British Sea Power
The days when Britania ruled the waves or anything relevant/substantial, for that matter are now just a fading memory. Greatness somehow turned to mediocrity quicker than lager turns to piss (trad.arr courtesy JCC). Bands forgot how to be groups, fads became movements & ambition was re-invented as playing football stadiums in a blizzard of cocaine. The sport of kings became the last refuge of scoundrels questions marks were outlawed - the blind waddled off to slavishly follow the deaf. Two of the last great British groups to leave the stable before the horse bolted for good both play a large part in the sound manufactured by Cumbrian ex-pat Brighton-ians, British Sea Power: Joy Division & The Teardrop Explodes.
British Sea Power are aptly named: powerful, agile, adaptable, redoubtable - & above all easy to manoeuvre. Formed in their native Cumbria in 1997 they emigrated south first to Reading, & eventually to Brighton. There they set about establishing their own club night Club Sea Power on a monthly basis. The club provided the perfect home for British Sea Power & their unique music (art). Geoff Travis of Rough Trade Records was an early attendee he was so impressed he immediately signed the group to his label. A handful of beautifully packaged 7 45s later, British Sea Power dropped the bomb in the shape of their exquisite debut LP: The Decline Of British Sea Power. Self-produced, designed & conceptualised, The Decline Of British Sea Power is one of the most truly eccentric British rock n roll LPs for quite some time. Classic as the band themselves prefer to refer to it isnt way short of the mark. BSP are quite possibly obsessed with classicism. They have a sense of heritage they wear proudly on the sleeves of their antique tunics. Their stage sets employ camouflage netting decorated with leaves & twigs stuffed owls, hawks & ducks bedeck amplifiers & monitors regalia, pomp & circumstance. The group have recently returned from a Euro Tour support slot with Interpol, but dont let that put you off (ignore the upcoming Roxy Music support as well these older groups have to borrow/buy?? implied credibility from somewhere I guess). BSP have tentative plans for a UK tour of costal resorts & ports by ship (with possible incursions upriver where possible) but no firm dates have been confirmed as yet (we very much hope this isnt a wind up as it ranks as one of the more interesting touring ideas weve heard in some time).
As well as the aforementioned Joy Division & The Teardrop Explodes BSP also display tonal elements of early Cure (most notably on Blackout with its wonderful lager lout putdown). The group also have a considerable affection for a descending chord structure - which they quote to great effect on more than one occasion. In their rockier moments (Apologies To Insect Life & Remember Me, for example) BSP lift the roof right off the shed their more reflective passages (Carrion & Something Wicked, for example) send you reeling, reaching for the Kleenex, drowned in a sound you thought had gone forever.
BSP are threatening to launch a clothing line (they already produce embroidered patches) in the near future. The sight of large audiences queuing at merchandising stalls in costal venues for hair-shirts, brogues, spats & pamphlets on bird-watching is one wed very much like to film.
If youre quick off the mark you might like to take advantage of the limited introductory price (£8.99 @ participating stores) currently on offer for purchasers of The Decline Of British Sea Power. It could well be one of the most informed 9 £s you spend all year. It is also worth remembering that British Sea Power are a vinyl friendly unit but sitting here listening to the CD (again & again) its hard to imagine it becoming any warmer than it already is.
Jean Encoule, keen to talk to Yan, Hamilton, Noble & Wood, wasted no time in employing his maritime skills to trace British Sea Power. With the help of his trusty sonar radar global positioning widget, he soon tracked them to their South Coast hide-away to find out what makes them tick:
trakMARX - Tell us about the birth of British Sea Power.
Well, there are 3 brothers (from a family of 6) involved in BSP. Our manager Roy is the eldest brother (61 years of age) and he came out first. The singer Yan is the second youngest in the family (25 years of age) and then finally there was Hamilton who is the youngest (23 years of age). Their mother and father are in their late 80's now which is unusual for people of Yan and Hamiltons age. Imagine being brought up by your grandad. Imagine your father actually being in WWII. The others (Noble, Wood and Eamon) are from different families and are there to build things, mop up spillages and help things run like clockwork.
trakMARX - Tell us a little of the motivational forces behind British Sea Power & the influences that fire it's individual members.
Natural history, landscape & memory, & human beings all inspire us. People such as George Orwell, Primo Levi & Ian Hamilton Finlay. People who condemn the dirty work of the Empire. H.G.Wells "The Country of the Blind" is a good book. We have found that many people have hostility to learning and knowledge. A simple "fuck off" seems more credible to certain folk.We find women shaking their asses on TV quite thrilling but it also sets the alarm bells ringing. Everything is given to you on a plate these days. Trash 'to-go'. We have a lot of freedom in our country. We like people who put their freedom to good uses. The greatest joy in the world must be to drive a bayonet into the guts of Robbie Williams.
trakMARX - Was the group's relocation & subsequent adoption of a Brighton postcode part of the 10 year plan all along?
