Belle and Sebastian

  • Biography:

    Scotland's Belle and Sebastian were one of indie rock's most celebrated groups during the 1990s and 2000s. Critics applauded the band's soft, unobtrusive folk rock, while fans connected with the group's lyrics, which perfectly capture a misfit's cynicism, confusion, and pain. Notorious for their media-shyness —they often use snapshots of friends for press photos, while reluctant frontman Stuart Murdoch refused to conduct interviews until 2000 —Belle and Sebastian have nevertheless achieved a surprising amount of commercial success, particularly in the U.K.

    Murdoch and bassist Stuart David started playing together in January 1996, recruiting the band's remaining members —including Mick Cooke, who switched from part-time to full-time status in 1998 —soon thereafter. Naming the group after a novel by Madame Cécile Aubry (and its resultant French children's television series) about a boy and his dog, the octet recorded a few demos that were chosen for release by the local Stow College music business course, which had a policy of producing one record every year for the college label Electric Honey Records. The label released 1,000 vinyl copies of an album's worth of recordings entitled Tigermilk. The pressings sold out so quickly and became such a commodity that collectors paid up to £400 for a copy. (It was eventually rereleased on CD in 1999.)

    After signing to U.K. label Jeepster that same year, Belle and Sebastian released If You're Feeling Sinister. That same year the octet released a series of EPs: Dog on Wheels (#59 U.K.), Lazy Line Painter Jane (#41 U.K.), and 3..6..9..Seconds of Light (#32 U.K.), all three of which were repackaged as the Lazy Line Painter Jane Box Set in 2000. The band's next album and first for U.S. label Matador, The Boy With the Arab Strap (#12 U.K.), was followed by the band's first full-scale tour of the States. Two years passed before the Glaswegians released a new album of original material, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, which entered the U.S. pop charts at #80 and at #10 in the U.K. In the meantime, the band won a 1999 BRIT Award for Best Newcomer. Cellist Isobel Campbell also released two albums of solo material under the name Gentle Waves, while Stuart David recorded two albums as Looper with his wife, Karn, and brother Ronnie Black. In 2000 David left Belle and Sebastian to focus full-time on Looper.

    After entertaining several other independent projects, the members of Belle and Sebastian started working with producer Mike Hurst (their first) and compiled a collection of songs for the movie Storytelling. After signing with Rough Trade in 2002, the evolving assemble started to enjoy a bit more commercial notoriety with the success of their singles "I'm a Cuckoo" and "Step Into My Office, Baby" from 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress. After the release of a collection of singles and EP's, Push Barman To Open Old Wounds, the members Belle and Sebastian settled in a Los Angeles studio to begin recording The Life Pursuit (2006), which left behind the characteristic delicacy of their string-arrangements. After ten years of maintaining a subtle and endearing presence, Belle and Sebastian played along with the Los Angeles Philharmonic to sold-out audience of 18,000 at the Hollywood Bowl in the summer of 2006.

    Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).

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