In the music of Scotland's Blue Nile, there's a sense of the dark ends of the day, dusk and particularly dawn, with the "wee small hours of the morning" ambiance that's been explored by artists as disparate as Frank Sinatra and Tom Waits. It's the time when a day's thoughts are heavy from accumulation and, says singer Paul Buchanan, "we're vulnerable and reflective. You find your moment and before you draw the blinds for the night, you glance out one more time."

It's something of a dream state, says the former English lit major, where the focus is not on "the grammatical, but on how people feel. The dots that join up in your life have to do with your memories and your self-perceptions, the broken thoughts you come to have -- 'Why did she leave me? Why did I say that?' "

"It's what you feel when you're standing in line waiting for a bus or a train," says bandmate Robert Bell. "You don't strategize at crucial moments." This is everyday experience expressed in everyday language, absent allusive pretention or lowbrow condescension: "I love an ordinary girl/ she makes the world all right/ She loves me and I know/ love is Saturday night."

"At the same time, lights will be flashing, and a train will be going past and the breeze will be blowing, it'll be raining and you'll remember something," says Buchanan. There's a sense of coming from someplace, going to another, and the tension of points in between, with an undercurrent of anticipation, crystallized when Buchanan sings: "I feel like a flag waiting for the breeze."

This line could also help explain why he feels a certain amount of "panic" about next Saturday's concert at Gaston Hall. After all, since forming in the early '80s in Glasgow, Blue Nile has never performed live.


"Never having done it, we're not sure what we'll be doing," Buchanan says. "People say that it's a great lift -- there being an audience -- that it can really help you."

The same could be said of Blue Nile's two albums, "A Walk Across Rooftops," released in 1984, and "Hats," released in late 1989. They've been called "a garden of audiophile delights," their songs subtly textured, like slowly unwinding dreams. There is a mesmerizing melancholy to Buchanan's vocals, which ride so empathetically on the soft, sparse washes of sound provided by Bell and Paul Joseph Moore.

This is smart, emotionally resonant music that freezes ordinary moods and moments in soundscapes that meld cinematic sweep, painterly subtlety and storytelling detail. The songs' characters always seem to be restless and in motion -- walking, driving, riding, with a casual deliberateness reflected in the slow tempos that dominate both albums.

"I don't even know what's appealing about the melodies, rhythms and tempos that we go with," says Buchanan, "but I do know that in some way they resonate. It's why we have time to see things in any particular song. There's something in them that I can live in."

Since people are always looking for the new Liverpool -- witness the attention being paid recently to Manchester bands -- they might do well to look to the tip of the British Isles. In the last decade, Scotland has produced a number of acclaimed bands, from Big Country and Simple Minds to Texas, del Amitri, the Proclaimers and Jesus and Mary Chain. Ironically, Blue Nile first met up with Jesus and Mary Chain in the New Carrollton studios of WHFS while doing a promotional tour here a few months ago.

"I don't know if it's something in the tidewater," Bell says, "but in Glasgow alone, someone said there's 47 bands signed to major labels. That's an impressive statistic for a town that small {800,000} and really no support industry. There's one or two studios in the whole of Scotland worth recording at, there's no music press to speak of, no production facilities. It's kind of strange, and nobody's come up with a cozy reason for it."

Despite all the attention, the Glasgow club scene leaves much to be desired, Bell suggests. "It's gotten slightly better, but bands don't seem to come up from a live scene. It's a geographical accident that all these bands come from Glasgow. They seem to work in private and then somehow manage to get a record deal and it's the records that are heard on the radio that establish an audience for their work, and then people will go to see them."

Blue Nile's experience is the perfect example. Buchanan, Bell and Moore sort of knew each other at Glasgow University (the latter two majored in mathematics and electronics/fine art, respectively). "We became friends after we all left," Bell explains.

What they shared was an enthusiasm for music, but without an attendant passion for success. "We weren't thinking of being a band or writing songs," Bell says, "but six months later, you've discovered a few things and you're trying something. ... A few years later you know these chords. You're naive and enthusiastic... ."

