Hi, sorry, took a bit of a break there. This is the next entry in an occasional series, and it’s a lengthy one. So get comfy and i’ll tell you a bit about our 4th long player, and how the art came about.


The Record

Sometimes when we are on stage I will introduce a number from our ‘much-maligned mid period’. As a phrase it just rolls off the tongue, I like it. I guess I’m playing around with an image of the band from a certain period. That period would be around the recording and release of “Fold Your Hands Child..”, our fourth studio LP.

That record, although it didn’t perhaps set the world alight on its release, was a real scene changer for our group, in all sorts of ways – most of them positive.. eventually. At the time though, it was almost a record of a band disappearing. I say almost, because if we’d put out the record we first recorded, the band really would have disappeared, so poor was the quality of what we had managed to get down.

I guess it was inevitable – there were all sorts of strains on this still fledgling band. I think even by LP 4 there was a few people questioning whether they even wanted to be in a band like this. I was still driving the recording forward. I had new songs all the time; and I had a bunch also from the previous years that I had felt were too demanding for the overall concentration level of the group. I wanted to do them this time.

‘Arab Strap’ had been a pretty straightforward record to learn and play. There was hardly anything about the songs that were very challenging. This time round, some of the songs demanded a pop precision that you just couldn’t skirt around. This meant we actually had to practice and practice before we went to record. It was just a ‘harder’ record to make.

for LP 4 we started off recording in our rehearsal room in the church hall (pictured), then we drifted back toward the ‘proper’ studio over the weeks and months..

Even when we managed to get a take down that was in decent order, it often sounded lazy and unfocussed. If ever we needed a ‘producer’, it would have been on this record. I was too stubborn to give up the reins, however – even to Tony Doogan, our partner in sound. I was determined, as I had been all along, to try to see each song through to its best conclusion.

It’s kind of ironic, we really served our time with this record, learned a lot more about how we shouldn’t record. We actually learned enough to realise that we needed someone to ‘boss’ us. But that was for another time..

Still, there was nice stuff that went onto this record.  Probably the most pleasing track on the lp was the first genuine ‘collaboration’ in writing between the band. Built on a bluesy Wurlitzer figure that Chris had, I started singing over it. We were ‘jamming’ it out in practice, and I still remember the moment when the whole group just kind of fell into the chorus of “Don’t Leave The Light On Baby” like a ray of light sneaking out from behind a cloud.

“Waiting For The Moon to Rise” was also a successful recording, Sarah’s first writing contribution. It seemed fun and simple to do.

Stevie’s songs were always strong, and always recorded well. He’d played us “The Wrong Girl” a while back, in fact we’d played it live on Radio 1, I think. Right at that time, I just couldn’t hear any song without hearing sunlight strings dancing around the melody. I was always carrying my manuscript around, menacingly. I asked Stevie if he didn’t mind if I wrote a part for the track. He assented, but I think to this day he’s ambivalent about the efficacy of said arrangement!

the group around that time, sarah tucked in behind mick there. picture by ronnie black

“Fold Your Hands Is My Life!”

So we dicked around for almost a year on this thing, recording, then having another go, then adding strings, then ripping it up, singing it again.. you get the idea.

One thing that caused me to stop and think was that around about that time Jeepster wanted to rerelease Tigermilk, including CD for the first time. So it needed to be mastered. So I had to listen to it. It depressed me a little to listen to it. It sounded so fresh and energetic and natural! It was a long way from what we were currently working on.

Another thing was that I had started hanging around with another crowd of Glasgow young types who called themselves Camera Obscura. Hanging off them more like. I invited them to come and rehearse in the church hall so as I could just hear them play. I would help set up the sound, then stick around at the mixing desk. Everything seemed so simple and beautiful in their world. The voices, the instruments, the arrangements, the intention.

an early incarnation of glasgow's camera obscura. i asked them to dress as rockers/bikers for a bit of fun. can't remember why, but they do look good. quite

an early incarnation of glasgow’s camera obscura. i asked them to dress as rockers/bikers for a bit of fun. can’t remember why, but they do look pretty convincing!

There was nothing to do but get our heads down and finish the record. One by one the ‘difficult’ songs checked in, compromised, but just about good enough.

