Right from the start there was something tangibly different, even quietly rebellious about Belle and Sebastian. Musically, creatively and commercially they followed their own path and from the first set themselves apart from the prevailing music scene in Glasgow in the mid to late nineties.
Emerging at a time when Scottish music was dominated by Americana influenced guitar bands, most notably Primal Scream, and the ‘Bellshill Beat’ of Teenage Fanclub and BMX Bandits, Belle and Sebastian brought their own musical style to the fore. Revitalising and overhauling expectations, the accepted route or career path, extending the lyrical and musical boundaries.
Stuart Murdoch’s vocal combined with the band’s use of instruments created a modern retro sound that brought to bear a disparate mixture of influences such as The Smiths, Love, Donovan, Felt, Northern Soul and Motown, while still making it their own, clearly original.
The inclusion of strings, electric piano and trumpet set them apart. Teasing hints of Nick Drake’s Cello Song are clearly evident on the first album, Tigermilk. There are echoes of Arthur Lee and Love in Mick Cook’s trumpet sound, and the use of electric piano and organ brings a soulful feel to their music. The guitar is completely clean with no hint of distortion, reminiscent of early Rock and Roll, Johnny Marr, or acoustically of Nick Drake. Richard Cole on drums has a particularly light touch, using brushes. This combination brought an usually whimsical feel at a time of guitar-heavy Brit Pop, an overtly masculine genre.
Breaking too with this tradition, Stuart Murdoch’s voice, with its slight lisp, is quiet, melodic, epicene, fey, connecting him to a dispossessed youth, proud to have bowl-cut hair do’s and be shy sandshoe gazers (‘bowlies’ being a favourite term of his, appropriated for the ‘Bowlie Weekender’, a 1999 music festival set up in Pontin’s Holiday Camp in Camber Sands, East Sussex, by Belle and Sebastian). His lyrics plumb the school experience of being an outsider, a quiet, rejected, sensitive rebel. Mixed with this perhaps knowing naivety is also an element of art school cool, paving the way for bands like Franz Ferdinand a decade later.
The sheer numbers of band members – seven, more live - all treated equally was also a factor in creating a kind of workers co-operative approach, egalitarian in both credits and profits. Unlike The Fall’s Mark E Smith, Stuart Murdoch encouraged all the members to be intrinsically of equal importance to the whole, not merely as passing players. Over the years this has shown itself in a more equal spread of song-writing credits.
There was definitely a kind of DIY ethos to Belle and Sebastian. They never followed the set career path of other bands, playing bars and small venues, recording demo’s and working their way up to larger venues by playing support, nor bowing to outside pressure or management influences. Instead they created a scene around themselves, a kind of west-end mythology, retaining their mystery, never giving too much away. Their album covers utilising Stuart Murdoch’s photography, not images of the band, with sleeve notes that quietly emphasise their attractive difference.
Their first gig was at a party in a Hillhead flat in 1996. After the release of If You’re Feeling Sinister the band played a church in Gibson Street in Glasgow’s west end, albeit with the members of BMX Bandits, Teenage Fanclub and other dominant Glasgow music scensters present. Hardly the traditional route, but creating a necessary elite mystery and charm to them. The slightly amateurish feel of those early performances only adding to the interest.
Belle and Sebastian are clearly Stuart Murdoch’s baby, it was his vision, commitment and dream that led to their formation, but while this is true, he couldn’t have achieved the reality without the certain formation of key members: his friendship with Stuart David while they were on an unemployment training scheme; spotting guitarist Stevie Jackson playing with The Moondials in the Halt Bar in Glasgow and writing to secure him for the fledgling band; the ‘fate’ of meeting Isobel Campbell, her name coinciding with his choice for the band, and as a cellist, someone Stuart coveted for inclusion.
Belle and Sebastian were always different, whether in formation, dynamic, music, or career. They turned down supporting Radiohead in 1997 because it wasn’t something they wanted to do. These sort of choices have created the lasting impact of the band. Allowing them to break the mould when they need to, unusually working with Trevor Horn as a producer, or for a Todd Solenz film when they wanted to. They are able to retain an original quality without compromising their vision and achievements.
