Belle of the Bowlie

If any band defined my student days it was BELLE & SEBASTIAN. Back then, one of my best mates was a Welsh chap called Daniel and at the root of our friendship was a shared appreciation of these mysterious local heroes who had a canny way with a pop melody.

Since Daniel and I both spent time editing the music section of the Glasgow University Guardian, the opportunity to take advantage of our positions to infiltrate the secret world of B&S was impossible to resist…

In 1999, we persuaded the band to write a diary column for the student paper, which they did without fail every fortnight for a year.

In 2000, we were invited down to London to attend a press conference held by Belle & Sebastian to promote their fourth album, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant. Both of us ended up making a brief cameo appearance in the band’s official DVD, Fans Only.

In 2001, we nominated Stuart Murdoch to stand for the position of Glasgow University rector. To help promote his campaign, we dragged the poor guy around campus to meet and greet students and take part in open mic and quiz nights at the Union. The highlight of his ultimately unsuccessful bid, though, was putting on an unorthodox Belle & Sebastian gig at the John McIntyre Hall, which was written about in The Pop Cop a couple of years ago.
So when the band announced last week that they were to headline and curate Bowlie 2 in December, revisiting the spirit of the legendary 1999 festival that spawned the hugely successful All Tomorrow’s Parties, there was only one man I could approach to take a trip down memory lane.

Take it away, Daniel…

The original Bowlie Weekender took place at the end of April 1999, and now, just over 10 years later, the event’s organisers, Belle & Sebastian, are attempting to pull off the same trick again. A lot has changed in the intervening decade – iPods, the war on terror, the rise and fall of a Labour government and the ability to buy a train ticket on the day without being bankrupted.

Therefore, when asked to write a piece on the original event, I was filled with trepidation. Reviewing a gig the day after can be a tricky task but to trying to remember the events of a weekend over a decade ago seemed pushing it a bit.

I was a 21-year-old student at Glasgow University in 1999, in thrall to much of the city’s music scene, in particular Belle & Sebastian, so when word got around that they had commandeered a Pontin’s holiday camp somewhere down south, we prepared to follow them, along with what seemed like the rest of the Glasgow indie fraternity.

Getting there seemed straightforward enough. Tam Coyle had put on a bus that was leaving from Sleazy’s, and for a few quid a seat was mine. Of course, being a foolish student, I had gone out for a few shandies the night before and woke up rather late. So, with my friends heading down to Camber Sands on a bus that would eventually be diverted so as to not get caught up in a high-speed police chase, I ambled down to Central Station to try my luck.

I’d done plenty of train travel on my own but I remember feeling distinctly jittery about the prospect of making it all the way to Rye (through the Big Smoke!) and meeting up with my friends, all without the aid of a mobile phone.

Once I got on to the local train that would take me to Rye, the atmosphere changed distinctly. Possibly Murdoch had been able to pull some strings with the local railway, but on our way from London we seemed to be travelling on a train reminiscent of the golden age of steam, peopled with a strange mix of Glasgow indie kids, the great and good of Sussex, and Sinister people with their upside down B&S badges.

I somehow managed to find my way to the camp – although let’s be honest, following the trail of corduroy and synthetic knitwear helped – and met up with the rest of the gang.

Once I arrived, we joined a queue for our chalet keys. It seems that this queue has left a distinct impression on most people who attended Bowlie, perhaps due to its length but mostly due to the friendliness of the folk in it and the impromptu busking set by our hosts.

From here on in things become a little hazy. The one crystal clear memory I have is of playing football between the chalets and letting fly with a ferocious effort which managed to find a home in an innocent bystander’s face. Had this been a festival of a less friendly nature then I don’t doubt that this would have led to blows, but, this being Bowlie, there were a few tears and then I scampered off to procure some kind of peace offering. I’m not sure if the Belle & Sebastian badges really helped, but she seemed to take it with good grace.

As for the bands, I must admit that I had to look up a full line-up before writing this and was rather surprised by the variety of musical offerings. Glasgow’s scene was well represented by the likes of Teenage Fanclub, The Pastels, Mogwai, The Delgados, Camera Obscura, Looper, V-Twin and Bill Wells, but I had forgotten completely that Sleater-Kinney and The John Spencer Blues Explosion had been on the bill.

The 31-year-old me wishes that he’d bothered to see Sleater-Kinney, however the 21-year-old would perhaps have found them a little abrasive.

How Godspeed You Black Emperor ended up on the bill I could not say, although I do remember much of Glasgow being enamoured with them, myself included. Therefore, when it turned out that they were due to clash with Belle & Sebastian, I was left with something of a quandary. And, of course, I made what in hindsight seems the wrong decision.

I think the logic went something like this: I live in Glasgow, so do Belle & Sebastian; I see them walking around all the time, so obviously I’ll see them play soon. Besides, some of us have seen them in the last year and they can be a bit ropey live, and it’ll be mobbed, and Godspeed came all the way from Canada, and they’re the future, and they’ll not be playing in Glasgow anytime soon.

So I went to see Godspeed and they were awesome. And then I saw Godspeed in Glasgow later that year. And then at All Tomorrow’s Parties the following year. And Belle & Sebastian didn’t play live again until February 28, 2001, at a gig I put on. Lesson learned.

Bowlie also taught us other lessons – that festivals need not be akin to bootcamp, that having access to an actual bed at night need not only be the preserve of VIPs, and that forward-thinking festival line-ups can actually yield some profit as we can witness through the spread of ATP across the globe.

How Bowlie 2 will compare remains to be seen but I shall be there, older and a little wiser. Just don’t let me near a football.

Daniel Quipp.

Belle & Sebastian – The Bowlie Weekender (1999)
01 Slow Graffiti


02 Seeing Other People


03 Dog On Wheels


04 The Wrong Girl


05 Winter Wooskie


06 If You’re Feeling Sinister


07 I Don’t Love Anyone


08 The Boy With The Arab Strap


09 Photo Jenny


10 Lazy Line Painter Jane


Click here to download full album.

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