Sweet Ride: My Life As A Belly Fan

I still remember the exact moment when I fell in love with Belly. It was summer 1995, a time that feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago in the same breath. I was 13 and already an obsessive music fan, listening to britpop and guitar bands in my every waking moment. Yet something was missing. Oasis, Blur, Pulp etc were all great but they were bands I liked because I knew they were cool and because other people told me I should. Finding your own favourite band is another thing altogether.

So when I sat down to watch the TV coverage of Glastonbury festival that year I didn’t know what I was looking for exactly but as soon as Belly came on screen I knew I’d found it. Sure, I was naturally drawn to any girls playing guitar, but there were others that year too who could have won my heart – Veruca Salt, Sleeper, Elastica – instead Belly were the one. They spewed venom in a way that was sweet and brutal at the same time. Whatever the combination of musical energy and mysterious force they had, I was instantly hooked.

Back before the Internet finding out about a band involved spending a lot of time reading the music press, listening to the radio and hanging about in record shops. I bought both albums and luckily you could still get some of the older singles so I was able to hear b-sides too. I even found a poster of Feed the Tree in an old copy of Smash Hits and put it on my wall. I doodled their name on every school book and folder I had. This band belonged to me now.

Then it was announced that Belly would be supporting R.E.M. at their Edinburgh show that year. We already had tickets for the gig and it would be my first real concert (I had seen a pop star once but that didn’t count). Could there be anything better than seeing Belly and R.E.M. on the same day?

That summer I listened obsessively to both bands, dreaming about how perfect the show was going to be. When the day came we left home early, since we lived a couple of hours away from the venue. It was a boiling hot day and there were fifty thousand people trying to get to Murrayfield stadium. Soon we hit the biggest traffic jam I had ever seen coming across the Forth Road Bridge. We didn’t move for over an hour. I was devastated as the radio announced the first act taking to the stage. Belly were playing two miles away and I was stuck in a traffic jam crying my eyes out.

When we eventually got into the stadium I cursed every single person there. These people had seen my favourite band. They probably didn’t even know who they were! I sat stewing all the way through the other support acts Spearhead and The Cranberries. By the time R.E.M. came on I cheered up a bit because I wasn’t going to let a traffic jam ruin this band as well. During Country Feedback Michael turned his back to the audience, as though he didn’t want to share his pain with anyone. I sympathised.

Like all teenagers prone to drama somehow this just made me love Belly more. One day I had ‘King’ on repeat and my friend said ‘maybe we should listen to something else’, which is when I realised this was a sickness probably best kept to myself.

Worse was to come. On a cold Wednesday in 1996 I was on holiday in Wales, buying my weekly copies of the music press when I saw the headline. Belly had split up. The band were over. I had missed seeing them by half an hour and now I never would. They had judased my heart in two.

I guess I felt betrayed for a while, as though they’d broken up with me personally. Seeing the name on my schoolbooks everyday was too much to bear so I changed it to ‘echobelly’ (laughable now since I can hardly even remember any of that band’s songs).

A while later my teacher asked us to write an essay about a significant moment in our lives. So while everyone else wrote about their boyfriends, dead dogs and sick grandparents I spilled my guts out about my favourite band. I concluded in my essay that even when a band breaks up no one can ever take the music away from you. I would cling to those two albums long after my disappointment simmered and died. Those songs were in my blood now.

Soon Tanya started a solo career and I devoured all of her new songs too. When I went to university she came and played a show in our town. It felt like the best and worst gig of all time. I finally heard my favourite singer live and that was incredible but she only played a few Belly songs. I understood why she maybe didn’t want to play Feed the Tree or Seal my Fate but their absence just reminded me of what I had missed. The moment was gone.

In the mid to late noughties I would religiously read Tanya’s website and messageboard for updates but it was hard to get much information or even get a hold of her later solo albums in the UK. So I fell in love with other bands instead. Still my username on some music message boards was ‘superconnected’, an ironic nod to that first song of Belly’s I ever heard. I remember being so delighted when someone on rilokiley.net messaged me to tell me how Belly were their favourite band. It was nice to know I wasn’t the only one.

As time marched on, social media became a way to directly connect with the artist themselves, which was really cool. I was delighted to ‘like’ Tanya’s page and discover she was working on new solo material, the Swan Song series. The instant connection felt like opening a door that had long been shut. Now we didn’t have to read a ‘where are they now’ column to find out what the band were up to.

In 2014 Tanya came back to Scotland to support Throwing Muses, her sister’s band. It was amazing to see her on stage, signing new songs and a few old ones. The crowd were euphoric and there was a palpable energy when she played Belly songs. Everyone wanted more than half an hour. Tanya had been working with members of Belly on her solo material but still I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of an actual reunion.

So when I saw the announcement on Facebook I couldn’t stop myself from sobbing. The band were back together. It was so incredible reading all the comments from fans who were as overjoyed as me. Reunion gigs were announced, including Glasgow. I would finally hear the band live. Maybe everything that dies really does come back.

For various reasons I ended up going to the gig on my own. I made my way to the front of the venue and chatted to a few fans, including another girl on her own who similarly didn’t want to go to the gig with people who didn’t know the band. This was not a moment to share with anyone other than the really hardcore fans.

The band didn’t disappoint. They played every song, including my favourite – the b-side Thief. It was kind of overwhelming to see how much joy and energy they had being back together on stage. Every song was greeted with a frenzy and I was fighting back tears throughout the whole thing. My thirteen year old self was moshing away, my thirtysomething self was deliriously happy at how life can turn around sometimes.

The tour would have been a treat enough but then last year the band announced their reunion album. They decided to crowdfund through Pledge Music rather than signing a record deal, which would allow the fans to be involved in the whole process. My immediate response: take all my money, now.

And so last week Belly finally released their new single Shiny One. Weirdly, I started to feel nervous about listening to it. A long time had passed and I didn’t know what to expect. How could they ever match up to songs that I’d loved since I was a teenager? And my musical tastes had evolved as well. Now I mainly listened to Americana singer songwriters. Would I even like the new music?

I was sitting at the my desk at the end of a long day when I pressed play. At first I hardly recognised them. Shiny One starts off sounding like dream pop, and it reminded me of a Wolf Alice song (a new band who are funnily enough often compared to Belly). I let the sound and textures wash over me, appreciating every second. Then I went for a walk, listening outside where the song could breathe fresh air.

By the end of the walk I had fallen in love with the burn of the guitars and beauty of the vocals. At first I thought the song was about a kid who doesn’t answer his phone when his mother calls but I realise now it’s probably about appreciating the sun itself. Part of Belly’s appeal is their intriguing lyrical poetry and this song is no different. I’ve had it on repeat, trying to unlock its mysteries ever since.

To have the band back really is a blessing. A shiny, beautiful gift. Twenty years are gone and we’re all different people now, but when you get over the initial shock of hearing them again it’s like no time has passed at all. Once was lost, now am found.

Belly are my dream come back to life and I can’t wait to hear the rest of Dove when it is finally released on May 4th.


LISTEN: https://youtu.be/YH14dKCsLxM

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