How to Be Scottish with Belle & Sebastian Frontman Stuart Murdoch

June 7, 2015

GET A BIT ANGRY Sometimes the best stuff is produced when you’re kicking against something. Scotland in the past has had this great big chip on its shoulder. It’s been able to look up to England and blame it for stuff, which I think is kind of lame. But at the same time, when you’re anti-stuff, like anti-Thatcher, anti-Tory and anti-establishment, then it can be very fruitful. And movements like punk were completely justified.

REMOTENESS IS GOOD Pre-Internet and pre-mobile phones, it was very apparent in Glasgow that we were a country unto ourselves, especially the eighties and maybe the nineties. That was back in the day when it was a long way from London and people weren’t coming and going so much. There were a few [musical] roots put down in the eighties, but more sporadic elements. Back then, people still went off to London. But in the nineties, people started making records and staying in Scotland.

EXPECT GUYS WITH GUITARS We weren’t going anywhere. We weren’t kids when we formed our band. We were people and we wanted to stay where we lived. And then people started coming to us throughout the 2000s. You’d go down to Central Station on a Friday night and there’d be a hundred guys standing there with guitars. And you would think, Where did you guys come from? They’d come into town to play music.

EAT SOMETHING STODGY In some sense, all our food is drunk food. It’s all warm and greasy. Everything from a traditional Scottish breakfast to fish and chips to haggis. I do like a fish supper, I must admit. It is great fast food, because when you walk past the window, you can see it, sitting there, congealing on a grill.

AWKWARD ROMANCE IS OK The flirting thing is funny, because I think we’re pretty hopeless. I think the average Scottish male is lost in that department. I may be just speaking for myself and like-minded people, but we don’t have the dating system here. In America they have the dating system, where they date whoever. People are always dating people. And it means that they get to try out stuff, but they don’t become boyfriend girlfriend. In Scotland, if you actually get around to asking somebody on a date, it’s a much heavier thing. It takes a lot of courage. And this is partly where we’ve all gone wrong over the years. Agony’s okay in stories, but in reality it’s not so much fun.

SPEAK UP (OR DON’T) I’m a songwriter. I leave it all out on the table. I’m too willing to express myself. That Scottish thing got broken when I was about 19 or 20. I had this long period of illness and I became this kind of invalid at twenty. But after that, I could speak my mind and became very un-Scottish. Also, I went to America at an early age. They’re very open and that kind of opened me up in a big way.

HAVE A SCOTTISH ROLE MODEL It’s hard to beat Alasdair Grey. He wrote a bunch of novels, but most famously he wrote a novel called Lanark, which came out in 1981. It describes a dystopian city called Unthank, but really it’s Glasgow in his way of looking at it. It’s got a science fiction vibe and it’s just a terrific read. Alasdair is also a fabulous illustrator, so he’s got a sort of William Blake thing going on. I’ve seen him giving money away to people on the street when he doesn’t know he’s being watched. I’m sure he’s flawed all over the place, but I believe he’s a good human being. There’s lots of them about, you’ve just got to look.


This article first appeared in Frankie Magazine issue 63 (Jan/Feb 2015).

Frankie Magazine issue 63

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