Belle & Sebastian talked ‘Boy with the Arab Strap,’ Dennis Leary & more on Tim’s Twitter Listening Party
These Tim's Twitter Listening Parties have turned out to be a real treat, with bands talking about one of their classic records and answering fan questions while everyone listens to it at the same time. (The Tim in question is Tim Burgess of The Charlatans, who began this as a way to have something to do during coronavirus lockdown.) On Monday (4/27), Belle & Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch and keyboardist Chris Geddes were on hand for an annotated listen through of their classic third album, 1998's The Boy with the Arab Strap, full of fond remembrances, surprising facts, and a few rare pictures (like the one above).
Stuart noted that "this is first time i've listened to this lp for many years, and the one thing i felt about it was that it was the one when the band announced itself. as a result, i think it has a special flow that we perhaps struggled to replicate. you can't plan for these things though, you just seize the moment." Geddes noted, "My friend and future touring keyboard tech Mark Trayner had managed to find me a wurlitzer piano around this time that was in virtually new condition, and I played it on loads of songs on this record." More of what we learned, via specific songs, below:
On album opener "It Could've Been a Brilliant Career" Chris Geddes noted it's "A rare case of me being allowed to play guitar on a B&S track!"
On "Sleep the Clock Around": "It’s kind of funny that this is track two, when we play it these days it’s the last song in the set, and we get a bit wild. By our standards anyway," said Geddes, but Stuart replied "I would love to play it more like this version" and then joked "we were gonna put it in the set early but we were afraid some of the band would forget and walk off after it." Geddes also adds, "The arpeggio that goes all the way through this tune is from a Roland Jupiter 8 that I paid £1000 for. It seemed a massive amount at the time, but now you’re lucky to find one for ten times that."
On "Is it Wicked Not to Care?": Both Murdoch and Geddes noted the significance of this song to the album's packaging. "The cover photo for the album came from the day we shot the video for this tune," said Geddes while Stuart added "Chris and I went to see Isobel [Campbell]’s recent gig in Glasgow and she finished with this tune, and it sounded good."
On "Ease Your Feet into the Sea": "ease your feet was one that as recorded in the church hall, you can hear the ambience in the recording, and richard [Colburn, drummer] counting to himself on the break!" Stuart, who also said "my dad did a review of the album for us before it came out, and for ease your feet he said 'stevie on the soft shoe shuffle.' that was it !"
On "A Summer Wasting": "a summer wasting was an ancient song," noted Stuart, "the oldest we'd recorded up to that point, describing the summer of '87, in which i failed my higher ordinary physics for the 4th time, and gave in to music."
On "Seymour Stein," which is about a meeting with Sire Records president Seymour Stein who signed Madonna and The Smiths (and more): "Seymour Stein took us out for a curry at a place called the Creme de la Creme," recalls Stuart. "it was an old art deco cinema, since demolished for flats. Stevie was working and couldn’t join us." This was also the first song Stevie Jackson sang for the band. Says Stuart: "jackson makes his B&S debut, and what a debut. bloody loved this."
On "A Spaceboy Dream": "This is one where it felt like the Wurlitzer wrote the riff for me. I just let my fingers go for a walk," wrote Geddes. "Our manager Neil Robertson on bass. We lived together at the time and I think we made a demo in the flat. I was listening to a lot of hop hop at the time, so probably wanted to get some harder drums on one of our tunes than we normally had. I don’t think we’d really planned for this to go into the jam bit, it just happened spontaneously when we were recording it." Stuart added, "jesus, i had forgotten about the strings on space boy dream! and the whole middle bit.. and the fact it goes straight into...DIRTY DREAM! i still love playing this song more than pretty much any other."
Which brings us to "A Dirty Dream Number Two": "We were still all regulars at Goodfoot / Uptight at the old gym hall at Queen’s College at that point, I thought DD#2 was one of the best things we’d done then," noted Stuart, while Chris added, "This was us trying to sound like the music we were dancing to at @AndrewDivine’s club." Here's a juicy bit from Stuart: "people are always saying, oh this song is about isobel, or that song is about isobel... but that song is actually about isobel... and a dream she had about a comedian called denis leary." Stuart also recalls the song's video which featured Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker. "I ended up knowing half the cast of that video after hanging out in Athens with Lance Bangs."
On the album's title track: "Another tune I play the wurlitzer on," notes Geddes. "It was my favourite new toy. I was obsessed with Spooner Oldham at the time, and Ian McLagan from the (Small) Faces. I was definitely trying to grab some of their style." Says Stuart: "Even by this stage we were getting good at staying very very late in the studio. I’d gone home one night and got a call at 3am to come and join in the handclaps on this one. I don’t mind so much in retrospect" and "I remember [Chris] being uneasy about the whole marching flute band vibes here," finally saying "people ask us if we ever get sick of playing 'arab strap' personally i don't, it's fun, the crowd make it fun.." Chris agreed, saying "it's different every time" and then notes "I stole the one note piano part from the Stooges. I thought it was the kind of thing I’d get told to stop doing but they just mixed it so quietly that you can’t hear." Geddes says he also kinda regrets the visor he wore at Coachella when they played it. "That visor was another sartorial misstep from me, but I thought it was suitable for Palm."
Iif you missed this on Monday, you can check out the replay — which “plays” the tweets in real time so you can listen and follow along — over at Tim’s Twitter Listening Party. A few more related tweets and pics from the listening part are below.