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HUGH NICHOLSON & IAN MacMILLAN (2002)
Who are Blue? Pic below is from the cover of their first album. From left to right - Ian MacMillan (bass, harmonica & vocals). Angus (Timmy) Donald (drums & vocals), Hughie Nicholson (guitar, keyboards & vocals).
Before an in-depth look at the band it is necessary to say a few words about their fore-runner - Cody. We think Cody formed around 1971. Certainly down our way back then - Ayrshire, Scotland - they played at least two gigs - the Bobby Jones ballroom in Ayr and at Cumnock Town Hall. Cody was formed from the remnants of Trash (see above) - Ian Clews (vocals), Timi Donald (drums), Ronnie Leahy (keyboards) and Noddy McKenzie (guitar) with Ian Macmillan (bass and harmonica) from the Poets. We know that Trash were banned from the Bobby Jones for previous misdemeanors and the management were embarrassed when they appeared under this new name.
At one time they used to start
Creedence Clearwater's version of 'I heard it through the Grapevine'.
drummer would turn up and start tapping up. Then the bass player would
and plonk around until he was in the groove. Then the keyboards and
player would come in before the singer appeared. You thought they were
tuning up …and then…the gig was underway. Cody released
'I belong with you' c/w 'Wanna make you Happy'. Added these pics
when Kev Head managed to buy a copy in 2017. Cheers Kev.
Hughie Nicholson came in from Marmalade to replace McKenzie. Musical and contractual differences quickly set in. Clews and Leahy quit. Leahy joined Stone the Crows and we last heard of him around 1995 helping out former members of SHAB in the Sensational Party Boys. Clews went off to breed horses in mid-America according to the usual sources. The three remaining guys then became Blue in 1973.
Right with Cody out of the way let's get down to business. Much thanks to Matt Nicholson, Hugh's brother for many of the following details. Nicholson had a hit writing pedigree from Marmalade and a recording deal with RSO was accordingly arranged. Blue's first album was a masterpiece. See track listing and further review below. The three piece Blue appeared on the TV showcase programme - The Whistle Test. For live performances the band needed a second guitarist and Jimmy McCullough ex of Thunderclap Newman, Stone the Crows, John Mayall et al was brought in. However, Jimmy had a drug dependency that led to him being slung out of a car (stationary) and the band but as he headed for the kerb he could declare that he had been about to quit to join Paul McCartney's Wings anyway - as replacement for Henry McCullough - no relation. Sales of the first album were no doubt accordingly modest though everyone we know bought one and the band moved to LA to record the next set - Life in the Navy - back cover below.
For this a new guitarist then resident in California was recruited - Robert 'Smiggy' Smith - 2nd from right above and no relation to any of us. Smith was also a Scot - see article on him and others on the Trash/Poets page. Unfortunately the songs on the 2nd LP were not quite as strong as the first lot but there are still plenty of decent ones. See review below. In summer 1974 the band did a publicity gig at BIBA's roof top restaurant in Kensington organised by Lil Anderson - wee name-check for you there Lil! Miff remembers - just, since it was free drink - that almost everybody in Scottish Rock was there. Blue were then scheduled to do a gig at the Crystal Palace Bowl supporting someone or other - the big break - but had to pull out because Smiggy - who had a separate manager - quit. Accordingly, sales of the 2'nd album were no better than that of its predecessor and it was time for a rethink.
THE GREAT LOST BLUE ALBUM - Between 1975-1977 info on the band is scarce (to us anyway) so some surmising has to be done based on radio appearances. Blue were great favourites of John Peel or his producers for they did 9 sessions for his show between '73 & '77. See below and refer to Ken Garner's indispensable "The Complete Radio 1 Recordings" itself. His records show that Smiggy was out of the band by the August 1975 session but where this gets interesting (well only if you are a Blue Anorak we suppose) is in the line-up for the January 1976 session. Timmy Donald is replaced by Jeff Allen and David Nicholson (Hughie's brother) was now in the band playing bass and keyboard to allow MacMillan to play some guitar. But most surprising is that Dean Ford is listed as contributing vocals and harmonica. So we have a five piece Blue here for what seems to be a one off event. None of the songs listed for this session or the previous one for that matter appear on any Blue albums under these titles - so possibilities for some unreleased material here. For the next Peel session in November 1976 no line-up changes are mentioned but the songs done all later appeared on their third album, 1977's "Another Night Time Flight" by which time the line-up had changed again with Charlie Smith from Marmalade now on drums. As for Timmy Donald he took on session work and can be heard on Sandy Denny's solo LPs "Sandy" and "Rendezvous" - thanks to Bob Marshall for that info.
