[sic] Magazine

The Quintessential: The Blue Nile.

One band – summarised in 5 little songs.

The Blue Nile.

The quintessential explained.

For me, The Blue Nile will always remain synonymous with Sundays. As a teenager I spent most of my Sunday nights pulling last minute homework sessions with only myself and my music for company. John Peel had his legendary show on midweek nights whereas Sundays were more the province of (the sadly recently departed) Annie Nightingale. Annie adored The Blue Nile and championed the Glasgow-based band unashamedly. Tinseltown In The Rain and Heatwave featured regularly on her request show, so it wasn’t just me who was converted. This was how The Blue Nile garnered their small but fiercely loyal following.

Thank you Annie.

1. Tinseltown In The Rain

On paper, The Blue Niles honest sophistication shouldn’t have appealed to an indie kid such as myself. Morrissey may have been the critics ‘poet of choice’ back in that era, but I reckon I learned more from Paul Buchanan and The Blue Nile. They were better role models. Cool, intelligent but self-effacing, there was zero hubris with The Blue Nile. In their own words they were “trying to get out of the way of the music” which itself has an understated reverence. It tended to be Tinseltown In The Rain that was the gateway for most of us – such a cool, distinctive song – sparse, melancholic, yet achingly romantic. I was rapt. I had to own the album.

A Walk Across The Rooftops was literally created for our ears. The backstory to The Blue Niles debut long player is an almost mythical tale. To make a long story short, high end hi-fi specialists, Linn wanted a test record to use for their listening rooms. The Blue Nile were the ones approached and the resultant A Walk Across The Rooftops became a ‘word of mouth’ sleeper success. The aforementioned Tinseltown In The Rain is our first pick. It really is the quintessential Blue Nile song. If you don’t like this one, you can probably stop reading now.

2. The Downtown Lights

For many people follow-up album Hats is the greatest Blue Nile album, if not the greatest album by anyone, period. I personally can’t separate the first two to be honest. Nor do I see any reason why I should have to. There was a five year wait between Rooftops and Hats. It felt like fifteen at the time but it was well worth it! Hats is sublime. It is the better album overall with nary a bad track on there. Downtown Lights is our quintessential pick. Headlights On The Parade ran this one very close but Downtown Lights really is Hats equivalent of Tinseltown, being both the first promotional single, in position 2 on the album and of course drenched in blurry-eyed romanticism.

3. Family Life

In taking 22 years to make just four albums, we might be forgiven for measuring The Blue Nile’s releases in dog years rather than human. Third album, Peace At Last was itself a seven year wait. To their credit The Blue Nile aimed for something slightly different on this one, somewhat foregoing electronic instrumentation in favour of more acoustic playing. I remember Peace At Last not quite landing with critics and fans at the time. I mean, how do you follow Hats? How could anyone? With the benefit of hindsight and having been given time to breathe, Peace At Last is a solid album.

No promotional videos sadly. I went for Family Life, a really strong piece of songwriting. Below is actually a Paul Buchanan solo version, chosen more to give you a decent video experience than any snub on the full version. The band did go on Later with Jools Holland to do Body And Soul but the video for that one is a little blurry. Mind you, it does tend to get a little dusty listening to these boys. So maybe that’s apt.

4. Mid Air

From now on it gets a lot more subjective. No Nile fan would quibble at any of the selections thus far. However the final two picks could be anything. Fourth and final album High was seen by some as a return to form. Hats #2, if you like. Others were less swayed. I just think the surprise element had gone. The Blue Nile had a signature sound and that’s what people wanted. The band could never surpass such expectations, only meet them. They were also suffering a kind of band fatigue at that point. However in spite of all this The Blue Nile did everything in their power to make sure the final album was good. If High had been the debut we would have all fallen off our chairs.

For our quintessential pick I toyed with Because Of Toledo, Soul Boy and Stay Close. If anyone is looking for a High sample track, look no further as those are all great. However our fourth quintessential pick is Mid Air from Pauls solo album. You may recognise it from one of those film thingies. (About Time)

5. Easter Parade

We’ve been High, we’ve been Mid Air, where can we go now? There’s only one place to finish and that is back at the beginning. This is the quintessential after all. We need to capture the essence of The Blue Nile. That, my friends has to include Easter Parade.

Pared back to the bones and drenched in nostalgia, Easter Parade is my favourite Blue Nile song ever. Tinseltown runs it close, as does the lesser-spotted Regret, but Easter Parade takes the gold medal. No other band has sounded remotely like this. Like many Blue Nile songs, the city acts as a metaphor for the self. Easter Parade is a neat example of this and speaks to me about finding inner peace.

The line of traffic
comes to a standstill
For the love King, out in the morning air
I find a place I started from
The wild is calling, this time I follow
Easter parade

Easter Parade doesn’t have an official video but I found this TV spot online where Paul duets with Rickie Lee Jones.

There, dear reader, is The Blue Nile in 5 easy steps.

The Quintessential: The Afghan Whigs.