When I was a feckless and ill-informed youth, I thought that “music” began and ended with the Top 40 on Radio 1, carefully captured on a TDK tape every Sunday night, with vain efforts being made to delete the unwanted babble of Bruno Brookes.
Every few months, I’d be first in line at Our Price for the latest “Now That’s What I Call Music” too, just to get the same songs again, but this time on a different cassette with “proper” artwork on it.
But slowly, all too slowly, I began to listen to the shows that followed the Top 40, presented by the likes of Alexis Korner, Annie Nightingale and Janice Long.
Here was “other” music, not troubling the charts or Top of the Pops very much, but intriguing, occasionally exciting and well worth missing another “All Creatures Great And Small” to hear more of it.
Then, in late 1984, Janice Long played “Tinseltown In The Rain“, by a little-known Scottish band called The Blue Nile.
Slackjawed, I sat there listening in my bedroom, utterly transfixed just by the sheer scale of the song.
It was cinematic.
It was operatic.
It was dramatic – and it just kept going and going, for nearly six minutes.
Janice let this new symphony play all the way from beginning to the end – and I’d had the presence of mind to press “Play/Record” in time to capture most of it.
I didn’t listen to anything else for a week.
Our Price didn’t have it – it had only reached Number 87, after all. The TDK tape would have to do for now.
Eventually, I risked a month’s pocket money to get hold of a copy of “A Walk Across The Rooftops“, the debut album that followed the single.
Now I had it, in all its glory.
Paul Buchanan’s voice was the hook – with its soulful, careworn, lived-in register set in front of a high-tempo chugging cello, sophisticated synths and soaring strings, giving musical expression to the rattle and hum of Glasgow, the city to which the song is a paean.
This was music, but in another language.
I wanted more, but as all Blue Nile fans came to learn, the years to wait for the next achingly amazing opus could stretch on and on – “Hats” was five years in the making and there were seven years between the next two albums too.
But that didn’t matter in 1984.
At last, I had learned that music didn’t have to be popular to be wonderful.