Brilliantine Mortality


Brilliantine immortality

A forewarning

This website was launched in spring 2003 and I stopped updating most of the content a couple of years later. Some of the information is therefore redundant but I have decided to keep the site going as a snapshot-in-time archive of British Sea Power's early years and to keep alive the contributions made to the site by the band's fanbase. Most of this material can be found on the fans reviews page, which contains live reviews of more than 50 BSP shows, and in the Third Battalion section, which includes coverage of the band's tours during the period as well as other writings. The press page contains links to archived published reviews and interviews, saved on this site. Many thanks to James Sui, who previously hosted the Salty Water website, for preserving these. All the reviews are also linked to from the links directory.

It seems incredible that well over a decade has passed since this site was launched and British Sea Power are still going strong and still producing amazing music and live performances. Long may they continue. Avance!

Comrade Kevo
Prairial CCXXIII

Recommended links

British Sea Power – Official site
Do It For Your Mum – Roy Wilkinson's band and family memoir.
One Band Many Experiences – Cath Aubergine's account of her first 300 BSP gigs.

If anyone has any BSP pictures from 2001-05 they would be willing to share, please email here

Landscape and Memory

A Brief History of British Sea Power

"The best band in Britain" - The Sunday Times

It starts with love for foliage and ends in camouflage...

British Sea Power are a band like no other. They make epic, spellbinding music and write peerless songs fuelled by a passion for nature and history, with reference points ranging from Charles Lindberg and Dostoyevsky to Czech assassins, Sussex churches and collapsing antarctic ice shelves.

Live, they've been known to wear army fatigues, charity shop clothes, submarine uniforms and antlers. They cover the stage with leaves and plastic birds. Their sets usually end in a riot of semi-improvised sonic and visceral chaos...

They have described themselves as 'militant pastoralists', which gives some clue as to the roots of their inspiration. Brothers Yan, the singer, and Hamilton, the bassist, the sons of an unpublished writer, were brought up along with Wood, the drummer, in the remote and beautiful wilderness of England's Lake District, once home to the poet William Wordsworth.

Yan left Cumbria to study at Reading University. It was there he met Bury-born and Yorkshire-raised guitarist Noble, and together with Hamilton and Wood they formed a band called British Air Power. After a few gigs on the Reading circuit the name was changed to British Sea Power and, seeking a more inspirational base with better venues, the group headed south, aptly landing in the more cosmopolitan seaside city of Brighton. With the help of their manager – Yan and Hamilton's brother Roy Wilkinson – and local promoter Jeff Read, there they established Club Sea Power, a regular night at the Lift and Freebutt clubs, where they DJed, played live and provided a platform for other unusual performers, such as the Copper Family, a 200-year-old Sussex folk troupe.

Following the release of their first single, Fear of Drowning, on their own label, Golden Chariot, and some encouraging reviews of their live shows, the group attracted the attention of Geoff Travis of Rough Trade records – and he wasted no time in signing them to the label that had once been home to The Smiths. For a while, during late 2001 and 2002, the band were continually touted as the 'next big thing' but the delay in releasing their first album meant that the fickle British music press, unable to easily categorise the band, quickly lost interest.

The group at this time were very much following their own agenda, playing gigs with Pulp at forest locations around the UK and thrilling an audience at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London by performing a stunning live soundtrack to the film Baraka. In the autumn, they decided to strengthen the line-up for their live shows and the 'official fleet reserve' – bass-drummer and keyboard player, Eamon – joined the band.

By the beginning of 2003, the release of a succession of well-received singles and some breathtaking live performances meant they were steadily building a devoted fan base. The year's extensive touring schedule kicked off with support dates with the Flaming Lips. Their sets were preceeded by a half-hour screening of the Powell and Pressburger film A Matter of Life and Death (a change from the John Betjemen or TS Eliot poems that normally heralded their apperance on stage).

2003 also saw them play a number of American dates (including a near-legendary appearance at the South by South West showcase in Texas) and tour Europe supporting New Yorkers Interpol. The headlining UK tour took in venues from Aberdeen to the Scilly Isles, the latter concert arranged in association with Operation Lighthouse Keeper, an organisation that campaigns for the reinstatement of manned lighthouses.