For the "Night Time Flight" LP Blue had signed to Elton John's Rocket Records and the line up was Hughie Nicholson, Davie Nicholson, Ian McMillan and Charlie Smith on drums fresh from his brief stint in Marmalade. MacMillan, Smith and Nicholson had all played together before in the Poets in 1970, This album at last produced a hit single, "Capture your heart" and the band seemed to be making a bid for pop stardom judging by the snippets from the 1978 Jackie Annual included here about who they'd like to kiss at Xmas. Strange that, since Nicholson supposedly quit Marmalade to get away from the hit single treadmill. Miff recalls seeing Blue at St Mary's teacher training College in Twickenham around this time. His memory is of a big let down by our heroes - a cynical performance with the band going through the motions and periodically insulting the audience of students and their friends. Remember, we're not talking about a punk band here, despite the era, so not many albums sold on the back of that gig . Tom was there too but his recall of the evening is close to zero - so a great night must have been had.
Despite the hit single, 3rd album didn't chart. A fourth LP, "Fool's Party", in 1979 and again on Rocket was the band's last release of the '70s. After copies of this one didn't fly out the racks the band relocated to LA for three years. That period is documented in the 1999 CD the LA sessions. As Charlie Smith rejoined Marmalade for a spell, a US drummer, Dennis Convay, was used for these sessions. Blue continue to record and release material collectively and separately right up to the present day. Check out the excellent 1999 CD, 'Country Blue' and watch out for a CD of new material 'Heaven Avenue' in 2003 as well as re-releases of the first two albums to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the band in June. (we're still waiting in 2005!). Be careful not to confuse the product of a UK boy band that has usurped the name with the original and best who are still going strong.
Solo, Hugh Nicholson continues to write songs and produce theme music. Between 1987-94 he had a successful collaboration with Gary Numan. Details of their joint releases, a Hughie Nicholson solo 7" and the Rocket era Blue albums on CD can be found via the 'Record Label' link above. As for MacMillan, the man who Dunlop Green Flash should have sponsored, he lives in Canada but he links up regularly with Nicholson on new Blue projects and has books and solo music projects in the pipeline.
Fashion Note : We will now demonstrate that Blue were either not rolling in it cash-wise or were very fond of their old clothes! Bear in mind that Nicholson, MacMillan and Smith had all been members of the Poets in 1970 and were probably the best dressed group in Scotland suit-wise courtesy of Stubbs the tailor of Glasgow (see advert on the Marmalade link). Timmy Donald had been in Trash and they didn't wear suits - unless that is indeed a suit he wears in the pic from the first album - see pic second from top - needs close inspection!
Exhibit one - On the back cover of 'Life in the Navy' (see above photo with the ship), Nicholson is sporting an old suit jacket with his jeans. Exhibit two - On the back cover of 'Another Night Time Flight' (see below) Charlie Smith wears his old suit jacket. Note the use of the singular since it’s the very same one he was pictured with a year earlier in a Marmalade publicity shot (see RC 186). Exhibit three - On the inner sleeve of 'Flight' (see left) MacMillan too is pictured with one of his old suit jackets on. We will consider his over shirt vestment on the cover as a grey tweed sports jacket - but you never know!
Thanks to Gary E. Tibbs from LA for the singles info. They did have an impact over there then!
Little Jody/The Way Things are - (UK)RSO 2090 114 (US)RSO 405; Max Byraves/Lonesome - RSO 2090 130 Cookie In A Jar/Don't Let This Feeling Go - RSO 2090 154 RSO 508; Round and Round/ I Know How It Feels - RSO 2090 163; Capture Your Heart/The Shepherd - Rocket 522 Rocket 40706; Women/I'm Alone Rocket 534; Another Night Time Flight/Tired of loving you - Rokn531; Love Sings/I'll Get You Back Rocket - Xpres 10; Strangers Town/Change in the weather Xpres 8
BLUE LPs & CDs
Blue - RSO - 2394 105 Super
(1973). Cover right.
