ROBERT BUCHANAN-FROM THE BLUE NILE TO THE SOLO YEARS.

Robert Buchanan-From The Blue Nile To The Solo Years.

Enigmatic, reluctant and contrarian are words that best describe The Blue Nile, who were the complete opposite to most bands. To say that tThe Blue Nile were publicity shy is something of an understatement. Ever since Paul Buchanan, Robert Bell and P.J. Moore formed the Blue Nile in 1981, they’ve been one of the most low-profile bands in musical history. It seems that when they were formed they ticked the “no publicity” box. This has proved a double-edged sword, and resulted in The Blue Nile becoming one of the most enigmatic groups ever. Their story began at the prestigious Glasgow University.

Paul Buchanan was born on ‘16th’ of April 1956 in Edinburgh, Scotland but his family moved to Glasgow when the future Blue Nile frontman was still a child. That was where he met his lifelong friend Robert Bell.  The pair grew up together, and when it came to head to university, they both enrolled at Glasgow University.

That was where Paul Buchanan studied literature and medieval history, while Robert Bell was a mathematics undergraduate. Glasgow University was also where Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell first encountered Paul Joseph Moore, who was studying electronics. P.J. Moore had also grown up in the same part of Glasgow as Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell, but their paths didn’t cross until they were all undergraduates. By then, Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell’s musical careers were well underway.

Prior to forming The Blue Nile, Paul Buchanan, Robert Bell and P.J. Moore were previously members of another short-lived Glasgow based band, Night By Night. It was originally name McIntyre, in homage to the John McIntyre Building, which was the name of Glasgow University’s administrative offices. Soon, McIntyre became Night By Night and the nascent band made its first tentative steps  in the Glasgow music scene.

Later, Paul Buchanan admitted that Night By Night only played live on two or three occasions. The band was never a familiar face on the Glasgow music scene. Nor did Night By Night secure that elusive recording contract. They were told that their music wasn’t seen as commercial enough. That wasn’t the Night On Night’s only problem. 

Part of the problem was Night By Night’s fluid lineup. Members joined and left the band, and by 1981 the last men standing were  Paul Buchanan, Robert Bell and P.J. Moore. They decided not to bother recruiting another band member, and swapped a guitar for an effect pedal. Their next move was to borrow a drum machine, which was only able to play Hispanic American music. With these new additions to their lineup, a new band was born.

For the nascent band, necessity was the mother of invention, and they began to play live. They had no option as they badly needed the money. Soon, they were playing cover versions around the city. Part of their lineup was the drum machine which provided Hispanic American rhythms. Despite this, people recognised the songs the band played and they escaped relatively unscathed. It had been a learning experience as their new band was christened The Blue Nile.

Once The Blue Nile were formed, they setup 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 rereleased on the RSO label. Unfortunately for the Blue Nile, RSO became part of the Polygram label and I Love This Life disappeared without trace. Despite this setback, The Blue Nile persisted.

Still, 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. That was in the future.

Recording of The Blue Nile’s demos took place at Castlesound studio near Edinburgh. That’s home to the man whose often referred to as the fourth member of The Blue Nile, recording engineer Callum Malcolm. He was listening to recently recorded demos through the studio’s Linn Electronics system. It had recently had a new set of speakers fitted. Around that time,  Linn’s founder, Ivor Tiefenbrun, decided to visit Calum Malcolm to hear his thoughts on the speakers. That was when Ivor Tiefenbrun first heard The Blue Nile. 

Calum Malcolm played Ivor Tiefenbrun a demo of Tinseltown In The Rain. Straight away, the founder of Linn was hooked. He decided to offer The Blue Nile a record contract to the label he was in the process of founding. Most bands would’ve jumped at the opportunity. Not The Blue Nile.

It took The Blue Nile nine months before they replied to Ivor Tiefenbrun’s offer. When they did, the answer was yes. The Blue Nile’s debut album A Walk Across The Rooftops would be released on Ivor Tiefenbrun’s newly formed label Linn Records.

A Walk Across the Rooftops.

Linn Records and The Blue Nile seemed a marriage made in musical heaven. They weren’t like a major label who would be pressurizing The Blue Nile into making a decision and delivering an album within a certain timeframe. Instead, Linn Records allowed The Blue Nile to do what they did best, make music. From the outside, this looked as if it was working, and working well.

Years later, Paul Buchanan commented that during Linn Records didn’t operate like a record label. Mind you, he conceded that, during this period, The Blue Nile didn’t operate as a band. However, eventually, in May 1984 The Blue Nile’s debut album was released on Linn Records.

