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

University of London Union, 20/10/03

Set list: Fear of Drowning/ Apologies to Insect life/ Spirit of St. Louis/ Childhood Memories/ Favours in the Beetroot Fields/ Something Wicked/ Remember Me/ The Scottish Wildlife Experience/ Blackout/ A Lovely Day Tomorrow/ Salty Water/ The Lonely/ Carrion/ Lately/ Rock in A

The final night of British Sea Power's October 2003 UK tour and the show which saw the debut of stage bear Ursine Ultra. The gig took place a few days after BSP had appeared on Later... with Jools Holland (performing Carrion and Remember Me), which helped introduce the band to a wider audience.

Whether by coincidence or design, the day of the ULU gig was also the release date for the rerecorded version of Remember Me in various formats – two CDs (each with different b-sides) and a limited edition seven-inch vinyl single, inscribed with the names of people 'worthy of remembrance', as suggested by fans of the band. The single release had been promoted on special bars of BSP-themed Kendal mint cake.


Fan review
NME review
Bullit feature

British Sea Power at ULU (fan review)

It's 9am on a Monday. BSP are playing in London tonight and I've booked the day off work. Bit extreme you might think to take a day off for a gig in the city where I live that isn't taking place until the evening. But there are important things to attend to! As well as the gig itself later, there is the small issue of the new Remember Me single being released this very day.

Having contributed a short list of names 'to be remembered' on one of the 2,005 vinyl copies I am determined to pick up at least some of them. So I head to the main record megastores on Oxford Street. At Virgin, I ask one of the store assistants if they have any copies of the new British Sea Power single. He points to a pile of them in the corner – "If you want to pick a name you can look through them if you like". I turn over the one on the top of the pile. Unbelievably, it is dedicated to my old BSP sparring partner De Lacey! As I leave Virgin to head down Oxford Street to HMV, I bump into fellow BSP fan Pete Quinn who is heading in the opposite direction. The hunt continues. At Tower Records, every copy seems to be dedicated to a 'Captain' of some description – from Captain Webb to Captain Birdseye, but agonisingly no Captain Riot...

Scroll forward a few hours and the BSP massif are meeting in an upstairs room at the Blue Posts in Newman Street. Everyone has a copy of the single and people are organising swaps. Pete Quinn is there and tells me he has found 'Kevo'. Apart from 'De Lacey', my best find is 'Moley', as featured in the title of a Remember Me b-side. We are not just here to do swaps, though. It's Northern Pete's 50th (well, 52nd) BSP gig. Someone has baked him a cake with spitfires on. The BSP forum poster known as 'Kingfisherscatchfire' has brought along a large plastic owl... What possible better preparation could there be for the last night of the band's October tour?

As we finally saunter over to ULU, everyone is in extremely good spirits. I'm not sure if any of this vibe rubbed off on the band – or whether they were still revelling in their triumphant performance on Later the previous week – but what we got on the night was an absolute blinder of a show. A superb opening salvo of Fear of Drowning, Apologies and St Louis, with Yan in fine yelping form, leaves us breathless. Remember Me is an obvious standout – although Yan interjects some odd changes to the lyrics at one point. This segues inevitably into Bass Rock (now retitled The Scottish Wildlife Experience) which keeps the mosh at boiling point. But it was the sequence of tracks that follow after Blackout that were the real highlights. First, a stunning A Lovely Day Tomorrow and then the haunting Remember Me b-side Salty Water. After this it's time for The Lonely. Occasionally in the past I've not been convinced they can quite do the song justice live, but tonight it's almost perfect.

After an immense Carrion, Thomas Moore's Oft in the Stilly Night prepares us for Lately. Nothing, though, can prepare us for what happens during Rock in A. By now we are used to the regular antics – Noble is off climbing, Yan ends up in the crowd, Eamon is doing his out-of-control deranged drummer-boy thing. But tonight we are in for a big surprise. Down in the woods (OK, down in the foliage), out from the smoke at the rear of the stage, in the midst of the pulsating chaos, there emerges what at first sight seems to be some kind of monster. On closer viewing it is a huge black, grizzly bear that moves menacingly about the stage and then appears to attack various members of the band. All the folk around me are clearly captivated by this unexpected turn in the evening's entertainment. What other band delivers this kind of drama? A certain well-known BSP fan (mentioning no names) is literally in tears at the sheer, brilliant theatre of it all. As Rock in A finally collapses in on itself and the bear exits, someone remarks: "That was a f**king rock show". You can say that again.

Still high from the gig, and by now well the worse for wear, a group of about a dozen of us hang around outside the venue and eventually find ourselves heading back towards Centrepoint. Just round the back of Virgin Megastore – where my long 'BSP day' had started – we discover a tiny basement bar with a DJ. It is deserted – or at least it was until we turned up. The music isn't great, however, until one of our party has an idea and hands the DJ a copy of a seven-inch single we are all carrying multiple copies of. He duly obliges and for the second time in the night we find ourselves bouncing around to Remember Me. 'Do you worry about your health?' Maybe I should after days like this.

