British Sea Power – Bath, Komedia, 17th May.

The Wandering Horn warms up

For once, what is arguably one of the best and easily the most eccentric bands were nice enough to play twenty minutes down the road from me! This never happens, so despite a disgustingly long day at work, and the fact that I’d hardly had any sleep, and wouldn’t have much more that night either, and that a mild cold was creeping up on me, my gig buddy and I braved the variables and went to see British Sea Power play at Bath’s Komedia.

And it was so worth it…

First off, obviously, the merchandise stall is always one of the focal points at a Sea Power gig. Most bands sell t-shirts, badges, cds and so on, and these do turn up on the BSP stall, but this time it came with added own-brand tea, chocolate and lager (surely a wonderful survival kit?), Tea Power mugs (magic mugs, no less – the pattern changes when you add hot water), and vintage pill boxes, smoking tins and (oddly) plastic fruits pieces to decorate.

As avid BSP fans, we (I mean Sea Power fans as a collective) have all been anticipating the new album with eager ears. I am confident it will be one of the album’s of the year. This new offering should be all-new material, unlike the album of 2009 ‘Man Of Aran’ – a new soundtrack to the 1934 silent documentary. And it’s not that Man Of Aran was terrible – au contraire, it used some of their finest tunes and melodies in a new and rather foreign context – but the point is we had heard some of it before. The new, as yet untitled, album, has not been heard yet, aside from a few gems thrown out at this gig. Lucky souls that we are.

I suppose we should talk about the support… Called John and Jehn, and they were ok – not too harsh on the ears (always a bonus), but didn’t really grab me. This was a disappointment as I thought supports were on the rise, quality-wise, considering Sound Of Rum and B Dolan for dan le sac Vc. Scroobius Pip in March, and supports for Lightning Bolt last December. We worked out that they were French, but they sung in English (odd I found – why not make something of what you know best? At least it wasn’t pidgin English, though that could have made for some comedy), and the lead singer looked like he was about the snap. He annoyed me a little for some reason, easily the coolest members were the girls in this band (what?! This never happens), with one playing keyboards and the other on bass, and the switched half way through as well. Pretty solid drummer (as far as I could tell), but the moment that conjured up the greatest feeling was when the lead singer looked like he was about the throw his guitar across the stage… Not exactly enamouring then, but pretty standard as support. In fairness, they could have been The Beatles and I still would rather see Sea Power. Obviously.

Abi and her viola

The setting up to a gig of BSP is somewhat different and slightly more interesting than nearly every other band I’ve seen (I don’t think my words are doing them many favours – despite sounding pretentious, they are actually pretty cool. Really. Yes really). Decorating their stage in flags to begin with, then foliage from the surrounding area, it takes about fifteen minutes, and frequently they tune up their own instruments (as you can see on the right with Abi, and above with Phil), so instead of the painfully boring wait in between Support and the band you really wanted to see, you have visuals! Komedia’s stage size lent itself well to a 6-piece band with a set – it made for a pleasantly compact, and therefore ambiently cosy, area. Wood, Phil, Abi, Noble and Yan all made appearances before their set actually started, and looking like they’d just been dragged through every retro and charity shop the world has to offer, they were wearing some awesome stuff. I’m not really one for fashion – clothes tend to pass me by somewhat – but when it’s as different as this it deserves a mention. Noble looked like a 1960s chav of sorts, wearing what I think was a sports shirt (not a football one so much) with, if they were in a contemporary context, comfy trousers that you put on at the end of a long day. Wood was in his generic navy blue boiler suit (I swear he must have a wardrobe just of them), looking like a cross between an in-mate and someone come to fix your kitchen sink, and Abi was wearing some lovely bright red shorts with a navy-themed top. Scarf and all. Good call Abi, her outfits never fail to impress me. Which is odd. Hamilton was decked out in something similar to Wood, with an added nest of grass as a hat, making him look like a wilderness, or a “marshland Jesus”. Although, aesthetically, his clothe choices are good, I can’t help thinking he doesn’t really consider the practical… Mr Sumner was pretty dull as far as “outfits you won’t find on the high street” goes, but that doesn’t detract from him musicality or performance at all, and Yan had the most incredible all-white thing going on. There were plus-fours (YES REALLY!), with long socks and foliage sticking out, some sort of woollen jumper that was a little like a cricket jumper minus the colours, a white scarf and ribbons. Amazing. Good work Yan.

