Brilliantine Mortality


Press: live reviews

Academy 2, Manchester, 10/04/05

BBC Manchester

Firstly, a spotlight shifts attention to the far side of the hall where a huge woodland deer appears to be suspended from a lighting rig, then a drone of noise meets the arrival of British Sea Power, trudging onto the lavishly decorated stage.

It's this wacky, surrealism that has made BSP so notorious. The tour for first album, The Decline Of... included a stage show based around foliage and a guy with a marching drum in the crowd. All good fun indeed, but does this overshadow the music? Not a chance.

It all begins with new single, It Ended On An Oily Stage, and from then on, we are treated to a whole host of heartfelt melodies, stomping drums and thunderous soundscapes.

Although the set is a mixture of both albums, it is the songs such as Remember Me and Carrion from last year's wonderful debut that really get the crowd going. It will only be a matter of time though before the tracks from Open Season become firm favourites too.

Finishing with the epic 15 minute patchwork of songs and last track from the first album, Lately, the band head off stage happy in the knowledge that they have successfully adapted to a bigger venue without losing the trademark antics that made earlier shows so special.

They can only keep on going and at this rate, don't be surprised to hear about a few hundred stuffed deer being dangled from the roof in the Arena in a couple of years.


Village Hall, Grasmere, 12/02/05

Manchester Music

Overnight, a strange indie rock version of the Paris-Dakar Rally is taking place. Because for British Sea Power fans, one gig is rarely enough - and the next day's is 333 miles away in a village hall in Cumbria. Thus bruised limbs are crammed into various cars, and stumbling bleary-headed around Oxford Services in the early hours it's interesting to muse on whether this was a deliberate challenge to the faithful.

Grasmere is not so much a one-horse town as a one-hundred-gift-shops town, in the heart of the Lake District a few miles from where three of the band grew up. Not that this connection means much to the regulars in The Lamb Inn. "There's a rock band playing at the Village Hall" one was heard to mutter; "Why do they want to do that?" As the fan who overheard this exchange was actually the person who suggested the band should play here, in response to a request on the band's website for interesting venues, he sensibly kept quiet. As we park up by the hall the band are soundchecking and the windows are rattling heavily. Cumbria throws us some traditional weather, so we pile into the Lamb Inn - safety in numbers and all that. Returning to the venue we find badminton court markings on the floor, an old-fashioned stage with red velvet curtains and specially brought in drinks being sold through a serving hatch. Local support act The Witch And The Robot frighten all the incomers with their anti-folk meanderings on dead farmers and the use of a flute.

British Sea Power start with "Apologies To Insect Life" and the PA, a rather precariously balanced stack of speakers, starts to wobble. The local youth lining the front of the stage are again wonderfully enthusiastic, but then I suspect it's been some time since a proper signed band played Grasmere. The atmosphere is the friendliest imaginable, with a real family feel to it - there are a few grey hairs, whilst a couple of the regular fans have brought their kids. Five-month-old George, modelling a one off "Baby Sea Power" babygro, will have a lifetime of winning "What was your first gig" discussions ahead of him anyway, whereas seven-year-old Archie's an old hand now having first seen them a couple of years ago. By "Remember Me", four tracks in, it's become apparent that the floor is sprung and bouncing by a good couple of inches in the middle under the weight of the jumping mass.

The PA is staring to look very dodgy indeed, and not sounding much better, although everyone's having far too much of a good time to care about things like that. More new songs get a run out, as the ever stunning "Carrion" is followed by an equally soaring anthem called "Please Stand Up" - yet another clear contender for a future single, before the reins are once again handed to the angel-voiced Hamilton whose "The Land Beyond" is a beautiful, colour-drenched successor to his timeless "Blackout". This is the sound of a band going from strength to strength. One day they may decide not to end on "Lately", but this is not it - and as the crowd sing along to every word half of the PA finally gives up the ghost. The band are undeterred and as the song descends into the regular "Rock In A" coda, a lone girl crowdsurfer lands on the stage. Suddenly there are 10, 20, 40 fans up there, tearing at the foliage hanging from the stage curtain and grabbing at the band and each other. Noble falls over a monitor almost crushed by his own admirers, Hamilton leading from the front shrieking into a mic with a bunch of happy fans, Eamon's marching drum's being thrown from side to side and shedding bits along the way, Wood carries on knocking seven bells out of his drums, whilst Yan slips quietly to the side of the stage, away from the unfolding mayhem, still mouthing something typically incomprehensible into another mic from a safe distance. As we drift away down icy roads, the sky is full of stars this city dewller hasn't seen for years.

And the next day, high above the village by Easedale Tarn, a bedraggled bunch of rather amateur hikers who three years ago didn't know each other but have now become close friends as they travel the country and further together, reflect on the fact that the band once called the best live band in Britain are going to retain that title for some time yet.

Cath Aubergine


High Rocks, Tunbridge Wells, 11/02/05

Manchester Music

I love the smoky darkness of the Roadhouse and Night & Day as much as any of you. I love the way most of Manchester's venues are within easy walking distance of each other, and the 24 hour Spar is never far away. So what am I doing being driven through a wood in Kent? Strangely enough, I'm still hot on the trail of live music. A long way from home or any other recognisable urban civilisation, heading down the dark steep country lane out of Tunbridge Wells there's little to imply that there might be a gig down there. Or, in fact, much else. Then whilst I'm still wondering if the taxi driver's taking us somewhere quiet where our bodies may eventually be found by a dog walker, the shining lights of a timbered barn. High Rocks Inn is more accustomed to "Sunday Lunch With Kenny Ball" and wedding receptions than rock bands, but in a world increasingly populated with Carling Academies it makes rather a nice change for the jaded gig-goer. Much like British Sea Power themselves.

Yan bounds onstage with a red ribbon tied around one leg and that look in his eyes that says this is going to be a good one, and there's no easing in here as they pile straight into a blistering "Apologies To Insect Life" and bodies, some extremely young, go flying everywhere. Low stage, no barriers, monitors on stacked up beer crates and a potent mix of local teens and the band's notoriously excitable regular following, many of whom haven't seen them since last year, meant that injury is almost a given. Thus it's from the sidelines, popping back a slightly dislocated shoulder, that your correspondent enjoyed the imminent single "It Ended On An Oily Stage". A straightforward but lovely indie pop tune with intriguing lyrics about people finding God, if the reception here's anything to go by it could be their crossover hit - and it's not even the best new song in the set. A tender, slower tune "Like A Honeycomb", delivered in trademark irresistible half-whisper briefly calms the increasingly chaotic mass down the front before Hamilton, looking as ever like he's been nesting in a nearby hedgerow and wearing the type of cardigan a retired teacher might don to tend an allotment takes the lead vocal for a pretty little indie-pop song "How Will I Ever Find My Way Home".

In between, well-worn classics such as "Carrion" and "Blackout" seem to sparkle afresh - or maybe it's that here amongst the low wooden beams that these five young men who always seemed more superimposed on the modern world than a part of it really feel at home. And as Yan picks out the delicate introduction to regular set closer "Lately" there's a certain anticipation. This is a band who know how to end a gig properly, none of this thanks / goodnight / shamble off nonsense - by the end of a British Sea Power gig it's quite normal to see people wandering shellshocked going "what the fuck just happened?" All we know is it won't involve the legendary bear tonight - according to Sea Power myth he passed away during last year's festival season and lies buried in a wood somewhere - not that he could have fitted on a stage this size anyway. Guitarist Noble's the first to go, up the back wall and across the ceiling like a crazed marmoset until he's hanging over the centre of the audience, somersaulting around a beam whilst Woody bangs his drums ever harder and faster. Yan's next, leaving Eamon thrashing at a guitar as he surfs the crowd, howling and twisting his wiry little frame from one ecstatic knot of fans to the next, and finally Hamilton's swinging from a chandelier, although by now I'm somewhere near the bottom of a three deep pile-up across the monitors. Then finally Wood slows the beat to a stop and band and fans gradually untangle themselves, grinning and wide-eyed. The greatest rock'n'roll band in the world just did it again.

