Aaron Passman Review, USA – The BBC Sessions
11th January 2013
Record Review
record reviews

The first new B&S material since last year’s patchy ‘Fold Your Hands Child’ album also marks the debut of guitarist Stevie Jackson on A-side duties.
As such, Jackson’s more upbeat vocals make a pleasant change from Stuart Murdoch’s winsome tones and ‘Jonathan David’ is a suitably strident effort for him to display his abilities, although nowhere near as frenetic as last year’s superb ‘Legal Man’.
Jackson’s backed up by Murdoch and Isobel Campbell on the choruses as he declares “I was Jonathan to your David”. There’s plenty of keyboard action, with both piano and organ to the fore, along with some noticeably louder drumming. Another worthy effort from a band who seem to have pretty much perfected the art of churning out a fine succession of three-minute singles.
Second track ‘Take Your Carriage Clock And Shove It’ finds Mr Murdoch back on vocal duties in a string-drenched tale of a company man who, on receiving his retirement gift, finally lets out his true feelings about his job.
As is often the case with B&S, the gentle music is juxtaposed against the more bilious nature of the lyrics. Some lovely steel guitar manages to blend into the classical framework seamlessly. Another fine fanfare to the common man.
The third track is a studio version of long-time live favourite ‘The Loneliness Of The Middle Distance Runner’. Sounding as if it dates from around their second album ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’, musically it’s more of a black and white snapshot than the full-colour of their recent efforts, with sparser arrangements, but yet still possesses a certain charm.

Simon P Ward

Dotmusic – Jonathan David
August 2001

The eight layabouts in the secretive Scotch band Belle and Sebastian are the new kings of the kind of teen-innocence porn that makes indie-rock fans cry “mama.” Manufacturing an illusion of high school cuddliness without actually appealing to teenagers, they issue four-minute fluff balls of nonsense Glasgow stories and singsong melodies – naive and fragile in the outside, tough with knowledge of obscure psychedelic pop records on the inside. The Boy With the Arab Strap is the band’s third album in two years, amid as many EPs and numerous downloadable songs-of-the-week at its Web site.

Redolent of the Velvet Underground’s cutest moments, this stuff is almost closer to sense memory than to music. Slouching along with Stuart Murdoch and Isobel Campbell’s breathy, uncertain vocals, and a small, unvirtuosic orchestra in the rear, the songs conjure aloneness, first love, discovering poetry and not knowing what to do about it. It’s the soundtrack to staying too long in your college neighborhood and becoming one of those types who hold down library jobs.

The air has grown dangerously precious on each of Belle and Sebastian’s previous records, so the greater richness and sophistication of Arab Strap come as a relief. A few songs actually read as creditable poems: “Seymour Stein,” a split-level daydream in which the real-life record mogul takes the singer’s sweetie away to America and his band out to dinner, holds fast to its conceit and attains goose-bump loveliness – it’s actually moving. Elsewhere, there are old Stones-like slide guitars, bagpipes and motor-trance rhythms, strings, xylophones, trumpets, flutes, and organs. And where too much of the band’s other music has been assiduously cloistered and rickety, best heard at private moments on headphones, this album’s got brilliant Spector-sound sunsets. It’s worthy of filing next to the Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out, R.E.M.’s Reckoning, and the Meat Puppets’ Up on the Sun: rock albums with an endless summer glow.

4 out of 5 stars: “excellent”

Rolling Stone – The Boy With The Arab Strap
September 1998

You can’t always believe your ears when you listen to Scotland’s Belle & Sebastian. Its highly mannered folk rock sounds prim and polite, like an aural doily. But its lyrics bristle with sarcasm, irony, even cruelty.

Such a pitched combination made the group’s 1997 debut, “If You’re Feeling Sinister,” one of the more subtle (and more playable) albums of the year, not to mention one of the more critically adored.

The new album continues in the same vein. Its twinkling melodies, fey vocals and dancing arrangements suggest a magical intersection of three mid-’60s styles, which all cross the last days of lounge music with the emerging folk rock of the day. You’ll hear the summery West Coast sounds of The Mamas & Pappas or the early Byrds, mixed with the chaste English balladry of Mary Hopkin or Marianne Faithfull, plus the muted peppy horns of Burt Bacharach.

“It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career” might have been performed by Simon and Garfunkel in ’66. Which only mkes its mean lyrics that much more jarring. Here, the narrator nearly chuckles over a painter who suffered a stroke at 24 because the band considers his work “a sham that’s going for a grand.”

The equally withering “Sleep the Clock Around” offers an ode to a depressed ne’er-do-well, matched to a woozy moog hook. The band’s lyrical barbs can get obnoxious, as in “Seymour Stein,” which condemns the music industry impresario named in its title for daring to try to make the musicians rich and famous. Such dismissiveness blunts the album’s impact. As much joy as its jingle- jangle music holds,the band won’t come to full power until it finds equal breadth and generosity in its words.

Jim Farber

New York Daily News – The Boy With The Arab Strap
September 1998

[the stars of track and field]
Isabel is sort of laid there, on a bed or a table, I don’t know which, and she fixes me with one of those looks and says “Why didn’t you ask her then?”

I get a bit nervous, I go “What do you mean?” and Isabel says with that exasperated laugh of hers, “You know, why didn’t you ask Jo when you spoke to her at break?”

I’m really nervous now, and am positive I am red (I never used to blush, I think I only started when I became a teacher and was around children all the time), but try to remain composed with a “What are you on about?” To which Isabel goes “Jo Orton “.

Of course I know what she’s on about, and I say “Yes I know what Jo you’re on about” (could it be any other?) “but what am I meant to have asked her?”

Isabel is just giving me a look. Sixteen year olds have so many subtle looks, and I’m really not sure what this one means. Nevertheless, it seems obvious I have to say something more. So I go “Well I did ask her to do extra work for me.” I did, and I blushed then too. “As a favour.”

Isabel has raised herself up and rests her head in her left hand. “I didn’t mean that. I know about that. I want to know why you didn’t ask her what you really wanted to ask her.”

I try to look confused but really all I look like is the startled teenager when he discovers that his closely guarded loves and obsessions were not so closely guarded after all, that all his peers have been laughing for weeks at his inability to make action out of desire.

Isabel just fixes me again in the eyes and says simple as you like “Why didn’t you ask her to go out with you?”

I wake up.

[the boy done wrong again]

Later, I dream that Jo is kissing me. She has her hair down and is wearing pale red lipstick. Her hair drifts between us like a veil and gets caught between our lips. I wake again and want to bawl.

[get me away from here I’m dying]

I read the sleeve notes to “If you’re feeling Sinister” and I go all creepy. I’ve had the CD for ages, but the record shop couldn’t find the cover when I bought it, so it’s only today when I bought that Reuben Wilson LP that Mike goes, “we found that Belle & Sebastian cover upstairs last week.” And there it was. I read the lyrics in the Boston Tea Party coffee house, and I found that I could sing every last one of the buggers in my head, right off. This despite the fact that I had the Beth Orton (no relation) record on my headphones. The latte was sweet, there were only three other people in the big open loft space, and I felt fucking weird. There was a couple who looked about twenty four, they were maybe students. They weren’t talking much, but they were looking at each other a lot. He had a copy of The Guardian open beside him on the beaten brown chesterfield and she was playing with her hair. It was auburn hair. The other customer was a bloke who looked about sixty, he had those funny half moon specs on, and a cardigan. A grey cardigan with a hole in the left elbow. He was reading a collection of Rilke poems and sipping what looked like an espresso.

But I was feeling fucking weird, reading these lyrics and sleeve notes. Something about Casuals in Dalry. That was bloody scary. Reading that, it was bloody scary. I used to travel through Dalry all the time, on the train, on my bike. Never stopped unless I could help it. Only once, to get chocolate after coming over the moor road from Largs, which is on the coast. Oh and once in the station coming back from Paisley where two drunk women touched me and Scott up in the Bakery. Digby had to catch a train home to get to evening work in the South Beach gardens, but it never helped because the train we got on went to Stevenston instead, so we still had to ride home from there. At least we never paid. Scott died in a car crash two years later and Digby got lost taking pictures in London last I heard. Not that that’s of much interest to anyone of course.

[me and the major]

Belle & Sebastian are in the Face magazine this month. They get the kind of smirkingly flattering attention that other non-trad-rock groups get in the Face. They get begrudging attention because someone suspects that Belle & Sebastian may well be the best group to have strolled nonchalantly up the avenue of British Pop since some bloke in a big blouse wafted out of Manchester waving a bunch of gladioli. They’d be right too. Shame they have to couch their admiration in cheap shots about anoraks.

Do Belle & Sebastian wear anoraks? Does anyone wear an anorak these days, and if they do, do they wear anoraks without a due sense or irony and a truck-load of nail-polish?

[if you’re feeling sinister]

Deliver flowers to a house by hand at five in the morning and give them to the father who opens the door in his dressing gown. Embrace the romance in the river’s colour on a March morning and in the breath of air that blows over your cheek as you stand on the top of the car park tower and gaze over the city. On expeditions to the roof of the world, dancing and eating ice creams laced with tequila. Kissing in back of the multiplex, watching Frank Sinatra double bills and strolling home laughing at comets.

I’m making it all up.

Belle & Sebastian are the prettiest poets this land has to offer us, and we’d all be either dim, dumb or dubious to ignore this fact. Carve their names on your arms with your fountain pens.

[judy and the dream of horses]

Someone somewhere is playing the Velvet Underground on a portable cassette player in the sun. Snow is on the ground. They really do think of horses all the time you know.

Alistair Fitchett

Tangents Ezine – If You’re Feeling Sinister
March 1997
live reviews

The first time I went to a Belle & Sebastian show, I didn’t see them. They cancelled at the last minute, well after the support band had already played. A dozen years later, I nearly didn’t get see them again, due to a ticket mix-up. But luck intervened and my longstanding drought was broken. I watched Belle & Sebastian play for an hour and 45 minutes, a well-oiled eight-piece with an added string quartet and trumpeter on a couple of songs. Like a bouncy all-star revue beamed in from the late 1960s, there was funny banter, spirited performances, cute audience interaction, and impossibly bright songs packing a surprising oomph. It was a wellspring of good vibes.

Playing a second Forum gig after conquering Golden Plains a day prior, the band mixed up the set list accordingly. Unlike the previous two nights, there was no cover of the Kinks’ ‘Victoria’, but leader Stuart Murdoch thanked punters for the chance to play so many older songs. There was a fair spread of all seven albums, including the Scottish ensemble’s debut, Tigermilk. Even tunes from last year’s Write About Love, which I’d initially found limp, worked well live: the breezy title track, mod-ish ‘I Want the World to Stop’, fragile ‘Read the Blessed Pages’, and Sarah Martin’s ‘I Didn’t see it Coming’.

