THE BLUE NILE-HATS

The Blue Nile-Hats.

Label: Confetti Records.

Enigmatic, reluctant and contrarian are words that best of describe The Blue Nile. They’re the complete opposite of most bands. The Blue Nile have been described as publicity shy. That’ is an understatement. Ever since Paul Buchanan, Robert Bell and Paul Joseph Moore formed the Blue Nile, they’ve been one of the most low-profile bands in musical history. It seems that when they were formed thirty-eight years ago, The Blue Nile 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 thirty-five years ago. 

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. Before forming The Blue Nile, Buchanan and Bell were previously members of a band called Night By Night. Try as they may, a recording contract eluded them. Night By Night’s music  wasn’t deemed commercial enough. So Paul, Robert and P.J. decided to form a new band, The Blue Nile.

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 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, 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 Calum 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. So the company founder, Ivor Tiefenbrun, decided to visit Calum Malcolm to hear his thoughts on the speakers. That’s 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 new label Linn Reords.

A Walk Across the Rooftops.

Linn Records and The Blue Nile seemed a marriage made in musical heaven. Linn Records weren’t like a major label, pressurising 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 worth the wait. The Blue Nile had done it again. Hats was a classic. 

Featuring seven tracks, 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, Robert and P.J. 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, and showcased what was one of the albums of the year.

In many ways, Hats is a like a musical journey, a voyage of discovery. Over The Hillside is the first step on the journey. Slow, spacious drums, washes of wistful synths and a dramatic guitar combine. Then Paul’s worldweary vocal enters. The sheer drudgery, repetitiveness and almost hopelessness of everyday life flavors Paul’s vocal. Sage-like, he sees through living to work and working to live. It fills him with dread and despair. Reflecting this, is the arrangement, with its somewhat industrial, repetitiveness. Drums with a synthetic, monotonous regularity and washes of wistful synths combine. As the drums reflect the pointlessness of the 9 to 5 life, synths offer a sympathetic backdrop. Meanwhile, eloquently and giving voice to the lack of hope, opportunity and escape, is Paul’s vocal, which brings to life the relentless grind of modern life. Bleak, honest but eloquence personified is this five minute track.

A sprinkling of cascading synths gives way to thunderous drums and washes of synths as The Downtown Lights begins. Soon, Paul Buchanan’s tortured vocal enters. It’s a mixture of emotions, worldweary, but heartfelt and reassuring. Drums cracks, synths fill the gaps and a pounding, broody bass reflects the drama in Paul’s vocal. As the arrangement grows in power and drama, so too does the emotion and reassurance in Paul’s voice. When he sings “it’s alright,” you believe him. His vocal grows in emotion and soulfulness, enveloped by swathes of synths, a funky bass and crispy drums. Later, as the power, drama and emotion grows, driven along by chiming guitars, you realize this is deeply soulful, but not soul music. Instead, it’s music for the soul, music about love, being in love and insecurity.

Waves of synths meander, growing in tension and drama. Let’s Go Out Tonight has just began to reveal its cerebral beauty. Guitars chime, while the backdrop is minimalistic. Paul’s whispered vocal is filled with despair. His relationship is almost over. It’s on its last legs. Rather than stay home and talk about it, it’s easier to go out. Best to dance around the subject and problems, rather admit it’s over. Meanwhile, synths, keyboards and guitar join Paul’s vocal, as he lays bare his soul, his hurt and heartache. His voice is tinged with regret and sadness, as if he can’t believe it’s over. For anyone whose been in this situation, or is going through it, then this song describes it perfectly. Quite simply, this is highlight of Hats and one of the Blue Nile’s greatest songs.

The tempo increase on Headlights On The Parade. So too does the emotion. Blue Nile mix moody funk courtesy of the bass and guitars with waves of bright, hopeful synths and stabs of keyboards. It’s almost as if they’re setting the scene for the worldweary troubadour, Paul Buchanan. From the moment Paul’s vocal begins, his vocal is filled with emotion. Saying: “I love you” isn’t easy, it’s hard, the three hardest words for him to say. Waves of symphonic, hopeful music cascade, envelop Paul’s vocal as he finally plucks up the courage.When he does, it’s almost a relief, it seems. Keyboards and quivering strings join him. Having found the courage, they serenade the one he loves. The result is an elegant, symphonic and beautiful song, one about conquering and overcoming the fear of commitment and the fear of rejection.

