LOOKING back at The Blue Nile’s recorded career – 33 songs on four exquisite albums, released between 1983 and 2004 – it’s notable that their piano and keyboards linchpin, Paul Joseph (PJ) Moore, never had what he terms a writer’s role.

But over the years he has shown, here and there, how accomplished he is as a writer. And further proof arrives today when a brand-new song, Need to Believe, can be downloaded, free of charge.

It’s the first taste of an excellent album that Moore has made with the award-winning composer and producer, Malcolm Lindsay, and, on vocals, Mike McKenzie, the 2019 BBC Radio Scotland Singer Songwriter of the Year.

Collectively, they’re known as PJ Moore & Co. The album is called When A Good Day Comes.

The Herald:

The band PJ Moore & Co that comprises, from left- Malcolm Lindsay, Mike McKenzie and PJ Moore. Photograph by Colin Mearns

It’s hard to disagree with the band’s own assessment of the album: “a yearning and optimistic set of eight dream-scaped songs”. Beguiling and reflective, with beautifully crafted melodies, they have a considerably emotional, late-night feel. To borrow a phrase once used about The Blue Nile, they have been distilled to perfection.

“She asked me what I wanted/ Is there anything you need?/ I need only one thing/ I need to believe/ Is there anything, is there anyone I can count on now?/ Is there anything, is there anyone I can count on now?” – opening lines to Need to Believe

Lindsay and Moore first met in around 2006 through the latter’s interest in the distinguished Scottish scientist, James Clerk Maxwell. He wrote a well-received ‘electronic oratorio’ in honour of Maxwell, whom he describes as “literally Einstein’s hero and the man who gave us the science behind radio, radar, WiFi etc”.

Lindsay at the time was a research scientist interested in visualisation and virtual reality, but was about to give it up in order to concentrate full-time on composition and production. Shortly afterwards, he moved to a new house and in doing so inadvertently became a neighbour of Moore’s. The two musicians would often meet for a chat, and Moore would visit Lindsay’s home, with its fully-equipped studio.

Gradually, they began to collaborate on musical projects, notably Oscar van Heek’s 2018 film, Dark Water: Moore wrote the libretto to Lindsay’s operatic score, which was recorded by the Orchestra of Scottish Opera.

Lindsay, who has composed for dramas and documentaries for both the small screen and the cinema screen, says: “PJ and I had started to work on a few songs in a casual way and then the track All That You Wanted turned up.

“He had written it a while before but I had never heard it. I was blown away by the arrangement, the way the parts were combining to produce the beating heart and soul of the music, just fab. This made me think about how we were working and made me view the group of songs that PJ had written in a new light.

“So we made a plan to start producing an album and initially dedicated four months to work on the instrumental side of things.

“The co-production process which continued was organic; we had a similar vision and we were finishing each other’s musical sentences. I found it really productive and stress-free – a joy, really, and I think this comes through in the music”.

“I was greatly encouraged by Malcolm”, Moore acknowledges. “He gently nagged me that, although I never had a writer’s role in The Blue Nile, I had some worthwhile songs lurking on my hard drive that should see the light of day.

“It was new to me to be writing songs from scratch but even just a basic home computer can now record everything I ever dreamt of – all the instruments that previously went to tape, and all the drum machines and synths and samples.

“With such miracle tools to hand, I could be home from the school run, cooking pasta, and listen to a track I’d created while the house was empty and decide without pain whether to keep it or scrap it.

“Back in the day, that would easily have been a week’s work in the studio. So, I slowly learned to write and work alone, while Malcolm was always very generous and positive about what I was doing”.

Moore and Lindsay spent almost two years honing the songs, layering guitars, vocals and strings over Moore’s ever-distinctive keyboard work. Initially, the many demands on Lindsay’s time kept him away from the project, but when the pandemic forced the world into lockdown, he was able to focus his energies on it. As the songs continued to take shape, their creators realised that they needed someone to sing them.

“We got to hear of Mike through his winning the BBC singer-songwriter prize”, remembers Moore. “He has a purity of voice, and also of vocal style which just seemed right.

“We approached him at the start of this year. Just as the pandemic had allowed Malc and I to devote the needed months, Mike’s plans had also been turned upside down, so he’s not yet grown too huge to lend us a hand. He’s been working continually, though, and we had to wait until April to get him into the studio”.

Strikingly, McKenzie was unaware of The Blue Nile’s songs, but Moore took the view that this would guarantee a fresh approach and thus avoid any comparisons with Paul Buchanan, who sang all those classic Blue Nile songs.

What of the songs that make up the new album? The oldest complete song, Moore says, is the title track, When A Good Day Comes. “I wrote it for a Celtic Connections Celtronica Night in, I think, 2011. I’d been asked to do a short set so, now that I had a virtual studio inside a computer in the back room, I set out to make a track work with just the most basic electronic elements – a cheap ‘tick-tock’ drumbox, some simple synth chords, plus a bass pulse.

“It was called ‘Thankful’ that night but I liked the repeated refrain, “when a good day comes”, and retitled it for the album. It’s less skeletal now than the live rendition, which was maybe a bit like The XX, and it’s far moodier – we even added a live choir, recorded remotely in London.

“I already had rough versions of most of the tracks before we got started, but I knew we’d be going well beyond just polishing what I had when Malcolm sent me his initial contribution to Good Until It’s Gone, the album’s ‘pandemic poem’.

“It’s based around four three-note shapes I remember playing maybe 30-odd years ago while trying out a synth in a music shop. At the start of 2020, Malc and I committed to work on at least a few of the songs I had on my hard drive and when everything locked down it meant we could really get into it.

“So before starting to trawl through existing tunes to send him, I went looking for one last candidate and finally found a use for those four wee chords, which you can hardly hear now that Malc’s worked his magic.

“I wasn’t at all sure how to build or resolve the song. I suggested that Malc might want to just do his own guitar-based thing as a middle eight, and a few days later he sent a guitar and string arrangement which had me punching the air. I loved it so much we reprise it as an outro. That’s when I knew we were really going farther than I’d been able to imagine.

“Likewise, possibly my favourite song is Halfway Crazy, a straight co-write with music by Malc and words by me. It was so great that I could use just a few repeated phrases and we’d agree that simple was best. I’m a bit annoyed that he might have slipped a bass solo on there, right enough, so I added a solo synth at the last minute just to get my own back”.

Will the album appeal to fans who still miss The Blue Nile? Assuredly: yet it has a sound and an appeal all of its own. With Mike McKenzie enjoying success on his own, PJ Moore & Co are not making any plans beyond the album. But as Moore puts it: “we’ve loved working together and we’re all excited by the results”.

* Download Need to Believe from www.pjmooreandco.com The album will be released on Mozie Records in September.