In a blazer over a striped sailor shirt, Murdoch came out with an acoustic guitar in hand and scarf around his throat for the opening ‘I Fought in a War’. He then shed everything but the shirt for ‘I’m a Cuckoo’, dancing foppishly to that glaring hook. Later he alternated between piano and acoustic and electric guitars, as well as finding time to play frontman, prancing about with practiced finesse. Sideman and occasional singer Stevie Jackson got the audience to do high harmonies for his ‘I’m Not Living in the Real World’, a song he said he had once envisioned as a 1966 Who B-side.

But the older songs were an obvious boon for fans. There was the millennial pair of ‘Waking up to Us’ and ‘The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner’, and Melbourne’s own Judy Mitchell reprised her oboe part on the splendid ’90s entry ‘Slow Graffiti’. There was Murdoch’s baseball pantomimes for ‘Piazza, New York Catcher’, Jackson’s bubbly ‘The Wrong Girl’, the T. Rex joys of ‘The Blues are Still Blue’, and the funky ‘Sukie in the Graveyard’. Tigermilk yielded ‘She’s Losing It’, ‘Expectations’, and a bit of ‘I Don’t Love Anyone’ by request. There was even a round of ‘Happy Birthday’ for a newly 18-year-old fan as well as guitarist Bobby Kildea.

‘Sleep the Clock Around’ spelled a raucous finish before the encore’s ‘Another Sunny Day’. Murdoch then introduced the band and let Jackson’s raging harmonica summon an untidy ‘Me and the Major’ to exit on. By now, Murdoch and company know exactly what to do live, such as inviting five punters to dance on stage during ‘The Boy with the Arab Strap’. You’d accuse them of stagey calculation if they weren’t so willing to be playful with their beloved songs. As bookish as Belle & Sebastian can be on record, such artifice fell away to expose the pure fun of their classically crafted pop.

Doug Wallen

The Vine – Forum, Melbourne
January 2011

Sunday Matinee
Nicely jumpered skinny students suck feverishly on white-pack Silk Cut surrogate tits and titter tweely at every feeble onstage witticism. Oh! It’s all so oh-so coy and warm and happy-clappy cosy! This ever-so-slappable crowd of shit-eating indie-schmindie sheep are apparently not even slightly pissed off that they’ve had to queue outside in the freezing rain for over an hour (while a B&S employee tossed them compensatory ice-creams).
“Integrity seems to be the key word,” mumbles singer Stuart Murdoch (apropos absolutely f-ing nothing) to general laughter and a smattering of clapping. “Wanky, half-arsed, cackhanded and utterly insulting amateurism,” would be closer to the f-ing mark (don’t piss on me and tell me it’s raining, twat).

This is the matinee show. Belle & Sebastian have sold out Manchester’s amazing Victorian town hall twice in one day. The perform in the round, the stage a speaker-stacked black modernist slab slapped in the exact centre of a stunning gothic-arched and gold-leafed beige-stone Christmas cake. The acoustics are thus totally f-ed and the insultingly desultory attempts at audience communication (during the frequent equipment breakdowns) reduced to mere whispered mumblings.

And yet, despite the fact that Belle & Sebastian’s sole trick is to combine piss-poor sub-Don McLean lyrics with nicked Kirsty MacColl riffs, there is the merest whiff of real magic here. Even the most cynical folkophobic would find it hard not to twitch and shudder with near sexual pleasure at the throbbing muscle layered upon tracks like “The Stars Of Track And Field” and “The Fox In The Snow” (the recorded versions of which remain puke-inducingly whimsical and twee). But it’s never enough to overcome the overwhelming stench of smug, cutesy-wutesy, mumsy-wumsy, Jack Straw-approved suburban shite.

Manchester Town Hall is an over-the-top, totally in-your-face and utterly awesome shrine to late-Victorian bourgeois triumphalism. Today it showcases a band who, more than any other, epitomise the tediously understated, wilfully inadequate and teeth-grindingly irritating school of aesthetically neutered and ideologically castrated middle-class, too-thick-for-art-school Blair Rock.

A punter, seeing a hack scribble furiously, approaches and demands that NME doesn’t compare Belle & Sebastian to “Felt, Nick Cave, The Smiths…” and a whole load of shit anti–rock bands because “that would be lazy”.

OK, how about The Carpenters without the camp? Burt Bacharach without the balls? Jonathan Richman without the jokes? Crowded House without the incisive lyrical insights? Or maybe The Velvet Underground without the tunes, looks, attitude, politics, style, asthetics, vision, talent, charisma, sunglasses, black turtle-neck sweaters or f-ing drugs? That do you? I mean, you seem so easily pleased.

<h3>Sunday Matinee</h3>
Nicely jumpered skinny students suck feverishly on white-pack Silk Cut surrogate tits and titter tweely at every feeble onstage witticism. Oh! It’s all so oh-so coy and warm and happy-clappy cosy! This ever-so-slappable crowd of shit-eating indie-schmindie sheep are apparently not even slightly pissed off that they’ve had to queue outside in the freezing rain for over an hour (while a B&S employee tossed them compensatory ice-creams).
“Integrity seems to be the key word,” mumbles singer Stuart Murdoch (apropos absolutely f-ing nothing) to general laughter and a smattering of clapping. “Wanky, half-arsed, cackhanded and utterly insulting amateurism,” would be closer to the f-ing mark (don’t piss on me and tell me it’s raining, twat).

This is the matinee show. Belle & Sebastian have sold out Manchester’s amazing Victorian town hall twice in one day. The perform in the round, the stage a speaker-stacked black modernist slab slapped in the exact centre of a stunning gothic-arched and gold-leafed beige-stone Christmas cake. The acoustics are thus totally f-ed and the insultingly desultory attempts at audience communication (during the frequent equipment breakdowns) reduced to mere whispered mumblings.

And yet, despite the fact that Belle & Sebastian’s sole trick is to combine piss-poor sub-Don McLean lyrics with nicked Kirsty MacColl riffs, there is the merest whiff of real magic here. Even the most cynical folkophobic would find it hard not to twitch and shudder with near sexual pleasure at the throbbing muscle layered upon tracks like “The Stars Of Track And Field” and “The Fox In The Snow” (the recorded versions of which remain puke-inducingly whimsical and twee). But it’s never enough to overcome the overwhelming stench of smug, cutesy-wutesy, mumsy-wumsy, Jack Straw-approved suburban shite.

Manchester Town Hall is an over-the-top, totally in-your-face and utterly awesome shrine to late-Victorian bourgeois triumphalism. Today it showcases a band who, more than any other, epitomise the tediously understated, wilfully inadequate and teeth-grindingly irritating school of aesthetically neutered and ideologically castrated middle-class, too-thick-for-art-school Blair Rock.

A punter, seeing a hack scribble furiously, approaches and demands that NME doesn’t compare Belle & Sebastian to “Felt, Nick Cave, The Smiths…” and a whole load of shit anti–rock bands because “that would be lazy”.

OK, how about The Carpenters without the camp? Burt Bacharach without the balls? Jonathan Richman without the jokes? Crowded House without the incisive lyrical insights? Or maybe The Velvet Underground without the tunes, looks, attitude, politics, style, asthetics, vision, talent, charisma, sunglasses, black turtle-neck sweaters or f-ing drugs? That do you? I mean, you seem so easily pleased.

Steven Wells

NME – Manchester, Town Hall, 27th and 28th December 1997
December 1997

All Three Shows

It’s been a while since I travelled further than a spin on the DART to catch a band, but then again, it’s been a while since I’ve heard a band this damn good. Even grimey Manchester can’t put a downer on the sort of romance B&S ooze at every pore. And only B&S could come up with the idea of playing three shows in two days inside the ornate splendour of the city’s town hall. We’re literally gobsmacked walking around this remarkable building, windows embellished with intricately stained glass, archaic stair-cases winding off in every direction, every door hiding a mystery and centuries of history. And inside one of the larger rooms seven or eight musicians swop instruments spread out over two stages, one opposite the other and a stacked PA in the middle.

This is Belle and Sebastian’s world for two days.

The first show is tentative, impeded by the troublesome sound which is yet to marry itself to the Town Hall’s vexatious acoustics. But once Stuart Murdoch’s fragile voice comes upon us, a hushed reverance inhabits the air as brushed drums and deft traces of moog and hammond begin to fill the room. B&S have over three albums worth of great songs so despite their faltering poise it’s still an enjoyable evening, and we’re enchanted by the unique surrounds. The following day’s matinee performance is approaching sublime. The band are hungover (keyboardist Chris hides a bucket beneath his pile of instruments in case of emergencies) and play with particular delicacy. Stuart performs a tender ‘Fox In The Snow’ on piano and we swoon appropriately.

The final show is aptly rousing. B&S have mastered the discortant echo of the venue and every instrument (cello, ethnic percussion, drums, organs, piano, trumpet, violin, guitars etc) now cruises in harmony. The audience let loose a little too, and indulge in a spot of hootin’ and hollerin’. Tonight’s set is for the most aprt a variation on the previous two. The much favoured ‘The State I Am In’ is aired in its more languid ‘Tigermilk’ arrangement, (trainspotter info) as opposed to the snappier ‘Dog On Wheels’version (alas,nothing from Dog On Wheels makes it this weekend – next time please) but it satiates our need to hear one of the finest pop songs released this year. Several more from ‘Tigermilk’ are played and some new material due for release in the next five or six months. The quality control leaves us dizzy and by the end of the night we’ve discarded all those Nick Drake and Love comparisons and fallen well and truly in love with our unlikely new pop saviours from Glasgow.

Leagues – Dublin’s Event Guide – Manchester, Town Hall, 27th and 28th December 1997
December 1997

Sunday Night
“Take a second of the day and think of all the things which we have done this year…”

I know you’ve heard twice as many end-of-year summaries than a sane person could reasonably stomach by now, but this was, simply, the coolest thing. Belle and Sebastian, the pop group whose music has wrapped itself around my year like fine bacon around a Christmas sausage, winding up 1997 with a Classic Pop Event.

Among the many and various reasons I love Belle and Sebastian is the fact that they are scrupulous in their insistence on doing things differently. They seem to be able to exist effortlessly outside the tedious restrictions of established pop method, to be completely different to their crass contemporaries.

