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.
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