Belle & Sebastian play the Union Chapel, London N1 (0171-226 1686) 31 Jul; Zodiac Club, Oxford (01865 726336) 2 Aug; Colchester Arts Centre (01206 577301) 3 Aug

If you hear Belle & Sebastian vocalist Stuart Murdoch sing, and sense a certain spiritual charm in his tones, there's a reason for it - 28-year- old Stuart is a choirboy. He and B&S drummer Richard Colburn live in an upstairs flat of a Glasgow church at which they are caretakers. But off duty, they are also part of a self-confident Scottish pop scene that has given birth to the diverse talents of Mogwai, Urusei Yatsure and Arab Strap.

At a recent festival where Belle & Sebastian jangled their stuff, there were plenty of bands who are obscure south of the border, but the 1,000- capacity venue was so packed people were turned away.

Belle & Sebastian, a six-piece outfit that includes a violinist, a keyboard and glockenspiel player and a cellist, carry a gentle dignity in their pop songs. The lyrics are are often wry even if the vocals are beautifully tender, and one suspects their authors are all given to introspection. "Everyone's a bit elusive, likes to keep a bit to themselves," reveals bassist Stuart David. "That's what most of us have in common." Some say they sound like Nick Drake, but most would slot them into the DIY, fanzine underground, where lo-fi melodies rule.

Except that B&S have graduated from the early lo-fi days when the band was just Stuart with guitar, singing to the walls of his bedroom. "Our sound has changed completely from the first demo, it's much better recorded," reflects Stuart David. "The songs are really different as well. They are probably less acoustic and lightweight. The protagonists in the songs more often than not used to be female adolescents, but in the new ones, they are male." Well, sometimes. The title track of the second of B&S's three summer EPs is "Lazy Line Painter Jane" and the third track is "Photo Jenny". As for their live abilities, Stuart promises that they are a shambles, but ticket demand is high in London, since it will be their first date since a support slot for The Tindersticks last year. And it will give the band the chance to air all the songs from the new EPs. Stuart is quite proud of their recent progression. "We don't want to do the same things as in the past. We want to move on, and hopefully keep our freshness that way."

EYE ON THE NEW Just as you started packing away your camping gear, having survived Phoenix, it's time to get into the rock-and-roll muddy-weekend vibe again, this time at Guildford 97. Crowd pullers on the first day are likely to be The Levellers, Dreadzone, Banco de Gaia and poet Murray Lachlan Young.

Stoke Park, Guildford, Surrey (information 01483 454159; credit card bookings 01483 418 7998) 1-3 Aug

Comments