Melody Maker – Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
30th November 1996
Live Review

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

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