Belle and Sebastian's lockdown listening: 'I have a dance-off with my kids every night'

Stuart Murdoch from the Scottish indie favourites rediscovers his once-illicit love of Joni Mitchell, and celebrates the passion of Malcolm McLaren

Belle and Sebastian were meant to go to the US to make a record when lockdown was announced, but, thankfully, we had enough time to cancel everything and hunker down. So I’m at home. Without belittling what’s happening in the world, the lockdown suits the lifestyle of a slightly introspective singer-songwriter. I’ve suffered from anxiety for years, which is a form of quarantine. So I’ve been doing meditation classes on Facebook. I got into it after the birth of my first child and can’t recommend it enough. If you can train your mind to be calmer, you can be happy wherever you are.

I’m not a huge consumer of music compared with what I used to be. I had my listening days before I started writing songs and when I write, I tend to fall back on my favourites. But there’s been some distinct musical moments. BART by [70s rock band] Ruby is my lockdown classic and I listen to it every day. It was the TV testcard theme on the BBC at the start of the 80s and the countdown music for programmes for schools. I was looking for a different tune, stumbled across it and remembered it instantly. It’s very simple, middle of the road American instrumental music, but sometimes that just does it for me.

I can’t get my kids to meditate – they just won’t – but every night we have a dance-off. Before we go to bed we seem to have the most energy, so we’ve been dancing to an eclectic bunch of oldies. They’re very picky about what they’ll dance to, but they’ve really responded to Malcolm McLaren’s Double Dutch. A friend of mine – actually Duglas [T Stewart] from the BMX Bandits – reminded me of it. The video is joyful. I love the fact that the song is factually based and gives a shout out to actual New York skipping troupes, such as the Ebonettes. McLaren brought so much to wider attention. He was a real catalyst and had a genuine passion for great stuff.

My wife’s a big fan of Hamilton, the musical, and she’s always got it on in the car. She told me about John Krasinski’s Some Good News YouTube channel and said, “Watch this clip and see what happens”. He’s got a little girl in the studio who loves Hamilton, and suddenly Lin-Manuel Miranda – the musical’s creator – comes on and introduces the whole cast singing the theme tune to this girl. The intimacy of the voices sounds better than the record, and you see the effect on the child. It’s magical, a real treat that lifts your spirit.

I’d been listening to Erik Satie in our kitchen and must have tweeted something, and a friend got back to me and put me on to Clear Luminous by Phillip Norman Watson. He’s this guy from Portland, Oregon, on a tiny little label. Before the band got together I used to just lose myself in piano doodling, and this is like that. It’s beautiful.

I’ve also been playing The Boho Dance by Joni Mitchell. I stumbled across The Hissing of Summer Lawns for a pound in a bargain bin in the mid-80s. I was a punker at the time, so had to listen to it in secret, but it became one of my favourite LPs. To my wife it typifies dope-smoking mid-70s Americana, but it just takes me somewhere and I lose myself in the music and lyrics. I love music that lets you escape and occupies your mind completely.

Recently, I asked fans to send me their feelings during the lockdown to turn them into song, which I did. It’s a two-parter, called Protecting the Hive and the first – spoken word – part is online now. It’s me and Alessandra Lupo [friend, living with Stuart’s family during lockdown] reading the fans’ thoughts over music written by Chris [Geddes, keyboard] from the band. People expressed everything from fear to everyday beauty, such as the joy of hearing birdsong, which I’ve been listening to a lot as well. The number of submissions from fans was overwhelming. We could have used hundreds of them.

• Protecting the Hive is out now on Belle and Sebastian’s website.


Interview by Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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