Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Foliage and Favours in Beetroot Fields

Cocktail of excitement
I have seen British Sea Power five or six times before and in a number of venues. The first time I saw them was in quite possibly the worst venue in Manchester, with no clear line of sight and horrendous sound. Warwick Arts Centre was the last venue I saw them in, complete with its comfy seats and half time ice creams served by cinema style attendants! I have seen them as a support act, at a whisky festival and sharing the stage with a Brass Band!

The reason I am so looking forward to tonight is three fold.

Firstly, they are celebrating 12 years since the release of their first album. The album that I bought on spec after reading an article on the band in a discarded paper on the train on my way to work - an album I ultimately fell in love with. Few things in life are more rewarding than taking a musical risk and it paying off! Tonight they will play this first album in its entirety. The fact that they are celebrating 12 years, when most other bands wait until 15 or 20, is a little glimpse into the maverick mentality of Cumbria’s finest! Further glimpses can be found in the album’s title ‘The Decline of British Sea Power’ - surely not the name of a debut album - and in the track names ‘Apologies to Insect Life’ and ‘Favours in the Beetroot Fields’! This is British Sea Power and we have got used to it.

The second ingredient in the cocktail of excitement is that this is my first visit to the Roundhouse. I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog the joy of going to venues that had hitherto only ever been a name on the back of a tour T-shirt. The moment I walk into Stephenson’s old engine shed I sense history, as the modern stage lights illuminate the old iron pillars. The dry-ice is a nod back to the golden years of steam, and out of the ether it is possible to hear the magnificent music of brilliant bands who have graced (and disgraced) the Roundhouse stage in decades past. I sense it’s the perfect setting for tonight’s gig.

The umbrella in the cocktail is that my gig-buddy from Malt‘n’Music is down south for the gig. The first time we met - over a whisky and darts in the Moulton local - he was wearing one of his many British Sea Power T-shirts. To make conversation I said something inane like ‘So you like British Sea Power’ and I saw different emotions sweep across his face. Firstly disbelief, that someone else had actually heard of them. Secondly joy, that here may be a kindred spirit. Thirdly uncertainty, that I may just be taking the mick. And finally, a realisation that no longer would he have to go to see them on his own! Finding a new gig-buddy is always a very special moment.

Bo Ningen are at full throttle when we walk in. I don’t think I have ever seen as much energy or hair from a support band before and I have been to a fair few heavy rock gigs in my time! But this is Japanese Acid Punk and they power through their set, which turns out to be the perfect opener to the gig.

Blank looks on work-mates faces
Once the Bo Ningen gear is cleared off the stage the usual activity of roadies continues - tuning guitars, adjusting mic stands, tuning the same guitars and adjusting the same mic stands again. All this along with the lesser seen activity of adding even more foliage to a stage already adorned with half a forest, two herons, a couple of owls and a kestrel! There is a wonderful moment as one roadie adjusts Hamilton’s mic stand and dislodges the branch of a local tree. In one swift movement he tears a length of tape with his teeth and reattaches the leaves with a look that says ‘Why can’t they just smash up guitars like they used to in the good old days of rock?

But this is a Sea Power gig and the fans, all 1700 of them, have paid to see one of the most original, freethinking, non-conformist bands in the industry today. This means wildlife on stage and an expected glimpse of Ursine Ultra (she’s an 8 foot bear to the uninitiated) but no hope of mega-stardom. A very good friend said to me this week ‘They must be big to play the roundhouse’. They are not massive, but they are the sort of band who elicit a tremendous loyalty from their fans. Once you are hooked you remain hooked despite the derision of friends or the blank looks on work-mates faces when you talk of your plans for the weekend… This gig is full of real fans who know every word of every song and who recognise that greatness is not the same as popularity.

As the band take the stage and from the opening strains of ‘Men Together Today’ to the last chords of ‘Lately’ I’m reminded of hearing this album for the first time.  I listened to it again and again because I knew I loved it. I also knew that I didn’t really get it all - but thirsted to. I am reminded how I wanted to devour more of this strange, weird but ultimately delightful band. 

Hung like a wooden horse
12 years on and the album hasn’t aged – they have played for 50 minutes and it seems like five as they go off before the second set. The final ‘Decline’ song - ‘A Wooden Horse’ – is not played the absence is not explained it is just left hanging. The second set is classic Sea Power. There is crowd surfing from the drum-beating Eamon. Ursine Ultra appears on the stage only to reappear in the audience. The crowd are chanting ‘Easy, Easy’ as the intro to ‘No Lucifer.’ And there is the wonderful natural sense of humour between the brothers Yan and Hamilton when Yan’s guitar falls silent. All this leads in a crescendo to the stirringly triumphant ‘Waving Flags’ and the beautiful power of ‘The Great Skua

Returning for the encore, Yan declares, ‘This is the one we forgot’ and the concert finishes as the album does with ‘A Wooden Horse’. The truth is that there has been no decline of British Sea Power. They have built on their first album and generated an impressive body of music and a dedicated fan base. They have developed a flair for the bizarre, and a tight and explosive stage show.  They continue to produce strange and wonderful lyrics. Tonight is a joyous celebration of all of that. A celebration of their capacity to do things differently.  I only hope I can be there when they celebrate the album’s 23rd anniversary!

Gig: 12 of 50
Date of Gig: Sat. 13th June 2015

The Roundhouse

Bo Ningen
British Sea Power

Running total of artists seen 31

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