Monday, 18 December 2017

Belle and Sebastian Essay: Talking 'Bout My Generation Plus Updates




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







Dear reader, here as promised is part three of our 'essays' series. 
Assuming Neil doesn't suddenly release his fourth album of the year (!) we will be taking a break next week for our Christmas issue and our annual review of the year and then now that our reviews are over we will be back full time for the new year starting with our Buffalo Springfield review...

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Most of the people who have been kind enough to spend some time chatting to me since starting this writing project ten years ago have a moment when they go 'hang on, how old are you exactly?!' Being a ghostly online presence (not unlike Belle and Sebastian's early days) means that I could be anything or anybody and I'm a bit loathe to break people's ideas of what I am (the reality's boring and so am I!) To most people I surely come across as some grizzled old veteran looking on modern music (especially The Spice Girls) with distaste while banging on about the good old days and throwing things at the telly. Somebody once asked me, in all innocence, whether I was having fun writing this in my 'retirement' (to be fair my I.T. skills doesn't exactly scream hip and trendy either). Notwithstanding the fact that I am indeed fairly grizzled and have been known to throw things at the telly (especially when The Spice Girls and/or conservative politicians are on) I am, in fact, much younger than most of my music choices would suggest.

Not only am I a lot more juvenile than a majority of the bands I cover like The Rolling Stones (well, to be fair, who isn't?!) and The Beatles, I am also a little bit younger than the most modern bands in this series: Belle and Sebastian and Oasis. Strictly speaking even these bands are a few years before my time but compared to most of the groups I cover a few years is nothing so, hey, they're 'mine'. Most people are surprised at this, a few are horrified and only a handful have taken it in their stride. One or two have even seen it as the start of an argument: 'These songs weren't written for you - what right do you have to write about them?' Well, first of all I'm a firm believer in the idea that music is written for everyone it moves, regardless of age, race, space or time. Our 'conclusions' in our books even make the point that the music will never truly die as long as humans still have ears to hear them with. But secondly being an 'outsider' gives me a chance to see things that people who grew up at the time, only perhaps knowing a part of the story of what an artist will go on to make, can't see. I can see (or think I see) generational patterns, as the energy and youthfulness of the early 1960s gives away to deep thought and seriousness at wanting to change the world in the middle of the decade, despair when it doesn't happen and a split between hippies and punks who both want to save the world and destroy it. Spiritually I'll always feel part of 'this' 1960s-1970s generation (whether they want me or not is a moot point), which is why I write about it so much, but the fact remains that, physically, I'm an outsider and not part of 'this' generation at all. Plus of course music in 'my' day was largely rubbish - there's no way, even with all the peer group pressure in the world, I'm going to waste my precious ears listening to boy and girl bands when I could be listening to real grown-ups singing about real life from fifty odd years ago (in retrospect I can see exactly why people assume I'm a grizzled 60/70 something!)

I would like to think that I 'get' the music as well as anyone, that I've immersed myself in enough culture from the period to 'get' all the references (it helps that 1960s TV was a lot better than it is nowadays too) and I'll match anyone the 'right' age sob for sob for how much this music means to them. However, I will always be that tiny aspect removed because though I've felt it and thought it and learnt it and experienced the ripples of it, I haven't lived it. The last time we appeared to be likely to die in a cold war nuclear explosion I was six, while most of my heroes were in old age before I was born. When Roger Daltrey snarls his way through 'Talking 'bout my generation' I feel the thrill, I love the lyrics, I so agree with the philosophy and I'll gladly listen to it all day long (and have!), but he's not singing about me or my generation. Goodness knows I want him to be singing about my generation, I long for my era to care as much as 'his' generation do, to be that full of ambition and determination to put things 'right' and fight for a better tomorrow - but I'm cursed by the fact that, even from the first time I heard that song, I knew it wasn't 'true' - that the problems of the past didn't all f-f-f-fade away and there probably won't be another 1960s hope and love until enough people begin to think it's worth trying again. Sadly I'm not sure if that will happen in my lifetime (though if this era's music has taught me anything it's the importance of 'having hope').

