Monday 29 September 2014

Pentangle "Sweet Child" (1968)

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Pentangle "Sweet Child" (1968)

Live Set: Market Song/No More, My Lord/Turn Your Money Green/Haitian Fight Song/A Woman Like You/Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat/Three Dances/Watch The Stars/So Early In The Spring/No Exit/The Time Has Come/Bruton Town
Studio Set: Sweet Child/I Loved A Lass/Three-Part Thing/Sovay/In Time/In Your Mind/I've Got A Feeling/The Trees They Do Grow High/Moon Dog/Hole In The Coal

'Sweet Child' opens with a song about a market barker selling fresh fruits and trying to get the listener to partake of their wares. In truth, there probably isn't a band less suited to being market sellers (now Steve Marriott, he'd have been a great fruit and veg seller!) - Pentangle would be more likely to hide round the back of the stall with their guitars, their back to the customers and not caring if anyone was watching or not and as this band's material tends to date back to Medieval days  all the food is probably well past it's sell-by date anyway. However, the analogy still stands: this is Pentangle, on album number two, having realised what they can do that no one else can do, setting it all out for the listener in glorious technicolour detail. There are so many items for sale at this stall that it's enough to make your head dizzy: 22 songs in total, split evenly between a studio set and a live concert recorded at the Royal Albert Hall: all of which (the first time round at least - we'll get onto the CD re-issue later) is made up of previously unreleased material (a photograph of the band playing there will later be used on the cover of third album 'Basket Of Light'). For a band on only their second LP, that's a ridiculous display of intent: no one had even heard of Pentangle more than six months ago and yet here they are, less than a year into their career, impressing us not just with quality but quantity. If Alan's Album Archives really was a market (with The Beach Boys selling surf boards, Belle and Sebastian toy dogs on wheels, 10cc novelty jokes and The Who pinball machines) then Pentangle would be the family who started up from nothing on the dirtiest stall and then suddenly one day earned enough to buy up the entire market and suddenly moved out to pastures new, leaving it (briefly) empty again.

The obvious thing to ask is why Pentangle wanted to use up all of their material quite so quickly. As those of you who've come from my other Pentangle reviews will know, they end their career with relatively short albums that last perhaps only five or six songs, nine at most and recorded most of them in bored disarray; on 'Sweet Child', though, nothing could be further from the truth: this is a band who know that they are going places and have a sound that can spark off into so many places at once that a single album just isn't enough to contain it. After all, no other band was quite doing what Pentangle did best: taking an old song from our dim and distant past and revealing to us just how much we had in common with our great-great-great-great-grandparents, before coming up with a new song that might just as well have been written at the same time as 'Greensleeves'. After years of struggling to do variations of this in different groups or as solo artists, the members of Pentangle suddenly have bandmates who 'get' this desire to tell such a story, in a format that gives each member the chance to shine in turn. What's more, they suddenly have people listening: folk and old standards were suddenly big again after half-a-decade of seeming passé against electric rock and pop - and yet unlike some of the more mainstream, popular acts (Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, for instance) there's no 'watering down' for the consumer here: Pentangle isn't dabbling in history it's living every moment, like that History teacher who took you on that school trip because he hoped that one day it would open your eyes even though he knew you'd only be sick at the back of the bus and laugh at how much the sculptures reminded you of the headmistress. Like that teacher, though, this is a band who - from the first - seemed genuinely not to care about whether they made it or not. Instead what they hope is that somebody out there will get what they do enough to come back for a second concert or buy another LP - and that's good enough for them to carry on doing what they've always been doing. However Pentangle were genuinely big in 1968: the fact that a band so young can carry off a gig at the Royal Albert Hall (one of the biggest places in Britain to fill) shows what a pull they were. Interestingly, the generally sniffy music press seem to have 'understood' it too. Pentangle isn't an easy group to get into (though it's very rewarding when you do) so it's rather a shock to find out that the attraction was instant - a lot of the reviewers even liked the first, jazzier LP that even I didn't care for that much. There is a backlash against the band coming, in two albums and two years time (when folk isn't quite so big once again), but for now Pentangle were 'in'.

In that context, then, it's natural that Pentangle would want to throw everything at their public to see how much they could get away with and, perhaps, make hay while the sun was shining. Record label Transatlantic probably thought the same too. As a result, we get a second album that very much picks up on all the threads demonstrated in the first equally eclectic album that could have led to any direction and tries to make them into all sort of exotic cloths at once. In a way 'Sweet Child' is like what 'The White Album' could have been if The Beatles had recorded it at the beginning of their career not the end: a sprawling epic that takes in life, death, marriage, pregnancy, love, lust, fruit-selling, greed, a few ancient Haitian fight songs and whatever the hell is going on in 'Moon Dog'. (The other album it resembles, from a couple of years later, is The Byrds' 'Untitled' - another half live/half studio set that reinvents the past via re-arranged classics on the one hand and new songs that build on old sounds on the other - although in The Byrds' case they waited some six years into their career to do this, not six months). Truth be told, it's a little bit too much to take in in one go: luckily for me I've got to know this album bit by bit through Pentangle compilations (until the excellent CD re-issues in 2001 they used to be the only ways of finding copies of these albums), which has made the experience slightly less intense and less weird (you'll know the feeling if you mixed the colours of the Beatles compilations 'Red' and 'Blue' before making 'The White Album' from them). However, there's still so much to take in and it says much about Pentangle's faith (or perhaps their disregard for) their audience that they throw quite this much at them as early as album number two. Like many a double album on this site, the truth is that there's a great single album in there somewhere, but perhaps a little too much filler in here for a full double (at 80:13 this record is one of the longest in the AAA canon - and annoyingly runs some 14 seconds over the maximum length of a single CD!) Unlike a lot of doubles, though, half the fun is sifting through the dead ends that didn't quite work and the other roads that Pentangle could have gone down. This experiment pays off handsomely for the band's next and best album ('Basket Of Light', the one Pentangle album that works on most every track), but after that you can almost hear the band's frustration at having done all they can so soon, like a whizzing firework that used up most of its sparks in taking off.

Splitting this album up is going to be an ordeal, made harder by the fact that I'm going to have to 'pin down' which album we start with (it was left to the listener on the original - with no 'sides' written on the labels) - but as the CD versions tend to put the live tracks first we'll start there. Not many Pentangle live sets have survived: this was it during the band's original life-time in fact, although the band did do a gig for the BBC In Concert in 1970 and a few other bits and pieces of telly work have survived (with Jacqui McShee's later line-up of the band releasing a second live record as late as 1994). Unfortunately many of the songs that worked best in a concert setting ('People On The Highway' 'Light Flight' 'Train Song' etc) haven't been written yet and a very fair decision not to give fans anything they might have already heard on the first Pentangle LP results in a very uneven half of the album, one that features no less than two Charlie Mingus jazz improvisations, Jacqui McShee's first a capella arrangement for the band and three Medieval dances that, while spectacularly played, are a little heavy going. Thankfully the murderous 'Bruton Town', soon to become one of the band's more popular examples of traditional songs and already heard on the debut LP, sounds at its best here and stark folk song 'No More My Lord' isn't far behind, amongst the saddest of Pentangle's sad songs. Luckily the band were always brave enough to try their new material in a live setting long before they appeared on record and the band's original songs are uniformly superb: Bert's 'A Woman Like You' is one of his cleverest experiments in using unusual jazz chords in a folk setting, 'Market Song' is an evocative picture of days gone by (later re-recording by Jacqui and Bert for their first reunion album in 1985) and Bert and John's lovely 'No Exit' is the best evidence yet of the pair of guitarist's interplay with each other (something matched only by Stills and Young). Some of the more recent covers, like blues guitarist Furry Lewis' fun 'Turn Your Money Green' and sixties folk singer Anne Briggs' earnest 'The Time Has Come' are also among the most suitable 'modern' (i.e. 20th century) songs Pentangle recorded: songs that give the band a chance to improvise to their heart's content around a songs with many great 'core' ideas. Few people listening would ever have noticed that these two songs weren't home-grown, so established are they in the melting pot of the Pentangle sound. Best of all, Pentangle sound like a tight unit in a way they don't always on the record: live Danny's double bass and Terry's drum attack makes a lot more sense than on the albums (where they sometimes threaten to take over the folk spirit of the group) and John and Bert playa against each other instead of taking in turns who gets to play which part. Jacqui, meanwhile, sounds wonderful and never hits a wrong note, soaring over the top just as easily as she ever did in the studio.

For my ('green') money, though, it's the studio side that's the truly revealing half of the record. There will be other, better Pentangle records in the future but none have quite so much life and energy about them as this set - even 'Basket Of Light'. In contrast to the occasionally muddy sound of the 'live' show, each of the tracks bursts out of the speaker with gorgeous clarity - something the later Pentangle albums could have used more. Equally split between cover songs and originals, the average hit rate is rather better this time around: 'Sweet Child's title track, credited to the whole group, is born for the sort of vocal swooping and unusual sounds the band make their own; the traditional 'Sovay' gives Jacqui one of her finest 'fair maiden' parts - one where the girl gets the better of the blokes for once and her vocal clearly relishes the twist at the end; five-minute instrumental 'In Time' is the only song her that sounds remotely like the 'jazz' band of six months before and yet beats anything off that debut album; the folky 'In Your Mind' makes the most of having a band with so many different voices; fan favourite 'I've Got A Feeling' - ironically one of the band's most popular live songs but heard here in the studio - is a pot pourri of so many styles your ears hardly know where to go next, all handled with typical aplomb; even Terry Cox's tribute to Louis Hardin, a colourful character who dressed as the Norse God Odin and sang songs while out begging along New York's 6th Avenue, makes sense in the way that only a sprawling double-album collecting several styles together again. On this record only 'Three-Part Thing', another earnest instrumental, palls and even that shows off some fine band interplay.

So why isn't this album in our main 'core' review sections? Well, mainly because while 'Sweet Child' is indeed sweet, it does have a childlike tendency to go 'look at me! I'm covering a jazz song!' where other Pentangle records will take it as read that the band can go anywhere at the drop of a (pork pie) hat. Pentangle haven't quite learned to cook all their ingredients evenly yet and while the recipe is as strong and as any good as any they will concoct from hereon-in, the result is a bit uneven, with all the jazz-flavoured samplings jarring next to all-out folk, blues and psychedelia. I'm not quite sure why the band don't have this problem on later albums, but they don't - perhaps it's just practice; 'Once I Had A Sweetheart', for instance, is a traditional folk song that just happens to be rather like a blues song, so Bert tunes his guitar like a little like a blues guitar and the band stick a sitar solo in the middle, simply because it fits. There's nothing like that happening here just yet: 'Sweet Child' is one of those albums where any listener who isn't fully into any one of these styles sits anxiously waiting for the next song to come round, like a Russian Roulette game gone wrong. Individually all the elements work well - and 'Sweet Child' is still an excellent album, remarkably tight and together as double records go, with several individual highs that are as great as anything the band ever go on to do. It's just that bouncing from one extreme to another is a little tiring and Pentangle haven't quite got to grips with thinking about their audience's needs yet: they're simply too eager to use everything in their tool box at once for now.

Interestingly, this is one of those albums that makes a lot more sense now that it's out on CD. As well as taking out the need to change the live record over midway through, interrupting the seamless flow, Transatlantic have been very generous with their bonus tracks. The CD now sports 11 extra songs - another Pentangle album, more or less - with another 28 minutes from the 'Royal Albert Hall' show and alternate versions of four of the studio tracks (including the studio take of the 'Haitian Fight Song', dropped when the live version turned out so well). This turns a sprawling 80 minute epic into a ridiculously virtuoso 125-odd minutes and rather than make even more chaos out of chaos, as you might expect, it actually makes for an even more impressive listening experience - especially the chance to hear a 'full' 70-odd minute concert complete with 'intro' and 'outro' ('Smoking is not permitted in the auditorium!') Virtually all the best songs from the debut album are here ('Let No Man Steal Your Thyme' 'Hear My Call' 'Bells' 'Waltz' and 'Way Behind The Sun'), all sounding much more lively and together than they did on that LP and making it rather redundant. In addition you have the easiest way of getting hold of non-album single 'Travelling Song' , a delightful almost Merseybeat-ish Bert Jansch song, and the John Renbourn's otherwise unreleased 'John Donne Song' - not about the radio 2 DJ, by the way, but Elizabethan poet and raconteur whose comparatively risque work would make him the 16th century's equivalent of Russell Brand ('Though she was true when you met her, it only lasted till you wrote this letter'). Most of the Transatlantic CD re-issues (and the sole Pentangle album out on Warner Brothers) are good - but this one is exemplary, effectively turning a slightly inconsistent double album into an excellent triple one.

Given all of that lot going on, there simply isn't room for one theme across a whole LP. Instead we'll have to take up one of the general themes that always seem to be there in every Pentangle LP: the stranger lost in the big wide world. Sometimes it's the narrator, pining for a lost love ('So Early In The Spring'), sometimes it's the narrator trying to corrupt a new love ('A Woman Like You'), sometimes the narrator is making the world work for them and getting the better of everyone else around them (the scheming 'Sovay' and, perhaps, the mysterious 'Moon Dog', living life to his own beat). Perhaps I'm reading too much into the title (which in the song it's named after is a song about a girl's gentle nature, rather than a put-down) but 'Sweet Child' does seem to suggest an album of innocents who haven't grown up yet. All Pentangle albums are about hard life lessons, if only because that's what most old folk tunes are about anyway (well, that and love and Pentangle don't do that many straightforward love songs), but 'Sweet Child' more than most. Once that opening market cry is out the way we're immediately into the gut-wrenching drama of 'No More, My Lord' where a wronged maiden is having a break-down: this isn't just another lover she's lost, it's someone that she was determined she was going to spend the rest of her days with and only God can ever put things right again. Many songs follow on a similar level ('I Loved A Lass' is basically the same song, but it's happened to a boy this time), culminating in the huge 'learning curve' of 'The Trees They Do Grow High' where a girl of 24 is forced to marry a boy of 14 she's never even met - just as she comes round to the idea he's dead and she's a single mum (so OTT is the storyline it sounds like a plot from a Medieval Eastenders - luckily it's also a beautiful song, exquisitely sung by Jacqui at her finest). By the end of the album the only people left happy are those who are doing the scheming and conquering ('A Woman Like You' 'Bruton Town') or those who have ignored human values altogether and cut themselves off from the rules everyone else feels governed by ('Moon Dog', the last song on the album to have words, if you choose to play the studio album last). Of course, the real theme - along with every other Pentangle album - might be how close we really are to our ancestors: something especially true in the turbulent year of 1968 (with riots, the assassinations  of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, plus Richard Nixon effectively breaking the 'hippie dream' in two). Suffering is, sadly, a human constant across time and while the ways society lets us respond to the challenges that face us may change, we're often left unable to respond. Curiously for such an outpouring of exuberance and energy - and in stark contrast to both the debut album and the all-singing all-dancing follow-up, 'Sweet Child' is a rather sad, bitter album where many things go wrong for most people a majority of the time.

Overall, though, 'Sweet Child' is still an enjoyable experience. There are better later Pentangle LPs and ones that are easier to recommend to people as the way of getting into this fine band, but 'Sweet Child' isn't really interested in being great or accessible. Instead it wants to complete, to push the boundaries of the Pentangle 'style' (ie the combination of about seven different styles) as far as they can go - to breaking point if need be. After all, while all five members of this five-star band have felt that pull individually, this is the first real time (after a tentative debut) that they can work together to fulfil this dream of making the past come alive once more. Naturally they fall on their faces a few times; there are songs here which we listeners deserve a medal for sitting through when we play this album regularly and there are more than a few occasional 'what the?' moments as Pentangle try to find out what will work and what won't. But equally this is the most rounded Pentangle experience of them all, the one record where they make the most of their complete collective pasts in folk, blues and jazz and unite them in a record as 'full' an experience as you could ever wish for. this isn't just a meal, this is a banquet and while not every course is edible there's plenty here to feast on whatever aspect of Pentangle you've come looking for.

