Belle and Sebastian’s snooker loopy drummer looks ahead to the band’s Norwich gig
- Credit: Archant
You may not realise it but Friday, May 8 will be a memorable day in Norwich for two reasons. It's the day after Britain goes to the polls so we may have a new government - but far more exciting than that, Scottish band Belle and Sebastian will be in the city touring their ninth album. Drummer Richard Colburn spoke to David Powles.
This interview could start by talking about the fact Belle and Sebastian drummer Richard Colburn came very close to becoming a professional snooker player.
Or I could waffle on about how the dumping of one stick for two came about more by luck than design.
But those stories can wait. The most important thing is the music. If it wasn't, I wouldn't be lucky enough to enjoy twenty minutes in the company of a member of one of Britain's finest and most consistent bands of the modern era.
That's Belle and Sebastian in case you didn't get it.
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And suffice to say the music on the Scottish band's ninth incarnation remains as exquisite and enjoyable as the eight that came before.
Released at the end of January, Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance has received plaudits all over the place. 'Compelling and moving' wrote The Guardian. 'Surprises at every turn' wrote NME. 'A creative rebirth' said Uncut.
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It is familiar Belle and Sebastian territory — but different too. A mix of the sort of dreamy pop ballads that have become their trademark, but on several tracks an intriguing and exciting new element of disco and funk.
Colburn said of the final product: 'We're very pleased with how it sounds. When you work with new people it really can go either way, but we're very pleased with how this went.
'So far it seems that from the bits people have heard their response has been favourable. There are a few songs on there which are a bit of a new direction, but at the same time it's definitely Belle and Sebastian.'
The 'new people' he refers to includes producer Ben H. Allen III, best known for his work with Gnarls Barkley and Animal Collective. His involvement probably explains the new sound.
Colburn would be the first to admit that so many albums in - and four years since their last album release, a bit of a new direction was needed.
I ask him what keeps a band going when they have achieved so much? What is their left to achieve?
'I don't know really!' he joked. 'I think it is just that we always want to strive to make better records. The last two records have been spread out over eight or nine years so hopefully that means we've come back fresh and raring to go. The break wasn't deliberate, it just sort of happened. We've all got other projects, Stuart (lead singer Stuart Murdoch) wanted to do his movie, it just sort of happened.
'We always try to put out a better record than the last one. Obviously we want better sales, but we try not to look back too much. We don't have the attitude of 'been there, done that'.
'This time around we've got a new producer and that has really helped move us forward. We're learning new styles, keeping it fresh and doing new things.'
Back to the past. The band's biography claims Colburn, the joker of the pack, was destined to be a professional snooker player. I assume it's a joke, but he quickly confirms the opposite.
He said: 'I'm actually the fourth generation drummer in my family. Some of them played in pretty decent bands.
'Initially I turned away from drumming as a kid, rebelled against it, and I was going to be a professional snooker player. Seriously, I was very good.
'But my coach passed away and it just fell away. I got into some sound engineering and one night a drummer for a band didn't turn up and I ended up playing, that's how I got into it.'
He probably owes that drummer a pint or two for the no-show. Soon Colburn joined Belle and Sebastian and the rest is history.
They've toured the world, won coveted awards (he classes the 1999 Best Newcomer Brit Award as
their greatest achievement), sold record after record and even headlined the Hollywood Bowl in front of some of the biggest stars in the world.
But it hasn't all been plain sailing, as he explained when asked for the band's low point: 'We've been through a few members and that is never easy. In particular losing Isobel (singer Isobel Campbell who went solo after her relationship with Murdoch turned sour) just when we were finding our feet, that was a real wrench.'
Yet the band has prolonged and as we spoke, the likeable Colburn was once again dusting down the drumsticks to prepare for foreign shores with the band - leaving his wife and their three-year-old son at home.
He said: 'We're spending five weeks in the Far East and Australia so I've been busy getting ready for that. I leave behind the wife and son, who's three, so lots of stuff to sort.
'Of course I miss the family, but I've been very fortunate because we haven't really done a record for four or five years, which means we've not toured that much either and I've been able to be there to see him grow up.'
The new album tour will eventually see them stop off at Norwich's Open venue on May 8, with support provided by Dum Dum Girls. Colburn is passionate about putting on a good show for the band's followers.
He said: 'Touring in general has become more professional over the years and we've definitely improved as a live band. People pay a lot of money to see us live, so they should expect a high quality. The venues have got bigger and bigger and we've had to move up with that.
'We change the sets quite a bit, especially now we've over 70 songs to choose from. If it's an intimate venue we'll go for intimate songs. If it's a weekend or a festival we'll go for the party vibe.'
Given it's the day after the General Election I'm not sure exactly which party vibe he's talking about.
Belle and Sebastian play Open, Bank Plain, Norwich, on May 8, 7pm. The gig is now sold out.
Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance is out now