Between 1975 and the late eighties, The Third Eye Centre was The place to find cutting-edge, sometimes controversial and always progressive art. It was the antithesis of every other theatre or venue in Glasgow. This wasn’t like The Kings, Pavilion or the Theatre Royal. No. You didn’t luxuriate in the somewhat faded Victorian grandeur. Instead, you sat on those unforgettably uncomfortable wooden benches. It was worth it though. Definitely. The Third Eye Centre’s productions were always that bit edgier. They were always willing to push things that little bit further. That’s why they’ll always have a place in the heart of a generation of Glaswegians, including Belle and Sebastian.

Belle and Sebastian’s recent compilation of B-Sides, rarities and non-album tracks is entitled The Third Eye Centre. This is fitting. Just like The Third Eye Centre before them, Belle and Sebastian do things their way. That’s no surprise. After all, Belle and Sebastian’s debut album was recorded as part of a college project. 

It was back in1996, at Stow College, in Glasgow that Belle and Sebastian were formed. The band was formed by two students, Stuart Murdoch and Stuart David, and was named after Cecile Aubry’s 1965 book Belle et Sebastien. Since then, many members have joined and left the group. One of the most influential was, Isobel Campbell, who joined in 1996 and left the group in 2002, singing vocals and playing cello. Other members include Chris Geddes and Sarah Martin.

Whilst at college, in 1996, Belle and Sebastian recorded some demo tracks with the college’s music professor Alan Rankin. Yes. That Alan Rankin, formerly the keyboardist and guitarist in The Associates alongside the late Billy Mackenzie. The demos came to the notice of the college’s business studies department, who each year, released a single on the college’s record label. Belle and Sebastian, by then, had recorded a number of songs, enough to fill an album. Having been so impressed by Belle and Sebastian’s music, that year, the label decided to release an album, called Tigermilk. 

Tigermilk, which was produced by Alan Rankin. It was recorded in just three days. Just one-thousand copies vinyl were pressed. Tigermilk was well received and the album sold out quickly. The original copies of Tigermilk are now prized possessions of Belle and Sebastian fans. Following the success of Tigermilk, Belle and Sebastian decided to make a career out of music.

Stuart Murdoch and Stuart David decided that Belle and Sebastian would become a full-time band. Soon, further members joined the band. Isobel Campbell joined on vocals and cello, Stevie Jackson on guitar and vocals, Richard Coburn on drums and Chris Geddes on keyboards.

After Tigermilk’s success, the group signed to Jeepster Records in August 1996, they released their sophomore album If You’re Feeling Sinister. Produced by Tony Doogan, it was released in November 1996. Many people believe that this is their finest album. American magazine Spin, liked the album so much, that they put it at number seventy-six in their top one-hundred albums released in the twenty year period between 1985-2005. Rolling Stone magazine put the album in its list of essential albums of the 1990s.

After the release of If You’re Feeling Sinister, the group released series of E.P.s during 1997. The E.P.s were Dog On Wheels, Lazy Line Painter Jane and 3, 6, 9 Seconds of Light. Dog On Wheels featured four songs that were recorded before the formation of Belle and Sebastian. It reached number fifty-nine in the UK charts. Lazy Line Painter reached number forty-one in the UK charts, and 3, 6, 9 Seconds of Light became the group’s first top forty single, reaching number thirty-two in the UK charts. That was the start of the rise and rise of Belle and Sebastian.

September 1998, saw Belle and Sebastian release their third album The Boy With The Arab Strap. It reached number twelve in the UK charts. Unlike previous Belle and Sebastian albums, Stuart Murdoch doesn’t feature on vocals. Instead, they’re shared amongst Isobel Campbell, Stevie Jackson and Stuart David. The album received mixed views from the music press. Long time supporters of Belle and Sebastian, Rolling Stone and The Village Voice praised The Boy With The Arab Strap, while others weren’t as impressed. However, since its release, many people, myself included, believe The Boy With The Arab Strap to be Belle and Sebastian’s finest hour. Despite the success of The Boy With The Arab Strap, Belle and Sebastian changed direction musically. 

Two years after the release of The Boy With The Arab Strap, Belle and Sebastian released Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Present. Released in June 2000, the album was produced by Tony Doogan. It’s best described as chamber pop. Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Present has a much more laid-back, mellow sound. The tempo is slower, while vocals are shared amongst band members. Then there’s the strings. They’re used more extensively. Sadly, this was the last album to feature founder member Stuart David. For their next album, Belle and Sebastian would try their hand at writing a film score.