Cath Aubergine


Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, 29/04/04

Drowned in Sound, 29/04/04

This is British Sea Power's largest headliner to date. Fears that their intense live show won't translate to the big stage are quickly dispelled. OK, so the choir of 'Men Together Today' launching into 'Something Wicked' perhaps isn't the best intro, and it may initially seem like they are shooting their load by playing indie anthem 'Remember Me' so damn early, but it's the latter which starts the pogoing frenzy (this is not 'moshing', 'moshing' is something metallers do, not schmindie kids). Any slight dips in the set (including the pain in the ass back-lighting, which is thankfully extinguished early on) are far outweighed by all the meaty goodness a BSP headline show in front of 2,000 obsessive fans can provide.

This is the thing about BSP though; they glide so seamlessly from pompous, dark, proggy songs into 'Favours In The Beetroot Fields' and 'Apologies To Insect Life', which is the band at their absolute, more chaotic and hilariously tongue-in-cheek best. Yan dumps the guitar and grabs the mic, stalking the stage and audience before throwing himself in to the baying mob; Eamon in his tin helmet leaps from behind the keyboards with his snare drum, going crazy, seemingly not even looking where he's stumbling.

They follow that with the double-bill of singles-not-on-the-album, 'Spirit Of St. Louis' and the lost pop genius of 'Childhood Memories', which is truly orgasmic. Those new fans only with the album may have also felt a little left out when The Ecstasy Of Saint Theresa's Katerina Winterova joins the band onstage to aid along the vocals of original 'Remember Me' b-side 'A Lovely Day Tomorrow'. But all this just goes to show the wealth of strong material the band have amassed over their brief time together. The hero's welcome the songs get by the BSP old skool fanbase is testament to their hardcore following, and when it's this sublime, twisted and, let's not forget, TUNEFUL (the penultimate song and single 'Carrion' upping the ante again), is it any wonder they've gone from being the potentially 'nother-hyped-failure kinda band to the receiving-standing-ovation kinda band? Of course not.

The gig finishes with a man in a 10-foot-high bear costume appearing onstage from out of nowhere (OK, appearing from backstage), beating the shit out of the band, with the band fighting back - guitars are whacked over his head, some impressive fly-kicking is attempted - the bear limps off, outnumbered and defeated, and all the while there's unhinged Eamon again, up there in the seating area with his drum, stumbling into the darkness...

Adie Nunn


Academy, Birmingham, 23/04/04

BBC Birmingham

St George's day in Birmingham - there are two ways to celebrate: turn lobster-pink and collect carnations in the Victoria Square sunshine; or marvel at British Sea Power as they sing of floods, flying aces and nuclear fallout.

The Brighton-based, Cumbria-hewn quintet are strong contenders for the "most English band in the world ever" award and they're gradually collecting a fanbase to complement the critical acclaim delivered in barrel-loads for last year's debut album, "The Decline of British Sea Power".

They're essentially English not because they wave the flag or guzzle lager by the imperial gallon (a sponsorship tie-in with a well known Czech beverage notwithstanding) but because they praise the pastoral and idolise the idyllic in this green and pleasant land.

Indeed, a regular feature of their gigs is to bring some of the countryside to the stage, festooning it with tree branches and the odd stuffed owl.

Six nights into a UK tour that has directly followed a trip round North America and Europe has left the lead singer Yan (the band members work on a first-names-only basis) a little hoarse in places; the band are also known not to have the Academy on their list of favourite venues.

But still they swing during the more upbeat numbers such as "Remember Me" and "The Spirit of St Louis" while beautifully reflecting an early life spent a hiking distance from the Sellafield plant in the slower "Childhood Memories" ("God help us if the radiation leaks / And God help us if nobody knows for weeks").

Another trademark is to end the show on a jumping, throbbing rock riff while an eight-foot stuffed bear dances around the stage and the keyboard player disappears into the crowd dressed in army fatigues and bashing a military bass drum.

The set lacks new material - a new single has been released in typically eccentric style in the Czech Republic only - but British Sea Power's battalion of fans wait excitedly for the second album, rumoured to be ready by autumn 2004.

Callum May


Academy 2, Manchester, 22/04/04

The Daily Telegraph

Exit awesome band, pursued by bear

THE Decline of British Sea Power, the title of British Sea Power's enthralling debut album, evokes nostalgia for an imagined past in which our engineering prowess was unbeatable, and even the trains ran on time. Thanks to what you might call the decline of British rail power, I arrived in Manchester nearly an hour behind schedule, missing the first 15 minutes of the Cumbria-raised, Sussex-based band's performance. I ran through the doors to see a stage camouflaged with branches and twigs, the band all but hidden underneath, as though performing a series of clandestine military exercises. Keyboard player Eamon, in tin hat and khakis, looked like a refugee from Dad's Army, while singer Yan (all the band members go by a single name) took a passive-aggressive stance centre-stage dressed in what looked like a very early version of a plain white T-shirt.

The anachronistic stage-set, which gave the impression of housing a school play about evacuees, was one thing, but when combined with the music, it felt like travelling through time and getting all the years mixed up on the way. British Sea Power's name and rural-bohemian demeanour highlight their fascination with the events of the Second World War, but their music is rooted in the emotive post-punk of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The audience was overwhelmingly composed of men, many a good 20 years older than the band, who thrilled to the Teardrop Explodes in 1980 or the Smiths in 1984. The looks of wistful joy on their faces as British Sea Powerplayed the angular, melodic Favours in the Beetroot Fields suggested that they had at last found a band to restore their faith in pop music.

If it's possible to imagine Joy Division's Ian Curtis standing stock still while singing rather than flailing his arms, that's Yan in a nutshell. While he squinted, poker-faced, at a fixed point in the middle distance, guitarist Noble played the solo to Carrion with his teeth while jumping on the speakers, unsure of how to get back down. But the piece de resistance of this astonishing, hilarious, life-enhancing gig was the arrival of the "Ursine Ultra", an enormous grizzly bear figure who spent Lately, the awesome final song, attacking the band as they played until they felt moved to fight back with their wilting branches. Man's struggle with nature may never be won, but British Sea Power put up a jolly good fight.

Lynsey Hanley


Academy 2, Manchester, 22/04/04

Manchester Music

Duke Spirit seem like a day at work; highly functional yet uneventful and predictable. Unfortunately it's drone rock in more than one sense of the word. You will notice from a distance that their singer's platinum locks dig up images of Debbie Harry as do her rather versatile piercing vocal strains. You will not remember what Duke Spirit sound like only who they sound like; namely a monotone version of Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and possibly Mazzy Star. One can hardly criticise a band for sticking to their influences but influence alone especially such common ones are seldom going to garner much attention. In the dying moments of a fairly unmemorable set, some dirt, noise and grit is given a temporary employment contract. The new boy in the office strengthens the heart beat of the organism somewhat but it's likely he'll be out on the street sometime soon.

The stage looks a set from Dad's Army; military delusions in the tranquil background of middle England. The local forestry commission would be up in arms as somebody it appears, has been out with a set of shears, assaulting the local tree population. Amplifiers, speakers and drums look like they've been dragged through the bushes outside bedecked in leaves and branches. Images of indigenous birds and plant life are projected over the back wall. British Sea Power's dancer/occasional keyboard player sits reclined like a wounded soldier, sporting an air-raid warden helmet. Apparently this is standard procedure so forgive me if novelty overwhelms. No sense of insanity is lost as Yan, Hamilton and co. occupy the stage but one begins to understand why they go to such lengths to decorate their surroundings.

