Stuart Murdoch walked out intrepidly into the crowd last night during “Dear Catastrophe Waitress”.
It’s a Belle and Sebastian crowd, so it’s a friendly, unthreatening and relaxed crowd, more likely to offer him a Tunnock’s Wafer than trouble.
But then Murdoch ascended the Art Deco stair case and climbed over the safety railing right at the top of the balcony. To his side stood some somewhat perturbed security staff. Forty feet below him stood the crane-necked audience. They were separated only by air, Murdoch’s sense of balance and a false move.
Murdoch’s music may be full of upbeat foot-tapping tunes, but it was an act that suggested he has some steel behind his uplifting melodies, something, to be fair, that has been evident throughout his career.
Belle and Sebastian’s big break came when they were offered a budget to record two songs in five days for release on a CD single for a college. Not one to miss an opportunity, Murdoch asked to make an LP.
He wasn’t interested in CDs. Given this was 1996, when vinyl was about as popular as yellow snow, that was an interesting choice from someone who knew an opportunity when he saw one.
To make his point at a meeting to discuss the release, he picked up a marker pen, and wrote five song titles on a board, then another five to the right of them.
This was the track listing to the album he wanted to make.
“You can’t make an album in five days” he was told.
“The Beatles recorded the whole of their first LP in a day” he replied, with a look of determination.
History tells us he made the album. In three, twelve hour days, plus two for mixing. It was called Tigermilk.
And he got it released on vinyl.
That’s someone who has a vision, and does what it takes to realise that vision.
Not that you would think Murdoch has a care in the world leading his eleven piece band through a stream of songs from the band’s impressive back catalogue, beginning with “Dog on Wheels” – an early single – and “Dirty Dream Number Two” from third album “The Boy With The Arab Strap”.
The Troxy is a huge former cinema that has a mural of King Kong outside on the back wall, in memory of the first film that played there when it opened – as the UK’s largest and most luxurious cinema – in 1933. And this London date – with string quartet in tow – is the latest of a series of sold out shows across the U.K. and Europe.
Yet there came a point in the career of Belle and Sebastian when they were struggling to get record company interest, even five albums in.
As strange as it seems, in 2002, after two slightly underwhelming albums, their record company Jeepster, decided not to extend their contract. The Belles’ manager Neil Robertson called one prospective label and asked to talk to their MD. The receptionist told him she’d never heard of Belle and Sebastian, and he should send in a demo like everyone else.
“We won a Brit award!” he exclaimed, to no avail.
It was time for something drastic…
In stepped Buggles.
(Well, sort of…)
Former Buggles (and 90125-era Yes) mastermind / producer Trevor Horn was asked to produce the new album, on Rough Trade.
The result was “Dear Catastrophe Waitress”, and a career resurgence.
Tonight, “If She Wants Me” makes a welcome appearance from that album as well as the title track.
Although the show travels through songs from seven different albums and a couple of non-album singles, it’s not all about the old songs. Belle and Sebastian are touring to promote latest triple EP set “How To Solve Our Human Problems” and the Stax-like soul of songs like “Poor Boy” and in particular “The Same Star” are solid highlights, all sharp palm-muted chords and foot-stomping beats.
Sarah Martin takes lead vocals for that and amusingly plays an orange (actually a shaker styled that way) as well as an impressive array of other more traditional instruments, darting around to different parts of the stage.
It’s always great to see a band with new material that stands solidly up against the best of their back catalogue.
Murdoch meanwhile is a welcoming host, unapologetically wearing trousers that would shame an extroverted golfer.
As the set reaches a climax, as is traditional at Belle and Sebastian shows, the audience is invited onstage for a dance to “The Boy With The Arab Strap” and “Legal Man”.
It’s a lovely touch, bringing the audience into the show, breaking the barrier between performer and audience, just like Murdoch did moments before when he went walkabouts across the balcony.
And perhaps it is the relationship with the audience above all else, above the melodies and the musicianship, the gorgeous orchestration and even the shakers disguised as oranges, that defines Belle and Sebastian. As well as those onstage, there are people in the audience whom the band photographed to appear on the cover of the new EPs, and whose images are displayed behind the band on a projector screen.
All around, onstage, at the front, and right at the back of the auditorium, it is all smiles and good vibes as “Party Line” closes the show.
Eighty five years after it first opened its doors, the repurposed Troxy, London’s most glamorous cinema, is once again the place to be on a Saturday night.
Categories: Live Reviews