So there are three concerts in two days, including a matinee performance. The gigs are held in the Victorian gothic splendour of Manchester Town Hall (the most unusual venue I’ve seen since Belle and Sebastian played in an octagonal church in London this summer…). The stage, bizarrely, is C-shaped, meaning that at no point could any individual see the whole band, who swapped places for each song. And I had no chance of inspecting keyboard player Wee Chris’s reported penchant for outrageous flared loons. Most unusual of all, this is no slick pop spectacular. There are gaps between the songs as a result of the stage layout or technical problems, (one very lengthy one was due to some unspecified cello catastrophe), filled with embarrassed comments or ad-hoc songs. Stevie demonstrated how the guitar figure in the classic ‘La Pastie De La Bourgeoisie’ bore a shocking resemblance to the theme from ‘Emmerdale’, and treated us to a special rendition of Manchester’s most famous contribution to pop history: ‘Matchstalk Men And Matchstalk Cats And Dogs’. Some of the above displeased some of the capacity crowd, unhappy that the unwritten rules of rock and roll were being so blatantly flouted.

I loved it.

I love them for the fact they don’t feel the need to put on a bland standard show. I love them for the fact that they put themselves in unusual and difficult situations, as much to see what happens as anything. I love them because they seem to be standing alone in consistently taking chances in a way that none of the nominees for Brat awards could ever understand.

And I love them because, as someone wise once said, they sound fucking brilliant. Song after beautiful song, they reminded me why I adore their records and made me all excited because the new songs sounded fresher, more exciting, better still. Belle and Sebastian have a new LP out in the springtime. If songs like ‘Seymour Stein’ and ‘Loneliness Of The Middle Distance Runner’ are anything to go by, it’s going to be fantastic. Really. No pop band of the moment has such a fine grasp of pop perfection, even down to the immaculate choice of cover versions. ‘Reel Around The Fountain’ in March, this time ‘In A Nutshell’ the best song from the first Orange Juice LP, a copper bottomed classic rendered, if anything, more beautiful, shimmering and fragile than the original.

Of course, a professional journalist would be compelled to tell you of weak points and faults (indeed, one well-known and far-too-old inky scribe was reported to be ostentatiously parading his contempt for the band during the matinee). I could, and can, see none. For the first time in ages, I am too far gone, head over heels to have any kind of rational perspective. Isn’t that great?

Ordinarily, I would be warning you to catch up with Belle And Sebastian before it is too late. True to form, they confound the ordinary. They seem to be continuing upwards and onwards, each new song a new way to wring emotional reactions from me and god knows how many others in a rainy Manchester.

A fantastic night. Lots of good friends and me, all together for the pleasure of seeing the best pop group in the whole world. And the pleasure of dreaming of the new LP, as good a reason for looking forward to 1998 as any.

Tim Hopkins

Scan, Lancaster Uni – Manchester, Town Hall, 27th & 28th December 1997
December 1997

Saturday

People just don’t like Belle & Sebastian, they’re hopelessly devoted to them. Among tonight’s collections of hipsters, Habitat squares, C86 revivalists and out-patients, there are people who’ve trekked from America* and Japan. Why? Because the Belle & Sebastian songbook is crammed with tales of feckless idealists who, although hemmed in by boorish reality, demand the earth. We’ve a disquieting sense that they harbour the sane, giddy romantic part of us that age has whittled away. And they make our compromised spirits soar anew.
We expect tonight to merely, if deliriously, confirm what we already know – that we love them more than life itself. And, bless their enigmatic Scottish socks, they’ve tried to make it A Special Experience. Hence the venue, a gilt-edged grand hall, and the following day’s matinee performance. It’s not quite Spike Island, but it’s getting there.

As opener “Put The Book Back On The Shelf” stumbles to a close, though, we’re already beginning to wonder if we’ve fallen for a band we never really knew. There should be pandemonium, voices punching through the rafters, but the painfully quiet PA means that no one even murmurs. Stuart Murdoch attempts a shimmy during a jauntier “I Don’t Love Anyone” and a few people take his lead. But it’s hopefully self-conscious.

During the interminable breaks between songs, as instruments are swapped and beers retrieved, there’s utter silence. This reverence, or crippling awkwardness, wholly dissipates any gathering excitement. At time, as the band talk amongst themselves, it’s like we’re unwelcome guests in their rehearsal room. Gigs by bands that act as magnets for rock’s outsiders have traditionally been wildly celebratory affairs; they’re about bonding and blossoming. But nothing encourages that here, especially not eight new songs in a 14-song set.

There are some fun moments though, such as Stevie ending his spectacularly spastic Orange Juice-esque solo during “Dylan” by playing the guitar with his teeth, but the cheekily charismatic bunch we’d expected are absent. They look baffled by our presence and often panicked at their own lack of cohesion. Perhaps they should, hey, practise a little and relax. There is a middle ground between The Pastels and M People, you know.

It is possible, among the debris, to glimpse greatness. “Photo Jenny” and newie “Dirty Dream” hint at Belle & Sebastian’s oft overlooked Northern-tinged pop potential. “Chick Factor”, even with its wildly out-of-tune Mellotron, rolls and swells like you’re falling in love – the Velvets at their most preciously Fisher Price. “Is It Wicked?” (sung by a terrified Isobel) is gorgeous and the closing “Rollercoaster Ride” features Stuart’s voice at its strong, plaintive best. Marry this with some beautiful crescendos of Marr-ish guitar and mournful trumpet flourishes and it’s something you’re going to treasure for life. On vinyl.

Manchester has rarely witnessed such embittered post-gig arguments. Indeed, the clap-happy souls, chuffed simply to be in the same room as their heroes, are undeterred But we, the sane, expected a gig (albeit a roughly hewn one) that would become a byword for everything uniquely elevating about going to watch a band. Instead, we got a rehearsal for a sixth-form revue.

Comedy, someone once said, is the gap between expectation and reality. Clearly, they’d never seen Belle & Sebastian play live.

Tony Naylor

Melody Maker – Manchester, Town Hall, 27th and 28th December 1997
December 1997

Good music doesn’t always come to you. Sometimes you have to find it yourself, without radio, MTV, major record chains and magazines. But somehow, in Manhattan, quality in pop and rock usually doesn’t go unheralded. Concerts by two new, promising and little-known British acts, Beth Orton (on Saturday night at the Westbeth Theater) and Belle and Sebastian (on Sunday night at the Angel Orensanz Foundation on the Lower East Side), were filled to capacity with admiring fans, most of whom had discovered these artists via word of mouth.
Unlike Oasis, Blur and other bands playing Brit-pop, Ms. Orton and Belle and Sebastian played light, airy Brit-folk characterized more by shyness than brashness. Softness, plainness and sensitivity were not signs of weakness but goals to be pursued in songs chiseled out of delicate arrangements and smart, perceptive lyrics. Self-effacing onstage, both acts seemed embarrassed when the audience applauded at the beginning of a song it recognized. Both also consisted of eight-piece ensembles that weren’t afraid to destabilize the folk songs with touches of punk-rock and electronic dance-music. At the same time, each song would have sounded just as good performed by one person on an acoustic guitar.

[Beth Orton stuff deleted].

Though just as introverted, the Scottish ensemble Belle and Sebastian was more of an anomaly. Its members appear to be lazy, unambitious bumblers full of private jokes they’re too sleepy to share. Members forgot lyrics, fell out of rhythm, lost their place during melodies and took long pauses to switch instruments. During one break, they asked an audience member for help in lowering the microphone stand.

But somehow, the songs sounded meticulous and exquisite, with Stuart Murdoch singing in a shy, sweet voice buoyed by a loosely knit cushion of guitars, violin, cello, brass, drums and keyboards. The approach was best summed up in lyrics from one of its albums, “Nobody writes them like they used to/So it may as well be me.” Though there is nary a low point on its excellent second album, “If You’re Feeling Sinister” (Jeepster/The Enclave), or its even newer singles, Belle and Sebastian performed mostly unreleased songs. Its lyrics looked at characters like a woman modeling the Velvet Underground in clay, a runner who breaks hearts and lots of people in boring jobs with active fantasy lives. Its knack was for simple storytelling, with each lyric thinly veiling a world as lonely as Ms. Orton’s. “Could I write a piece about you now that you’ve made it?” Mr. Murdoch sang in his winsome, genteel voice in the song about the runner. “About the hours spent, the emptiness in your training/You only did it so that you could wear/Your terry underwear/ And feel the city air/Run past your body.”

After an hour of watching the concert, fans may have loved the band, but they still didn’t understand it. “You’re so very quiet,” Mr. Murdoch told the audience.

When the crowd responded by cheering, he raised a hand and meekly tried to stop them. “No,” he explained, “we like that.”

The New York Times – New York, Angel Orensanz, 6th and 7th September 1997
September 1997

Going to the chapel and we’re gonna get… shafted. Belle And Sebastian are often mentioned in the same sentence as Tindersticks, so I’m keen to see them play in the house of God. This’ll be OK, I figure. The adjective “beautiful” has rarely been more than a few lines away in their adulatory press to date, and the new single “Lazy Line Painter Jane” is certainly an idioblastic thing of defiant organic grandeur.
I am not entirely insensitive -not yet- but tonight’s is an infuriating anti-performance of shambolic wimping and wussing. The maladjusted seven trickle onstage and proceed to… tune up for 15 minutes. This they do in between every song. Sometimes they vary it a little by swapping instruments (including cellos, trumpets – sadly underused), and blundering around with endless microphone refittings. On one such tedious intermission a guitarist gives us an impromptu falsetto rendition of “Like A Rolling Stone”; he gets two-thirds of the way through it before he’s reined in. That it’s on of the evening’s highlights is bitterly illuminating. Belle’s contempt for their admirers is neither big nor clever. Their rudeness is like that of Rik from “The Young Ones.” They come across as silly, shoddy amateurs. Surely that’s no longer the middle-class (aka “indie”) aesthetic. It’s promoted as endearing, but the majority of disenchanted fans here find it far from priceless.

So much tweaking, yet the sound when it deigns to arrive is vapid. Another song about “a girl” who “dreams of horses” – all the canon needs, right? Stuart Murdoch sings with a perversely English, Donovanesque feyness which may intrigue on record but here is timid, conservative and sometimes plain inaudible. Any momentum or seduction is sacrificed to arsing around and giggling like school kids. The boys seem childishly thrilled to be swearing in a church.

Isolated minutes (not “moments” – it’s not a night which earns or attains “moments”) serve to show that delicate gratifications can be detected beneath the bluff and boredom: “Stars Qf Track And Field” is a nimble enough nugget which entices some college-disco pogoing from the patiently devoted, while Monica Queen brings much needed guts and gusto to the new single. This almost distracts us from the architecture, and from our much-vaunted poet/artist/hero’s incongruous cheeky-lad demeanour. And ghastly shirt.

After the light relief of a hapless photographer emerging from the altar above the band mid-song like a displaced Mary Magdalene, we are graned dispensation. Those down the front whoop for an encore, presumably on the grounds that it’s more fun than the coach back to Glasgow. They don’t get one. I’m staggered that such a basic ineptitude and unjustified smugness have been allowed prior acclaim and even mystique. Perhaps we should clutch at hope by remembering now that giant oaks from tiny acorns grow.

