THE FT TOP 100 SONGS
96. Belle And Sebastian – “Sleep The Clock Around”
Dave Boyle says:
I wasn’t one of the participants in drawing up this list, so if you don’t like this song’s presence in it, i) don’t blame me and ii) tough. I’m very glad it’s here, as it’s my favourite Belle and Sebastian song. The first time I heard it in 1998 I was utterly enraptured. It’s the the way the music builds up. There’s an ethereal quality to the opening, and every verse adds some more noise. The dreaminess remains all the way through, with new sounds and more being added to three-quarters in, where it distills to a beat, then rises quickly, building to the moment when the bagpipes kick in.
Back in 98, for a reason I don’t know why, I got goosebumps all over when that happened. It was instantaneous and direct. I played it again and again, and was in tears at the end of it. I wasn’t surprised, as I love the sound. Maybe it was Mr Spock’s funeral in Star Trek II; maybe it was Mull of Kintrye. It didn’t remind me of anything, or of a time, or even a place – I’d not been to Scotland apart from briefly as a kid to Aviemore, and even more briefly to an NUS Scotland Conference.
A year later, I was in the pool room of the Strathclyde Student’s Association and saw it was on a juke box. This was amazing – B&S were barely known at the University I was at, so to see it on a juke box was fantastic.
Despite this, I’d never actually seen it performed live. I got my wish at Glastonbury 2004, where they closed their set with it. I was a bit drunk and in wellies but didn’t care, because I was finally seeing Belle and Sebastian. I was jumping around like an idiot (thanks to Carsmile who found my thumb ring in the mud after it flew off in a particularly exuberant bit of clapping) and despite there being no bagpipes I was in tears again. A few weeks later, I saw them again at Somerset House, and they finished with the song again. Cue more idiotic leaping and jumping, and if not tears, then certainly misty eyes (I only dropped my phone this time). And no bagpipes. Now it’s just the song. I’ve just listened to it again and I didn’t get any goosebumps, or misty eyed.
I couldn’t tell you what the song is about really to this day. I think it might be about a waster (you’re not likely to be much use to anyone if you spend the whole day in bed) and there might be some deeper in-joke meaning that only 23 people who used to be on Sinister get. I don’t know, and don’t care either. There are other Belle and Sebastian songs that I like that mean things to me because of other people or other events or times in my life. But Sleep the Clock Around is my song alone. I have no memories fixed in my mind about it, and the way I react to it has changed. But most of all, whatever I think is totally personal – it reminds me of nothing more or less than of my liking the song.