To end, a brief word too about the cover. You'd have expected pop artist Peter Blake to have been inundated with requests to make album covers after making 'Sgt Peppers' in 1967, but from what I can tell this album cover from the following year was the first one he did after. In contrast to the 'event' feel of 'Peppers', this album cover of a five-sided 'Pentangle' star is muted and low-key (suggesting that Blake met the band at least once, as it sums up this band nicely though is way out of keeping with most manic covers of 1968). The effect is like having a record cover that looks like stained glass: apt for a band that's basically trying to do exactly that: illuminate old stories of days gone by for future generations to gaze at. While perhaps not quite as distinctive as the 'silhouette' logo on the first album, it's one of the band's better album sleeves from across their careers.

We're treating the 'live' album as the first one but there's no reason why you should - have a skip down to the title track if you want to hear it that way round! 'Market Song' is our first port of call then, introduced with a simple 'Ladies and Gentlemen...Pentangle!' by the compere. 'Market Song' is one of those band compositions that sounds like it might have existed in any era (well, any era with markets) and  alternates between a laid back vocal passage and an instrumental break that by Pentangle standards is pretty close to rock: John's electric guitar really flies here in contrast to Bert's steady acoustic. The lyrics are best described as 'odd' - they literally are an invitation to purchase goods, with just one hint at some ulterior motive in the song in the second verse and that the narrator is actually here looking for love, not apples and oranges at all ('All alone I walk with no one, beside me would you not buy'?!) This reading makes the last verse rather risque for the times ('Through the forest I could see them, a-hanging there so ripe and rare, gotta buy them!') but this is Pentangle we're talking about here, not The Rolling Stones, so they probably didn't even notice. All in all this is a fine opening number, with Bert and Jacqui really bouncing off each other well in the vocals and the rest of the band really swinging into life in the middle. Only Pentangle would start with a song they hadn't even released yet in an Albert Hall setting though! The band sort-of revived it for the rockier 'Street Song', the closing number on the Jacqui-and-Bert era's first reunion album 'Open The Door' in 1985 where it's good but not as good as this.

'No More, My Lord' is another highlight of the live set: A traditional song that like the last could also have been written at any time. Jacqui is at her best here as the doom-laden voice of fate, pushing her vocal to its limits on a song that's rather more interesting and multi-layered than it first sounds. The first verse tells us that Jacqui's narrator will never 'turn back' from the love she's committed to, the second decreeing before Jesus that 'he's the one I'm looking for'. So why is this song so sad? Well, verse three reveals that this image of the perfect husband is only in her head and that none of the real men in her life can measure up, leaving Jacqui to plead 'tell me where he can be found!' Musically the band really lock into a groove on this one, with Terry adding a sprightly repetitive drum pattern that is the musical equivalent of doing heavy labour: no sooner have you moved the weight of the world than it starts all over again. Bert and John are their usual great foils to each other on acoustic guitar too, coming up with an interesting hybrid of folk and blues. All in all, one of the album's standout recordings and remarkably 'together' for a live recording.

Bert tries to introduce a 'traditional song' before someone shows him a scrap of paper and reminds him that 'there's been a bit of changing round' in the set list. Instead he introduces John and Jacqui's duet on blues guitarist Furry Lewis' fun take on 'Turn Your Money Green', his promise to treat his girl well if she agrees to go with him. Despite starting his career in the 1920s, like many of his period's bluesmen Furry was never bigger than during the 1960s 'blues' revival (partly thanks to Joni Mitchell's song 'Furry Sings The Blues', about a visit to his apartment to discuss working together) and this fun song with its witty lyrics ('Baby, if the river was a whiskey and I was a duck, I'd dive to the bottom and I would never come up!') is actually more in keeping with the 'hippie' era than the rather more authentic sound of the 1920s. The most famous and oft-quoted line, though, is 'it's been down so long it looks like up to me' - a line so well known that everybody uses it even though few people know where it came from! This is a fun song handled with aplomb by the two singers, but it lacks the direct attack of the last two songs without the full backing of a band and just John's guitar for accompaniment.

'The Haitian Fight Song' is next, one of the more overtly jazz-influenced numbers here. After a long introduction from Danny Thompson on a double-bass that almost purrs, Terry finally joins in on drums and the pair find a slightly rockier groove than most versions of Charles Mingus' well-worn classic. By this stage Mingus was in rather a bad place, hit with financial struggles and evicted along with his family in 1966 for not keeping up with the rent. The fact that there are two Mingus songs on this album suggests that Pentangle might have covered his songs as a kind-hearted gesture for him to get some easy money (the Albert Hall Gig would also have taken place right at the time the cult documentary 'Charles Mingus 1968' was screening whose most famous scene was the family being kicked out of their flat, so it's quite possible that Pentangle would have seen it). The result depends on how much you enjoy jazz instrumentals played by bass and drums - the result is typically well played (of course, it's Pentangle!) but compared to most songs on this live album falls a bit flat.

Luckily Bert's solo spot 'A Woman Like You' quickly rescues the album. Fans are today just as likely to know the song from Bert's slightly fuller reading on his best-selling and final solo album 'The Black Swan' (2006), but even back in 1968 this song was a show-stopper and evidence of a rare talent. Bert's guitar is given a wild tuning, something that's closer to what David Crosby would do than the usual pentangle style, but instead of the 'ethereal' quality of some of Cros' numbers this is hard, earthy and funky. The narrator is, to all outward appearances, a gentlemen. he says that he'd rather 'wait and die a thousand times' that take a mature worldly woman into his life. However, what's he up to with the pretty maidens in this song? He's a wizard, with control over nature, sending in 'a dove to steal your love' and 'a blackbird to steal your heart'. The mixture of naivety mixed with corruption continues in the 'Sesame Street' style chorus, which somewhere gets confused and surreal, as if the narrator is too intoxicated to think straight: 'L is for the long grass to catch you in, O for the orange that sweetens sin, V for this very moment, E for thee'.  The narrator then warns that 'if I catch you sleeping unaware, I'll carry you off to my secret lair!' - even the fact that he calls it a 'lair' should be ringing alarm bells. And yet this song isn't creepy the way that other predatory songs like The Stones' tale of under-age sex 'Stray Cat Blues' is; instead it's a song that tries so hard to be innocent and tender, with a lovely flowing melody that thanks to the guitar tuning just sounds that little bit too 'wrong' to ever be a warm-hearted love song. Bert cleverly uses the fact that listener wavers between the warmth of the melody and the un-comfortableness of the setting and really makes the most of a song which rings our alarm bells without us quite knowing why. One of Bert's best songs, this was a Pentangle concert staple for many years and deservedly so - it's another of the album highlights.

The seconds Charlie Mingus cover is the even more obvious 'Goodbye Pork Pie Hat', a track which everyone has covered, written in honour of Mingus' colleague saxophone player Lester Young who always wore 'pork pie' hats and would have loved to have played on a smoky, bluesy song like this one. Some of the cover versions include Jeff Beck, Andy Summers and Joni Mitchell (who added lyrics to her 1979 version), although the best version is actually by Bert and John, years before they were in Pentangle, on their 1966 collaboration rather descriptively titled 'Bert and John'! This band re-recording benefits from Terry's extra drumming part but somehow never quite clicks - the song should rise and fall but this recording merely chugs along, a 'ta ta, see you soon' kind of goodbye rather than a eulogy for a fallen comrade.

'Three Dances' from the Middle Ages follow and like many of Pentangle's similar attempts at educating their fanbase the results are worthy, but dull. Terry introduces the songs in his best 'music tutor' voice, although the serious impact of this is rather undone by what he does next: bring out a children's glockenspiel! The first song is 'Brentzal Gay' by Claude Gervaise - no, not Ricky's brother, but a French Renaissance composer famous for his dances. I'm not quite sure what dance you could manage to this one, though, with it's tricky time signatures making it sound as if it's the sort of 'dance' one does when accidentally dropping something rather hot on your lap. Next up is the traditional 'La Rotta' , an Italian piece that dates back even further and features the kind of bluesy guitar part Bert is known for alongside yet more glockenspiel. It sounds like the sort of thing Led Zeppelin would have turned into a heavy metal thrash but sounds rather sweet here, if rather short. I still don't know how you'd dance to it though: it sounds like the kind of 'dance' you do when you trip over something and flail your arms about before coming to an undignified stop! William Byrd's 'Earle Of Salisbury' is my favourite of the three, with an earnest guitar part that's quite lovely. Byrd comes from the English side of the Renaissance, where everything was clearly taken slowly and rather more stately - this is the sort of 'dance' you do when you're shuffling back from the shops with a heavy load, pausing for breath every few metres. Or perhaps I'm just fond of Byrd because he was - allegedly born on my birthday (making him 359 years older than me, something that makes me feel rather young by comparison) and all the jokes about Byrd working with 'The Byrds' we do every year on our April Fool's Day columns. Ho ho ho, how we laugh! The overall effect of this medley is of being stuck in a music lesson that seems to be going on for an awfully long time when all you really want to do is get the instruments out and have a go yourself!

The traditional 'Watch The Stars' is up next and it's a lovely folkie number, the closest here to what Pentangle's contemporaries on the folks scene would have been doing. John and Jacqui sing together and do a good job as the two love-struck lovers staring up at the stars and the moon and the, err, wind (how do you 'see' a wind, exactly? You can only see the effects it causes!) The song is perhaps a little bit on the repetitive side, but there's a lovely flowing melody at its heart and the band turn in another fine atmospheric performance, with Danny's bass playing subtly driving the song along. The Alan's Album Archives folk elves we have working for us tell me that this song probably started life as Negro spiritual before being adapted by the folk movement, which figures in as much as the song is about the freedom the night skies have all the time but humans only fleetingly. Sadly not many people ever revived this song - the only other version I can find is on a various artists album titled 'American Folk Songs For Christmas' even though a) it probably isn't American and b) certainly isn't Christmassey! John Renbourn cut the song first on a 1967 album of duets he made with singer Dorris Henderson - this band version is slightly the better, however.

'So Early In The Spring' is another folk song, one that I've always loved (it was Jacqui McShee's Pentangle version of the song in 1989 was the first Pentangle song I ever heard - bless you 'The Very Best Of British Folk Rock' - it was where I discovered Lindisfarne too). This early version is a little, umm, weirder than the later, fuller band version: this is just Jacqui singing alone for three-and-a-half minutes. Bert jokingly introduces it as 'our star turn' and he's not far off: Jacqui's warm gorgeous voice is perfect for the song, even though ostensibly it's about a young boy who sails to sea and pines for his dearest love back on shore (Pentangle never did care much for genders - it's one of their strengths in their mission to make old songs live for all of us). Returning to port years later, he looks up his lost love and is heartbroken to hear she is 'a rich man's wife', something that causes him to 'return to the seas till the day I die'. However even Jacqui is struggling to keep our interest after six straight verses with the same melody and no variation in them: perhaps the original line-up of Pentangle should have performed it as a band number back in 1968? Interestingly the audience seem to know exactly when to clap: did Jacqui give a non-audible sign that she's finished? Or were audiences just cleverer back in 1968?!

'No Exit' is the turn of Bert and John to strut their stuff and while this two-minute improvisation really deserves to be longer it's a good showcase for just how attune to each other the two guitarists were. My guess is that it's Bert playing the moodier, bluesy parts in the left channel and John slashing his guitar like a folk version of Pete Townshend on the right. Like many instrumentals, it's hard to get a handle on what the band were 'after' on this song without any words to go by, but the title 'No Exit' is interesting: were the band meant to be conjuring up the idea of blockades (this song does sound like an argument between two people, played out on guitars rather than voices). Or were Bert and John simply playing in front of a 'no exit' sign?!

Moving on, Anne Briggs' 'The Time Has Come' is perhaps the most 'obviously' Pentangle song on the album and is in many ways the template for much of their future sound (along with 'Let No Man Steal Your Thyme' from the first album). Jacqui soars above a backing that veers from folky loveliness to Terrys' rhythmic jazz shuffle while Bert sticks in a solo best described as folk-blues. This is another song about loss, with Jacqui the one doing the moving on this time, warning her partner that they've been together so long they know each other too well; that 'tomorrow comes like yesterday and the autumn fades our love away'. To make sure that the move is permanent and he won't be followed, Jacqui's narrator even emigrates, putting an ocean between her and her former lover. However nowhere is there any trace of resentment, bitterness or even much sadness in the song - instead it's all done calmly, in a matter that suggests that this is the only logical solution for both halves of the marriage, considered only after every other option has been exhausted. Pentangle very clever maintain the illusion of a duck swimming gracefully on top of the water but thanks to chaos underneath: Terry's rattling drum breaks and Bert's fierce solo points at the real heartbreak in the song that the rest of the lovely peaceful song is doing its best to ignore. All in all, one of Pentangle's better cover songs and the best of their handful of Anne Briggs numbers (which include 'The Snows They Melt The Soonest' and 'Sally Go Round The Roses' - Bert in particular was a fan of her work).

The live show then ends with 'Bruton Town', the one song here that fans would have known from the first album but already one of the band's more famous show-stoppers. Personally I find this live version rather rough and ready compared to the album which has more difficulty navigating the many tricky sections of the song. Basically it's a soap opera, Medieval style: the daughter of a farming family is planning to run off with a servant, but her brothers hear about it and plot to kill him after an invite to go 'hunting' with them (would a servant have been allowed to go?) The lads pretend that the servant ran off and that they couldn't find him but his ghost returns to the daughter and tells what they did to him. She finds the ditch where they threw him and weeps disconsolately for three days and nights. However it's the final line of the song that is the real killer blow of the song: that after this 'Home she was obliged to go'. Did she never love him anyway? Does her loyalty to her brothers run deeper than that to her beloved? Is he going to be forgotten when she moves on to the next suitor? Pentangle's arrangement cleverly leaves the question hanging before they suddenly start singing upwards the musical equivalent of a twist of the knife. The message: stay away from Burton Town: it's brutal!

Onto the studio album now and away from the echoey acoustics of the Albert Hall. That's especially good news for the title track of 'Sweet Child' which is another prime candidate for Pentangle template. 'Sweet Child' sounds sweet but actually it's a tough little song, mordbidly debating whether the narrator is still in love or not. Jacqui and Bert's vocals wrap around each other to great effect, John and Bert's guitars bounce off each other (and pan around the left and right speakers to great effect), while Danny and Terry add a neat little rock kick in the middle section. The song, like most Pentangle originals, is credited to the whole group and is a slightly regretful love song taken from a stance of a partnership that's been together a long time. The narrator's lover (who could be of either sex - especially with Jansch and McShee singing at once) is working hard to keep a relationship together and is clearly still in love, but the narrator himself is alternating between bouts of 'drinking hard' because he/she's not in love and 'floating high' because he/she is still in love with him/her. The narrator reaches out for the hand of his/her 'sweet child', but he still isn't sure whether he's in love after all these years- 'I do not know you well yet I tried through four and twenty years'. Looking for an answers, the narrator turns to great thinkers of previous eras, the 'great men who could save our souls with kind and gentle hearts', but doesn't know who they are and fails to be like them. The song ends as ambiguously as it started, with the narrator and his lover cuddling up together but with the stark final line 'I may not be here for long, I got a feeling to be gone!' The result is one of Pentangle's better thought out group songs, one that is driven ahead by Terry's drums but every so often tries to put the brakes on thanks to the fiery guitar outbursts after every verse. This track, not often performed by the band live, deserves to be better known.

