After clocking up a few BSP gigs earlier in 2002, on a rainy October evening I dragged my friend Neil (otherwise known as De Lacey) along to see the band at 93 Feet East in London’s Brick Lane. De Lacey is a man of incredibly eclectic musical tastes (think Sex Pistols to Neil Diamond), so I had no idea quite what he’d make of them. I needn’t have worried. As we walked back to the tube that night, it was almost as if he’d had some kind of religious experience... Scroll forward a few months and it’s the start of a new year, and we are watching them support the Flaming Lips at the Forum in Kentish Town (BSP’s slot preceded by a screening of the Powell and Pressburger film 'A Matter of Life and Death' ) – it was so good we went both nights, and sneaked backstage (De Lacey had his BSP chocolate signed after telling Noble the band were “better than Joy Division”). On the bus back into town, we both wondered where this was all going to take us. Little did we know that the year ahead – and well beyond – would see some extraordinary adventures following this extraordinary band...
British Sea Power's next gig was in February, at the Leadmill in Sheffield, supporting the Libertines. The show was very sold out, though the venue were keeping back a handful of tickets to sell on the door. On a bright, crisp Saturday morning, De L – looking resplendent in his 'Exceeding the National Average' t-shirt - picked me up in his car near St Paul's Cathedral. But an hour or so later, disaster! Smoke started pouring out of the engine and we broke down by a gypsy camp on the M1 before being towed all the way to Nuneaton, where – in his parents' absence – we 'stole' his dad’s Jaguar before driving like maniacs to Sheffield. The tickets on the door had long gone and, worse still, there wasn’t a tout in sight, probably due to the hundreds of Pete Doherty groupies who were in the same situation as us. We retired to a pub near the venue, and had just about given up all hope when I spotted someone with a laminate around their neck. It turned out to be one of BSP's road crew, who on hearing of our predicament very kindly put us on the guest list... we were in!
To be honest (from what I remember), BSP weren’t quite on top form that night, but shortly later news reached us of what sounded like an astonishing performance at the SXSW showcase in Texas (read the review here). We were soon planning our next escapade, both of us booking a week off work to follow them on their tour with Interpol – in Germany and Holland.
The first stop was Club Sabotage in a freezing Dortmund, where we had arranged to meet a fellow fan who had also travelled over from England to see BSP play their 40-minute support slots. Step forward, Northern Pete. As we settled into one of the bars in the venue, I remember telling him I didn’t think I’d ever heard 'Apologies to Insect Life'. I had actually seen it live several times, but even now I still didn’t know the song titles... I think this may have been the first night that 'Carrion' was ever played. Certainly the first time we’d heard it. We all thought it would make an excellent choice for the band’s next single.
Next up was Munster, which saw 'Chilly Willy' make an appearance (Eamon had forgotten his trousers). Before the gig, we had got talking to a guy called Tomas. He had travelled 150 miles from his home in Bremen to see Interpol, his favourite band. After persuading him to go down the front with us for BSP, I then noticed him standing outside the venue during the headliners' set. When I asked why, he replied: "What is the point in watching Interpol? I have just seen the best band in the world."
On to Bavaria, and to AKW, a great little venue – a converted brewery on the outskirts of the beautiful city of Wurzburg. The gig was memorable for a rare live outing for 'The Lonely' – featuring Paul Banks on guitar. Then it was the long journey north by train to the Melkweg in Amsterdam... A few weeks later I crossed the seas once more for the last night of the tour, at La Nef in Angouleme, south-west France – a brilliant show which featured one of the best ‘Rock in A’s I’d seen (read the review here).
