Gig review: Paul Buchanan/Jane Taylor
Usher Hall, Edinburgh November 25, 2006
Different bands emote different kinds of weather and scenarios in your head. Massive Attack emote edgy, urban paranoia (reinforced by pretty much every video from Safe From Harm onwards, bar Teardrop, obviously). Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura’s gorgeous tweeness – and I use that as a compliment – evoke childhood memories of blackberry picking and playing pooh sticks. And The Blue Nile? The romance and beauty of a rainy night. Particularly in Scotland, where we get a lot of these.
Edinburgh’s Usher Hall is playing host for two nights to Paul Buchanan’s ‘solo’ tour (though the merchandise stall has plenty of Blue Nile T-shirts, suggesting they are still very much a going concern). And frankly, the devotion the band inspire is amazing, given that in their twenty-year plus career they have only released four albums. Amazing, that is, until you hear them, and realise that whilst they may Stone Roses type of gaps between albums, it’s generally worth the wait (whereas when the Roses second LP eventually appeared, it took a while to admit to yourself that you were, if you were being honest, quite a little bit disappointed).
First on is Jane Taylor, who walks onto the stage armed with just her acoustic guitar. As I’ve noted here before, the solo singer-songwriter opening up for a band can really have their work cut out for them, unless they really have something special…and she does. Whilst I realise that ‘support from Johnnie Walker on Radio 2’ may cause certain people to turn off, he knew what he was onto here. This really is a smokey blues voice, an album ‘Montpelier’ released that is working it’s way along at groundroots level (remember, after all, that ‘indie’ is short for independent, rather than just being a description of a sound), and I hope reaches a wider audience. She doesn’t take herself seriously, always a risk with any musician, and that combined with
that voice and songs to match, and some great anecdotes means she deserves to make it. Anyone who lumps her in with Eva Cassidy and Norah Jones is just lazy and missing the point.
The reverence this audience have for Buchanan is unbelievavble. Whilst the Nile have never ‘rocked out’ (quote unquote), the roar of recognition at each track as they recognise them – often from a simple drum-beat – is a sign that people wait so long for a Blue Nile album ‘cos they know it will be worth it. Opening up with ‘Over the hillside’ from 1989’s Hats, the connection with his audience is complete very quickly. Whilst their sound may evoke those rainy nights, the sheer goddamn joy of hearing them is like hot chocolate for the soul. In 1997, at a very wet and muddy Glastonbury festival, The Blue Nile pretty much bought the sun out for the first time that weekend. As he goes straight into Peace At Last, all worries outside the hall are laid to rest.
There are still people who will get into discussions about which Nile album is better out of the first two, A Walk Across the Rooftops or Hats. My money has always been on Hats, but it’s tracks from the first album that really, really hit the spot tonight, like the gently experimental title track, Easter Parade and Tinseltown in the Rain. Buchanan apologises for his voice having difficulty tonight, but the crowd help him out on the chorus of the latter song, and it’s soaring. (This song is currently in the top 5 of the Jocknroll poll).
The set finishes with an astonishing take on The Downtown Lights, which could be the perfect finish – but it turns out that he has an unexpected ace up his sleeve. When he comes on for the encore, we get High, and then he finishes with Strangers In The Night, done Blue Nile style (NB the song popularised by Frank Sinatra, not 747 (Strangers in the Night) by Saxon. That would be wrong). And boy, is it wonderful.
The two new – untitled, as far as I can tell, songs played tonight suggest that while it may, as ever be a long wait for the next album, indeed as long as the river itself – we can wait. Few bands I have seen this year can match this for sheer emotional connection and joy.