Comrade Kevo

Read Cath Aubergine's review of the rest of the tour here

Best of British (NME review)

It's hardly surprising British Sea Power took their time in winning over the hearts of the great British public. They're not exactly what you'd call a 'sane' band, after all. Tonight's show involves a keyboard player taking cover under a WW1 helmet, a guitarist half-garrotting himself with his own scarf and the arrival of a big furry bear onstage.

British Sea Power, you see, have hatched more loopy plans than most mental-ward patients manage in an entire lifetime. But whereas they're way more entertaining than a hungry twat in a perspex box, they've always struggled to get their music heard over their influx of crazy ideas.

Tonight, however, is one glorious smack in the cynics' chops, as the British Sea Power boys transcend their oddball reputation and become a thrilling rock'n'roll proposition. Latest single 'Remember Me' is jolting jitter-punk that straps Joy Division into an electric chair and jumps on the lever. 'Carrion' is a soothing massage of swirling, guitar-enhanced tidal waves. And 'Favours In The Beetroot Fields' proves that dressing as the Famous Five is no obstacle to blasting out charged-to-the-nads bursts of schizo-punk.

As things descend into a cacophony of feedback and wild-bird noises, frontman Yan hurls himself at the baying crowd while guitarist Noble clambers to the summit of a speaker stack. Keyboardist Eamon, meanwhile, is making his way across the stage, thumping a big-band drum.

Rock'n'roll's always had a healthy friendship with madness - from albums recorded in sandpits to strange voices in people's heads telling them to buy the latest Dido album. And at long last, these Brighton-based loons are twisting insanity into a shape that makes perfect sense.

James Tones

Bullit Magazine feature

It was always going to be a safe bet that British Sea Power’s network TV debut would exceed the national entertainment average.

The ‘Later with Jools Holland’ production team have allowed the band to dress their stage in the traditional way, with plastic owls and herons, and all manner of flora and foliage nicked from the Blue Peter garden. Singer Yan and bass-playing brother Hamilton are kitted out in their regulation off-white fatigues, garnished with Puffin Club patches, homemade leafy garlands and trousers tucked into red socks. No shoes. Guitarist Noble is in an arctic twitcher camouflage jacket, drummer Woody – concentration etched onto his face – has an aviator scarf around his neck and a t-shirt depicting British birds of prey. And Eamon... Eamon?

Handset-clad women clutching clipboards trot nervously behind him, men with cameras do their best to dodge out of his way, and Jools Holland grins and claps like a loon. Across the nation, armchair rockers watch Yan’s brown sugar-tinted eyes reach through the screen to close the song, while the Patrick Mooreheads (a trio of glamour girls from the south coast ) sit at the side of the stage in their elegant BSP designer dresses, playing cards for coppers. In future years, this moment will be remembered as the time that "Britain’s best band" (Sunday Times) came to life in the national consciousness with a song about creeping, brillantine mortality. The BBC, in a very real sense, has been BSP’ed.

Afterwards, in a corner of the sixth floor green room at Television Centre, the band seem pleased and a little bewildered by the whole affair. Eamon is recounting his Jamelia encounter to anyone who’ll listen, Yan is politely accepting the compliments of the gushing production guests, and Hamilton (still shoeless) is reminiscing about naughty school boy antics with Woody: "We used to make shotguns, didn’t we? With metal tubes and fireworks and ball bearings..."

"That was good fun, " says Noble, tucking into what seems to be an undiminishing supply of free BBC beer and crisps. "We were offered make-up and haircuts, but we didn’t think it was right to make the TV licence-payer cough up for this kind of stuff. We cut our own hair without using mirrors. The BBC catering was excellent. We ate in the Classics restaurant and they had pasties, pies and chips for everyone. We we the only people in apart from one other table, which had Carol Smillie, Lovejoy, Louise, Bill Oddie and Theroux Jr planning a charity tennis tournament."

"I must admit, I was wary about the TV. Containing, as they do both words and music, we were even in awe of the multi-media content of the long-playing record. TV’s have words, music AND pictures…so just think about that. In the end, it went fine. Everyone was really pleasant. REM said hello. Jools lives in Greenwich and told us some great anecdotes about Rear Admiral Sir Francis Beafort, who invented the wind-speed scale."

A few days after all the TV fun, the upstairs function room of a central London boozer is heaving with anticipation and excitement. A chocolate cake decorated with toy biplanes is on the top table, while a large plastic owl stands guard by the door. Some 80 to 100 people are playing with Astrojax (a bizarre Poundstretcher toy similar to the seventies phenomenon of clackers) and talking in excited tones about the upcoming main event…a sold out gig at the nearby ULU by British Sea Power.

