Belle and Sebastian hitting the road with tuneful tendencies intact

Scottish band returns to Atlanta to play the Eastern on April 23 behind latest album ‘Late Developers’
Scottish band Belle and Sebastian recorded its 2015 album "Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance" in Reynoldstown. Group members are (from left) Richard Colburn, Stevie Jackson, Sarah Martin, Chris Geddes, Bobby Kildea, Dave McGowan and Stuart Murdoch.
(Photo by Anna Isola Crolla)

Credit: Anna Isola Crolla

Credit: Anna Isola Crolla

Scottish band Belle and Sebastian recorded its 2015 album "Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance" in Reynoldstown. Group members are (from left) Richard Colburn, Stevie Jackson, Sarah Martin, Chris Geddes, Bobby Kildea, Dave McGowan and Stuart Murdoch. (Photo by Anna Isola Crolla)

It’s been nearly a decade since Scottish septet Belle and Sebastian recorded its ninth studio album “Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance” in Reynoldstown, but the group still has a fondness for its experience in Atlanta.

“We had such a great time, it was just really a comfortable place to be,” said band member Sarah Martin on a recent call from her Glasgow home.

Her list of local favorites includes the Sweet Auburn Curb Market, the Atlanta Beltline and, of course, Maze Studios, where the group made the record with producer Ben H. Allen. Martin also did some hiking with bandmate Stuart Murdoch, meeting some polite Belle and Sebastian fans along the way.

Stuart Murdoch, Belle and Sebastian's lead singer and songwriter, performs during the Arroyo Seco Music Festival in Pasadena, California, in 2018. Pablo Pena/Invision/AP

Credit: Photo by Pablo Pena/Invision/AP

icon to expand image

Credit: Photo by Pablo Pena/Invision/AP

The group has performed numerous times in Atlanta, but has released two albums since its last show in the area. Fans will likely hear at least some material from “A Bit of Previous” (2022) and “Late Developers” (2023) when Belle and Sebastian plays at The Eastern on April 23, with Haley Heynderickx set to open.

Set lists do vary wildly given the group’s voluminous catalog. “We don’t often get that many new songs in on any one night,” Martin acknowledged. “We do realize that people want to hear quite a lot of things they know. We’ve had a pool of 80-ish songs — we play about a quarter of them every night. It’s hard to predict, but I hope we’ll be playing [at the Eastern] some of the things we [recorded] in Atlanta.”

“Late Developers” earned the kind of positive press long associated with the indie pop icons. One of its highlights is the Martin-penned and sung “Give a Little Time,” featuring a catchy glam guitar riff mirroring her vocals plus a monster bass line. The song’s creation followed a solitary path more in common with the group’s early days than its current creative process.

“Most of the evolution happened before I showed it to the band,” Martin said. “I was kind of handing out parts quite a lot. Right at the end Stevie and Bob added some extra guitar stuff. It was old fashioned Belle and Sebastian-y, people getting told, ‘It would be good if you could play this.’

“We don’t do that very often these days,” she continued. “We tend to be involved in each other’s songs at a much earlier stage, but I guess I’d written that one when there were no other people around. I kept adding bits to the arrangement.”

Other songs from “Late Developers” being rehearsed for this tour include “So in the Moment” and “When You’re Not With Me.”Murdoch formed the group in 1996 to record an album (its debut, “Tigermilk”) with assistance from a university music course. That lineup included guitarist Stevie “Action” Jackson, drummer Richard Colburn, pianist Chris Geddes and the since-departed bassist Stuart David and cellist Isobel Campbell.

Martin joined right before Belle and Sebastian made its second album “If You’re Feeling Sinister” (also in 1996). Rounding out the band are guitarist Bob Kildea (joined in 2001) and bassist-guitarist Dave McGowan (2018, after years as a touring member). McGowan stays particularly busy as he’s also a member of the legendary Glasgow group Teenage Fanclub.

Belle and Sebastian’s indie pop was particularly strings-heavy and frequently sensitive in its early days, with many of Murdoch’s songs reflecting the years he suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. Martin and Jackson began writing songs for the band a few years in, and over time the group has incorporated a range of sounds, from dance music (especially on “Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance”) to garage rock (the stunning “Unnecessary Drama”) and country (“[I Believe in] Travellin’ Light”).

Belle and Sebastian has released two albums since its last visit to Atlanta,  “A Bit of Previous” (2022) and “Late Developers” (2023).

Credit: Photo by Anna Isola Crolla

icon to expand image

Credit: Photo by Anna Isola Crolla

The band’s participation in the traditional trappings of the music industry also has progressed over the decades. Early Belle and Sebastian performed live infrequently (and with mixed results), did not grant interviews and didn’t even appear in its own press photographs, building a cult following.

That combination cultivated an air of mystery about the group that started to dissipate only after the exits of David and Campbell and the recording of the 2003 album “Dear Catastrophe Waitress” with noted producer Trevor Horn. The band became a much tighter performing unit in that era and has been committed to touring regularly ever since. Belle and Sebastian’s onstage strengths are evident on both a BBC radio sessions compilation and 2020 live album “What to Look for in Summer.”

Martin, the band’s sole English member, is its Swiss Army knife. In addition to being one of the singers, she plays violin, flute, recorder and percussion. Guitar is Martin’s instrument of choice for figuring out chords for the songs she writes, and she also raves about the Apple app GarageBand. “In all honesty, that is the most amazing creative tool,” she said. “It’s endless what you can do with that.”

Following this North American tour, Belle and Sebastian is looking forward to what’s become a tradition, hosting its own curated festival. While the last one was at sea (the Boaty Weekender), this one will be at the SWG3 venue in the group’s beloved hometown. The early August Glasgow Weekender will include bands and friends long associated with the group (such as Camera Obscura) in addition to the Tenementals, a scholarly inclined ensemble (with whom Martin guests) that focuses on radical history associated with the city’s shipbuilding tradition.

Other band plans are possible for late summer, but by fall the members will return temporarily to personal projects (including a novel release and book tour for Murdoch). So, the next Belle and Sebastian album will have to wait.

In the meantime, though, the group is happy to be starting its tour in Atlanta. Having played and enjoyed the Tabernacle, members are also pleased to be appearing at the Eastern for the first time.

“That’s gonna be fun,” Martin concluded. “We’re really looking forward to being back in Atlanta.”


Belle and Sebastian

With Haley Heynderickx. At the Eastern. April 23, doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m. $39.50-$45. 777 Memorial Drive SE.