Came out on CD as SPINCD 2007 from 'The Record Label'
Hard to find though.
Track List - Red light song; Look around; Someone; Sunset regret; Timi's black arrow; Sitting on a fence; Little Jody; Let me know; I wish I could fly; Skye banana boat song; The way things are; Sunshine or falling rain. CD adds Heaven Avenue as an additional track.
This has got to be the greatest light-rock album ever made. An outlet for Macmillan's songs at last. You never tire of these numbers. No more needs to be said except - buy it - if you have it already - buy it again.
Life in the Navy - RSO - 2394 133 Super (1974)
Eventually came out on CD with an extra track as - The Record Label SPINCD 2008
Track list - Sweet memories; Lonesome; Sad Sunday; Atlantic Ocean; Love; Max Bygraves; You give me love; Big bold love; Mr Moon; Let's talk it over.
Front cover reminiscent of Marmalade's 'Reflections' LP. Could have been more
interesting but two of the line-up were not terribly photogenic. So probably
for the best. Back cover shot has a tenuous link to the title we suppose (see
boat picture above) showing left-right, MacMillan, Donald, Robert 'Smiggy'
Smith and Nicholson. Smith looks well old with Donald also looking prematurely
aged. Ah well everyone can't have talent and looks.
Best songs are the stoating "Lonesome" (must work out the chords soon), "Atlantic Ocean" the only one with harmonica but unfortunately spoilt a bit by the annoying lead guitar accompaniment - even two wee fluffs in the outro. "Love" a typical slow melancholy Blue number very like "Never thought she would" by the Poets. "You give me love" nice acoustic guitar solos but not to the fore enough in the mix. "Let's talk it over" another melancholic little gem not enhanced by the pedal steel guitar.
Fair to say that any follow up would have to live in the shadow of such a debut. Produced by Elliot Mazer and all in all his work is very unimaginative especially allowing the very samey lead guitar accompaniment on several tracks. That should have been restricted and the acoustic guitars and piano given more prominence. The band's mistake was in not producing the LP themselves. The sound is so basic one feels it must have cost next to nothing to record but the listener is still left feeling short-changed on the production front.
THE GREAT LOST BLUE ALBUM : We suggest the title - "An Old Suit Jacket Will Never Let You Down". From the Radio 1 sessions there are nine tracks mentioned which do not appear to be from the released albums though 5 & 6 came out as a single. Enough to make up a short CD on their own! We've tried to get Matt Nicholson of 'The Record Label' put the BBC stuff out but he says they've lost the recordings - you sure Matt?
The tracks in question are : 1. Moonlite (6/73); 2. She wrote me a letter (6/73); 3. Too many miles (10/73); 4. Dark eyed darling (8/75) 5. Round and round (8/75); 6. I know how it feels (8/75); 7. I'll be satisfied (1/76); 8. Careless kind of guy (1/76); 9. Love has gone (1/76); A version of Moonlite turns up on the LA Sessions CD. There is also a number from the 11/76 session listed as 'Charlie Black Arrow'. Is this the same as 'Timi's Black Arrow' from the first LP with some twist on the respective drummer's names ?
Adjacent, we've just slipped in the cover from the "Bring back the love" single lifted from the 'Night Time Flight album. Pics taken from the album cover sessions though there is little or no difference from some of the shots above we thought since we've got it we'd shove it in anyway.
Another Night Time Flight - Rocket
Records - Roll 7, (1977)
Released on CD as SPINCD2001
Track list - Another night time flight; Fantasy; Women; The Shepherd; Strange thing; Bring back the love; I'm alone; Tired of loving you; Capture your heart; I understand.
Back cover of the LP is below.
Fashion note 2 - Jackets aside, clock the flares. Nicholson's FUs especially had been a bit passe for about a year by this time. We see also that Mr MacMillan had had his hair permed and also fairly put on the beef since the last LP when he was positively sylph-like.
Can't see this in our cropped pics but if you look at the cover you'll see that someone has swiped Hugh's briefcase between the front and back cover pics and Charlie has acquired one. You have to watch your stuff like a hawk in these airports.