Their appearance is particularly underwhelming. They're slight to say the least and ordinary looking to the point of affectedness. In the context of the near inscrutable nonsense in the background, their almost transparent lack of stage presence converts them into a gripping centre piece. As shy unlikely stars, the spotlight freezes them. Yan's mouth seems the only active feature on his face. He utters two words during the entire set, presumably a gaff letting his character slip for a millisecond. At this point it's clear that the apparent chaos has been somewhat arranged but entirely to British Sea Power's advantage.

Impressive though "The Decline of British Sea Power" is it could hardly be described as stunning. For the first time at least, it's another tale live. The whole unpredictable nature of the show takes nearly as much importance as the music itself. Tunes like "Remember Me" and "Apologies to Insect Life" understandably start something of a ruckus but it isn't until the finale that hell truly bursts from under the crust of the earth. What looks like the exhumed corpse of Gentle Ben invades the stage; somebody wearing a tatty ten foot bear suit held together by duct tape. The man in the tin hat strolls through the crowd beating a dilapidated tom-tom until he's wearing it over his head. Noble stands aloft the speaker stack and stares like he's awaiting the return of his ship. In Monty Python style the rest of the band play on like everything is perfectly normal until Hamilton brings the curtain down - literally! Encores fool nobody and here there's no clearer conclusion.

The sheer inscrutability of tonight's show elevates it above pretentiousness. The impetus may be lost with repeat performances but British Sea Power's sonic ability alone still justifies a return to a land that even Lewis Carroll would be baffled by.

Dave Himelfield


The Venue, Edinburgh, 17/04/04

The Guardian

With their dapper dress sense and playfully nostalgic manifesto, British Sea Power have stormed the style mags and colour supplements over the past few years. But record sales have never quite matched their media appeal, leaving you to wonder whether the arty Brighton-based rockers are doomed to be lauded by the critics but neglected by the public.

This rammed venue and robust performance suggest otherwise. Debut album The Decline of British Sea Power can feel a little distant, but their live sound is heartier, more bass-heavy and twice as arresting.

There's a disappointing lack of new songs but current single A Lovely Day Tomorrow is an uplifting and gorgeous taster. Of the older material, Remember Me is choppy and urgent, and Men Together Today sees occasional fifth member Eamon desert his keyboards and high-step his way around the stage, a military drum tethered to his waist, while singer Yan stares glassy-eyed, clutching his mic stand like a wizard's staff.

This visual sense has always set British Sea Power apart. While the mock-formal language and artistic references (including Primo Levi, George Orwell and Ian Hamilton Finlay) of their promotional literature suggest a band that may be too clever to lower themselves to the actual business of entertainment, when performing they are wise enough to leave the philosophising at home and concentrate whole-heartedly on sound and spectacle.

As is their wont, vegetation litters the stage and plastic animals perch serenely on speakers, while choirs and birdsong fill the space between songs - at one point, the audience starts trilling back. The gig ends with a heroically overextended version of Lately, Eamon marching his way through a bemused audience, his drum raised above his head. Yan exits with a leap into the crowd, slipping slowly into a mass of heads and hands until only one defiant and oddly still finger is visible.

4/5

James Smart


The Venue, Edinburgh, 17/04/04

The Scotsman

British Sea Power are not your average indie hopefuls. Stemming from a long lineage of English guitar-pop such as Smiths, Suede, Echo and the Bunnymen and the Psychedelic Furs, they perform on a stage littered with foliage, stuffed birds and First World War militaria.

Fellow UK up-and-comers the Duke Spirit provide support on this, the first night of a UK tour. It is driving garage rock but with some overly crafted stage school moves.

British Sea Power start quiet and finish loud. The nearly perfect indie pop of early B-side Lovely Day Tomorrow shows they have the pop sensibilities to appeal to the mainstream, while the guitar-white noise tracks indicate where their hearts might lie. Singles Carrion and Remember Me were greeted like anthems.

By the end of the set one band member is circumnavigating the crowd in a green tin helmet beating the hell out of a military drum, and singer Yan succumbs to the inevitable and gets dragged into the crowd. Everyone in the room is on their side, leaving no doubt that they have got what it takes to go all the way.

4/5

Hamish Browm


TT the Bears

Harvard Independent, 10/03/04

Contrived. Pretentious. Reckless. All of these words befit British Sea Power, the over-the-top indie pop band whose set at T.T.'s was nothing if not unbridled. Well, that's true as far as the lead singer, Yan, is concerned. He is a madman, traipsing around the stage in a hideous rainbow-colored women's sweater. He's terribly ugly, and skinny to boot, and he can't seem to resist hooting nonsense rock slogans into the microphone before and after every single. Given the excessive echo effect applied to the vocals, these notes pierce the air inside the club and the eardrums of those present and willfully witnessing this spectacle. Intermittently throwing his guitar down to the floor and demanding massages from his bassist Hamilton, the guy is a mess. And he likes it that way.

It's pretty obvious when a band has no respect for its audience. It's all contrived, though, with British Sea Power, and this should be pretty apparent from their stage decorations, which include branches, shrubbery, and stuffed birds, arranged with painstaking detail. The costumes sort of give it away, too. Clad in complementary sweaters of various patterns and styles, I guess they look British. They look more Canadian to me. I'll have to check the textbooks, but it's my understanding that trashy British equals classy Canadian. So they're somewhere in that not-so-happy medium. Details, details. Nitpicking aside, they hate Americans and they hate you.

Or so it seems.

If the "war on terror" never came about, Arab-poaching weren't the new fad, and Tony Blair had never declared his servitude to George "Strong Enough for a Man, But Made for a Woman" Bush, then I could definitely see British Sea Power being singled out as some sort of radical international threat. Tossing affected, uber-British insults toward the crowd, Yan was the embodiment of the British jihad that never was. But somehow the crowd forgave him.

May I repeat that this band, however annoying, is tongue-in-cheek. Their album is called "The Decline of British Sea Power" and feigns at even further pretense, but the songs are basically harmless. This is a pop band; they have songs with titles like "Remember Me" and "The Lonely," the latter of which Yan sentimentally introduced as addressing "longing and loneliness." The fact is, though, that their songs are remarkably catchy, combining new wave-esque melodies with droning guitars and the occasional synth. "Carrion," one of their more upbeat numbers, is downright euphoric. Reminiscent at times of Boston greats Mission of Burma, BSP seems to have things pretty well figured out.

There are times in these songs, though, when the band seems to develop a distaste for, well, changing chords. Piling up the guitar feedback bit by bit and destroying amps in the process (seriously), some instances see volume supercede song structure. Indeed, this was one of the loudest shows I had ever seen, and yes, I have seen Lightning Bolt. After a minute or so of this one-chord noise-pop, the return to chord changes start to sound really satisfying; ultimately, the songs resolve themselves nicely.

Yan, however, never managed to get himself together, falling down with his mic stand and even pulling a stage dive (to no avail; he plummeted to the club's hardwood floor). Near the set's end, he left the stage and disappeared for about five minutes, leaving his band-mates to try their hardest to look like they didn't know what was going on, of course positioning him for a triumphant return before the bloody ten-minute closer. Over the course of this "song," the conspicuous birds and shrubs were torn down, guitars maimed, and psychological damage done. To say that the audience was "shocked," though, would be giving the band a bit too much credit. It's 2004, and the original punk demolition men (Iggy Pop, Darby Crash, and such) have long since pushed the envelope. Yan's antics are fun, but it's easy to pass him off as an imitator, a pretentious bum pushing some joke that nobody truly gets. While it's understandable to hate British Sea Power, I don't. Their songs are worth their weight in gold, and rather than detracting, I think their insanely affected live presentation enhances their three-minute goodness. This is noisy pop music, and anything to dress it up is fine with me.