While clearly influenced by certain music styles or songs they have always managed to create something new and fresh, in a similar way perhaps to Noel Gallagher. Tracks such as I’m A Cuckoo owe something to the past, in this case Thin Lizzy’s The Boys are Back in Town; the song The State That I Am In has a parallel to American Pie, but both clearly resonate in the present tense. This playful amalgamation of sounds and influences hinting at something you already know but not too explicit, conjures up the duality of Belle and Sebastian’s success story. Influenced but unique, retro yet modern, gentle but ballsy: a combination of attributes that has brought recognition, admiration and longevity, as well as their own niche in the Scottish and International music markets.
History and Discography
Belle and Sebastian were formed in Glasgow in January 1996, reputedly in an all-night cafe, where the members met and spent a lot of time together. The concept of the band and their name (taken from the French cartoon) was front man and singer/songwriter Stuart Murdoch’s, and it was he who wrote most of the band’s early songs.
Stuart Murdoch was born in 1968 and grew up in Ayr, Scotland. He and Stuart David (bass guitar) met on a government training scheme and recorded demo’s together. These were picked up by a Jeepster Records talent scout who was involved in the Stow College Music Business Course in Glasgow, run by Alan Rankine, an ex-Associate (the 1980’s band fronted by Dundee based singer Billy McKenzie).
Stow releases a record, usually a single, once a year on the college label Electric Honey Records, but in the case of Belle and Sebastian there was enough material to record a whole album. This first recording was called Tigermilk. It was recorded in three days and one thousand copies were released on vinyl alone. Original copies of Tigermilk are now highly sought after and have sold for over £400 a copy.
In August 1996 Belle and Sebastian signed to Jeepster Records and recorded their second LP If You’re Feeling Sinister. The band’s key line up being Stuart Murdoch (lead vocals), Stevie Jackson (guitar), Chris Geddes (keyboards), Stuart David (bass guitar), Isobel Campbell (cello), Richard Cole (drums) and Sarah Martin (violin). They were also joined by various musicians, including Mick Cook (trumpet) who later became a full time member.
During the summer of 1997 the band released three seminal EP’s: Dog on Wheels, which charted in the UK at number 59; Lazy Line Painter Jane, charting at 41; and 3...6...9 Seconds of Light, charting at number 32. The album The Boy With The Arab Strap was released in 1998 and entered at number 12, the year Belle and Sebastian also won “Best Newcomer” at the Brits.
In 2000 the band released the LP Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant. Their single Legal Man reaching number 15, allowing them to perform for the first time on Top of The Pops, a life-long dream for Stuart Murdoch.
In January 2001 the band toured the UK, USA, Spain, Japan and Brazil. Stuart David, having left to concentrate on his own band Looper and writing novels, was here replaced on bass by Bobby Kildea of V-Twin. In the same year the band released the single Jonathon David and in 2002 I’m Waking Up To Us. The latter produced by Mike Hurst.
2002 also saw the band record Storytelling which was the soundtrack to the Todd Solenz film of the same name. That year Isobel Campbell left the band to pursue solo projects, including The Gentle Waves, and the 2006 Mercury Music Prize nominated collaboration with Mark Lanegan (The Screaming Trees). That same year Belle and Sebastian parted company with Jeepster Records and signed with Rough Trade.
In 2003 the band recorded Dear Catastrophe Waitress with 80’s producer Trevor Horn (Buggles, Frankie Goes To Hollywood) and the single Step Into My Office Baby. The band then toured relentlessly in the USA, Japan and Australia, returning home to perform a free show in Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens, to an ecstatically adoring crowd on a hot summer’s day. Dear Catastrophe Waitress was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize and the accompanying single I’m A Cuckoo, for the Ivor Novello Award.
Their latest LP The Life Pursuit was released in 2006. [Followed, since this article was first published, by Belle and Sebastian Write About Love (2010), Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance (2015), and Days of the Bagnold Summer(2019).]
Poet Hazel Frew outlines the history of unique Glasgow band Belle & Sebastian, while Richard Price interviews frontman Stuart Murdoch (who helps with turning on the tape machine). From the Painted, spoken archives, first published in 2007.
Image: Marisa Privitera / Bestest CC BY-SA 2.5
By Richard Price
SM: One two, one two; see, you can always see the little, the little one two flicker. You see that flicker and that move, you're OK. Nothing can go wrong.
