Belle and Sebastian – Committed to the Art, Committed to the Audience, as reviewed by Rishi Deva
Image credit: Concepción Studios
My relationship with Belle and Sebastian goes back to a rainy Edinburgh spring day in 1996. Out doing some record shopping, I followed a cobblestone backstreet to a bustling little shop whose display of local bands caught my eye. I was drawn to a monochrome picture of a young woman nursing a stuffed tiger in a bathtub. This was the cover for Tigermilk, their debut album.
When I got back to my brother’s house and popped the CD into my CD Walkman, it was love at first listen. The intellectual and poetic banter, bright jangly Scottish guitar sound, soft swaying rhythms and dreamy orchestration drew me in. Six months later, Belle and Sebastian released a new record called “If You’re Feeling Sinister”, by which time I had developed a relationship with their music and was eagerly anticipating the next instalment.
Two decades into this lifelong relationship, I was at the Sony Performing Arts Centre in Toronto, Canada for Belle and Sebastian’s return to North America.
Their first song started off a bit sluggish, with some technical difficulties. But they quickly got back on their game with the first few bars of their second song “I’m a Cuckoo”. The enthusiastic, multi-generational audience jumped to its feet and surged up to the stage. Security, unprepared for a tidal wave of polite Canadian hipsters, were unable to stop them from clustering near the stage.
Lead singer Stuart Murdoch sealed the connection with the third song, “Seeing Other People”. He talked about how his perspective on relationships had changed over his 20-year career of songwriting. Yet he was still fond of singing relationship songs from the back catalog and remembering where he used to be. I saw how many of the younger fans in the crowd related to the songs, so it was a great choice. The rest of the concert was a testament to the audience’s love of the band and Stuart Murdoch’s love for the audience.
At one point, Stuart invited the audience to come on stage with him. To the dismay of security, about a hundred people (myself included) came on stage and danced their way through “The Boy with the Arab Strap”. As everyone on stage took a seat on the floor around the band, Stuart admitted to us all that he had no idea what an Arab strap was when he wrote the song.
U2, Bruce Springsteen, Garth Brooks and others play well to audiences in stadiums by singling someone out in the front row to come on stage. U2’s Bono famously descended from the stage at Live Aid to connect with people from the crowd. But it’s far more rare to share the stage with as many audience members as can fit up there. The only other time I have seen it happen was the Smiths concert I attended in 1985 when Morrissey, the frontman for The Smiths told the audience, “Don’t be afraid of the security, they are all a bunch of marshmallows really”. When the audience shares the stage, it breaks down the fourth wall that divides fans from musicians and beautifully demonstrates how interconnected the band and audience truly are.
The band then went on to sing “I Didn’t See it Coming”. Its rolling drums and Sarah Martin’s sweet-voiced chorus “Make me dance, I want to surrender, Your familiar arms, I remember” melted away everything but joy, love and gratitude between the audience and the band.
Huge commercial success along the lines of their compatriots Simple Minds or the Proclaimers has not really happened for Belle and Sebastian. But they are one of my favourite bands because their commitment to the art, and to the audience, is heartfelt and unrelenting.
Belle and Sebastian’s new 2017 tour poster shows the band being supported on the nose of a huge whale. As I work to realize the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary (MAPS), I have learned how whales support all life. As such, protecting them protects entire ecosystems and our planet as a whole. Feeling the heartfelt connection with the band, I took the opportunity to give Stuart information about MAPS. In fact, this is my open invitation to all bands, Belle and Sebastian included, to join the #signMAPS coalition and let their voices help to save the whales (the world’s most massive singers) and make this Earth a healthier place for everyone. With heroes like Dr. Jane Goodall, Harvey Goldsmith, Sylvia Earle and Louie Psihoyos supporting MAPS, the momentum is growing.
Tweet your favorite band and ask them to be a part of the movement for MAPS!
Rishi Deva is the CEO of Kupid’s Play Records. With two decades of experience in the music industry, Rishi has been nominated for numerous marketing awards and earned a Gold Record in the music industry for management.