And Yan, until next time, stay out of trouble, you knave.

Peter Ekman


Grog Shop, Cleveland, 06/03/04

Free Times

After British Sea Power's roadies finished with the small chore of setting up the band's instruments, they quickly attended to the more complex task of creating the proper atmosphere for the show. The array of tree branches they used to decorate the stage were accompanied by wooden animals - including an owl, an eagle and a heron - which they placed atop each band member's amp. The night was far from just a visual spectacle however.

The band took the stage to "Men Together Today," the choral introduction to The Decline of British Sea Power. Yan, the band's frontman, kept his gaunt English frame in the spotlight for much of the evening, wielding his guitar like a Roman gladiator and almost beheading his bassist brother Hamilton on several occasions. Eamon, the band's fifth member, sported a hat that obscured most of his face and appeared onstage throughout the evening pounding a single drum with a stick, and sometimes with his head. But the near sellout crowd wasn't just there for a visual exhibition - it was there because of the songs.

"Spirit of St. Louis" was a manic ode to Charles Lindbergh, complete with fanatic yelps and screams from Yan. "Apologies to Insect Life" was a violent battle cry instead of an apology to anything. The two songs that shone brightest were "Remember Me" and "Fear of Drowning." The first was a passionate call for reminiscence, while the second was full of scathing criticism and lyrical wit. Both were perfect examples of why British Sea Power has been compared to the Smiths and Joy Division. As Yan swung across the ceiling of the Grog Shop during the show's final freak-out, "Lately," it was clear that nobody in attendance would forget the show.

With its set of brash and angular art-punk, openers Kaito provided a definite contrast to the headliner's more melodic songwriting. Frontwoman Nikki Colk instantly recalled Elastica leader Justine Frischmann. Her vocal barking and warbling guided her band through much of its latest release, Band Red. GoGoGo Airheart started the show off with a concise set of danceable punk rock.

Jeremy Willets


Bivouac, Lincoln, 21/11/03

Drowned in Sound

The Bivouac Club, held in a tiny upstairs room at The Duke Of Wellington, is rammed. The crush for the bar is becoming ugly, there's broken glass everywhere, and condensation is cascading down the windows. Into the anarchic atmosphere, stride British Sea Power, nearing the end of a stamina-sapping tour, and the end of a year which has seen critical praise for debut album 'The Decline Of...', a Jools Holland-scaring appearance on 'Later...', and a forthcoming support tour to no less than The Strokes.

Tonight finds the Brighton bird watchers on brilliant form, opening with an elegant take on the epic 'Fear Of Drowning', before burning through 'Apologies For Insect Life', and crash landing into the New Order-gone-New Wave 'Spirit Of St Louis'. Lincoln goes politely nuts for a band who look, and probably are, nuts.

It's not just the branches, the plastic owls, the smocks nor even their dribbling, tin-hatted keyboardist (who will from time to time, wobble around the stage with a big fuck off drum). No, it's in their eyes. Look into these eyes and there's nothing there. Nothing... Nothing... Well scary...

Indeed, BSP have their dark side, manifesting itself in a nerve jangling 'Blackout' and set closer 'Lately' which descends into a near 20 minute, discoelectrodubpunkheadfuck which sees guitarist Noble carried around the room on one punter's shoulders, and Yan crowd surfing his way around the room screaming his head off at all and sundry. Chaos rules once again.

Tonight we see BSP at their very best, dipping, nay, drowning, in a creative well of eccentricity, song writing and punk pop suss. God only knows what Noo Yawk's finest are going to make of this lot...

Anthony Gibbons


Horsehoe Tavern, Toronto, 03/11/03

Chartattack.com

It might be awhile before Brighton, England's British Sea Power raise any sort of real racket on North American soil, but it certainly won't be long before our rock journalists will have their tongues sewn to the seams of these young lads' slacks.

Judging by the response from the band's Toronto audience, the sewing parties can commence.

As the lights dimmed at the Horseshoe Tavern, a stage decorated with twigs, leaves and guitar amplifiers looked like a scene fit for a Broadway re-enactment of Dead Poets Society. The sounds of Gregorian chanting ushered the five band members on stage, making the theatre comparison even stronger. "There's a fear of drowning/A little fear of drowning," sang guitarist/singer Yan, who sounds like a combination of David Bowie and Frank Black, as the band lunged into the chorus of their first song.

BSP dressed in the height of fashion, with socks pulled over their pants and bassist Hamilton wearing a tree branch wrapped around his brow. It's evident that this unit definitely exists in their own world. It's a world that probably involves repeated viewings of Kubrick's Clockwork Orange, playing Joy Division's Atmosphere on vinyl at the lowest speed and taking part in mad mushroom tea-drinking sessions. But then again, it's just a hunch.

The show, while still in its early stages, showed the band setting all their controls to "Weird," giving the feeling that they would morph into something closer to a lunatic act. Much like the literature that inspires them (apparently the band is big on T.S. Eliot and Czech lit), the foreshadowing that something strange about to take place was evident in Yan and Hamilton's deadpan stares. They briefly swapped instruments for a few songs and continued to maze through other tracks from The Decline Of British Sea Power.

With the ringing chords of "Remember Me" emanating through the speakers, keyboardist Eamon emerged from the left side of the stage and began pummeling on a bass drum while flailing around the stage like a wounded bat. The song, which seems to be an ode to losing one's mind, is echoed through Yan's lyrics: "Do you worry about your health?/Do you watch it slowly change?/When you listen to yourself/Does it feel like somebody else?"

It wasn't until the 15-minute epic "Lately" when hell started to really break loose. The song begins so delicately - think of The Stone Roses' "Ten Storey Love Song" with a cacophonic rant in the middle - but ends with a full-on Sonic Youth-esque guitar assault. This was a platform clearly set for a disturbing finale.

With "Apologies To Insect Life" ending the set, bassist Hamilton began swinging from the rafters and taking part in a series of chin-ups. Eamon continued the drum pounding and ran through the audience while Yan found himself with two microphones: one which he almost swallowed and the other used to unleash cat-like screams. When Eamon finally rested on top of Noble's shoulders, the rest of the group took part in a one-legged dance hobble, save for drummer Wood, who didn't move from his position, preferring to provide the soundtrack to the rest of the band's lunacy.

Needless to say, the show ended in grandiose fashion - a bass guitar was dropped, making a loud bang, signalling the band's departure from the stage. A roadie and most of the crowd looked on in horror. None of us could believe what we all had just witnessed.

Aaron Foster


Spaceland, Los Angeles, 30/10/03

Indie Rock Resource

It was the night before Halloween, but the spectacle that the Brighton, England-based quintet put on was not merely some holiday dress-up lark. It was an every-night, this-is-who-we-are dress-up lark.

With quiet force British Sea Power took the stage of Spaceland, which had been magically transformed from a gaudy metallic blue and silver-draped Los Angeles club with low ceilings into a distinctly British-feeling woodland, complete with fresh and dried tree branches, aromatic fennel and large plastic statues of an owl and a falcon, peering from atop Marshall perches. Although not wearing their oft-seen military outfits, the band came in an array of vaguely militaristic dress, resembling kids playing fort in their living room - not too cool trouser legs tucked into large, thick socks; a scoop-neck t-shirt with a large badge featuring a puffin; and a gigantic white fuzzy Russian-style hat. And so we were presented with the characters known simply as Yan (lead vocals, guitar), Hamilton (bass, vocals), Noble (guitar), Wood (drums) and Eamon (keyboards, bass drum).

