Despite owning every one of Belle and Sebastian's first seven albums, I never actually got to see their headlining set at Latitude five years ago. It was indeed a tough call, but fresh young indie darlings The XX were then all the rage, were on stage at the same time and, let's face it, that's the way it goes sometimes at festivals, hard decisions have to be made. Perhaps if I had known that it would be another five long years before they set foot anywhere near Norwich again, I might have reconsidered. Or perhaps I viewed them as something of a spent force, having lost both Stuart David and Isobel Campbell from what I fondly refer to as the 'classic' line-up.
So, here we are in 2015, and we have a gorgeous new album, 'Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance'. Belle and Sebastian are finally touring again. Mick Cooke has gone, but the diehard six remain, and Norwich Open has sold out for an eagerly awaited Friday night show.
Support act, 'Lower Dens', from Baltimore are somewhat of a disappointment for an American band with three albums under their belt. Little or no audience interaction does not help, but the songs themselves seem thin and uninspiring, and androgynous lead singer Jana Hunter seems totally disinterested in her Norwich surroundings.
Jana Hunter of 'Lower Dens'
Stuart Murdoch and co. soon have Lower Dens forgotten as they take the stage with a huge array of musicians, including a five piece string section. At one time I count a total of thirteen personnel on stage. Starting with 'Nobody's Empire', the opening track off the new album, we are given three more songs off 'Girls in Peacetime' but also taken on a journey right the way back to 'Dog on Wheels' from the very first EP, and 'Electronic Renaissance' from 'Tigermilk'.
Murdoch is on good form, amiable and comfortable in front of his Norwich audience. He notices the person in a frog outfit, goading them to dance on some shoulders before launching into 'Funny Little Frog'. Later, after five audience members have been invited up on stage to perform handclaps, the frogman is also up there as we witness a generous display of solidarity and even more fans allowed up to dance. Selfies and autographed arms and chests are duly provided before the stage is cleared for the final songs and encore.
This is how great bands treat their fans. It is their show and their special night. Belle and Sebastian go a long way to win the hearts and minds of their fans, even those like me who may not have deserved such special treatment.
A beautifully put together show, with tight performances from everyone concerned, and a light show and projection system that augmented but never dominated the music. The interval documentary about Glasgow in the seventies was an inspired touch. Bravo.