Belle & Sebastian, SWG3, 25th May 2018

I got off to a bit of a rocky start with Belle & Sebastian.  When I was at Glasgow University in the late 90s/early 2000s, they seemed to be everyone’s darlings.  Having a tendency to make a point of avoiding things that everyone else likes, I decided I didn’t like them on principle (mature, I know).  They seemed to fall between the harder rock and folk-rock that I favoured, offering a kind of soft-rock that I wrote off as bland and boring.

Then about 5 years ago I heard a song on the radio that I liked.  Looked….bloody hell it was Belle & Sebastian.  But I don’t like them! (Yeah I held this grudge for about 15 years) Convinced this was a one-off, I decided to prove the point to myself and listen to them properly.  Queued up a few albums and had them on the whole day at work. Loved them. Dammit, I had to admit I was wrong.

But that’s where they remained – occasional background music at work.  I had seen a few gigs announced but had either not been free, or felt motivated enough to go to them.  The open air gig at SWG3 did have a certain appeal, but outdoor gigs in Glasgow are risky, so once again I passed it up.  Until the weather took an unexpectedly sun-drenched turn and a friend offered up a spare ticket.  Ok, the fates are aligning, I need to go to this gig.


The outdoor yard at SWG3 was set up more like a festival – massive stage, food stalls down one side and a bar tent all the way along the back.  There was also a food court and rooftop bar in the adjoining building.  We arrived and people were chilling out, eating, drinking, sitting around enjoying the sun.  Groups were seated around the yard, others were standing milling around.  It was a lovely relaxed atmosphere.  We paid a quick visit to the bar, browsed the merch stall then took up a mid-way back position.

We had missed the first support but caught the 2nd.  A electronic 2-piece called Sylvan Esso. They were an intriguing duo.  A Bjork-esque singer who put her all into winning over the crowd, by dancing all over the stage and letting loose some impressive vocals.  The other half of the outfit was a guy who jabbed, prodded and poked at a little synth/console set-up and writhed around it like they should really think about getting a room together.  Whilst not my kind of music, and not really what I expected for a warm up for a band like Belle & Sebastian, they did get people dancing and brought a ton of energy and enthusiasm to the stage.

Sylvan Esso

Belle & Sebastian were brilliant, and perfect in that setting.  There was a real chilled out party vibe going on.  Barring some die-hards at the front, we all had room to move, couples were swaying, friends were dancing in circles and impromptu ceilidhing broke out here and there.

The band were on great form, tight as a unit despite there being about 10 of them and being so spread out on a large stage.  I really like that collective approach to music performance.  Various members of the band stepped in and out on different songs, sometimes mid-song.  People would drift from one section of the stage to another and pick up a whole new instrument.  I don’t know if it was all planned and choreographed or spontaneous, but it worked.


They played for a good length of time, fitting in all their well known songs as well as some newer ones.  I think they announced one as a new single, or off their new record, and it was actually one of my favourite songs of the night.  There was a nice variation in the singers, with guitarist Stevie taking lead vocals on a couple of numbers and beautiful harmonies from several members of the band.

Stuart Murdoch was an engaging front man, frequently stopping between songs to relay an anecdote, tell a joke or just make observations about the venue, surroundings and setting.  He was genuinely funny and witty and interacted a lot with those in the front rows.  Towards the end of the main set he invited some up on stage to dance, which turned into a full-on stage invasion, but the politest stage invasion you will ever see.  They let the band get on with playing the song, and carefully sang and danced all around them, leaving when asked and shaking hands with the band as they went.

Dancing party on stage

All in all it was a fun night, I have finally got over my Belle & Sebastian aversion, and will definitely be interested in seeing them live again.  The SWG3 venue is a welcome addition to the Glasgow live music scene, and I’m sure I’ll be back there for more events, hopefully with suitably un-Glasgow-like weather.

We Are Scientists, Glasgow & Sheffield, May 2018

New music and tour dates from my faves? Of course I’m there. We Are Scientists released Megaplex last month, along with details of an extensive worldwide tour.  I grabbed a ticket for Glasgow, and, as experience has proven that 1 gig per tour just isn’t enough, I scanned the dates to see if any others would be feasible.  Unfortunately logistics prevented me from going back to Berlin again, but I was due to be down in Preston the weekend that they were scheduled to play Sheffield on the Sunday.  In my Scottish mind, Preston and Sheffield are practically neighbours, so that was settled.  Even better was the fact that my friend Zoe, someone I had made contact with 9 years ago via an old WAS message board and had kept in touch with ever since due to a shared taste in music, tv shows and comedy podcasts, was making the trip to Sheffield from Peterborough.  Sorted!

Support came from Cora Pearl (Sheffield only) and The Pale White (both nights).  I didn’t really warm to The Pale White in Glasgow, but found them much better in Sheffield.  They were loud and thrashy.  Each song was kind of a 1-idea thing, but they played with great enthusiasm and energy.  Cora Pearl I found to be much more interesting musically, with some funky basslines, intricate lead lines and they shook it up with different rhythms that kept it interesting.