The traditional Scottish song 'I Loved A Lass' continues the theme of lost love and features Bert at his folkiest, with lots of lovely guitar-work and some rattled drums by Terry. Bert's narrator is doubly hurt when his love betrays him and 'becomes wed to another' because he didn't see it coming - he'd even spent most of their courtship defending her honour to friends who turned out to be right. In a bizarre development, Bert even gets invited to the wedding and sits there 'pouring the wine' and proposing a toast to his beloved even though his heart is breaking (this must be a very tight-knit community where his absence would have gone noticed). The poor narrator then pines away from loneliness and heartbreak, 'turned in a grave for to take a long sleep', hoping that 'maybe in time I'll forget her'. The result is one of the band's better readings of traditional songs of loss and love, with the performance by just Bert, John, Danny and Terry deeply intimate. Bert especially excels on the ends of each verse which unexpectedly shifts to a minor key after 4/5ths of each verse are in the major - the equivalent of letting the narrator's real feelings peek through the stone-cold emotionless state he allows others to see. Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger will later both record better known versions of this song, but it's Pentangle's take that's easily the best, with a musical equivalent of a walk to the cells or off a cliff, made against the narrator's own will.

Alas 'Three-Part Thing' is less exciting: a band improvisation credited to Bert, John and Danny (the only three who play on it), it's a sound-alike of Medieval tunes dominated by Danny's scratchy double pass part (which sounds rather like skinning a very large cat). However as the title 'thing' implies, this song doesn't fit into any traditional Medieval structures or any 1960s musical structures come to that. Like the improvisations that dominated Pentangle's debut, the effect is of being taught something rather than being caught up in it - it's as if the band sat there saying 'how can we educate our audiences?' instead of entertaining them. John and Bert's interplay is always good to hear, of course, and Danny is a fine player - but somehow that isn't enough for one of the longest 150 seconds in Pentangle's back catalogue. Despite the title there aren't really that many 'parts' or changes in this instrumental to keep it interesting, with a brief guitar flurry from Jo0hn at the minute mark the only really part of this 'Thing' that holds the interest. Not one of the band's better ideas.
At last Jacqui is back and 'Sovay' is one of her greatest showcases, with McShee really getting into the role as a scheming lover determined to make sure her true love stays true. 'Sovay' is perhaps best known for being the theme tune to 1980s children's TV series 'The Song and the Story' but it actually dates back several centuries (the name 'Sovay' is an early form of the name 'Sophie', a moniker that a lot of other versions of this folk song have used over the years, although Pentangle, typically, stay traditional). One day Sovay dresses up as a highway robber and holds her fiancé up as he was 'riding over the plain'. Sensibly he gives up all his gold to her but refuses to pass on his diamond engagement ring. A good move as it turns out, for 'the token from my sweetheart' was of course given to him by Sovay. She rides off, delighted with her suitor none the wiser. He meets up with Sovay the next morning to tell her the tale of how he was robbed, but recognises his watch 'a hanging by her clothes' and asks her what's going on - delighted Sovay tells him he passed her 'test' and returns his gold to him. This traditional tale doesn't quite stand and deliver the way it should: even by pentangle standards this so g is taken at a fast lick without any real pause for breath between verses. However, Jacqui is in her element with a tough female part to play and once again the guitar sparring between Bert and John is very special.

'In Time' is the best of the Pentangle improvised instrumentals on this album - but that's a qualitative measure: there are few songs in the world that wouldn't benefit from lyrics and this is another of them. Still, the song (dedicated to all the band except Jacqui, who again does not appear) does show off just how well Pentangle can play and does their usual trick of bouncing from folk-rock to pure jazz and back again, with a bit of blues thrown in thanks to Bert's distinctive guitar cries. Bert and John really are on good form here, finishing off each other's guitar lines and making the most of their five years of friendship here. Danny finally gets the space he needs for a 'proper' jazz bass part too and nails the song's tricky groove very well. However it's Terry who is the star on this track, riding the cymbals before shaking up the tempo every-time the song gets too stuck in place with a quick rattle that forces the band onto something new. 'In Time' isn't the greatest thing on 'Sweet Child' by any means, but it's a big improvement on the many similar instrumentals on the debut album and the others heard so far on this record.

The delightful ballad 'In Your Mind' is another album highlight and once more is credited to the whole band although I have a sneaking suspicion that lead singer Bert had rather a lot to do with it. Jacqui and Terry both add delightful harmony parts on this delightful tale of being at one with nature. Like many pentangle originals it could have been written in any century, un-encumbered by images of towns and industries, with the narrator spending a night out in the fields and woods and watching the world awake along with him. There's a hint, though, that a more industrial way of life is happening just round the corner, that 'over there you could be mad, like a fool searching for the true and why', when you all have to do to find the 'why' is commune with nature (or you could, as Terry keeps chirping in, simply go there 'in your mind'). In truth this song needs a little something else to make it truly special: a fiery guitar outburst or a middle eight about having to return to the 'real' world would have helped this song no end. But no matter: even though what we have here is just a two-minute fragment, it's a very lovely and enticing two minute fragment.

The whole band are also credited with the bluesy 'I've Got A Feeling', another fan favourite that Pentangle have often played in concert in all eras. Like The Beatles song from the following year (with which it shares a lot, especially it's bluesy feel) the 'feeling' is love: the narrator quite comes out and says it and is apparently taken by surprise with the idea, but what else can Jacqui's narrator have 'concerning the things we're gonna do'? There isn't much to this song either (three brief verses of four lines each), but the song is surrounded by a lot of classic Pentangle solo-ing: this time by Danny who is at his best here on his increasingly eccentric part that makes the song positively glow by the end. Jacqui is perfect as always too, purring her way through a song that must have been hard to sing (it's a song that has a jazz swing but given very much a folk setting). The result is one of the better Pentangle compositions on the album and one that very successfully combines two styles together.

My favourite song from this 'studio' side, though, is not a Pentangle song at all but the doom-laden traditional tragic folk song 'The Trees They Do Grow High', thought to be written down first  in 1600-and-something-or-other. Jacqui's latest narrator is 'twice twelve', her betrothed 'just 14' and against her wishes and without even seeing each other the pair are married. In the course of the song the narrator finally gets her father to agree to send him to college 'for one year yet', with 'blue ribbons' tied around his head 'to let the maidens know that he's married'. Finally they meet and are instantly attracted to each other ('My own true love was the flower of them all') and have a son. However before he can become a parent the lad dies, ending a loving relationship that was slow to spark but seemed to be destiny calling out across the years. A real morality tale about being careful what you wish for because your needs can change, it puts you right at the heart of the contrast between 'then' and 'now, when the maidens have no rights of their own, when love counts for nothing and where human beings die young all the time. Each verse ends with some variation on the line 'he's young but he's daily growing' - the last verse somewhat ironically as now only the 'grass around his grave' is growing: the boy will never get taller, lost before his time. Jacqui is perfect here, singing the song in distant, almost cold tones as if she's unable to admit to any emotion while all her sorrows are exhibited instead by the band, in terry's 'death rattle' on the drums, Danny's slow head-shaking bass parts and Bert and John's guitar strumming. The melody is a hauntingly beautiful one too, one that sighs and at times almost drops to its knees in agonies, but still picks itself up at the end of each verse, making do with a sad situation because there is nothing else to do.  Most Pentangle songs work by showing us that the past is simply a different cloak thrown around each generation's shoulders - that although the times that surround the people may change the people within them do not. 'The Trees They Do Grow High', however, is a rare case of Pentangle doing the opposite, emphasising just how much 'freedom' someone in 1968 had compared to five-hundred-odd years earlier. The result is one of their more poignant revivals of an ancient folk tune, one that's heartbroken and heartbreaking but far from making the most of that drama almost tries to hide it. One of the very greatest pentangle recordings.

After the past brought to life the unusual 'Moon Dog' seems to talk about the 'freedoms' we now have - or at least that the title track does. Moon Dog, a song by Terry who sings alone to his own drum accompaniment, is almost certainly named after the blind street musician born Louis Thomad Hardin who was a familiar figure on New York's 6th avenue ('He's a beggar on a street passers by that's all he is'). Most people see 'Moon Dog' as nothing more than another of society's drop-outs, but Terry recognises a 'genius', a 'son of rhythm' wired slightly differently to most people. As a musician struggling to make a  living to a bigger audience, Terry admires the beggar whose audience is only the people who walk past and yet who thanks to his years of practice is a  remarkable drummer, honourably shunning creature comforts to make his art. The song might have been better had 'Moon Dog' himself been playing (although you sense he'd have said 'no') or if the band had made more play of Moondog's conviction that he was a re-incarnation of the God Odin. An actual melody would have been nice too! But even though 'Moon Dog' is almost wilfully odd in construction and recording that perfectly fits this little tribute to life's eccentrics who, while despised by most of society, actually have much to teach the world. As for the name 'moon dog'. it's actually taken from an unusual astronomical development where ice crystals in the air cause the moon to look like it has a 'halo'. The phrase appears again and again in musical circles though: as one of the many nicknames of UK DJ Alan 'Fluff' Freeman, a 1970s punk-rock band and, of course, one of the many early names for The Beatles when in the style of most 19650s bands  they were christened  'Johnny and the Moondogs'.

A sprawling double album needs a strong song to tie things altogether, but sadly 'Sweet Child' ducks the responsibility and ends with another instrumental - this time a cover of Ewan McColl's 'Hole In The Coal'. The version that made the album is a five minute epic that possibly goes on a bit too long - I actually prefer the 'alternate version' from the CD's many bonus tracks that's only about half the length and taken slightly faster (with most of what's missing coming from the middle of the song). Once again Bert, John, Danny and Terry are on great form and show real telepathic ability, especially John's soaring lead (the  acoustic guitar's equivalent of Eric Clapton!) Once again, though an instrumental just sounds like it's taking up space on an album that would benefit from more lyrics and from Jacqui singing and, hard as Pentangle try, they don't quite match up to Ewan McColl's original. He also wrote many better songs that might have been more suitable for the band to cover: 'Dirty Town' or the gorgeous 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face', for instance, back in the days before everyone had recorded it. The piece certainly doesn't belong here where it seems almost thrown away at the end of an album that has taken in life, death and everything in between.

'Sweet Child' isn't perfect, then. Few Double albums are: with that much space to fill bands often struggle to keep to just their very best songs and often get self-indulgent in an effort to get an album up to length. Pentangle suffer from that more than most, with at least five instrumentals too many for a record to comfortably handle. However they also benefit more than most from the 'upside' of making a double album and from the chance for the listener to know the band that little bit better. Even if half of it probably shouldn't be here, the other half of 'Sweet Child' is highly important and sets out more than any other Pentangle LP just how many directions this band can go in - often at the same time. The band will learn that less is more and harness the very best of what they learn here for the delightful 'Basket Of Light' coming up next - still one of my favourite albums by anybody - but I know a lot of fans love this album even more, simply because its' so Pentangle: no other band would include a concert performed at the Albert Hall and not play their hits, revive centuries-long-forgotten dance songs for glockenspiel from the Renaissance or dedicate songs to street beggars that are near a capella. There's no other album in my collection quite like 'Sweet Child' and that's a sad thought: sprawling maybe, confused a little and heavy going sometimes, 'Sweet Child' is still a remarkable achievement for a remarkable band who still get things 'right' much more often than they get them 'wrong'. If this really was an AAA street market then I would be walking out with as many handfuls of Pentangle produce as I can carry. 

Other Pentangle reviews from this site you might be interested in: 

A Now Complete List Of Pentangle Related Articles At Alan’s Album Archives:

Surviving TV Appearances 1968-2000 and The Best Unreleased Recordings

Belle and Sebastian: Non-Album recordings 1995-2012

The Alan's Album Archives Guide To Belle and Sebastian 'Rollercoaster Ride' Is Available Now By Clicking Here

Dear all , welcome to the second in our series of 'non-album' round-ups, this time for 1990s' finest Belle and Sebastian. As those of you who've read our similar project on The Beach Boys will know, we're hoping to slowly collect ourt articles into books somewhere around 2017 so here's another major piece of the puzzle not covered in any of our 'main album' articles (although we've added a few songs here originally dealt with on the 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' compilation). You can see a collection of live/solo/compilation albums for Belle and Sebastian next week!Oh and sorry for the colour code - for some reason half the text has copied over successfully from 'Word' but the rest hasn't - hopefully it's still readable!


Non-Album Recordings Part #1: 1995:

A) The earliest Belle and Sebastian recordings weren't actually the first to be released. In fact the very first recordings have never been released: a series of demos recorded while the band were still students, which impressed college professor Alan Rankine enough to see the band chosen as that year's 'student release' on Glasgow University's Electric Honey label (see our entry on 'unreleased Belle and Sebastian recordings' for more). The second batch were released but not until May 1997 - a full two years after being recorded as a sort of 'warm-up exercise for the 'Tigermilk' album and at this stage only featured the two Stuarts and drummer Richard Colburn (as a result there are no harmony vocals, only Stuart Murdoch double-tracked, no strings or trumpet and the bare basics of synthesisers and guitars. That said it's amazing in retrospect just how close this first EP is to the 'later' sound - many fans and critics lapped these recordings up quite happily without realising they were 'old' recordings). Of the four songs only an earlier demo recording of 'The State I Am In' was ever re-recorded - the rest simply sat in the vaults until the 'Dog On Wheels' EP, which was released as a kind of 'stop-gap' release between the second and third albums. The cover again features model Joanne Kenney (the star of 'Tigermilk'), this time with her top on and clutching a toy dog on wheels.
The first track on it is Dog On Wheels itself and it's a terrific place to start, being at once deeply heartfelt and downright bizarre. The narrator sounds, to all intents and purposes, as if he’s singing about his childhood sweetheart – he started off feeling ‘confounded’, then felt ‘indebted’ and seemingly is so affected by the object of his affections that ‘every song I sang is written for you’. The likes of Lionel Richie would then have got busy putting this sort of song into orchestral piano ballad-come-lift music territory, but Murdoch chooses to record his song as an edgy, restless rocker that turns into something akin to a Spanish bullfight thanks to the trumpet solo in the middle. The second verse, with the narrator reaching out to the beautiful mountains he can see outside his window that represent his escape from mundanity, is a classic  set of lyrics– with the poor harassed friend there to ‘save’ him, not only when he finds his dreams aren’t real but when he falls out of the window trying literally to reach for the stars! B and S love pulling the floor from underneath you just when you think you’ve got things sorted out and in case you’re wondering where the dogs on wheels in the title has come from, the narrator reveals at the end that he’s actually been singing about his favourite childhood toy, the only person to whom he feels secure enough to tell his secrets. That revelation comes dangerously close to making this a quirky novelty record, but the band delay the punch-line for so long and give such a dark and brooding performance with everyone taking the song absolutely seriously they just about pull it off. The result is a tense, punchy rocker punctuated by shrill outbursts on the trumpet, the only true licks of colour in this very dark and shadowy song. Find it on: the EP 'Dog On Wheels' (1997) and the EP compilation 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' (2005)
B) From the same EP comes one of the band's earliest recordings, the demo for The State I Am In, the band’s first major song and a landmark in 1990s songwriting, even if very few people heard it on first release. The final version of this song ended up on Tigermilk and while this early version isn't quite there yet compared to the better known, slightly later version (Colburn's drumming is a little heavy handed, the backing a little tentative and Murdoch noisily clears his throat during the line about 'She was not impressed') the magic is still audibly in the room. For a bunch of guys who hadn't met until a few months (maybe weeks) they've clearly 'got' the song and it's fragility and the way it so slowly slides out of control by the end of the song. Yes the guitars and vocals slide around, the drumming is hesitant and Murdoch's double-tracking awkward  but it doesn’t matter – such is the thrilling atmosphere when the band suddenly realise for pretty much the first time that actually, yes, they can pull this sort of thing off and that by doing so they've come up with a unique sound that no one else was making. If I'd have been at Glasgow University with access to a record label I'd have signed Belle and Sebastian up for a multi-album deal then and there so strong is this track and so good the recording, when circumstances are taken into consideration. All in all this first version of one of Belle and Sebastian's greatest songs is in a mighty fine 'state' indeed.  Find it on: the EP 'Dog On Wheels' (1997) and the EP compilation 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' (2005)
C) String Bean Jean is one of the band’s largely unique ‘social observation’ songs of the 1990s, a gentle rocker with a gorgeous melody line which seems to add grandeur to the character’s often boring daily lives and make them sound like the soundtrack of some epic film. The title character is another of the narrator’s many friends, whose demeanour is as open as her house, so carefree and easy-going its ‘like your holidays whenever you go around’. However, the character’s ‘real’ inner personality isn’t what she displays on the outside at all, full of hidden neuroses and jealousies that cause her to compete with her friends and seek to be dangerously thin (hence her nickname, taken from the fact that her jeans size reads ‘7-8 years old’). Small of body but big of heart seems to be the theme of the song, with Murdoch keen to point out that the character’s personality means that all her friends love her far too much to care what she looks like. Jean is another of Belle and Sebastian’s early period character songs, one that’s actually quite depressing and troubling when you analyse it, but is dressed up in such pretty bright colours and zest for life that it just sounds like a strong pop tune with a neat hook the first few times you hear it. Find it on: the EP 'Dog On Wheels' (1997) and the EP compilation 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' (2005)
D) The last track on the Dog On Wheels EP is Belle and Sebastian’s own song called, erm, Belle and Sebastian would you believe. It’s nothing like the true tale of how B and S got their name by the way (the band really ‘borrowed’ it from the children’s books by Mmle Cecile Aubrey because they thought it sounded interesting – the author is credited under the ‘thankyou’ list of most of the band’s CDs from this point onwards for granting her permission for them to use it) and seems to be a deliberate attempt to ‘dress up’ the myth of the band with a nice-sounding rock and roll story, creating a myth that isn’t there so openly that it seems like a spoof of all the bad rock and roll mythologies that have sprung up over the years. There’s still plenty of sweet and very B and S moments in the song, however, with Sebastian -  a troubled soul weighed down by all the innocuous mistakes he makes but he worries are of world-shattering importance - one of the band’s most believable and likable characters. He’s also a great contrast with the worldly wise Belle who seems to be take life in her stride and helps takes him under her wing. Murdoch’s singing gets a bit off-key in places and the band haven’t quite got to grips with the song to the same extent as most of their other early material yet, but frankly with all the production layers that usually go on in B and S’ work in a few years’ time it’s a joy to hear this recording with the rough edges left in. Find it on: the EP 'Dog On Wheels' (1997) and the EP compilation 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' (2005)