Acorns are cool. Belle And Sebastian, on the other hand, seem hopless.

Chris Roberts

Melody Maker – London, Islington Union Chapel, 31st July 1997
August 1997

Friends, we are in the presence of a phenomenom. Eight people are ranged across the stage, mostly looking superbly unlike pop stars, spending a long, long time retuning, swapping instruments and grinning coyly at one another. The vagaries of fashion, the nuances of big beat and new grave, are evidently anathema to them. The Zeitgeist is alive and well and living, for one night only, on a distant planet from here.
Belle & Sebastian, then. Their fourth London gig, their first in nearly a year. Many lovely songs about misfits and dreamers and epiphanies at bus stops. A surprisingly large number of people who hang on every word and know quite a lot about them, who can’t dance but don’t care. Truly, a phenomenon.

For Belle & Sebastian are a dazzling triumph of doing things differently. One of British music’s newest and most devoted cults has grown up around these unassuming Glaswegians, two albums and two EPs into their career, in spite of precious few interviews, photographs and shows. Even pop star patronage has been conspicuous by its absence thus far, although fellow kitchen-sink fantasist Jarvis Cocker is mobbed in the toilets just before they go on.

No. What we have here is that rarest of bands: the madly unfashionable outsiders – silent, invisible, contrary – whose success is entirely down to their records being brilliant. The antithesis to all the macho bad-boy posturing perennially in vogue, theirs is a rebellion that’s quieter, more insidious, more breathily aesthetic. As these complex songs gently unfurl and creep their way to trumpet-blaring climaxes, it becomes apparent B&S are one of this decade’s premier purveyors of frayed sensitivity, the inheritors of the cherished mantle passed from Love, to Nick Drake, to The Smiths and The Go-Betweens and on and on.

You’ll either love them or hate them. To be honest, though, it’s clear everyone here’s been waiting for a band like this for years. Sometimes they’re a bit stumbling and shambolic, looking distinctly as though they should have played live a bit more in preparation for a gig as big and awkward as this. Everyone stands up and dances – wobbles, flays; proper bedroom dancing for fast ones like ‘Judy And The Dream Of Horses’, then politely sits down again between songs, as if they were in a church. Which, of course, they are.

What else? Ooh, half-a-dozen new songs invested with just as much love and care as their predecessors, including an instrumental, ‘Tigermilk’, which almost qualifies as groovy. Duelling recorders that are fragile, but NOT twee. A frighteningly elegant sashay through ‘The Stars Of Track And Field’, plausibly the finest song about fancying discus throwers ever written. And ‘Lazy Line Painter lane’, wherein the very small but heroically voiced Monica Queen (formerly of rubbish country rockers Thrum) turns up, B&S suddenly make like the Tindersticks tumbling through ‘What Goes On’, and it all sounds like one of the most fantastic things released this year. Which, of course, it is.

“Yeah, you’re worth the tnouble and you’re worth the pain”, sings the ever-coy Stuart Murdoch in ‘Like Dylan In The Movies’, composing his own review, as the hiatuses between tunes stretch ever longer, the acoustic tuning becomes more tortuous. Yet criticism of mere technical hitches seems churlish. Belle & Sebastian, almost certainly, are the secret favourite band of many people here. At times, this seems an utterly justified state of affairs. See, we’re talking phenomenal.

Set List  My Wandering Days Are Over
Dylan In The Movies
Judy And The Dream Of Horses
Slow Graffiti
Is It Wicked?
A Summer Wasting
Photo Jenny
Tigermilk
Lazy Line Painter Jane
Stars Of Track And Field
Century Of Fakers
Like A Rolling Stone*
Seeing Other People
Simple Things
(* Stevie played the first verse and chorus whilst the others were tuning)

John Mulvey

NME – London, Islington Union Chapel, 31st July 1997
August 1997

The septet of Belle and Sebastian perform fragile songs about the shy and the heartbroken, led by Stuart Murdoch’s waiving voice, which is like Nick Drake’s angel sigh but eschews suicidal poetry in favour of a mixture of wit and urban surrealism, all wrapped in string and brass arrangements.
But this isn’t the sound of the crushig eimages of the Manic Street Preachers or the wall-of-sound pop of Phil Spector, it’s the ramshackle chic of street urchins, stumbling onto instruments and delighting in the sweet racket they make. And it’s a fantastic brew; because while they exude the air of lucky amateurs it’s a concoction only the stony-hearted could resist.

They make a fist of the first song, pushing their lackadaisical habits to the brink of disaster, but they recover and stumble brilliantly from one breathless song to the next. During one particularly lengthy tune-up, the guitarist calls for request and performs an impromptu solo version of Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”, but even this is brilliant, with Dylan’s original vitriol replaced with head-shaking regret.

At one point, as everyone is enjoying the spectacle of Belle and Sebastian in a church, a lone, crazed dancer suddenly and without reason starts flailing around like he’s at a techno club and we all shuffle with embarassment. Because that’s how fans of Belle and Sebastian suffer life, with shuffling embarassment, stolen looks, long lonely sighs and scribbled poetry. The audience look as if they’ve been hibernating since the Smiths split up a decade ago and there’s even – horror of horrors – grown men in T-shirts and cardigan ensembles again. For one glorious night, the arrogant anthemic indie bands are thankfully a world away as people in a chapel in Islington gleefully worship at the alter of shyness and coyness. Amen

Anthony Thornton

The Independent – London, Islington Union Chapel, 31st July 1997
August 1997

You’ll either love them or hate them – if indeed you’ve heard of them. A cliche, but never truer than in the case of B&S. Though the oft-fey, folkish charms send many scurrying for the sick bucket, this eight strong bunch of romantic dreamers and Nick Drake-a-likes have fast become cultishly hip in Indie Bedsitland. This may explain why half the audience crammed into a church venue this Sunday eve seem to have arrived from London’s trendier environs just for this gig.
Considering the (ahem) ‘selectivity’ of the crowd, and the rarity of gigs, B&S make few attempts to make new friends, mind. Unfamiliar material dominates the set, with few songs from the latest album If You’re Feeling Sinister given an airing. Of these the previously spritely Seeing Other People is slowed to mogadon pace, killing a much anticipated moment. One also questions the wisdom of Stuart sharing vocals with a female singer. Shades of Deacon Blue/Beautiful South!

Sunday’s set was wilfully obscurist, but there were gems among the mire, She’s Losing It, from the ultra-rare Tigermilk, pushed the acts songwriting skills to the fore, while The State That I Am In was, as ever, poetic. The general air, though. was of promise unfulfilled. B&S are infamously camera-shy and maybe celebrity isn’t an issue. Yet as rumours of collaborations with Donovan and Paul Simon surface, it may well arrive whether they like it or not.

Set List
Modern Rock Song
Sleep The Clock Around
Seeing Other People (Slow Version)
She’s Losing It
Century Of Fakers
Star’s Of Track And Field
Seymour Stein
Photo Jenny
Tigermilk
Slow Graffiti
Simple Things
Judy And The Dream Of Horses

Stephen Eastwood

Teletext, Planet Sound – Colchester Arts Centre, 3rd August 1997
August 1997

Question: What’s got sixteen legs, eight heads and the voice of an angel; rarely appears in public but when it does causes panic and desperation of biblical proportions? The answer, of course, is Belle & Sebastian, an unassuming, publicity-shy pop group from Glasgow who have, in the space of two short years and two discreetly classic albums, achieved legendary status among the ranks of the country’s gentle-hearted romantics and fey, dysfunctional outcasts.

The scenes outside the Zodiac beggared belief. Two hundred punters from out of town queuing for an hour to get in because they’d all booked their tickets by phone and had to endure the credit card processing rigmarole. Their’s is the panic – will they get inside before the band come on? The desperation is on the faces of another two hundred people who, with no chance of getting in, still queue up, hoping for a miracle. And miracles can happen. How else do you explain the unheralded triumph of pop beauty over the ugly lad zeitgeist? The world needs Belle & Sebastian even if they don’t seem to need the world.

On the face of it it’s all so unimposing. One pretty, late twenty-something boy with an acoustic guitar surrounded by a ramshackle troupe of musicians that include a cellist and a trumpeter as well as two keyboardists mounted on a platform in the middle of the hall because there’s no more room on stage. The music is so gentle it could evaporate in a club setting like this (they’re more accustomed to playing in libraries and cafes) but Stuart Murdoch’s gentle, folky voice holds the audience in something approaching rapture. He sings tender songs for pale, skinny people who treat him with genuine reverence.

It hardly matters that Belle & Sebastian refuse to play a ‘greatest hits’ set. Aside from a couple of new songs, as yet unreleased, everyone knows all the obscure stuff anyway. So much so that when Stuart messes up the beginning of `State I Am In’ the crowd are singing the words for him. And this is no `Wonderwall’ anthem; instead it’s a fragile lullaby with a convoluted story of confusion and angst in the mould of Nick Drake or Felt and perhaps the most beautiful song written since `Northern Sky’.

Belle & Sebastian’s influences are many and varied and crop up throughout their set, from Love to Simon & Garfunkel to The Smiths. Yes, it’s folk-pop but it’s much much more. New single, `Lazy Line Painter Jane’ is the one great song that The Beautiful South never wrote, and if the comparison makes you balk, don’t let it, it’s more the way Stuart’s voice contrasts with that of guest singer, Monica Queen, from Thrum, while its rising crescendo of 60s organ chime takes it closer to the more melodic side of the Velvet Underground. At the opposite end of the scale there is the jazzy instrumental of `Tigermilk’ before cellist/tambourinist Isobelle takes over vocal duties for the country-tinged `It’s Wicked Not To Care’, perhaps the only song ever to feature a glockenspiel solo.

The way that every softly played, carefully crafted song is greeted by rapturous applause that’s twice the volume of the music is bizarre but they seem neither fazed by such adulation nor do they play up to it. They’re happy to potter about, tuning up or swapping instruments as if in a bedroom rehearsal, before sheepishly announcing `Another new one’. There may well be many out there who will see Belle & Sebastian as the start of the rebirth of wimp-pop while others might dismiss them as an anomalous throw-back to 60s folk whimsy. These people have no souls. So blinded by a haze of ugliness (did anyone else feel physically sick at the sight of John Power on the front cover of Melody Maker last month?) that they fail to see real beauty when it blooms. What a rosebud is to a garden, so Belle & Sebastian are to pop music. Wake up and smell the blossom.