Influenced by the likes of Joy Division, British Sea Power specialize in the ethereal, washing their listeners with gorgeously melancholic melodies and reflective, poetic lyrics. These nice, handsome boys with a sharper edge lurking just below the surface - demonstrated in Yan's vocals, which are a cross between David Bowie and David Byrne - would make good candidates for the Dead Poets Society. One could imagine their after party involves the band retreating into a cave where they feed on the words of Keats for enlightenment as they don crowns made of branches.

Throughout the 80-minute set of lush and tuneful sonic landscapes, the only words from the stage came near the beginning as Yan apologized for coming on late "although it's not our fault." But a lack of banter didn't matter as the audience already seemed to feel like they had been let into the inner world of British Sea Power; they shared a bond that didn't need to be expressed in words. Although the show was slower in the start, the band kept the audience's attention throughout the mellow set. It was the final song of the evening, however, that defined the entire performance.

As they ended their set with the catchy and rhythmic "Lately" from their ironically-titled debut album, The Decline Of British Sea Power, madness ensued and the show made a sharp crecendo into rock n' roll indulgence. Eamon, after parading through the small club taking full 180-degree swings at his drum, climbed back on stage and spontaneously (it seemed) dropped his drum to the ground and picked up a guitar. The band's crew nervously spotted as he was lifted onto Noble's shoulders and the pair jumped into the audience, teetering. Hamilton then climbed on his brother Yan's shoulders and held his bass aloft, nearly scraping the ceiling. As Eamon and Hamilton made their dismounts, mic stands, large chunks of brush and guitars tumbled to a heaping pile on the floor. Yan then, as if possessed by an '80s breakdancer, ended the finale with a handstand, legs bent in the air.

In their wake, British Sea Power left a little destruction and a lot of beauty. It was fucking awesome.

Dani Barnard


Academy 3, Manchester, 16/10/03

Manchester Music

I have, many times, been accused of having rather an excess of musical civic pride, and it's a tough one to deny. A flick through my record collection could certainly be considered damning evidence.

Which is why I've been feeling faintly treacherous of late. Friends are concerned. I struggled to even admit it to myself for a while. I have fallen completely and madly in love with a band who... are not from Manchester!

But first, a support. Glide consists of Will Sargeant from the Bunnymen and a laptop, creating kaleidoscopic swathes of sound with projections to match. Musically it's pitched somewhere between Death In Vegas and Orbital and for me works several hundred times better than the "here's another band in a roughly similar style but not as good" supports record companies generally inflict on indie audiences. Definitely worth seeing in his own right, especially as his slot here only appeared to last about 15 minutes. But the stage needs to be prepared... check guitars, align owls, test drum mics, attach trees to monitors...

The first time I saw them I wasn't sure what to make of it all; I'd seen some terrible bands hide behind an image, but that night I left wide-eyed and enraptured. British Sea Power's first secret weapon is the most evocative songs I've heard in years, and tonight's proceedings kick off with the song that reeled me in, "Fear of Drowning". As singer Yan's strange half-whisper-half-shout vocals start the place goes absolutely crazy. Someone has handed me a ruler with a model aircraft taped to it. Sometimes "why" is irrelevant. "Apologies To Insect Life" is a mass of caustic guitar riffs and semi-feral howling, and "Spirit Of St Louis", never one of the band's strongest moments on record, almost blows the walls out with energy. The set covers most of the album, with the mid-set blast of "Remember Me", reissued on Monday, particularly well received. Then it's time for the other secret weapon in the form of Yan's bass-playing brother Hamilton, aka the one with the stare. He takes the lead vocal for the quieter moments, "A Lovely Day Tomorrow" and "Blackout", the latter being possibly the most heart-wrenchingly gorgeous song ever written about hyperventilating. He looks and sings like he's time travelled from the golden age of indie-pop, possibly via a hedge, and is utterly compelling to watch. And anyone who bought "Remember Me" first time round has a great excuse to buy it again in the form of the new B-side "Salty Water", rapidly becoming a set favourite amongst the (admittedly mostly bonkers, but in a most amiable way) BSP faithful. The main set's rounded off with a rousing version of last single "Carrion".

Now I've always loved a band that know how to do an encore properly... take a great song and throw whatever comes into your head at it, in BSP's case the already fairly unhinged "Lately". There are bits of tree flying everywhere, Woody giving the drumkit some serious punishment, Yan screaming, gasping, attempting a headstand and generally conducting himself in a manner that Iggy Pop would be proud of. For a good 20 minutes.

I'll admit I've seen quite a few gigs on this tour, and there's that feeling, that glorious electricity been running though all of them. Like the Stone Roses at the International all those years ago... the thrill of watching a band that are about to go supernova. I know I've been wrong before (but hey, it's not my fault Nylon Pylon haven't had a number one yet is it?) but I reckon Top of the Pops before the month's out. And do you know what? I can't wait...

Cath Aubergine


Reading Festival, 24/08/03

The Stereo Effect

Now let's get one thing straight, any band that makes grown men feel the need to dress as soldiers and bring personal shrubberies to a gig gets our unanimous vote for greatness. British Sea Power are a band (well, the only one we'll admit) to have such an effect.

A few hours before BSP take to the stage theStereoEffect spots Eamon - or "Official Fleet Reserve" to use his proper BSP title -handing out Kendal mint cake to the crowds around the Carling Stage. Cub-Scout tradition declares that should you be stuck in the wilderness you'll need such a sugar filled energy bar to keep you alert and with The Carling Stage - stuffed with braches and stuffed owls - soon to be resembling such a wilderness it's good to know they're well stocked for the journey ahead.

BSP of course wouldn't have any other way. Starting with the venomous and teasingly short "Apologies to Insect Life" it seems the Brighton and Hove (via Kendal) massive can do no wrong this evening. The perfectly encapsulated paranoia of "Fear of Drowning" engrosses while the gentle but sinister "Blackout" sees Hamilton bravely take over vocal duties. This is all followed by a glorious "Carrion" that touches hearts and minds alike before "Lately" and "Rock In A" ushers in the gig closing madness.

The oddest event of the evening is hard to define, would it be Jan jumping on a hobby horse as Noble scales the speaker stack before piercing the bass drum with his head and launching himself into the crowd ? Or Hamilton carrying out random acts of gymnastics while Jan jogs on the spot in his Y-Fronts ? It's frankly hard to tell. Can you name a single band that could make their loyal following dress as tress and munch on Kendal Mint Cake without a second thought ? Thought not. But the greatest achievement here is that any lesser band would have already fallen by the wayside and turned into a gimmick centric joke whereas BSP's music - from the dazzling and wide-ranging Decline Of British Sea Power - still stays at centre stage. Victoria Crosses all-round yet again.

Badly Worded Boy


Town Mill, Mansfield, 31/05/03

Drowned in Sound

Sir Winston Churchill once said "We will fight them on the beaches...", which in a parallel universe where Mansfield is a seaside town, could have some bearing on the air of antagonism seeping through the streets of this nondescript outpost.

Except of course, that dear old Winnie probably never paraded around number 10 dressed in a pair of Armani jeans and Burberry shirt, while you could never imagine him addressing his fellow cabinet ministers as "Gazza" and "Biffo", so maybe he was talking about a foreign land after all?

Now far be it for me to describe Mansfield as the place that time forgot, but looking around The Mill at the 150 or so punters it's clear to see they're eagerly anticipating something special, having been starved of any kind of live music scene for like, ever, which is good news for Mower, whose unbridled enthusiasm means that their largely forgettable and out of date Britpop sound is forgiven in an instant by a crowd who clearly haven't been this excited since Rock Bitch played down the road at Fat Sams in 1998.