Back home, the UK tour kicked off on a Monday evening in Northampton. A bit of a contrast, not only to the European dates that we'd attended but also to the band’s two previous gigs. The first of these had been the Decline launch show at the Ram Inn in the beautiful Sussex village of Firle, where the band were supported by traditional English folk group the Copper Family (read the Stereo Effect review here). Four days later, BSP caught a boat to the Isles of Scilly to play a remarkable set at the Scillonian Club (ecstatically reviewed by The Sunday Times and Playlouder). But we chose.... Northampton. Once more, De L’s less-than-trusty Ford Ka was called into action. This time we made the trip without any problems and we had a new travelling companion – Northern Pete. Most of the people in the audience were there to see the local support band, and left after they had finished. There were perhaps 50 people there for BSP. At the back of the hall was a small merchandise stand, with a visitor’s book to sign. It was manned by the person who would later become known to us as 'The Secretary'. At the time we had also become aware of a larger-than-life character who had begun posting on the BSP internet forum. Visiting the gents before the gig I bumped into a large middle-aged man striding out of one of the cubicles dressed head to toe in combat gear, complete with hat, and wearing boot polish on his face. Ah, Captain Riot I presume...
Next up for me was the Garage, the ‘big London date’ of the tour and one which was probably a watershed gig for the band. The show also saw the first big pre-gig meet-up of BSP fans, in the Famous Cock pub opposite the venue (many friendships were formed at this and the other dates on the tour). The Patrick Mooreheads were in attendance selling their 1940s-style ‘gunforks’ dresses for £200 each (“How many have you actually sold?”, I asked…). The performance itself was a triumph. Behind the band, monochrome footage of migrating birds formed a suitably atmospheric backdrop as they began with the majestic ‘Heavenly Waters’. It was a sedate opening but by the end, during ‘Rock in A’, all hell had broken loose. Extra drumming reinforcements were called upon and the Mooreheads and a couple of fans were invited up on stage as the gig finally, gloriously descended into chaos.
A midweek trip to Manchester’s Life Cafe followed, a show that was enhanced by the presence of a vibrant audience which included several of BSP’s Kendalian friends and (I swear, although no-one believed me at the time) Daniel Radcliffe. ‘Harry Potter’ was later revealed to be a BSP fan. I felt vindicated!
At Oxford Zodiac, Noble ended the gig looking like a deranged deep sea diver with his head inside Eamon’s marching drum (review here). The following afternoon I found myself queuing at Charing Cross to buy a train ticket to the unlikely rock Mecca of Royal Tunbridge Wells. In front of me in the queue were two fellow fans I recognised from Oxford (known collectively as ‘Dunnocks’). It must be catching, this BSP bug...
On arrival we noticed that every single section of the railway bridge outside Tunbridge Wells station had been adorned with the BSP tour poster. The gig was at a venue called the Forum. It was tiny and smelt strongly of piss, as betrayed by its former incarnation as a Victorian public convenience. BSP played a corruscating hour-long set – the central highlight of which was an unbroken salvo of 'Remember Me', 'Favours' and 'Bass Rock' – in front of an audience comprised mostly of local teenagers.
Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms on a Friday night saw one of the best performances of the tour in a venue decorated with floral foliage aplenty. With the band’s permission, I made an attempt to film the show (you can watch the last 15 minutes below).
The tour culminated at Mansfield Town Mill the following night. I had spent the morning excitedly reading the reviews of 'The Decline' in the Saturday papers before heading to Mansfield. It had been the hottest day of the year and the town was full of very drunk and not particularly welcoming locals, but the venue was ace and there were sandwiches and samosas for both band and fans. Truth be told, the gig wasn’t the best – BSP seemed to be displaying the after effects of the previous night's shenanigans (we’d heard they and members of support band Mower had tried to break into Nottingham castle...).
As spring turned to a summer soundtracked by BSP's stirring debut album, I missed the near-legendary gig at the St John Boste Social Club in Kendal (read a review here), but this was more than compensated for by a sequence of stunning shows at Hove Old Market, Bristol Louisiana, Le Pub in Newport (review), Truck Fest (review) and On The Rocks. The latter was a 'secret' fans gig at an incredibly hot and sweaty strip club in Kingsland Road in London's Dalston. The show was notable for the live debut of Eamon's band Brakes and a rare outing for 'Albert's Eyes'. Members of the audience fainted, Noble wore a splendid dress and Woody played the encore of 'A Wooden Horse' with a sack over his head.
Not long after this gig, BSP announced they would be returning to Germany in the autumn. Time for De Lacey and I to get the Eurostar timetables out again. Dresden and Berlin in September, you say? Why not...
Noble photograph by Aurelie Crozet; Northampton ticket by Mark Rodgers; all others @ brilliantine mortality