RP: I feel I'm in safe hands now. One of the things I'd like to talk about [is the] context of the first days, the mid nineties just before the band was forming. How were you writing? Were you in a band? What was the band scene before Belle and Sebastian came about?
SM: Aye, I was, I was trying to get going, I was writing an increasing number of songs and I was very dubious and suspicious of bands in general, but of forming a band you know I saw plenty of bands around. I used to go and see a lot of groups. I used to sit on my own at the bar and watch three or four groups a night sometimes, say, two or three times a week. My girlfriend used to live over a bar, and so we used to get in free all the time. You know you could actually hear the bands and any band you liked you could simply run downstairs and watch them, because you could hear them coming through the floor. And so I think the early nineties was a good time for groups. That was kind of before, in Glasgow at least, cos that was before a lot of bands came out and got popular like the Delgados and Mogwai, Arab Strap. You know they were just bubbling under, there was a lot going on. And so I liked it but at the same time I felt outside of it.
RP: How did the people in the bands relate to each other? Were they each others audiences? […] Was it a melting pot or was it pretty much a group of well-formed strands?
SM: I think it… My experiences of Glasgow from the mid-eighties onwards is that there's been different melting pots. I've seen maybe three or four scenes or melting pots, whether that be the kind of art school scene, or the very kind of anorak scene, the mid eighties or a kind of artsy scene or the people that hang around the Grosvenor Café and drink coffee all day scene. You know there, there was a variety of these melting pots.
RP: You have some sharp things to say about the School of Artin one of your records, one of your recent records. Is there a tension between the idea of an art rock and what you've been trying to do?
SM: No, not really. I love art rock, I do I love it. I think, perhaps I was painting that. I used that turn of phrase either for a good rhyme, or… yeah a little dig at something or other just you know to make the character seem like she stood out from that kinda vibe. Personally I love so many. There's Roxy Music, they were playing in the background earlier. They're an original art school band. I love that pretence of bands trying to become art.
When you slip inside a character or slip inside a song you do you become removed and say things that aren't you obviously and that's fine, it's fun. I must say though our particular group was not affiliated with art school or college. It really did feel that we were a variety of drop-outs, people recovering from dole years or people just falling out of secondary school really. There was a mixture and then we did, we felt this, we did put a little shell around ourselves, sometimes that's necessary to make something new. You do have to feel separated from all around you.
RP: What's the Stow College connection? Were you actually at Stow?
SM: No, I wasn't at Stow College. I was in an unemployment training scheme. Really I went out of my way not to kind of learn anything on this scheme and they went out of their way not to teach you anything which was fine. It was a mutual agreement that was… that was perfect. They paid your dole money and then you sort of amused yourself. And Stuart [David] the bass player was on the same course. But independently Stow Collegehappened to get a tape. I think one of the people, they used to liaise with our course, and somebody from our course took a tape of the stuff that I was doing, a demo tape, and they got interested at that, at Stow College for their, for their scheme, that they had every year. Richard, Richard [Cole] was on the course, that's our drummer. He happened to be on the course and also our soon to become manager, Neil [Robertson], was at Stow College as well, so those two were at Stow College sitting in the classroom like oversize schoolboys. I mean really like with their knees tucked up to their chins. It's so funny, they never changed over the years, to me they never changed in ten, twelve years. They just looked exactly the same.
RP: To go back to the art school thing, one of the sounds I think I'm picking up is a kind of, it's a kind of early seventies, late sixties it's almost a French sound. It's something that mebbe Stereolab do with female voices behind it. It's a kind of pulsing beautiful accompaniment. Is that part of what you feel is a kind of art school sound? What's all that about, the French connection?
SM: The French connection, in, in our music? I don't know, it's just a, just an appreciation as much as possible of, of French pop music as opposed to British or American. It's just a slightly different slant. I wasn't obsessed by it but I was interested more in French films than anything else. So maybe just a little bit of Gallic pretence.
RP: Your interest does extend to everything doesn't it? … the covers, the stories within the albums. There's a real sense that you're trying to create a whole atmosphere and a lot of that is a French photographic iconography as well, the French clothes…. I'm not making it up am I?
SM: No, no I think the important thing to emphasise is the atmosphere thing, we're certainly trying to create an atmosphere with the records, with the songs and with the images, absolutely.
