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Belle & Sebastian

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Coming ten years after going public with their debut album, 'Tigermilk,' Belle and Sebastian's sold out show with the L.A. Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl offered both a fitting way to mark the anniversary but also served as a reminder of the group's longevity and decade of quiet achievement.

The arenas and contexts could not have been more different. In 1996, the musical climate in the U.K. did not look promising (Oasis were the biggest band in the U.K. and Britpop / lad culture was rampant) for the modestly brilliant songs on 'Tigermilk.'

These had been assembled by Stuart Murdoch over the preceding years, and were brought into focus by his recruitment of kindred spirits, Stevie Jackson (guitar), Isobel Campbell (cello), Richard Colburn (drums), Chris Geddes (keyboards) and Stuart David (bass).
Recorded for Electric Honey Records - as part of a Stow College student project - 1000 copies of the album were pressed on vinyl.

The launch took place in CaVa Studios in Glasgow and within a few weeks there was not a copy of the record to be found. In pre-E Bay times, copies were later selling for around the £500 mark. Word spread quickly, and the band responded by setting to work immediately on a follow up.

By this point signed to Jeepster Records in the U.K. and the short-lived, The Enclave in the US, and with new member Sarah Martin (violin) in tow, 'If You're Feeling Sinister' has subsequently been hailed as the group's masterpiece, though reaction at the time was more muted.

This was partly down to an avoidance of traditional rock routes. Touring was not high on the agenda. Instead there were occasional one-off shows, including an American debut at CMJ and a show at the BAM festival in Barcelona. Equally, there was little media profile, with band members rarely photographed or interviewed. The album's success - built over a number of years and culminating in a 'Don't Look Back' performance at the Barbican in 2005 - was built mainly on word of mouth and genuine fan excitement.

If 'Sinister' is seen as the benchmark album, its successor, 'The Boy With the Arab Strap' was the one which singularly did most to raise the band's profile, helped by a run of singles/ EPs which culminated in '3..6..9 Seconds of Light' reaching the U.K. top 40. The singles from the Jeepster era were later compiled on the 'Push Barman to Open Old Wounds' set in 2005. Trumpet player, Mick Cooke, who had featured as a session player on the previous albums was by now a full-time member of the band, with Stuart David heading in the opposite direction to form Looper.

'The Boy With The Arab Strap' debuted at 12 in the U.K. charts and propelled them towards a Brit Award in 1999 for 'Best Newcomer.' Even though it was their third album, this and Pete Waterman's reaction suggested that the band had finally reached the fringes of the mainstream.

They also embarked on their first batch of international touring, with a few dates in Europe and the USA, before a period of reflection and stepping back from the growing feeding frenzy surrounding them.
Yet if 1999 and 2000 were quiet years by the standards of those preceding them, it was only relative. The Bowlie Festival, curated by the band at Camber Sands featured Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips, Teenage Fanclub, Godspeed You Black Emperor and a cast of hundreds. It sold out. John Peel and Jarvis Cocker Dj-ed.

Side projects were undertaken (Stevie and Chris with V-Twin, Mick with the Amphetameanies, Isobel with the Gentle Waves and Richard with Snow Patrol) and work on the fourth album, 'Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant' commenced.

Although it was a lengthy process and the results at the time perceived as something of a disappointment, time has served the record well. It was their first top ten album in the U.K. and its preceding single, 'Legal Man,' (not on the album) made the top twenty and it remains the band's biggest seller in the U.S.A..

If an insularity had marked the band's recording (they were largely made with Tony Doogan within walking distance of their flats in Glasgow), the years following 'Fold Your Hands. . . ' were characterised by collaboration and change.

The collaborations began with the 'Jonathan David' single - the first time the band had worked with a producer. Mike Hurst came with form dating back to the sixities, though his CV also included 'discovering' Showaddywaddy and Shakin' Stevens. The band's increasingly wide vision also saw them embark on work on the soundtrack to Todd Solondz's 'Storytelling.' Although little of the music made it to the film, it yielded another Belle and Sebastian record - their last for the Jeepster label.

As well as changing label - signing to Rough Trade in 2002 - there were personnel changes within the group. Bob Kildea joined on a full time basis from V-Twin to replace Stuart David, and Isobel left to pursue a solo career. By way of farewell, Jeepster released 'Fans Only,' a DVD covering the band's career from 1996-2002 in loving detail.

With the new label came another collaborator with a history - Trevor Horn, best known for his work with Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Seal and the Pet Shop Boys, and as a member of Yes, The Buggles and Art of Noise. The album, 'Dear Catastrophe Waitress' was a critical and commercial success, and was backed by a concentrated touring regime, with the highlights being outdoor shows at the Greek Theatres in both Los Angeles and San Francisco, and a free hometown show in Glasgow's Botanic Gardens, watched by over 10 000 people.

There were other landmarks along the way. 'I'm A Cuckoo' became their most played and successful single. The Avalanches did the first (and so far only) B&S remix for the same track. All three singles from the album ('Step Into My Office, Baby' and 'Books / Your Cover's Blown' were the others) made the U.K. top twenty. Global sales reached new peaks and there was a nomination for the Nationwide Mercury Music Prize. This period culminated in bizarre fashion, with an appearance at Wembley Arena as part of a night to celebrate Horn's 25 years in pop. Sharing a stage with Yes, The Buggles, Grace Jones and Seal surely signified something, though what is uncertain.

If 'Don't Look Back' and the 'Push Barman. . . ' compilation made 2005's output retrospective in flavour, the band were thinking ahead, working with producer Tony Hoffer in Los Angeles on the songs that were to make up the core of their eighth album, 'The Life Pursuit.'
Released at the start of 2006, it was devoid of the string parts that had characterised its predecessor, but marked the start of the band's most intensive year to date.

There were 3 singles in the U.K. ('Funny Little Frog', 'The Blues Are Still Blue' and 'The White Collar Boy') all of which were accompanied by an appearance on Top of the Pops.

In addition, there were nearly one hundred shows spanning Europe, Japan, Australia, U.S.A. and Canada ranging in size from a show in the Icelandic fishing village of Borgarfjordur to appearances on the main stages at the Reading and Leeds festivals as well as at Pukkelpop, Lowlands and a number of leading European festivals.
If these shows, the Hollywood Bowl and outdoor shows in New York and D.C. showed Belle and Sebastian at a new peak of performance and popularity, then summer 2006 also marked the end of another chapter in the band's life.

Since then the band members have been taking a break and working on their own projects. For example, Mick curated the children's album, 'Colours Are Brighter' (2006) and has been arranging and writing for other bands, TV and film; Richard has been touring the world with Snow Patrol and Stuart has been working on the screenplay for his God Help The Girl film, the soundtrack for which was released on Rough Trade in 2009. This album featured notable contribtutions from all the other members of Belle and Sebastian, as well as a host of guest vocal talent. The other band members have also been writing, recording and DJing for either their own projects, collaborations or for new B&S material.

During the period of hiatus, Jeepster Records released a compilation of BBC Sessions in 2008, covering the period 1996- 2001, but 2010 has begun with the news that the band is back in the studio, writing and arranging new songs. These will be recorded in April and May before they embark on a select number of shows around the world across the remainder of the year.

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