Monday, 22 September 2014
Belle and Sebastian: 12 Unreleased Songs
Well, that's then. I mean there can't possibly be anything else out there can there? I mean we've looked at albums, EPs, singles, solo albums, compilations, books, DVDs and even TV clips. What else can there possibly be, right? Well don't go out playing with your dog on wheels just yet - there's a small matter of some unreleased songs to have a sift through while we're here. Again, unlike some of our bands who've been around longer than time itself (we claim that the world started not with the big bang but with The Beach Boys' 'Surfin' Safari' album in 1962) Belle and Sebastian haven't been around long enough to accrue that many - and unlike even more of our bands B and S have managed to keep a lot of their stuff un-bootlegged at the time of writing. In fact very few of what has come out is from the studio at all - it's more a collection of one-off covers from a wide variety of sources played to give fans something extra at a few key gigs. The little studio material we have nearly all dates from the band's early years and the demo tape that got them started. There are however a small yet strong collection which have done the rounds on bootleg and/or Youtube that might be of interest to the more passionate fan. Remember we can't provide you with links but we do have a Belle and Sebastian playlist at Youtube waiting for someone to play it at https://www.youtube.com/user/AlansArchives !
1) Rhoda (Stuart Murdoch Demo circa 1994)
Before there even was a 'Belle and Sebastian' there was a 'Rhoda'. This fascinating tape is the earliest recording of Stuart Murdoch we have and was most likely taped in the room where he was confined to bed between around 1987 and 1994. While it's the only true solo Murdoch recording there is, what's noticeable is how close to B and S' later style this is: it's the tale of a strong but unhappy female figure and is told not in overblown romantic terms but in a laidback impressed kind of a way that's pure Murdoch: 'I'm in love with a certain girl, she's a simple person' he sings, not as young as she looks, but who is in this day and age?' Hilariously this girl causes him to break out not only in a fever but 'goosebumps and malaria' as well! Also Murdoch is the way the girl mysteriously turns into a 'boy' for a second half of the song, as if there's no difference between the two! The tape is so raw there's even a 'gap' where the song passes from one side of the tape to the other!
2) London Has Let Me Down (Demo circa 1995)
The demo tape that so impressed Alan Rankine it got the band signed up as that years' 'Electric Honey' student release contained - as far as we know - five songs. Two of them - we think - were released officially: the demo version of 'The State I Am In' and 'Belle and Sebastian' itself (which both appeared on the band's first EP 'Dog On Wheels'). The other three we've included here and its curious that they were passed over for the 'Tigermilk' album in favour of songs that seem to have been so new they weren't even demoed. After all it was this tape that got the band their first release. 'London Has Let Me Down' is on the one hand very in keeping with what's to come: its narrator is a tiny fish in a big pond and doesn't like it - its effectively a prequel to 'Seymour Stein', a cry of 'you won't change me' after getting dazzled by the bright lights too many times. Just listen to that first verse: 'London has let me down, I'm kind of bored with this town, but the only thing keeping me going is the promise of getting a certain per cent'. This is then followed with what is almost the opening verse from 2001's 'Don't Leave The Light On, Baby': 'I did a stupid thing, followed a stupid dream...' There's even a snippet of chat from a TV included before the track on the bootleg, which assuming it's not a mistake is an early attempt at B and S using random bits of chat in their songs (a lot of 'Tigermilk' will do the same). However of all the Belle and Sebastian songs out there released and unreleased this is the only one that comes close to their usual critical peg of being 'twee': the melody is a sing-songy nursery rhyme, the accompaniment is some heavy-handed drumming and what sounds like a children's keyboard and there's none of the toughness B and S will go on to use in either music or lyrics. Not a lost classic, then, and it probably shouldn't have made the album (although I'd still have preferred it to 'Electric Renbaisaance'!) but you can certainly hear the talent already.