They released a single, "I Love This Life," on their own Peppermint label, and it was picked up by a larger company, which was soon swallowed up by an even larger label, at which point the single disappeared. Providence arrived when a Glasgow electronics firm needed a tape to test a cutting lathe for a new record mastering facility. After hearing Blue Nile, it decided to start a record company and released "A Walk Across the Rooftops" to great critical and gradual commercial response.

"That first record sold exactly the same amount of records every month for 2 1/2 years," Buchanan says. Ironically, because Blue Nile had no public profile, "people we worked with were recommending the album to us. Somebody actually handed me the record, thinking it just wasn't the same Paul Buchanan. That's the beauty of it. We weren't even a band. We were just individuals who'd made a record."

"Rooftops" sold well enough to elevate the band to cult status, though not enough to allow them to give up their day jobs (Moore was a sound engineer for Scottish television, Bell a freelance journalist, and Buchanan a publicist for a local theater company).

"We tried to eke it out as best we could, and we were very frugal," Bell says with a laugh. "Being canny and not parting with your money is the Scottish myth. Not having any in the first place is an entirely different thing."

"Our whole career -- if it is a career -- has been trying to persuade people that it's possible to go another way," says Buchanan of the band's route. "Even in the town we come from, there's a vast conventional wisdom and wee skepticism about doing anything that broke the pattern {of rocking out in local bars, or going to London}. Because of each other's support, we dreamed a better dream than that... . We made that first record thinking we'll never make another record, this is our chance."

Adds Bell, "In the back of our minds, I think we always wanted to do something that would last, that would in a sense be timeless, and the priority I suppose had to be making a record because that couldn't be altered. Live performances don't last for all time, so it's a different thing. I don't think we thought in terms of making a statement, but in terms of something that would exist. We just wanted to leave something on the planet that if somebody found it, covered in dust even, they would think there's a hallmark of integrity on it."

Having won plaudits from the pundits, Blue Nile proved to be in no rush to cash in. It would be five years before they'd don "Hats." The first time around no one knew what to expect, which burdened the follow-up with all too much expectation, and many fans assumed Blue Nile was in the studio obsessively crafting its next pop masterpiece.

"Such misplaced enthusiasm can really wear you down," Buchanan concedes. "We were frozen for a long time. We used to rehearse in a room with no telephone or windows, and suddenly you're all things to all men and you're supposed to have all the answers. It was hopeless. Our best achievement, really, was not putting out another record though we were starving and getting seriously abused by people and our family lives were coincidentally collapsing around our ears."

Buchanan and Bell admit there was always pressure to perform live but, Bell says, "you can always withstand it if you want to. I don't think we were desperately interested in playing live initially, for good reasons. Now the attitude is different: 'If you would be willing to come out and try on occasion, we would be willing to come along and we would try to like it.' It's an equal footing."

Saturday's concert will be revealing since, listening to the two Blue Nile albums, it's hard to figure out just who does what, beyond Buchanan's aching vocals. Sounds are layered, lapping, absent lead guitar or crashing drums.

"Maybe the instruments converse to a certain extent," says Bell, adding that "we try to stay away from obvious instrumentation. Not to be smart-aleck, but it's good for us not to draw attention to the process. Listening to music, I don't necessarily want to imagine the guy who's playing. It's good to have a more subtle effect so you can use your imagination to figure what it might be. But most of it emanates from the three of us playing together, and we'll rehearse somewhere, with windows hopefully."

"This work has taken us 10 years, and there were a lot of easy ways out along that time," says Buchanan. "We've tried to do our best to be honest and to be as vulnerable as we are and as tough as we are in equal proportion, and we'd hope to continue that live. If we went out and did a concert and it wasn't any good, I'd know it, and we'd either improve or stop."

"I think maybe someday I'll sink into a chair and weep at the relief of it all," he adds. "One day it'll be over and it'll startle me for a moment and then I'll press on. Literally it doesn't matter, but we've got no houses or cars or anything, and the only way you can retain the freedom to do what you do is not to get too hooked onto those things. It's not that we're martyrs, it's just that's what we believe in."

"And if you can't keep your feet on the ground," Bell suggests, "nail them there."