top of page

NOT SINISTER: LIFE TIPS FROM BELLE AND SEBASTIAN’S OCCASIONALLY LOST RICHARD COLBURN

(We know living well - ask us how! Belle And Sebastian, with Richard Colburn far left.)



WITH 12 ALBUMS of sometimes fey, sometimes funky, always poptastic songs in the kitbag since the mid-'90s, another Australian tour on the horizon (this time with the baron of the beanie, Badly Drawn Boy), and awards, rewards and punishments endured, there’s a lot of living already in Glasgow’s Belle And Sebastian.


It would be a shame to leave that much knowledge of the world untapped don’t you think? So, with drummer Richard Colburn, one of the original members who came together to record the songs of Stuart Murdoch, captive in his living room having just finished the school run, now is the chance to seek guidance.


Trigger warning: there is some tartan fever by story’s end. You’ll know it when you see it.


 

 

Is it better to have a drummer or a doctor in your ancestry?


“Well, I’m a fourth-generation drummer so I would go for drummer.”


No one in the family are saying I wish we had at least one doctor somewhere?


Colburn laughs. “Yeah, there is that too I suppose. But I’m going to say drummer. There is more creativity, more scope for travel. Music in itself is a bit of a medicine.”



Ah, travel, yes. Which leads us to ...


Not necessarily saying he would know (but definitely not saying he wouldn’t) what should we do if we're ever stuck in a Walmart in North Dakota for four hours when everyone we’ve travelled with has left town?


“Not. Panic!


"Just, don’t panic: sit there, work out what’s going on. First things first: you’ve got to time the journey that the buses doing to know whether it’s going to have time to come back. After you’ve gone past that point, you know where you are. i.e., I need to sort this out by myself.”


The advantage of being the drummer in this situation is that if you are one of the guitarists, the others might think the gig could go on with some adjustments, especially in the band where several members swap instruments throughout the show. But no drummer pretty much means no gig. Think of it this way, if you’ve got a doctor in the family but she or he is not available, you can still find one somewhere; but who has a spare drummer with expertise able to step in?



 “A gig is difficult enough, you don’t want to play an hour and a half acoustic set,” Colburn grins. “As you say I’m the only one who probably doesn’t jump around on different instruments – they have the talent for that – but as nobody else can play the drums …”


What is the ideal number for a band and why is it 12 which is what B&S can get to with a string section they regularly play with?


“It’s funny because the vast, vast majority of my musical career has only been in Belle And Sebastian, so I’m used to those numbers. I haven’t really played much with anything smaller.


"There are so many elements in the band that you just get used to: it’s like a chemistry experiment and everybody throws in a little portion and whatever comes out, comes out. It must be like playing in a big band back in the day, when you had a horn section and so on and so forth.



“We have played with orchestras, 50 piece and more, and for a big portion of time we had the string players, and that’s good in some ways but it’s also restrictive because you can only play certain songs. If you have a string section with you you want to utilise them as much as possible, not have them only play in two songs for instance.”


In any band, say just for argument’s sake Bell And Sebastian, are the members who wear glasses always the smarter ones or the ones most likely to get lost?


“Well, apart from one,” he chuckles. “I think I’m the odd one out: not smart and lost. But you know as you get older some of your senses begin to go a little bit.”


I have it on good authority, I tell the 53-year-old, that decrepitude really sets in from 55 on. After that you’ll just curl up under the sound desk and sob.



“I’m going to embrace this last year then.”


If we had to choose between Glasgow, Perth [his hometown, not WA’s] Edinburgh and Bellshill which should we pick? And why?


“Probably Glasgow actually, because it’s a sort of cultural centre of this area. There is a lot going on: there’s a lot of good venues; theatres; the GFT [Glasgow Film Theatre], which is a great independent movie theatre. There’s just lots going on in Glasgow itself. Perth, where I’m from, is quite small, especially compared to your Perth. Bellshill obviously has a great heritage of music: so many bands came from there. But they all moved to Glasgow,” he laughs.


