I've mocked Belle and Sebastian as much as the next man, but that's only because I love them. To mock something so hard requires the understanding that only follows from love. It's easy to sneer on the surface level at anything, but that's a harsh laugh. The deep laugh is found from knowledge.
(I was rewatching the second series of Spaced, and noting - between screaming at the screen in the pure 21st genius of it all - how the jokes as such all sprung from an understanding and application of character. There's some simply blissful moments in there)
Hmmm. There's a distinct Fey aroma around my writing this evening. B&S have clearly affected me.
Belle and Sebastian entered by life in that two year period, when the Britpop dream turned ugly, that every underground guitar band worth carrying belief seemed to originate in Glasgow. It started with Bis, who begat the whole fanzine boom, and sounded in that initial burst of experience like the Pixies at 100rpm, with the verses cut out and replaced with chorues. Soon, a rough trio of groups captured me - Mogwai, Arab Strab and Belle and Sebastian. The former were a mutual appreciation society, but the third stood alone. Were I to be forced to guess at the period, I'd have guessed the greater future and continued devotion for the Young Team, but my love's fallen to mild interest. Arab Strap, after my personal favourite Love And Leaving album of the ninties, Philophobia, have faded into actual antipathy.
But Belle and Sebastian still somehow stay relevant and interesting. And perhaps even an bedrock for the future. I wrote in the last CTCL about how Britpop burnt the Independent music scene to the ground. These polite, young scots folk writing tiny vignettes of life set to music existed outside all that, and with obvious disinterest and disgust for most of their existence, are the Indie Ethos written large. They're a hermetically sealed pop-universe of the purest kind, which is exactly what underground pop history was in the eighties. We are living in the dark ages now, but there are the occasional rewards, and this intensity of belief and experience is one of them.
However, I've never seen them live. Bedsit music at gigs turns my stomach, so I've avoided it. However, when they come to tiny Bath, it seems rude to ignore the hand of fate pushing me in their direction.
My first evening with them, and it's eventually magical. Things I always forget loom large, like Stuart Murdoch being far too pretty - it's unbelievable the dual possibility of someone with such aptitude for creating prettiness could actually be pretty. Anaemic is an insult that's thrown at them, which both fails to grapple with their sixties-film-score moments, which surge maginificently this evening, or understand the dual-possibilities of that word. Maybe it's time to reclaim "Anaemic" as the signifier of the consumptive genius or similar.
Their famous live ineptitude has lessened over the years, and there are distinct moments when they summon a pretty impressive multiinstrumental throb. The sound, in the closing "Sleep the Clock Around", for example, seemed genuinely momentous and overwhelming, this odd swell half-way between Northern Soul and Sheffield Electroid-pop. In fact, even in performance, they're less the shy creatures of legend. Stuart even summons Michael Stipe-styled terrible dancing when he loses his guitar. Which isn't to say that there's still the School-Hall Assembly chat-with-pupils moments - ramshackle covers of Stones songs, random chat, and - probably moment of the gig - when a mike is given to someone in the front row to allow a determined fan to perfectly nail the disaffected dismissal over the middle-eight of one of the "Boy with the Arab Strap..." songs i forget the name of, leading to a wave of appluase that hardens into a firm clap as the chorus returns triumphantly.
"Triumphantly": Now there's a word I never thought I'd use when discussing a Belle and Sebastian gig.
Old thoughts return - like how they're one of the last believers in a literate lyric on these remedial ages. And a new one pops out - six albums, at least four EPs and some other assorted singles and odds and ends. There's an absolute killer best-of album in there, if they wanted to make a step that commercial - and the Trevor Horn production might imply that thoughts may be turning in that particular direction. Maybe the Parish Church needs a new roof or something.
I doubt they'll do it, somehow. If they did, I doubt it really matters. They've already constructed an imaginary kingdom where girls like Lazy Jane sleep at bus stops, wondering how they got their name and what they're going to do about it.
Changing cultural form, I popped into a comic shop and realised that issue 21 of Queen and Country is out. I'm not going to join the choir (yet, anyway - keep watching PanelBleed) in singing its praises - Ninth Art seem to recommend it every month they can't think of anything else to plug - but it's the start of the arc illustrated by Mike Hawthorne. This summer, Antony Johnston (Ex-Bath goth and comic writer, who worked with Mike on the distinctly un-goth comic Three Days in Europe) contacted me on behalf of Mike asking if I'd go and take some reference shots for him, as the majority of the episode is set in this town I call "The Town Where I Live". Clearly, loving Queen and Country, I was more than happy to aid a hand and snapped off all manner of shots. Bath residents should consider flicking through the issue and see what they recognise.
At the least, Threshers opposite Pizza King is assured its immortality.