Stuart Murdoch: Records that changed my life

Jessica Lone Summers

Belle and Sebastian frontman, Stuart Murdoch, talks to us about the three records that were instrumental to his musical upbringing and the release of his new album, Days Of Bagnold Summer

Raising Hell by Run DMC

Run DMC is one I don’t listen to so much anymore but when I look back the period that I was most into music—around 1985-1990—that was when I became obsessed with music and current music and started to make it my life. I didn’t mean it to be that way because I’d just moved to Glasgow for university but this influence was creeping in and becoming very persuasive. 

Hip Hop was kind of a surprise, it started off mainly as a gimmick in the UK but then the two LPs at the time that exploded were Licenced to Ill by the Beastie Boys and Raising Hell by Run DMC. Licenced to Ill was something that every bratty boy my age could understand, it was a brattish loud party record, it’s not like modern hip hop music, it’s just some guy yelling over a beat. On the other side of the equation, Raising Hell was the flip side of the coin, it felt like they just came together. It was a more interesting record, it was a better sounding record and the rhymes were better. It had the phenomenal hit “Walk this way” which was an easy way to usher in the liners of Hip Hop because it was coloured with rock music as well—which was the language for so many people at the time. The nice thing about it was it was like a trojan horse, it opened the door for Hip Hop and it’s obviously never looked back. It ceased to be a gimmick and eventually became the biggest music genre that there is in terms of popular music. 

Belle and Sebastian

Soon after that I became a DJ so I took my Hip Hop and House dimensions to the dancefloor. I used to mix it up with a lot more traditional pop and rock stuff which was a brilliant section of time; hip hop was coming in for the UK at last and House music was just getting going—you could mix it all up with indie music and punk music, and people accepted the mix.  

I listened to a lot of Eric. B and Rakim in those years, I kind of preferred them, their music became more focused on beats and the production was a little bit more palatable and a little bit less bombastic and they were just a little bit cooler. And then of course, De La Soul came about which quickly became so many people’s favourite, they were the third part of the trilogy, more radical in terms of what they were saying and also in terms of the production and the sound of the music. They used samples where you couldn’t tell where the samples were abstract an obscure. The Run DMC stuff was recognisable, but they started it all.

 

Chill Out The KLF

By the end of the Eighties I’d run out of energy and actually got pretty sick and I couldn’t write songs, I wasn’t in a band I was just a lover of music. So, when Chill Out by the KLF came along, it was like a hangover cure that somebody would play the day after the rave. And I got caught up in the rave scene in the Eighties just when it was starting but I got quickly burned out with it, so by this stage I was recovering from a long illness, and instead of being just the day after the rave it was my whole day. It perfectly suited the mood of my whole existence at that point and was quite an amazing journey. It was a pivotal record, at the time the idea that you could put together an ambient journey for people to listen to with edits and lots of samples was wild, but this “mood” music is everywhere now. 

 

Walk Away Renee The Left Banke

This was a few years later, up until this point I was so into contemporary music that was happening around about me at the time, I wanted to feel like I was part of it. But I remember around 1991-92 my friend Andy, who was also a DJ at the time, made me this compilation tape of Sixties and Seventies stuff and, to me, a was a little bit of a benchmark compilation. That was in the days when you and your friends would communicate through compilation tapes, it’s what we did before you could share playlists, but of course it took a lot more effort. We dug up these old singles and we went to garage stores and went to record stores and discovered songs, if you had somebody who made a good compilation tape, it could be quite a radical thing, it could be the first time someone was introduced to certain music. 

Andy’s tape was full of garage 60s rock and Northern soul; full of things like the Beach Boys and Lee HazleWood and brilliant big bands that might be considered “corny” today. And one of the main groups that popped up from this record was a group from New York in the late Sixties called the Left Banke, and they were a little bit like The Zombies. In the Sixties you had the premier division bands; The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks were the big hitters. And then the championship bands were like The Zombies, British bands who played pop music but didn’t have so many hits. The Zombies had this beautiful style that was sort of baroque, they liked to use keyboard, pianos, harps, they even had a really beautiful hammered organ sound and there was a jazz influence too. But then, even less known than The Zombies were The Left Banke who took the baroque thing even further. 

So many of their early records were not only accompanied by string quartets but actually the string quartet would be right at the centre of their records. Obviously, The Beatles did pretty much everything first, the song “Eleanor Rigby” was string-heavy and that sparked something in bands like The Left Banke who took that further than rock and made it the centre of their sound. 

Andy had put three Left Banke tracks on this particular tape and those became my favourites. If you wanted an inspirational blueprint for early Belle & Sebastian records then The Left Banke is quite a good starting place.

 

New Album: Days of Bagnold Summer by Belle and Sebastian

It was Simon Bird’s first feature film and I think he was asking around going, “What if we get someone like Belle & Sebastian to do the soundtrack?” and his producer said,

“Well why don’t you just ask Belle & Sebastian?”

I’m really glad that he did because it was good timing and we were in between records, and at a point where were just starting to research and write one of our own records. So we got in there early and started writing around the comic novel the film is based on. When you like the material and can relate to it it’s like a catalyst, it gives you a shove and it’s quite a creative thing.

Days of Bagnold Summer 

 

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