From A Late Night Train is a track that’s wonderfully moody and melancholy. The arrangement is broody and minimalistic, meandering behind Paul’s heartfelt vocal. It’s a bit like Frank Sinatra meets Brian Eno. Keyboards picked out carefully and cautiously are joined by occasional bursts of wistful horns. Slowly, Paul delivers lyrics that are poetic, with a strong narrative and steeped in emotion. His half-spoken vocal is filled with sadness, as he sings of his relationship being “over now.” You can imagine him heartbroken, sitting on the late night train, wondering why and what could I have done differently? Considering this track is only four minutes long, it’s a poetic, descriptive and emotive tour de force, Blue Nile style.

Squelchy synths, crunchy drums and percussion join a funky bass as Seven A.M. unfolds. A combination of an industrial sounding arrangement, which brings to mind Can, Neu and Velvet Underground join Paul’s worldweary, wistful vocal. Pensive, probing and questioning, he wonders “where is the love?”  It’s a question posed a thousand times before, puzzling poets and philosophers alike. Paul sounds just as puzzled, pondering, wondering. Lovelorn and confused Paul and the Blue Nile bring out the subtleties and beauties of the lyrics, but pose a question that’s unanswerable, even for them.

Saturday Night sees the Blue Nile close Hats with another of their Magnus Opus.’ Like Let’s Go Out Tonight, this is classic Blue Nile. Washes and stabs of synths, chiming guitars, a buzzing bass and crispy drums combine with Paul’s vocal. It’s a mixture of hope, happiness and longing, but tinged with insecurity. Washes of synths and lush strings cascade. They sweep and swirl, and are joined by chiming guitars. Together they envelope Paul’s deeply soulful vocal. His vocal is filled with hope and emotion and plays its part in one of the most beautiful tracks the Blue Nile ever recorded. As if a remastered version of Hats isn’t enough in itself, then there’s the bonus disc.

Unlike the original version of Hats, the newly remastered  version includes a second disc of six bonus tracks. While these tracks may not be particularly rare, they offer an insight to an enigmatic band. A live studio version of Seven A.M, alternate versions of Saturday Night Let’s Go Out Tonight are three hidden gems from The Blue Nile back-catalogue. So too is the live version of Headlights On the Parade, which is the perfect reminder of how good a live band the Blue Nile were. The Wires Are Down is a tantalizing glimpse of The Blue Nile and what might have been. I’m sure there’s many more tracks like this hidden, safely away in The Blue Nile’s vaults. Hopefully, before too long, we’ll be able to hear many more of these hidden gems. So, having told you about the newly released, remastered version of Hats, is Hats a better album than their debut album A Walk Across the Rooftops?

Hats is a captivating, bewitching and beautiful album, where The Blue Nile lay bare their soul. Not only do they lay bare their soul, but articulate their hopes, fears, frustrations and dreams. Articulating this range of emotions, is Glasgow’s troubled troubadour, who mixes Frank Sinatra, Tom Waits and Tim Buckley, but doing so in a way that’s almost quintessentially Scottish. This newly remastered version of Hats accentuates the Scottishness of the seven songs. However, despite this quintessentially Scottishness, the music transcends geographical boundaries. For anyone whose lived, lost and lost love, then this album speaks to and for them. It brings to life their heartache and hurt, their sense of how life will never be quite the same again. Combining elements as diverse as Brian Eno, Can, Neu and the Velvet Underground Hats is an album of many influences, but unique. Only the Blue Nile could produce an album so special, so deeply soulful, beautiful and emotive. In some ways, Hats is a very different album from A Walk Across the Rooftops, the Blue Nile’s debut album. However, is Hats a better album?

A Walk Across the Rooftops was one of the best debut albums released by a Scottish, or indeed British band. A Walk Across the Rooftops belongs in every self-respected record collection. So too does Hats. Both albums are the perfect introduction the Blue Nile and their music. After just one listen to the seven tracks on A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats, you’ll fall in love with the music of The Blue Nile. These were the two best albums of The Blue Nile’s career. Choosing which is the best album is like asking a parent which of their children is their favorite child. Just like they’d refuse to answer the question, I’m going to refuse to choose between not just two of my favorite albums, but two of the best albums released by a British band in the last forty years. Instead, I’ll leave you to decided. The best way to do this, is to buy copies of A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats, two of best albums by one of music’s best kept secrets.

The Blue Nile-Hats.

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