RP: You mentioned the 1980's as a time when there was an important Glasgow scene. Is that the world of Postcard, the Pastels? Are they important, were they important to you at the time?
SM: Yeah, tremendously, especially Postcard. But then I was after Postcard. So I didn't come to Glasgow til 1985 when, you know Postcard was already a distant memory. It seemed to be a long time even though that was only 3 years or something. It seemed that I'd missed the bus, the boat whatever. And so I built the Postcard world up in my mind as a kind of halcyon days of the early 80's and venerated it. The Pastels were still around and the Pastels they were a really good group. I think they're underrated from that time because they were much more interesting than the twee groups that were becoming popular in music magazines. They had much more to them. They had a bit of bite and decent songs. To be honest Stephen [McRobbie], over the years I got to know him and he's a, he was a really good support for me actually in the early, so the song writing and what have you. He was uncynical and supportive.
RP: And is he still a presence for you?
SM: Oh yeah. It's more rarely these days. I see him around quite a lot. Sometimes we meet up and have a chat, see what's going on. The Pastels are I think producing music much more sporadically now that they have families and kids and things and but Stephen is still a centrepiece of a certain Glasgow music scene. He's still working away at the record shop and stuff like that.
RP: What about you, how do you keep the band together? How does the band keep itself together? How does it work as a collective, if you like, if that's what it is?
SM: Keep our band together… It's funny it's more like gravity these days. We don't even need any glue. We just, we are, we are a group and we stay together for reasons of necessity. Everything from what we are going to put in our mouths to what comes out of our mouths, what we think and feel. There's no problems there. I think, ten years, then we're taking a break from each other but the group's never been in better form, mentally or otherwise. So it's great, it's nice, it's good fellowship actually. You know whenever we meet up, occasionally we meet up to discuss business matters, or whatever, and it's just good crack, which is great. It's a rare thing.
RP: I'm struck by the way that you talk to your fans. You have quite a calm and quite an enthusiastic and encouraging relationship with your fans. Is there one person who does most with the fans or… how does it work?
SM: Everybody has their own relationship, you know, with the fans and it's all pretty pally, it's all pretty comfortable. Some people in the group, you know, they DJ a lot. The guys are away DJing in Japan or South America or wherever you know when we're not busy and obviously meeting fans all the time you know and they seem to have a lot of time for them so everyone meets them on their own sort of level. Yeah, we like to to involve them sometimes and it depends whose initiative it is, for instance there's been a few schemes, like I've done the treasure hunts in the past which involved liaising with the fans. I think that's part of the privilege of becoming a semi-successful group that you can say OK you guys if you're enthusiastic about this group I wanna channel your enthusiasm into fun stuff and so we have picnics or treasure hunts or writing homework or something [laughs].
RP: One of the things which recurs, I think on every album and it's also one of the things you've been describing just now [is] this [presence] of teachers and students. A lot of the songs are about kids who don't really fit in with their friends, or what they might hope to be their friends, and also the teachers themselves aren't able to cope with them. There's a kind of failure there in the teachers, […] a distrust of teachers, of you advising kids to shrug and keep teachers at a distance to some degree.
SM: You know when you think about it's almost quite an easy picture to paint. It's almost a little bit of a cliché to rebel against teachers because when you analyse it, I'm thinking about it now, I myself probably would prefer the company of an average school teacher much more than I would the company of the average citizen who has grown out of the classroom. I mean to be honest, because teachers usually hold quite an enlightened, liberal view. At least a lot of them do. So really it's just sort of occurring to me it's a metaphor for something but it’s a shame it always has to be teachers, it's almost like they are always such an easy target. It's more like the bosses or the establishment, or somebody at work, or business, this kind of thing. They're kind of shadier characters to draw aren't they really? It's a more difficult relationship to represent, it's more subtle and that's why the bastards get away with it, you know.
RP: [Laughs] Yeah I sense the…. My take on the songs about work situations is that you're playing with the vocabulary of work, but you're mebbe not really saying anything that much about work. Whereas in the educational ones, yes you're using education as a sample of how power relationships work, but you're definitely saying something about education, and it recurs. […]
SM: If I start to think about the early songs then it does make you think, wow, what was I up to? Why did that seem so important at the time? To be honest I think schools and colleges and that kind of thing, it's something everyone has gone through, at least most people have gone through, so you can relate to it instantly, rather than describing a certain work situation. And, I wonder why else…[…] I probably had had a chip on my shoulder as well because I was failing in further education all over the place.
