Spotlight

Paul Buchanan

“I think if Iʼd tried to make a record that sounds like the band Iʼd be quite nervous, but this is more of a record-ette. Itʼs quite small in stature and the songs are very brief, but donʼt get me wrong – it kept me awake at night.” – Paul Buchanan

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Some 23 years after The Blue Nile hatched the seductive blend of late night romance and technology rendered humane that was their masterpiece ʻHatsʼ, the groupʼs frontman and chief songwriter Paul Buchanan is releasing his debut solo album.

Titled ʻMid Airʼ, itʼs an extraordinarily intimate record, its spare piano and vocal-based arrangements unfurling at a meditative pace. Thirteen of its fourteen tracks are less than three minutes long, but rest assured all life is here. Buchananʼs beautifully bruised voice remains a faithful conduit of all things emotive, and Mid Air was written from a place of humility and weesmall-hours contemplation.

“You can struggle with your sense of entitlement”, explains the singer. “You think, Iʼm not Coldplay – is this valid? Thereʼs a modesty that comes with that, but the upside is that many of the external pressures disappear and you start to feel dangerous as a songwriter again. You realise youʼre still in love with music and you remember why youʼre doing it.”

Mid Air was recorded at home in Glasgow, at a friendʼs house on the East Coast of Scotland, and at Gorbals Sound, a state of the art studio thatʼs bringing new life to a part of Glasgow traditionally thought less than salubrious. The Blue Nileʼs Robert Bell dropped by to offer a few thoughts as the work neared completion (“I wouldnʼt dream of putting something out without playing it to him”), but Buchanan is the only musician on the record.

The singer says the albumsʼs working title was Minor Poets Of The 17th Century, this the name of a book he stumbled across at his local Oxfam in Glasgow. “Thatʼs exactly how I feel about myself”, he smiles, “but in the end it seemed a bit unwieldy.”

Each of the albumʼs songs is gently infused with synthesised, mesmerisingly subtle orchestrations, these lending the music a quietly majestic quality. Stunning miniatures such as ʻTwo Childrenʼ, ʻTuesdayʼ and ʻWedding Partyʼ seem to deal with the highs and lows of romantic love, but the record is also a touching act of remembrance in places, Buchanan drawing upon those happy / sad epiphanies that underpin loss.

“When I was making the record, a close friend of mine died”, he says. “Peter was very moral, but not for any religious reason – he just loved people. He was also an excellent and hilarious guy, and he would have taunted me relentlessly if Iʼd made a requiem for him. The recordʼs very hushed, but itʼs not mournful – itʼs quite celebratory. What I observed in Peter over the course of our friendship was bravery. I miss him.”

Like different movements of the same symphony, the songs on Mid Air bed-down together beautifully. Once again, Buchanan has a wealth of carefully chosen imagery to hand: horses in the snow; a suitcase filled with starlight; an astronaut in Godʼs blue sky; a carousel on empty ground – these and countless other evocations lend ʻMid Airʼ extra resonance.

“I suppose my lyrics have elements of reminiscing and elements of daydreams”, says the singer, “but your mind doesnʼt necessarily file things in alphabetical order. Sometimes you donʼt even admit the experiences youʼve had or the value that youʼve given them, but theyʼre there. You overhear something or see a couple having a disagreement in the street, smoosh everything together, and hopefully thereʼs some alchemy involved.“

The key thing for me is to try and capture those little moments of humanity, those things that say ʻThatʼs us right there.ʼ If someoneʼs car alarm goes off and they canʼt find their keys, it looks pretty much the same in Glasgow or Prague. And if you hear an ambulance you go to the window and hope that itʼs not coming for somebody you know.”

At 56, Buchanan is, of course, acutely aware of the passing of time. ʻLife goes by / and you learn / how to watch / your bridges burnʼ, he sings on the albumʼs care-worn closer After Dark, but ʻMid Airʼ is wonderfully alive to beauty, dignity, hope, and the small kindnesses that sustain us. “Iʼm done with that testosterone thing”, notes the singer, “that thing that says somebody has to be king of the heap. Nor do I have any interest in standing behind a velvet rope talking to someone, because it will all fade away.”

This shouldnʼt, however, be mistaken for a dying of the light, or a downscaling of Buchananʼs creative ambitions. “No, you have to fight until you die”, he says. “I remember my father once sent me a letter reminding me that Puccini wrote Nessun Dorma when he was 65.”

Buchanan also concedes that, in some ways, he is “continually re-writing the same song”, chipping away at the themes that have absorbed him from day one. ʻFar above the chimney tops / Take me where the bus donʼt stop” he sings here on ʻMy True Countryʼ. Naturally, such starryeyed sentiments will chime with fans of the Blue Nileʼs charmed 1983 debut, ʻA Walk Across The Rooftopsʼ.

At root, these beautifully smudged miniatures represent a still more potent distillation of all that has made Buchananʼs past work so special. ʻMid Airʼ – his little “record-ette” as he calls it – is wonderfully big of heart.