Set List:
Mayfly
The State I Am In
Simple Things
Seymour Stein
Tigermilk
Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying
Sleeping The Clock Around
Is It Wicked Not To Care?
Like Dylan In The Movies
Ease Your Feet Into The Sea
Lazy Line Painter Jane
I Don’t Love Anything

Oxford NightShift – Oxford Zodiac, 2nd August 1997
August 1997

People have a curious, gooey feeling about Belle And Sebastian. They’ve fallen head over heels for the poetic ambition and tander romantic’s of the septet’s second album, “If You’re Feeling Sinister”, and now they want to see what the boy with the ever-wide eyes and slight-yet-affecting voice is actually like. The appearance of a good-looking, confident-seeming 28-year-old with a cool Stephen Pastel haircut is, therefore, a shock for those expecting a hopeIess cutie type. And even when he says, “I’m not too comfortable with having to stand for a long time,” you feel it isn’t out of wimpiness but a sense of fierce individuality. You’re soon proved right.
The boy’s name is Stuart Murdoch and, in the crudest terms possible, he’s the next Morrissey meets Jarvis meets Edwyn meets your favourite lovelorn hero. Those same curious people- in their hundreds in Scotland, soon to be joined by a nation of soppy dreamers-treat Stuart and his songs with an affection and warmth that’s nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with compassion. As he strums the first chords to any of his knowing masterpieces, it’s Sebadoh silent here,the stillness of respect and anticipation. And when a number ends, it’s tender uproar, the sound of tearful “Thankyou”s and excited “We love you”s.

It’s easy to see why these beautiful songs so readily capture the heart. They’re fashioned from a jumble sale of elegance – ragged cello and violin trade Tindersticks stories with the ghosts of The Go-Betweens and Felt on guitar and Hammond – and played with the serene-yet-heartfelt passion of a sensitive collective. There’s also a dark, perverse streak present which insists on blending idealism with the grubby realities of troubled existence. Thus, the characters in these songs don’t just fall in and out of love: they indulge in murder fantasies, homoerotic lovemaking sessions and moments of pure, untutored hedonism.

There are many, many examples of B&Ss life-changing brilliance, but we’ll start with “The State I Am In”. Building from a whisper to outright epiphany, it follows a dream in which Stuart’s brother comes out (“It took the heat off me for a while,” he sings, but don’t assume autobiography), a crippled friend is cured on the Sabbath, and the local minister “Took all of my sins / And wrote a pocket novel called ‘The State That I’m In’.” It’s the kind of song that’s awash with character but emotionally direct at the same time, tapping straight into the part of your soul that yearns to see the world in four dimensions of colour.

Stuart has at least 30 other songs to match this and, while they wander into different romantic corners, they share a desire to bring a vibrant sense of poetry to the dusty machinations of the heart. That’s also why the band have an interval when there’s no real need, why Stuart playing a grand piano at the ornate Assembly Rooms seems like the most natural and just thing on the planet, why the new single, “Dog On Wheels”, resembles a dark Spanish fiesta and why B&S’s deliciously slow version of “Reel Around The Fountain” feels like a long lost part of the artistic universe coming alive and slotting perfectly into place.

Thank you, Belle, Sebastian and God. The pleasure and the privilege was mine.

Ian Watson

Melody Maker – QM Union, Glasgow / Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, March 1997
April 1997

Things aren’t looking promising for V-Twin. The stage is cluttered with the usual array of equipment… and four keyboards. The audience of anoraked romantics and bespectacled indiephiles weren’t exactly counting on prog-rock tonight.
Luckily, that’s not actually on the menu: what they do get is a feast of vintage rock. But then, they weren’t counting on that either, since V-Twin are replacing the rather more melodious Adventures In Stereo as tonight’s support.

V-Twin are on form though, and this is more than enough to save the day. They visibly shake with power as they unleash their instrumental opener, converting the audience into pogoing maniacs within the space of 12 bars. You could easily label them unoriginal or even retro, but you can’t argue with this kind of volume. They boot the dying shit out of the corpse of T Rex, the Stones and the New York Dolls, and then scream ‘Kick Out The Jams’ in its face. And they’re all the more wonderful for being unexpected.

You’d expect Belle & Sebastian would have a hard time following this, but they show a diversity and friendliness that belies their roundly-praised, if painfully introspective, album ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’.

Singer Stuart Murdoch has learned quickly how to deal with audiences: on his own terms, sure, but with a surprising degree of respect, given his preciousness.

But the respect is definitely mutual. The bedroom scrawlings of ‘Seeing Other People’ transfers amazingly welt, even to this packed student union, and the captivating blend of Donovan-esque songwriting end Simon R Garfunkel arrangements have everyone captivated.

As with V-Twin, they play a numbers game, with as many as nine people on various strings and brass or even the odd Theremin at any given moment, but then the latest crop of successful Glasgow bands seem almost as interested in cutting down dole queues as giving us songs to whistle in the mornings or sing on the way home from the pub. Just what Scotland needs: evolution not devolution.

Craig Reece

NME – Glasgow QM Union, 8th March 1997
March 1997

Some weeks ago I wrote a rather positive review of Belle and Sebastian’s second album, “If You’re Feeling Sinister”, following which several of my friends roundly took the piss, saying I was overreacting to an average band. Well I have cause to revise my opinion. They’re not the best band this year. They’re without doubt the best guitar band of the nineties. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll effuse for ages.
On Saturday morning, not feeling so great, we piled into a hired car, steeled to make a pilgrimage to the mythic lands north of the border. We were ready (if not entirely willing) to brave unlimited neeps and tatties in the name of following the ascending Belle star.

Actually, it turns out that Glasgow is a handsome city where the record shopping is rather excellent and a jolly time is to be had. But over the day hung a delicious mixture of excitement and fear: excitement that we’d finally find out what Belle and Sebastian looked like, and fear that they’d be rubbish live.

See, Belle and Sebastian’s records are crystalline things of a gentle beat beauty. There’s always the fearful possibility that through bad sound, bad technique or nervousness (on record they do seem like gentle souls) the subtleties of the music might be trampled into an unseemly mud.

Two support acts, then, to span the time between wondering about Belle and finding out. V-Twin, who are nothing but a skinny, callow parody Scot-rock band. Not good enough to be compared to the already crappy Teenage FC, these are the Australian Whiteout.

Then the first thrill of the evening was Adventures In Stereo, featuring original Primal Scream guitarist and all-round pop god Jim Beattie. They’ve picked an unfortunate name for a band who are clearly influenced by Stereolab, but they play shimmering fragments of songs, spending their efforts in search of the brilliant moment. Of which they have several. I strongly suggest to you that if you fancy the thought of angel-voiced pure pop like Stereolab playing selections from the Beach Boys’ classic “Friends”, you start investing in AIS, and soon.

Belle and Sebastian feature between seven and ten individuals of varying ages and degrees of winsomeness. The group seems to revolve around Stuart, who is a cutester in a skinny, light-voiced way. They’re not afraid of swapping instruments between songs or taking steps away from trad rock instrumentation. You’re just as likely to see a member of Belle and Sebastian wielding a cello or a stylophone as you are to see them wrestle with a bass guitar. It’s an adventurousness which is rare in these arid and conservative times. But this is an indie gig, right? You have every right to expect a handful of faithful with an irredeemably low quality threshold jizzing over thirty minutes of badly performed, half-realised, over-familiar songs squashed through a threepenny sound system, followed by a long and disappointed drive homeward.

Not this time. The sound was just right, crystal clear and not so loud as to mangle Belle’s magnificence. There must have been at least a thousand of the good folks of Glasgow (including a few threatening-looking bruisers sprinkled amongst the more obviously indie fraternity) swooning at their brilliance. They played for well over an hour and a half (punctuated by na wee break for as long as it takes to have a drink and a cigarette – awww…) and their material was mostly new: just three songs each from the first and second albums. Here’s the rub, though- the new stuff sounded better, more exciting, more wrenchingly melodic than the songs we already know and love. Pretty, sad, touching, funny, what we all need in these ugly days. Oh, and they played a half speed version of “Reel Around The Fountain”, which ached liked it always should have. Is it heresy to say it was better than The Smiths live? I’ve seen the song played by both bands. I know which I loved more…

And I know this is going once again to sound like utterly unjustifiable hyperbole, but I haven’t felt like this about a guitar band for ten years: not since a few heady months in 1987 when my world spun to the now largely forgotten (not by me!) sounds of Biff Bang Pow!, The Claim and McCarthy. I am completely and beatifically in love with Belle and Sebastian. There’s something special happening and it’s happening right now. Belle and Sebastian. God, I’m so excited.

Tim Hopkins

Scan, Lancaster Uni – Belle and Sebastian Live! at Glasgow QMU, 8th March 1997
March 1997

glasgow university, queen margaret’s union:

I’d never been to Scotland before, let alone Glasgow. I knew about the gig a couple of months in advance and knew I’d like to see them again but… Anyway, I met this girl who said she liked Belle and Sebastian and she was American, over for a few months, and, well, Americans have no idea of distance. And she said she was thinking of going and I said I’d like to go too and so we started looking into it. And, as luck would have it, there were tube posters at Euston advertising trains to Glasgow for only £19 if booked a week in advance.
Anyway, we met on platform of King’s Cross on the day of the gig, her with her friend who’d changed her flights over from the states so she could attend and off we set. Five and three quarter hours later we hit Glasgow and found, eventually, the hotel.

The QM was pleasant enough once you’d gotten past security. It was then that we found that the tickets I’d asked to be reserved for us on the door hadn’t been but it hadn’t sold out and we were early so that wasn’t a problem. The actual hall was a bit strange, the stage took up the longer side of the place making the bit where the audience stood very wide but not very deep.

V-Twin came first. Everything was played well and with enthusiasm but it wasn’t really my thing, too much like rock music so… Adventures In Stereo were next and suffered in a live context because the changeovers between songs were longer than the songs themselves. The samples and loops of the (excellent) self-titled lp were also missing although the set did tend to avoid the lp tracks that relied on them too much. The lead singer’s voice, however, was a relevation, strong and well-pitched with what looked like the minimum of effort, and which made up for any of the other ingrediants that were lacking.

Belle And Sebastian started with a new song (“Beautiful”) and followed it with another – “Centuary Of Fakers” which, like so many of the new songs they would play over the weekend, inhabit the same universe as the old favourites, use a few of the familiar names and, as such, are instantly enjoyable. Songs you find you can sing along with during the first couple of hearings are usually very good or very bad. These were finely crafted and familiar without being formulaic or cliched. There were eight of them on stage. Not all of them play all of the time and would just loll about the stage or sit quietly until needed. Another two new songs before the now traditional mid-set break – “Dog On Wheels” (the new single) and “Belle And Sebastian” (which, strangely, manages to rhyme “shame” with “Sebastian” without sounding pants). The Monkees were playing down the road at the SECC, the first date of the British leg of the comeback tour. In celebration of this the odd Monkees riff would start between songs, plucked out on the lead guitar whilst waiting for the others to change instruments or re-tune.

