Brilliantine Mortality

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Footnotes The Search for HMS Sussex / Irish Jack

Fan reviews of BSP gigs can be found on the main site

The Fall of British Sea Power

UK Tour, Brumaire and Frimaire CCXII

The main ingredient of BSP's epoch making November 2005 tour was nine concerts under the 'Club Sea Power' umbrella, each featuring a B-side set and a main set in venues as diverse as a canteen and a cavern. The B-side set was strongly orientated towards the band's regular customers as each night BSP performed six or seven of their more obscure songs extracted from a pool of twelve with a more predictable main set following their tried and trusted formula. The result was an exceptional series of concerts with which only the band's harshest inspectors could have found fault. The dates were unusual in that BSP were 'promoting' a new single that was never performed live and that a different act provided support each night.

In addition to the Club Sea Power dates, BSP performed a standard concert at Reading University and joined the highly overrated Kraut rock ensemble Faust for an event that proved to be anything but standard... This appetiser for the November tour saw BSP return to Hove's Old Market for quite an extraordinary evening even by BSP's high standards. Ursine Ultra made possibly his final appearance, strolling among the audience as Martin Noble appeared on the quarter of the stage allocated to BSP to lead an instrumental troubled by guitar feedback. An ageing bearded gentleman ironed his jacket as Faust's percussionist struck some large metal sheets with scaffolding poles before taking a power driven circular saw to the poles as bon viveur Yan and brother Hamilton played drums. Considerable friction between the two bands - playing simultaneously - was obvious and BSP's rather abbreviated contribution came to an abrupt end ten minutes in: Yan etched his name firmly into the record books by becoming the first member of BSP to be ejected from a venue at which the band were performing before they had finished playing. The feuding spilt over after the concert as musicians from various bands traded blows on the dance floor.

A couple of weeks later on the road to Barrow-in-Furness, where the English lakes meet the sea, I marvelled at the autumn reds and golden browns glistening in the sunshine and the silvered shining levels of the distant lakes and tarns. Few bands would open their UK tour in a former ship workers canteen but then there are few bands akin to BSP. Following a learned talk and slide show by Terry Spurling from the Submarine Heritage Centre about the fate of HMS Perseus which tragically sank in the Ionian Sea in December 1941, BSP performed their eagerly awaited B-side set, including the magical Moley and Me, Slav drinking anthem Fakir and Albert's Eyes. The inclusion of the brand new song No Need to Cry at all was possibly a clue to a future B-side. The band were as versatile as ever, switching the vocals between Scott and Hamilton with Yan performing exceptionally on harmonica during When I Go Out.

Hamilton introduced the main set with a very modest "Good evening". Eamon looked particularly neat in a new off white Eskimo-inspired outfit topped by his yellow woollen hat and the sweat simply poured from Woody as they supported front men Yan, Hamilton and Noble who performed with a new, higher level of confidence and synergy. The band tore through their live classics Spirit of St Louis, Remember Me, Bass Rock, Fear of Drowning and Favours in the Beetroot Fields before dedicating Runaway in honour of Kevo: reputedly the first fan to notch up 100 concerts. Oh Larsen B signalled the beginning of the now customary end as the band worked through Carrion and Lately before delighting the youthful audience with a classical version of Rock in A, as the band were joined on stage by Abi: a slender viola player elegantly draped in a vivid silk dress.

Friday 18th November 2005 saw two of Reading University's greatest sons return to the White Knights campus to perform at the packed out students union in a throwback to the quintessential 1970s BBC2 live music programme Rock Goes to College. BSP's rather atmospheric version of I am a Cider Drinker was played in the background as the band took the stage and performed in front of black and white film footage alternating between a galloping deer and migrating birds. The 75-minute set featured a thundering version of Remember Me and - absent of any B-side performance - included True Adventures in the main set for the one and only time this autumn. Yan's trademark 360-degree pirouette introduced an epic version of Bass Rock and fans were treated to the effects of a blizzard during Oh Larsen B for the first time ever.

On Saturday afternoon a few hardy souls braved the Siberian winds cutting across west Glasgow to see the ten men of underdogs Albion Rovers grind out a well deserved draw against a below par Partick Thistle. The main significance of tonight's performance at Queen Margaret Union was it marking for many fans the end of the search for the Holy Grail as the elusive hidden B-side No Red Indian - delightfully featuring Woody on bass and Yan on drums - made its debut live appearance.

Sunday evening saw a performance in front of a packed out audience at Manchester's Ritz: reminiscent of a 1920s ballroom featuring art decoratif wrought iron furnishings and glitter balls slowly rotating beneath black ceilings. The pounding drum beat could be heard overhead as Eamon went walkabout on the ornate balcony during Apologies to Insect Life and the intensity of the crowd moshing during Remember Me could be felt right out in the wings as the springing floorboards almost reached breaking point. Hamilton and Noble improvised by making calling sounds of various birds while technicians rectified some short term sound difficulties before Elegiac Stanzas. The highly effective red stage lighting made the first performance of Blackout on this tour even more haunting than usual.

Rock music fans who lament their idols performing in tiny venues seriously miss the point. A late addition to BSP's November tour schedule was a return to the 150-capacity Freebutt pub in Brighton. The doors opening at ten past eight and the band arriving on stage at 8.15 pm sharp doubtlessly caught one or two fans on the hop. The punctual few were treated to a wonderful six song B-side set opening with Moley and Me. The highlight of the gig was No Red Indian with Yan switching to drums and Woody - who with typical modesty claims only to play two strings - on bass. The intimacy of the venue, excellent acoustics and familiarity and expertise with which the band performed contributed to making Wednesday 23rd November 2005 an evening of perfect theatre.

