Belle & Sebastian live – Hall for Cornwall
It may have been a quiet Tuesday night outside in Truro. But inside the Hall for Cornwall, Belle & Sebastian were playing what has been described as one of the most jubilant gigs Cornwall has seen in recent years.
I’ll be honest, I’ve let Belle & Sebastian pass me by over the years. They’re a band that I’ve always been aware of and have brought a few of their singles, but have never fully got into them.
That was until last night. I was at the Hall for Cornwall to photograph Belle & Sebastian for Cornwall Live and I was totally blown away. I can now say that I am convert to the joy of Belle & Sebastian!
Lee Trewhela has written the perfect review of the show. You can read it on Cornwall Live, or at the bottom of the page after the pictures.
Review by Lee Trewhela
Belle and Sebastian drop the twee for Hall For Cornwall stage invasions and chants of oggy oggy oggy on first night of UK tour. It almost took the listed roof off.
Twee, fey, bookish – all the usual slings and arrows which are fired in the direction of Belle and Sebastian … and that’s what I thought too. If the sweeping term “indie” is used as a weapon by its detractors to conjure images of floppy fringes, anoraks and a general sense of feebleness, it also means Belle and Sebastian, the Glasgow band who were passed the baton by the Shops Assistants, Pastels, Flatmates and all those somewhat wet 1980s bands.
Starting with that band name, Stuart Murdoch’s slightly affected vocals, and an over-arching feeling of girlishness, I took against Belle and Sebastian when they emerged in the late ’90s. Why would you want to listen to an album with a cover featuring a young woman breastfeeding a cuddly toy (it’s pretty obvious, on reflection) when you could listen to Oasis, Spiritualized, The Verve and all those chest-beating manly men and their loud guitars and swagger?
It’s apparent I was an arse of the highest order and as a result missed out on one of Britain’s great bands, who merged some of my favourite bands – The Velvet Underground, Love and The Smiths – and did disco and synth-pop just as well as they did jingle and the odd jangle. It was my loss and it is only in very recent times I’ve realised what a wonderful band they are; at least I had a canon of superb albums to discover.
Okay, there’s a bit of journalistic licence there – I do own a few of their records and have some favourite tunes – but if I needed persuading then Tuesday’s opening date on their UK tour was the moment I went from curious bystander to card-carrying fan.
Frontman Stuart Murdoch told the crowd: “It’s good to be back in England.” “Kernow,” countered guitarist Stevie Jackson and we were immediately on side.
The sold-out HFC was treated to an utterly joyful two-hour gig, featuring 22 years of bright pop and wry lyrics; from the chugging Velvet Underground-indebted 1996 single Dog On Wheels to We Were Beautiful, from the current How To Solve Our Human Problems EP collection. The latter proved they can write stadium anthems to rival Arcade Fire, but only Belle and Sebastian would add a trumpet solo.
With up to nine musicians on stage and a beautifully constructed set-list which rose to a riotous crescendo (as riotous as anyone who writes a song called The Fox In The Snow can be), Belle and Sebastian proved they can’t be pigeonholed – piano ballads, disco, Motown-style stompers, Thin Lizzy-indebted rockers (I’m A Cuckoo, an early highlight) and earworm indie pop. Often all of those delights collide in one song. Sweet Dew Lee has jazzy verses, a pure chart pop chorus and a full-on dancefloor breakdown.
With involuntary chants of oggy oggy oggy, a slideshow featuring Truro Cathedral in the days before the main steeple was built (a very Belle and Sebastian touch), inventor Humphry Davy, Truro FC (drawing a blank from the crowd) and a photo Stuart took of the muddy banks of the Truro river from Garras Wharf (“has Tesco got any milk yet?” shouted one wag), the band certainly did their best to endear themselves to their first Cornish audience.
An ever-engaging presence, Stuart told us we were getting “hits, quasi hits, pseudo hits and deep cuts” and we did. Highlights included Wrapped Up In Books from their “difficult middle period” and I’ll Be Your Pilot, a song Stuart wrote for his son; his Kooks, if you like. It’s the one song which could fall into the twee trap. That it didn’t is testament to Murdoch’s increasing power as a songwriter and the band’s noticeable heft.
One of those gigs that leaves you with a rictus grin throughout, all the fun exploded into a full-on celebration come the last few songs. It appears to be the thing now to get an audience on stage – I saw Nick Cave do it to brilliant effect last year. What could be seen as a contrived move was done with pure affection by Belle and Sebastian.
This could have been an atmosphere-zapping gig thanks to the Hall’s all-seated policy but it exploded once the whole audience was on its feet … and stage.
The clavinet-riffing Superstition-at-an-indie-disco of The Boy With The Arab Strap (a classic No 1 in some alternate universe) got the lucky few sharing a stage with Stuart, Sarah, Stevie and co bopping hard … and lying down, while the Sixties-style garage freak-out Legal Man took the listed roof off.
Eschewing the planned quiet encore for the pulsating Party Line – a song you could imagine Kylie spinning around – Stuart sang and danced through a delighted crowd, making it up to the gods and squeezing behind the sound and lighting guys. And for those who still like a bookish Belle, the gig ended with the evergreen Judy and the Dream of Horses.
Bar a wonderful Rufus Wainwright gig back in 2005, this was the best, most life-affirming concert the Hall For Cornwall has seen in its 20-year history, proving that the likes of Coldplay, Morrissey and Elbow are all twee bedwetters.
Cornwall Music Photographer