Out of the break (after rounding up the stray band members) with “Mayfly”, a personal favourite, let down slightly by the lack of stylophone. It was there and Sarah was playing it but the mic hadn’t been turned on again after the pause so it was inaudible.

And then, something i wouldn’t have thought possible. There are some tunes that are so perfect in their original versions that to cover them is pointless and, occasionally, criminal. “Reel Around The Fountain”, i’d’ve said, is one of these tunes but this version, slower than the original, was pulled off superbly and left those of us of a certain age, dumbstruck. This was followed by the slow version of “Seeing Other People” where Stevie, Stuart and Isobel each sing a verse before all chipping in on the last verse. It’s almost a different song from the other version, a lot more melancholy.

Another two new songs sandwiched around what is arguably the bands signature number ended the set. Monica guested on the last song, adding to it a voice that her from The Beautiful South would kill for.
Set List:
Beautiful
Century Of Fakers
My Wandering Days Are Over
Seeing Other People
Dog On Wheels
Belle And Sebastian
Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying
(break)
Mayfly
Reel Around The Fountain
Seeing Other People (Slowly)
Middle Distance Runner
The State I Am In
Lazy Line-Painter Jane

edinburgh assembly rooms:

The Edinburgh concert was held in The Assembly Rooms, the kind of place more likely to hold choral evenings than rock gigs – stairways, a balcony and chandaliers. And no bar. There were also seats and tables within the auditorium, albeit off to the sides.
Support this time was from Monica, Monica from Thrum i found out later, with a seated guitarist and the occasional drum machine. The voice was still there and still intriguing, sounding at times like Ian McCulloch on Candlelands, but, again, it wasn’t really to my taste.
With little or no fuss Belle And Sebastian took the stage and launched straight into “The State I Am In”. Occasionally Stuart (and, later, Chris) would leave the stage and make his way down to the grand piano which was on the same level as the audience.

“Reel Around The Fountain” came as less of a surprise tonight, but didn’t lose any of its power for all that. Indeed, all the new songs heard for the first time less than 24 hours before felt like old friends. Over the two nights there were 7 completely new songs, one new treatment and a new cover version, enough for a third lp before i’ve had chance to tire of the first one.
Highlight of tonight was Chris looking like John Lennon, dancing like Bobby Gillespie. Unfortunately he later went into coolness deficit by spilling beer onto equipment and knocking the drum-machine off his keyboards.

No “Mayfly” tonight, it would’ve been nice to see them correct the lack of stylophone, but “Judy And The Dream Of Horses”, with its wobbly recorders, more than made up for this. Especially nice to hear all the songs with a live trumpet, something that was missing at the London gig late last year (and was very noticable in its absence).

I left Scotland the following afternoon (after a touristy trip over the Forth Bridge) feeling tired but happy. When i see weather maps i look towards the top and see Glasgow and Edinburgh and am constantly surprised at just how far they are from here but i’m so glad i made the effort to attend.
Set List:
The State I Am In
Belle And Sebastian
Dog On Wheels
Seeing Other People
Reel Around The Fountain
Like Dylan In The Movies
(break)
Judy And The Dream Of Horses
Century Of Fakers
You Made Me Forget My Dreams
My Wandering Days Are Over
Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying
Middle Distance Runner
Lazy Line-Painter Jane

Andrew Dean

Andrew Dean’s Review – Two Concerts: Glasgow and Edinburgh, March 8th & 9th 1997
March 1997

They sound gorgeous.
There are seven of them – eight if you include the guitarist’s grinning sister, dragged onstage to hold his harmonica during their closing song. Some of them wear suits, some of them don’t. They remind me of the Tindersticks (who they are supporting this evening) but only a little and only occasionally. They claim to have been conceived in an all-night cafe in Glasgow and have the most photogenic of singers, but still get their friends to appear in their press shots instead. They have the coolest dancing pianist, who smudges his purple nail varnish across the keys. Sometimes they sing about underwear, more often about kissing. Tonight they opt for speeding, up-tempo versions of their songs. They are the only group I’ve ever heard ask the soundman to make their vocals sound “brighter”; I read a lot into this request.

The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt once claimed that the singular aim in the creation of his songs was to form “pretty objects” that he could treasure forever. This “prettiness” is a desire that goes against current expectations of pretty much anyone making music today, yet I suspect Belle And Sebastian share a similar aesthetic, for their songs are actually pretty, the loveliest I’ve heard in an age.

Belle And Sebastian are oddly affecting in their sanguinity. Though they grin, though they regularly sound jaunty – “Us / With our winning smiles! / And us / With our catchy tunes!” – and beatific (and there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with this), their songs are laced with regret and an engaging tenderness, too.

So. Hearing Belle And Sebastian is a pleasure, a joy. A new band to exhalt!

David Hemingway

Melody Maker – Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
November 1996

By rights, a band called Belle And Sebastian should be impossibly twee. There should be two of them, and they should coo sweetly as they marry pretty ’60s folk-pop to sentiments of inadequacy. This is what is expected.
What they should not be is a six-strong posse of happy-go-lucky Glaswegians crammed into a tiny stage on a Monday night, charming the pants off a couple of hundred people who really shouldn’t have heard of them yet. And what they really, really shouldn’t do is rock out.

Time then, to chuck out the rule book and simply revel in the happy accident that is B&S. Cobbled together nine months ago by singer, guitarist and songwriter-in-chief Stuart Murdoch, they’ve released one very limited-edition LP called “Tigermilk”, followed this week by “If You’re Feeling Sinister”. And – in that they do actually play unfeasibly pretty ’60s folk-pop tunes – they are the triumphant conclusion of long and concerted Hibernian efforts to suduce us with simple melody.

They sound like Nick Drake fronting the BMX Bandits. They feel as precious as the Pastels. But – crucially – they play like Tindersticks. And for this they should be worshipped.

So clever, literate songs like “Stars Of Track And Field” and “Seeing Other People” start out unassumingly, with Stuart strumming a quiet acoustic or piano introduction. But gradually each tune builds up into a rich, gooey confection of sound – and all cutie timorousness goes the way of the rule book. Keyboards and drums and bass and cello and concertina and tambourine and toy piano join guitars in a rollicking crescendo worthy of the most drunken and dissolute of rock’n’rollers. By the end, Stuart is jigging around and stamping on the keyboards with his feet, narrowly missing bandmate Chris’ fingers. He’s clearly transported – and, judging by the crowd’s expressions – he’s not the only one.

Kitty Empire

NME – Charing Cross Borderline, London, 11th November 1996
November 1996
interviews

Q&A with Stevie Jackson and Richard Colburn

The album features the sound of Stuart Murdoch’s zip on ‘I Could Be Dreaming’. Are there any other similiar features on the record?
RC: “If you listen with the bass turned up you can hear this bumping noise. That’s Stuart. He used to like doing his vocal sitting on a chair, then he’d get into the song and start jumping up and down. Occasionally you hear this little rumble on the record and think, ‘What’s that then? Oh yeah, that’s Stuart and his wee chair’.”

How does it feel to see ‘Tigermilk’ re-emerging?
SJ: “Oh, it’s a nice feeling. It’s so long since it came out that it almost feels like it’s being releaed for the first time – 1000 copies were made, but a lot of those were given away. I remember at the launch party, they were just lying about all over the room covered in beer.”

Given the choice would you change anything?
RC: “No, it’d be trying to change an old photo.”
SJ: “I think the mistakes come to be part of what defines the album. After having it sitting there for three years, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Is it true that Stuart Murdoch’s dad owns the ‘Tigermilk’ tapes?
RC: “Stow College paid for the recording and then Stuart’s dad bought the tapes. We all own it now – Mr Murdoch still owns a big chunk of it, but he was kind enough to sell some of it back to us.”

The album features ‘The State I Am In’, which was also on 1997’s ‘Dog On Wheels’ EP. Is it true the EP version was actually recorded first?
RC: “Yeah. Actually, the version on the EP doesn’t have the band on it. Stuart was on one those music courses you get sent on if you’ve been unemployed for six months. The people on the EP are Stuart Murdoch and Stuart David and whoever else was on the course.”

How do you look back on the Bowlie Weekender?
SJ: “It was a bulls eye. What I remeber most are all the American groups. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The Flaming Lips… They all looked like rock stars, which I really admired [laughs]. It was the biggest crowd we’ve really played to and it went OK, so I was happy.”

When you busked at Bowlie, what did you play?
SJ: “‘Rhinestone Cowboy’, ‘Maggie May’, ‘Suspicious Minds’ and ‘Keep The Customer Satisfied’ by Simon & Garfunkel. We’d have done more but we got moved on by security.”

Whose idea was it to play ‘The Kids Are Alright’?
SJ: “One day me, Chris and Richard were rehearsing, Chris picked up the bass and we started playing a load of Who songs. Then Stuart came in and started jamming on ‘The Kids Are Alright’ on melodica. We thought it would be a good idea to do it at Bowlie. We all love The Who, y’know.”

Roy Wilkinson

Select – Q&A with Stevie Jackson and Richard Colburn
July 1999

Once again, Glasgow has provided the world with something special. BELLE AND SEBASTIAN will become one of the most important bands of the Nineties. Oh yes. And if they don’t, well, we’ll force-feed all veggies with haggis every day for a year.
EVERYONE wants to talk to Stuart Murdoch, the boy with the lilting voice and perversely romantic imagination who sings for Belle And Sebastian. They want to ask him how he and his band have managed to fill a gap in their lives that they didn’t even know existed, a gap fashioned from love and obsession and all of the sweet indulgences of passion. They’re keen to hear the stories behind the songs on the “lf You’re Feeling Sinister” album that made them cry in strange places and besotted with the idea of an icon: someone who could mean as much as to them as Robert Forster and Morrissey meant to the dreamers of the Eighties.
But Stuart doesn’t want his personality to cloud what Belle And Sebastian mean as a collective group. And he doesn’t want the others to feel left out or overlooked. He worries, so he keeps quiet. He’s doing the right thing, he’s sure.
“The band Belle And Sebastian is really not about me,” he says, sipping tea in his Glasgow flat. “The interesting things happen when it goes beyond me. I do like talking. I like meeting new people and chatting away and I like talking about the band. But l am sitting here desperately trying to deflect all the questions.”