“Edinburgh aesthetically is beautiful, but as far as the music scene goes it’s always sort of … It’s quite a different music scene: is a lot more jazz, Latin, things like that. The indie scene and the rock scene and so on and so forth seems to always be bigger in Glasgow and touring bands will generally come here.”



My first favourite Scottish band came from Edinburgh, Orange Juice, but it’s true that while Teenage Fan club came from Bellshill – and moved to Glasgow – so many of the rest emerged from within the environs of Billy Connolly’s hometown on the Clyde. Weirdly too, almost all of them seem to be the nicest people. Or the ones who can convincingly portray nice people for years and years.


“There is no competitiveness here, as far as music and bands. Everybody is quite happy to be doing what they’re doing and we are all getting away with it. We all help each other out, see each other’s bands, and if someone needs an amp or a drum kit, or even one of us to play when you get a phone call ‘any chance you can help us out next week? Here’s some songs and we’re going to play this gig’. It happens all the time.”


Hi Richard, our drummer got left behind in North Dakota are you free?


What is one thing a Scotsman in Australia should always do and one thing he should never do?


“Go to King’s Cross really late at night.”


Is that a should or shouldn’t do?


“Shouldn’t. Should and shouldn’t. I tell you what I really loved: the bridge over Sydney, I’ve taken that journey, the beautiful walk which is fantastic. Going to Manly, going to the beaches, getting on the boats in Sydney. Melbourne I remember the comedy festival was on one time we were playing in Australia and it was great. What a fantastic city as well.



“We spent quite a lot of time in Perth the last time we were there. It was really crazy weather when we were due to go to – I can’t remember what it was – and that got cancelled and we ended up in Perth for the next few days. I quite enjoy Australia because it’s fairly like-minded, especially people’s attitudes and sense of humour.”


Which is the most important music city: Detroit, New York, Brisbane, Glasgow or Sheffield?


“For me, personally, I’d say Detroit. I’m a fan of obviously, Motown, but I love techno. It’s funny because Sheffield is quite pivotal in Detroit techno,” says the man who has regularly DJ-d in the UK and USA. “There was quite an electronic scene in Sheffield and a lot of people in Detroit were influenced by that because a radio DJ there, who had access to records from Britain and Europe that the rest of America didn’t really have, played a big part in Detroit techno. I love J Dilla and all that hip-hop scene as well.



“All the cities you mentioned a fabulous for music, but as personal taste, Detroit.”


Who had the better pies outside Ibrox or Parkhead?


“I’ve gotta say Parkhead.”


Which is possibly not surprising given that was one of Colburn’s pre-Belle And Sebastian jobs, along with plans for becoming a professional pool player.



“Although now in the UK there is a bakers called Gregg’s, a chain that’s everywhere, so it’s quite uniform.”


Belle And Sebastian were once voted the best Scottish band of all time in a Scottish magazine, which came as a shock to the band. Who would get your vote?


“There are so many big hitters. Average White Band would be up there. If you’re looking at fame and stature, the Bay City Rollers would be up there: they had their own US TV series [The Bay City Rollers Show, NBC in 1978/79. They also had a show in the UK called Shang-a-Lang, on Granada for 20 weeks in 1975] but I love the Average White Band. They had US number ones, they really cracked America in a big way before most Scottish artists, except maybe Donovan before that.”



It's a shame he didn’t go the Rollers as I wanted to end the interview chanting S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night!


“Okay, I’ll make them joint top.”


Good man.



 

READ MORE:

 

SEE MORE:

Belle And Sebastian, with Badly Drawn Boy, play:

The Tivoli, Brisbane – August 21

Enmore Theatre, Sydney – August 22

Palais Theatre, Melbourne – August 23

Hindley Street Music Hall, Adelaide – August 25

Astor Theatre, Perth – August 27

Comentários


bottom of page