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Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Gigs - Belle and Sebastian - Manchester Apollo

Star rating – 9/10

At eight members in total, the stalwart Glaswegians Belle and Sebastian are enough to fill any stage on their own, but the crowd at the Apollo were treated not only to the band themselves, but to wonderful backing from the near 30 piece orchestra in the form of the London Contemporary Orchestra for their latest visit to the city.

Cards on the table – I hadn’t seen them live since around 1997 in Manchester Town Hall, which was an enjoyable but fairly restrained gig. So with eight albums under their belt, I wasn’t expecting fireworks, just a pleasant night of happy memories plus a few good new tunes. How wrong can you be? The soaring sound achieved by the ensemble was truly electric (with a few non electric instruments thrown in for good measure of course). And how Stuart Murdoch has grown in stature as a front man since then. He positively thrilled the crowd and projected an ease with both himself and the audience which was unexpected and very welcome. He handed out medals to selected audience dancers, and wandered into and over the seats of the audience playfully.

I know it is not trendy to like B&S – they are felt to be too whimsical to be taken seriously by many. But take the trouble to delve a little deeper, and there is a treasure trove to be appreciated there. From old favourites like ‘The Boy with the Arab Strap’; ‘Sleep the Clock Around’; and ‘Fox in the Snow’ (aptly dedicated to their friends braving the worst of the Scottish weather); to new tunes from their latest album ‘Write About Love’, they really never missed a beat.

Murdoch raised the seated crowd to their feet; got selected fans up on stage dancing (and when the Apollo bouncers seemed unsure of the mini stage rush , he reassured them with ‘It’s a Belle and Sebastian gig - nobody minds’)…and to be sure no-one did.

The songs, many of which Murdoch terms ‘pathetic defiance’, are about the anti fashionistas of the world; the ones that are not picked, not chosen; but pick themselves up and carry on regardless. The lyrics are wonderful, the melodies are soulful, and the tunes are stomping. The audience was a refreshing mix of die hard fans and new converts – and all were treated to a great mix of songs; to great fun, and to a great night.

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