TRUE CONFESSIONS : WILL WE ALWAYS BE HAPPY GO LUCKY?

Here’s a confession that doesn’t bother me in the slightest.  It also won’t come as a surpise who can recall the time I wrote about the song as #36 in the Scottish Singles series away back in August 2016…..

Back in 1984, a Glasgow band called The Blue Nile released a song called Tinseltown In The Rain. Everybody, and I really do mean everybody, who was an acquaintance at the time seemed to go nuts for the song, with many considering it the perfect sounding anthem for a city that was slowly but gradually re-inventing itself and regaining its self-confidence after an extended period of post-industrial decline. Further afield, loads of journalists and writers pounced on the song and the album A Walk Across The Rooftops, boldly declaring the music as unlike anything else recorded before, with some going as far to say that the songs were the sort that Frank Sinatra would be proud of.

Part of the aura around the band was linked to the fact they released their songs via a company called Linn Products, which was (and remains to this day) an engineering company which built very hi-tech audio equipment, including turntables, amps and speakers. They were also ridiculously expensive products. The engineers were growing increasingly dissatisfied with the quality of LPs that they were having to use to test their flagship turntable and so they developed a cutting lathe to enable improvements. The company, however, needed to find a singer or band who would be happy to record for them and deliver a ‘type’ of music that would best showcase the audio equipment.

One version of what happened next is that the bosses at Linn, and in particular the highly determined and driven MD, asked The Blue Nile to produce one song to help with the testing. The MD liked the song so that he offered an immediate contract for an album on what would be a new venture called Linn Records. The band dispute this version of events and say that the link-up came after they had recorded a whole series of demos with a studio engineer who just happened to have ties with Linn and was a friend of the MD. The band version is that there was no approach from Linn to make a record for the company nor did the company seek to influence the album’s sound in any way and have said “it was a myth that we were a ‘hi-fi band signed to a hi-fi company’. We just got lucky that we’d found our way to an excellent engineer who knew the company.”

That particular version of events emerged in 2013 – my memory of events as they were reported in 1984 was that the band and label were very closely linked and much was made of the album being given a very slick and glossy production that could be best be enjoyed and appreciated via Linn equipment.

This was all something that pissed me right off. My hi-fi equipment was fairly low-spec and much of my record collection was of the hurriedly produced and ramshackle variety that sounded just perfect to my ears. I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in something so artificial…and so I’m willing to admit that I did listen with some prejudice.

Regular readers will know that I have used the pages of this and other blogs to hold my hands up and admit that I got something wrong; sometimes, first impressions of a song can be misleading and repeated or a different exposure to something can provide a change of mind or opinion.

I haven’t ever changed my mind about The Blue Nile or Tinseltown In The Rain. There is no soul or warmth to the music whatsoever and the 1984 marketing campaign was a triumph for style over substance. I’m not a fan of Paul Buchanan’s voice either – he is no better or worse than a marginally above-average pub singer. It’s a killer combination of music and vocals that is deadly dull to listen to with not one note or octave providing any sort of surprise or excitement.

I know that many of the bloggers I most admire – echorich, postpunkmonk and Brian among others – are in complete disagreement with me.  My brother Stevie is also a huge fan of the record and the band.

It was, however, interesting that some, including Jonny the Friendly Lawyer, had my back on this one last time out.

Just thought it would be a nicely controversial way to close out what has been a controversial and at times unsavoury month on t’blog.

mp3 : The Blue Nile -Tinseltown In The Rain (12″ version)

JC

PS : A reminder that I need votes on a previously voided match in the ICA World Cup….details are here.

18 thoughts on “TRUE CONFESSIONS : WILL WE ALWAYS BE HAPPY GO LUCKY?

  1. You are right on so many things , but not on this! – here is my defence of what is in my top 10 lps
    One of the things about getting older is that everything starts to remind you of something else. Those goose bump times of hearing something that you feel genuinely sounds like nothing else happen less and less. This can be a good thing as now when I hear something new I like I also get weird throw back memories of times and places that I’d forgotten. However I miss those moments of genuine discovery. Growing up in the fens (nice sunsets is about all it has going for it) meant that visits to see bands play were few and far between and anything that wasn’t in the top 40 had to be ordered in to the local Boots.

    The only place I got to listen to new music was on the radio and whilst John Peel tends to get all the plaudits, I would make a date every Sunday night at 9pm with Annie Nightingale (before she went to Ibiza and became some kind of trance queen). She used to run a request show and made a point of playing album tracks, b sides and extended versions

    I remember the time she first played this particular track and the weird synth sounds , a driving bass kicked off before a voice that sounded like the dictionary definition of “sorrow and regret” kicked off with “Why did we ever come so far”. The voice had to be good to compete with the beauty of the backing and by the “will we always be so happy go lucky?” the weariness and resignation told you the answer. By the end of the song I was hooked, it wasn’t poppy , it wasn’t rock it didn’t seem to go verse chorus verse chorus and I had no idea what was making those sounds. On top of this, the fact that I didn’t have a clue what the song was about but just felt it had to be about unrequited love (of which like a lot of 16 yr old males I was suffering of at the time) and add to that a title that just sounded great and was meant to be stencilled onto exercise books and a band that I knew nothing about but like Aztec Camera consisted of 2 words that just felt like they should be together and I was determined to get a copy.

    Nothing as exotic would be found in Holbeach and for some reason I just assumed that something so different couldn’t be ordered into Boots. I tried shops in bigger towns and no-one had heard of the band or the song (these were the days when record counters in WH Smiths etc all seemed to be staffed by middle aged women).