In stark contrast to Brighton, the following night BSP performed in front of their largest audience this tour at London's Forum. A few fans met up beforehand in Kentish Town's Assembly Rooms, where the conversation turned towards the apparent tension between BSP's pro-European alliance last year with the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa and this season's official twinning with those advocates of Cornish independence The Wurzels. BSP's energetic set included Yan ad-libbing "Hey-ho let's go" in tribute to the late, great Joey Ramone during Apologies to Insect Life and Noble tossing a scarecrow into the audience, which was ripped to shreds inside eight seconds.

Arriving in Robin Hood country along the appropriately named Brian Clough Way, the main road linking Nottingham and Derby, we reached the Horn in Hand in time for a few pre-gig drinks. News of a major military operation to free 1,000 people trapped by ice and snow on Bodmin Moor - only ten miles from Carnglaze Caverns where BSP were due to perform 48 hours later -raised questions about whether the band's long anticipated 'rave in the cave' would go ahead. Thanks to the power of new technology any such doubts were short lived. The night's performance saw a slightly revamped version of The Spirit of St Louis as the band paused poignantly to build the anticipation just before Yan announced the arrival of the stukas coming in. The inclusion of Favours in the Beetroot Fields between Oh Larsen B and Carrion provided a welcome departure from the norm in terms of BSP's now customary four or five closing songs. Rock in A was the cue for a connived stage invasion as a mass of fans hurdled the barriers, shrieking into microphones, playing keyboards and seizing Woody's drum kit. As Yan and Hamilton battled on bravely, Eamon extended his walkabout through the crowd; Woody stood in the audience observing the bedlam quizzically while the enfant terrible Martin Noble grabbed his bottle of beer and mounted the speakers to obtain a bird's eye view.

The following evening saw BSP perform admirably in the excellent Oxford Brookes University Students Union. Martin Noble dedicated the whole set - which exactly mirrored that of the previous evening - to the recently departed George Best. The performance concluded with Noble thrashing around while blindfolded during Rock in A before being unceremoniously drop-kicked by Yan.

A fine early evening Sunday dinner of medallions of pork was enjoyed at the London Inn some two miles from Carnglaze Caverns in the eponymous St Neot, a small village owing its origins to 9th Century St Anietus. The village is well situated in a broad basin surrounded by deep sided valleys and sheltered from the harsh Cornish weather. The Rum Store at Carnglaze Caverns was used to store the Royal Navy's supply of rum during the Second World War. Today, the store has been converted into an auditorium providing outstanding acoustics, where a sell out crowd had assembled for BSP's second performance in the state of Kernow in three months.

The audience were asked to part and form a gangway to allow the band to file from the cave entrance to the stage along an illuminated central pathway for this concert - in aid of the Padstow Lifeboat Appeal. Thirty limited edition posters were on sale to raise funds and further proceeds were obtained from a raffle with prizes including signed CDs and posters as well as crates of Sharps Atlantic IPA beer. The gig itself saw BSP perform against a glorious natural backdrop of slate rock. The main set kicked off with a particularly long introduction to Apologies to Insect Life before Yan launched full throttle into the vocals. Hamilton wore a customised leather bomber jacket with sheepskin trim lent to him by a fan. The snow storm effects during Oh Larsen B caused fake snow to bond to the cave roof giving the appearance of stalactites suspending from the ceiling. Rock in A was toned down and heavily dominated by the sound of quiet cymbals; although the sight of Eamon crowd surfing on his back while simultaneously playing his drum was quite remarkable.

Returning to the Wheal Tor hotel, Cornwall's highest inn - built in 1850 - on the fringes of a snowy Bodmin Moor, four wild horses briefly blocked the road at midnight. The pitch blackness of the night and thoughts of vicious roaming carnivores -Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Hounds of the Baskervilles that haunted the moor a century ago and the more latter day legend the Beast of Bodmin - caused us to dash from the car to the hotel without hanging around to admire the picturesque starry night sky. Breakfast was enjoyed overlooking the vast expanse of landscape. The dry stone walls resembled hand stitching on a perfectly sown patchwork quilt in every shade of green imaginable. A mid-morning stroll in absolute peace and tranquillity took us past King Doniert's stones - the remains of two granite crosses - associated with Dungarth, King of Cornwall, believed to have drowned in the river Fowey in 875.

The Bristol performance on Monday 28 November 2005 marked not only the end of the November tour but also the semi-retirement of BSP's much loved manager Old Sarge. Tonight's show was at the Bierkeller, unsurprisingly furnished with beamed ceilings and sturdy wooden tables and benches on a cold stone floor. A well received B-side set was performed in front of colour film depicting band members admiring portraits in what appeared to be an old art gallery or stately home. The 2002 A-side Childhood Memories was worked into the B-side set before BSP bombed their way through their main set, featuring B-sides Bass Rock, Apologies to Insect Life and Favours in the Beetroot Fields. Following the concert and as the Sex Pistols' New York blared through the speakers four familiar intoxicated, dishevelled men barely able to prop each other up and spilling beer danced merrily on the tables, apparently unbroken by the rigours of the last twelve days.

Late November 2005 saw ten of the finest BSP performances ever witnessed. If anyone deserved to bow out on a high it was Roy Wilkinson: someone who will be remembered as a gentleman of the highest integrity and the architect of the formative years of the greatest live band I have ever seen.

Sarah Nicholls
December 3, 2005

Band photos, except Carnglaze, by Cath Aubergine

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