Shhh! Motorhead they are not...

Shake awake the spirit of John Lennon and go tell the Good Lord above the news – a survey by the Norfolk Evangelical Christian Fellowship has revealed that Sir Cliff Richard is a more famous Christian than The Pope and Mother Theresa. In fact, were it not for the spiritual stamina of a little chappy called Jesus, Sir Clifford would be the most famous God-loving person on the planet. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

It most certainly does. Rather like this: 10.15pm on a dank Monday night and the Belle & Sebastian hordes are baying for blood. Really. They have watched, or rather attempted to watch Elliott Smith, who spent his entire solo spot sitting down, thus ensuring that 87 per cent of the crowd were treated to the toppermost of his bobble hat. Very Belle & Sebastian. They have listened to the DJ playing a stack of ’60s tunes which are both unfamiliar, yet naggingly tuneful, as if they’re all cracking tracks from albums we all really should own, but don’t. Very, very Belle & Sebastian. And the band are half-an-hour late onstage. Now boo. And hiss.

Three thousand Sebastianites cannot be wrong. For, if nothing else, tonight will go down in history as the day that The Spirit Of Sarah Records went stadium rock; when the blushing indie schmindie virgin bride threw off her Field Mice T-shirt, set fire to her Heavenly bra and marched into the hairy arena with a guttural growl which intimated, “Get out of the way, Then Jericho! There’s been a few changes around here!” And then Belle & Sebastian come on. And you can’t hear anything. Oh well.

Now, we admire Belle & Sebastian for their literalism – they released a single called ‘Dog On Wheels’ and the sleeve was a picture of a dog on wheels, and they sound a bit like Felt and wear Felt T-shirts. We admire them for their sublimely individual records which are graceful and intelligent and, like, really grown-up, yet deliciously naive at the same time. And we particularly admire them for their cavalier disregard for the tedious orthodoxy of the music industry, with its ever-spinning hamster wheel of interviews and photo sessions and muddy festivals and mucky exposis. It’s just that throughout Belle & Sebastian’s set we keep thinking, ‘God help us if there’s a war’.

Quiet? We’ll give you quiet. “Dance, you lame fuckers!” shouts a man in the balcony. “Hrrmphff. Must be the heat!” mumbles Stuart Murdoch, by way of response. “Turn it up!” shouts a punter by the bar. “Shut the fuck up!” snarls the man near the back. Now, this is getting good. We can tell that Belle & Sebastian are a teensy-weensy below full volume by the way in which a slightly twitched tambourine drowns out the guitar and a sodding xylophone solo rings out loud and true, much like Mister Edge’s big axe on Red Rock all those years ago. Even loitering 20 yards away from the band, it feels like you’re standing in the Doctor Martens tent at Reading. Watching Red House Painters on the main stage. “It could all do with some va-voom,” observes a perplexed passing enthusiast. And he isn’t wrong.

There really is very little point in taking Belle & Sebastian to task for being ‘mimsy’. This is rather like berating Black Sabbath for being a bit ‘metal’, like suggesting that Brian Molko looks a bit like a ‘girl’, like having a go at Jamiroquai for being a bit of a ‘tosser’. It does not matter. What does matter, however, is the reverence afforded to this free-flowing ragbag of Scottish shysters.

The smallest offhand joke brings knowing guffaws from the masses. A mid-set raffle (we shit thee not, kids – first prize: rare-as-a-dodo’s-bum copy of debut album ‘Tigermilk’) induces admiring coos. The Belle & Sebastian [I]mugs[/I] on the merchandise stall cause fans to blurt, “Oh look! A Belle & Sebastian mug! How sweeeeet!” And unsurprisingly, the lilting likes of ‘A Century Of Fakers’ and ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’ send the anti-moshpit into the sort of raptures which could seriously damage your health – quite literally in one case as Murdoch has to stop the gig to allow security the opportunity to rescue one overemotional sort.

For while Belle & Sebastian undoubtedly represent the M & S of musical nourishment (classy and clever, yet not out of the average shopper’s reach) and their followers were most certainly born to be mild, there is one hell of a weird vibe surrounding this very strange band. Loyalty? Passion? Earnestness? Not since the heyday of The Smiths have we witnessed such an outpouring of obvious, unblemished delight from an ‘indie’ audience. But whereas Morrissey gave it his ego-ballooning all, revelling in the love and the limelight, Belle & Sebastian appear to be content to shuffle along in the shadows, all gentle strokes for introspective folks, giving back as little as they possibly can. And don’t the kids just love it. Any chance of an encore? Don’t be silly.

Sir Cliffage, almost the globe’s most famous Christian. Belle & Sebastian, soon to be playing an arena near you. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?