However one band, maybe two, do talk about 'my generation': Belle and Sebastian and (to some extent and briefly) Oasis (before they realised, perhaps, that the energy of 'our' generation all gathered together was 'dangerous' and we coped better in small groups). The problem 'my' generation has, caught between the empty digital pop fodder of the 1980s and the largely equally empty digital dance/sampling fodder of the 21st century so far, is what to make of that brief bit of time in the 1990s when music was being made on actual real-life instruments for real-life people about real life problems, rather than glorifying and sanctifying pop stars who only think they're being 'new' and 'bold' because they don't know enough musical history to realise someone did their thing before them (usually better; more often than not a member of The Beatles). Is it a whole new era on its own, a 'Generation Y' to be laid alongside the greats of the past, the 'Generation X'? (We're in 'Generation Z' now apparently. Where do go next by the way? Generation AAA'?!?) Or was it just an inevitable echo, the way the 1980s took most of their ideas from the 1950s and the way the current music scene has a distinctly 1970s flavour? Sadly it's a little too early to tell and it won't be me writing those books about the Britpop years and beyond because we don't have the perspective yet, but my successors (poor chaps).

What I do know is that no other band captures what living through this often confusing period felt like and still feels like as well as Belle and Sebastian. Though Oasis tried to bring back the confidence and swagger, along with the wave of Britpop that followed, for the most part what 'my' generation (and a little bit before us) feel is confusion - that confidence is just a smokescreen. The 1960s dream didn't 'work': we aren't surrounded by hippies and we still lead 9-5 jobs, while wars break out every five minutes - more now, probably, given that trump is American president. But equally it's clear that the 1980s nightmare really didn't 'work': pitching people against each other in a dog-eat-dog culture and a never-ending arms race was always going to end in tears and mass divisions, even though luckily we didn't quite blow each other up and just threw ideologies and threats at each other instead. To be an 'intellectual' in the 1960s was a great thing to be: you were encouraged to think up solutions, see outside the 'box' and come to stand up to injustice several centuries old with a sense of the righteous youthful new, thanks to a combination of genuinely inspiring and creative musicians and a feeling, after childhoods spent in World War Two, that this all has to end now. To be an intellectual in the 1990s and 2000s is to be miserable: you can see the solutions (sometimes), you can shake up your tiny bit of the world (sometimes) but there's just too much sadness and greed, an even bigger sense of inequality economically socially and politically, with too many big things to overthrow that are too entrenched after several extra years in power. There's also an underlying sense of disappointment that if the 1960s kids couldn't break down the system completely then we've had it - we're outnumbered so badly by the baby boomers now in power and far more fragmented. Even a 1960s team effort only made parts of the world a better place for some - we're too disunited and cornered, split over whether to attack or help, to grab or provide, to be kind or be cowardly. So we do it all, over and over, eating our own tails.

Don't get me wrong: the spirit is there - I've seen it firsthand even at school rallies to get Thatcher out (well worth that detention I tell you!), multiple anti Iraq war protests, a surge of support for 'our' heroes every bit as passionate as that for JFK, Che Guevara and Martin Luther King  and in actual fact more people gather to protest something, anything, year upon year than ever happened in the past. The desire isn't the problem - it's the unity.  The difficulty is we're isolated pockets of protest who don't have the 'voice' of a media determined to silence us or the belief that what we're doing will 'work' one day, the way the 1960s generation did.  The 1960s changed so many things for better, but not everything and we're living in the middle of their results and seeing how some things are better (better gender and race equality, though far from perfect and a little bit more peace) and some things are worse (more drugs and a lot more dysfunctional broken families; Murdoch has the perfect line here too in [9] 'I Could Be Dreaming: 'A family's like a loaded gun; point it in the wrong direction and someone's going to get killed'. Great, we're a generation that has to walk on eggshells too as well as struggling in the wider world; it's notable, too, that the closest thing to a 'love song' or fully working relationship in the whole B and S canon is either between a human and God  - [142] 'Read The Blessed Pages' - or an arranged marriage to save deportation on [2] 'The State I Am In'. With this band even the traditional sources of love and support come a cropper). We're caught between wanting to push things through further and hitting up against brick walls quicker than our elders ever did. Plus many of this generation are our parents and hey, what's more thrilling to most teenagers - rebelling against a long established world order or your parents who tried to tear it down brick by brick? (If it riles your parents working 9-5 making money and wearing a suit that's most likely what you're going to do!) It's the next generation, the Z-ers, who give me the most hope if they take from their grandparents rather than their parents ('us!') and finish the job properly, but as there's even less of them around and a far smaller chance for them of ever getting a job post-credit-crunch I fear we might be in for a long wait.

