Monday, August 13, 2007

They Call Us Winsome, But We're Just Hopeless

So apparently I'm supposed to write Eight Things People Didn't Know About Me. That'd be simple, as no one really knows anything about me! Instead, it's turned more into something like Eight Things People Didn't Know About Me & Belle & Sebastian. With the Sinister picnic coming up and everything. The title of the post is something Stuart says in the version of "I Could Be Dreaming" from their first Radcliffe session. It's very different from the Tigermilk version, you know. I'm listening to that session now, and the funniest thing I've heard for ages is when Stuart in "Just a Modern Rock Song", instead of singing "it's beyond me what a girl can see - I'm only lucid when I'm writing songs" (which used to be something of a mantra for me), sings "it's beyond me what a girl can see - I'm only lucid when I'm riding horses"!

1. The first time I heard Belle & Sebastian must have been in 2002. It's quite late, I know, but no one in my class had even heard of them so I can't complain. I remember it was a live recording from Stockholm broadcast on the radio. Introducing it, the presenter said something like "B&S love their fans and their fans love them", as if it was some sort of cult. I knew immediately that this was something I wanted to be part of and soon as "Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie" started and the audience screamed with joy I knew this was the music I'd been searching for all those years. I'd heard of indiepop of course, but hadn't really got it until then. I loved how the audience talked to them - in-between two songs someone says "don't forget your letter" to Stuart and I thought she sounded like a really beautiful girl (how could one hear something like that?). I didn't know who were in the band, so of course I pictured the singer as 'Sebastian' - a humble poet in short dark hair - and Isobel as 'Belle' - a shy librarian with long black hair. Sitting (that was important) at the front of the stage, playing guitar and piano.

2. That summer I worked at the library in Limhamn and for many years after that listening to Belle & Sebastian would put me in a very specific mood - no that's not sufficient - a completely different world. That world revolved around summer breezes, libraries, the other girl who worked there for the summer, the semi-suburban areas I cycled through on my way to work each morning and afternoon. All the time listening to that live recording on my minidisc player, singing along in a hushed voice. I can still feel that sometimes when I listen to them, or when I cycle through those streets again (even though they never lead to anywhere I'm going), or when I hear Stevie's guitar on "My Wandering Days Are Over". Sometimes it makes me cry.

3. Next summer I bought my first guitar and the first song I learned to play was "Judy and the Dream of Horses" - pretty simple, just A, D and E. The 'sheet music' section of Sinister is still one of the most useful resources on the internet. The first I did was to re-write "I Fought In a War". From the start I tried to sing like Stuart, but for some reason it didn't work. It was strange because I could sing "We Rule the School" and "Fox In the Snow" exactly like him. There was a girl I used to be obsessed with and of course never dared to speak to. So I just called her Belle. She ended up in most of the songs. I really did have a Sebastian complex, didn't I? My Bowlie name is Sebastian even. A few years later we met. And after that we became friends.

4. I've been on the Sinister mailing list for as long - five years is it now? I used to post quite a lot the first years - I was the Swedish Chris. There weren't any other Sinistereens in my city, unless they were lurkers. There was Astrid in Stockholm of course, who was my biggest list crush. But I'm sure it would've been Jenowl if I'd been around that early. I wonder if she got her dentist degree? It was me who wrote that Sebastian story that someone actually thought was written by Stuart, which so incredibly flattering. That story on the back of Tigermilk is still my favourite piece of writing. Mine's probably still out there somewhere, in the archives. The first Sinistereen I met was Nico when I went to Scotland with my family two years ago. He was very nice to me and showed me around Edinburgh. My parents were very suspicious of the whole thing though! Lawrence is coming to Malmö in October so I can return the favour then.

5. Belle & Sebastian was one of the big reasons I moved to Glasgow, although I usually don't admit it. And Sinister of course. Though everyone is on Bowlie these days. Most of the Glasgow listees still live there. It was thanks to Sinister I met Stacey, Sarah and Tara. I'd met Stuart for the first time the year before, on my family holiday. Stuart is probably the only male person I can see myself kissing. I've only hugged him so far, mind you. I was going to see them at The Arches, so I sneaked in during soundcheck. Stuart came out afterwards to get something from his bag. I stood there for minutes that seemed like hours before I went up to him. It was one of the hardest things I've done! He's such a lovely person. These days he'd recognise me, but I don't know if that's cool or just plain embarrasing. I never understood why they called him Struan on Sinister, so I just joined in. I practised my Scottish dialect in secret, listening to "A Space Boy Dream". It just felt awkward, but once I got there I picked it up quite fast.

6. I've never been to a Sinister picnic, so I might get a shock from all the red pants when I get to Primrose Hill in two weeks. Because I'm definitely going now. I'm really looking forward to meeting everyone. I didn't know Pam Berry was on the list! And I just figured out who Pinefox is. I hope some Glaswegians make the effort too! It's the tenth birthday we're celebrating after all. And hopefully there will be Sinister Babies as well. Just the thought that there are human beings that exist solely as a result of Sinister is nothing short of staggering.

7. The best thing that happened at Indietracks was probably after the disco on the last day, when we were in the train car just outside the main hall. Pocketbooks were there and a spontaneous Belle & Sebastian singalong started. Then an old lady who worked there kindly told us to leave because she couldn't go home until everything was locked up. So out we went, continuing in the dark coolness of the summer night. Ian Watson said "let's do 'Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying' - it would be the perfect end to this". Andy was passed the guitar and suddenly there were about twenty people standing in a circle singing "it may as well be me" etc. It was wonderful to feel such a strong connection to people you've just met, and some people you didn't know at all.

8. My favourite Belle & Sebastian song is still "Beautiful" I think... Every time the Telecaster comes in at the second chorus the world starts spinning around me. I've still not heard it live although I've requested it twice and both times Stuart seemed to think it was a good idea.

I'm not going to tag anyone else to do this, but of course it would be interesting to see what Ally, Nancy, Rebecka and Brogues has to contribute. Not about Belle & Sebastian, but in general. Alistair and Dimitra have done it already.


martijn said...

Nice post, Chris. It made me realise that I had never thanked you for your radio shows and blog posts on your previous blog. Not after you called its quits, that is. Well, thank you. I hope they'll be available for a long time; they must be a great introduction for 16-year olds who get into indiepop.

Also, it's good to know you're coming to the Sinister picnic too! I will attend the thing as well. Never been on Sinister, but I married a Sinisterienne, so I think I'm allowed to come anway. :) Would be nice to say hi!

Take care!

Alistair Fitchett said...

i hope you have a great time at the picnic. i am keeping my distance and the mystery of the duke of harringay caged. at least that's what i'm telling myself.

sinister was SUCH an important part of my life for a while too... i was even in on the 'beta' list before it went live. Pam was part of that too. there were about five of us as i recall. AND i won a tape of B&S 'rarities' and demos for posting the most in the first month of the list. I am proud to say that i did not leak any of those onto the interweb, though of course the recordings all got out there eventually.

plaease don't tell me how old you were when i was doing all that...

i should go and play those old sessions and live shows that i have on CD somewhere...

maybe after i've finished listening to The Who anyway.

oh, and didn't the ferries to Denmark go from Limhamn before they built the bridge?