RP: Do you think it's just about worked out [now]?
SM: Aye, I’m all right. I'm more interested in education than I have been for years. Simply, you know, learning stuff. I think if I was to talk about that kind of stuff, write a story about that it would be quite different. It might be about kids with a real thirst for knowledge, someone who gets on really well.
RP: A lot of the songs have the comfort of a melody, very, very beautiful melodies but they contrast that with some quite spiky, dark subjects. What's going on there?
SM: I think that was, if there was any conceit or any preconceived notion of what the group or what my songs should be about then, right from the start, then it was to think up the prettiest melody and, but, set spiky words to them. Set people thinking, maybe have people nodding off on the melody and then second, third time round suddenly think what is this person talking about? You know what, the character is having a dark night of the soul but the melody is very major and pretty. So that was something that did occur to me. Not too much, I mean, I was swept up with song writing around ‘94, ‘95 and didn't really tend to think about stuff. I just kept moving forward, trying to write better songs and then when the group came along there was no time to think either. [I] just got on with it but that was one thought that did occur to me was contrasted prettiest melodies with the, with the darkest notions.
RP: One of the things I suppose you've had to cope with is the idea of celebrity. And that is one of the themes in your songs as well. In a recent song it's the idea of I hate to see you as someone who almost made it. There's also people who couldn't make it because they had a stroke, or there’s [the satirical edge in] the so called “Stars of Track and Field”. It's almost like you're interested in people who feel the loss of celebrity, or the inability to be a celebrity. And there's a kind of comfort in the records about trying to retune people away from the whole idea of celebrity. Is that a fair reading?
SM: Not really sure. Never, never thought about it too much. Personally I'm interested in people doing good, good stuff. I love reading about people, you know, the lives of artists. I love reading about the lives of athletes. I love people doing good stuff. I do like famous people, I'd say, people, politicians or kings or people who had interesting lives. I like it. I like reading about them. That's probably as far as it gets for me. And you mentioned those individual songs and they probably, each of them have a different take and were written from a different time. And I'm sure the first one is simply from venerating somebody, or a group of people, that were above me in the social echelon at the time and still feeling this feeling, maybe 10, 15 years on and it being poignant enough to put into a song, that was, you know, “Stars of Track and Field”. But then the more recent one “Dress up in you” is certainly written from the perspective of one female singing about another female so it's… probably we'll produce a record with a female singing that sometime, that song.
RP: So you don't feel you're cross-dressing in that song? I mean it's quite funny to hear you talk about knitting jumpers. You see that as a very gendered song?
SM: No I… yes. Well as I say it was written from the perspective of a female singing and sometimes when we do it - it wasn't really meant to be on the last record - and when it crops up sometimes when we do it live I feel [the most] cross-gendered I've ever felt, which is fine. Like I say, I'd like to [it to be sung by a woman]. My friend sang it, a girl called Alex. She sang it and it was really nice to see her singing it with the group.
RP: Might that be one way to go: to write more for other people?
SM: Yeah, yeah, as long as it's on my own terms. I'm not interested so much in trying to hawk songs around the pop world. Mind you saying that I'd be quite happy if somebody picked one up, you know. You know I think the songs are too quirky for people to pick up. You'd have to box it in somehow. But, yes it certainly gives you a wonderful freedom. I started a project in parallel with the last LP and it kept me really fresh during that period of writing The Life Pursuit. I was writing for specifically female singers. So I was writing a batch of songs along with it. It was a productive time and each time I would write a song for somebody else and it was like a break, it was a complete break and I'd come back to something that I thought was Belle and Sebastian and then I would go back to the girl group.
RP: Are you a poetry reader?