Having been accosted on at least four occasions tonight by inquisitive mongrels asking me if I'm "a local" (to which their expressions match those of about to be castrated rabbits when I tell them I was actually born here!), the mouths around the room become further aghast at the sight of plastic owls, kestrels and geese randomly appearing on stage, not to mention almost half of Sherwood Forest adorning one of the mike stands, so much so that combined they could probably swallow the entire national debt in one humongous GULP.

Nevertheless, all these things go towards making British Sea Power one of the most enthralling live bands currently doing the rounds, comparable almost with scoring the winning goal in the Cup Final in the last minute of extra time, in fact.

Why, I hear you ask?

Well for starters, there's the singer, Yan, whose dilated pupils engage in an almost perpetual thousand yard stare that can only be achieved by regular doses of ecstasy tablets at least four times a day for the last five years, and has only ever previously been perfected by the Happy Mondays' Bez.

Secondly, the band's set, which is scheduled to last an hour, seems in danger of evaporating into thin air as they casually administer such crowd pleasers as 'The Spirit Of St. Louis' and 'Remember Me' early on, only to be bettered in the second half by the climactic 'Lately' and the frenetic 'Apologies To Insect Life', which shares the same kindred spirit as Manchester's criminally underrated Chameleons in its blistering riffs and seemingly whispered vocal.

Tonight is the last date of the tour, so to cap it all off British Sea Power engage in an half hour long jam which sees them trawl through Julian Cope's 'Out Of My Mind On Dope And Speed' and invite Mower onstage for an impromptu trashing session, before guitarist Noble emerges ceremoniously hoisted on the shoulders of one over-exuberant member of the audience.

Saturday 31st May 2003 will go down in history as the night Mansfield finally left its knuckledusters at home and let its hair down in the process, and if anyone had said beforehand that four blokes from Kendal would have been capable of achieving such a magnanimous feat, you'd surely have laughed out loud.

Dom Gourlay


The Garage, London, 15/05/03

Crud Magazine

White noise and liberation - British Sea Power take their pretty unique brand of uniform navy whites, tin helmets, a heron and some polaroids to The Garage and take from us only silence. A fair exchange?

It begins with a grainy projection of a very British, quasi-humourous WWII film clip and it ends 75 minutes hence with a stuffed heron beak-butting a cymbal in the midst of absolute carnage. The moments in-between are bridged by a living slideshow, a pollination of both extremes and more, metaphorically beaming stark emotional Polaroids onto and over the heads of a captive audience; quaint picturesque snapshots of calm, seething explosions, wide confused eyes, seriously furrowed brows, ginger-ale grins. Atmospherically it's somewhere between The Battle of the Somme, 'Killing Moon' and The Famous Five Go Down To the Sea. Whichever way you look at it, it's an star(t)ling victory.

The four on stage now (or five, including the reserve cadet tinkering about in the corner and generally filling space), with a look more of bloody necessity than simple enjoyment claiming their gaze, are about to release one of the undisputed records of the year with their debut 'The Decline of British Sea Power' (Rough Trade). And though an album alone doth not necessarily make a band, a mere fleeting glance in their direction (not that fleeting glances are exactly an option) will tell you that they are far from ordinary, very possibly extraordinary.

They approach their stuffed bird, fresh branch and leafy twig laden stage like schoolboys ending their assent to the lip of a rollercoaster, their half-smiles failing to mask the knowledge of what lies ahead and the blinding determination and unswerving concentration needed to get through it. They wear uniform navy whites and an assortment of appropriate headgear, somehow without looking at all in need of a quirk. Even those generically close to them on UK guitar pop's leftermost edge, Clinic for instance, look superficially appendaged with their fancy dress garb, comparatively at least. You have to understand that novelty doesn't even go skin deep. To you and I this might all seem like novelty, but their minds genuinely appear like the wandering catacombs the stage set up hints at.

James Berry


Scillonian Club, 03/05/03

The Sunday Times

Pride of the Fleet


It's full steam ahead for British Sea Power, the best band in the country, says Dan Cairns


In the Scillonian Club, on the Scilly isle of St Mary's, what seems like the island's entire population of 1,400 souls is raising merry hell. Ruddy-faced, putty-legged old men sway at the bar. In what passes for a moshpit, grandmothers and five-year-olds essay crazed dance figures to the strange folk-punk music emanating from the band in front of them. "Do you think it's going to blow up the sound system?" chortles one game old girl. From the stage, Noble, the deceptively mild-mannered guitarist (and obsessive ornithologist) in the Brighton quintet British Sea Power, asks: "Can anyone take us to Bishop Rock tomorrow?"

When they first began gigging two years ago, British Sea Power were dismissed by one record-company scout as "the worst f***ing band in Britain". If the audience at the Scillonian beg to differ, so too did Geoff Travis, founder of Rough Trade, who caught an early BSP show and signed them on the spot. Not that the label boss - newly awash in cash from the success of his canniest signing, the Strokes - is putting any pressure on the band. "Geoff phoned up earlier," says Yan, BSP's singer and co-guitarist, "to say that if our album didn't sell a single copy, he'd still want to do more records with us."

Where - in this age of ever tighter musical pigeonholes - do they fit in the scheme of things?

The videos for the band's new double-A single, Apologies to Insect Life/Carrion (released on June 30), seem unlikely to receive rotation play on MTV. Loosely described as the closing sequence of Dad's Army reshot by the Brothers Quay using actors full to the gills with hallucinogens, by way of brief clips from back issues of H&E magazine and a film-noir version of Alice in Wonderland, they might almost be designed to confuse. As is BSP's habit of giving journalists OS map references when arranging where to meet up for interviews. Or their recent announcement of an extension to their current British tour - like this gig taking in some unusual venues - in order to celebrate a rare sighting of a white tailed sea eagle in the Sussex skies. BSP's website waxes lyrical about eastern European architecture, they namecheck Violette Szabo and Charles Lindbergh, and they appear onstage alongside stuffed bird life, covered in foliage. Some people, it has to be said, regard all this as the worst kind of fey folderol.

"We've been known to split up people who've come to our gigs together," admits Noble. "And a fight broke out at our Bristol show," adds Yan. "Some guy was talking and another guy was telling him to shut up. It got heated and they had a fight at the back."

Sticking my neck out, I'd say British Sea Power are a punk band. Not in the current meaning of the term, which is a teenager in Brooklyn putting on a black leather jacket and being hailed as the saviour of rock by the music press. BSP are punk because they work to the same principles, and with some of the same tools, that alchemised punk's glory days in the mid-to-late 1970s. DIY arts-and-craftsmanship is definitely part of the equation (they do everything, from sleeve design to production, themselves); as, too, are fashion (the band's subfusc, vaguely military gear attests to that) and the use of stark sonic contrasts between unfettered, Joy Division-like noise-making and moments of pastoral quietude. But the busiest, bossiest spirits are contrariness, an unwillingness to compromise and a self-belief that verges on arrogance.

"We had a daft idea when we first started recording the album," says Yan, "which was to try to re-create the feel of a Turner oil painting, one of the dramatic seascapes." The result, he says, is "odd but authentic", which is just about the best description of his band that anyone has yet come up with.

"We don't care what the fashion people say," he continues. "Being in a band is a vehicle for ideas. More and more people say 'It's all about the music', but that's really sad. The whole point of music is to tell people interesting things you've found out about. And the best way of caring is not to give a stuff."

For BSP, those interesting things include a campaign to bring back manned lighthouses; the results you get at a disco if you follow Joy Division with a blast of Elgar or the Croatian national anthem (as they once did at their Brighton club night, Club Sea Power); and why going into the forest to find a nightjar is more important than fulfilling a support slot for Pulp, whatever Geoff Travis says.

"He's a bit funny about our bird-watching," says Noble, as the others roll their eyes. "There were nightjars in the woods. I'd never seen one, but all Geoff said was: 'I know what it means to you.'"