Although Storytelling was both Belle and Sebastian’s fifth album, it was their first film score. Released in June 2002, only six minutes of the thirty-five minutes of music recorded by Belle and Sebastian made it into Todd Solondz’s movie. It sounds as if the experience was somewhat frustrating for the band. They had problems communicating with Todd Solondz. Worse was to come. Belle and Sebastian were about to lose one of their most important members… Isobel Campbel

Having released and toured Storytelling, Isobel Campbell left Belle and Sebastian. She decided to pursue a solo career. Many critics wondered what effect this would’ve on Belle and Sebastian? They came back, but briefly, were different band 

Much of the summer of 2003 saw Belle and Sebastian recording their sixth album. Losing Isobel Campbell wasn’t the only change in the life and times of Belle and Sebastian. No.They’d left Jeepster and signed to Rough Trade. Tony Doogan was replaced as producer. His replacement was Trevor Horn. His credentials seemed somewhat questionable.  

Previously, ex-Buggle Trevor Horn had he’d been an award winning producer and songwriter. Recently, he’d been working with Charlotte Church and Lee Ann Rimes. Considering Belle and Sebastian were one of the hottest indie bands, they seemed strange and awkward bedfellows. It seemed Trevor Horn had been brought in to polish of the band’s rough edges. Rough Trade, a supposed indie label, were polishing away part of the group’s charms. Many onlookers were horrified, afraid of the direction Trevor Horn would take Belle and Sebastian.

In some ways, these fears were justified. Gone was the folksie, melancholy, chamber pop of their roots. Dear Catastrophe Waitress was the polar opposite of previous albums. Replacing it, was the slick, poppy charms of the Trevor Horn produced Dear Catastrophe Waitress. On its released in October 2003, it was nominated for an Ivor Novello award. Critics gave Dear Catastrophe Waitress favorable reviews. On both sides of the Atlantic, Dear Catastrophe Waitress appealed to critics. Despite the positive reviews Dear Catastrophe Waitress received, thankfully, Belle and Sebastian and Trevor Horn never renewed their aquaintance when they released their next album, three years later.

Between the release of Dear Catastrophe Waitress and 2006s The Life Pursuit, Belle and Sebastian kept busy. In 2005, they released a twenty-five track compilation entitled Push Barman To Open Old Wounds. Featuring a series of E.P.s Belle and Sebastian had released, critics adored the album. Hailed as vintage Belle and Sebastian, they were crowned the best indie band. Very different from Dear Catastrophe Waitress, Push Barman To Open Old Wounds was the Belle and Sebastian their fans knew and loved. Push Barman To Open Old Wounds wasn’t Belle and Sebastian’s only release during 2005.

No. Belle and Sebastian released their first live album, If You’re Feeling Sinister: Live At The Barbican. Released in December 2005, this allowed Belle and Sebastian to revisit their 1996 album If You’re Feeling Sinister and rectify what the band believed to be the mistakes of the original album. That night in September 2005, Belle and Sebastian took the Barbican by storm, playing an encore lasting over an hour. This encore would prove to be somewhat prophetic.

When Belle and Sebastian released The Life Pursuit in February 2006, it proved to be their most successful album. The Life Pursuit was produced by Tony Hoffer in Los Angeles and Glasgow. Tony had previously, produced Air, Turin  Breaks and Beck. He was a much better fit than Trevor Horn. On its release, The Life Pursuit reached number eight in the UK and number sixty-five in the US Billboard 200. Funny Little Frog gave Belle and Sebastian the biggest hit single of their ten year career. Despite that, it would be four years until Belle and Sebastian released their next studio album.

Following the release of The Life Pursuit, Belle and Sebastian headed out on tour. They were now well versed in the album, tour, album, tour routine. To ensure their fans didn’t forget them, Belle and Sebastian released The BBC Sessions in November 2008. A double-album, the first disc featured many songs that featured Isobel Campbell. These songs had never been heard before. So for fans of Belle and Sebastian this was a real must have. As for the second disc, it features Belle and Sebastian live in Belfast,  where the group cover Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back In Town. While The BBC Sessions kept Belle and Sebastian’s fans occupied, the group recorded their most successful album to date.