Non-Album Recordings Part #2: 1997:

A) Just as with 'Dog On Wheels', the title track of the band's second EP from 1997 is another much-loved fan classic. Lazy Line Painter Jane is a teenager whose fall from grace when she falls pregnant is created with such vivid visual imagery and such surrealistic observations that it feels like you’re watching a very odd film late at night on channel four. B and S pull this tough, weighty song off very well, half sympathising with their poor loner character and half accusing with the cold detachment of her peers and family (both Murdoch’s gentle lead and Stevie Jackson’s ominous overlapping vocals are among the band’s best work, setting up the song for a showdown that only actually happens in the narrator’s head). From the song’s barely audible start to its shrieking strident chorus and Jackson’s all-seeing narrator’s pronouncement that ‘you will have a boy tonight on the last bus out of town’ in the middle-eight, Lazy Line juggles several different styles, most of them successfully (in another B and S twist, the listener naturally assume that the boy Jane is ‘having’ is a date of some sort—until the second verse comes in and tells us plainly that she is heavily pregnant). The song is made even better thanks to a one-off appearance by guest singer Monica Queen three verses in, sounding half-celebratory and half-desperate – her line ‘And you hope that they will see’ is perfect, poised halfway between Jane still trying to convert others to her point of view and a fed-up think-what-you-like-about-me rejoinder. The backing does its best to re-create the ‘club atmosphere’ present on many a pre-Beatles British 60s song (although the mop tops’ Mister Moonlight cover goes on to return the compliment) but with a contemporary edge – there’s handclaps, rumbling bass riffs, a chirruping organ, 90s jangly guitar and an extremely claustrophobic, echoey mix (this song was recorded in a Scottish church-hall in order to get the sound just so) that really adds to the danger and desperation in the song. In short, Lazy Line is one of B and S’ tightest, cleverest mini-dramas that no other band would even have considered writing and one of the highlights of the band's EP collection. The EP almost charted too, peaking at #41, which was at least of some comfort to keyboardist Chris Geddes who's made a bet with his Jeepster label bosses that the EP wouldn't make the top 40 and avoided having to pay out by a whisker! The cover star isn't one of the band (again) but model Thea Martin, posing with a book titled 'The Relationship Between Science and Theology' by John Polkinghorne, for reasons best known to the band. Find it on: the EP 'Lazy Line Painter Jane' (1997) and the EP compilation 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' (2005)
B) Things chill out considerably for You Made Me Forget My Dreams from the same EP, an unusual piano, keyboard and ‘deep sea’ guitar-based ballad, with one of those lovely McCartneyesque tunes that sounds like it's been around for at least a century, not just a  decade or so. Again, on first hearing this song is gentleness personified – but dig a little deeper and this is another horrifying song, with danger lurking and waiting to pounce once the narrator wakes up and the soothing dream-state is destroyed. Far from being the romantic tale its title and melody would suggest, the lyrics are actually quite bitter – dealing with another loner who gets angry when he gets woken up just at the point when his dreams are about to give him some great insight into life. The ‘blood on the sheets’ at the end of the song and the regretful line ‘think I’d better make a move’ implies that his waking relationship is heading towards domestic violence, but so gentle and dreamlike is the backing and so understated the musicians that it's hard to come to terms with what you’ve just heard, as if the narrator is in a hypnotic trance that he can’t break while he’s awake. The song ends abruptly, with some nasty modern trance type riff breaking through, completely at odds with the rest of the song and successfully hinting at the sudden danger that might happen the next time the narrator wakes up. Find it on: the EP 'Lazy Line Painter Jane' (1997) and the EP compilation 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' (2005)
C) A Century Of Elvis is quite a contrast – a terrifically commercial backing track over which Stuart David (later to make a pretty good B and S spin-off record with his girlfriend Karn under the alias Looper) and his broad Scots accent tells us that he has seen Elvis and he is alive and well. Even this revelation isn’t what it seems however: when Elvis turns up announced at the narrator’s home and stares at the TV with his tongue hanging out, it becomes clear that Elvis has been re-incarnated as a dog (makes sense to me! is he a hound-dog?!) and is something of a wish fulfilment for the narrator who spent years thinking his dad was Elvis too. Another of those tracks which no other group would even begin to consider writing, it’s finished off with some sumptuous string-guitar duels which were the making of many a B and S record in this period. In a typically bonkers album archives twist, Neil Young really did have a dog he named Elvis, who had only just died when this song was recorded (Neil’s own tribute to his ‘hound-dog’ can be heard on Old King from the Harvest Moon, although the name of the dog was changed slightly in case fans got the wrong idea about him rolling over and playing dead!) All this speculation is nonsense however: as any Lindisfarne fan will tell you, Elvis is alive and well but he isn’t living in Scotland –he’s on the far side of the moon. Uh-huh. Find it on: the EP 'Lazy Line Painter Jane' (1997) and the EP compilation 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' (2005)
D) Just as Elvis leaves the building, Photo Jenny returns us to more traditional B and S mode with another of their mini mini-dramas. This one mixes some innocent pop fun and a particularly catchy riff, going one better than the last few tracks by having the narrator pretending that he really is making up a film about the people he meets during a particularly boring day. The attention to detail in the song is a delight, although typically we never actually get to meet the title character who doesn’t even know she’s being imaginarily filmed. The music makes it sounds like a lot of fun, but again there’s some dark lyrics here, especially those that seem to be about the pressures of taking drugs (although in truth they could be about anything!) Murdoch is typically ambiguous about his stance here, telling us he doesn’t ‘want any….(big gap)..more/all that I want is a photograph of Photo Jenny’ – although it's worth remembering that Murdoch was himself an aspiring photographer if the sleeve-notes to Tigermilk are to be believed (and like his other sleeve-notes, there’s no reason why they should) and the drugs he’s referring to here might well be photographic ones. Forget the lyrics if you want to though: this song is still pretty special just for being the great pop song of 1996 that never was, with the spectacular CSN-ish three-part counterpart harmonies– just as the track goes through two sudden and unexpected key changes –the undoubted highlight of the track. Find it on: the EP 'Lazy Line Painter Jane' (1997) and the EP compilation 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' (2005)
E) The third B and S EP 3…6…9..Seconds Of Light never had a title track to go with its title (although, uniquely, a picture of Stuart Murdoch does appear on the cover, alongside early girlfriend Victoria Morton). Instead for an opener we get A Century Of Fakers, which uses the identical backing track from A Century Of Elvis, but this time with a more straightforward song being performed over the top . Did this version of the song give the band trouble, perhaps? They sound un-naturally uncomfortable with this song here both musically and vocally, which is unsurprising given that this is one of the most complex pieces the band put together, in this early period at least – could this be why they gave the song over to Stuart David earlier, because they were forced temporarily to admit defeat and had nothing else to use? Or were they just feeling mischievous and wanted to confuse their fans by giving them almost the same song in ‘highly serious’ and ‘jokey’ versions? If the band had planned this, however, it seems odd not to release both versions of this track on the same EP to emphasise the point, which suggests that both versions were finished at two different times. Then again, perhaps B and S wanted to put some distance between the two versions of this track so that they both had a life of their own? Less immediate than the other tracks here, Fakers is still among the best things the band ever did, with another gloriously gentle and melancholic tune matched by lyrics that are actually quite angry, vehemently accusing the rich of failing to help the hungry and homeless around the world. Fed up of seeing people he sympathises with get fed tit-bits by a world of wealthy people who could afford to give more (this was a band who came to fame and fortune late, after all, after experiencing hardships themselves growing up for the most part), Murdoch turns his attention on the faceless controllers of the 20th century who tell us that to feel satisfied we should be rich and own lots of status symbols, otherwise we are failures—pointing out that a peasant in ‘our’ world would be a rich man in ‘theirs’. As Murdoch explains ‘you’re making blinkers fashionable’ and in our haste to get to the top we’ve forgotten about the people at the bottom, a state of mind that only makes us artificially happy and turns us into a ‘century of fakers’ (although, to be fair, the Victorians were just as bad if not worse than ‘our’ century ever was). The lyrics to this song are among the best and certainly the most serious and passionate that Murdoch ever put together (to date, anyway) but, typically B and S, his vocal is mixed so low that you can’t hear them very well. Find it on: the EP '3...6...9...Seconds Of Light'' (1997) and the EP compilation 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' (2005)
F) One complaint often made against B and S is that the band are a little bit twee when it comes to rockers and although they do more than their fair share of ballads, their occasional up-tempo songs generally come loud and fast instead of the wimpy stuff the likes of the Spice Girls put together. The critics who give this witticism/ criticism have obviously never heard Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie, a song which is a classic out-of-control monster, recycling Simon and Garfunkel’s funky riff to We’ve Got A Groovy Thing Goin’ but playing it at about five times the speed so that instead of sounding slightly edgy and dangerous it sounds completely unhinged. The song soon turns into a hellish journey about the pressure a young narrator feels to keep up with his peers and finding solace in stories of other loners and misfits down the ages, from Kerouac’s tales of life on the road to Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye, in his desperate search for a ‘connection’. My guess is that this song started out life with the narrator a 'patsy' of the bourgeoisie, but whether by mistake or mischief the word got changed to 'pastie' and stuck, adding to the surreal quality of the song. The ‘realness’ of these characters comes in contrast to the artificialness of the world around them, with people who ‘love like nobody around you’ on the surface but not underneath, as the desperate under-currents of emotion on this track make clear. The exhilarating ride can’t find a resolution musically or lyrically, getting gradually faster and louder until it suddenly implodes in on itself, leaving the squealing last note ringing in your ears. An intriguing attempt at recording a new sound and a welcome chance to break up the often slow and muted songs on this EP. Find it on: the EP '3...6...9...Seconds Of Light'' (1997) and the EP compilation 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' (2005)
G) Beautiful chills things out again with another glorious ballad complete with a wide double-octave wingspan, this time featuring a B and S regular character called Lisa. Neglect from doctors caused her to go blind, but a worse neglect comes from the ignorance and teasing of people around her who in truth are far more blind in their prejudices than the wide-minded and considerate Lisa will ever be. Dismissed by those around her as ‘beautiful, only temperamental’, the people saying this to her don’t seem to realise that ‘beauty’ no longer holds any meaning for Lisa now that she can’t see what people look like and only goes by inner ‘spiritual’ beauty. Murdoch’s sympathy and his growing indignation about his character’s treatment at the hands of her so-called friends is rather undone by some of the puzzling rhymes (not many songs rhyme ‘fashion blues’ with ‘orthopaedic shoes’ for instance), but even so this track is another hidden gem that rarely gets the respect it deserves from B and S fans. The song is given an added edge by way of the band’s under-used horn section, whose brassy glare adds much to the sighing quality of the song, especially near the end where B and S build up to one of their thrilling climaxes all over again. Find it on: the EP '3...6...9...Seconds Of Light'' (1997) and the EP compilation 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' (2005)
H) The EP then ends, officially at least, with Put The Book Back On The Shelf and the lyrical return of Sebastian, whose attempts to be understood by the world at large by writing a book about himself are dashed when the public choose to ‘put it back upon the shelf’ and ignore it. This isn’t B and S’ greatest song by any means, but it does feature another of those bright and breezy tunes that seem to dominate this record and its tale of mild comic disasters when the narrator tries to copy ‘modern life’ so naturally indulged in by his friends is worth a listen. Listen out, however, for a brief hidden track tucked away at the end of the song, which features Murdoch, a guitar and a mouth-organ heading off on a great blues jam improvised around the phrase ‘Belle and Sebastian on the radio’. With its murky bootleg-type sound quality, it’s a very B and S anti-star type way to end the first half of their ‘EP era’ and a suitably low-key end to a low-key collection of songs which, even amongst B and S’ growing numbers of fans, aren’t all that well known even now. Find it on: the EP '3...6...9...Seconds Of Light'' (1997) and the EP compilation 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' (2005)
I) The EP then ends, unofficially at least, with a 'hidden' song that's untitled on the label but known within the band as 'Songs For Children' and often nicknamed 'Belle and Sebastian on the radio' by fans. Stuart sings and plays this song solo and it's clearly a demo rather than a proper recording, all fuzzy and hazy as if it's being played by a busker at the far end of a tunnel. That effect really suits this simple song though, which is in effect Stuart's big 'busker' moment, setting out the stall of what Belle and Sebastian are about in a few simple lines ('Belle and Sebastian on the radio, playing songs for children...and we're really sorry for all the trouble we've caused!') Interestingly enough the band will go on to be involved with two charity records in the next decade where they really do play 'songs for children'. The style of this song, however, is a grown up blues with some terrific harmonica playing (presumably also by Stuart as the band's usual player - Stevie - hasn't joined yet). More of a jingle than a song, this track is still pretty good as a sort of early 'DVD extra' back in the days when DVDs didn't exist and records hardly ever did this sort of thing (it's certainly the earliest CD I ever bought that used this 'hidden' trick!) Find it on: the EP '3...6...9...Seconds Of Light'' (1997) and the EP compilation 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' (2005)

Non-Album Recordings Part #3: 1998:

A) Released three months after 'Arab Strap', the presence of fourth EP 'This Is Just A Modern Rock Song' caught fans by surprise. The sound of all four songs can be seen as marking a point of departure for the band, one that's slightly fuller and fatter than previous records and rather sets the tone for album number four to follow. For now, though, the songs sounds just like they did before only more so. The title track, for instance, is the slowest song Belle and Sebastian ever recorded and stretched out to seven minutes (in great contrast to everything else in the charts that year which, partly in re-action to Oasis' own three seven-minute singles in 1997, had gone the other way to short, compact songs). The despairing tone and flashes of autobiography make it sound like a part of the 'Sinister' album, with Murdoch's latest penniless feisty narrators called 'Emma' and 'Laura'. The narrator follows Emma, concerned when she 'runs away' (from what we never hear) and tries to 'flag down an aeroplane ('She must have wanted a holiday' Stuart deadpans in one of the better lines of the song) but when he tries to stop her she throws him to the ground with a judo move. Laura, meanwhile, is celebrating her birthday and feels on top of the world, so much so that she tries to 'save' Emma from the narrator, still lying on the ground, perhaps misunderstanding which of them is the victim.
The song then turns into a diary for its final and most memorable verse, one  which first admits that this song has nothing particular to say ('I'm not as sad as Dostoyevsky, I'm not as clever as Mark Twain') and almost defensively admits the author has no more clue than the listener what all this means ('I'm only lucid when I'm writing songs'). The song then adds that the band (strangely listed as 'four boys in corduroys' - the band are either a seven or 11 piece at this point depending how many string players are counted and at least two of them are girls) are 'not terrific but we're competent'. Just in case you come to this thinking that the band mean someone else they then make it clear with the first self-aware AAA lyrics since 'The Ballad Of John and Yoko' in 1969: 'Stevie's full of good intentions, Richard's into rock and roll, Stuart's staying in and he thinks it's a sin that he has to leave the house at all'. Sadly the band leave it there before they can do lines for Isobel, Sarah, Mick or Stuart David! I've often wondered why the band made this self-referential song in this period; my guess (and its only a guess) is that this is Stuart's first song to be started after Belle and Sebastian became 'big' (well, after the release of 'Sinister'). That would explain why the first half of the song seems almost like a spoof of earlier Belle and Sebastian songs and the mocking twist where the narrator tries to help but becomes seen as part of the problem, not the solution; it would also explain the defensive second half of the song which could be the first Stuart actively 'cast' knowing he had a full band in place. The band don't get much to do in this song, actually, which doesn't have a melody as much as an overall 'whine', closer to something a psychedelic band would write to be played on a sitar before realising they only have a guitar. The result doesn't quite work when stretched over seven minutes and should perhaps have been an 'extra' track after the EP's highlight 'Slow Graffiti' rather than the 'A' side. Stuart's delicate lead vocal is delicious, however, as is Stevie's gloriously gruff counter vocal near the end of the song and the final close ('I count three four and then we start to slow, because a song has got to stop somewhere') is postmodern genius! That's band hero Alan Horne on the cover, by the way, sitting begging outside a shop - as the boss of 'Postcard Records' he'd hired all sorts of B and S' favourite bands, from Orange Juice to Aztec Camera and the image of even a record label boss going begging does fit the sentiments of the song!  Find it on: the EP 'This Is Just A Modern Rock Song' (1998) and EP compilation 'Push Barman To Open Old Wounds' (2005)
B) The slightly more together 'I Know Where The Summer Goes' is a jolly, laidback and jolly laidback Stuart Murdoch song that seems like a follow-up to 'Arab Strap's song 'A Summer Wasting'. Not for the first or last time, though a happy, almost sea shanty melody is accompanied by lyrics that are rather bitter and might perhaps hint at the first cracks in his relationship with Isobel. A happy summer is over, seemingly never to be repeated, and all that seems to be left is 'an underarm smell' and where 'your kitchen  looks like hell'. As ever with Murdoch's lyrics these sound personal: he even refers to himself 'making records out of postcard messages' at one point, which is another accurate lyric concerning B and S' career. A lovely violin part tries hard to sweep the slightly unsettling air away in an elongated fade that lasts nearly a full minute, but nothing doing: this is an eerie, troubled song that's the perfect musical accompaniment somewhere near the end of August when you realise that the holidays are receding and the Autumn term is getting nearer and which you vow every year is never going to catch you out again. Another strong song. Find it on: the EP 'This Is Just A Modern Rock Song' (1998) and EP compilation 'Push Barman To Open Old Wounds' (2005)
C) 'The Gate' is another strong and enjoyable song, this time from Isobel (only her second song for the group). Even more than 'Is It Wicked Not To Care?' it's similar to where she'll go in her solo career - specifically the first 'Gentle Waves' album from the following year as it the same mixture of innocence and defiance. Like much of her work, Isobel's dreamy vocal and serene backing sits against a lyric that's actually quite bitter and may well be about the first cracks in her relationship with Stuart. The message seems to be that 'I'm not taking it anymore': 'There's got to be a better song to sing before I hang upon your shoulder' she cries before adding that 'the sadness that wastes my time, it's a crime'. The song even ends with her saying 'goodbye' to all the friends who told her 'lies' and standing at a 'gate' she's wondering whether to open or not - in retrospect there weren't half some clues about her break-up with the band, which rather caught us fans by surprise when it happened. Like 'Care', Stuart is conspicuous by his vocal absence, but does turn in a wonderful and characteristic 'humming' piano part that ripples across the song like waves, below Mick Cooke's trumpet and Stevie's rhythmic guitar. The result is one of Isobel's better combinations of a song that manages to be both beautiful and unsettling. Find it on: the EP 'This Is Just A Modern Rock Song' (1998) and EP compilation 'Push Barman To Open Old Wounds' (2005)
D) So far the 'Modern Rock Song' EP has been B and S' best yet, with only the title track slightly under par. The true hidden highlight of the record, though, is Murdoch's 'Slow Graffiti', perhaps the most characteristic Murdoch song of them all in the sense that it says everything and nothing. The narrator, Johnny, stares at a 'portrait' for hours - we think it's going to be someone important but no, it's an 'imaginary friend'. he then stares at a mirror, wondering how he'll look in 20 years time (so only a year to go before Stuart finds out for real!) and, so its hinted, whether the decision he takes now about some big important matter will make him happy or still be haunting him in that many years time. There's what might be a big twist at the end, with an abused kid 'falling round the room' in his wake in some sort of drunken rage, but even compared to the similar trick on 'You Make Me Forget My Dreams' its subtle, leaving the listener confused as to who they should be rooting for: the scared kid or the scared adult trying to come to terms with a life change that makes him lash out? This fan favourite is surrounded by one of Murdoch's loveliest tunes yet, filled with longing and hopelessness that yet again B and S conjure up in such a simple but clear-cut way: jabbing guitars, gentle pianos and mournful trumpet. Best of all is when Stuart and Stevie's vocals circle each other for most of the song before finally finding an all too brief harmony, just at the point where the narrator's thoughts seems to be coming together on the line '...and you're still falling'. Another very clever, highly intelligent song - even the unspoken idea of the worry lines forming on the narrator's face as a sort of 'slow graffiti' is an idea of the top level. Find it on: the EP 'This Is Just A Modern Rock Song' (1998) and EP compilation 'Push Barman To Open Old Wounds' (2005)

Non-Album Recordings Part #4: 2000:
A) 'Legal Man' offers such a switch in style and sound that I had to check online that this really was Belle and Sebastian after hearing it on the radio in 2000. Indeed in many ways it is an entirely different group: Isobel wrote most of the song with Stevie adding a few bits here and there, with this song marking the first time that a non-Murdoch song had been chosen as the lead track of the LP. Originally the song started as another Belle and Sebastian style-song about impending gloom with the chorus 'love - it's gone away, it's gone away' before the band decided to switch the chorus around and make it a resounding 'love - it's coming back, it's coming back!' The musical highlights are numerous: a funky backing track which features Stevie's most reverb-filled guitar yet shadow-boxing Chris Geddes on keyboards rather than piano for a change. There's also the contrasting vocals between Stevie and Stuart on the one hand and the 'Maisonettes' on the other (who even get their own co-billing despite being made up of just Isobel, Sarah and a band friend named Rozanne Suearez, who is one of the two girls on the cover sleeve you might not recognise along with Isobel and Stevie). The result is a song that's just the right side of expanding on the usual B and S sound whilst keeping the sort of things fans are used to hearing, all tied together in a compact piece of commercialism that would have done a pop band proud. A hilarious video (featuring Blake 7's Gareth Thomas as a judge) and an appearance plugging the song on - shock, horror - Top Of The Pops proves that a whole new audience was opening up for Belle and Sebastian after a song like this one and yet somehow the song manages to sound fresh and bold without 'selling out' that distinctive band sound. By the end the listener to is rejoicing in the idea of 'getting out of the office and into the spring time', a theme the band will pick up on for their next highest charting single in three years' time. As it turned out 'Legal Man' proved to be solely a one-off thanks to events taking place in a couple of years' time: that's a shame because it would have been fascinating to see where Belle and Sebastian could have gone next down this path. If nothing else this proves that the band's 'B Team' of writers and singers deserved ore air time, which is just as well given the album that's coming up on the list next... Find it on: the EP 'Legal Man' (2000) and the EP collection 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' (2005)
B) The provocatively named instrumental B-side 'Judy Is A Dick Slap' is a catchy memory of the days in the 1980s when every band used to put some noodly synthesiser instrumental on the back of a big single (there was even a 12" mix of the 'Legal Man' single which included an 'extended' version of this song on the flip-side - the first time I'd seen that in a long time!) After Isobel, Sarah and Stevie's turn in the spot-light on the A side, this is Chris Geddes turn to shine and it's interesting though not essential to listen in to his clear skills without the others around in the same way that it's interesting to hear Benny Anderssen's piano solos on Abba Records which are instantly forgotten once Anni-Frid and Agnetha start caterwauling. I prefer the 12" mix, actually, which has a longer 'improvised' section in the middle full of funny sounds a la Pink Floyd before the tune kicks back in again. Interesting to hear, but secretly I'm rather pleased the band never did anything quite like this again. Find it on: the EP 'Legal Man' (2000) and the EP collection 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' (2005)
C) 'Legal Man' B-side number two 'Winter Wooskie' is the fond farewell to the A side's embrace of a new sound. This curious song was originally a simple demo that Stuart David never quite got round to finishing before he left the band. The rest of the band 'finished' it for him, CSNY style, adding overdubs and turning what was initially quite a sweet and understated song into a slightly scary song of muffled voices, hidden layers and double meanings. On the surface this is a song of friendliness, of a kind young man offering a cold stranger his coat after she waves to him from afar. However by the end he's besotted, filming her from afar and making us question whether in that first verse she was merely waving or 'drowning'. The song becomes clearer when you realise that 'giving someone the wooskie' is an old Scottish slang term for laying a trap to embarrass someone, which makes David's tale of trying to make a frozen lost girl get warm a whole new meaning. David's light-hearted vocal is innocence personified but everything the band overdubbed is once again unsettling, adding to the slightly claustrophobic feeling. David's last song for the band is one of his best (if not quite up to 'Paper Boat') and a fine way to wave goodbye. Find it on: the EP 'Legal Man' (2000) and the EP collection 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' (2005)

D) Global Radio's XFM broadcasting network was having a good year in 2000, the year its stations went digital. To mark that year's yuletide festivities the station put together a charity record titled 'It's A Cool Cool Christmas' and chose Belle and Sebastian's label Jeepster to release it. As the biggest name on the label before Snow Patrol hit the premier league, Belle and Sebastian were naturals to be asked to contribute something to it and recorded a folky cover of carol 'O Come O Come Emmanuel' which sat alongside such unlikely companions as The Dandy Warhols, The Flaming Lips, Teenage Fanclub and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. The choice was a clever one: while everybody else was recording the obvious stuff like 'White Christmas' and 'The Little Drummer Boy' B and S reached back to the 19th century for a fairly obscure carol about the people of Judah being held captive in Babylon (Murdoch is big on his religious history, remember). Stuart, Stevie and Isobel sing a verse each, in English rather than the Latin original and the song suits the band, especially the haunting guitar lick and harmonica from Stevie which are both good practice for the 'Storytelling' album to come. Spookily, this seemingly innocent choice sounds like prophecy given the events of 9/11 ten months after release and modern stirrings of rebellion and overthrowing of age-old systems in Israel (the carol ends 'Desire of the nations blind, in one the hearts of all mankind, bid every strife and quarrel cease, and fill the world with heaven's peace'). Find it on: the Various Artists set 'It's A Cool Cool Christmas'

Non-Album Recordings Part #5: 2001:

A) Belle and Sebastian recorded a rare BBC radio session for John Peel's show on May 11th 2001 (for broadcast in June) to promote their 'Jonathan David' EP out that month. Typically, Belle and Sebastian never actually got round to playing any of the songs from that EP and instead played four songs not heard of before or since. That, surely, must be unheard of: I can't think of any band who had four songs they could just 'throw away' like that and never use again. As a result this show became a famous one amongst fans who in the years shortly before Youtube passed the tape on by means of weird and wonderful ways. It somehow took all the fun out of it all when the band sanctioned the release of all four songs on the compilation 'The BBC Sessions' in 2008.

In truth, none of them are that special by B and S standards. 'Shoot The Sexual Athlete', for instance, is a rather grumpy Stuart Murdoch song that sounds much like the sleevenotes he'll write for 'Write About Love', about being stuck inside with the band on a sunny day when he'd rather be outside having fun. 'Now I'm in a band people try to make me do things, kiss arses and pay tribute' the song begins before Murdoch turns it into a rather nasty song about 'raising tribute' to the hangers-on who follow the band, 'the go-betweeners', telling us about 'Robert' (scorned by everyone 'but secretly I love the big guy') and 'Grant' ('charming, but a trouble-maker'). In the lyric booklet the words look genuine, but Stuart speaks rather than sings this song, which together with the heavy bass beat makes him sound sarcastic. Too good to 'lose' on a single radio session but no long lost classic either. Best line: 'He fixed us with a quizzitive eye before singing such romances that only the sods trampled underfoot by Thatcher could appreciate their love'. There's no mention of the title in the lyrics, by the way. Find it on: 'The BBC Sessions' (2008)

B) Much better is 'The Magic Of A Kind Word', a live favourite heard so often it seems rather a shock to realise it didn't get an official release until 2008. Like 'Legal Man' it's a compromise between Isobel and Stevie/Stuart, although this time she sings more typical reflective verses and the boys sing the poppier chorus. The song sounds a little bit too much like two separate parts randomly stuck together,  but is still worth a listen - especially the lyrics which start off concerning world peace ('People fighting one another, I fear there's nothing left') before turning into a another character study (possibly of Stuart, given the line 'A man I knew was sleeping, now he's gone' although if true it features Isobel's single kindest statement in song, that verse ending with 'take his love and spirit, send all the magic of a kind word'). This song, surely, was too good simply to abandon on a radio show - perhaps Isobel's departure a couple of years later (with just a 'soundtrack' recoding in between) put paid to its release. Find it on: 'The BBC Sessions' (2008)

C) The same might be true for Isobel's largely solo-with-xylophones ballad 'Nothing In The Silence'. I'm surprised Isobel didn't return to this song for her solo projects as this song would have fitted in nicely there, with the same unusual mixture of warmth and cold, fragility and strength. Isobel never raises her voice above a whisper, but what she sings positively stings, demanding her lover to 'stay silent' because all he says are 'lies'. The stillness of the song, usually a space of tranquil repose on B and S songs, now sounds like an eerie hell you long to be filled, ending with the twist that only the narrator can bring silence to her life - by ending something that isn't working. Is Stuart wasn't feeling warned, he should have been; this is Yoko's equivalent of 'I'm Moving On' ('You're getting phoney!) Noticeably Stuart doesn't seem to appear: instead the dominant sound is Stevie's harmonica and Sarah's violin, making for an interesting, unusual landscape for the band. Find it on: 'The BBC Sessions' (2008)