SM: Not greatly, I must admit, not hugely. I'm not even that great a reader [of anything] these days to be quite frank, which might shock you, but […] to go even further, I met a girl in a shop yesterday. I was getting DVDs and this girl came up and said that she was a big fan of the group. And she said what are you doing? And I said, well I'm looking for a film that's going to turn my day around, you know. And she said well what film. And I said I don't know, when I find it I'll tell you. And she said well why not try the records. I said I don't buy records. I really…her face dropped. I thought she was like pretty shocked or something and then I felt like apologising. But it's just the way it is. If you're concerned with making records then you don't really want to hear a load of new records or sometimes poetry feels like too hard work especially when you're concerned with any form of writing during the day. Then just to be frank – books - I end up going back to the ones these days that I loved because you want to be guaranteed a good time and I tend to watch more films that anything else.
RP: I feel pretty much the same way but it's records that I like and love the most: people are making things out of the things that excite them and energise them and that is by no means a linear line back through a specific art form. It's a complete misconception. I am struck that poetry comes up now and again in the songs. And I'm also wondering whether rhyme - some of the rhyme's very, very funny and some of them you just, you can't quite believe you've said it. Do they lead you into a storytelling situation that suddenly opens another door? Are you led to some degree by rhymes and by the rhythm that the song is making into a different story?
SM: Very rarely. I couldn't no, I couldn't honestly think, no, I don't think so. Maybe more the, maybe more the rhythm, The rhythm of the record. But then you'll know yourself it's something that when you have a rhythm in a, you've thought a rhythm in a poem you're led on and then you find a space and then you just keep going at it and what comes out is, you never think, you never planned it. It just comes out. I often think that being a songwriter and being able to dress up words with a tune you get away with far more than you would. I often look at the words. The words, believe it or not, they're more important to me, they always have been. The blueprint for anything that you're doing, the substance of what you're doing. But recently I sometimes look at the lyrics and think could I stand up and speak this like a poem and the answer's almost always no. And then again you have to ask yourself why would you? But then sometimes, even more worryingly sometimes you stand up and go could I get up like I used to in the bar, the whole bar and sing this as an acoustic number and strip it down and then sometimes the answer's maybe and then sometimes the answer's no. But then I guess what happens is you have moved on and then when your thinking of a song perhaps you're thinking of a complete pop song and maybe that's what you're in love with. You're in love with a complete finished shiny, shiny pop song and you've been able to think about that because you've had 10 years training at it. And so, and maybe if you were to start with a song, a folky song that you could get up at a pub and completely entertain people with this would never become that shiny pop song. So it's interesting the way things evolve.
RP: Do you think your voice has changed as well? I hear mebbe, Nick Drake-y, Donovan flavours at the beginning of the story of Belle and Sebastian but I don't hear those so much now. Is that because your voice itself has changed, or because your interests have changed?
SM: A little bit of both probably. My interests have changed and that's led to my singing changing and being put in a different place. And singing a little bit harder and sometimes singing a little bit in character so stylistically it changes. If there's some pretence there then that's completely fine you know because it's all part of the fun. I can remember coming in one morning with a new song and [saying to the] guys I'm going to sing this kind of funny. I hope it doesn't put you off. But I'd woken up with the song. I'd heard it in my sleep and I knew the way I was going to have to sing it to make it sound any good and so, that's all part of the fun.
RP: How are songs built up in the studio? How do the different instruments and the different members of the band cohere? How is a song made together?
SM: Well, if you take the last LP for instance [The Life Pursuit]. A variety of things can happen but we form the sound in the practice room. Sometimes the songwriter will hear a completed sound, finished, and we will aim towards that with the guidance of the songwriter and then sometimes the sound will be a mesh of what people bring to the song. So it's a mixture of that but a song's pretty much finished in the practice room. And then the idea is you go and try to make the best job of it in the recording studio. So, sometimes when you hear people saying 'Oh Trevor Horn did this with this record' or he's done that, or this person's done that, and just think well, actually it's all done in the practice room. But that doesn't mean their job is any less valid and we're completely thankful but people are off when they think oh, it was this producer that made this sound or this. It doesn't happen in a 4 week period or a 2 week period in the studio. It happens months before when you're writing the bloody thing.
RP: One of the things that strikes me is [the] soul [behind] the records, I mean soul records. And one of the roots of soul is in a testifying religious music. It's about testifying that God exists, that God is to be celebrated and I think that is there in some of your lyrics. But there is also that dry wit, that quite hard sometimes even a cruel wit. How do you square those things?