"You were quite drunk, weren't you?" suggests Yan.

"Probably," Noble agrees. "I just want to spread the passion."

Three hours later, Noble is spreading more than passion; panic and alarm are also in the frame, as he ends the Scillonian gig by diving headfirst into the audience, screaming "F*** you! F*** you!", while Yan intones: "Just like Liberace, I will return to haunt you with peculiar piano riffs." Beside him, Eamon smiles quietly to himself beneath a tin soldier's helmet as his keyboard slips slowly off the plastic beer cartons it's been resting on.

The club is threatening to explode; but not with the pressure-cooker rage you might witness in an urban environment. On St Mary's, anarchy in the UK takes different forms. Lucy, the young barmaid, tires of the snaking queue for the ladies and slips insouciantly into a cubicle in the gents. "Evening, Lu," says one of the patrons

"Fantastic band, wern-ay?"

Outside, a heaving mass of locals and band members walk unsteadily through the warm rain towards the beach. You feel that if they came across that record company scout now, they'd want to have strong words with him. For there is one phrase, and one phrase alone, that comes to mind when describing British Sea Power: the best band in Britain.

Dan Cairns


Scillonian Club, 03/05/03

Playlouder

Many years ago, while at their peak, Ian McCulloch and his band Echo and the Bunnymen thought it would be a good idea to take their music to the furthest northerly British point they could, for shits and giggles really, and promptly embarked on a tour of the Outer Hebrides. Using this as inspiration, British Sea Power turned the idea on its head deciding instead to head South, beyond the coast of mainland Cornwall, to the Isles of Scilly, a set of Islands populated by about one and a half thousand people, some of whom didn't even know what electricity was until 1985. With at least two confirmed bird twitchers in the band it was a chance for them to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, taking their music to most remote part of Britain, while tracking down rare and exotic puffins at the same time. Uniting the worlds of Ornithology and Rock! And so, the Scillionian Club, which is normally host to such delights as the support act tonight, Martin, the man with one name, a middle-aged Cornishman playing Chris Rea and Lighthouse Family covers to a backing tape, is to host the altogether more splendid and resplendent British Sea Power, who enlighten its residents and in turn inspire them to become depraved, pool cue-stealing felons.

We set off first thing on Friday morning from Penzance, a former residence of your correspondent, which has apparently turned into the smack capital of the South of England, a claim confirmed by a couple of jolly local journalists working for the Western Morning News, who spend large amounts of time seeing junkies from the sleepy seaside town being sent down for nicking when they're writing court reports. PlayLouder, along with a whole host of journalists, photographers, and super-fans (including one of the blokes from James and PlayLouder's own Andy Barding) board the Scillonian III owned by The Isles of Scilly Steam Ship Company (there's your mention) and PlayLouder spends the three hour journey violently chundering. First in the bar, then in the cabin below, then on a bed on the bottom deck about 13 times. Yum... When we arrive there is a genuine buzz around the Islands. The two policemen with the cushiest jobs in the whole law enforcement service crack gags, and the Duke of Kent is here for a visit but people don't seem to give a flying one about him, being more preoccupied with this strange rock group they've never actually seen or heard before. "Are you with this 'ere band?" asks a growling elderly gentlemen with a tanned, friendly, weather-beaten face and illustrious white whiskers, "I think it's bloody magic I do. What they called again? British Horse Power?"

The Scillonian Club fills up quickly, and the anticipation and curiosity of the folk is heartening, especially when crowds we're used to in the capital are at best aloof, and at worst dispassionate. Local people of all ages eye up media types suspiciously, and British Sea Power even more so as they take to the stage, which more resembles a taxidermist's workshop than a conventional stage for a rock band. Twigs and shrubbery sprout out of drum kits and amps and auxiliary member Eamon, keyboard player and itinerant drummer boy, is dressed in full World War II regalia, complete with helmet. BSP open with 'Fear Of Drowning' and we momentarily think forward to the journey back to mainland Britain we have to face tomorrow. Yikes. Like on so many other occasions the Power begin slowly and raise the pulses and the pace once they're in freeflow, and it's third song 'Apologies To Insects' that really begins to whip up genuine excitement to. "Oh Fyodor you are the most attractive man I know, your Russian heart is strong and has been bleeding for too long!" yelps Yan, stammering like a nutbag. The singer, who looks like some sort of crossbreed Ian Curtis mixed with tennis nearly man Tim Henman, swaps vocal and guitar duty with his foppishly handsome brother Hamilton who steps forward to warble the Robert Smithsian 'Blackout', with the singalong line "For you have drunk all your beer go drown your empty selves". It's ace.

By now the crowd in the pub are beginning to respond to British Sea Power, and you know what, I think they like them. This pub, these people, the majestic surroundings of the Island - this is British Sea Power. This is their perfect moment. Noble on guitar is just about to upset things however. Driven on by the response he leaps into the crowd and stalks up and down the front mashing his guitar. This doesn't go down well with a slightly inebriated girl in the front row who begins shouting at him. Not thinking Noble clambers back on stage and starts giving the girl the bird and screaming "fuuuuck yoooooooooooou!" at her repeatedly. He snaps off twigs and shrubbery from all around him and stuffs them in the back of his shirt. And then, insanely, he bounds off stage like a big eared Buzz Lightyear towards the girl, and a split second before he collides with her, one of the twigs protruding from his upper garment stabs her square in the eye. Christ almighty! Has he killed her?! The girl thankfully gets to her feet, more than a bit ruffled, and her beefy boyfriend pushes forward; he's possibly the largest man on the whole island, if not the world, his head is bald, and his muscles too look like bald heads. Noble quickly darts back onto the stage, takes the main mike and begs for forgiveness. After sufficient grovelling, he marches through the crowd to the bar, and comes back with two pints of cider, one for Cyclops and one for Popeye. It's one of the finest and funniest moments rock and roll has ever seen, and we don't even care that we don't get the lock in that had been rumoured, due to the Landlord not approving of the band's behaviour and the fact two of his pool cues have gone missing.

"This has never happened before," he whines pointing an accusatory finger in my direction. And sadly it may never happen again. The Scilly Isles will go back to normal once the band leave, but in a little way, things will never be quite the same again.

Jeremy Allen


Ram Inn, Firle,

The Stereo Effect, 29/04/03

On the mantelpiece, next to a notice warning that the garden is closed due to last night's heavy rainfall, a plastic crow is glaring at a stuffed squirrel as if in admonishment for the rodent spiriting off with its pine cone. I'm munching a beef sandwich laden with potent horseradish (rescued from a thieving black Labrador), drinking a pint of dark and mysterious ale and discussing with a gruff local the intelligence of the sheep dog playing with stones outside. It's clear this isn't your normal gig; but then again, this evening hasn't been put on by your normal band. Once again, British Sea Power have defied convention and given us something special, something that feels very them. A two hour coach ride from London ends in a South Downs valley blushed with the last of the spring sun that sets as we arrive at the Ram Inn. The small village of West Firle, a sleepy place typical of anywhere in rural England; a church, wonky houses, the pub, a drive curving through the trees to the big house where the toffs lived...

This, of course, isn't the first musical performance the Ram Inn has seen. For hundreds of years local sheep farmers would have gathered here to drink, talk, and sing. We know this because their descendents are still here, in the form of 'support' group the Copper Family, who hail from nearby Rottingdean. Over the years, the different generations of the Coppers have passed traditional songs from father to son and daughter; nearly 200 years ago their ancestor George Copper was singing these very tunes in this very room, bearded and clutching a pot of ale like grandpa Bob is now. It's a strange connection with a life that's all too far in the past and in danger of being lost. It's sad to think that these songs that the Copper's had the foresight to record and keep alive probably have thousands of vanished brethren, their words now ghosts lost to us forever. That's not to say that the Copper family make us feel maudlin. On the contrary, their simple, unaccompanied close harmonies and tales of the joys and hardships of our forefather's lives are a moving reminder that our past was not all colonialism and stomping and rich folk in stately homes, that Englishness is a thing we can be proud of, not ashamed.

