Friday, December 4, 2009

My Dinner with The Blue Nile: Sometimes Meeting Celebs Is Wonderful

It's funny to me that I used to like this sort of stuff so much! While I still like The Go-Betweens and New Order and The Smiths and The Stone Roses, a great deal of the other stuff that I raved about in 1989 seems silly now.

However, that's a matter of stylistic taste; the song below still hits a chord with me and not just a nostalgic one.

As I recounted in this post, sometimes meeting celebrities is scary but sometimes it's not.

Here's my favorite story about meeting a musician during the days of The Record Co-op -- a story I will still rate higher than accidentally meeting Kurt Cobain at a Nirvana/Loop concert in 1990.

And, like that Robyn Hitchcock adventure, this story also features Robert Kelley from D.C. band Frontier Theory in his role as college rep. for A&M Records.

For this story, I need to back up. In late 1985, right around the time my grandmother died, I was feeling a bit down (obviously) and had just dropped out of Bible college for the first time.

I was tentatively branching out in my music wanderings, using reviews in Musician magazine as a guide -- I had not yet started to read NME or Melody Maker or Option.

That fall, I took a chance on a few titles -- on cassette! -- that still get played with some regularity in my house: Prefab Sprout's Two Wheels Good (Steve McQueen in the U.K.), the first self-titled album from The Dream Academy, and A Walk Across The Rooftops from Scotland's The Blue Nile.

Before I became a 4AD junkie, and before I ever heard any solo David Sylvian stuff, this was the first thing besides Van Morrison's Common One album that presented such an expansive and simultaneously intimate soundscape to my ears. I still loved U2 but this was so much more lush and affecting in an unexplainable way.

Part of the wonder of that album was how it didn't seem to fit easy categorization and, for a time, it felt like I was hearing something that I was sure none of my friends had heard or would ever understand.

Flash-forward to late 1989 when the band were finally set to release a second album. The album dropped in England but not America and I can still vaguely recall a pre-Velocity Girl Archie Moore telling me in The Record Co-Op that the import was already available at Yesterday & Today Records in Rockville.

However, it was only on vinyl and I had already gotten rid of my turntable.

So I waited and the wait probably helped to make the final product sound much more magical to my ears than it really sounds now.

By early 1990, as the University of Maryland's Record Co-Op was entering its last few months of existence, A&M were set to release the album in America.

Luckily, Robert Kelley was a great college rep. and he already knew I was a huge fan of the band.

As it happened, the band were not doing a performance tour of the States but they were doing a promotional tour and I was lucky enough to get invited to dinner in Adams Morgan with Robert, the band, and 3 other people from A&M Records.

I don't even remember what kind of food we had but I do recall having a wonderful Saturday night dinner with Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell and a ponytailed guy from A&M who wore a Hawaiian shirt -- a typical "record company weasel," as Dave Letterman would say.

In those days, I loved meeting bands and yet never asked for autographs as I felt like it was a bit childish. So, while I don't have any tangible mementos of that evening -- no one brought a camera! -- I do have a great memory of that dinner -- on my birthday, no less!

All I recall from my conversation with the guys as I sat across from them was that they claimed not to be inspired by either jazz or classical music and it seemed hard for them to fit themselves into any place in the rock world. Their comments only further strengthened my belief as a fan that The Blue Nile were a unique act, following their own way in a niche-driven alternative market.

After they left, I remember standing with Robert surveying boxes of promos in his trunk as the winter wind whipped around me and I felt my giddiness stabilize.

Needless to say, I played the current Blue Nile single at the time as I drove through D.C. and the city's own downtown lights.

The Blue Nile "The Downtown Lights"