October 2010, saw Belle and Sebastian released their eighth studio album. Entitled Belle and Sebastian Write About Love, it was the second Belle and Sebastian album produced by Tony Hoffer. Recorded in Los Angeles, rather than Glasgow this surprised some people. Tony’s decision to take Belle and Sebastian out their comfort zone worked. He was proving to be the perfect foil for Belle and Sebastian’s foibles. Featuring contributions from Norah Jones, Sarah Martin and Carey Mulligan, Belle and Sebastian and friends struck musical gold.

Reaching number eight in the UK, Belle and Sebastian Write About Love reached number fifteen in the US Billboard 200. Critically acclaimed and a hot worldwide, this was a long way from recording Tigermilk in three days as part of a college project. Belle and Sebastian were indie Queens and Kings. Despite this, the continued to things their way.

While many bands would’ve headed straight back into the studio and had a followup to Belle and Sebastian Write About Love release A.S.A.P, this isn’t the Belle and Sebastian way. No. Not only do Belle and Sebastian do things their way, but they care about their fans. So, whilst taking their time recording a followup to Belle and Sebastian Write About Love, they’ve released a nineteen track retrospective, The Third Eye Centre.

This nineteen track retrospective, The Third Eye Centre, features rarities, remixes, B-SIdes, non-album tracks and tracks from E.P.s. The music spans Belle and Sebastian’s career. There’s tracks from albums produced by Tony Doogan, Trevor Horn and Tony Hoffer. Bonus tracks sit side by side with remixes, while B-Sides and charity singles. In some ways, The Third Eye Centre allows the listener to hear another side to Belle and Sebastian.

Opening The Third Eye Centre, is The Avalanches Remix of I’m A Cuckoo, which was the sophomore single from 2004s Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Produced by Trevor Horn, I’m A Cuckoo was released as a four-track CD or as a 7” single. Featured on The Third Eye Centre is The Avalanches’ remix of I’m A Cuckoo. Other tracks that feature on the I’m A Cuckoo, are the country-tinged (I Believe In) Travellin’ Light, Stop Look and Listen and Passion Fruit, which previously, was part of Stop Look and Listen. As for Stop Look and Listen, it’s sounds as if it’s a fusion of Steely Dan and Simon and Garfunkel. Compelling, slick and poppy, it’s a glorious song that shows another side to Belle and Sebastian.

Nowadays, bonus tracks are almost expected. They’re seen as right, rather than as a bonus. Indeed, it seems that bands are expected to fill a compact disc’s eighty minutes. That’s not in their best interests. After all, go over fifteen tracks, and it hits the band in the pocket. As for bonus tracks, why not keep them for a box set? Often, bonus tracks are best described as outtakes. Not when it comes to Belle and Sebastian. Their bonus tracks are better than many bands singles. Three bonus tracks from Belle and Sebastian Write About Love feature on The Third Eye Centre. They’re Suicide Girl, which features dark, sombre lyrics. It heads in the direction of synth pop and power pop. The other tracks the jangly tale of heartbreak that is Last Trip and Blue Eyes Of A Millionaire.

Step Into My Office Baby was Belle and Sebastian’s first single for Rough Trade Records. Released in November 2003, it was a track from Dear Catastrophe Waitress. The single featured three tracks, but neither Love On The March nor Desperation Made A Fool Of Me feature on Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Love On The March is a classy reminder of sixties pop, while Desperation Made A Fool Of Me is heart-wrenching, with an almost Morrisey-esque quality. Their inclusion on The Third Eye Centre can only be welcomed, and are best described as Belle and Sebastian doing what they do best.

Your Secrets featured on the Books E.P. Released in 2004, this was another single from the Trevor Horn produced Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Despite its poppy sheen, Belle and Sebastien’s cerebral lyrics shine through. Pensive and wistful, frustration boils over during Stuart’s vocal as he almost begs his partner to “share her secrets.” Emotive, needy and moving, describes this track.

Miaoux Miaoux remixed Your Cover’s Blown and gave the song a delicious dance-floor friendly sound. Despite the unmistakable quality of the track, it was never released…until now. Electronica, synth pop and house are combine while we hear another side to Stuart. Moody, broody and sometimes, Bowie-esque he proves that he’s hidden depths we’ve never heard, until now.

I Took A Long Hard Look and Meat and Potatoes are two of the three tracks from the Funny Little Frog single. Funny Little Frog featured on the 2006 album The Life Pursuit. On its release in 2006, Funny Little Frog reached number thirteen in the UK. This was Belle and Sebastian’s most successful single. However, neither I Took A Long Hard Look nor Meat and Potatoes featured on 2006s The Life Pursuit. Given their quality, that seems strange. Thoughtful, but ethereal describes I Took A Long Hard Look and Meat, while Meat and Potatoes is blessed with a glorious vintage sound.

