Belle & Sebastian


A couple of tracks into the set and it strikes me there are many intriguing things about watching a gig in a cathedral, this breezy, boxed-in assemblage of air in the heart of Manchester. Firstly, when attempting to order a drink at the impromptu bar in the corner (even if it’s red wine, which seems eminently fitting), it can be easy to mistake a memorial stone for a menu. Second, the prevalence of columns means your view of the band may well be dominated by a lump of beatific gothic architecture, the music carried up to the heavens rather than circulated out across the crowd.

Having said that, the environment also brings very positive benefits – the smoke rising towards the heavens interacting with the lights bathes the main chamber of the cathedral in slightly irreligious red light. The crowd moves around the periphery of the cathedral, shadowy monk-like forms, many boasting rotund Friar Tuck tums. A backdrop provides cinematic footage to Andy Votel’s DJ warm up set, before the band take to the stage, the meat of this sonic sermon.

A couple of new tracks form the early part of the show, including ‘Enter Sylvia Plath’, before lead singer Stuart Murdoch starts to chat to the crowd, which he does – to great effect – throughout the gig. They’re a tight band, often switching instruments, keeping it varied, Murdoch on bongos, Stuart David switching between guitar and harmonica, Isobel Campbell on recorder, then cello. Such shapeshifting can prove disorienting, so that at one point it’s a synth keyboard that’s red and white; at another, Campbell’s top.

Murdoch discusses previous visits to Manchester of this “weird band”, including a set at Manchester Town Hall. He also mentions fact that they had removed all expletives from the set, leaving the band with little else. But the lyrics do seem apt, including the line “he goes into cathedrals and lies prostrate on the floor” from ‘Piazza, New York Catcher’ and “If you’re feeling sinister to off and see your minister” from the track of (almost) the same name, leaving him, of course ‘a hopeless unbeliever’.

Murdoch‘s is a thin but evocative voice; whispy and lovely; dreamy, ethereal; drifting elegantly around the room. The lead vocal is reinforced by others from the band, and backed up by three female backing singers, and a warm sound created by cello and many other strings.


Belle & Sebastian

Despite calls from the crowd for a more locally sacrilegious ‘I Am The Resurrection’, Belle & Sebastian move through their biggest songs, from the jaunty to the emotive: ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’ to ‘She’s Losing It’. At times they at least try to kick out the jams but – and it’s maybe because of the setting – they work best when the strokes of the bow on the cello curve their way around the cathedral, shadowy and haunting.

There are plenty of people are on stage, even when its just the band (there are more than two, should people be wondering about the name… it comes from a Cécile Aubry novel about a boy and his dog). And then Murdoch invites girls up from the floor and the stage is jammed. It’s a right old party, backed by celestial hand claps from the crowd. And then the party’s over. The band waves goodbye, returning for a one track encore formed of ‘Me and the Major’.

Belle & Sebastian have a special place in my heart. I spent the change of Millennium holed up in an old cottage on the east coast of Scotland, in something approaching a scene from Cold Feet. As much as New Year’s Eve was spent raving to techno and swinging from the chandeliers, New Year’s Day was spent with blankets and hangovers and Belle and Sebastian. For me then, they will perhaps always remain a band to be experienced via their recorded music, rather than one that becomes a truly different proposition live.

Like the singer’s voice, there is something rather whispy about the evening. I wanted an epiphany. I got a decent night out.

Belle & Sebastian Official | Facebook | Twitter | Youtube

Simon is a writer, broadcaster and countercultural investigator. Over the last 15 years he has written for everyone from The Guardian to Loaded magazine, presented television for Rapture TV and hosted radio programs for the likes of Galaxy. He has also found time to earn a Masters Degree in Novel Writing and write three books (a collection of journalism, a guidebook to Ibiza and one on financial planning for young people – the most varied publishing career it’s possible to have) and establish and run a PR company, Pad Communications, looking after a range of leisure and lifestyle clients.He currently splits his time between researching his PhD at Leeds University, looking into various countercultural movements; consulting freelance for PR clients; writing for the likes of Marie Claire in Australia, The Big Issue and the Manchester Evening News, where he reviews concerts, theatre and is their Pub & Bar Editor. He is also broadcaster, appearing regularly on Tony Livesey’s late night 5Live show for the BBC, and also for BBC Radio Manchester Gourmet Night food and drink show.Simon’s main focus has been music and travel. His career has included editing Ministry of Sound’s magazine in Ibiza for two summers and also writing two long-running columns for DJmagazine – ”Around The World in 80 Clubs” (which took him everywhere from Beijing to Brazil, Moscow to Marrakech) and “Dispatches From The Wrong Side”. A collection of the latter was published in the UK and US as the book Discombobulated, including tales as varied as gatecrashing Kylie Minogue’s birthday party, getting deported from Russia, having a gun held to his head by celebrity gangster Dave Courtney and going raving in Ibiza with Judith Chalmers. He has recently written for the likes of Red magazine, Hotline, Clash, Tilllate, Shortlist and the Manchester Evening News. Pad Communications has recently consulted for clients as varied as Manchester nightclubs and New Zealand toy companies.On a personal note, Simon is a Londoner who left the capital at the age of 18 and never looked back. He sees himself as a citizen of the global dancefloor having lived in Sydney, Los Angeles, Ibiza and Amsterdam. However his life is now rather more sedentary. After all his adventures he bumped into and subsequently married his highschool sweetheart from their North London Grammar. They now live in Stockport with their four children and four chickens, trying to live the good life. Simon recently turned 40 and is steadfastly refusing to have a midlife crisis – as in, growing a ponytail and buying a shiny red sports car.OK, maybe he’ll buy the sports car…