D) '(My Girl's Got) Miraculous Technique' is another sonic experiment that never quite comes off. Murdoch sings a song about a 'nothing' day full of drinking and bowling but again, like many a B and S song from this period, the sound doesn't fit with the text: a combination of sampled percussion, an even more out of tune than normal melodica and stabbing piano chords makes for an unsettling listen and by Murdoch's standards this melody doesn't soar, it sinks. That's a shame because there's some lovely ideas in this song: typically B and S this latest narrator's girlfriend hates the warmth of the Spring, she's rather it was Winter. In response he tells her that like most Springs it will be raining any minute anyway (only someone brought up in Glasgow could have written this song). Murdoch then ends with the line 'if I was a song I would be something that would snake into your room', which is a pretty good metaphor for what this curious song does actually: melodically it slithers, rocking this way and that. An unusual experiment, perhaps thankfully relegated to a BBC session in favour of better material, but still interesting to hear. Find it on: 'The BBC Sessions' (2008)

E) Belle and Sebastian never give individual writer's credits on songs, but the old 'Lennon/McCartney rule' (whoever is singing a song probably wrote it - or in the early days that bit of it) generally applies. I'm willing to bet my dog on wheels though that 'Jonathan David' is an exception (just as it's generally accepted amongst Beatle fans now that Paul really wrote 'Every Little Thing' and 'Eight Days A Week' and John and Paul wrote 'In My Life' together). 'Jonathan David' features all the melodic hallmarks of a Stevie Jackson song and Stevie indeed sings lead on a song that manages to sound (and look in the video) very retro, with short staccato sentences typical of his B and S songbook. The lyrics, however, must surely be by Murdoch: we get the stream of consciousness, the wondering about unspoken emotions and most of all the Biblical references. Jonathan and David were kings in ancient Israel - see, the choice of topic in 'O Come O Come Emmanuel' doesn't look that random now does it? - and while both were big rivals for the crown King David (son of Saul) befriended his rival and even extended an invitation to his son (crippled in an accident) to feast at his table - which just wasn't done then and is the modern-day equivalent of the UK Government appointed healthcare specialists ATOS delivering a hug for every benefit application. Most of all, though, this song is about betrayal: about two figures who were once so close that they were never apart and were kind to each other when they didn't need to be can suddenly be at each other's throats. Assuming that Stevie and Stuart didn't have a big falling out we haven't heard about it seems that Stuart was writing again about his troubles with Isobel, but craftily using Stevie's style and voice to put forward a message that's clearly far too personal ('Visions of love recollected, was any of it true?') The next Belle and Sebastian EP will take up the theme and be far more direct about it. That makes for a good soap opera, but as a song there's something about 'Jonathan David' that doesn't quite work. Hearing B and S' two main writers on their only collaboration (if I've got this right) should be a treat, but instead both men seem to have drawn out the worst in the other: Stevie struggles with the words, Stuart struggles fitting his lyrics to such tight, compact melodic lines and the overall effect to make this song as retro as 'Legal Man' but in a blander, less enjoyable work doesn't quite work. The song inspired a great video, though, with Stuart coming off best in a ménage a trios with Stevie and an actress and someone must have liked it because the EP peaked at #31 in the UK - only the second by the band to have charted. Find it on: the EP 'Jonathan David' (2001) and the EP collection 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' (2005)

F) 'Take Your Carriage Clock and Shove It' is the latest angry, provocative title of a truly lovely piece of Stuart Murdoch social observation. Singing in the third person for the first time in a while, Stuart sings about a 'quiet man' trapped in a boardroom and told that the job he's worked so hard for is now over and he's being retired. The song then contrasts what he's thinking set against what he actually says, a tension well matched by an epic string part that seems to have floated in from some technicolour film soundtrack. However he breaks down at his retirement do and makes a bit of a scene, telling the other workers that he'll 'die soon' and they should 'get out too' - everyone else thinks is scandalous and cowardly and a blot on his character, but of course it's the opposite: only in refusing the one single token piece of un-thought gratitude from his company does the hen-pecked worker have the 'power' to reveal the truth. Another remarkable lyrics from Murdoch, but the sing-songy melody isn't one of his very best and there's a slight air of u-finishedness about the whole track. That said, other bands of the period would kill for a B-side this good. Find it on: the EP 'Jonathan David' (2001) and the EP collection 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' (2005)

G) Athletics is a common theme for B and S and so it is again on 'The Loneliness Of The Middle Distance Runner'. The belated follow-up to 'The Stars Of Track and Field' from the second album is even more of a spiritual piece, though, and the loneliness of the long long training runs that sit in contrast to the very public ecstasy of winning. The title was almost the name of a short story by Alan Sillitoe - the film of it is referenced in the lyrics (although the central character was a long not middle distance runner) and featured the very B and S plot of a poor working class kid escaping the mundane-ness of the world around him by running and the new horizons it brings him - both because of the doors it opens and the world it enables him to see while out jogging. The song takes place on a 'sulky day of dispute' and again wonders out loud if the sheer agony of going through the day to day practising is worth the slim chance of victory at the end. However, the fact that we're hearing this song in the 'first person' rather than the third is usually a 'clue' as to how involved Murdoch is with a song and so it is here, with the last verse pulling back the curtain to reveal Stuart (or at least a version of him) 'dreaming of the time we're on stage'. We know that Murdoch likes his running (see the B and S promo for 2006's 'Funny Little Frog') and also that running is something he longed for back in his me days when sitting upright was enough of a challenge, so the song could be about that (most of the writing of Alan's Album Archives has been spent wondering whether it's worth writing it day after day while suffering from the same illness). However this could also be a metaphor: songwriting, making records and travelling to gigs is hard work, something that Murdoch makes clear in practically every B and S sleevenotes he's ever written. However playing music is another matter - could it be that this song is about music, not athletics, after all, with Murdoch 'running in the human race' instead?! Find it on: the EP 'Jonathan David' (2001) and the EP collection 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' (2005)

H) After a few 'nearlies' 'I'm Waking Up To Us' is the real game-changer in the Belle and Sebastian canon. After four albums and assorted EPs of not so much 'will they won't they' as 'wow - two soul-mates together, one day that'll be me' Murdoch basically does a John Lennon and tells us 'the dream is over'. Isobel isn't mentioned by name (and actually that's Sarah on the cover, in a rather sweet pic taken with her dog - perhaps in an attempt to pacify fans expecting something gentler) but this song clearly has her DNA in it somewhere. After dribbling a few facts here and a few phrases there Murdoch is on an all-out venting rant by now, telling the listener that 'I need someone to take joy in what I do' (so so different to the lines of mutual support on 'Tigermilk') and that 'we're a disaster!' Most damning though are the claims that the lover ignored all the 'lessons' the narrator tried to give about 'opening up eyes' and walked off with someone who 'takes all the prizes' in that department. It's the Belle and Sebastian equivalent of Lennon's diatribe against McCartney ('How Do You Sleep?'), Waters vs Gilmour (Roger's 'Each man has his price' line and Pink Floyd's 'Coming Back To Life'), of Jagger vs Richards ('Beast Of Burden' v 'I've Had It With You'), only even more shocking because B and S aren't the sort of band we thought would ever do that. However, as final goodbye kiss-offs go this one is actually quite generous in retrospect, Murdoch finding space in his hurt and mourning to add 'she was the one love of my life', the backwards compliment 'I loved her dog and her steady gaze' and finally that 'my anger turns to pity and to love'. A painful break-up song, yes, but one that's clearly delivered with a lot of love under the rage and a fitting end to 'part one' of Belle and Sebastian's career. Isobel's re-action went unrecorded, but she looks positively devastated during the band's performance of this song on the TV show 'Later...With Jools Holland' shortly after release (almost Isobel's last appearance with the band). A towering performance from Stuart (one of his best vocals, raw with pain and a thousand dreams shattering) is matched by a terrific band performance that manages to sound bigger and bolder than anything the band had created thus far. A highly impressive song that deserved better than a chart peak of #39. Incidentally, this EP is the first not to be produced by either Alan Rankine or Tony Doogan but 1960s giant Mike Hurst (who produced the first two Cat Stevens songs and many recordings for Lulu among others), which might help explain these three songs' very 60s feel.  Find it on: the EP 'I'm Waking Up To Us' (2001) and the EP compilation 'Push Barman To Open Old Wounds' (2005)

I) Better still is B-side 'I Love My Car', which is a charming, ambling song about favourite things that even starts with a childlike intro that sounds like 'The Sound Of Music' before turning suddenly venomous. At its most peaceful this song is a delight, Murdoch talking about his loves for his new car, his dog, his cat and a 'rat that lives under the floor and makes his bed from novelettes' in a way that reflects Brian Wilson's charming 'nothing' songs from the late 1960s . That's highly apt given the last verse discusses the Beach Boys ('I love my Carl, my Brian my Dennis and my Al, I can even find it in my heart to love Mike Love'!) Mick Cooke gets the backdrop for the overdubbed trumpet section he's always wanted, someone (Stevie?) strums a banjo and the result is both funny and cute. However 'I Love My Car' is not just a novelty but a warning: there's an edge and unease to this set of lyrics that after the A side digs deeply than it otherwise would: the message that a loved one is moping too much and missing all the 'fun' things in life. The chorus naturally runs out of notes and the band goes quiet for the end of each verse which always end 'Wish I could say the same for you - the day will come soon when I'll look in your eyes but I won't see you'. Even a clever, cute ending can't help take the tension out the song, cross-fading neatly into... Find it on: the EP 'I'm Waking Up To Us' (2001) and the EP compilation 'Push Barman To Open Old Wounds' (2005)

J) 'Marx and Engels' is a final low-key manifesto about living your life your way and avoiding the misery that surrounds the narrator's life before the band's songs get sparkier and the recordings get shinier. A third straight song talking about 'misery' and people 'missing the point', this is the last time we hear Stuart and Isobel together (noticeably singing across rather than with each other), but this song's scope is wider and concerns mankind as a race. The news is full of misery, the narrator thinks, and yet in truth everyone's having a nicer life than him ('after their tea when life begins again'). The last verse tries to find someone 'new' to inspire him, a chance meeting with a 'girl from Wallasey' at a 'Laundromat' (the first of two appearances as a backdrop for a B and S song) but she's even more anti-social than the narrator and asks to be left alone to her reading (books by the two philosophers named in the title, who ironically but presumably intentionally were both concerned with 'socialism' and the idea of people helping others - Sarah reads some extracts from the pair at one point). This song doesn't have quite the charge and pathos of earlier Belle and Sebastian songs but 'Marx and Engels' is still a lovely, unfairly forgotten song full of that fading hope and melancholic understanding Belle and Sebastian made their trademark, for more or less the last time. Find it on: the EP 'I'm Waking Up To Us' (2001) and the EP compilation 'Push Barman To Open Old Wounds' (2005)
K) Onto the exclusive live covers from the deluxe 'BBC Sessions' set now, all taken from a single concert in Belfast in 2001. 'Here Comes The Sun' is actually a pretty Belle and Sebastiany song when you think about it: gentle optimism, lyrics about the weather (OK sunshine not rain) and a slow blossoming from a string section matched against a 'busy' guitar part. In short, George Harrison's song of sudden hope (written during a sunny day in Eric Clapton's garden when he was playing awol from a stuffy Apple business meeting) sounds not unlike the 2006 B and S song 'Another Sunny Day' (even if the chorus harmonies are 'nicked' from an earlier Beatles song 'Good Day Sunshine'). As a result 'Here Comes The Sun' is arguably the most suitable cover version B and S have done to date, even if a notably croaky Stuart is slightly more down to earth on his vocal than George's original (Beatles fan Stevie might have been a better bet?) Find it on: the second 'Live In Belfast' disc of the deluxe edition of 'The BBC Sessions' (2008)
L) 'Waiting For The Man'  - is the angry snarling punk side of Belle and Sebastian. Yep, they do have one - although it's usually tempered with something whereas this Velvet Underground cover from their famous first album (the one with the LSD-laced banana, allegedly) threatens to out-snarl Lou Reed's original. That's 'Barry' singing by the way, a member of the audience (!) and the band do well to fall into this song when he requests something by 'The Velvet Underground' - ever eager to please B and S fall into a pretty good facsimile of the original actually; way out of Belle and Sebastian's comfort zone, but then that's half the fun. Incidentally, 'The Velvet Underground and Nico' album is 'If You're Feeling Sinister's only real competitor for being an inspiring LP everybody claims to love and yet never actually sold enough copies n one go to make the charts (the old gag about only 100 people hearing it but every one of those hundred people going out and forming their own band might be true for B and S too!) Find it on: the second 'Live In Belfast' disc of the deluxe edition of 'The BBC Sessions' (2008)
M) 'The Boys Are Back In Town' is a rather more obvious choice, what with Stuart Murdoch being such a Thin Lizzy fan that he keeps dropping references to the band into his lyrics (see especially 'I'm A Cuckoo'). The sound seems rather poor on this one (or is that just my copy?!), as if the band 'forgot' to tell a BBC engineer that they might do an encore. That's a shame because if this version had been as in-your-face as the original it must have been pretty thrilling, with Stuart doing a good job at rattling off Phil Lynott's quick-stepping lyric and turning an Irish anthem into a Scottish one. Find it on: the second 'Live In Belfast' disc of the deluxe edition of 'The BBC Sessions' (2008)

Non-Album Recordings Part #6: 2003:
A) From here-on in, Belle and Sebastian's extraneous recordings tend to be the still-plentiful B-sides to a single previously released on an album (with a couple of exceptions we'll tell you about later). 'Love On The March' is the B-side of 'Step Into My Office, Baby' - the first single taken from 'Waitress' (or indeed any B and S album) and recorded at the same sessions. Stevie and Sarah duet on this playful, childlike song that apparently imagines the march of Noah's animals to the ark as a 'street party' and 'religious holiday'. The humans are clearly unaware that the life they know is about to be wiped out for good and not do the humans in the clearly later setting at the end (with the talk of 'drunks' 'pubs' and 'flirts', as good a description of 2003 as any). The narrator then finds himself 'lost in the crowd, shouting loud', oblivious to what's really going on. Murdoch has a wail of time adding all sorts of unusual percussion sounds onto a track that's a complete one-off for B and S, without any of their usual style or poetic-ness. As a one-off that's not necessarily a bad thing and it's fun to hear the band trying something new - however 'Love On The March' does end up sounding like an indulgent B-side rather than a way forward. Find it on: the single 'Step Into My Office, Baby' (2003) and EP compilation 'Third Eye Centre' (2013)

B) Much more traditionally B and S is 'Desperation Made A Fool Of Me', a second and final B-side from the 'Office' single. Stevie's guitar, Chris' keyboards and Mick's trumpet are all key parts of a song that really should have made the parent album. The narrator is 'sick, fed up of the daily grind' (again is this Murdoch returning to his days with m.e.?) and a part of a 'backward land' where the good guys get hurt and the bad ones get away scott free. The lovely chorus comes out of nowhere to head for the stars, though, and dispel the gloom: after an ugly period the narrator has 'got his senses straight' and while life is still hard ('Your betrayal goes around with me like a knife in some old tragedy')  he's somehow 'glad that it is' - the hint is that the narrator has broken up with someone and the pain he feels from missing here proves how special that relationship was. Clearly Isobel's ghost haunts these lyrics too, like many a Murdoch song to come, but note how in the past tense everything is already: it's over and there's no coming back, with events since the last batch of songs having clearly moved on. A neglected classic, with just the right mix of slow laziness and emotion that's the hallmark of B and S at their best. Find it on: the single 'Step Into My Office, Baby' (2003) and EP compilation 'Third Eye Centre' (2013)

