BELLE AND SEBASTIAN
In an uncharacteristic crowd-pleasing gesture, BELLE AND SEBASTIAN are re-releasing their near-legendary debut album. Guitarist Stevie Jackson still thinks it's their best.wOrds; Paul Whitelaw
ONE DAY, IN THE SPRING OF 1996, A GROUP CALLING THEMSELVES Belle and Sebastian ambled into a studio in Glasgow with the intention of recording an LP. Five days later they ambled out. their work completed. The LP they had made was an odd. beguiling thing — a cool. assured declaration of intent and a gentle assault on a misbegotten pop scene. They decided, for reasons best kept to themselves. to call it Tigermilk. They quite liked it. They hoped other people would too.
‘l‘m really pleased Tigermilk is coming out properly — it‘s my favourite. It has a vibe about it that our other two albums don’t have. I think it might surprise a few people.‘ This is Stevie Jackson. the guitarist. harmonica player. occasional singer and sometime songwriter from Belle and Sebastian. Voluble yet guarded. he prefers to talk about the group‘s music than the myth surrounding them. He speaks with a quiet, careful Glasgow brogue. doesn’t rate himself much as a songwriter. dislikes musical democracies and is as politely defiant and calmly confident as you’d expect a member of the newest best band in Britain to be.
Today he’s talking about the belated CD release of the aforementioned. legendary Tigermilk. an album whose reputation has ballooned to near-Biblical proportions over the last three years. In a story that’s fast becoming a staple of pop‘n'roll lore, the record was put out as part of an HNC course at Glasgow‘s Stow college. Only 1000 copies were made, all of them warped as a result of being pressed up on ultra-cheap vinyl.
As Jackson explains. somewhat wistfully: “The vinyl’s got a very short life span: one day they’ll all be extinct . . . My affection for Tigermilk has really grown. I like the other two LPs for other reasons. but this one is my favourite statement. I remember feeling disappointed when we finished it though. I thought certain things could‘ve been better. It was recorded and mixed very, very quickly. But certain faults you come to accept; they define it in a way after a period of time. I wouldn’t change any of it now.‘
Indeed. so great is Jackson‘s love for the record. he feels that their subsequent LPs — If You ’re Feeling Sinister ( 1996) and The Boy With The Arab Strap (I998) — have never truly measured up to its innocent charm.
10 THE LIST 8—22 Jul 1999
‘It's a strange thing; it’s something that‘s really hard to recapture. Maybe it‘s because your innocence is lost or something — you can’t go in and do that again. If You ‘re Feeling Sinister was definitely an attempt to repeat the process and I don’t think it’s anywhere near as good. I remember being really disappointed with that album, and none of the band really liked it. It’s kind of grown on me now. I think it made sense in that it established us. and I think it’s probably our strongest collection of songs out of the three albums,‘ he says. ‘But the production. the actual sound of it is nowhere near as good as Tigermilk.’
Though The Boy With The Arab Strap would later feature songs from Isobel Campbell, Stuart David (responsible for the Gentle Waves and Looper respectively) and Jackson himself, Tigermilk was written entirely by Stuart Murdoch and stands as a stellar showcase for the singer’s unmistakable vision. ‘The dynamic at that stage was that it was Stuart’s project. I was all for that. If] had my way we’d just do Stuart Murdoch’s songs. He’s better. I first met him at an open stage session that me and a few friends were organising. He went on and sang a version of ‘Le Pastie De La Bourgeoise’ and then stopped because he didn’t like the sound and walked off. At the time I remember being quite unimpressed with that. It’s quite funny because that‘s now something that I admire — “I’m not enjoying this so I won’t do it” — that‘s very Stuart.‘
Jackson has come to grudgingly accept that the group, currently recording their fourth LP, is no longer simply Murdoch’s baby. But does he think the magic of Tigermilk can never be recaptured? ‘I remember when we recorded it in five days. I thought: we could do this three times a year. Easy. Just get ten songs together and keep doing it — we could have a huge body of work in the space of a few years. But it doesn’t work like that. You can never make your first album again. It’s a very special record.’ '
Tigermilk is re-released by Jeepster on Mon 12 Jul. New material is scheduled for release in the autumn.