    Eventually that summer, we had a school trip to London and were allowed to wonder around in small groups unsupervised as long as we were at the Barbican by late pm to see a production of Julius Caesar (imagine allowing that now!). So a group of us headed for the mecca of HMV Oxford Street and joy of joys they had a copy. The cover told me I wasn’t going to be disappointed , a black and white photo of the band looking suitably aloof and cool, simple lettering with the name of the band and LP, no clues as to who these people were , apart from their names, who played what, the lyrics etc all missing. I’m not sure if when I got it home and played it how I would have reacted if it had been a “1 song” LP. It wasn’t – every song seemed so unique the world weary voice matched to perfection with sounds from some alternative future/past place.

    If Deacon Blue’s later lp told of a Glasgow of work and rain . The Glasgow of Walk Across the Rooftops was one full of summer girls in disarray , lights caught fences , reds cars in the fountain , wild wild sky, bright rags , St Stephen’s bells , confetti , hats in the air

    It all sounded widescreen, cinematic, romantic, mysterious, definitely not flat, grey , smelling of sugar beet and full of daffodils
    At seven songs , it is over too soon.

    I listen to it now and yes I’m now much clearer as what is making the sounds, the production and bass is a bit early 80s and mystery of the band has disappeared, but the songs and the voice still take me back and wash sorrow and regret over me– a love theme for the wilderness

  2. I loved this album… but when I tell you why, it might add fuel to your fire.

    Back in the 90s when I was working the late shift and going to uni in the daytime, I suffered terrible insomnia for a while. It didn’t help that the neighbours had workmen in, hammering away when I was trying to sleep late in the morning (on the days when I didn’t have a morning class). Music has always helped me sleep, but the one album which could guarantee to soothe my mind and send me nodding off was this one. Pop the headphone on to quiet down the builders, turn up A Walk Across The Rooftops… eventually I’d get back to sleep.

  3. I think Paul Buchanan’s voice is one of the most soulful I’ve ever heard. He’d give Sinatra a run for his moneyany day of the week. “Hats” is my favourite Blue Nile album but “Tinseltown In The Rain” is up there with their best.

    Check out former Danny Wilson main man Gary Clark’s opinion of one Blue Nile song – “Saturday Night”- on this live cover version of the song. (Handy hint – it’s 2 minutes 7 seconds in).

    Style over susbtance? Aye – right.

  4. Glad to know it wasn’t a transatlantic thing, as anything Blue Nile did had the same effect on me as it did on Rol. (Whether I wanted it to or not!)

  5. I get that you don’t like it. It’s about Glasgow, by Glasgow boys and life-affirming. A bit like a depressed New Gold Dream or Empires and Dance. I realise now that TTIITR is quite sarcastic -‘Why did we ever come so far? I know I’d seen it all before’ – well of course you did – Paul Buchannan is still sitting in a cafe in the Byres Road in the rain several years after leaving college. The Linn thing is irrelevant – it didn’t make the album more expensive when it came out. I learnt the cello and piano, so the strings on that album were also a thing of beauty and very good too. At the time TTIITR was about going away somewhere away from Aberdeen, anywhere but here. I like the melancholy and sense of fracture that the Blue Nile evoke, and as my 18-year-old self, starting my second year at University it seemed to capture the mix of optimism coupled with the sinking feeling that maybe the adult world was complicated and no better than the teenage. The band were older too and slightly mysterious. A Walk Across The Rooftops is all a homage to the details of life in Glasgow – the motorway, the street lights at night, the bells of St Stephens (apart from Stay which is as bad as anything from the 1980s). As such it knocks sports off Raintown which always seemed forced. My love of the photographs of Oscar Mazaroli predates Raintown so that only added to my dislike of Deacon Blue. That and that shitty woman who sings woop woop. Deacon Blue are a Prefab Sprout knockoff with Jimmy Iovine production and contrived lyrics. Ricky Ross is a private school educated Dundonian for fucksakes, not a native. There are better Blue Nile albums, Hats for example. Curtis Stigers gets it right in the following clip of why the Blue Nile were great.
    And you can be great and only have one good song – the Blue Nile have several and that is some achievement:

  6. do we do votes here also? I’m voting OJ over WP…
    (weirdly I bought hats quite soon after it came out and really liked it. Recently bought tinseltown and have the same reservations as you. I think quite often you like or don’t like music when it appears in your life..hats came at the right time!)

  7. In the case of JC v. Tinseltown in the Rain, you have to admit the defense has presented some impressive character witnesses. JTFL is going to need to do some fancy lawyerin’ to sway this juror.

  8. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and have rarely if ever commented, but I’m going to chime in to agree with you. I was never a fan of “Tinseltown” when it came out, but I hadn’t heard it in years so I thought I’d give it another chance. But it doesn’t do any more for me now than it did in the ’80s. Not horrible, just meh. Incidentally, there’s never been a great correlation between having an expensive stereo and having good taste in music.

    Marc, from Maryland

  9. I first heard The Blue Nile on a 7″ single called I Love This Life which I found in a bargain box. I loved that single, which it turned out was very rare. Of course, when I moved a big box of singles a couple of years ago, it was the only one that fell out and cracked. I have a scratchy mp3 rip and it still sounds like their best work.
    Tinseltown is a little overwrought, an example of that romantic self-mythologising that is popular with some Glaswegian artists. The Blue Nile have their moments though, usually the more understated ones like Easter Parade.

  10. The thing I like is the emotive, romantic, poetic language used by those above, particularly to justify their love. Whether you agree with the argument or not, you’ve got to respect that passion. Personally, I’d have loved to hear Sinatra sing this.

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