Years later, when we were in LA recording “The Life Pursuit”, we were all drunk. We were in the lift in an apartment building, and we were looking for a party.

This girl got in the lift with a guy. She stood in the middle, looked around her and said. “Belle and Sebastian? Belle and Sebastian!!” It was us, we said. “Fold Your Hands is my life!” she said. It turns out it was Eva Mendes, the actor.

Bob tried to get her to come to the party with us, but she pretty quick realised the mess we were all in, and she declined politely and went on her way with her fellah.

The reason I mention it, is that I’m with Eva. “Fold Your Hands” is my life! It kind of left me fucked after we made it, to the point when my ME came back and we couldn’t work for a year. But I wouldn’t change it. I put a lot of myself into that record.

It sort of became a blueprint for us too. When I got my strength back, and we were ready to make a go of touring properly, it was those songs that we took out on the road. We took extra strings, we took a flute player. Our harpsichord was finely tempered!

It took us a while, but we finally learned how to play The Model, Too Much Love and Woman’s Realm with purpose and vigour.

Those songs became stalwarts of the set, and kind of lead the way for the B&S sound live for the next ten years. I have had some of my happiest moments playing The Model live. I love the way the arrangement locks together, and by the last verse I feel I’m just riding along on a rich spinning wheel of sound. It was just about worth it.

The Sleeve

You’d think by the time we’d finished the album that I’d just want the sleeve to go away, or I’d ask someone else to do it. But as I explained before, the art had become the best part for me. It was easy: think of a picture, then take it. Then get Andrew Symington to do all the hard bits.

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 09.17.50

this was the first idea for the record sleeve. this was well before the ban on fox hunting in the UK, and seemed like a pretty straightforward cause to get behind. the whole group visited a fox sanctuary, and we took pictures there. Andy put the art together, and i revealed the sleeve to the band. they didn’t like it! so i had to think again.

It was a chance to escape the group for a while, and what better place to escape to than Iceland?

First of all though, the name –

I used to always be jotting down bits of graffiti I saw. The more obscure and would-be literate, the better.

I was always hanging round the university. I’d been enrolled there three times, when finally health had forced me to give up for good. I was still living around there however, using the facilities, like a ghost. I had struggled so much when I was there; I just assumed everyone was smarter and groovier than I was.

I even used to sit in on the odd class – “They don’t seem to mind!”  said Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate when he described his similar circumstance. Similar, apart from the fact that he was obviously, erm, a graduate.

I used to hang out in the basement of the reading room, using those early Mac computers they had, printing out my lyrics. I was always real busy. It set me apart from the rest of the students.

In the toilets, someone had written, “Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant.” I didn’t know what it meant, but it had a nice ring to it. So I jotted it down, and moved on. My notebook was full of such titles, some nicked, some made up.


An outtake from the fold your hands sleeve, with Gyða Valtýsdóttir and the back of her sister’s head.

Fast forward to 1999. We’d taken a break in recording the lp to put on our own festival, called The Bowlie Weekender in a holiday camp in the south of England. We were all of us staying in ‘chalets’, which were tiny apartments arranged in long terraces, or ‘lines’. (Hence The Chalet Lines, which was a song based on experiences a colleague had in such a camp, in the 80s)

One of the fun things about this festival, and part of the point of it in the first place, was that band and fan, living quarters and party quarters, should be mixed up and intertwined.

That’s when we all met Gyða and Kristín Valtýsdóttir, the girls from Icelandic band Múm. They weren’t playing at this festival; they were just down, checking out the scene.

It was late on the last night when I met them. By this time, the whole chalet line felt like a student house party, with people walking in and out of strange bedrooms. Not much chance of sleep.

Everyone was drunk. I hadn’t had time to catch up, so it was fun to watch various people trying to latch on to one of the twins (they’re identical twins, I forgot to say) then one would go to the bathroom, and the same drunken guy would seamlessly continue his attempted seduction with the other twin when she happened to pass by.

After we got back home, I had this idea for the sleeve. Can’t remember if it was directly inspired by meeting Gyða and Kristín, or whether it could have been any twins. Probably the former. Their mum memorably asked me when I first got to Iceland –
“So, they don’t have twins in Scotland?”
Well yes, but not quite like your two.

