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.
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.
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.