Melody Maker – Sound As A Belle
17th May 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

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