Wednesday, 13 April 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - Nileism

This was one of those books that I was really excited about reading when I heard it was coming out but also felt a some uncertainty as to whether I wanted to read it at all.

Firstly to try and explain this , Nileism is a book purely for fans and Blue Nile fans tend to be a hard core bunch. Some artists you can drift in and out of love with . I love the U2 of Zooropa and Achtung Baby, quite fancy the U2 of Unforgettable Fire but can take or leave the other stuff and had a quiet divorce with How to Dismantle a Bomb and Rattle and Hum.

Fans of the Blue Nile don't do that , they are in for the long haul and fall on every new release like a first love. A lot of people I'm sure think 4 lps in 30 years ... what is the fuss about? I threw a major strop when my wife described Walk across the Rooftops of as sounding a bit dated (even now if god forbid things went pear shaped I'll be citing this to the lawyers)

Therefore the thought of a biography written by someone who knows the band and had heard un released tracks well ..... but on the other hand like other fans I can be a tad over precious.

Secondly, The band come with their own mystique. They gave few interviews , not much press with each treasured release and in the lengthening gaps between lps disappeared off the music press radar. The music they make itself is full of that romanticism and mystique. The fear was that this was a bit of a sham and that it was all about the mundane and the whole thing cobbled together by chance.

So having read it what did I end up thinking. Well thankfully the mystique remains and one thing that author Allan Brown gets across really well is the way the 3 band members operate in their own world , you feel the agonising attention to detail and the drive to get things just so to match their shared vision. One of the best bits of the book is showing how the closeness, the intensity becomes destructive leading to the struggles with Peace at Last and High and to the eventual situation where it now looks extremely unlikely that there will be a 5th lp (I think they still all live in the same part of Glasgow but aren't in contact with each other). At times you get the feeling it wasn't a band but a cult of 4 (the 3 band members and engineer Calum Malcolm) with music the vehicle.

The other surprising interesting thing is the business element and the relationships with the various outsiders in terms of record companies and managers. The reason for this strength points to the weakness of the book . The strength is that these elements in down to the fact that Brown interviews all those involved and so you get some individual outside looking in perspectives. The weakness is that access to the band is limited. There are earlier interviews with Buchanan who in the end didn't actively support the book and none with Moore or Bell who didn't contribute at all. As a result there is a lot of hypothesis which can on occasion feels like over interpretation or analysis and the balance is skewed to Buchanan (which as principle writer and the singer you can understand) but does make the book feel out of balance (mainly because the author does such a good job af painting a picture of a shared mindset)

There are a couple of other minor irritations - the chapters are headed up by a short piece of writing by fans on what the songs mean to them which I could have done without. More annoying for me was the fact that the author is very sniffy about anyone who isn't the Blue Nile

Simple Minds early stuff that at the time was pushing the boundaries in Glasgow are dismissed as simply "at heart simply a conventional major label act that happened to hail from the city"

Danny Wilson were a "Steely Dan tribute act in all but name" and Love and Money, The Big Dish and others the "runty offspring of the Average White Band" - it all feels a little bit unnecessary and doesn't do the rest of the book any favours.

Having said that , there are enough "I didn't know that !!" to make it a good read.

Perhaps most telling of all is a story that Ed Bicknell (manager of Dire Straits and for a short period The Blue Nile) tells about the release of High. He told Paul Buchanan whilst the singer was staying in his house in Barbados that 7 songs and 35 minutes wasn't long enough. The singer threw his toys out of the pram, then sulked, then left. A few days later he got in contact to apologise and say they had been in the studio that day and now had 2 more songs finished. To which Bicknell says "hang on a minute , you've recorded 2 completely new songs finished and mixed in a day. Paul said they had and wanted to put them on the album. So i said , You took seven years to record 7 songs and one day to record 2?.. Paul said yeah."

So if you are a fan it is worth getting just not quite all I hoped it would be .. the curtain is pulled back a it but the mystique remains which is a good thing

You can buy Nileism here

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