These are the ‘Third Battalion’, BSP’s fanatical and well-groomed followers. They are solicitors, journalists, bankers, dope fiends, artists, comedy actors, social workers. Some of them like to wear false moustaches, camouflage coats and bits of tree in their hair. The cake is in honour of one of their core members, a cheerful shaven-headed chap called Northern Pete, who will tonight chalk up his 52nd BSP cap.

"I saw them at The Volks Tavern in Brighton supporting Chimp," he recalls. "They were stunning. The moment when Yan and Hamilton jumped off the stage and into the audience and started doing press-ups was the clincher. I was so mesmerised by the whole performance that I didn’t bother staying for Chimp – there didn’t seem any point. I started to go and see them as often as possible, and after two years and 52 gigs later, am still doing so. If it fucked up tomorrow I wouldn’t mind. Nothing can take away the experiences that I’ve had following the band, the memories of some of the best gigs I’ve ever witnessed, or will ever witness; and the friendships that have been formed along the way will last forever."

N. Pete and his mates have travelled all over Britain and Europe in pursuit of their favourite band. Another superfan, Kevo, is about to skip over the Atlantic to see them dismantle Washington and Hoboken. "The point is that with British Sea Power, every live experience is different, " he said. "The energy, mania and on and on (and off) stage antics keep the audience on their toes at all times."

A visit to the merchandise stand can prove an interesting experience, too. At an early gig in London, the band sold off some old boys’ adventure comics and 7" singles in boot sale picture frames. They’ve also flogged souvenir chocolate, soap, dresses and scout patches. The bars of Kendal mint cake, it seems, come free. At a gig in Mansfield, 3rd Battalineer Capt.riot brought homemade sandwiches and onion bhajis for band, crew and audience to enjoy. Now you wouldn’t get THAT at a Starsailor gig, would you?

Kevo loves it all: "BSP have created their own integral world, which seems bizarre to the outsider at first but once you reach inside, seems to works with its own strange logic. The foliage, birds, historical references, songs about landscape and memory, even the dresses and mint cake, all fit together to form a whole that is really more than the sum of its parts. Once you get drawn in there, you soon find it’s a place where you feel at home. It’s like living in a slightly surreal parallel universe – with a blinding soundtrack."

The band are heartened, bemused and fiercely proud of the folks who come to see them night after night. Noble: "They’re an inspiring bunch. They come to see us play all over the world, which is both confusing and humbling. We think they’re an audience to be proud of. They can form a sentence and aren’t afraid to do so."

Later on, over at the ULU, Kevo, Northern Pete, Capt.riot, and their friends: De Lacey, Doll, Kingfishercatchfire, Clark, The Dunnocks, Mistress Leysa, Dr Jools, and Angela ‘Johnny’ Cannon (to name but a colourful few), bear witness to a truly incendiary set. Handstands, swan dives, poetry, and a giant grizzly bear, are used to illustrate songs about nature, death, bravery, air travel, dogfights in the sky, and death by drowning.

A new B-side, ‘Salty Water’, celebrates – in a dignified and melancholy way – the common chemical denominator of human tears, the wide-open sea and the ducking stool. So what is it with all this drowning malarkey, British Sea Power? "Not sure, " says Noble. "Some of us have our Bronze Personal Survival swimming awards and can pick up a rubber brick from 10 metres. Others in the band aren’t quite so well qualified, so maybe it’s about that tension and mystery. No-one wants to drown, do they? Apart from Virginia Woolf and people like that."

Even the most cursory listen to the album ‘The Decline of British Sea Power’ reveals a lyrical complexity that is quite simply, streets ahead of anything else being written today. The likes of ‘The Lonely’ and ‘Blackout’ bear closer resemblance to the classic poets than the Kings of Leon. The songs have a heroic and heavily atmospheric edge and are wide open to interpretation and misinterpretation. Take new song ‘Moley and Me’, for instance. "What an atmospheric song!" says Noble. "It could be Bonnie and Clyde redone by the animals off Creature Comforts on telly. Or it could be about roaming down the Leven Valley, past all topiart, and then staring out at the estuary with the land at your back and nothing but the water in front of you. In places like this, thought can still exist."

And ‘Good Good Boys’, the Hamilton-crooned neo-folk song on the flip of ‘Remember Me’? "It’s a latter-day work song about how we don’t have to get in the hens, but we do have to listen to the NS-10S. As everyone knows, NS10S are the monitor speakers you get in lots of recording studios. There’s also a female version of the song called ‘Good Good Girls’ and, at that time, Jamelia said she would sing on it."

Good value, aren’t they? Wait until you see what they’ve got lined up for the next 24 months. Third Battalion, Start saving your bus fares... "We are planning a tour by sea for 2005 in conjunction with the National Maritime Museum. We aim to go higher in the charts and play in Prague, Macclesfield, and the Hebrides."

Andy Barding

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