On December 11th, Matador Records will release Belle and Sebastian’s What to Look for in Summer, a live double album gathering choice selections from the band’s 2019 world tour, including last summer’s epic “Boaty Weekender” cruise.
Today, the band release new videos with the audio of live renditions of their classic songs 'The Boy With The Arab Strap', in a special near-8 minute version featuring the band in their respective Glasgow locations and a clip for 'My Wandering Days Are Over'- Watch below:
All live records are a time capsule to some extent, but Belle and Sebastian’s What To Look For In Summer is perhaps a bit more evocative than originally planned.
“We'd been badgered by our fan base to put out recordings of the shows,” frontman Stuart Murdoch teases. So they began multi-tracking their 2019 tour, including all three sets from the “Boaty Weekender” festival, which took place on a cruise ship. Which of those things feels more like an out-of-reach fantasy right now, simply seeing some live music, a festival, or getting on a cruise ship?
Whatever your answer, What To Look For In Summer takes you there. With COVID-19 cancelling not only 2020 live shows but Belle and Sebastian’s plans to make a new record in Los Angeles, what started out as a between-albums, “for-the-heads” release wound up getting a bit more care and attention.
“It was something to focus on,” says Stevie Jackson. “That was very, very nice.”
“It was quite nice to be doing that when we couldn't even see each other,” echoes Sarah Martin.
When Murdoch polled Belle and Sebastian fans on Twitter, most said that their favourite live LPs were of a single concert. But hey, the fans don’t get to make the setlist either. The band decided picking the best recordings from different shows was the way to go, taking their inspiration from such live albums as Yes’s Yessongs and Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous.
“For a while, the working title of the record was Live and Meticulous,” Murdoch says. “The record company really wanted it to be called Live and Meticulous. But I don't like derivative things really.”
Neither a retrospective nor a back-door greatest-hits, What To Look For In Summer is the sound of a band that’s always moving forward, a picture of Belle and Sebastian in 2019 that gives equal weight to early days (“My Wandering Days Are Over,” “Seeing Other People”) and recent years (“Poor Boy,” We Were Beautiful”), with a track selection Murdoch says was almost random. “I’m a Cuckoo,” #2 on the band’s Setlist.FM stats didn’t even make the cut. But you get three songs from 2000’s Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (which the band played in full at the Boaty Weekender).
You also get a full picture of a group that’s always been built around Murdoch’s songs, but has three other writers in Jackson, Martin and guitarist Bobby Kildea (with all songwriting credits shared by the entire band). Martin, in particular, has become more and more prolific as a songwriter and lead vocalist over the past decade - her “I Didn’t See It Coming,” with its indelible refrain (“make me dance/I want to surrender”) is always a highlight, as is her show-stopping vocal on “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John,” originally sung by Norah Jones on 2010s Write About Love. “It's always a little bit of a moment when she steps up and goes into the song,” says Murdoch.
Once a more introspective live group (Stuart's staying in and he thinks it's a sin/That he has to leave the house at all,” they sang on 1998’s “This Is Not a Modern Rock Song”) Belle and Sebastian’s live shows for the past two decades have featured both an incredibly high level of musicality and a bit of a variety-show vibe. At one point on the album, Murdoch wonders why the band stopped its tradition of having someone bring gin cocktails to the stage mid-set.
“It just feels like you're having your friends around for dinner and you want everything to be right,” he says. “No matter how miserable your songs are ‑ maybe most of the fans have learned to love these songs in a bedroom or a kitchen - when you come out to a show, it's a different thing. You just want everybody to feel good.”
Never is that more true than towards the end of every show. “The Boy With The Arab Strap” is both Belle and Sebastian’s “Born To Run” - they’re never not gonna play it - and their “Dancing in the Dark” to the nth degree, as scores of fans end up on stage for a bit of participatory dancing. It's a once-in-a-lifetime highlight for the kids, an occasional nightmare for the band’s production manager, and the greatest bit of fun for everybody else. Sometimes Jackson has to fight his way through the dancers to get back to the mic for his harmony vocals, while Martin gets a close-up view of people surrounding Murdoch on stage, or sometimes even hijacking the song. “I kind of enjoy it when people overstep the line,” Martin admits. “But not with me!”
Murdoch never gets tired of playing it “I genuinely look forward to it,” he says. “If the concert’s going great, it just feels like a natural vibe. And if the concert’s going okay - maybe it's a Sunday night and everybody’s a little bit flat, or still in their seats - it’s definitely the time to send it home.”
He also never gets tired of playing, period. “Touring the band is something that I never thought we'd do. It’s turned into the thrill of a lifetime, really, in a manifest, physical way. It's just the nicest experience that I think I've had in my life.”
What To Look For In Summer Track List
1. The Song of The Clyde £ >
2. Dirty Dream Number Two *
3. Step Into My Office, Baby *
4. We Were Beautiful +
5. Seeing Other People %
6. If She Wants Me @
7. Beyond The Sunrise &
8. Wrapped Up In Books +
9. Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John $
10. Nice Day For A Sulk (digital only) #
11. I Can See Your Future *
12. Funny Little Frog ^
13. The Fox In The Snow+
14. If You’re Feeling Sinister*
15. My Wandering Days Are Over*
16. The Wrong Girl #
17. Stay Loose%
18. The Boy Done Wrong Again #
19. Poor Boy%
20. Dog On Wheels%
21. The Boy With The Arab Strap+
22. I Didn’t See It Coming+
23. Belle And Sebastian #
£ recorded Banchory Studios, Glasgow, August 6, 2020 (digital version)
> recorded by Kenneth McKellar (vinyl + CD versions)
* The Boaty Weekender, August 10, 2019
+ Royal Oak Theatre, Michigan, July 21, 2019
% Union Transfer, Philadelphia, PA, July 12, 2019
# House Of Blues, Boston, MA, July 13, 2019
^ M-Telus, Montreal, QC, July 15, 2019
@ Carnegie Hall - Pittsburgh, PA, July 18, 2019
& House Of Blues, Cleveland, OH, July 19, 2019
$ Auditoria Baluarte, Pamplona, Barcelona, November 4, 2019