On the release of A Walk Across the Rooftops, it was released to critical acclaim. Critics described the album as a minor classic. A Walk Across the Rooftops was described as atmospheric, ethereal, evocative, soulful and soul-baring. It also featured the vocals of troubled troubadour Paul Buchanan. Despite the critical acclaim A Walk Across the Rooftops enjoyed, it wasn’t a huge commercial success, reaching just number eighty in the UK. However, since the A Walk Across the Rooftops has been recognised as a classic album. So has the followup Hats.

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Hats.

Unlike most bands, The Blue Nile weren’t in any rush to release their sophomore album Hats. There was a five-year gap between A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats. It was well worth the wait as The Blue Nile had done it again, and released a classic album. 

Hats featured  seven tracks which were written by Paul Buchanan, Glasgow’s answer to Frank Sinatra He’s a tortured troubadour, whose voice sounds as if he’s lived a thousand lives. Producing Hats was a group effort, with Paul Buchanan, Robert Bell and P.J. Moore taking charge of production duties. Guiding them, was Callum Malcolm. On the release of Hats, British and American audiences proved more discerning and appreciative of the Blue Nile’s sophomore album Hats.

On the release of Hats in the UK in 1989, it was critically acclaimed and commercial success, reaching number twelve in the UK. Then when it was released in America in 1990, audiences seemed to “get” Hats. Not only did it reach number 108 in the US Billboard 200 Charts, but The Downtown Lights reached number ten in the US Modern Rock Tracks charts. It seemed that The Blue Nile were more popular in America, than in Britain. Gradually, The Blue Nile’s music was beginning to find a wider and more appreciative album. Especially when The Blue Nile decided to embark upon their debut tour later in 1989.

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Although The Blue Nile were formed in 1981, and Hats was The Blue Nile’s sophomore album, the band had never toured. Partly, The Blue Nile seemed worried about replicating the sound of their first two albums. They needn’t have worried, with The Blue Nile seamlessly replicating the sonic perfection of A Walk Across The Rooftops and Hats on the sold out tour. The Blue Nile’s star was definitely in the ascendancy.

Their first ever tour had been a huge success and The Blue Nile had conquered Britain. However, The Blue Nile had also made a breakthrough in America. Hats had sold well, and their American tour had been successful. Most bands would’ve been keen to build on this and released another album before long. Not The Blue Nile.

Seven long years passed, where Blue Nile fans wondered what had become of Glasgow’s most enigmatic trio. However, they’d been busy. After Hats found its way onto American radio stations, The Blue Nile, who previously, had been one of music’s best kept secrets, were heard by a number of prestigious musicians. Among them were Robbie Robertson and Annie Lennox, Michael McDonald. After a decade struggling to get their music heard, The Blue Nile were big news. During this period, America would become like a second home to The Blue Nile, especially Paul Buchanan.

Paul took to life in America, and in 1991, decided to make it his home. This just so happened to coincide with Paul Buchanan’s relationship with actress Rosanna Arquette between 1991 and 1993. Hollywood starlets and Sunset Boulevard was a long way from Glasgow’s West End. In the midst of Paul Buchanan’s relationship, disaster struck for The Blue Nile, when they were dropped by their label.

Linn Records and Virgin decided to drop The Blue Nile. For some groups this would’ve been a disaster. Not for The Blue Nile. 

They signed a million Dollar deal with Warner Bros. While this sounded like the ideal solution for The Blue Nile, Paul Buchanan made the deal without telling  P.J. Moore and Robert Bell. He later explained that “none of the others were in town at the time.” With a new contract signed,  The Blue Nile began thinking about their third album, Peace At Last.

Peace At Last.

Witt work about to start on their third album, The Blue Nile started looking for the perfect location to record their third album. They travelled across Europe looking for the right location. This location had to be private and suit their portable recording studio. Cities were suggested, considered and rejected. Among them, were Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Venice. Being  The Blue Nile, things were never simple. Eventually, and after much contemplation The Blue Nile ended up recording what became Peace At Last in three locations, Paris, Dublin and Los Angeles. For the first time, The Blue Nile recorded an album outside of their native Scotland.

For their major label debut, things began to change for The Blue Nile. They brought onboard drummer Nigel Thomas, a string section and a gospel choir. Peace At Last was going to be a quite different album to A Walk Across The Rooftops and Hats. However, one things stayed the same, The Blue Nile continued to work with Calum Malcolm. With his help, Peace At Last was ready for release in June 1996. Before that, critics had their say.

