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.

Music Snobbery

Hmmm it’s been a while. Classic case of too much to do and not enough time. New job is 4 days per week, as opposed to the 3 I was doing after I went back from having the wee one, so 1 less day per week “free” plus toddler to run around after has meant very little time to sit down, never mind do any writing.

But here we are.  I was thinking about some stuff in the shower this morning (always the best place to mull over ideas, mainly due to absence of aforementioned toddler) and made a promise to sit down and get some ideas written down. Typed. Whatever.

So…what first? Well it’s been very quiet on the music front these past few months, no gigs and not much time to even listen to much.  I drive to the new job, so I miss my 2 hours per day bus/train commute listening to my ipod.  I tend to stick with the radio in the car for the traffic reports. How dull and grown up. The plus side is that I have my own office so I can have BBC6 music on when I’m there, no more Radio1, hooray! Bye bye Fearne Cotton, shut the hell up.

A few days ago I was listening to the radio at work, and a song came on that I didn’t recognise, but I quite liked it – it was kind of acoustic, folky/poppy bob-you-head kind of a song.  At the end the presenter said it was by Belle and Sebastian. Aargh! I thought, I’m not supposed to like Belle and Sebastian!

Then I realised that this was one of those instances where I decided that I didn’t like a band, but couldn’t actually tell you anything about them or their songs or even (evidently) identify them.  Occasionally I have to admit that that’s not fair, and actually I’m wrong.  It is a painful moment, but it has to be said.

The whole Belle & Sebastian thing was really just that when they first came to be known around Glasgow (1998 ish?) every man, woman, child and their pet rabbit were raving about them.  I had just moved to Glasgow for uni, and as previously discussed here was in a bit of a music black hole, I had lost the passion for it, had found other activities and really wasn’t bothered.  Looking back I think I must have been mad, moving to Glasgow and not even bothering about the opportunities for live music etc. I think one time in my first year a friend was visiting, and we were wondering what to do, when a flatmate said her friend’s band was playing somewhere, so we went along, but the band was dreadful, so we left.  I took my friend into Nice N Sleazy’s cos I had heard it was the cool place to go, but to be honest I was quite intimidated and we didn’t stay long. The next time I would grace Sleazy’s would be in the company of one Mr Keith Murray, but that’s another story….

Anyway, so yes, much as I love and appreciate the Glasgow music scene now, back then it didn’t feature in my life, so when everyone was talking about how great  this new band were, at first I didn’t care, then I was sure that I’d hate them cos if everyone else liked them, then surely I wouldn’t. I remind you that at the time Steps, B-Witched, Robbie Williams and Gerri Halliwell topped the charts. You can understand why I had lost interest.  So they kind of passed me by, and ever since if I have heard them mentioned I have just kind of dismissed them as something that other people like.

And then there was my radio encounter. So I felt like I should give them another chance. After all almost 15 years had passed, maybe it was time to let go of my grudge and open my mind a little bit. I was still sure that I wouldn’t like them, that maybe that one song was an exception. So I went on Spotify and listened to a couple of albums, one recorded and one live album. Damn, they really are good.  I mean they are acousticy, and folky, and definitely something I’d have to be in the mood for, my usual preference being for something louder and rockier, but I have to admit I liked what I heard. I was disappointed in a way, partly for being wrong but partly cos I’d missed out all these years and would have a lot of catching up to do.

It does tend to be a habit of mine.  If I “discover” a band first, either by accident, via friends, maybe seeing them as a support band then I’m happy when they gain wider recognition. But if the first thing I hear about someone is everyone else telling me I must listen and they are the greatest thing ever, then my automatic reaction is a negative one and I will almost be determined NOT to like them.  Some might call this music snobbery. Some might call it a hipster attitude. Whatever, I really can’t help it. I put it down to the fact that the overwhelming majority of “popular” music is dire, so I don’t trust most people’s taste. Yeah, ok, snobbery it is. I’m once more greateful to the internet for allowing me to connect with like-minded people, who share my tastes in music and whose opinion I trust.  I really can’t talk to friends or colleagues here about music, but I know there are people in Germany, Seattle and California who “get” me. Fellow music snobs unite!

So I’ll give them a proper listen, and look out for the next time they are in Glasgow and maybe even go along to see them, as a recent but enthusiastic convert.  And I’ll try not to dismiss anyone out of hand, but I will. I’m already sick of hearing about Lana del Ray, Ed Sheeran and Florence and her fecking Machine…