Anyway, back to 'my' generation. The reason our music became so fractured (grunge, rock, pop, dance, rap and a surprise traditional county revival I really wasn't expecting) is because we were so fractured. Some of us carried on the hippie way of life, others buckled down to work, others embraced the 'dark side' of greed and power: all of thought we were 'right' but none of us got far enough to actually 'prove' it. That's why you see such a mingling of styles across the 1990s too: 1950s escapism mingling with 1960s hope and love, a 1970s demand for 'heroes' and 1980s I'm-alright-Jack impersonality. The bright new world promised by digital synths in the 1980s was no longer the 'future' and anyway was too cold and heartless for what we wanted to 'say' once the world moved on from thoughts of greed and power. But there were no great new inventions in the 1990s (rap and dance and grunge were all 1980s babies formed in protest at pop synths), no new ideas and no great drive forward. Naturally, being the babies of the last two decades of a century packed full of change, we looked backwards - but no one could decide what bit of the 'past' to borrow. Some bands nicked bits of the 1960s and ignored the more recent 1980s (Oasis for the most part and all their copycats, plus the under-rated Marillion who pretended every movement since 1968 simply hadn't happened), while others pretended it was still the 1980s and continued to grow their hair in mullets and ponytails.

The best bands, like Belle and Sebastian, embraced it all. Their records, especially the early ones, are like a sampler of everything that came before it for visiting aliens after a crash course in 20th century music: Merseybeat catchiness, folk lyricism, psychedelic peace, 1970s poetic prog, an occasional burst of punk aggression and1980s synths and songs that sound 'different' to what they're trying to tell us. In short, Belle and Sebastian used more ingredients to cook up their music than maybe any other band in history. What's more, they knew their stuff too. I think I know a lot about music but Stevie Jackson probably knows more about the 1960s than I do, growing up on a similar diet of 1960s music in a 1980s that sounded diametrically opposed to it (many of his solo songs play on this idea, his playground naive innocent who still thought The Beatles were more hip and happening than any pop trend also a dead ringer for me). Isobel Campbell thought the same but chose hipper, more cultish acts to adore. Stuart Murdoch loved the 1980s new wave acts with a passion. Stuart David loved the avant garde weird stuff that came in and out of fashion. Some of the band were even into classical music. That's a lot of styles and many a band have come a cropper with similar ideas of uniting everything, but Murdoch's (and to some extent the others') writing voice is strong enough and original and of its time enough to hold everything together.

Because he is writing about 'us'. No question, he's the first writer I've really heard writing about my generation in all our muddled, proud, lonely, confused glory. While Oasis had everybody down the pub for a singsong and The Spice Girls appealed to empty-headed pop lovers who didn't really listen to the lyrics but wanted to look like the twits on the front cover, Belle and Sebastian were writing about the common 1990s character of the mis-understood loner, usually being taken advantage of by someone in authority (most of these characters are still at school after all). Though the dating gets a bit weird (Stuart's m.e. left his main memories and inspirations for music back in his 1980s schooldays, something that lasted for quite a while through the bands' songs of the1990s), by and large we're the youngsters getting picked on, every generation above us telling us we're too unruly, too well-behaved, too thick, too clever, too rebellious, too conformist, too greedy and ambitious, too laidback and uncaring to live up to past glories, depending who exactly is talking to us and when.

I've watched people dismiss my generation as a 'bunch of hooligans' while watching the news about how so many people have outscored past years in exams they're having to re-set the pass rate and how they help elderly ladies cross the road; I've also seen my generation praised for their tolerance over such once up-in-the-air issues as race and gender politics after becoming arguably the first to live with equality in most things as being 'normal'. But equality isn't here yet: I've also seen a far scarier rise of gender and racial issues which can't be explained away by ignorance of the fact that 'everybody thinks like that'. Some make out that 'our' generation are a bunch of cowards, hiding behind political correctness and twitter 'block' buttons. But we have more to be scared of than ever before and we fight with more to lose, given our lack of job security which no previous generation faced until at least middle age; plus the threat to our world isn't a world war that kills only soldiers or an atomic bomb that kills everybody but sporadic terrorist threats that could strike anywhere at anytime. Our generation (especially the bit just below 'us') grew up in a world where nothing was safe or taken for granted and death could come at anytime. Most of our generation came to 'power' just as the credit crunch took the hope of career and future away from us, leaving us further divided as we fought between each other for the crumbs. Our generation are disillusioned with both sides of politics, not just one, caught between (at least in the UK) a party who lies about wars for greed and power and a party that lies about how many savings they're going to make and when for more greed and power than anyone could possibly ever need, without any hope of a 'saviour' (because even if we get one, like Jeremy Corbyn, the establishment are established enough now to kill them off from the start). Even 'our' Beatles, Oasis, could only get so big before shattering in a haze of self-indulgence and uncertainty over what to do with all that power, music fans enough to know how the story was likely to end (something The Beatles never had to face given everything was 'new'). Our generation were smaller to begin with compared to our bigger-sized generations (yes there are more people on the planet now but less babies being born, especially in our era) and we seem to be dying out quicker, with a much faster rate of suicide and premature illness. We're not a healthy bunch with a great future ahead of us - we are the permanently worried, largely powerless generation, to the 1940s survivors, the 1960s' young hopefuls and the 1970s-80s kareer kids. None of these generations ever had it easy - and I'd never swap living through what I went through to cope with a war, even one that led to greater equality in many areas - but living through our generation, when progress has largely stagnated sucks: all the good fights have been won, all the visible progress has been made and the momentum is with our 'enemies'. There's no heroes, only villains and little justice or hope, only the same old lies on repeat. Oh, the state we're in.