3) Hurley's Having Dreams (Demo circa 1995)
'Hurley' begins with someone (Murdoch? Geddes?) practicing their scales before Stuart awkwardly uses double-tracking for the first time and a backing of guitar, tambourine and a melodica (a keyboard you blow down - seriously if you've never had one of these in your life you've never lived, well you have obviously but your life has clearly been far too quiet). Even this early on the lyrics must surely have been about Isobel, as the character 'Hurley' follows is out of the same mould of feisty, pretty rebels ('Here she comes in the April sun, in her dungarees and up for fun!') and she clearly has a big impact on the narrator who goes on to say that 'we indulge ourselves in creating' (which isn't a bed epitaph for B and S when you think about it). Of course, this being a Murdoch song, it all goes wrong too quickly, with her eight months pregnant and him watching his 'dreams' being put on hold - until he holds his new-born baby, that is, and watches him having his own 'dreams'. That description almost makes this sound like a typical song of the sort somebody else might conceivably write, but Murdoch is already using the kind of sentences no one else in their right mind would want to use: 'Hurley dreams of the time he was a horse in Czechoslovakia' is my favourite, closely followed by 'She does a handstand but maybe it's not that good for the baby!' The best song on the demo tape not to find an official release, although again the tune is a bit undeveloped by Murdoch's later high standards.
4) The Loneliness Of The Middle Distance Runner (Demo circa 1995)
I'll be honest with you - I don't know whether this song should be here or not. This 'demo' sounds much more of a band performance than the other songs on the demo tape and B and S did of course return to the song (it's one of the B-sides on the 'Jonathan David' single in 2000) - which would make this the only song on the demo tape the band did return to, apart from 'The State I Am In' and that was re-recorded straight away! This sounds like an early tape though: as well as a similar sound quality to the other two songs above the band clearly don't know each other that well yet and play over rather than with each other, while Stuart doesn't quite have all the lyrics or his 'moody vocal' quite down as yet. Isobel offers a nice harmony vocal in places that isn't there on the finished version though and Sarah valiantly tries to add a cello part that. for now, doesn't sound like it fits (the band will find their unique style more or less straight away when they come to make the album proper in 1995, about a year later!)
5) Pocketbook Angel (Unreleased song circa 1995)
A rare example of an unreleased studio Murdoch song. We don't for certain when this song was recorded - it's not actually part of the 'demo' tape that got the band signed - but I've plumped with this dating based on the fact that when asked about this track on the Belle and Sebastian website Stuart Murdoch added that it was 'early one' from the first recordings by the band. He also adds that it was submitted to Jeepster as a possible 'future release' sometime in the 1990s (possibly as part of the 'Dog On Wheels' EP releases in 1997, made up of old recordings) but that the band rejected it before accidentaly leaking the demo he'd sent to them ('Strange Behaviour!' as Murdeoch adds in his Q and A!) The lyrics are pure Murdoch: his narrator's latest muse is a girl who keeps writing down everything she experiences in life down as one big diary entry and takes her pocketbook with her everywhere. What's more his muse sounds a little, umm, mad. 'I know she fajes her limp, 'cause I saw her in Littlewoods...she just wants to be goofy' runs verse two while a later verse features the wonderful rhyming couplet 'She got it all on a computer disk 'cause she's a business analyst!' The song is worth releasing for that alone, although sweet as 'Pocketbook Angel' is she's a minor gem that would have made a good B-side rather than a work of unbridled genius to sit alongside Stuart's best.
6) Tigermilk ('For Fans Only' soundtrack 1995)
'Tigermilk' was the actual name of an instrumental that was recorded as part of the first album session but wasn't used in the final tracklisting - even though the album ended up using the name instead. A rather curious, tuneless duet between mournful mouthorgan and upbeat fiery guitar drenched in echo (both presumably played by Stevie), it's nowhere near as well recorded as the rest of the first album and may well have been a rehearsal than an actual bona fide take. Still, as the only genuine outtake from that classic first album that's come to light to date its still fascinating and was a welcome addition to the 'For Fans Only' DVD where it accompanies a montage of Belle and Sebastian live footage and is sandwiched between 'Legalk Man' and 'The Wrong Girl'.