C) Finally, 'Final Day' is a rather noisy cover of a song by the Young Marble Giants that was released by the band in two slightly different versions. The first, complete with horribly modern drumming, came out on a Rough Trade various artists compilation to celebrate their 25th birthday 'Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before!' (an ironic title given how many songs here were specially recorded for the album) in 2003. It's not exactly worth your while going to the expense and time of searching for it, unless you're the 0.000001% of Belle and Sebastian fans who like their music noisy and contemporary - and even if you do there are better examples on later B and S singles. To be fair if you can dig below the surface the lyrics are actually rather good, like Murdoch's usual slightly class-centred compositions but more straightforward and tipping back round the 'backward land' Murdoch remarked about in the song above ('When the rich die last like rabbits, running from a lucky past'). You're better off looking the lyrics up than actually listening to the song, however, which is irritatingly chaotic and - well - modern to stand the test of time. Find it on: the 2003 Various Artists set 'Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before' (2003)  and on the Japanese five-track version of EP 'Books' (2004)

Non-Album Recordings Part #7: 2004:

A) Meanwhile, Isobel's old band were releasing their second single from 'Dear Catastrophe Waitress' 'I'm A Cuckoo', which contained a typically generous and eclectic mixture of songs as the flip-sides (in as much as a CD ever has flip-sides in the days after vinyl). The song billed as 'Stop Look and Listen' is actually a medley, merging into an instrumental at the 4:45 point known as 'Passion Fruit' to the band. With its total running time of 7:05 this makes 'Stop, Look and Listen' the longest B and S song by some margin (for some reason the 'Third Eye Centre' comp splits this song in two). The main song proper is a fun duet between Stuart and Stevie that's bouncy and fun, despite the generally negative tone of the lyrics. 'If only we could see past the veneer we'd see another side of you' sighs Stuart on yet another song that sounds at least partly inspired by Isobel, with later verses following the narrator as he returns to happier times from the past as a 'stranger' and eventually the damning statement 'My life is falling down....what a mess!' However yet again the narrator is still finding the silver linings in the cloud: he reflects that living alone at least has 'silence' (and that the ghosts in the house don't bug him like they used to). Typically Belle and Sebastian, this song gives you a lot to ponder on at the same time as being sucked into its catchy chords and fun personality. The highlight though are Stevie and Stuart's vocals which really come into their own in this era as Stuart's slyly sarcastic vocal hits Stevie's deadpan earnestness head on. As for 'Passion Fruit', while it segues into the song almost seamlessly it has little in common with the main part of the track: it's a turbulent piece, all awkward angles and high drama in comparison to the lightness of touch heard before. The central riff is a good one though and the band get a chance to show off their inter-band skills in this era with Stevie's heaviest reverb-filled guitar part yet (sounding very Hank Marvin like in its wobble and clarity) set against some flamenco flourishes from Stuart on rhythm, some wobbly xylophone playing and a great busy bass part from new boy Bobby Kildea. One of the very best B and S B-sides/album tracks, this song really deserved a place on the 'Waitress' album proper. Find it on: the 2004 single 'I'm A Cuckoo' and the EP/single compilation 'Third Eye Centre' (2013)

B) Stevie's folky B-side '(I Believe In) Travellin' Light' is another highlight of B and S' singles catalogue, a glorious pop song that's much closer to Murdoch's territory in its long flowing melody and lightness of touch. There's even a slight country lilt on this one which B and S had never really mined before (Barring a one-off Glenn Campbell cover). By now Belle and Sebastian were hardened veterans of the road and you can imagine this song being written on the tour bus early one morning as the song has that sort of slightly unreal feeling that only an early start can bring ('Waves of light are travelling, cloak of night unravelling'). The pun is on the idea that the narrator is both travelling in the early morning light and travelling without carrying much baggage with him of any description, happy just to enjoy nature's slideshow taking place all around him. It's a shame that so few fans know about what I consider to be one of Stevie's best compositions (alongside 'Roy Walker' from the 'Waitress' album proper) - the folky, dreamy 'Travelling Light' should have made the album too. Find it on: the 2004 single 'I'm A Cuckoo' and the EP/single compilation 'Third Eye Centre' (2013)

C) The third single taken from 'Catastrophe' was the 'Conan The Librarian' saga 'Wrapped Up In Books'. However, in an unusual - but typical - move, the band officially named the release an 'EP' (their first in three years and last to date) officially named 'Books' and relegated 'Wrapped' to the second track after the song 'Your Covers Blown'. A rather noisy, contemporary sounding song with an irritating synthesiser part, intrusive drumming and a guitar that sounds more like it's wandered in from an early 60s surf record, 'Blown' sounds like a first attempt at the direction explored on next album 'Your Life Pursuit' than anything from the 'Catastrophe' era. A long (6:02), loose medley of lots of conflicting parts, the first simply sounds like noise (0:00-2:45) and the third (4:00-6:02) sounds like what Belle and Sebastian always sound like (still with annoying drums). However the second (2:45- 4:00) is quite interesting, the band making good on the 'flamenco' touches they've been using of late and recording what sounds like a full on bull fight, with a bass, two guitars and drums all galloping towards a furious climax. Typically, it could be that Murdoch is again hiding one of his more personal lyrics behind a lot of surface 'noise' and if anyone knows The Hollies' prog rock epic 'Confessions Of A Mind' (coming to an AAA book near you soon) then that's what this is: a confessional on a long night after a lot of twisting and turning caused by a guilty conscience. The narrator writes down a list of what he wants to say to his loved one to end their relationship, then leaves it at work because he doesn't want to say any of it, before angrily ringing his girl up and saying it all anyway (the song opens with an unknown figure answering the phone and asking 'how did you get my number?!') Determined to 'sleep around' the narrator turns into a bad boy but for the night but finds all his closest friends are out and while out alone finds out everyone is gossiping about him. By the end the narrator goes to see her direct and the pair seem to have made up, but is it all just in the narrator's head? Even the narrator acknowledges that this resolution comes out of nowhere , but then again she never fitted where she came from anywhere ('you're a strange aberration in this land of potted plants and box-like houses') before pleading with his loved one to stay true to herself whoever she chooses to spend her time with (because 'there's more to you than this'). We have occasionally said in these pages that Belle and Sebastian have a habit of sticking to one idea and not veering away from it come what may (see the 7 minute  'This Is Just A Modern Rock Song' especially). 'Your Covers Blown' is the band's biggest attempt yet to do something big, bold and brave. The result is only partly successful but if it fails that's because it sets its sights too high, not too low. If only the opening had been slightly more B and S and slightly less off-putting this might have been a real highlight. An (almost) instrumental remix of the song with just two lines  left intact by Chris Geddes was also released on the end of the 'Books' EP listed as simply 'Cover (Version)'. With even less of the band than before and reduced to simply the first 'section' on a loop to make it reach the four minute mark, it's not one of the band's better ideas. Find both versions on: the EP 'Books' (2004), with yet another  remix ('Miaoux Miaoux') version available on the EP/single compilation 'Third Eye Centre' (2013)

D) 'Your Secrets' is a much more 'normal' song and has the same introspective lyrics/ear-catching melody shared by most of the 'Catastrophe' album. Singing again to the 'Belle' character so many of these songs are written to, the narrator promises that despite everything that's changed between the couple he'll always keep her 'secrets'. Reflecting on how it all began (as a mutually beneficial creative partnership) Murdoch promises to listen to her 'poetry' and admits that even now after all the changes in their lives he's still being told by people that he's 'introspective to a fault'. So far these lyrics and the comparatively understated backing track makes this sound like a song from the first two albums or the early EPs. However the slightly uncomfortable edge of many of the more recent Murdoch songs crops up in the chorus as he pleads with her that the years have changed that he's not the same person he was and to 'stop treating me like I was just a child' the way she always did. Stuart turns in another terrific vocal here that pulls no punches in how emotionally vulnerable this song makes him feel - the painful howls on the 'chi-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-ld' , the last note sinking like a stone and causing his throat to croak, is one of the most goose-pimply moments in this book. Another final goodbye to an old chapter (how many is this now?!) you sense that Stuart has been waiting until the last possible moment before releasing this song as quietly as he can, as the second B-side on the third single taken from the 'Catastrophe' album. Unluckily for him, 'Wrapped Up In Books' was catchy and popular enough to reach as high as #20 in the charts. Another highlight of the band's EP/singles collection. Find it on: the EP 'Books' (2004) and EP/singles compilation 'Third Eye Centre' (2013)

Non-Album Recordings Part #8: 2006:

A) The first B-side for first 'Life Pursuit' single 'Funny Little Frog' is a strange song about being careful what you wish for. 'Meat and Potatoes' is an X-rated song about a man trying to spice up his sex life, only for it all to go wrong (he slaps her, she gets the wrong idea and whallops him back; he's allergic to the whipped cream she squirts on him; surprisingly the handcuffs she tries on him works - this being a B and S song I was expecting to lose the key somewhere in the song). Sex isn't in many B and S songs except via 'dirty dreams' and the odd pregnancy so it's odd to hear the subject matter so readily on display here with lyrics closet to an old school farce than the usual subtler B and S tones. The song might have worked had the surroundings been stronger, but the strangely plodding staccato melody makes the song closer to Neil Sedaka. Not one of the band's better ideas - as the song says, it needs 'carousal, a bit of arousal' instead of sitting there sounding cold and limp. Find it on: the single 'Funny Little Frog' (2006) and the EP/single compilation 'Third Eye Centre' (2013)

B) 'I Took A Long Hard Look' is the 'other' B side on the CD version of the 'Frog' single and is equally strange, but more successful. Stevie takes the lead on a doo-wop tribute/pastiche that sounds very like the material he's going to come up with for his forthcoming solo album in 2011. Sarah and Stuart have fun acting as Stevie's cute backing singers while Stevie's lead is nicely 'full' (this is a rare chance to hear him 'properly' instead of singing with or against someone). Lyrically this is a song about disappointment, of the moment when your biggest heroes let you down with some sub-standard release (come on guys, 'Meat and Potatoes' wasn't that bad!) Stevie used to 'say goodbye to reality' and experience ecstasy every time he enjoyed a new entry in an un-named collective. Now Stevie is fed up of a franchise that's been milked to death ('I saw the film! I lived the book! I got the haircut!') and their 'antics can no longer sustain me'. I'd love to know what franchise Stevie had on his mind in 2006: the Star Wars revivals (how can you disappointed in something that was awful the first time round though?) 'The Lord Of The Rings' trilogy? (Hmm, no - they're all the same anyway, New Zealand travelogues with the odd Hobbit) 'The Beatles Rock Band'? (surely not!) Paul McCartney's 'Memory Almost Full'? (more likely!) Brian Wilson's 'Smile' (no chance!) Could it be that Stevie is singing about the band? It's interesting that he should end the song 'waiting for the phone to ring and checking my inbox', as if its new inspiration for work he's after and as we've seen 'The Life Pursuit' wasn't exactly the most gripping of albums, even if it was the equal-most successful thing the band ever put out. The song is actually a lot better than most of that album, if not quite up to Stevie's 'other' song for the project 'To Be Myself Completely'. Find it on: the CD version of the single 'Funny Little Frog' (2006) and the EP/single compilation 'Third Eye Centre' (2013)

C) Purchasers of the vinyl edition of the 'Funny Little Frog' single, meanwhile, got the bonkers 'Eighth Station Of The Cross Kebab House', also released on a various artists charity album for 'Warchild'. We've mentioned a few times cross these AAA articles/books that most of our bands seem to like doing reggae songs despite the fact that the closest they've ever got to Jamaica was listening to Madness on Top Of The Pops. Belle and Sebastian are one band that should never ever have done a reggae song: of all the bands we cover they're arguably the one that uses their words most and rhythms least (even Paul Simon likes his drums!) At least the lyrics are good, Murdoch getting into the mindset of a rather different character than normal, one on the wrong side of the tracks but with empathy for his victims and fellow rogues ('My heart's going out to the girl with the gun') and whose lullaby to sleep at night is 'gun-fire'. The only relief is when the 'hipsters of zion collide' (a nice mixture of old and new words there) and bow to the 'cross' - not of Christianity but the local meeting place. The setting is never formally given as a 'kebab' house in the lyrics and seems to be straight out of Murdoch's feverish imagination kebab house of the title is never mentioned in the lyrics (Clay Cross Kebab House in Derbyshire is the closest my research could get to the title, although the setting seems a lot further away than that!) An unusual and not altogether successful song, you wonder what anyone discovering Belle and Sebastian for the first time on the back of the charity album 'A Day In The Life' made of this song, which does sound like Belle and Sebastian, but only some alternate parallel universe Belle and Sebastian who grew up in hit baking Kingston, rather than rainy Glasgow. Find it on: Various Artist compilation 'Warchild: A Day In The Life' (2006), the vinyl version of the band's 'Funny Little Frog' single (2006) or EP/single compilation 'Third Eye Centre' (2013)

D) The song 'The Life Pursuit' was dropped from the album when it changed from a 'double' to a 'single' record and probably should have been to be fair, even if the title was thought good enough to keep. A rather odd mix of the usual (the tune recalls 'I'm Waking Up To Us', played as a slightly annoying ring-tone) and unusual (the synthesiser-guitar duet over some bass 'pogo-ing' sounds more like The Pet Shop Boys than Belle and Sebastian), this song never really gets going despite some typically spot-on lyrics from Murdoch. The narrator is alone, his 'brother' gone, his 'sister' in the wrong part of town and even the sound of voices in harmony won't dispel his mood. Just as on 'Long Hard Look' you have to ask the question, 'umm is everything alright in the good ship Belle and Sebastian?' 'Songs of praise are all very well...[but] is it worth the pain to step into the void again?' is a very fed up line for a writer as generally positive (long-term anyway) as Murdoch and there's the feeling throughout the performance as if the band are 'playing' at what they always do (the three voices in harmony are at their blandest here), instead of believing in it. Murdoch's too good a writer to simply leave the listener as fed-up as he is, though and ends the song with a rousing statement (sort of): singing of 'life that's found beyond your present situation, and it's wide and broad beyond all estimation'. That one moment some 3:30 into this 4:30 song  is the point at which this track suddenly soars and finds its true rhythm, but it comes at least two minutes two late and simply fades out on an excellent David Gilmour-ish guitar solo (played, I think, by Bobby). If only Murdoch had found his inspiration a verse or two earlier and stuck this solo in the middle 'Life Pursuit' would have been one of the better songs from the period instead of one of the band's weaker B-sides. Find it on: the 2006 single 'The Blues Are Still Blue' and the 2013 single/EP compilation 'Third Eye Centre' (2013)

E) As the reggae-tinged '8th Kebab House' suggests, B and S were searching for a new style and sound in 2006 and went to some extreme lengths in search for it. 'Mr Richard' is the second weirdest genre flirtation the band ever came up with: a Latin-pop number that Ricky Martin could have written had he been more interested in rock stars than girls with a wide variety of names. For despite being written in just about the only genre the Rolling Stones never flirted with the 'Mr Richard' of the title is none other than Keith aka Keef aka Glimmer Twin aka rock legend. Stevie, of course, is a big fan (Stevie being a fan of many, many 60s rock legends) and named his 2011 solo album in part after the Stones' most famous song. Like all his best songs, this track is about being a 'fan', of his naive but oh so familiar-sounding childhood of dreaming of rock stars, swiping parts of his dad's wardrobe to re-enact his fantasies and pretending to be a 'junkie' whilst being too young to get the full horror of what being a 'junkie' actually means. Stevie plays with boyhood friend Richie, who presumably is the friend who crops up on the similarly charming 'Richie Now?', re-creating all his favourite moments from rock history and Keith Richards is clearly idol number one. A tribute not so much to Keith specifically (not in the way that Nils Lofgren's brilliant 'Keith Don't Go' is anyway) but to anyone whose ever made music that can influence, move and inspire. It worked for Stevie: all those years dressing up as a rock and roll star paid off - although the sad undercurrent of both of these 'twin' songs is that he made it while his friend took a 'boring' job in the 'real world'. A lovely lyric that captures the innocence and heart of being a fan is rather undermined by the poppy Spanish-flavoured backing, though, which leaves most of the lyrics to be rattled off in a garbled growl (even Ricky never sang that fast!) - the music isn't bad per se, it just sounds as if it's been set to the wrong song, like a tender sonnet being turned into a punk song. Find it on: the 2006 single 'The Blues Are Still Blue' and the 2013 single/EP compilation 'Third Eye Centre' (2013)

F) It must be easier to list who hasn't played traditional Irish song 'Whisky In The Jar' at one point or another, but that would get confusing so we'll stick with AAA members The Grateful Dead (who were toying with a version for their planned 1990s album that was sadly cancelled when Jerry Garcia died). Belle and Sebastian almost certainly learnt this song about gangsters and rogues from Think Lizzy's famous version in 1972 though; the band's version is pretty neatly in the middle of these two, quicker than the Dead's but less frenetic than Lizzy's. The song dates back in the mists of time and can't be pinned down in time exactly (hence the fact we missed it out of our 'ten oldest AAA cover songs' a few years back) but is probably from 1600-and-something. Loved by Americans during the revolution because it was witheringly sarcastic about English authority figures, B and S no doubt loved it for the same reasons! The plot is basically that the narrator cons a rich man out of his money easily, but the shock twist is that the narrator's girlfriend tricks him out of it just as easily and he ends the song as penniless as before but now with the law chasing after him. The Dead spent much of their rehearsal time debating what the chorus line of 'whack for my daddy-o' might have meant - B and S sing it straight, much straighter than Garcia ever did! B and S' cover might well be the best I've heard, with a laidback charm the others don't quite possess and while the song sounds more suited to the Dead and their love of 'vagabond' characters it suits B and S just fine too. Interestingly the band take Thin Lizzy's lead in naming the rich English civil servant in the first verse Captain Farrell' instead of 'Mr Pepper' as per the Dead (and the original, as far as anyone knows). Far from being 'predictable but enjoyable' (as Stuart's nervy spoken intro makes clear), this is actually simply enjoyable. The band ought to consider doing more covers like this. Find it on: the vinyl edition of 2006 single 'The Blues Are Still Blue'; sadly this song wasn't included in the 'Third Eye Centre' compilation!