In similar fashion, the launch gig for the band's debut album, The Decline of British Sea Power, was held - much to the bemusement of the invited guests - in a village pub deep in rural Sussex. When it was finally released in June, the album received almost universal critical acclaim (see here). The single that accompanied its release, Carrion, saw the group achieve their first Top 40 success. Remember Me, the follow up, made it to number 30.

As the year progressed, it was obvious they were coming to the attention of a much wider audience than their small band of fiercely loyal hardcore followers (the self-styled 'Third Battalion'). The concert at the University of London Union in October was something of a watershed - and was marked by the first appearence of Ursine Ultra, an eight-foot bear that joined them on stage for the encore, and has since made occasional appearances at the live shows. They ended 2003 appearing on Later with Jools Holland, supporting the Strokes and hosting their own New Year's Eve Club Sea Power party at the Garage in London.

2004 saw the group win the accolade of 'Best Live Band' at the annual Time Out Awards. Although it was a quiet year in terms of releases, there was a collaboration with Czech outfit The Ecstasy of St Theresa on limited-edition re-worked single A Lovely Day Tomorrow (recorded in both Czech and English). The two bands played together in concerts in Prague and at a special 'Czech Sea Power' night at the Cargo club in London.

The latter concert – the final date of the UK spring tour – was preceeded the night before by the band's biggest sell-out headlining gig, at Shepherd's Bush Empire. They also appeared at the Isle of Wight, T in the Park, Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds festivals.

In contrast, in typical idiosyncratic style, 2005's live dates kicked off with the 'High Rocks / Shining Levels' weekend – two intimate gigs at a country house hotel near Tunbridge Wells in Kent and, on the following night, at Grasmere Village Hall in the Lake District. These shows were precursers to the group's major UK tour to support the release of their second album, Open Season. There are rumours that performances in caves, on boats and on rocky islands, and at the National Maritime Museum may follow.

Choosing such unlikely locations for gigs is an indication of the band's highly individual approach, but their determination to have control over all areas of their work extends far beyond hosting unusual concerts or putting trees and birds on stage. The group also design their own record sleeves (often based on second-hand book covers) and oversee a startling range of merchandise, from chocolate, mint-cake and soap to sew-on badges and 1940s-style dresses. Their two 2003 singles were released in limited edition vinyl, each copy individually named.

All of this may seem like mildly eccentric posturing by a band desperate for media attention, but British Sea Power's leisure interests are about as far removed from the traditonal rock'n'roll lifestyle as you can get – rambling, ornithology, Ordnance Survey maps, the flora and fauna of the English countryside and forgotten coastal villages all hold an attraction. They would rather be heading off to the woods with rucksacks on their backs than throwing televisions out of hotel windows.

The group's fondness for pastoral pursuits, coupled with an unassuming off-stage persona, might lead one to assume their music would be lacking in energy and passion. In fact, they are one of the most exciting and captivating live acts in the country.

The shows inevitably end with the band ad-libbing in a manner that is as infectious as it is chaotic. Tree branches are thrown into the audience; Yan shrieks his lyrics, swallows the microphone and throws himself off the stage; Eamon parades through the crowd clouting his marching drum; Noble screams into the pick ups of his guitar, boxes with the bear and scales the light riggings...

Such antics could be used to compensate for the quality of the material. But in the five years since British Sea Power formed, they have created an entrancing collection of songs, from emotive ballads such as The Land Beyond and The Lonely (written about the band's late friend, musician Geoff Goddard), to the angular, psychedlic cacophony of tracks like Favours in the Beetroot Fields and Apologies to Insect Life, and anthemic riff-driven epics such as Carrion and Remember Me.

It is possible to see echoes of Joy Division, Julian Cope, the Fall, Echo and the Bunnymen, Bowie, Talking Heads and the Pixies. But in truth they are really not like any of these.

Whether the group's eclectism and 'English eccentricity' will inhibit their appeal in an era of manufactured bands and bland indie pop has yet to be seen, but it is difficult to believe they will remain a secret for much longer. The ecstatic reviews for Open Season (see here) and the appearance of the first single from the album in the Top 20, indicate that the band seem at last to be on the verge of achieving mass recognition and commercial success.

Let's hope that in all the attention British Sea Power are about to receive they continue making the music they want to make in the way they want to make it.

Into the breach, dear friends – grab it with both hands, you deserve it...

Comrade Kevo
Floréal CCXIII

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