Stuart Murdoch (East Renfrewshire, 53) and Sarah Martin (Lancashire, 48) are colleagues and residents of Glasgow. Along with five other members, they form the veteran Scottish indie pop band Belle and Sebastian. Murdoch, singer and lyricist, and Martin, violinist and also composer, are in Madrid and they are happy. In general, because they publish their tenth album, A Bit of Previous(Matador Records), and because they are touring again: in Spain they will play at Vida Festival, in Barcelona, on July 1 and at Madrid’s Noches del Botánico on July 2. In addition, they will do so in a dozen other countries.
But in particular they are happy because the sun has given them and because the night before they found, by chance, a very good taqueria near where they are staying; everything you would expect from Spain. They answer sitting on a half-made bed in a hotel room on Gran Vía. They ask with characteristic British politeness to close the window so that no noise gets into the recording. In person they are just as adorable, and sometimes sly, as in their songs.
”The only thing I did the last time I came to Madrid was go to a Buddhist center. I didn’t understand anything because it was in Spanish, but it helped me to relax”, explains Murdoch. “My Buddhist teacher thinks that pop songs are something ridiculous, that the people who sing them are crazy people who live deluded. She may be right because people know what to do, but we continue to behave in a human way and make the same mistakes, ”she philosophizes. And, after a pause, she adds: “I think she doesn’t know what I do for a living.” She says that there are times, when she is meditating, that a melody comes to her head, she grabs the phone and records it, and she goes back to not thinking about anything.
Following Brexit in 2017, a second independence referendum is underway in Scotland: 55% of Scots chose to remain in the UK in 2014. “Brexit is done: if we don’t trust the French, that if we don’t like the Italians, that if we don’t like the Spanish… Then Russia invades Ukraine and suddenly they feel stupid for what they did. They’re stupid,” adds Murdoch. What does it mean to be Scottish in 2022? “Living in Scotland”, affirms Sarah Martin, based in Glasgow since her university days. Murdoch, 53, points out another different aspect: “Be aware of which rivals could touch Scotland in the World Cup in Qatar. I am not a nationalist but I feel pride when I see my country in the draw”. The singer changes the tone: “The Government of London does not represent Scotland, and I do not mean just the nation but people like us, or the many who live in England. What is this about people who have little money voting for people who have a lot of money?
And he adds: “We feel very close to Europe. Well, it’s important to focus on the good stuff. Be optimistic”, she tempers herself realizing that she was turning on. “We have a lot of work ahead of us to learn the new songs. On top of that I hurt my shoulder the other day. Now I can’t play the guitar”, he reveals. “Oystras, even for saying this we sold half the tickets that were going to be sold for our concerts,” he adds with a laugh.
Belle and Sebastian were born in the nineties at Stow College, in a course for students who wanted to dedicate themselves to music. This institute – today part of Glasgow Kelvin College – has its own label, Electric Honey, which released the band’s first LP (Tigermilk, 1996) and that each year adds a new artist to its catalogue. It functions like a conventional record label but is co-run by students taking a course on directing in the music industry.
In Glasgow it has the recognition that corresponds to a label that has been in business for 30 years and in which Snow Patrol and Biffy Clyro published in their beginnings. Perhaps because they started there, the Murdoch-led septet is part of the first generation of groups Scots who did not move to the capital of England to make a career. Something that until then seemed obligatory. “The Jesus and Mary Chain and Primal Scream moved to London in the eighties,” recalls Murdoch. His Mogwai contemporaries stayed, like Franz Ferdinand, already born in the two thousand. Their latest album, released on May 6, was recorded in Glasgow: a work, the first in seven years, that they themselves strive to distance from their mythical recordings (Murdoch warned on Twitter: “We can’t take you back to those days how you were feeling. Have a drink. Listen to a song, possibly number 5. Enough for today”).
But it also serves to feed those same fans, eager to hear any publication of this septet that makes you cry with a smile, that celebrates being delusional without meaning to behave like an idiot. That talks about things that cannot be obtained or not always or not for free or not without consequences. “The characters that appear in the lyrics of the first records are invented, the result of observing random people in coffee shops and imagining their lives,” explains Murdoch. “The ones from now are real people, friends, close people, even our followers. Talk To Me, Talk To Me it’s about a fan who contacted me, just like UnnecessaryDrama [dos cortes del nuevo disco]”, says this father of two young children, who has suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome since he was 20 years old.
“I became an old person all of a sudden. I could not do anything. Giving a concert was a miracle. The days before playing I have always had to tread carefully, behave like someone boring, ”she explains. His songs have appeared in series and in movies. In High Fidelity (2000) a fragment of one of his songs plays on Championship Vinyl, the record store where part of the story takes place. “Once the music is out, they can do what they want with it. It’s fun for kids to use,” says Murdoch, whose children won’t let him sing at home. “Especially the smallest. He hates music. The oldest only likes one song, believer, from Imagine Dragons,” he laughs, to which a surprised Martin asks if this is music to a nine-year-old’s brain. “No way! They’re an American rock band!” she replies.
“It’s a shame. When they were younger we always listened to disco music, hip hop, Michael Jackson in the car… Now they say no”, she affirms without losing sympathy. Belle and Sebastian’s career has been constant and regular, as defined by Martin, unlike Franz Ferdinand’s volcanic one. “We know each other, we are friends, we see them from time to time. We have never told him, but the career in the world of music is not a sprint but a marathon”, they affirm in unison. “The peak of the Glasgow music scene was reached when they broke it up. A lot of bands sprung up. You just had to go to any subway station on a Friday afternoon, everyone had a guitar. Either they were kids who stayed to rehearse or they were going to have the beers later, ”recalls Murdoch.
A Bit of Previous It has been specifically recorded in Finnieston, the neighborhood where they have lived for two decades. An area that has gone from nothing to not being one of those places where if you don’t visit it you are nobody; from selling tools to hang a ceramic plate on the wall to teaching neighbors how to make such a plate. “It was pretty dodgy before. You had to be very careful on the other side of the channel. Now a lot has changed. There are people living on boats. They’ve built dorms, parks… They’ve named it the coolest neighborhood in Britain,” recalls Martin. “Now there is a very good atmosphere. It’s full of restaurants, there’s a cool place to have tea, an art gallery, a really good burrito restaurant… They just need to build houses for people,” says Murdoch. “I don’t think people’s lives in Glasgow have gotten much better. But of course it is a city that is difficult to leave. It’s a place that somehow sucks you in,” adds Martin. And all this without talking about football.
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