It was perfect though, they were perfect. The idea was that they would copy each other through the frame of a ‘fake’ mirror. I wanted one of them, the reflection, to become a monster, applying gothic make up, monster teeth, blood, monster sideburns! The other twin would just match the movements at all times without becoming a monster.

Art for Stu_0021

Test strip for the front sleeve shoot

It was a little performance they gave, balletic and artful, and I just had to take pictures. I pretty much got exactly the picture I had in my head, I got the ‘feeling’, which was the main thing. From this point onwards I would ‘set up’ the album covers based on an idea, but it was quite rare that I actually got the picture I wanted, or the picture I expected to get. This was one time.

I’m not sure if I had the album title in my head at that time – I think probably yes. I admit there didn’t seem to be a connection with the name and the picture, but sometimes that doesn’t matter. I was just feeling it.

If you look at the whole sleeve, if you have the vinyl for instance, you’ll notice that there are a few clashing ideas and themes that appear. I don’t think we would do that now; I’d usually try stick to the one theme and elaborate.

On “Fold Your Hands” you got the girls on the front. You’ve got the band in the middle, for some reason dressed up as a rich and gruesome Edwardian family. Then on the back you have a line drawing of the view from a launderette window.

Stevie, Mick & Chris

I really like the pictures that came out of this shoot, though they were not everybody’s best idea of fun. I guess the idea was that by this time we felt a bit like aristocracy, spoiled by recording everyday in a big expensive studio. picture by con carson

The launderette was in the student union at the university. This was place I frequented a lot. I wrote Marx and Engels in there while waiting for the dryer. That song was meant to be on this album, so I asked our friend Laura to draw me the view from there, and we stuck it on the back.

the view from the laundry window. this was printed onto a mug that we sold at the time

the view from the laundry window. this was printed onto a mug that we sold at the time

Andy always laid out the vinyl first, and everything flowed from that. He cared slightly less for the CD. Laying out the cassette tape always bemused him “who still buys TAPE!?” This time round we had a minidisc to do as well, which would have incurred his complete derision, but for the idea that he was making something that he knew no one would buy, hence it was an instant curiosity, and he quite liked that.

an actual minidisc! we really did make them.

an actual minidisc! we really did make them.

This has turned into a pretty exhaustive post. Thank goodness Storytelling was a relatively simple affair. So lastly i’m just going to put a picture up of the first of many fake books that littered Belle and Sebastian photoshoots, record covers, videos from this point onward. If i loved making record sleeves, then i really loved making fake book covers for some reason.

Thanks to Andy Symington for digging up some of these images.

Glynn Hurst was Ayr United's top scorer for the seasons 98/99, 99/00, hence the obvious choice as fake author of

Glynn Hurst was Ayr United’s top scorer for the seasons 98/99, 99/00, hence the obvious choice as fake author of “I Fought In A War”

  1. Hamooda says:

    My first Belle & Sebastian album and the one that forced me to make regular pilgrimages to the local Tower Records to gradually pick up all of the previous albums and EPs.

    Because this is where I came in, I can’t help but group the first four LPs together. They were the soundtrack to that transition period that most inevitably make at graduation, out of the familiar & comfortable and into the unknown. That first sense of being free is exciting, sure, but you know, also terrifying. The opening track of this album comes to mind. So does “Like Dylan in the Movies” (some time later, I opened a bar based on the impression this track left on me) and “Get Me Away from Here…” from Sinister, among others.

    I recall making a trip a year or two after this release. One of those impulsive solo road trips to a beach town I’d never heard of six hours away, just because it felt like a thing to do. And because I could. I had a CD holder thing on the inside of my sun visor, with the entire B&S catalog laid out in sequence. I cracked the window, breathed the air and this rotation of songs made this whole new freedom business seem a lot less scary.

  2. Sigmund Domingo says:

    That was beautiful. The album really felt like you described it, like a middle child that doesn’t really know where it belongs but knows that it should exist. It captures how a band should feel like after the first few years, when you think the growing pains shouls stop but it just became more painful. I really like this album.

  3. Dave says:

    This album is vastly underrated. No it’s not one that I return to as often as the well known ones, but the lush strings and the melody of “The Model”… There’s not a another B&S song quite like it. I love these posts!!!!

