Having been singled out by Stuart Murdoch, the dozen or so fans dancing at the back of the stalls commence what must be the politest stage invasion in history. Even when invited up there by the singer of the band they’ve come to see, they huddle together, stage right, excited but respectful of Belle And Sebastian’s personal space. It’s a fitting way to behave around the Glaswegian octet, whose 1996 breakthrough album If You’re Feeling Sinister reminded many of us that, before Oasis and their chums hijacked it, indie music used to be made for and by people who wore anoraks and didn’t think it weird to go to libraries. After seven years laid low with M.E., this outpouring of one man’s own interior world singled out Stuart Murdoch as one of the best songwriters of his generation. All things considered, it’s no surprise that this was the one they chose when asked to perform one of their albums as part of this autumn’s London-wide Don’t Look Back season.
For those of us who remember the live performances which accompanied If You’re Feeling Sinister on its release, it’s odd to hear these songs delivered with a degree of professionalism. Even when “warming up” with a selection of lesser-known songs, they no longer play like a school orchestra conducted by the only Smiths fan in the staff room. Indeed, thanks to a new string section, the plight of Fox In The Snow’s metaphorical protagonist addresses the throng in new baroque colours. Seeing Other People rolls along like the opening credits to an unmade Bill Forsyth film. The singer’s demeanour lies in contrast to the former church janitor who once seemed to regard his audience with a mixture of suspicion and fear.
Tonight, he approvingly notes the quantity of bicycles chained outside The Barbican and relates a dream he had last week about ex-girlfriend and former multi-instrumentalist Isobel Campbell: “She said, ‘I’ll do the gig if you keep a taxi running outside.’” A moment of reverie ensues when he absently adds, “I do miss her.” Then his band launch into Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying – the song which, more than any, underscores the young Murdoch’s audacious facility with a lyric. You don’t pen lines like “Nobody writes them like they used to/So it may as well be me” without some notion that you have the songs to back it up. How touching also, that far from treating it like an albatross, the enormity of what they achieved with this album means as much to Belle And Sebastian as it does to their fans.