I don’t normally pay much attention to the Brit awards, but in 1999 I was delighted to imagine the look on Pete Waterman’s face when he found out the words ‘Belle & Sebastian’ were written in the envelope for the Best Newcomer award and not, as he had allegedly been told, "Steps". Waterman furiously demanded the award be rescinded, or a recount, or whatever it would take for his brand of justice to be served. As a proud member of the "Sinister" Belle & Sebastian mailing list at the time, I had to laugh. As for his suggestion that the vote had been rigged by an enthusiastic set of fans each registering multiple votes in the online poll, I couldn’t possibly comment...
As The Boy With the Arab Strap was actually the band’s third album, after the vinyl-only Tigermilk and If You’re Feeling Sinister, winning an award for best newcomer on the back of it seems as strange as it was unlikely (although my understanding of the Grammy awards is that their best newcomer award is open to any artist who has never previously been nominated in another category, which must throw up even stranger "newcomers" from time to time).
You probably know largely how this album goes - proto-twee, hushed tones, shy male vocals, shy female vocals, a fey stab at northern soul that would provide a hint to later developments in their sound, and a drifting, rolling closing track (‘The Rollercoaster Ride) completely at odds with its own title.
Here’s the album’s title track for your delectation - or, as it’s sometimes known, that song from that programme that bloke who played Egg was in before he was Rick. It’s brilliant, and it’s got a recorder in it, and how many songs can you say that about?