 1983 on the Linn record label. The Blue Nile were formed in 1981, when two friends Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell, met Paul Joseph Moore, all of whom met at Glasgow University. Prior to forming The Blue Nile, Buchanan and Bell were previously members of a band called Night By Night. However, they type of music Night By Night performed was not deemed commercial enough, and they were unable to gain a recording contract.

Once The Blue Nile were formed, they set up their own record label Peppermint Records. It was on Peppermint Records that The Blue Nile released their debut single, I Love This Life. This single was then picked up and re-released on the RSO label. Unfortunately for The Blue Nile RSO became part of the Polygram label and I Love This Life disappeared without trace.

The Blue Nile kept writing and recording material after the merger of RSO with Polygram. Some of that material would later be found on  A Walk Across the Rooftops. When recording engineer Calum Malcolm heard The Blue Nile’s music, he alerted Linn Electronics. This was to prove a fortuitous break for the band. Linn gave The Blue Nile money to record a song that they could use to demonstrate the quality of Linn’s top-class stereo products. However, when Linn heard the track they were so pleased that decided to set up their own record label to release A Walk Across the Rooftops. Although this allowed the band to finally release their debut album, Buchanan at a later date, speculated whether Linn was the correct label to have signed to. He said that he felt that Linn did not operate like a record label, however, he conceded that, during that period, The Blue Nile were not like a band.

When A Walk Across the Rooftops was released it received which were positive. However, in the intervening years A Walk Across the Rooftops has gained almost a cult status and is widely recognized as one of the finest British albums of the last thirty years. When this album came out the music scene in Scotland was particularly strong. Bands such as The Associates,  

So what makes A Walk Across the Rooftops such a special album. There are only seven songs and the album and it only lasts just over thirty-eight minutes, but within those thirty-eight minutes, the lush, atmospheric sound produced by The Blue Nile drawing the listener in, holding their attention, and at the end of the album the listener finds themselves wishing that there was more of the same. When one listens carefully to this album, one hears strings that are lush, a bass that is funky, and Buchanan’s world-weary voice, bringing soulfulness to the intelligent lyrics. Buchanan’s is a troubled troubadour, a tormented soul, someone who has experienced the vagaries of life, and sounds like someone who has experienced everything that life can throw at him.  The album is in a word, exceptional. 

With the exception of Tinseltown In The rain, the tempo of the album is slow, the arrangements of the songs exquisite, with the intelligent use of space adding to, rather than detracting from, the albums impact.  There is a hauntingly beautiful feel that runs throughout the album, the sound epitomizes the city of Glasgow, with the lyrics name-checking and describing places that will be familiar to the people of that city. To me, when I listen to the album, I always think of Glasgow, of places and people, of memories mostly good.

The opening track A Walk Across the Rooftops is the first track on the album and is a slow track. it is a song about love and being in love, and the slow tempo adds to the impact of the lyrics. The beautiful lush strings, the slow steady beat of a drum machine and Buchanan’s voice combine to make this song a thing of beauty. This song is a love song with a difference. In the song, Buchanan sing of his love for Glasgow, and name-checks the things he loves about the city. It is a great way to the start the album, and amazingly, the quality is kept up from the start of the album to its finish.

Tinseltown In the Rain is the most upbeat song on the album. The song starts with a funky bass solo and keyboard combining, then the other instruments kick in, and Buchanan starts to sing some really beautiful lyrics. The lyrics reminds me of Glasgow, even the title puts me in mind of a rainy, winter night in Glasgow, people going about their business in the cold and wet, lovers walking hand in hand, and the neon lights casting their shadows over the buildings and the city. Again, on this track the string arrangements take this track to another level. Here we have a great song, with emotive lyrics, beautifully arranged, performed and produced.

From Rags To Riches is the third song on the album. At the start of the album the atmospheric sounds and the mid-tempo beat have a somewhat industrial sound. Buchanan’s vocal and the lyrics make the song. Later on in the track, the industrial sound continues and the soundscape that this song is, grows and grows, and ends up really working. To someone who has never heard The Blue Nile before, this song may seem like difficult listening, but once familiar with the song, the combination of the various instruments and sounds, mean that the whole is greater that the sum of the parts that make up this song.

Next on the album is Stay, a song with a slightly quicker tempo that Rags To Riches. It finds Buchanan singing about what is obviously a crumbling relationship, and pleading with his partner to stay, and that he will change and “learn to understand you”. Again, we have an interesting combination of instruments which combine effectively to produce a good track. The way the track evolves is due to good and careful arrangement and production. 

Easter Parade is the next song and is a really slow song. It is apparently about a young man being stuck on a street whilst an Easter parade takes place around him. This evokes old and painful memories, when he attended church and learned about  religion and the death of Christ. This is a sad and incredibly moving song. 

Heatwave is the penultimate song on the album. This is a much more traditional song that the previous one. It starts slowly, and although some of the sounds at the start are somewhat unorthodox, the song’s structure quickly takes a more traditional form. The band play under Buchanan’s vocal, and the variety of sounds that make up the overall sound of instrumentation on the album, and Buchanan’s vocal combine to make this a great song with powerful lyrics.

The final song on the album is Automobile Noise. This is a return to what I would call the industrial sound that is heard on Rags To Riches. This is a slow song, where the start of the song is a cumulation of almost avante-garde sounds and traditional instruments. This works, and works well. The lyrics seem to be commenting on one person’s struggle to cope with life in the city, they find urban life tiring, almost soul destroying, they tire of the daily grind, and are fed up just keeping their head above water. They long to walk away from chasing the wealth the city promises, but that is always is just out of their reach. When you analyze the lyrics, there is a lot of truth in the lyrics, and what is remarkable is that this song came out in 1983. This song is a strong one, and is a good way to close this album.

In my opinion, and that of many other people, The Blue Nile are one of the most underrated bands of the last thirty years. Although they have only made four albums in thirty years, they are four great albums. A Walk Across the Rooftops is one of the best debut albums that I have ever heard. However, Hats which is the follow up to A Walk Across the Rooftops, is as good, if not better. Their third and fourth albums Peace At Last and High had considerably more commercial success than the first two albums.  However, as much as they are good albums I prefer A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats, and should you never have heard The Blue Nile’s music, I would suggest that you buy them first. Then once you have savored the delights of these albums, I would then advice you to buy Peace At Last and High. Should you buy The Blue Nile’s four albums, I am sure that you will be smitten by their wonderful music and treasure these fabulous albums.


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