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(Credits: Far Out / Belle and Sebastian)

Music

Doctor’s Orders: Belle and Sebastian’s Chris Geddes prescribes nine favourite albums

A couple of weeks ago, we were lucky enough to catch up with Chris Geddes, the founding member and keyboard player of Scottish indie-rock band Belle and Sebastian. Geddes provides the melodic structure to some of the group’s most beloved songs as one of the stable members over their 25-year history. He is, of course, also the poster boy featured in the green-tinted photograph on the cover of the group’s classic 1998 album, The Boy With the Arab Strap.

In partnership with CALM, we’ve asked a selection of our favourite artists and public figures to share nine records that they would prescribe for anyone and the stories behind their importance. Doctor’s Orders sees some of our favourite musicians, actors, authors, comedians and more offer up the most important records, which they deem essential for living well. CALM, whose full working title is ‘Campaign Against Living Miserably’, offer a free, confidential and anonymous helpline for those most in need of mental health support.

With Belle and Sebastian gearing up to release their first studio album in seven years – excluding 2019’s soundtrack for the film Days Of The Bagnold Summer – the timing was perfect to catch up and collate nine albums they’d prescribe for living well. The new album, titled A Bit Of Previous, is set to be released on Friday, May 6th. The record has been described in a press release as “a spirited and energetic return, which sees the band nearing their third decade with irreverence, grace and musical bravado, as well as tackling weightier subject matter.” 

A Bit of Previous is the first album the group have recorded in their hometown of Glasgow in over 20 years. Original plans to record the tenth studio LP overseas in Los Angeles were scrapped due to the difficulties related to the pandemic over the past two years.

As one-seventh of the current Belle and Sebastian lineup, Geddes would have found it difficult to give an all-encompassing flavour of the group’s influences as a whole. However, in a couple of his selections, he tried to give a glimpse at some of Belle and Sebastian’s favourites after forming in the mid-’90s. Throughout his nine choices, Geddes covers a timeframe spanning from the 1950s up to the present day. He also gave a flavour of his personal background, both as a pianist and as an avid consumer.

One of the selections that reveal more about his band collectively was The Divine 12th Anniversary Mix. Through his description of the mixtape, one can feel almost transported back to the 1990s during Belle and Sebastian’s sunrise years frequenting the clubs of Glasgow, where they bonded over a shared love of soul and dance music. Later on, he addressed his love for jazz and unearthed some of the music that remedied his mind during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Without further ado, we bring you the nine records that Chris Geddes prescribed for this week’s Doctor’s Orders.

If you’re able, and if you can afford to, please consider a small donation to help the CALM cause. £8 can answer one potentially life-saving call.

Doctor’s Orders: Chris Geddes of Belle & Sebastian

Eliminator – ZZ Top (1983)

Geddes’ first selection had only surfaced to mind earlier that day. “I went back to work after lunch in the practice room today, and the guys were jamming to ‘Sharp Dressed Man’. So I thought, right, that’s it, Eliminator is on the list. I was pretty young when it came out. I was like eight, and I think it was one of these massive records of the ’80s, I think more than half of the songs on it were singles.”

Having been so young when he first encountered Eliminator, Geddes “didn’t know the history of ZZ Top and I didn’t know that that they’d started out as a psych-rock band in the ’60s and then gone to their kind of swamp-rock ’70s. So, it was maybe, to some of their fans, a big deal that they’d added like synthesisers and drum machines for this record.”

As children often are, it seems Geddes was initially drawn in by the band’s peculiar image: “I just liked the videos when they were on Top of the Pops and thought it was funny that they had the big beards”

It’s interesting that Geddes had been into this heavier form of rock considering the twee nature of most of Belle and Sebastian’s music. “Yeah, I guess I was sort of a bit more into the hard rock as a kid,” he explained. “It predates the big bands like Guns ‘N Roses and it was a sort of pop music at the time really.”

