I telephoned Stuart Murdoch one midweek afternoon back in the early 1990s. He was sick, so was in and agreed to sell me a 12” single ('Under My Hat' by Cud) that he had advertised in 'Record Collector' magazine.

The record arrived with a thank you note from Stuart, written on the back of a ‘Wasp Factory’ club night flyer.

All this would be completely unremarkable if it wasn’t for the fact that Stuart Murdoch would go on to become the front man of the first truly great fey post-Smiths indie band.

And now twenty odd years on from the above transaction I’m at a packed Manchester Cathedral to watch Stuart’s Belle and Sebastian perform a spellbinding gig, their first, in arguably Britain’s most musical city, for four years. Indeed during some between song banter, Stuart rattles off a list of some of Manchester’s finest groups from the Buzzcocks onwards, even name-checking the King Of The Slums. The fact he didn’t mention the Man From Del Monte among this elite is surely a mere oversight!

And so to the gig itself. Despite a new LP 'Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance' already in the can, the band choose to play pretty much a greatest hits set, with only two tracks from the forthcoming record included – soon to be classic opener 'Enter Edith Piaf', which seems to owe more than a passing debt to one of the Manchester bands that Stuart mentioned, New Order, and the more awkward 'Perfect Couples', which sees Stevie Jackson take the lead.

Thankfully for me, having inexplicably allowed Belle abd Sebastian to slip from my radar in the last few years, there are plenty of old favourites in the set such as 'Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie' with its lovely sixties feel and almost Simon & Garfunkel like vocal interplay between Murdoch and Jackson.

Elsewhere, songs like the stunning 'If You’re Feeling Sinister' lend themselves perfectly to the religious surroundings, but it is 'The Boy with the Arab Strap' that creates the biggest reaction as Stuart invites a selection of game girls to join the band on stage to prove that girls in peacetime really do want to dance. Despite the congestion on stage, which includes a small string section that have been bolstering the sound beautifully throughout, it works and is a wonderful spectacle. So much so, the majority remain there for the next song, 'Legal Man'.

Debut single 'Dog on Wheels' is also somewhere in the set and sounds as lovely as it did all those years ago when I bought it.

The set is finished with another older song 'Sleep the Clock Around', before a single encore of 'Me and the Major' from their 'If You’re Feeling Sinister' album brings proceedings to a close.

A very special gig indeed and, to my eternal discredit, the first time I have seen Belle and Sebastian live. I hope it isn’t the last.

In a bizarre twist to this story, I also see Cud play in Manchester later in the week, but they don’t play 'Under My Hat'...


Photos by Billy Seagrave
www.seagravesocialphotography.com

















Related Links:

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