7) Paper Boat (Unreleased Stuart David song 1998)
Bassist Stuart David was rather underserved during his six years with Belle and Sebastian, writing just four songs for the band. In truth, three of them can't really be counted as 'songs' - they're monlogues, sometimes comic, sometimes sad, set to music. 'Paper Boat', though is an actual bona fide song and a lovely one at that - it might well be the single best song in this article in fact.Sadly the band only played it once (during a 'Black Session' TV spot in France in 1998) and don't seem to have recorded a studio version of it. They should have done: Mick Cooke's trumpet is the perfect accompaniment to this sweet and gentle song that sounds like a cross between Edward Lear and Whicker's World. 'Maybe when we wake up in the morning, maybe when the darkness begins to fade, in a paper boat we'll both just float away, past the Church where Jesus saves, up and down upon the waves, sailing off towards adventures of our own'.
8) Poupee De Cire, Poupee De Son (Unreleased Serge Gainsbourg Cover 1998)
The only time Belle and Sebastian covered a Eurovision Song Contest winner was Isobel Campbell's brave stab at a Serge Gainsbourg song that wo for Luxemborg in 1965. The title basically means 'wax doll, rag doll' and is an early example of the contest laughing at itself, something only the British seem to do nowadays (although with the entrants we've had recently you have to get through the night somehow). The band only performed this song once, also as part of the 'Black Sessions' for a French TV station and it was included in the 'For Fans Only' DVD.
9) Landslide (Unreleased Song 1999)
Belle and Sebastian's appearance at the Bowlie Weekender saw lots of unique songs played by Belle and Sebastian for the only time. Isobel sings lead once again on her own compositon 'Landslide' (not the Fleetwood Mac song as so many Youtubers seem to think), joined by 'The Maisonettes' (the two other females in the band who get their own credit on the 'Legal Man' single) and Stuart Murdoch on saxophone. She does a good job on a sweet song that's the missing stepping stone between the production number of 'Legal Man' and the breathier, more reflective songs on Isobel's 'Gentle Waves' project the same year. The song would have made a fine addition to that album, actually, even though it naggingly sounds like something else (Gilbert O'Sullivan's 'Alone Again Naturally'?!) This clip was included as an extra on the 'For Fans Only' DVD.
10) The Kids Are Alright (Unreleased Live Who Cover 1999)
Taped the same day, this is Belle and Sebastian's raw and under-rehearsed one-off cover of a classic Who song from 1965 (hear it on debut album 'My Generation'!) with Stevie and Chris sharing lead vocals while Mick, Isobel, Sarah and Stuart harmonise. Richard Colburn is having great fun pretending to be Keith Moon, but the return of the dreaded melodica wasn't one of Stuart's better ideas! This clip was included as an extra on the 'For Fans Only' DVD.
11) Darlin' (Unreleased Live Beach Boys Cover 2002)
This version of a Beach Boys classic sung by Stevie on the 'For Fans Only' DVD extras is great - all 60 seconds of it, before the track annoyingly fades. Belle and Sebastian have a lot in common with the post-breakdown Brian Wilson Beach Boys of 1967-68 and they're homegrown 'family' vibe works well on this track, even if they mess up slightly by taking things too fast. Stevie admits at the start that he's nervous taking on 'Carl Wilson's greatest ever vocal' but Stuart doesn't help by first interrupting to say that they could play The Eagles instead (the Coachella backdrop does indeed look like the cover from 'Hotel California') and then not being ready when the song starts! Hopefully some day the whole of this song will be unreleased - or is it cut where it is because it all grinds to a sticky halt?
12) The Boy With The Thorn In His Side (Unreleased Smiths Cover circa 2004)
Stuart is a big fan of 'The Smiths' - his favourite apparel onstage is one of the band's tour T-shirts, so it's odd given Belle and Senastian's penchant for obscure covers that the band didn't tackle a Morrisey/Marr song any earlier. Typically, Murdoch didn't choose an obvious cover but a single that only reached #23 in the UK charts in 1985 (when Stuart was 18, a prime age for music collecting so it's often thought - it didn't work for me though, that's when The Spice Girls were big). Perhaps the band chose the song because of its B and S themes of sticking it to the music industry (the 'thorn in the side' in the song), although typically The Smiths are far more forward about that sort of thing than B and S ever would have been. The result comes out sounding very much like a Belle and Sebastian song with Stevie's characteristic jangly guitar and Richard's characteristic drum fills.
And that's all for this week! Did we miss anything obvious? Then why not drop us a line? Next week we'll be continuing the Belle and Sebastian theme with a run-down of all the band's solo, compilation and live albums. See you then!