To have British Sea Power follow that, in this small pub where music has been enjoyed for so many hundreds of years, is a strident affirmation of their place, geographical, historical and emotional, in our musical climes. We're in the surroundings that normally are just evocations within the sound of British Sea Power live or on record; to be in such a place as they play, to look out over candle flames into the kind of darkness you only ever get in the countryside, is a strange, magical experience. That the band can create the atmosphere they do tonight, with "The Lonely" and new track "Blackout" (one of their finest yet), to warm the hearts of those of us who've seen them at least a dozen times before, for the local of my age whose only gig in the past year was the Fatboy Slim fiasco on nearby Brighton beach, for the farmer who merely remarked to me that he hoped British Sea Power weren't 'crap rap or techno', seeming more excited about the trademark Merlin aero engine sound that roars overhead between songs, is a testament to the power of their craft, their belief, their all encompassing vision that makes tonight as much a statement of identity and intent as a gig. Then "Lately" does what "Lately" does, becoming big and loud and beautiful and tear jerky, and there we stand, in this little room in a little pub in a little village in this little island. And, all of a sudden, it really feels like we're part of British Sea Power's own, strange, wonderful world... and the city seems very, very far away.

Luke Turner


The Forum, London, 21/01/03

The Stereo Effect

Looking not unlike scared venture scouts after a trolley dash round their local army surplus store, British Sea Power do a fine job heading up flank for The Flaming Lips. Whoever issued the order for BSP to support Oklahomans deserves some kind of medal for genius-like taste collisions.

"We are British Sea Power" mumbles newcomer Eamon (Official Fleet Reserve), he's so terrified that theStereoEffect checks it's a stool not a freshly dug emergency latrine he's resting his wobbling arse upon. Not that we'd care, they could soil their army issue keks and we'd still love 'em to bits.

For the already converted, BSP's show might be starting to repeat, the props - however wonderful - are nothing more an artist spectacle seen next to the Lips' celebratory freak show. But that's all irrelevant, it's those tunes we really care about, when "The Spirit Of St. Louis" spanners heads from the shrubbery endowed stage and Yan swoons like a combination of vintage Bowie and prime McCullock we know their onto something truly special. "Remember Me"'s scuzzed guitar lines and urgently descending chorus sticks in your head for days on end.

Badly Worded Boy


93 Feet East, London,

The Stereo Effect, 29/10/02

"How many? Count them. And such a press of people" intones a sonorous voice over the PA; "So many waiting, how many waiting?... Are they coming? No, not yet. You can see some eagles./And hear the trumpets/Here they come..." And here they come indeed. It's hardly common practice to have a little known TS Eliot poem as an introduction, but as these five young men walk onto a perfectly lit stage strewn with foliage and wild birds, it emphasizes why British Sea Power are so important at a time when their contemporaries, even those with supposedly left-field leanings, are thinking reductively.

It's the attention to detail that makes their performance so compelling, both aesthetically and musically. For example, new recruit (named The Official Fleet Reserve) appears utterly terrified as he sits, adorned with a WWII era tin helmet, doing very little save bang a marching band-style bass drum - a spectacle in itself, to be sure, but the attention to detail is in the symbolism of the white feathers he is made to wear. Even offstage the band eschew the clipboard and scrap of paper approach to gaining names on their mailing list, instead opting for a leather bound 'visitors book'. You could argue that all this is a smoke-screen of pretension. You could argue that this is intended to win hearts through aesthetics, leaving the music as an aside - but you'd be as mistaken as General Gordon's campaign against the Dervish. For British Sea Power are an increasingly fearsome musical proposition. They're able not only to blast out the caustic post-punk of set opener "Apologies To Insect Life" and "Remember Me", but also craft elegiac laments such as new single "Childhood Memories": "God help us if the radiation leaks/God help us if nobody knows for weeks" and the beatific-becoming-Bomber-Harris epic that is customary set-closer "Lately".

Whereas breaks in the set once heralded pauses of epic proportions while the band retuned their instruments, tonight there's barely time to catch one's breath... one brief interlude is even filled with the sound of a Merlin engine roaring low overhead. There comes a moment for every band when they face that challenge to move beyond the endless round of coffin venues and blank audience indifference. Tonight, British Sea Power espied the new territories open to be conquered, believed they could be theirs and seized them, deftly. Reports from the field suggest that the working title of the band's forthcoming album is to be The Rise and Fall of British Sea Power. On tonight's evidence, they'd do well to pick something more triumphant.

Luke Turner


Night and Day, Manchester, 22/10/02

The Guardian

If Top of the Pops depicts current pop as an endless procession of identically styled wannabes with no discernible individuality, British Sea Power are determined to do something about it.

Formed somewhere in the dark forests of the Lake District, where fighter jets interrupt the birdsong, their twin obsessions are the military and nature. Thus, the band wear quasi-military uniforms; the keyboard-player wears a tin hat and radio microphone from a second world war bomber. Most bizarrely, the drumkit is covered in bushes and stuffed owls perch on the amps. If this surreal spectacle is what the band can accomplish in a tiny Manchester venue, army surplus shops will see a windfall if they ever make it to Wembley.

Touches like this brought British Sea Power increasing attention over this year, but beyond the trappings they are presenting a different take on art rock. Although they are not precisely original, they mix musical influences that have lain dormant for some time - post-punk, early New Order and, most intriguingly, the choppy, angry sound of vintage Postcard records outfit, Josef K. However, the most refreshing thing about them is their passion. British Sea Power obviously feel very strongly about something (the threat of war?), even though it's not entirely obvious what it is.

Enigmatic singer "Yan" has inherited the Ian Curtis/early Jim Kerr manner of staring at something imperceptible and apparently astonishing, way in the distance. Tense and glassy-eyed, he is the band's pied piper, leading the music and the audience we know not where. One of their songs praises the spirit of Charles Lindbergh, another consists of sergeant major-type shouting.

There is something vaguely comical about them but also slightly sinister. It can be a killer combination. Waging battle against a truly appalling sound system, at times they hit on a surging, uplifting sound. At the end, the guitarist climbs on the bassist's back and Yan hurls the bushes into the audience. For now, these japes offer something different. In time, they may unveil more of substance.

Dave Simpson


Reading Festival, 23/08/02

The Stereo Effect

Later in the weekend, a few hundred yards away on the main stage, Slipknot will scream like injured bears and play big drums like monkeys. Being too ugly to be seen in public they will wear joke shop masks and - in a nod to their previous careers? - dress in boiler suits. We hereby declare them nothing but scary plumbers after an ill judged visit to the fancy dress shop. On the other hand the wholesomely organic British Sea Power choose to adorn themselves in tights, flying goggles and hats stuffed with branches. What all this has to do with their music is confusing but it's preferable to the plumber thing.

Emerging onto the stage through their stage props of trees and stuffed owls, Yan is a man hypnotised, he could no doubt stare for Britain. Maybe it was too many days as a child playing in the woods with the fairies, or conversing with owls in the fauna, but whatever it was it's done him good. BSP are one of the weekends true originals, they go all Bowie on "The Lonely", make a fine spiky racket on "The Spirit of St. Louis" and sound like not much else around. They're another reason why this year the Carling stage offered up the goods, you don't see stuff exactly like this on the Main Stage. Style versus substance, always a good topic for beer fuelled crap talking sessions, then again, maybe it's all just a joke. The thinking goes on.

Badly Worded Boy


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