Critics remarked upon the change of sound on Peace At Last. It had a much more understated, restrained sound. Acoustic guitars and piano play important parts. Still, The Blue Nile’s beloved synths remain. Occasionally, The Blue Nile add strings. There’s even a gospel choir on Happiness. Gone was the sound of A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats. Peace At Last showed a different side to The Blue Nile and their music, one that divided the opinion of critics and fans. Paul, Robert and P.J. were back, but it was a different sound. One constant was Paul Buchanan’s worldweary vocal. Glasgow’s very own Frank Sinatra, Paul Buchanan plays the role of the troubled troubadour, to a tee on songs about  love, love lost, betrayal, heartbreak, growing up and growling old. Paul Buchanan was still the tortured soul, who wore his heart on his sleeve on Peace At Last.

On the release of Peace At Last, in June 1996, it reached just number thirteen and sold poorly. For The Blue Nile this was disappointing, given it was their major label debut. Worse was to come when the lead single Happiness failed to chart. The Blue Nile’s major label debut hadn’t gone to plan. Sadly, Peace At Last was the only album The Blue Nile released on a major label.

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High.

Following Peace At Last, it was eight years before The Blue Nile released another album. High was released in 2004. During the last eight years, the three members of The Blue Nile had been leading separate lives. While P.J. Moore and Robert Bell were content  with their lives in the West End of Glasgow, while Paul Buchanan had been spending his time between Glasgow and Hollywood. Now they were back and ready to record their fourth album, High. 

Once High was recorded, all that was left was for The Blue Nile to find a label to release the album. The Blue Nile had been dropped by Warner Bros. So with High completed album, The Blue Nile shopped High to various labels. Eventually, they settled on Sanctuary, which would release High in August 2004. However, before that, critics welcomed back The Blue Nile.

Eight years after the release of Peace At Last, critics remarked that High was a much more grownup album. Songs of family life and heartbreak sat side-by-side. Paul Buchanan who had been suffering with illness and fatigue, seemed to have found a new lease of life. His lyrics are emotional, observational, cinematic and rich in imagery. They’re also poignant, and full hope, hurt and anguish. Meanwhile, Paul Buchanan’s vocals were worldweary and knowing, while the music is emotive, ethereal and evocative. Critics love High. So did music lovers.

When High in August 2004, the album reached number ten in the UK. High proved to be The Blue Nile most successful album. This proved to be fitting.

High was The Blue Nile’s swan-song. Nobody realised this when the album was released. It was only as years passed without a followup to High, that the reality sunk in. There would be no more music from The Blue Nile, and one of the greatest bands of their generation was now part of musical history. 

Following High, critics thought that The Blue Nile would return, possibly after another lengthy break. Sadly, that wasn’t to be, and The Blue Nile were no more. At least they did things their way. Right up until the release of High, The Blue Nile were enigmatic, almost reclusive and publicity shy. Mind you, The Blue Nile weren’t exactly your normal band. 

The rock ’n’ roll lifestyle favoured by other bands wasn’t for The Blue Nile. Their music was much more cerebral, and had a substance that much of the music recorded between 1984 and 2004 lacked. During that twenty year period, The Blue Nile only recorded four albums. These albums are unique. Musical fashions and fads didn’t affect The Blue Nile. Their attitude was almost contrarian and albums were recorded slowly and methodically as the Blue Nile strived for musical perfection. 

Many have tried to achieve perfection. However, very few have come as close as The Blue Nile. Their debut album A Walk Across The Rooftops and the followup Hats, are nowadays both regarded as classic albums where The Blue Nile came close to achieving perfection.  Peace At Last and High show another side to The Blue Nile. There’s a much more grownup sound, to the albums. However, just like A Walk Across The Rooftops and Hats, both albums showcase one of the most talented bands in Scottish musical history, The Blue Nile. 

While The Blue Nile never enjoyed the commercial success their music deserved, they stayed true to themselves. They never jumped onto a musical bandwagon in pursuit of fame, fortune or starlets. Quite the opposite. For The Blue Nile it was their way or no way. If an album took years to record, so be it. It was always worth the wait. After all, not many bands pursue perfection, and achieve that perfection four times. The Blue Nile did, and ended their career on a High

The Solo Years.

Eight years after the release of 2004s The Blue Nile’s swan-song High, Paul Buchanan returned in May 2012 with his long-awaited and much-anticipated debut solo album, Mid Air. It was a very different sounding album from Paul Buchanan, who had changed in the eight intervening years. 

Mid Air featured an  older and wiser Paul Buchanan who was now fifty-six. From and from the music on Mid Air, Paul Buchanan had spent much of his time reflecting on life and everything it has thrown him. Whether it was love or loss or pain and death, it has affected Paul Buchanan and influenced the music on Mid Air.

