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Belle And Sebastian

| February 28, 2006 | 0 Comments

Belle And Sebastian
Everybody’s Talkin’

“We’ve been around for 10 years, but I don’t really feel like we’re an old band. At the moment, we feel quite new and current. And I think we are reaching a lot more people. I think, to a lot of people, we are a new group.” — guitarist Stevie Jackson.

Globalization may have made cultural differences less pronounced, but it has not eradicated them. Take Belle And Sebastian: Formed in 1996 in Glasgow, Scotland, Belle And Sebastian have made six albums and released nearly as many EPs. It was voted “Best Scottish Band Of All Time” last year by Scotland’s The List magazine, beating Travis, Teenage Fan Club, Primal Scream, and Franz Ferdinand. The band’s last studio album, the Trevor Horn-produced Dear Catastrophe Waitress, gave them their second Top-15 U.K. single, became their fifth album to crack the Top 40, and was nominated for both the Mercury Music Prize and the Ivor Novello Award. Copies of their limited, vinyl-only first album, Tigermilk, go for as much as $600 — this in spite of the record’s re-release in 1999 (on vinyl and CD). They’ve appeared on “Top Of The Pops” twice, performed at John Peel’s Christmas party, produced and headlined their own weekend festival, The Bowlie Weekender. Their sixth and newest studio album, The Life Pursuit, opened to raves from NME and The Mirror.


In America, they can only hope to get arrested at mid-size venues in big cities. Radio has them stuck in a niche in a booth in the back in the dark.

In part, Belle And Sebastian haven’t stormed America quite like Franz Ferdinand because they craft melodically delicate pop that is literate and fey — not an automatic sell in a country that invented the Marshall and then stacked it into walls.

Yet for all they’re labeled “twee pop,” B&S songs are a rugged lot. Their arrangements are strong and tough, while their wry, story-driven lyrics contain details that are often funny and sometimes surreal. B&S’s music comes from the gritty streets of industrial Glasgow — not the romantic heather-and-castle clad moors of stereotype. As Jackson says in his unmistakable (if sometimes incomprehensible) Scottish brogue, “Eyre songs are a mixture of things, but whatever those real life events are that spark the songs, they are pretty much in Glasgow. It’s in the bricks and mort’r. Whatever Glasgow — or Scotland — is, it’s always going to be there in the music. It’s entrenched.”

Belle And Sebastian began as frontman/songwriter Stuart Murdoch’s final project for a government-training course in the music business. He recruited the original seven members from an all-night café in Glasgow to write and record one song as a demo; Murdoch had so many songs, they recorded an album. That album was Tigermilk. They released 1,000 copies, which sold out on word of mouth (Murdoch received an A-minus on the assignment). The impromptu band signed to Jeepster and released If You’re Feeling Sinister less than a year later. That album was critically acclaimed, but didn’t chart. Two years and several EPs later, The Boy With The Arab Strap was released. It charted at number 12.

B&S were notoriously unwilling to pose for photos or give interviews. What interviews they did give were disorganized and short. Their concerts, too, could be inefficient matters, with perfectionist-length soundchecks and momentum-killing pauses between songs while band members switched instruments. What seemed designed to contribute to a mystique was, in reality, eight strangers trying to get along and be a band.

By the recording and release of 2000’s Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant the personnel difficulties became debilitating. At one point, everyone quit the band; everyone but bassist Stuart David returned the next day. “I was all for jackin’ it in five years ago. I was up for leaving the group,” says Jackson of that time. “There was a sairtain way of approaching things which worked in the beginning, which was being tot’l control freaks, not dealing with anybody, giving the people in the group that were negative and didn’t want to be there all the power. There were also pairsonal relationships mixed up in it. It was like a big car crash. It was chaos. Ultimately it was destroying us. Then overnight there was a shift. ‘No, we will concentrate in being a group. Yes, we will play live. Yes, we will make records. Yes, we will work hard. Anybody who doesn’t want to be in the group can leave.’ That’s what happened. It wasn’t a gradual thing. It just changed and that’s why we survived.” Isobel Campbell, whose “pairsonal relationship” with Murdoch was rumored to be the complicating factor Jackson refers to, quit in the middle of 2002’s American tour. Her departure left B&S with their current lineup, as well as stronger and less autocratic. A year later they released one of their best albums, Dear Catastrophe Waitress.

M.S. Dodds

Appearing: March 10 at Riviera Theatre (4750 N. Broadway) in Chicago.

Find out how Belle & Sebastian pulled through in the March issue of Illinois Entertainer.

Category: Features, Monthly

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