I thought I’d write a bit about the record sleeves. There’s not that much to tell, but I guess since the first one was made almost exactly 20 years old, I could tell you how they ended up the way they did. I never need much of an excuse to reminisce!
I may have to tell you a bit of background to the scene at that time, obviously a bit about the state the band were in, and a bit about the various friends, musicians and total strangers (most of which became friends) that ended up on the sleeves.
When we made Tigermilk, the band, as you were to know them, was a fledgling group. I mean, we were just out the egg, as far as bands go. We just got together to record that first LP.
I don’t think the whole ensemble ever played once together before we went into make Tigermilk. The most I remember is Richard, Stuart, Stevie, and myself in the same room playing, a couple of times.
With the rest of the guys at that time, it was a case of having them stand by in the studio, suggesting parts for them to play, piecing the thing together like that. (Though I do remember Chris tracking live with us on most things. Perhaps he was improvising!)
That’s not to take anything away from Tigermilk week. Few groups probably get to bond over actually making their first LP. It was pretty intense, but in a good way. By the end of that 5 days, we were a group, no question. It was Genesis, but not in the prog rock sense – on the seventh day we rested. (but on the sixth, we did laundry, and went to the Grosvenor Café)
The idea of the group, however, was in flux. I had been using the name Belle And Sebastian for music since I had written a short story with the same title the summer before, 1995.
At that time, I was pretty convinced I would never be part of the kind of ensemble that I desired. Nobody seemed to want to play with me. People used to have a couple of rehearsals with me, then make excuses – that they needed to buy trousers, or visit an aunt.. and I never saw them again.
So I got used to the notion of putting the music together myself. I split my ambitions between programming my own tracks on an antiquated system called Cubase (such as “Electronic Renaissance”) and getting up to perform at our local open mic (The Halt Bar, Saturday afternoon/evening)
The Halt Bat in particular was a kamikaze effort. I was desperate, and I think the people there could tell that. I didn’t have much at all going for me. I would write a song during the week, and I would be bound to perform it on the Saturday, no matter how badly I played guitar, no matter how weak my voice was compared to the squadrons of Springsteen cover men that came before or after. I just didn’t have anything else going on, so it was the focus of the whole week.
But I did have a girlfriend! I had a really great girlfriend called Joanne. She supported me in all my foolish endeavor, the only one at the time who really did. She kind of got it, or seemed to get it, or seemed to see something good in what I was trying to do, or wanted to do. Maybe she just liked me, but she did have good taste, so that was an encouragement to me.
So she was my buddy in creativity, and she was in fact String Bean Jean and all that. She was super photogenic, and I used take pictures of her and use them in many of my schemes and posters at the time. I think at one point I liked the idea that Joanne and I could be a group, even if all she did was dance, take a great picture, and tell me which songs were ok. We could be a two person gang, in the absence of a gang that actually played instruments.
So this was the idea that was still in my head when we went in to record Tigermilk.
Soon after the recording therefore, I had a friend of a friend take pictures of Joanne and I in the snow. I blacked over one eye for some reason. (I liked that in the inner sleeve of “Talullah” by the Go Betweens, that Grant McLennan had a black eye – like he had won it in a brawl, fighting to defend his band mates or something.)
So Joanne and I wandered the halls of the old Stow College building in Glasgow, and outside, the hills of Garnethill near the Art School, getting snapped – my first experience of getting my picture taken.
I didn’t like it. I didn’t like not being in control. And when I saw the pictures back they didn’t seem to sum up the essence of what was in my head, or the essence of something i thought i could love as a record cover (though it’s a nice recollection of me and Joanne as a couple). Guess i just didn’t like being in the picture.
So I ditched that and thought again.
The idea of how the tiger picture came about is a bit vague. I think we were just sitting about in the church hall, where I lived, one Friday night. Maybe I said “what if we do a sleeve that involves someone getting naked?” I think we both thought that a lot of the ‘indie’ music around was virginal and boring. (and just to show that it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that it might be joanne, I’ll include a picture of me here below in that same cold bathroom. Not very revealing, but I’m bet you’re still glad joanne is on the record cover..)