STUART isn’t being difficult here, just true to himself and his ideals. Belle And Sebastian has, after all, been a long time coming for him. He describes his life before the band as “average” and “directionless” and freely admits that he was a late starter on the creative front.
“I really was pretty hopeless up until three years ago,” he smiles. “I didn’t do very much at all. And short stories or pictures or songs or poems all come from the same little seed of inspiration and so I couldn’t write a story until I could write a song and I couldn’t write a song until three years ago. It just came.”
Are your songs autobiographical at all?
“Only as much as a biography is a reflection of what you know. Some people say they like to remain in a vacuum and create something new but I don’t believe it can be done. It’s all your experiences. A wee bit autobiographical, a wee bit not. Sometimes they’re based on the lives of other people, sometimes they’re just imagined situations. It’s all an indulgence.”
One of the short stories Stuart wrote was called “Belle And Sebastian”. Is Belle, Isobel the band’s violin player?
“No. I wrote that before I met Isobel. It was about a girl, and this boy teaches her how to play guitar. I used to imagine him writing songs and this would be a Belle song and this would be a Sebastian song. And I would arrange my tapes in Belle and Sebastian songs and it got a bit daft when it came to playing music to real people. I’ll probably put that story on a record sometime.”
That’s quite a romantic story. Are you a romantic person?
“In the old sense of the word, probably, utterly, yes. Completely. A hopeless romantic? I’m a romantic and probably pretty hopeless at certain things. NO,f*** that. I’m not hopeless. I get things done. I made two LPs last year.”
Someone who always falls for romance, then?
“I’m trying less and less,” he nods. “I think being involved in this record made me wake up fast. You have to. You can’t just think about yourself any more, you have to think about other people. You have to be less romantic.”
Do you fall in love easily?
“Not really, no. Certain things you love. It’s a different notion to falling in love.”

BELLE And Sebastian’s new single, the effortlessly gorgeous “Lazy Line Painter Jane”, has Stuart singing, “You will have a boy tonight on the first bus out of town”. Buses seem to figure fairly largely in the Belle And Sebastian world, with adolescent graffiti being scrawled on bus stops and lovelorn boys having to admit that “Riding on city buses for a hobby is sad”. Why buses, Stuart?
“I don’t really know. I’d like to be a bus driver. Shouting at people and driving past their stops.”
It’s quite a solitary thing.
“Yeah. Maybe that’s it. There’s only a certain amount of human contact you get. Am I a solitary person? In lots of ways, yes. In a selfish way. I’m sounding like a class one mambo here.”
When Stuart wasn’t daydreaming his life away on the Glasgow’s orange buses, he would occasionally hitch his was around the country. And his wandering days aren’t over apparently.
“I hitchhike down to London quite a lot. Me and my friend hitch together and it’s easier. People don’t mind picking up a couple. It’s fine because you hitch from the middle of Glasgow and it’s no effort because you can see the hipsters and the doleys walking by and it’s a nice place to sit”
Do you not have to talk to the person driving?
“Oh incessantly,” Stuart laughs. “That’s the thing. l’m this really quiet guy from Glasgow, but as soon as you get in that car you’ve get this broad Scots accent going, ‘F***ing right, mate. Ah, the lassies.’ Bollocks like that”
Stuart smiles in a way that has you rejoicing that Belle And Sebastian can be so down to earth. As drummer Chris Geddes points out, they’re “human beings, not sensitivity machines”, flesh and blood thinkers and lovers who just happen to create some of the most inspiring, euphoric and tender songs eveer. Like “Get Me Away From Herel’m Dying”, where Stuart bemoans the fact that their unphotogenic looks will hinder their chances of stardom.
“That’s a bit tongue in cheek, although I really thought we didn’t stand a chance. I didn’t mean that because I’m quite a hard person to know, but when we made our first little forays, I thought we’d get shot down in flames.”
Is that why you don’t like to appear in your photos?
“I think if you think you have to pose and see your own sickening face then you’re in a bad way.”

BELLE And Sebastian are rapidly becoming the most important thing in my and many other people’s lives, a poetic balm in an age of thuggish bluster. And, with the likes of Radiohead as fans (Thom asked B&S to support them on their world tour, but Stuart and co opted for their own dignified way), they’re set to become much much more popular. What are your hopes for B&S, Stuart?
“That we remain friends. That we can still look each other in the eye at three week intervals. Just to get on. But they’re very good. I couldn’t wish for better players.”
And we couldn’t wish for a better band.

Ian Watson

NME – Trop Belle Pour Toi!!
August 1997

Keyboard player Chris Geddes and drummer Richard Colburn on life in “The New Smiths”

Singer Stuart Murdoch often refuses to do interviews. Why?
Chris: “Stuart doesn’t like being pinned down. When a songwriter is asked to provide a definite interpretation, it can spoil it. That said, I’m not that keen on ambiguity. I think the deliberate air of evasiveness around us had led to some annoying misrepresentations of what we’re like as people. The Sunday Times said it was great to find a band that don’t like football. But we do. We’re human beings, not sensitivity machines.”
B&S have been compared to The Smiths, in terms of inspiring passion. Do you see any similarities?
Chris: “Yeah. Maybe not in the music — though I know Stuart and Isobel really like them, Stuart especially because he’s a fair bit older – but in some of the ways we go about things. Like the way we want our gigs to be. The places we play in and everything. lt’s a bit different to normal. I went through a phase of listening to The Smiths at college but now I think they’re one of the most objectionable bands on earth.”
You played with the Tindersticks last year. Are they important to you?
Chris: “I hadn’t listened to the Tindersticks that much before we played with them. But I was totally, totally blown away. It’s a total illustration of how far we’ve got to go. Not so much the music and style but the emotional impact of it. It’s like the first time you go to a Northern Soul club. you think, ‘That’s what music ought to sound like.'”

Do you get bizarre fan mail?
Richard: “Stuart David [bass] gets that stuff because he runs the web page. There’s a couple in New York who’ve named their kids after us.”

David Hemmingway

Melody Maker – THE BELLES! THE BELLES!
August 1997
articles

Their singer is the mild-mannered janitor of his local church hall. The rest of the band (six in all) have never been pictured together. In a year-and-a-half, they’ve only managed to play 15 gigs. By rights, no-one should ever have heard of them. Yet last week, they were invited on Top Of The Pops.
This is the story of Belle & Sebastian; a Glaswegian group borne from obsession who now inspire devotion among thousands; a phenomenon comparable only to the advent of The Smiths in the mid-’80s; and a collection of seven of the most contrary and secretive people ever to make it into the Top 40.
The origins of their success can be traced to the slight form of Stuart Murdoch, a 29-year-old ex-choirboy and one-time boxer, who’d always dreamed of starting a band. In January 1996, after years spent leaving hopeful notes scrawled in the windows of music shops, he succeeded: Belle & Sebastian were formed, and, two months later, ‘Tigermilk’ (a debut album limited to 1,000 copies and financed by the local college) found its way on to national radio.
‘Tigermilk’ was a record that took everybody by surprise: a debut album that combined the urban romance of the Tindersticks with the brittle folk of Nick Drake; a wrenching collection of songs riddled with quiet humour and failed love; and an outsider’s Bible that addressed an audience long since neglected.
From the outset, Belle & Sebastian were different: Murdoch wrote all the songs but was reluctant to be interviewed and absolutely refused to be photographed (as did most of the band). As a result, they were forced to issue a series of perverse press shots of cuddly toys and ‘playful’ car-crash mock-ups. This on its own was enough to fuel imaginations, and their next album ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’ went on to sell over 15,000 copies.
Since then, a series of EPs have propelled them to even greater heights of popularity, culminating in their current release (the ‘3… 6… 9 Seconds Of Light’ EP) making the Top 40. All this time, NME has been desperately striving to interview them, only to be rebuffed at every turn. Seemingly, Belle & Sebastian were a principled anomaly, mavericks in the carefully-marketed world of modern music.
Then we met them…
Belle & Sebastian are both busy and prone to indecision As such, when we pull up in front of the Grosvenor Cafe in Glasgow’s West End (the apocryphal starting point for the band, and, oh yes, Del Amitri’s local), we can’t be sure who will be there.
One thing’s for certain, it won’t be guitarist Stevie Jackson. We’ve just seen him marching off in the opposite direction. Nor will it be the man responsible for all their songs to date bar one. Stuart Murdoch has now officially stopped doing interviews altogether, lest he overshadows the rest of the band. These days, the talking is done by whoever feels like it (which normally isn’t anyone, but today consists of drummer Richard Colburn and bassist Stuart David).
Or at least, that’s the idea. Actually, we only get both for about 30 seconds. Having posed for a few photos (which won’t come out because this is a particularly dingy cafe’), Richard hurries oft to check his car, which is parked on a double yellow line. This leaves us with Stuart, his friend. and not much time.
The friend is Neil Robertson; sometime manager, aspiring bassist and provider of moral support in the face of tricky questioning. As soon as we reach the table, he turns his tape recorder on. Or rather, he tries to. Unfortunately, his batteries are dead, so his plan for keeping a thorough check on NME fizzles out disappointingly. Stuart, meanwhile, has already started complaining.
“We don’t ask to be interviewed,” he rambles irritably. “I don’t know if our press officer goes looking for them, but we certainly don’t ask him to. We’re not out to get that sort of publicity.
“Having said that, I don’t mind having my picture taken, it’s just I don’t want to go out of my way. I’ve got a lot of things to do this afternoon, I’ve got some important shopping to do. I don’t want to spend any more time on band duties for a couple of weeks.”
Stuart falls silent and Neil flashes him a reassuring glance: it’ll be OK. It’s worth rioting that we haven’t actually asked a question yet. Fearful of what will happen if we do, we politely enquire as to why they object so much to interviews.
“Everyone in the band likes a good interview,” smiles Stuart, “but there are so many more bad ones than good ones, we all got fed up with doing them.”
Is that why Stuart (Murdoch) Stopped talking to the press?
“No, I think he just stopped because of pressure from some people in the band who didn’t like him getting all the attention. I personally think he should take more responsibility for his creative role. The rest of us only know how the band operates, why we do it and what our own input is, only he knows what he’s actually trying to say in his songs and what he does it for.”
The utter pointlessness of this conversation flashes briefly before us. Fortunately, with the time at 2.30pm, and with only another three-and-a-half hours to go until the shops close for the day, Stuart David makes his apologies and disappears out of the door in search of his important shopping.
He is immediately replaced by the ever genial Richard who, having avoided a possible traffic violation, now wishes to take us to a nearby studio to meet up with the rest of the band, some of whom may even be in the mood for light conversation. There is even talk of “photographic opportunities”…