SM: Well again, I don't think of it so much. I think maybe it's cliché that people perhaps think that religion, or organised religion, doesn't contain wit and is a sort of boring thing. I believe pretty much that all good stuff comes from God, including wit. And I think God is around us egging us on to create heights of endeavour, or fun, or cheekiness. All these kinds of things are good I think is… I remember Stuart David in our group, the bass player, he was, I just got from him that he thought he would have nothing to do with religion, which is fine, but he just thought it was so boring. He thought it equalled everything boring. Over the years I've come to think that it equals everything non-boring!, that God is everywhere pushing the buttons when you're making something, when you're getting on with somebody, you know when you're having a drink, when you're having a laugh. You know it's just a different way of looking at it.
RP: Do you want to talk about the project that you've been working on for a woman singer, using your lyrics?
SM: The girl thing properly started, I was in Sheffield, a few years ago, I was playing a concert and I was on a run, out running. I was out running, I do a lot of running, and I was out running off up some canal, and it was dark. I really enjoy these circumstances, being in the middle of a strange city, in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter running up a canal and I like to get lost and all that kind of stuff. So I got a tune going in my head which sometimes happens, it just arrives and it seemed like a pretty good upbeat 60's pop tune and then I suddenly realised that it wasn't me that was singing it. I could hear somebody else singing and so I wrote the words down and that was the first so-called girl group song. That was, well, it was actually four years ago now, is that 2003? Yeah four years ago so it's been err, erm what's the word, generating, or just..[…] evolving?
RP: And do you think you've got an album’s worth of songs there?
SM: Oh yeah, definitely. But it's evolved further. I mean I could have made an album. I could have made a so-called girl group album instead of The Life Pursuit at that time. You know that was coming together and I wanted to at two different stages in the last four years but the band always came in and took up too much time. So by the time I had real free time, which was in September there, and the songs were all kicking about I realised that the songs had enough of a common theme or thread, or came from the same world, that they demanded to be joined together with a narrative and so that's what I've been trying to do recently.
RP: Do you mean a connecting narrative, or that it's a sequence of songs?
SM: No I'm talking about film. Yeah. […] I'm talking about musical film. I've never written a film before but I've had someone to guide me and it feels, it almost feels that it's been my destination for a while.
RP: But you've been involved in a soundtrack though before haven't you?
SM: Yeah but I think that has maybe 3% relevance to what I'm trying to do just now.
RP: And how on earth are you going to do it? I mean a film is a completely different thing. What's the next step to get that made?
SM: Just pick up your camera you know and get some people together. I'm not being completely flippant, I've made pop videos. It doesn't have to have the production, it doesn't have to have Hollywood production on it, but I would like it to. But I think maybe I'll make the, I said recently I'll make the record first, I'll make a record first. Hawk the songs and then see what happens from there. I finish, I want to finish a draft of the script, make a record of the songs, and anything could happen from that point, you know. I could get a degree of funding from somewhere.
RP: What's Scotland like now to you?
SM: I'm completely, I'm absolutely enraptured with Glasgow since I came home. I love it. I love it here. I just, maybe that would be the same for any city, having travelled so much, but I love being at home. I eat it up every day, I sort of consume it, geographically and otherwise. I've got to, I almost have to run every day or go for a long walk every day and I take the train out to sort of funny places and then I run back, or I cycle back [….to] Glasgow. So I'm doing a lot of that kind of stuff, really trying to soak up, mop up, my city like a sponge and I constantly feel like I'm eavesdropping or recording sort of mental pictures. So that's .. you know I feel optimistic about the present time. Much more optimistic than for instance the average news bulletin would make you believe. I think there's a hysteria to news, I think that's one down side to the world of communications becoming so vast and easy is that we hear bad stuff from all over the world at all times and it feeds a kind of hysteria. It's almost like if there's any kind of them and us situation this will be fuel to hatreds. Sometimes you're better just switching off and looking around you and realising that people aren't hateful at all. […]
Using questions developed by Hazel Frew and himself, Richard Price caught up with Stuart Murdoch in the Tinder Box in the Merchant City area of central Glasgow (away from the West End associated with Belle & Sebastian's usual haunts). The interview was conducted in February 2007 and used in Painted, spoken later that year.