What about the music though. Eight tracks by Hughie Nicholson, and one each by David Nicholson and Ian MacMillan.
Elton John and Clive Franks had obviously listened to the first album and decided to 'recapture' its whole feel right down to the guitar tones. Good for them and this is something of a return to form songwriting-wise as well. Some numbers even have middle-eights.
A couple of the endings are dragged out too long for our liking but that is a small complaint and so what if 'Tired of loving you' could have been lifted direct from the first album. Definitely worth your money.
Fool's Party - Rocket Records - Train4, (1979)
Released on CD as as SPINCD2006
Track list - Strangers town; Danger sign; Mexico; Mona; I don't want to leave
her; Victim; Blue nights' Love sings; Fools party; Without you; long enough;
A gatefold sleeve, no less, showing a mature looking band (MacMillan now slimmed back down ) getting it together in the cottage in the country. Near the village of Barr in South Ayrshire, Scotland - in case anyone wondered! Being Ayrshire men ourselves we can vouch that you need a big warm jacket up there at the best of times.
As with 'Flight' the lyrics have been thoughtfully printed on the inner sleeve. Nine Hugh Nicholson songs, two by David Nicholson and again only one by Ian MacMillan albeit the title track. 'Love Sings' is quite MOR and very like what Marmalade were putting out at that time. Even sounds like it could be Dean Ford singing. Only the slight straining to reach the highest notes (oh and the sleeve note credits) tell you it can't be. Mostly very sad stuff and not quite up to the standard of 'Flight'. Still. Further in-depth reappraisal review to come one day.
COUNTRY BLUE (The Record Label - 1999). SPINCD 2006
Best thing since the first album. It will cost you £11.99 for 30 minutes of music though. Nevertheless, after 20 years of waiting its worth it.
Front cover is starkly inspiring according to the Mrs. Hmmmm, we had thought it just too plain for our liking. We show the back here. It saves us having to write out the track listing!
Track after track, this CD is just superb. You wait on one that might not match its predecessors but it just doesn't come.
Can't tell yet if the two B-sides are different versions since our originals are too crackly to hear anymore but its great to have "Get You Back" and "Change in the Weather" out on CD. Neat guitar licks on "Sweet Sunrise".
Production is magnificent. No complaints other than length. Oh and they are definitely not all country numbers.
THE LA SESSIONS. (The Record Label -
A stereotypical LA scene for the cover - below. More songs - 12 this time so a more respectable forty minutes or so. In true Blue (sorry about that) fashion it fails to excite quite as much as its predecessor. Purely because the Country Blue songwriting is so strong. Here, one or two are just a tad samey and lightweight on quality if unmistakeably Blueish. Even down to the reggae number. Still if you're a fan it will be a welcome release and you will not be too disappointed. Picks up on multiple listening.
Track listing : I wonder how she feels; Don't call me up; Moonlight; Little China; Roland; I wonder if I'm making it; All night; Why do I do it?; Don't tear it up; I wanna go to New York; Dont wanna make you cry - (two wannas in a row chaps? The LA influence we presume); Starlight Jingles.
BLUE 20 -SPINCD 2009
The album features 20 fan picked classic tracks: 'I Wonder If I'm Making It'; 'I Wish I Could Fly'; 'Blue Nights'; ''Capture Your Heart';'Women'; 'Why Do I Do It'; 'Tired Of Loving You'; 'Mexico'; 'Little Jody'; 'I'll Get You Back'; 'The Way Things Are'; 'I Wonder How She Feels'; 'Tired Of Loving You'; 'Sunset Regret'; 'Sweet Sunrise'; 'Love'; 'Long Enough'; 'Sweet Memories'; 'Let's Talk It Over'; 'Sunshine Or Falling Rain'; 'Baby's Gone'.
A cracking compilation CD from 2002.If you cannot get a hold of the debut album on CD there are 5 of its tracks on here. So its the next best thing!
A few photo additions in 2017 courtesy of Kev Head..
Dutch Pic Sleeve of the hit single US label of the first LP
Why so grumpy looking Mr Mac - such a great shirt too!
More promotional material for the US release of the first LP
A bit of disingenuousness about Mr Mac - as he was not on Trash's Apple singles.