That's why Belle and Sebastian are 'our' band, over and above all the others. More than any other writer Stuart Murdoch manages to conjure up a sense of all the above (or at least he does to my ears), managing to be everything. He combines not only the 1960s through to the 1980s influences but also a combination of Lennon and McCartney working practices. The songs in this book are nearly all lyrically driven bursts of emotion and anger, wrapped up in golden melodic nuggets that diffuse all that hurt and longing with beauty. These characters hurt the way we're hurting, ignored by teachers looking up 'our' skirts, dismissed by people as attention-seeking when we're exploring 'our' sexuality (there's a lot of confusion about that going on - Murdoch surprised many fans when he got married a couple of years ago after decades of slipping in songs about gay and lesbian characters into his songs) or simply being bullied for talking a bit posh in a world where being clever and standing out from being 'common insignificant scum' gets us punched (ours is a generation where, more than ever before, you're not supposed to feel 'special', which funnily enough is exactly what Belle and Sebastian make 'us' feel most of the time, giving us an attention we never get in 'real' life). We are out of practice, we're out of sight, on the edge of nobody's empire.

Belle and Sebastian's characters almost always suffer and never have it easy - but they're not passive, helpless victims either and actively hope and dream and long for better futures. Sometimes Murdoch's characters manage to find a way out of their situation: [3] String Bean Jean finds a way past her problems with anorexia, [27] Photo Jenny finds escapism back home away from her peer group and [98] Lord Anthony will one day pass enough exams to 'raise two fingers' to the people who thought he would amount to nothing. Enough characters 'lose' though for this to be more than just lazy unrealistic writing and for every hero there's a sacrificial victim: [24] Lazy Line Painter Jane tries to get attention by falling pregnant, only to give birth alone and friendless on a bus, [25] 'You Made Me Forget My Dreams' sees a frustrated lover so distraught at being unable to communicate turning to murder and poor Lisa ends up 'losing it' (on [5]) as disaster after disaster hits her throughout the day. [12] 'I Don't Love Anyone' tries to reject everything that came before, full of glamour and tinsel, even 'Christmas' and especially the narrator's dysfunctional family, but it's still searching for something to replace the gaps with and can't find it. These are 'my' people as I see so many of my intelligent, hard-working, committed, right-minded friends and peers, now silenced in dead-end jobs or no job at all despite their many talents - sure that something better is out there but not able to agree as a generation on what that something is.

Still, though, Murdoch's characters dream of a future away from being trapped, even when the odds are against them. [9] 'I Could Be Dreaming' has the most Belle and Sebastian line ev-uh, combining local glumness with generational angst, when the narrator looks at the huge sea of steps to the town hall that feels another world away and imagines all the people who aren't represented there but want to be, that 'for every step there is a local boy who wants to be a hero'. Even commitment and hard work, the usual solutions for most songwriters, don't work in the Belle and Sebastian universe, a legacy perhaps of the illness Murdoch caught when he was working too hard. There are no less than three songs about the [70] 'loneliness of being a distance runner', the other two being [18] 'Fox In The Snow' worrying about the runner's health when the narrator wonders why they push themselves so hard for no reward and [33] 'It Could Have Been A Different Career', sympathising when the athlete over-extends himself and ends up with a stroke. The only way we can get ahead is luck of the draw, of being in the right place at the right time - because to Murdoch we are all talented and 'special' and deserve a better world than the one we got lumbered with. We aren't the 'lucky' generation of the 1960s whose path was lit by The Beatles or the ambitious kids of the 1980s who made pots of money when they could to brighten their later days, or even the current generation who can be 'discovered' through reality TV if they wish to despite often having no talent whatsoever; instead we're the losers in the school playground of life, picked on by other generations without the power to fight back or the organisation to work out how to begin fighting people bigger than ourselves.