  4. Reese Davis says:

    Fold Your Hands was the first B&S album that I’ve heard. In my first semester at college one of my classmates allowed me to borrow it. I went to school in the mountains and winter was hell. I will always remember listening to Beyond the Sunrise as I silently walked to class in the cold, dark morning while freezing my bum off. I felt so content and lucky to be living this life. The feeling was truly indescribable.

  5. Brian says:

    The first record I heard from B&S was Tigermilk. My first reaction was that it ripped off Blueboy and I immediately dismissed it out of hand probably more due to the tastemaker twat that introduced it to me(a contemptuous, disdainful prick that made fun of me for liking early 10,000 Maniacs records)than anything else. He could’ve played me Satie’s Gymnopedies and I’d probably hated them just because they were coming from him.

    A couple of years down the road and my best friend brought a copy of Fold Your Hands around and while I was still holding on to my first notion that you were ripping off Sarah Records bands, I couldn’t help but fall hard. It also helped that I had just started hanging out with a new girl and was on the periphery of that kind falling in love where you fall so hard that you do it maybe a handful of times in your life, if that. That girl and I would go on to eventually part ways, but not before making a road trip to see B&S in Atlanta, GA right after Isobel quit the band. Aislers Set opened. It was wonderful.

  6. Kerry says:

    I hated Fold Your Hands when I first heard it.

    A few months after we got married in ’98, we painted the entire innards of our new little house to Boy with the Arab Strap. Days and days of paint fumes in LA in August and now I have a new favorite band (first in a long time).

    Then I bought Sinister and not only was it amazing, it was a continuous thing of beauty and inspiration (First song I taught myself to play and sing on the piano was Fox in the Snow)

    Then I bought Tigermilk and guessed that B&S was just brilliant at melody and poignancy from the get-go.

    So maybe I had expectations when Fold Your Hands came out and maybe I shouldn’t have. But years pass and my daughter has learned all the chords to The Model, and Don’t Leave the Light On Baby at the Hollywood Bowl will be a deathbed reminiscence.

    Come to think of it, I hated my wife when I first met her…

  7. Miki says:

    I loved reading the story behind this cover! It’s my very favorite cover and the vinyl that I always display on top of my turntable (It’s usually either this one or the God Help the Girl one). To tell you the truth, I didn’t love this record right away, but once I rediscovered it, I fell for it hard.

    I listen to The Model at least once every day; this has been my morning routine for over a year now. I have to listen to The Model and Stevie’s Man of God at least once before clocking in at the library I work at. It’s a dream of mine to be able to listen to this song live one day; I’m sure tears would start pouring, sometimes I get teary-eyed when I listen to its last verse. The first time this song made me cry was when I said goodbye to my dad in Argentina when I went to visit (I moved from Buenos Aires to California 5 years ago); he’s really sick and I played this song on my way to the airport, because you know, when you’re sad you sometimes feel the need to make it even a sadder moment, haha. Then, same thing when the plane took off. And now I’m teary-eyed typing this at work, ha.

    I also love the video of The Wrong Girl; it’s just perfect.

    Thank you for these posts and for having replied to an earlier comment! It meant a lot to me!

    Hope you’re all doing great.

  8. Ana says:

    The second B&S album I listened to, the first one I bought. I remember going to the record shop, getting it and listening to it on my discman at my father’s bookshop (hidden upstairs, pretending I was sticking the bookshop’s sticker to the new books). The bookshop doesn’t exist anymore, but I live 1 minute away from the building and today I had this strange feeling of being so close to that 17 year-old who listened to the record in that little office.

    So yeah, Fold Your Hands is kind of my life too.

  9. Karin says:

    I love reading the stories behind the sleeves, I always wondered who the girls on the cover were and what book they were reading!

    Fold Your Hands is the first Belle & Sebastian album I ever owned so it’s my favourite; the song that motivated me to get the album was Don’t Leave The Light On Baby, it’s just a beautiful song. I think the album when you first fall in love with a band is always the sentimental favourite, even if the band have other albums that are more critically acclaimed or commercially successful or whatever – the first one will be the one that makes the biggest impression and the one that gets played to death.

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