This included the death of one of Paul Buchanan’s closest friends, which has caused him pain and hurt. It also made Paul Buchanan reflect on mortality and  the breakup of The Blue Nile which  had caused him pain and hurt. The Blue Nile were more than just a band, they were members had been three close friends for over thirty years.  Paul Buchanan thought that The Blue Nile would last forever and its breakup was yet another loss that scarred him emotionally. The demise of The Blue Nile and everything that’s happened to Paul Buchanan between 2004 and 2013 shaped the music on Mid Air.

Mid Air featured  fourteen songs written by Paul Buchanan in his flat in Glasgow’s West End. With just a piano in his kitchen for company, Paul Buchanan spent the early hours of many a night writing the songs on Mid Air Rather than write the songs on his trusty guitar, he preferred the immediacy of the piano. He could just sit down whenever he wanted, working on an idea for a song. Eventually, Paul Buchanan had fourteen songs written, and the recording took place mostly in his Glasgow flat, but also at a studio in Glasgow.

Recording of Mid Air took place over a period of two years and was recorded by Cameron Malcolm, son of Calum Malcolm The Blue Nile’s former producer. Joining  Paul Buchanan was his oldest friend Robert Bell, The Blue Nile’s bassist. Two of the three members of The Blue Nile were back in the studio and working  on Mid Air. Eventually, after two long years, Mid Air was released on 21st May 2012. 

Just like The Blue Nile’s debut album twenty-eight years previously, Mid Air was released to critical acclaim. Critics welcomed the return of the former Blue Nile frontman, as he embarked upon a solo career. 

On the release of Mid Air, the album reached number fourteen in the UK. This meant that Mid Air had almost matched the success of The Blue Nile’s most successful album High, which had reached number ten in the UK. In his native Scotland, Mid Air reached number one, while it reached number four in Ireland. It seems that fans loved the older, wiser and more pensive Paul Buchanan that features on Mid Air.

Mid Air was without doubt, a very personal album from Paul Buchanan. Sometimes Glashow’s own troubled troubadour  lays bare his soul, while other times he’s searching for answers to what life had thrown him since The Blue Nile released their swan-song High in 2004.  Other times,  it was as if Paul Buchanan was  searching for the meaning of life itself as he delivers a series of worldweary vocals on Mid Air. It’s a really mature, grown-up album from Paul Buchanan,

He was  fifty-six when Mid Air was released, and his world-weary voice has matured with age. So have his talents as a songwriter. In many ways, Paul Buchanan has become Scotland’s answer to Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. Not only has age resulted in wisdom, but  fourteen tales of life, love and loss. To put this into perspective, it took The Blue Nile eight years and two albums to produce fourteen tracks, whereas Mid Air took but two years from start to finish. 

Many critics hoped that Paul Buchanan would return with his sophomore solo album before he turned sixty. Sadly, that wasn’t to be and  Paul Buchanan turned sixty on 16 April 2016. That day, the former Blue Nile  was eligible for free travel around Glasgow’s West End where he still lives. Later in 2016, it was the thirty-fifth anniversary of the founding of The Blue Nile in 1981. Still there was no sign of the reissue of The Blue Nile’s 2004 swan-song High. 

Just over a year later, and still there’s no sign of the reissue of High. Nor is there any sign of  Paul Buchanan returning with his long-awaited sophomore album. By now, critics and record buyers know that things take time in the world of The Blue Nile. Maybe Paul Buchanan will return with the followup to Mid Air by the time he’s sixty-five? Let’s hope so, as Glasgow’s troubled troubadour has traveled the same roads as  many of the people who bought The Blue Nile’s four albums and Mid Air.

They want to hear more of Paul Buchanan’s engaging and emotive music which speaks to and for them. Especially as Paul Buchanan explores subjects that are relevant to their lives nowadays. This ranges  from  love and loss, to heartbreak, hurt and hope right through to regret and sadness. These are the subjects and emotions that Paul Buchanan’s older, more mature audiences are experiencing and thinking about in 2017.  While The Blue Nile’s music still strikes a chord with them, and always will, they need someone to put into words what they’re now feeling and experiencing. One man capable of doing that is  Paul Buchanan, who has similar experiences and has travelled the same roads and can articulates their experiences and emotions. That is what  Paul Buchanan has spent a lifetime doing, and hopefully what Glasgow’s troubled troubadour will continue to do on his long-awaited and much-anticipated sophomore album.

Robert Buchanan-From The Blue Nile To The Solo Years.

 

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