Posts Tagged ‘sondek’



[Picture of The Blue Nile]It seems that you either love The Blue Nile, or you hate them.  That in itself is “A Good Thing”, in my opinion; they don’t seem to me to be striving for global domination, pop stardom or chart success.

I think of them as a Glasgow band, even though Paul Buchanan is from Edinburgh, but all three members graduated from Glasgow Uni, Vocalist/ guitarist Buchanan in English Literature, bass-player Bell in Electronics and synth-player Moore in Maths. But when they formed, they were getting nowhere fast.

At this point, a slight detour is required because you have to know about Ivor Tiefenbrun.

You see, Tiefenbrun was a local character — he started out working with his Dad’s company — Castle Precision Engineering — probably so named because it was set up near Castlemilk, Cathcart Castle and Linn Park in Glasgow.

Ivor and his brother Marcus managed to precision engineer one of the world’s finest hi-fidelity turntables.  They immediately set up their own company, called Linn Products to produce the legendary Linn Sondek LP12. Each one was incredibly expensive, but Ivor was a renowned perfectionist (and was closely involved in every step of the production process).  They eventually moved away from the tough Castlemilk area of Glasgow, to the genteel small conservation village of Eaglesham.

Many of the Hi-fi enthusiasts I knew back then had special 12 inch diameter vinyl LP discs for testing quality of tracking, rumble and so forth. I have heard demonstrations of an LP played on a Linn Sondek and also on another turntable, and I was able to hear violin sections on the Linn, but not on the inferior turntable.  Seriously.

So anyway, as I remember it, and as legend would have it, Ivor and Linn wanted to make a record that would show up the frequency handling capabilities of their turntables, and so they advertised and held auditions, and The Blue Nile were chosen.

Linn — the hi-fi equipment manufacturer — set up a special record label (Linn Records) for their single, solitary act, The Blue Nile.

So, with Nigel Thomas on drums, they set to work in Castle studios with Callum Malcolm, and of course, we were all buzzing — what would it be like?  We knew it would be synthesiser music, but would it be pop or dance or what?  None of these guys had much of a local reputation for being any good at actually playing instruments, so the main rumours going round were that The Blue Nile were not going to be a “real” band — there would be no interviews, no miming TV promotions, and no live gigs!

[Picture of A Walk Through the Rooftops - The Blue Nile Lp Cover]The photograph of the album cover was taken in Govanhill, at the site of an old Baptist Church!  The rumour mill went into overdrive!

When “A Walk Across The Rooftops” appeared in 1983, it was totally perfect (as one would expect with Ivor involved).  It was all done within a tone of D! The arrangements are sparse — with lots of empty space to reveal hiss on cheap equipment, but remember, it was not meant to be pop or to sell well, but to sell equipment. Nevertheless, it slowly began to climb sales charts — particularly in mainland Europe!

Linn gained confidence and began making statements in the press to the effect that CDs were rubbish and a passing fad, and that a track from The Blue Nile played on their equipment was far better than the CD version played on a Phillips CD player!

Linn were wrong, and within 5 or six years, CDs had all but killed off vinyl and Hi-fidelity equipment.  Turntables and vinyl were still around, but for use by club DJs for live mixing and scratching hip hop and dance music, rather than by hi-fi buffs listening to classical at home.

The irony was that The Blue Nile’s second album “Hats”, sold shedloads as a CD!  Ironic when you know that the reason for their existence was to feature the sonic properties of a turntable for playing vinyl LPs! It went into the charts everywhere — even the USA. Linn started making CD players, but it seems that Ivor was actually right, and that, with today’s MP3s, the days of the CD are numbered.

All the above is background.  I like to set you up in the scene. There are real people, Glasgow is real, there are a lot of very creative people mixing it up — we’d all just come out of very tough times of high unemployment, the threat of nuclear holocaust, punk — and we were rebuilding Glasgow, stone cleaning, grants for back court improvements, new windows, heating, regenerating the river. The European City of Architecture, the European City of Culture and the Garden Festival were on the horizon, and things were looking bright and sunny and on the up.

“A Walk Across The Rooftops” was different — unique, and incredibly sad.  Deep feelings are explored in this album, and deep feelings are engendered in the listener.  It’s perhaps best described as Paul singing amidst a cacophony of sounds and noises. This record sounded like nothing else.

Of course, the music press clamoured to get interviews — to find out what it was all about, but The Blue Nile are “reclusive”.  I love that.  Yeah, let the music speak for itself.  It is supposed to show off posh hi-fi gear and be aimed at a market of discerning adults with lots of money and good taste, so the less said the better.

OK, now to get personal.  I didn’t own a Linn Sondek, but I had a shy, geeky pal who had a Michell Focus One with an SME headshell blah, blah, blah, and while I was good with it all,  I didn’t really “get it”… until that is, “Hats“.

My father had died pretty much at the same time as my ten-year-long relationship ended. Can you imagine where my head was? I got “Hats” on CD  when it came out, and was surprised that they had added a couple of other keys! I then got the first album on CD a couple of weeks later.

Basically, what I am saying is that I couldn’t listen to The Blue Nile for about ten years — simply because of the heart-ache it conjured up; it rips my heart out like nothing else. It definitely suited my mood and my situation at that time.

I can listen to these two albums now, I can even enjoy them again, but — y’know, sometimes they can still catch me off-guard, like when they just come on the radio unexpectedly — or they get a track played in a bar or even a shop… I’ve seen me having to excuse myself and vanish to the gents or outside for some fresh air because of the raw heart-wrenching emotions their music can evoke. I have to be prepared to listen to The Blue Nile.

The Blue Nile are a dangerous band.  I can be touched by Jackson Browne, or Steve Earle, (and I know people are touched by Leonard Cohen and even Dylan), but not to the extremes, not to the core of the void that The Nile can evoke within seconds!

I love The Blue Nile. I hate The Blue Nile. I feel close and connected to The Blue Nile. I cannot bring myself to go see their rare concerts. WOW, what a band, eh? Powerful stuff.

I know they have done a couple of albums since, but I missed out on them.  Maybe I will get around to checking them out someday.

  • A Walk Across The Rooftops — D major;
  • Tinseltown in The Rain — D major;
  • From Rags to Riches — E major;
  • Stay — Eb major
  • Easter Parade — E major;
  • Heatwave — D major;
  • Automobile Noise — G major.


  • Over The Hillside — D major;
  • The Downtown Lights — E major;
  • Let’s Go Out Tonight – Emajor;
  • Headlights on The Parade — A major;
  • From a Late Night Train — C major;
  • Seven A.M — A major;
  • Saturday Night — A major.

That’s the two albums I know well.  There is no “worst track”; all are equally brilliant.  They have taken great pains over each and every sound recorded and reproduced, each and every word.  You know this is a quality product, this is high standards, music that takes years to make by a mathematics graduate, an English literature graduate and an electronics graduate, come ON, this is stuff that has been analysed and agonised over.  It is high art indeed.  But for all the cerebral qualities, it can strike you right in the heart.

Check out this heart-wrenching advert:

As for their name, well I heard it was because there was a pub in Glasgow called The Blue Nile at the time –and that that in turn was chosen because Glasgow’s river Clyde is for Scotland what the Nile was for Egypt — with the addition of “Blues”, which is most likely a reference to Glasgow Rangers than Blues music.  The Blue Nile was also a travel book by Australian newspaper man Alan Moorehead (he also wrote The White Nile), but these were published twenty years beforehand, and don’t seem to have any relevance to anything, and so I would think it unlikely be responsible for the band’s (or pub’s) name.