“We are going to be more professional tonight,” announces bassist Gail Greenwood with a mischievous grin as she and her bandmates Tanya Donelly and Tom and Chris Gorman take the stage at Leeds Beckett University.
The audience in Manchester the night before “did not deserve professional”, she jokes, gleefully trying to stir age-old trans-Pennine rivalries. “We gave them amateur hour. You are going to get grade-A professional.”
The two, hour-long sets that follow are, if truth be told, actually still a little rough around the edges – but it’s a huge part of this band’s charm, along with some sterling songs and the running onstage banter.
Rather than group sequences of songs from their two 90s albums Star and King and their new record, Dove, their first since their reunion in 2016, the quartet shrewdly opt for a pick-and-mix approach to their catalogue, starting with Thief, a sparky 1995 B-side about friendship that neatly illustrates the band’s core strengths – their ability to switch from acoustic to full-on rock, and Donelly and Greenwood’s winning harmonies.
Dusted opens with a thumping drum solo from Chris Gorman while Greenwood tries out her her semi-ironic legs apart rock poses while wielding her bass guitar.
Other choice selections from the past include Seal My Fate and Gepetto, whose melodic surge prompts some dancing among the largely middle-aged crowd, and about which Greenwood observes: “Now you look like teenagers – or at least uni students.”
Mention of unicorns in the lyrics to Spaceman, another old B-side, invokes band in-jokes about training bras and the American actor Shaun Cassidy, from 70s TV series The Hardy Boys Mysteries.
Strong new songs such as Mine, Artifact and Stars Align don’t sound out of place amid past glories, with their shimmering guitars and powerful harmonies.
While Faceless, with its soaring refrain of “When I paint this day I’m gonna paint you on fire”, surely stands among the band’s crowning achievements.
Their legacy secure, Belly appear to be looking to the future with confidence. And long may that continue.