Yan and Hamilton, Glasto '09

Now. What about the music?! The set-list was outstanding, starting with ‘Apologies To Insect Life’, featuring ‘Remember Me’, ‘True Adventures’, ‘Waving Flags’, ‘No Lucifer’ and ‘Lights Out For Darker Skies’, amongst many others. As they have so many incredible songs,you feel the need to yell out “CHOON!” at the first few notes of each song, and it appears to me like  greatest hits set. I think ‘Waving Flags’ should be more widely spread – it encourages a gentle pride in one’s country as well as appreciating all others. And I think that it something rather relevant, especially at the moment. Similarly, we could all benefit to the lyrics of ‘Lights Out For Darker Skies’, and one of the rarities played ‘Childhood Memories’. Such a lovely tune that last one. As well as the ‘classics’, we were also given ‘Pyrex’ and ‘Zeus’, presumably to be on the new album, and they too sounded excellent. Especially the latter. Alas for song names, ‘Pyrex’ just reminds me of cooking equipment, though I think the song overtakes this.

There were some excellent moments when Noble, Yan and Hamilton were on playing their guitars in the same position, with the fret board pointing at the same angle, making for an awesome-looking front line. The concentration in Wood’s face is outstanding, if not slightly crazed at times, and I was very impressed by Phil’s multitasking with keyboards and cornet. Although I am surprised he’s never considered a haircut, after it kept going everywhere. He does look mighty cool with a guitar though, even if it is a little outlandish for those mellow Sea Power types.

I say mellow, Noble did end the set by climbing the huge amp to the right of the stage, looking like he was threatening to jump, and Yan nearly destroyed the mic stand by swinging it around a little too wildly, considering how flimsy it was. However, the ending was just incredible – ‘Spirit Of St Louis’, being possibly one of my favourite songs ever, is a very good set-ender, especially when it’s extended (not quite to ‘Rock In A’ standard, but there was some semi-improv stuff going on there), and the band are clearly ‘in to it’. Lovely stuff. No encore but that’s ok – it would have completely ruined the ending number.

The only downsides were (to take up permanent residents at Pedants Corner) that Hamilton was slightly flat on some of his vocals, and that you can never bloody hear Abi. Such a shame as she’s a good player, but you can only hear her when the guitars aren’t present. There were some beautiful duos with the viola and cornet though, when you could hear them. Oh and Yan didn’t let me have his ribbon (or rather the roadies didn’t – not sure if Yan had a say in it or not), but there was a set list left for us, so not a total loss.

Crowd-wise, it was an interesting one… No sardine-effect at the front (thank god – I like to be able to breathe), no one throwing remainders of pints or bottle of piss (Sea Power have nice fans it would seem), but similarly no one jumping around wildly. So very vocal though – there was a lovely male contingent behind us who were yelling out ‘EASY, EASY!’ (so on and so forth) at the start of ‘No Lucifer’. Bounce factor therefore minimal, but pipe factor was good. Exceptionally odd.

So! To sum up, a very good gig overall – a sedate Sea Power, though not subdued, a cracking set list, lovely stage and costumes, idiosyncratic merchandise, lovely playing, a calm crowd and a wicked band. Why can’t all gigs be this good?

British Sea Power played:

Apologies To Insect Life
Remember Me
True Adventures
Down On The Ground
Childhood Memories
Waving Flags
Great Skua
No Lucifer
Canvey Island
Fear Of Drowning
Lights Out For Darker Skies
A Trip Out
Spirit Of St Louis, with a hint of Rock In A. Which would have been Rock In Bath.

And I can’t wait for the next album. Or gig 😀


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