ZZ Top – Eliminator

Check Your Head – Beastie Boys (1992)

“I wasn’t really hip enough or into hip hop enough to have picked up on Paul’s Boutique (1989) at the time,” recalled Geddes when reflecting don’t eh mammoth impact of Beastie Boys on contemporary culture. “But then this came out a few years later, [Check Your Head] it was into the early ’90s when I was a student. Just the cover of the album, Check your Head kind of grabbed my attention in the shop, I just really liked the aesthetic of it, where it was just the three of them. The cover was a black and white image of the three of them sitting on the pavement, or sidewalk, as they would call it. They’ve got beanie hats on and they’ve got their instruments, and they just look like they’re waiting for a bus to band practice or something.”

Like only the greatest records can, the LP shook Geddes to his core: “I got the record and it just totally blew me away. I think just because it was like a combination of things that I’d never heard before, like the mixture of hardcore punk with sample-based hip-hop. And then at that point, they were also sampling themselves or making funk music to emulate the stuff that they were inspired by. I was just like, ‘This is amazing!’. And it definitely was a big gateway to tonnes of stuff.”

Beastie Boys – Check Your Head

Greatest Hits – Sly and The Family Stone (1970) & Aretha’s Gold – Aretha Franklin (1969)

Geddes is more than just a hat rack, and cleverly hacked our system to bring in two classic LPs from Sly and The Family Stone and Aretha Franklin: “I’m gonna kind of lump the two together in one because they’re records, that I think I picked up at roughly the same time in the early years of [Belle and Sebastian] around 1996-97. And they’re both compilations as well. I guess there were a lot of bands that I was into in the early ’90s, who referenced a lot of ’60s stuff. So a lot of people my age started working our way back to getting into ’60s stuff. It was also kind of what my parents had been into as well, my parents were both big music fans and so I had Beatles records and stuff around the house growing up.”

That kind of sonic foundation can only be laid by musically attuned adults: “My mum and dad had both been into soul music in their youth but didn’t really have a lot of classic soul albums. It was more kind of British rock and folk stuff. But yeah, bands who I was really into like Beastie Boys, Primal Scream and The Stone Roses all name-checked this sort of music.

“So I picked up the Family Stone Greatest Hits the first time we were in New York in a thrift store and I got Aretha’s Gold in a record shop in Glasgow. And I mean, even though I’ve subsequently got quite a lot of the proper albums by those acts, for me, it’s these two because it was my first proper exposure to their catalogue.”

Sly and The Family Stone – Greatest Hits
Aretha Franklin – Aretha’s Gold

The Divine 12th Anniversary Mix – Andrew Divine (2002)

“This next one is a little bit of a cheat in the sense that it’s not a real album and it’s kind of standing in for a whole load of stuff. But you can hear it on my friend Andrew Divine’s mix cloud channel now,” says Geddes with a glint of glee in his eye.

It’s not a selection built out of nepotism, however, as Geddes explains the rich and bountiful mix: “‘Divine!’ was and still is a nightclub in Glasgow, which has now been going, I think it’s probably in its 30th year now. He started in about 1992 when the band was first getting together and we would all go. Andrew, who runs the club is a great friend now and just has amazing taste. He’s a real… tastemaker.”

“[Andrew] knows as much about soul as any Northern Soul person. He knows as much about ‘60s garage as anyone on that scene. And his 12th-anniversary mix [released in 2002] was the first one that was on CD rather than cassette, and it was one that, for a group of friends going to the club a lot, just became really special. And with the club going as long as that; there’s a lot of memories attached to it, there are relationships that have come and gone and there are people who you’ve danced with who have passed away and stuff like that. And, you know, it’s just a big emotional thing.”

Andrew Divine – The Divine 12th Anniversary Mix 

Just Another Diamond Day – Vashti Bunyan (1970)

Naturally, given Belle and Sebastian’s innate connection to songwriting, Geddes doesn’t pure aim at the anthemic moments of dancefloor bliss. For this selection, he provides a reflection on something a little more intrinsic to the band’s sound, Vashti Bunyan: “She’s a UK folk singer from the ’60s; it’s just an absolutely beautiful record, and I would say if anyone thinks our early records are a bit fragile sounding, then they should listen to this. We sound like ZZ Top in comparison with Vashti. It’s got these folky melodies with simple guitar accompaniment and just a little bit of orchestration by Robert Kirby, who’s the same guy who worked on the Nick Drake records.”

