On Friday morning, as Britain woke up to the shock that the exit polls were right and a Conservative majority was almost inevitable, I was of course listening to Belle and Sebastian. Earlier that week I’d finally managed to see B&S live, after having missed the opportunity to see them a decade earlier when my Politics teacher instead insisted that I attend a lecture on the EU, and I’d regretted it ever since. I was playing this, which was superbly doom-laden on the night, all soaring strings and portentious lyrics:
Belle and Sebastian have been my constant companions since fifteen, the first band I ever truly loved, and one of the few that I’ve never got tired of. Their wistful, literary melancholy expresses something about me better than I could ever have done myself. T.S. Eliot claimed that “true poetry communicates before it is understood”, and to me they epitomise that; I didn’t understand what I was listening to, not truly, and I still don’t feel like I’ve figured them out – even though I know all the lyrics to “Piazza, New York Catcher” off by heart.
It was that which I felt when I saw them on Monday, too. I had a list of around fifteen songs in my head that I knew I wanted to hear, and they played almost none of them. Instead, I got a set-list of songs that were, in my eyes, the ‘also-rans’ – tracks from The Life Pursuit or their recent album that I didn’t know all the words to and whose Sixties vibes confused me. I knew the B&S that I had grown up listening to as slow, wistful, heartfelt – the band of geeks who loved books and obscure record shops. What I saw on Monday was a band who were infectously confident, with a big, bold sound and an oddly rock-and-roll attitude. They pulled groupies up on stage for a synchronised finger-click on The Boy with the Arab Strap and they led a mass whistle-along to The Loneliness of the Middle-Distance Runner and a psychedelic freak out on Perfect Couples. It was, against all the odds… fun. Really, really fun.
I didn’t really expect to be surprised, but I’m profoundly glad that I was, because listening to B&S in the past week has helped me discover them in a whole new way; a band that I thought I knew, but in fact am still discovering, and who will continue to be my constant companions. Not everyone will agree, and I suspect that there are plenty who would be infuriated by what I’ve loved over the years about them, but who cares. Everyone has bands that they love, and I’m reassured that even when they did something that I thought would exasperate me on Monday night, that I still loved them nonetheless; that even ten years on, they are just as much a soundtrack to my twentysomething gloom over election results as they were for my teenage angst about my inability to get a girlfriend. Long may that continue.