While other bands of this era tried to pretend that I'm an idiot who'll buy any old pop record and not care about anyone except myself (who mentioned 'The Spice Girls'?!) Murdoch 'gets' our generation, our stifled intellectualism and our desperate need to better ourselves even though it only makes our situation worse and the people in charge will only say that exams were much easier in their day, even when we pass all of them. We don't want to be patronised or told it's gonna be alright when we know it probably won't, we just want someone to understand our pain and our frustration when we try to be 'discovered for our art' and get told to get a 'proper' job and leave art to artier generations. Murdoch knows  this because he stayed for years in bed listening to the stories of what his friends were going through in the scary outside world, convinced that would be his fate next too on the unlucky chance he got better, tracing threads back to when things went wrong for all the smart, happy, confident kids he used to know. He was 'trapped' in bed, but the awful contradiction was that he knew from his peers that there was precious little to get out of bed for and that most people he knew felt 'trapped' too. His 'God Help The Girl' film is about the very moment when hopes and dreams became disappointments, set in a bands' late teens as they set out to try to change the world but find in a fragmented, uncertain universe that they can barely help themselves and are forced to change in order to get by - a metaphor for my poor generation if ever there was one. There may be other writers I love just as much, who speak to my soul in a way no one else does (Ray Davies, Pete Townshend, most of The Beach Boys and Beatles, all of CSN), but no other writer 'gets' my particular generation this well I don't think.

However, something changed a few years ago in Murdoch's writing which still gives me hope (quite possibly the marriage and children he'd given up all hope of in his early 40s). You haven't got there yet in the book so I won't spoil it too much, but there's a moment on 2015 album 'Girls In Peacetime Just Want To Dance' where Stuart tries to write his 'normal' type of character, alienated from her peers and reading Sylvia Plath poems to feel less alone. She's a clear parallel for every confused school kid (usually female) he's ever written for down the years - bright and bubbly, made out to feel stupid and rejected, forced to become withdrawn and hardened. Suddenly, halfway through the song, after doing his usual sympathising and comforting and understanding, Murdoch actually blesses his character (a side effect from his growing belief in Christianity) and sends her his 'faith' of a better future because he suddenly realises he has enough faith himself this many years into the band's career to spare to give to the rest of us, that as Belle and Sebastian gave him faith so he gives that faith over to 'us'. I'd like to think that it's not only this one character who suddenly gets the gift of 'faith' but in retrospect all the String Bean Jeans, Lisas, Painter Janes and Lord Anthonys and maybe that we listeners too are blessed with Murdoch's faith that better days may come, that we will be hushed victims no more. For Belle and Sebastian don't just represent the 'worst' of us, struggling to lead normal lives in a most un-normal world, but the best of us too as they see our strength, our tenacity and our refusal to give in. We're the generation that everyone has dismissed, but that only makes our fight stronger. Murdoch, you sense, somewhere deep inside, believes in miracles despite being as realistic a writer as any out there, having experienced one himself when he bucked the dead-end misery of illness and unemployment to find a musical future he wasn't expecting to find on a jobcentre course of all things. Throughout Belle and Sebastian's catalogue there's an unspoken rule, too, that we might get our own miracle one day if we can only last long enough; [156] 'Ever Had A Little Faith?' asks a recent song, telling us to put our headphones on and drown out the world and find ourselves. Maybe we do have that faith, at last. Now Murdoch clearly didn't write these songs just for 'us' any more than The Beatles only believed that only their particular age group really needed love (and anyway music is the one true universal language, without borders or boundaries), but a band will always write about what they know first and foremost and for once our generation are first in the queue here.

