belle-sebastian3Belle & Sebastian

Although Jack Black famously described Belle & Sebastian as "old sad bastard music" in the movie "High Fidelity," audiences and critics have been charmed by the band's "wistful chamber pop" for years. Formed in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1996, the act's reclusive, elusive approach helped foster a major cult following. After a several-year hiatus, the band is back touring and recording again, with a lineup that includes singer/guitarist Stuart Murdoch, guitarist Stevie Jackson, violinist Sarah Martin, keyboardist Chris Geddes, drummer Richard Colburn, bassist Bob Kildea and multi-instrumentalist Mick Cooke.

"It was Manchester Town Hall in 1997. The band hadn't been going very long, maybe a year or so. We always had mad ideas. We had one where we would be onstage in the middle -- like in a boxing ring -- with the audience surrounding us. But the whole thing with being onstage is the band is listening through monitors; the audience is listening through speakers. That's the classic performance model in the technical sense. What you hear and what the audience hears is completely different.

"When we started we always preferred playing cafes. Small places. Even at an acoustic bar with a very small vocal PA, you can get the sense if you angle things in a way that you're experiencing the same thing. It gives it more of a communal feeling to the experience. Our idea was to get that same experience.

"But this was not a cafe; it's a town hall. There were maybe a thousand or even 1,200 people. We had two stages. The band members were offset in the center with people surrounding us. Then there was another island in the back of the room where the keyboards were. ... And there were speakers facing in on us -- this being the idea that the audience and the band were going to hear exactly the same thing. This was the concept.

"It was a complete disaster.

"We were all playing out of sync with each other, especially the keyboards because they were in a different part of the room. What I could hear, I could tell it was the worst gig I'd ever been to. I was just going, 'This is utterly dreadful.' It was back in the days before computers, and Chris (Geddes) had a real Mellotron. It was completely out of tune.

"Performing at this was a huge nightmare. And then later in Manchester I found out Johnny Marr (of The Smiths) was at the gig. He was there to witness the worst band ever. My worst gig was probably one of the worst gigs in popular music history.

"But I think it looked pretty good."

— Stevie Jackson, Belle & Sebastian