Heaven In The Afternoon and Long Black Scarf featured on Belle and Sebastian’s White Collar Boy Single. Both are non-album tracks. White Collar Boy had an electro sound, and didn’t quite capture the record buying public’s attention. Of the other two tracks, Heaven In The Afternoon stands out. It’s a fusion of bluesy horns, pop and acoustic guitars. Together they give the track a dreamy, lush and wistful sound. Pop perfection from Belle and Sebastian.

When Belle and Sebastian contributed a track to War Child’s A Day In The Life charity album, only the could’ve come up with a title like The Eighth Station Of The Cross Kebab House. Released in 2005, there’s everything from The Clash, ska, sixties French pop and indie pop during four minutes of social comment.

Come On Sister was the title of Belle and Sebastian’s 2011 E.P. This three track E.P. features Come On Sister, Blue Eyes Of A Millionaire and Richard X’s remix of I Didn’t See It. Featuring crystalline guitars, an ethereal, hauntingly beautiful vocal and pounding drums, indie pop, electro and house seamlessly become one.

The other two tracks on The Third Eye Centre are Mr. Richard and The Life Pursuit. They featured on The Blues Are Still Blue single. Neither track made it onto The Life Pursuit album. That’s somewhat strange, as The Life Pursuit shares its name with the album. In some ways, this isn’t surprising. After all, this is Glasgow perfect, pop contrarians, Belle and Sebastian. Only they, can produce a tracks as good as the genre-sprawling Mr. Richard and The Life Pursuit and not include them on an album? 

The Third Eye Centre features nineteen B-Sides, rarities, remixes, charity singles, non-album tracks and previously unreleased tracks. While some of these tracks are rarer than others, each track offers an insight into an enigmatic band Belle and Sebastian. Their raison d’etre seems to be pop perfection. Throughout the illustrious back-catalogue, they’ve achieved their aim. Indeed, many of the songs on The Third Eye Centre are a reminder of Belle and Sebastian’s search for pop perfection. After all, why are perfectly good track left off albums or left to languish on E.P.s or B-Sides? The reason for that is simple, and quintessentially Scottish. Belle and Sebastian are perfectionists, just like groups like The Bathers and The Blue Nile. That’s why their standards are so high and there’s such lengthy gaps between albums.

Another reason for three or four year gaps between albums, is Belle and Sebastian are contrarians and mavericks. The same can be said of The Bathers and The Blue Nile. That too is a very Scottish trait. We believe the world is against us, and revel in that belief. We’re forever the underdog, and wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m sure that’s the case with Belle and Sebastian. After all, it’s been three years since what was the most successful album of their career Belle and Sebastian Write About Love. With no sign of the followup to Belle and Sebastian Write About Love, The Third Eye Centre is a welcome reminder of what Belle and Sebastian are capable of.

Indeed, The Third Eye Centre is a tantalizing glimpse of Belle and Sebastian. It’s also a tantalizing glimpse of what we’re missing. If they could only produce albums on a more regular basis. Mind you, maybe they’d lose some of their unmistakable charm? Belle and Sebastian are capable of producing captivating, bewitching and beautiful music. Sometimes, they lay bare their soul, while articulating their hopes, fears, frustrations and dreams. Articulating this range of emotions, are Glasgow’s purveyors of pop perfection Belle and Sebastian. Their music despite being quintessentially Scottish, transcends geographical boundaries. For anyone whose lived, lost and lost love, Belle and Sebastian’s music will speak to them and for them. It brings to life their heartache and hurt, their sense of how life will never be quite the same again. 

Belle and Sebastian’s music, including the music on their recently released The Third Eye Centre compilation, is deeply soulful, beautiful and emotive. That’s why Belle and Sebastian are one of the best bands to come out of Scotland in the last thirty years. It’s also why every self respecting record collection must feature a Belle and Sebastian album.  A good place to start is Tigermilk and The Boy With The Arab Strap and then, to give you a taste of what happened next, The Third Eye Centre. These three albums, are sure to make a Belle and Sebastian fan out of you. Standout Tracks: Last Trip, Heaven In The Afternoon, Stop, Look and Listen and I Didn’t See It.


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