Four albums in 25 years? It must be the return of The Blue Nile

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The Independent Culture

They may be one of the world's most reclusive - and least prolific - bands, but their influence has touched many of the biggest names in music. Now The Blue Nile, whose songs have been recorded by everyone from Tom Jones to Isaac Hayes and Rod Stewart to Annie Lennox, are to release their first album for almost a decade.

The release of High will be one of the most eagerly anticipated music events of the year. With just four albums in a quarter of a century - each has been hugely acclaimed - The Blue Nile line up alongside the ranks of The Stone Roses and John Lennon for tantalising their followers with their colossal absences.

The Stone Roses took five years to follow up their self-titled debut, which is widely considered one of the finest British albums ever released, while Lennon took nearly six between Rock 'N' Roll and his final album Double Fantasy.

Paul Buchanan, the singer and songwriter with the Glaswegian trio The Blue Nile, said: "We're not in this for the money. We're in this because the songs come when they come and we don't put anything out unless it deserves to go out."

While many artists' extended quiet spells are due to splits, the demands of solo careers, going off the rails or scaling down their activities after a fertile early career, The Blue Nile have continued as a unit throughout, and their lack of output is simply down to a painfully slow work-rate.

The band emerged in 1984 with A Walk Across the Rooftops, an accomplished album which was released through a small label and was given only limited radio exposure. But word of mouth helped them to become one of the hippest names to drop at the time. The follow-up, 1989's Hats, is widely viewed as their masterpiece and led to recording sessions with Rickie Lee Jones and The Band's Robbie Robertson.

They returned again in 1996 with Peace at Last, which led Q magazine to ask: "What do The Blue Nile do all day? And what do we care as long as roughly every two World Cups they bring us something this special?"

But aside from live dates, the band largely retreated between each release, choosing instead to perfect their recordings and live their lives.

Bass player Robert Bell said: "We work and then we do things that everyone does - walk up and down the street, meet friends, drink beer and play Scrabble. We try to get it right and we don't issue it until we are 1,000 per cent happy with it. About three years ago we had finished a whole album but we scrapped it all apart from two songs. But it's best to be happy with your work."

Buchanan said: "The thing is, I write a lot of bad songs, hundreds of them, but because we have such a high quality control, they never see the light of day."

BBC Radio 2 presenter Stuart Maconie, said: "I'm a huge fan, but I do think there is something to be said for making more records. The Beatles were in the studio all the time; that's why they progressed so quickly between "She Loves You" and the White Album. The Blue Nile's records seem to be about ordinary things and ordinary people - the pathos and beauty of an ordinary life. They are enigmatic, sketchy invocations of city life. They take ordinary situations and make them glorious."

The band, which formed in the late 1970s after the members graduated from Glasgow University, have also been plagued by contractual problems and record company difficulties as their labels were absorbed by other firms. They have now signed with the giant Sanctuary group.

Bell said: "I think in terms of what we're trying to achieve we've been very successful. I don't think we were ever trying to be huge. When we started we would have been happy to sell 2,000 copies, so we've obviously done better than that."


The album: The Stone Roses, The Second Coming (1994)

The wait: five years

The reason: legal wranglings, sluggishness and lack of direction.

The album: John Lennon, Double Fantasy (1980)

The wait: six years

The reason: after Yoko Ono became pregnant, Lennon opted for a life of domesticity.

The album: Massive Attack, 100th Window (2003)

The wait: five years

The reason: A tortuous recording process and bad vibes led to Andrew "Mushroom" Vowles quitting.

The album: Morrissey, You Are the Quarry (2004)

The wait: seven years

The reason: Lack of a record deal and general public indifference.

The album: George Harrison, Brainwashed (2002)

The wait: 12 years

The reason: Court battles, cancer and gardening kept him away from the recording studio.