Five minutes later, we find ourselves sitting in the waiting room of a disused church. What’s more, we’re in the presence of Stuart Murdoch. Not that’s he chatting to us, mind you, rather he’s looking on as the rest of his group – bar the two girls, Isobel Campbell (cello) and Sarah Martin (violin) – bicker about photos.
“I don’t want to do it,” declares the recently arrived Stevie. “I lust look stupid in photos.”
“I’ll do it,” volunteers Richard.
“I’ll be in it too,” adds the not-actually-in-the-band Neil.
“Well, I’m not going to be in it,” snorts Chris Geddes indignantly, before returning to his book (The A To Z Of Synthesizer Technology).
The pains of being principled are becoming more obvious by the minute. A suggestion that this is something of a fuss about nothing is met with withering glares. Stuart Murdoch insists that he’s strictly here to pack his equipment into a van and storms off into a different room. Finally, a compromise is reached: the whole band (bar Stuart, naturally, who will frizzle up and die if a camera is even waved in his general direction) agree to be photographed while they’re shifting their instruments out of the studio.
Slowly, we all troop down to the basement. The NME photographer is forced to stand in the rain for ten minutes and take occasional snaps of people with their heads obscured by amps. With much giggling, the task is completed, and Stuart Murdoch climbs into the driver’s seat and speeds off around the corner. Unsurprisingly, we don’t see him again.
Back in the waiting room, Richard offers to appear in a few posed shots In the main church. After some cajoling, Stevie agrees to join him, but only if he can play the banjo. While they’re gone, Chris confides that in the future the band are considering getting a friend to take one picture of them all playing live and forcing magazines to use that (“It’ll show us doing what we do”). We smile wanly, and begin to wonder whether our patience will hold out indefinitely.
It doesn’t. When we finally get Stevie, Richard and Chris huddled around the tape recorder, we demand to know why they insist on making such a big deal out of everything.
“It wasn’t a big deal,” declares an astonished Stevie.
“You’d been told in advance that you were allowed to come up and take pictures of two of the band and that’s what happened,” argues Chris. “Haven’t we got the right to say, ‘No’?”
We just have to indulge you, then?
“That’s up to you.”
Right.
“Anyway,” reasons Stevie, it was Radio 1 that made us, because they got sent a copy of ‘Tigermilk’ and played it all the time. We’ve been in the music press a few times, but… um, I don’t know, I just feel we were championed more by the radio.”
This, of course, is true. Belle & Sebastian’s career was given impetus by the radio, and they haven’t had to rely on the press since. A fact that seems to have endowed them with a sense of moral superiority. They know that they are a rarity: a band who owe their progress almost entirely to their own efforts and to the fact that their songs perfectly mirror the tribulations of a long-neglected section of the record-buying public. Stuart Murdoch’s songs are a rallying point for the disaffected. For the most part his characters are burdened with awful clothes and physical deformities, they’ve been bullied and spent their lives as victims and yet in these songs they’re treated as heroes. And for many people that’s undoubtedly their appeal.
“That’s fair enough,” admits Stevie.
“Maybe,” mutters Chris (whose favourite group is Primal Scream and isn’t overly keen on being portrayed as a softy). “Although, I like to think that most of the people who listen to us can see beyond ‘indie’ music, but I’m probably just kidding myself.
“We’re probably the last bastion of indie bedroom stuff to most people, I just don’t see it like that. I think we’ve got more in common with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section (legendary R&B backing band – Ed) than, say, The Smiths, and I honestly, honestly believe that…”
“The way we work we’re more like Sly & The Family Stone,” reveals Richard astonishingly.
Except wired on felt-tip pens rather than crystal meth. But anyway…
“The songs are all just about buses and school girls as far as I can make out,” offers Chris. “What else do you need to know?”
Well quite a lot actually.. it would be quite interesting to know why a 29-year-old man is writing in the style of a disaffected teenager for a start. unfortunately, in the absence of Stuart Murdoch, that (arguably the most interesting thing about Belle & Sebastian) is something we’re not destined to find out. Instead, as our time runs out, we’re treated to some jokes.
“Well, that’s his genius, isn’t it?” quips Chris. “He’s cornered that niche in the market. We sat in the pub one night, coked out of our brains and we thought, ‘Who can we sell this to?’…”
“Maybe we should put a parental advisory sticker on all our records,” suggests Richard. “‘Warning: this record might contain tweeness.’ Ha ha ha.”
It’s the last (half) sensible thing that they have to say. As they get up to leave we’re left wondering what we can make of a group that write such poignant and heart-wrenching songs, but act with such incredible self-indulgence.
From afar, their success looks like a triumph for principled actions, up close it looks like an accident of bad behaviour. After all, here is a band who seem to object to doing interviews and photographs simply because they can’t be bothered rather than because of any radical manifesto. It’s hardly punk rock. is it? Still, that’s their prerogative.
As for Stuart Murdoch, he claims he’ll never do another interview. In light of how his band presents itself in his absence, may we suggest he thinks again?

James Oldham

NME – Mild-mannered Janitor
November 1997

It started with an obsessive search for Lawrence Felt but BELLE AND SEBASTIAN have finally found their own feet. And now they’re tripping the light fantastic.

To the casual observer, the boy sitting in the bar of the CCA in Glasgow is just another art student enjoying a quiet night out with friends. But the way the other drinkers look at him suggests something is out of the ordinary. They stare in embarrassed awe and, every so often, someone comes up to wish him good luck for his next gig. People are excited, but they’re trying not to show it.
The boy is Stuart Murdoch and he’s the creative core of Belle And Sebastian -the best Scottish band to emerge this decade. On the internet and in the bedsits of the nation, the 28-year-old’s music is worshipped for its romance, charm and sensitivity, while hoards of hardened gig goers have been losing their hearts to songs with the grace and panache of The Go-Betweens, Orange Juice, Love and Pulp combined. The thing is, three years before, the self same boy was lost and alone, a directionless nobody searching for inspiration. He was a man in need of help.
“I set myself a task to find Lawrence from Felt,” Stuart begins. “He’d made wonderful music and it was the only music that would absorb me 100 per cent and I admired him for that. So I went to London, but I never managed to track him down. It’s quite pathetic really, but have you ever felt at a total loose end and nothing’s happening and you think someone has the answer or at least you’d like to pass the time of day with them? That’s exactly how I felt.”
Stuart returned to Glasgow without encouragement from Lawrence but with the feeling that it’s best to confront your inadequacies in your hometown and soon found a creative outlet – writing artful short stories and perfect songs. He then recorded the debut Belle And Sebastian LP as part of a music business course and recruited his seven-strong band in an all-night cafe, selecting people on instinct, trusting natural justice. This time it worked.
“I used to go up to strangers in the street and ask them to be in a band, with me,” smiles Stuart. “It’s embarrassing. I eventually decided to stop when I saw people crossing the street with hunted looks on their faces. It was sleazy.”
With the full band in place, Stuart recorded “If You’re Feeling Sinister”, which caused everyone from The Sunday Times to The Face to froth at the mouth and proclaim its majesty. Songs such as “Stars Of Track And Field” and “Judy And The Dream Of Horses” managed to weave intelligence and empathy into things of rare beauty. Some amazed critics were moved to talk in terms of poetry.
“I find poetry a difficult word to throw around,” Stuart says. “Poetry is usually pish, but it can be something special beyond everyday expression. Great words almost always reduce me to tears, because, compared to what’s normally going on around you, it’s a relief to know that beauty can exist.
I remember hearing “City Sickness” by Tindersticks and feeling elated, and very jealous.” Fittingly, B & S supported Tindersticks at last year’s ICA residency. For many, this was the first chance to see the band they’d heard in session on Mark Radcliffe and to check out the man who’d written the line “My brother had confessed that he was gay, It took the heat off me for a while” in the gorgeous “The State I Am In”.
“That was a dream,” Stuart explains. “I remember being totally absorbed by ‘Lolita’ and thinking, ‘The author is a perv, why isn’t he in prison?’ And I was amazed to learn the ‘I’ wasn’t a real person. The same applies here. The ‘I’ in the songs are little shades of me and characters”.
Is the same true of “Seeing Other People”, which seems to be from a male gay perspective?
“Of all our songs that’s the most autobiographical. It isn’t written from any perspective. It’s just me”.
There are plenty of other intriguing ideas covered in Stuart’s songs, ranging from murder fantasies to clinical depression, although by far the most common theme is a sense of spirituality. No surprise, considering Stuart’s background.
“I go to church and sing in our choir. I enjoy it, but it seems crappy to get up at 9am on a Sunday morning to rehearse. But you do it and suddenly it becomes the only worthwhile thing in your life. I really think being aware of my spirituality is a privilege. Some bands are better when they live in their own unique dreamworld.”
Belle And Sebastian are a gem, a delight, a privilege. Cherish them.

Ian Watson

Melody Maker – Sound As A Belle
May 1997

Obviously, it’s not the average band photo. The drummer lies, eyes shut, on the road in front of a car. The bassist crouches over him, looking deeply concerned. the other five members of BELLE AND SEBASTIAN are nowhere to be seen.
Hardly surprising, really, when one considers that no ‘proper’ photos of the whole Glasgow band actually exist and that their official press shot is of a girl who’s not even in the group. They even try and talk the hapless NME snapper to take a picture without them in it. The awkward, pretentious bastards.
But then Belle And Sebastian are an awkward, pretentious and really rather good band: gentle. lilting acoustics recalling the very finest moments of Nick Drake and Love, and with a fascinating undercurrent of surreal Lewis Carroll and biblical imagery. Appropriately, they play church halls, houses, and large municipal libraries. And cafes. In fact, it was during a philosophical hanging-out session at a local coffee house that they were conceived.
“What we’re doing couldn’t be termed ‘rock’ in any sense of the word,” says soft-spoken founder Stuart Murdoch. Accurately. “I’d been advertising to fulfil my musical criteria for years and fulfilling sod-all. Then, suddenly, I had a band of seven people that I could never have wished for. I don’t know where they came from.”
Astounding! The arrival of Isobel Campbell (cello), Richard Colburn (drums), Stuart David (bass), Sarah Martin (violin), Chris Geddes (keyboards) and Stevie Jackson (guitar) meant that Murdoch could finally put his deeply ingrained ideas into practice. First, he’d teach these people to transfer the orchestral, swooping melodies in his head on to vinyl. Then he’d release one super-limited LP (“Tigermilk”) and follow it swiftly with another (the new and sumptuous “If You’re Feeling Sinister”). Then they’d split up… What?
“We’ll go on for another few months before the stress becomes unbearable,” he deadpans. “It would all become unmanageable if we thought that we had become full-time professional musicians. We’re anxious to make this a reflection of our lives rather than our life itself”.
So “If You’re Feeling Sinister” contains glorious peeks into Murdoch’s past and present. A past of writing short stories, venerating athletes from the bathtub (“Stars Of Track And Field”) and a present of working in a church hall (the title track). Stuart, however, remains cautious:
“I have a list of desert island discs sown into the lining of my underpants, just in case I get run over and they have to read it out posthumously.”
Look out. This talent needs protection.

Tom Cox

NME – Lords of the Strings
November 1996