As the founder member of The Blue Nile, PJ Moore immortalised Glasgow in music. Now he’s teamed up for a new project and album that promise cinematic-style songs of hope and optimism.
WHEN the Apollo 11 astronauts were paraded through Glasgow this summer during the filming of the new Indiana Jones movie, PJ Moore realised others were seeing the city the way he heard it.
As founder member of The Blue Nile, Moore’s aural depiction of Clydeside streets have long come to be considered a definitive sound in the city’s soundtrack. As Gershwin is to Manhattan’s silver skyscrapers, The Blue Nile are to rain-slicked Glasgow.
“I’d like to think that whatever we were doing with the pictures was so urban, so general, that it became urban music that went out into the world, but had come from Glasgow,” said Moore, considering his legendary band’s sound on the verge of his first release without them.
“And the fact that these companies are coming here now to shoot these movies, well, it’s obvious. Our way to do that was to stick it on a tape and imagine it was New York.”
Moore grew up in Springburn and Cambuslang before moving to the west end of the city when he met Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell, the men he would record four Blue Nile albums with over 20 years.
He traces many of his formative music memories in the city to the long-lost Green’s Playhouse. The Stones. The Eagles. Wishbone Ash. He still has the stub of the ticket from seeing Free in 1972, for 40p.
Yet these were the days when success for Scottish acts came via a trip down the M1. It wasn’t until meeting Bell and Buchanan at university he considered Glasgow as a place where music could be made rather than a place where the bus left for London.
He said: “There’s a quote from Alasdair Gray where he talks about it being impossible for people who live in a place which hasn’t been represented by literature or art to feel that they can imagine their own creative lives. Meeting the two of them and seeing how seriously they took it was my Alasdair Gray moment.”
Moore talks now of “making a small America in our heads”, influenced in part by the city’s mercantile architecture and in part by the inescapable presence of New York across decades of contemporary popular culture. It all worked towards expanding his imagination.
“It was always general. Never specific,” he said. “Glasgow has that look about it. And it’s funny how that has come to fruition with people coming here to dress St Vincent Street up for the astronauts’ parade.
“It didn’t matter if I was down at George Square going into the old general post office with a cassette in my pocket, or going round to Gibson Street, walking in the front of a tenement to go to an Asian grocers. You really felt as if the music was playing in your head, it was seeping out of the stone.
“Someone on YouTube put a still of Nighthawks by Edward Hopper to the song Let’s Go Out Tonight and that made perfect sense to me – the whole idea that the song was a scene in a scenario. That’s how the songs were coming out.”
They still are. Despite not recording or performing with The Blue Nile since 2004’s High, Moore’s music continues to evoke something both quintessentially rooted in a place, yet universal enough to appeal well beyond the city limits, according to the man he’s collaborated with on his first solo record.
As a film and TV composer, Glasgow musician Malcolm Lindsay knows a thing or two about using music to evoke the mood of a place. His work spans film and TV drama, documentary, opera and even urban design. He collaborated with Glasgow architects Page\Park to devise a piece for the opening of The Lighthouse in 1999. Now, he’s one third of PJ Moore & Co, the vehicle for Moore’s songs, as sung by Edinburgh vocalist Mike McKenzie.
“Collaborating is where you get a lot of benefits,” said Lindsay. “Feeding off other artistic people. And that’s a good thing.”
Lindsay was an early member of Deacon Blue, leaving before the band were signed. He formed bands of his own around the city in the late 80s and early 90s, including The Moors, by which time The Blue Nile had sold their sound well beyond the Clyde.
“They were actually one of my biggest influences before I met PJ,” said Lindsay. “He was so much part of the Blue Nile sound. There are a lot of influences from his early work in what he’s doing now and a lot of people will identify that with Glasgow – that nicely sentimental view of the city that can be heard in the earlier albums. People who love those first couple of albums especially might hear quite a lot of PJ’s voice in this one. A lot of his lyrics are quite hard-hitting, but the music is very optimistic, even at its most poignant. It lets you down a bit more gently. My own contribution is that I can’t help being wide-screen; it’s how I see the world. I’m not a reader, I create images in my head about what song is about. Glasgow’s my backdrop when I’m writing music, and it influences it that way.”
The pair spent four months of 2021 pulling together When A Good Day Comes, recruiting vocalist Mike McKenzie, who won BBC Scotland’s inaugural Singer Songwriter of the year Award in late 2019, before the pandemic froze the industry.
“I couldn’t believe the relief in being able to hear these songs without my vocal,” he said. “I’m the last guy in the world who’d say: ‘I’m writing a song,’” said Moore. “I’ve worked with the best and I’m very very proud of all those recordings. But I would never have done this without Malcolm’s partnership, that’s for sure. He kept me inflated and dragged me across the line as well as adding his production and musical skills. He’s a deep fund of talent and knowledge.”
The album’s title is, in Moore’s words, an attempt to express optimism. He said: “You learn to try to count your blessings and you hope there are more blessings coming, because all you’ve got to do is keep going.”
There are no immediate plans to perform the songs live, with Moore pointing to the technical specifications of best representing their sound, a consideration Blue Nile fans are well aware of.
“I used to say nobody wants to hear Tinseltown In The Rain on an acoustic guitar, and I think The Corr girls demonstrated that amply,” he said. “When The Blue Nile took the records out, they had to sound like the records. With the exception of a couple of click tracks, we played them live and that was a fantastic illusion, of which I’m very proud.
“I’m not saying this would be the same task, but there’s no plan yet.”
When A Good Day Comes, by PJ Moore & Co, is out now on Mozie Records.