“I hadn’t listened to it in a while and I put it on just while I was falling asleep last night and I was just kind of reminded how amazing it is. It’s just a breathtakingly beautiful record and the story behind it is quite magical as well. She was from up north originally (Newcastle). But she was on the scene in London in the ‘60s and was managed by the Stones manager, Andrew Loog Oldham and made a couple of singles. Then she just kind of chucked it all in and went up to live in the North of Scotland before the release of this record at the tail end of the 60s.”

“Vashti went for a long time, I think nobody knew where she was or what she was up to. And then she made another couple of records kind of relatively recently in the last 10 years or so, which are really, really good as well.” Essential listening all round.

Vashti Bunyan – Just Another Diamond Day

My Favourite Things – John Coltrane (1961)

“Again, this jazz record is almost standing in for a whole universe of music,” proclaims the musician, clearly aware of the limitations selecting only nine albums can have. Selecting John Coltrane’s impressive My Favorite things, Geddes reiterates his love for the icon. “But I think his band are just incredible; McCoy Tyner is one of my favourite pianists ever, although probably not someone that I’ve really attempted to emulate that much just because he plays so fearlessly.”

There is one song that stands out among the rest, however: “The title track, to me, is interesting because it’s kind of a transition between maybe the kind of ’50s idea of jazz, where it was people kind of blowing on the chord changes of songs from musical theatre and stuff like that, to the 60s jazz where it became more open. It was now more self-composed pieces, more groove-based. ‘My Favourite Things’ is almost a hybrid, it’s a song from the musical, but they’ve turned it into this spiritual thing where it goes into one chord vamps in between the sections.”

“As an improvised piece of music, every time I listen to it, it just totally blows my mind,” confesses Geddes. “I’m just like, ‘how can people do that? How can people actually be so good, that they can just create that out of nothing?’ Because it takes us months to make a record. And they literally made that record in the time it takes to listen to it.”

John Coltrane – My Favourite Things

Ravel Piano Concerto – Arturo Michelangeli (1957)

Keyboardist, Geddes explained that he read an article that discussed some of the key musical inspirations for the likes of Miles Davis and Bill Evans. Through this article, he was introduced to the classical Ravel Concerto and an old recording of it performed by Arturo Michelangeli. 

“So I checked [the concerto] out, and it’s actually the total opposite to My Favourite Things because it’s composed. But it’s a composition that almost feels like it’s improvised in a way because it’s a slow movement of the Revell Concerto and it’s just this really long, lyrical melody. It’s one that I listened to a lot in [Covid-19] lockdown, it became a kind of comfort blanket.”

Arturo Michelangeli – Ravel Piano Concerto

Six Songs For Invisible Gardens – Green-House (2020)

Similar to the previous record choice, Geddes returned to some music that had been of comfort to him during the stressful Cvid-19 lockdown periods. “During the pandemic, a lot of us were, I suppose, using music as a kind of refuge,” he observed. “An artist whose music I found really takes my head to isolated and calm places is Green-House and their album Six Songs For Invisible Gardens.”

“It’s quite embarrassing to say that I probably first became aware of them through the Spotify algorithm. I think I’d been listening to something else, possibly Julianna Barwick, or something of that ilk. Spotify just did its thing where it kept playing after the end of a record, and I was like, ‘What the hell is this?’”

Commenting more generally on the positives of modern streaming platforms, Geddes opined, “As artists, I suppose we moan about Spotify a lot. But all of us who make music are consumers of music as well and as a consumer of music, it is absolutely amazing. Especially when you want to go on a dive into classical music or into Brazilian music.”

Green-House – Six Songs For Invisible Gardens