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Belle and Sebastian,
Olympia Theatre,
April 28th 1999

"Belle and Sebastian on the radio / And we're really sorry / For all the trouble we've caused / And all the trouble we'll cause..."

It's the coda from Belle and Sebastian's "3...6...9 Seconds of Light" EP, none of which is aired tonight, sadly. So apart from lowering the Brit Awards star count of exportable glamour and instigating a fan convention called 200 Troubled Teenagers that sounds worryingly Manic-like, what trouble have Belle and Sebastian caused, exactly?

Well, security guards did confiscate the film of snap-happy fans on their way out from the Bowlie Weekender, a holiday camp indie festival that Belle and Sebastian organised and headlined. It was a censorship born of shyness and it's on display again tonight at the Olympia. When all eight members take their places on stage, a distant voice floats out to the audience, murmuring "that got your attention".

This is lead singer and lead recluse Stuart Murdoch, sitting at the keyboards at the back of stage and blocked by other band members as he strains into 'Slow Graffiti', then the piano-led 'Seeing Other People'. Thankfully, he picks up his guitar and moves centre-stage for 'The State That I Am In'.

Musical chairs continue for the rest of the night by most of the octet, with cellist and 'Gentle Waves' frontwoman Isobel Campbell in particular giving new meaning to the word multi-instrumentalist, deviating from home base into keyboards, guitar, percussion and singing. Guitarist Stevie Jackson and Looper's Stuart David also sing, but, as on record, it is Stuart Murdoch that provides Belle and Sebastian's most beautiful moments.

And there are many beautiful moments, as you would expect from slightly precious people with both natural poignancy and music degrees. 'If You're Feeling Sinister' is one, especially when the music falls away, leaving only the lyric. Another is the upbeat 'The Boy With The Arab Strap'.

In fact, Belle and Sebastian don't play anything off third album "The Boy With The Arab Strap" until well past the halfway stage in the concert. This tactic leaves fans who rely on award ceremonies to decide their record collection a little impatient. "Which one's Belle? Which one's Sebastian?" they snigger, unaware that it's a joke as old as the band itself.

A more amusing crowd contribution consists of a request for 'Anarchy in the UK'. But this is just a modern rock concert: mild-tempered and elegant.

by Laura Slattery