Cora Pearl

Whilst I am always excited about new music from We Are Scientists, I am also more than a little trepidatious in case I don’t like it. I WANT to keep liking what the guys do, but am not uncritical and always get the fear before a new album that they will have taken a turn down a route which I will be unable to follow them on.

So it was with the usual nervous apprehension that I listened to the first public offering from Megaplex, “One In, One Out”.  The fear took hold as synths started up, but to my great relief the levels remained suitably palatable for my taste and the track overall was really bouncy, catchy and infectious.  As other singles and eventually the full album came my way, I was delighted to realise that I liked it all.  Seriously, despite my love for the band, this is not a given.  I couldn’t get into TV en Francais AT ALL until I heard it live, and I have some ongoing reservations about some tracks on Helter Seltzer.  Given that I came to W.A.S. just after Brain Thrust Mastery, and had bought that and With Love and Squalor together after release,  Megaplex is the first album that I have fully embraced from it’s unveiling and been able to appreciate as recorded, straight out the sleeve.  That said, I was super excited to hear the songs live.


I’ve said before that I would happily enjoy a gig comprised solely of songs from their most recent record/s, I wouldn’t miss the older ones if they got ditched.  We were treated to a whole 5(!) songs off Megaplex – half of the album – and of course they proved me wrong by re-working old songs to give them a new lease of life.  Your Light Has Changed makes a great show opener – upbeat, stomping and with a recurring triplet theme that I may have actually squealed at the first time I heard it.  Now or Never and Notes in a Bottle both showcase the gorgeous harmonies that Keith, Chris & Carne can deliver together, but both underpinned by driving drum and guitar parts that sustain the lively pop/rock element of their shows.  One In, One Out got a massive crowd reaction, deserves to be a hands-in-the-air, everyone-belt-out-the-chorus-in-unison kind of anthem.  My favourite of the new songs played was No Wait at Five Leaves.  Soaring, immersive, beautiful.  I felt like I was enveloped in it’s wondrous, velvety, spine-tingling gorgeousness.  My “moment” of the gig, both times.


Of the older songs, I love the makover treatment that Chick Lit has been given, I was glad to see Scene still included in the setlist and Make It Easy remains a triumph of Keith’s vocal abilities, moving me every time I hear it.  Both gigs also saw Keith foray into the crowd during the Textbook finale.

The set list was near identical on both nights, we got the same 5 songs from Megaplex each time, and while I was happy to hear so many at this stage, I do wish they had played Heart Is A Weapon.  Also I think Properties of Perception would be a lot of fun live. Hopefully next tour….


The Glasgow gig was a bit special because it was Keith’s birthday, so he received a cake on stage, as we all sang the traditional song.  I had been able to say a quick hello and happy birthday to him prior to the gig, and caught up with Carne afterwards, as well as meeting the wives/girlfriends who had been co-opted into staffing the merch stall.  They were really lovely and helpful, trying to find me a Heart is A Weapon shirt that wasn’t tent-sized, failing, agreeing that they should have either extra-small men’s sizes, or ladies-fit shirts, and finding me a setlist as compensation.  Thanks ladies, hope you enjoyed the rest of your trip 🙂

After the gig in Sheffield we spoke to Carne and Chris, and again had a quick hello/goodbye with Keith.  It was my first time in Sheffield, (yes, really!) but sadly I didn’t get to see much more of the city than the road between the station and the Premier Inn, and was there for only around 14 hours total.  After we left the venue, Zoe and I went back to our hotel, had a very rock and roll cup of tea, nattered a bit then finally had to call it a night.  I had an 8am train the next day, so was up and out, on an admittedly beautiful day, but sad to be leaving and not getting more time to explore or hang out.

I have come away with a deeper appreciation of Megaplex, which I already thought was pretty incredible in the first place.  It may have taken me a while to catch on to TV en Francais, but once I did I was captivated by the themes and imagery in the lyrics.  Megaplex doesn’t resonate thematically in the same way, but I am glad to see a return to  more complex, poetic lyrics.  Chris’ bass lines are a masterclass in pop/rock deceptive simplicity.  The drums…well you will never hear me criticise Carne’s drumming.  The lightness of touch, the themes and variations, the interplay with other parts (inset heart eyes here etc).  Riffs, hooks and guitar solos aplenty, as well as the aforementioned harmonies.  The whole package chimes exactly on my wavelength and I can breathe a sigh of relief that I am still on the We Are Scientists journey right along with them.

So, as the post-tour blues kick in, and I return to a reality of school runs and cleaning the gunge off the recycling bins (so glam), I try not to get too despondent.  I had a really fun couple of days, hung out with someone I would not have known were it not for the band, and re-connected with some of my favourite people in the world.  No, my life isn’t all rock n roll, but I’m glad it is a little bit.  I might not ever go on a world tour, but I have been to places I would never have been otherwise to see this band.  I might never see my band’s name up in lights above a venue, but I can try to deepen my understanding of music and play drums with the creativity, passion and sheer unbridled joy that Carne does.  I can pursue my career and my studies and do something I love, which also has a positive impact on others.  And I can look forward to the next tour.