No, but a move somewhere that tickled our fancy was.Brighton, like Eton, breeds individuality. Whether its the Sea, the South Downs, the pleasant climate or Fat Boy Slim that is responsible for this is anyones guess. We have been thinking about moving to North Scotland or Northumbria, or even leave the country. Who knows, we could move to Burma or Burundi.
trakMARX - What immediate benefits did relocation realise?
Less petrol fumes and less suits. More birds and badgers, more open spaces, good people and good beer.
trakMARX - Tell us about the birth of Club Sea Power.
When we first moved to Brighton we did a few shows but as always you have to work your way up the gigging ladder. Impatience and compulsion dictated that we didnt want to wait around and decided to put on our own night. A local promoter called Jeff The Liar who had seen us really liked us and offered to put us on with one rule: that we should only do one a month and no other gigs. We try and make everything we do special. Why not? We see it as a waste of someones life to say 'lets make this gig half as good as it could actually be' So we did what felt natural to us and decked the place out with branches, birds, Harveys ale, the sound of Kurt Schwitters and T.S.Elliot and dressed as 1940's cabin boys. It was the world as we saw it in a club.
trakMARX - Was the club night instrumental in bringing BSP a larger audience?
People were interested. Some people went away confused, enlightened, high as a kite or repulsed. The Rough Trade boss, Geoff Travis, came down to one of the nights and asked us if we wanted to work with them, so in that respect, signing to Rough Trade and putting records out have brought us to a larger audience. We played in Texas earlier this year. People were definitely larger there.
trakMARX - British Sea Power stand resolutely to one side in the British rock n roll landscape of 2003 - are you comfortable being perceived as outsiders/loners?
The fact that the biggest cerebral party band, The Flaming Lips, and also the melancholy punksters, Interpol, are fans of ours make us feel less lonely.They stand alone as well, but are truly great bands.
trakMARX - British Sea Power ably convey a feeling of longing for the halcyon days when a group could actually mean something - why do so many appear so shallow these days?
They quote from the rock and roll cliche book word for word:
"Baby" x4 + "Yeah" x4 + "Rock and Roll" x2 + "C'mon" x8 = a very dull song.
trakMARX - Your stage set has to be one of the most original employed by a rock n roll band in some time. How did it evolve?
It started at Club Sea Power. We now have the voice of Hillaire Belloc and sometimes a film reel of Goldfinches and Lapwings to add to the feast.
trakMARX - Your live shows are increasingly becoming more like events. Is there any substance to your rumoured plans to play costal/tidal river ports & arrive by boat (top idea, by the way)?
Yes. We are checking out whether this is possible at this stage. Noble gets sea sick so he will have to have his stomach removed first. We are also looking into touring more rural places. Since we played the Scilly Isles and Kendal we realise people can play any old shit and get away with it. People go wild for a mulleted man playing Lighthouse family covers. Imagine what happens when a band that exceeds the national average visits.
trakMARX - How do BSP gauge the "competition", presently (UK)?
We don't think about it really. Though the Darkness could be unstoppable. I hope they go down the 'Queen' road rather than 'Aerosmith'.
trakMARX - Do BSP share any issues with any other contemporary operators currently plying their trade in this most ancient & justified of industries?
The fear of the omni-present American culture. The Libertines line "there's nothing worse than an Englishman in a baseball cap" hits the nail on the head. The embracing of the ridiculous by the Darkness. Coldplay are doing the honourable Fair Trade promotion.
trakMARX - You chose to self-produce "Decline" when many young bands are only too happy to turn their sound over to some faceless wizzard or other - are you proud of the results of your labours or will you be booking Nigel Goodrich in time for the next LP?
We have always enjoyed recording and mixing ourselves since we had an old four-track years ago. We have gradually worked up to an 8-track, and now we have a 16-track. Quite a few of our b-sides were done on that machine. We love the late Joe Meeks production style and Kramer of Galaxie 500. Sometimes it sounds like the wheels are going to come off the wagon at any moment but it retains great charm and magic. We don't mind not sounding as polished as other modern records. Though we are not against having a producer. If the right producer came along and could add something without making us sound like a generic band of the present we would say "sounds good to me".
trakMARX - BSP have very fine time lines - things seem to have just "fallen" into place. Are you happy with your rate of knots?
We dont mind if we are going full steam ahead or dock for a while. We will always endeavour to do our best and always try harder.
trakMARX - What else can we look forward to from BSP in 2003?
Headlining the Carling stage at the Reading/Leeds Festival. A mammoth tour of the UK in October. The Rough Trade 25th Anniversary shows at the London Astoria. And we hope to write our next album by the time the year is out. There will no doubt be a few special BSP events, but these will pop up throughout the year.
If you want to get our regular newsletter for updates join our mailing list (N.B. - the last 2 shows were mailing list only!):
Jean Encoule tMx 10 June 2003