What's more, Belle and Sebastian were presented like a band of our generation should be, long before most mainstream acts caught onto the idea. They grew via word of mouth and a limited edition internet release, back in the days when most people (me included) didn't know what the heck the internet was. Their career exists, or at least did for the first seven years, not because of a 1960s explosion or a 1980s mega publicity campaign but through humble word of mouth, their following growing little bit by little bit all the time. They even started, perfectly for my generation, on that jobcentre course where they were ignored for most of it and made a band more because they had nothing else going for them than through any great realistic ambition or hope, the way The Beatles and comrades did. Like a lot of us, Belle and Sebastian remained unseen for most of their career, only really starting to play gigs in earnest from 1998 onwards and even then mostly sticking to town halls and local venues, while that year also marked the first time any of them appeared on their own packaging (and even then tinted a lurid shade of green). To this day most of the people who appear on the band's albums are friends of the group, not band-members or models, eager to join in the idea of Belle and Sebastian as an extended 'family' made up of all of us. The albums come without writing credits to the extent that only on a 1999 re-release of internet debut 'Tigermilk' did we learn what the names of the band even were. Things changed when the band left smaller label Jeepster to get on Rough Trade records - they were also one of the last groups to appear on Top Of The Pops and even started doing interviews as well as featuring a much more marketable, commercial sound. But they remain true to their roots as 'our band', 'playing' at being just another modern rock band while still singing eccentric songs about eccentric characters who could be 'other' members of 'our' extended family in all our unlikely, befuddled, passionate glory. They've become big not through being talked about but simply through being loved, as each fan who discovers them passes on their records anew to our mates and so on. They slipped through the cracks of power, uncompromised (largely) by record label capitalist interference and defied their miserable start full of illness and unemployment to become one of the most loved bands that ever was (and this is a band who truly inspire love in their devotees, the way the best bands do, even if there still aren't quite enough of us to match past movements yet; we fans are currently split between wanting to see them enjoy the success they deserve and wanting to keep them a special secret just for ourselves; my love of passing on good music to good people has 'won' though, hence this book. Hence, too, the sheer amount of online fans who voted them the 'Brit Newcomers' in 1998, despite the fact that almost no one - again me included - had even heard of them at the time and they, umm, started in 1995). That, I think, is a lesson for my generation: we might not get there en masse the way the 1960s kids did and we certainly won't make the money and fame and fortune the way the 1980s kids, but I'm ok with that - as long as a few of us trickle through to 'make' it for all the right reasons to inspire the others and 'make things pretty if we can' and we never have to stop being ourselves, that's good enough for me. Maybe by the time we get there the world will start turning again and Belle and Sebastian will yet be the world's biggest band, instead of the greatest group most people have never heard of, but then this was a band that was never after fame, fortune, glory or influence and yet used it wisely and kindly when they got it. Maybe it's not too late for 'us' to do the same. We are the ones who will never realise that it doesn't pay to be smarter than teachers, smarter than most boys. Even though we know the world was made for men - and not us!




"Live 2015"
(Concert Live, May 2015)
Intro/Nobody's Empire/I'm A Cuckoo/The Party Line/Dirty Dream Number Two/If She Wants Me/I Want The World To Stop/Perfect Couples/Lord Anthony/If You're Feeling Sinister/The Power Of Three/Electronic Renaissance/Dear Catastrophe Waitress/If You Find Yourself Caught In Love/The Boy With The Arab Strap/Legal Man/Sleep The Clock Around/Get Me Away From Here I'm Dying!/Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie
"I want to write a message to you every night at ten o'clock in the evening"
Returning to their 'roots' as an internet band, Belle and Sebastian streamed this homecoming concert from the Glasgow Hydro arena to their fans for a price, with a limited edition format on CD (the first 100 signed by the band members - the show went on 'proper' sale with shops and everything only in Japan). It's kind of the third 'nearly' live B and S CD after the extra disc on copies of 'Live At The BBC' and the complete live recording of 'If You're Feeling Sinister'. It's also by far the best: after twenty years of treating the live show as an inconvenient part of record-making Belle and Sebastian have somehow transformed themselves into a tight, disciplined yet still tremendously exciting live act and 2015, from what I've heard, appears to have been their best tour so far. The 'Girls In Peacetime' songs fit well with the live arena, the 'Write About Love' songs sound better without all the productions and the dip into the bag of oldies has some really fascinating moments such as a fifteen year old [60] 'Legal Man' just at the point when we were accepting we were never going to hear it live and a passionate performance of [98] 'Lord Anthony', perhaps the single least likely B and S song to play on the stage given it's tricky chord changes and orchestral backing! The moments of speech - some typically tongue-in-cheek humour about the 'history' of the band and the amount of 'T-shirts' on sale, pall compared to the songs but even these reveal the anarchic spirit of Belle and Sebastian is in good health. Even if nothing is quite a substitute for the studio albums and there are no really big risks taken across the show, this is a worthy souvenir from a band who've finally got really good at this live business after twenty years of practice.  Who'd have guessed that after the ramshackle gigs of the first years together?

Non-Album Recordings Part #12: 2015:
A) The limited edition double-vinyl set of 'Girls In Peacetime' came with four extra tracks - oddly dropped in at random with the original running order jumbled up too - and none of which were up to the album 'proper' but which are nice to have and if nothing else make a lot more sense of that curious title. The first of these is [161] 'Born To Act', which has a typically strong Murdoch female character dancing, in peacetime. The backing is odd - it's much more muscly and a lot more 1970s than the usual B and S fare and sounds more like it belongs on 'The Life Pursuit' with Stuart almost shouting his lyric, just as if he's back at the 'Party Line' disco again. He knows he can't compete with the beauty he sees but he's locked eye-contact with her and is trying to act cool while secretly praying she doesn't simply get up and leave before he's overcome his shyness enough to talk to her. The overall feeling is a bit disjointed and not B and S like enough, but there are still some witty couplets, such as the classic 'Play a wonderful song to me and it's better than a date!' and where the girl singing on the record becomes 'my lover surrogate'! Find it on: the limited edition double vinyl version of 'Girls In Peacetime Just Want To Dance' (2015)
B) 'Two Birds' sounds even less like the band, with a strangely 1980s synth-fest kept under control only by a typically B and S guitar riff. The lyrics return to school at first, with two birds flying the nest of full-time education while the boy 'Stuart' bird tries to pluck up the confidence (and feathers?) to ask girl bird 'Sarah' out. Stuart really wants to risk it all though because in a very B and S couplet 'life is short - and then you sleep'. The song switches moods halfway through though, becoming a sort-of-sequel to [153] 'The Cat With The Cream' in which Stuart complains that the world's priorities are wrong: 'We never give money to the people that are broke!' he urges and points towards the media's refusal to pay attention to the real people. 'There are people gathering in the square, they've had enough!' he cries before turning on bankers, saying that he hoped once the credit crunch would lead to real change but instead the hole in the tough of money has been plugged up with the savings of others. It's a highly impressive charge of emotion which you wish had been left to stay on its own two feet instead of the song clumsily linking the two disparate parts back together again with 'two birds' choosing to either cut their nest in half or invest twigs elsewhere thanks to belief in the people - guess which bird ends up feathering their nest with more greed? A better tune and a bit more humanity about the performance and this could have been another strong tune for B and S' most political album.  Find it on: the limited edition double vinyl version of 'Girls In Peacetime Just Want To Dance' (2015)
C) 'Piggy In The Middle' is odd in quite a different way. Over a sultry, slowed down dance backing Stuart complains that he's alone when he thought a relationship was going places, finding himself caught in a love triangle. Oddly, Stuart's solution lies in mathematics, drawing new shapes around his relationship as he uses equations to make his girl become the one in the 'middle' instead. Later verses have Stuart wishing that he could escape 'to 1986' when Stuart was eighteen (halfway between the two dates mentioned in [2] 'The State I Am In') and remembering another time when he got dumped on a dance floor. Oddly, though, the mood isn't sad as it would be on most other B and S songs - instead it's sexy, as if Stuart is belatedly trying to chat up his long-since-gone lover anyway and bordering on angry at times with this song full of short, clipped sentences most unlike Murdoch's usual writing style. The overall recording works rather well, however, thanks to a storming production and excellent performances all round. Find it on: the limited edition double vinyl version of 'Girls In Peacetime Just Want To Dance' (2015)
D) 'A Politician's Silence' is the most recognisably B and S song of the four, with a whispered vocal and a bed of strings taking us right back in time. Unfortunately, while the title suggests another political diatribe, this is another minor key Belle and Sebastian romance gone wrong and may be another reference to Isobel. 'I want you for a lover' Stuart declares but all the signs are bad: the trees are dying, the wind is building and chaos is everywhere. The only thing that feels 'safe' is when he runs up to his and his partner's old 'bolthole' where he peers through the window and sees her in the warm, 'absorbing life's stories' by the fire, a 'comfort blanket' that makes life better even though he can only feel her presence from a distance. This song feels out of kilter with the rest of this period, which is about new beginnings and opportunities, but would have slotted in well on 'Write About Love' or indeed most of the past love stories in song (it makes for a worthy finale to this book in other words). Stuart and Sarah's ghostly vocals and the repetitive lyric, which doesn't stop for a breather or even a chorus, makes this hard going though and not quite as memorable as past songs on the same subject. Find it on: the limited edition double vinyl version of 'Girls In Peacetime Just Want To Dance' (2015)
"The Jeepster Singles Collection"

(Jeepster, October 2016)
Dog On Wheels EP: Dog On Wheels/The State I Am In (Demo)/String Bean Jean/Belle and Sebastian
Lazy Line Painter Jane EP: Lazy Line Painter Jane/You Made Me Forget My Dreams/A Century Of Elvis/Photo Jenny
3...6...9...Seconds Of Light EP: A Century Of Fakers/Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie/Beautiful/Put The Book Back On The Shelf (unlisted: Songs For Children)
This Is Just A Modern Rock Song EP: This Is Just A Modern Rock Song/I Know Where The Summer Goes/The Gate/Slow Graffiti
Legal Man EP: Legal Man/Judy Is A Dick Slap/Winter Wooskie/Judy Is A Dick Slap (Re-Mix)
Jonathan David EP: Jonathan David/Take Your Carriage Clock And Shove It/The Loneliness Of A Middle Distance Runner
I'm Waking Up To Us EP: I'm Waking Up To Us/I Love My Car/Marx and Engels
"I love my Dog (on wheels), my 3,6,9 seconds of light and my modern rock songs, I can even find it in my heart to listen to Judy Is A Dickslap again"
If you own the fine if weirdly named set 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' set from 2005 then you don't really need this one - there's nothing new except a rather dull re-mix of the weakest song  [61] 'Judy Is A Dickslap', the videos already featured in the 'For Fans Only' DVD and a bit of fancy packaging. Certainly the £95 price-tag seems a bit high for stuff fans have already got, although as it is a limited edition rather than a mainstream money-grabber I'll let the band off. If you don't own any of these seven charming EPs from 1995-2001, though, you're in for a treat as Belle and Sebastian have rarely sounded better, especially on vinyl. Starting right back at the beginning with the first ever recording (a tentative demo of the superb [2a] 'The State I Am In' and the rather hopeful [4] 'Belle and Sebastian On The Radio' back when the band were still students) and on to the end of the Jeepster days (with Stuart Murdoch's scathing farewell to singer Isobel Campbell he's been courting all this time on [71] 'I'm Waking Up To Us' - 'we're a disaster!') this reflects the first and most interesting portion of B and S' career as talented indie wannabes doing what they want even if it turns out a mess and a far cry from the slightly less soulful commercial band of the 21st century. No one can write a lyric like Murdoch or set it to music that pulls at your heart-strings quite so movingly and there are some of the best songs ever written here, from the pregnant teen having a nervous breakdown on the back of a bus on [24] 'Lazy Line Painter Jane' to the spot-on observation of the [28] '20th Century Of Fakers' to the band's most convincing and breathless rocker [29] 'Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie' to the most gorgeous-sounding evil song ever written [25] 'You Made Me Forget My Dreams' and the indescribable monologue [26] 'A Century Of Elvis'. Superb even at the high price.


The complete (till they flipping release a new one!) collection of Belle and Sebastian articles from this website:


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) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/belle-and-sebastian-fold-your-hands.html
'Storytelling' (2002) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2017/02/belle-and-sebastian-storytelling-2002.html

'Push Barman To Open Old Wounds' (EP compilation 2003)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-100-belle-and-sebastian-push.html

'Dear Catastrophe Waitress' (2004)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/news-views-and-music-issue-139-belle.html
'The Life Pursuit' (2006) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/belle-and-sebastian-life-pursuit-2006.html

'Write About Love' (2010)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/news-views-and-music-issue-86-belle-and.html
'God Help The Girl' (Stuart Murdoch Film) (2014) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/belle-and-sebastianstuart-murdoch-god.html
Girls In Peace Time Just Want To Dance (2015) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/belle-and-sebastian-girls-in-peacetime.html

Belle and Sebastian: Existing TV Clips http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/belle-and-sebastian-existing-tv-clips.html
Belle and Sebastian: 12 Unreleased Songs http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/belle-and-sebastian-12-unreleased-songs.html
Belle and Sebastian: Non-Album Songs http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/belle-and-sebastian-non-album_29.html
Belle and Sebastian: Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/belle-and-sebastian-assorted.html
Essay: B and S Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/belle-and-sebastian-essay-talking-bout.html
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2018/02/belle-and-sebastian-five-landmark.html






No comments:

Post a comment