G) 'Long Black Scarf' is another enjoyable Stevie song (poor Jackson was very under-served on the 'Life Pursuit' album, with this his third B-side now compared to just one album track) and might well be the best B-side from this era. The song is moody and jazzy, which might sound wrong but is actually closer to the B and S sound than any of the other genre experiments heard so far: the B and S trademark melancholy and Mick Cooke's passionate trumpet are born for the genre and 'Long Black Scarf' is every bit as smoky and sultry as any song from the peak jazz era. The scarf that a girl drops and a boy rescues stretches across two verses to take in every facet of their relationship: at first it means 'innocent cool, sex appeal' and then turns into a 'noose around my neck'. In true Stevie style (his solo album is full of songs like this) his narrator's inner conscience pleads with himself not to lose his 'innocence', as part of him rejects all girls after his conquest and he ends the song 'an icy drift, a solar eclipse', changed forever after doing his good deed. You might not grasp who it is straight away if you didn't know but there are just enough trademark B and S elements in this recording  to keep you interested and both Stevie and Mick shine on this very interesting dabble in a monochrome world of sadness strangers and trumpets. Highly recommended. Find it on: single 'White Collar Boy' (2006) and single/EP compilation 'Third Eye Centre' (2013)

H) 'Heaven In The Afternoon' is a sweet Sarah song that's one of her best, balancing the excitement and fear of a more adult world opening up for the narrator (what with this and 'Meat and Potatoes' what on earth have the bend been up to since the last album?!) 'I read bad books, I'm crying in my sleep' sings Sarah with almost a purr, with her character even going so far as to 'take a little overdose' in her ecstasy (which might account for the slightly blurred, rather surreal edges of this recording). By the end, though, she reverts back into a frightened girl, comforted only by the tales from her childhood ('A bear called Pooh, Tales of Ratty's riverbank, a fantasy, baby stories...') The next time somebody decided to put some innocent-starlet-turned-sex-bomb-turned-scared-little-girl-turned-tragic-figure-who-died-too-young-and-nobody-understood's story on the big or little screen (there's one out every year, from Marilyn Monroe to Judy Garland) then 'Afternoon' would make a fine soundtrack. Lush, exotic and warm in a way that few of the 2006-era B and S recordings are (thanks to the large part played by the strings and saxophone, with no appearance by the synths this time), 'Heaven In The Afternoon' is another of the period's best songs which definitely deserved an appearance on the 'Life Pursuit' album over most of what made the record. A real triumph for Sarah, even if Stuart's hand can also be seen in the lyrics ('I like you like I love my God'; either that or Sarah's was an even better understudy in the band's first six years than I thought!) Find it on: single 'White Collar Boy' (2006) and single/EP compilation 'Third Eye Centre' (2013)

I) Belle and Sebastian sing something by polar opposite Rod Stewart! Haha its bound to be awful - no wonder the band hid it away on a vinyl-only edition of their lowest selling single in nine years, right? Wrong! 'Baby Jane' is one of Rod the Mod's best (certainly one of the best songs he actually wrote rather than covered) and was a #1 hit for him in the UK in 1983 (though for Americans this song only made #14). Played with a slight ska-ish lilt, B and S change the song a great deal: they lose the original's ragged glory (boo!), lose the origi9nal's tacky 1980s club 18-30 drums and saxes (yay!) and replaces the noisy original with a typically B and S kind of under-stated charm. Murdoch's song cracks throughout, in a return to the nicely amateur side of B and S that's sadly been a little too eagerly polished out in this period and the result is a song that's probably the best of the band's small group of cover songs and could easily have slotted onto a B and S album proper (in fact this could be another of Murdoch's 'goodbye' songs to Isobel, with lines like 'the lesson learned was so hard to swallow' and 'I'm gonna look at myself - and cry'. Find it on: the vinyl edition of 2006 single 'White Collar Boy'; sadly this song wasn't included on compilation 'Third Eye Centre'.

J) Charity albums can make people do funny things sometimes. From one of the Beatles singing a Hollies song for Hillsborough (McCartney doing 'He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother') to the presenter of ITV's 'Fun House' dressing up in tracksuits to support 'Help A London Child', charity singles are secondarily about taking people out of their comfort zones after raising lots of money for good causes. Belle and Sebastian's second record label 'Rough Trade' came up with one of the more unusual idea for a charity record by getting as many of their 'indie' bands as they could to record a children's song for the record 'Colours Are Brighter', with proceeds going to Save The Children. B and S' own Mick Cooke was a key player in organising this compilation and naturally his band were asked to provide a track alongside others by such names as The Flaming Lips, The Kooks, Snow Patrol and Franz Ferdinand (who funnily enough cover a song named 'Jackie Jackson' . However, feeling that Mick was such a part of the project, Stuart Stevie and Sarah decided that Mick ought to take the 'lead' on the song and badgered him into taking his first lead vocal. As a result the charming 'The Monkeys Are Breaking Out Of The Zoo' is great fun but not really in keeping with Belle and Sebastian tradition (the animals are the heroes, there's lots of fun sound effects and adults are made to look stoopid, so that's three successful components of children's entertainment right there). Mick's deep and 'Jackanory' style vocal is great fun, however, even if it sounds nothing like any other song in the band's canon and you can clearly tell Chris Geddes' keyboard style even without the familiar elements. Best of all is the band pretending to be monkeys in the middle - they all sound impressively convincing (perhaps they should have named themselves after a series about a boy and his monkey rather than a boy and his dog?!) The result is an inconsequential song for fans, maybe, but still a quiet triumph for the band and especially for Mick Cooke. Find it on: Various Artists compilation 'The Colours Are Brighter' (2006)

K) Another extra-curricular Belle and Sebastian project of 2006 was the 14th release in the 'Late Night Tales' series that basically invites a 'cult' band to compile all of their favourite (or at least favourite available) songs onto an album and then add a 'new' cover song for collectors to enjoy (B and S' edition comes between those by The Flaming Lips and Air to give you some idea of the type of bands involved). Belle and Sebastian's instalment was one of the most popular in the whole series (so much so there'll be a second volume in 2012). The choice of cover song, 'Casaco Marron' was unusual, even for this series, and features Sarah coping well with a Brazilian song by singer Evinha. I've wondered for years what the English translation of these lyrics might be about: life? love? death? Nope - an 'old brown coat'. Actually these lyrics are very B and S-like (particularly 'Long Black Scarf'), with a coat bringing back nostalgic memories for the narrator and reminders of happier times (including, in one memorable line, 'the time they nearly blew an H bomb up in our back garden'). Somehow its very in keeping with this band's tradition that a song that works on many layers of sarcasm and inevitably gets lost in translation for even the small handful of fans who bothered to work the words out is treated as a very simple, laidback relaxed song completely at odds with the 'time is short' message of the lyrics. Alas, while Sarah's lead is excellent and one of her best, the rest of the band sound a little unsure of themselves and there isn't quite enough of the usual band sounds to make this work. The cover song included on volume two will be better. Find it on: Belle and Sebastian's Late Night Tales (2006)

Non-Album Recordings Part #9: 2007:

A) Belle and Sebastian were well ahead of their peers when they advertised their first album via the wonders of the internet. However they'd rather lagged behind them in the years since, with 2007 the first time (and to date last) that the band ever offered new and exclusive music via their official website. 'Are You Coming Over For Christmas?' is a one-off festive recording written by Murdoch which broke the silence after 18 months since 'The Life Pursuit'. The result sounds surprisingly cosy and laidback, like many a yuletide song, with a distinctly 'Pet Sounds' via Phil Spector's 'Christmas Gift For You' style backing (full of strings and horns that are lusher than anything B and S have done up till now). There's still a sting in the tale though: the narrator isn't as nice as he first appears, telling his loved one who has other plans 'leave your friends - I bet they won't miss you much!' and promising to be over soon on the condition that 'you behave and don't drink too much!' Huh, goodwill to all men, eh? Not exactly a lost classic, it's still too good a song to remain 'homeless' without any CD release to date and would have made a nice extra on the 'Third Eye Centre' compilation. Find it on: the Belle and Sebastian website ( or the band's 'Myspace' page

Non-Album Recordings Part #10: 2011:

A) Unlike 'The Life Pursuit' - which was originally planned as a double album - there were notably fewer B-sides taken from 'Write About Love'. The title track, for instance, was a download-only one-track single while second single 'Come On Sister' contained merely remixes of album tracks and the sole 'new' B-side 'Blue Eyes Of A Millionaire'. This Murdoch song is a real treat though and should have made the album proper, returning to the 'feel' and texture of the band's old sound and with Murdoch going back to his favourite character analysis, with a teenager trying to fill an empty Sunday in a nothing town. Most of the song is filled with the melancholy tinges of old but there's still time for the happiest chorus on a B and S song in what seems like a long, long time: 'Let the summer go, let tomorrow take care of itself...' The title is only mentioned at the end and only then as part of a stream of consciousness unusual for Murdoch (the whole line is 'Goodness glowing like a firefly, cheap bones - blue eye of a millionaire'. Had the rest of the 'Write About Love' album been as good as this one we might have had a stunner on our hands. Find it on: the b-side of 2011 single 'Come On Sister' and the 2013 EP/singles compilation 'Third Eye Centre'
B) With only two singles rather than the usual three released from 'Write About Love', that left a couple of songs from the sessions still unreleased. Retailer Matador secured a coup by pairing this as a 'bonus' 7" single that came free with purchases of the parent album, although both of these were also made available a couple of years later on the 'Third Eye Centre' compilation. Last Trip is a rather out-of-tune song from Stevie Jackson that sounds like a demented girl group singing mid-60s funk and features typical naive-yet-sweet lyrics about a narrator going to see his girlfriend on what he knows will be their last visit before they break up. Given the context of unrest within the Belle and Sebastian family, is this song's refrain of 'last trip last trip' meant as a clue? Find it on: Matador's deluxe edition of 'Write About Love' (2011) and EP/single compilation 'Third Eye Centre' (2013)
C) Suicide Girl is a bit more 'normal, with Murdoch going back to his favourite past-time of writing about emotionally vulnerable teens. Returning to the scene of 'Photo Jenny' Murdoch tries to offer comfort and confidence ('I know that she is special, I can see what she has got'), taking her photograph and in turn worrying about her tendency towards 'worry and stress'. Most of the earlier B and S songs about vulnerable-yet-tough young girls tended to be based on Murdoch and this song might be about her too: you can really hear the sigh in Stuart's voice as he sings 'I've known her for a long time, you can say that I'm a fan - but I always thought that I would be her man'. If that's true, though, then there's an ominous ending for fans expecting a reunion anytime soon: Murdoch says that despite his empathy he's a different creature, 'drawn to the light and shade' rather than the 'darkness' of 'suicide girl' and despite giving the two characters a happy ending where they're in bed together, we listeners get the line 'Let's face the facts - we ain't goin' back'. The backing, meanwhile, seems almost the opposite of those languid, poetic early B and S songs, driven along by Stevie's most raucous and frenetic guitarwork yet and a synthesiser out of the cold hard 1980s rather than the warm, all-in-it-together 1960s. A 'final', final goodbye to the source of many great songs, its seems odd that such a key song in the band's canon should be 'thrown away' like this (it's better than everything on the parent album except 'Ghost Of Rockschool' and possibly 'Read The Blessed Pages') and is well worth seeking out by fans who haven't got round to hearing it yet. Find it on: Matador's deluxe edition of 'Write About Love' (2011) and EP/single compilation 'Third Eye Centre' (2013)

Non-Album Recordings Part #11: 2012:
A) Compilation 'Late Night Tales II' featured a noticeably more commercial and upbeat sound than its predecessor and the same goes for the song B and S chose to cover. 'Crash' was originally a song by The Primitives and released on their 1988 album 'Lovely' and is a favourite of film soundtracks, appearing on 'Dumb and Dumber' 'Surviving Christmas' 'Mr Bean's Holiday' and in the best (or at least most literal use of the title ever) 'Cars 2'. Belle and Sebastian's version is similar to the original and tailor made for Murdoch's slightly grumpy narrator. Dare I say it, did he choose this song after his years of coping with me and cfs flare-ups (colloquially known among sufferers as 'crashes'? Ironically enough its often easier on the body just to keep going than stop when you're meant to, owing to the body's dependence on adrenalin). The song sounds at one with Stuart's more recent post-Isobel songs too, as if he's trying to warn his younger self about something ('I'm not listening anyhow! I've had enough of you - enough to last my whole life through!') although of course as Stuart didn't actually write this song it could just be him picking a song that sounds similar to his own style (certainly more so than 'Casaco Marrom' from the first 'Late Night Tales'). Accompanied by the best B and S video since the early days (the band cartoonised into 'boxes'), the group deserved to have a big hit with this song which sadly never came. Find it on:  Belle and Sebastian's Late Night Tales Volume II' (2012)

A Now Complete Link Of Belle and Sebastian Articles Available To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:
‘Fold Your Hands, Child, You Walk Like A Peasant’ (2001)
'Storytelling' (2002)

'Push Barman To Open Old Wounds' (EP compilation 2003)

'Dear Catastrophe Waitress' (2004)
'The Life Pursuit' (2006)

'Write About Love' (2010)
'God Help The Girl' (Stuart Murdoch Film) (2014)
Girls In Peace Time Just Want To Dance (2015)

Belle and Sebastian: Existing TV Clips
Belle and Sebastian: 12 Unreleased Songs
Belle and Sebastian: Non-Album Songs
Belle and Sebastian: Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums
Essay: B and S Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions