British Sea Power, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, London
The XX, Hoxton Hall, London

British Sea Power make the most of a Shakespearean setting to deliver a brilliant and bewitching history lesson

It ended on a leafy stage. This much is certain. How we got to that dramatic denouement is lost in a blur of chaos and confusion. British Sea Power step out under a blood-red sky into a tree-ringed circus, its deciduous sentries guarding a steeply banked auditorium, pitched towards an Italianate villa which is more accustomed to putting on Romeo and Juliet than rock'n'roll bands.

The Big Wheel Sundays season rivals – and maybe surpasses – Somerset House's Summer Set for civilised and picturesque open-air gigging in the capital. For most bands, this would be the most unusual venue they'll ever play. For BSP, whose live schedule can include such stops as the Czech embassy, Britain's most elevated pub and the offshore fort of Sealand, it's among the more mundane.

They've risen to the thespian theme sartorially, singer Yan in Puckish plus-fours and stockings, his brother Hamilton in a crown of laurel leaves, violinist Abi Fry in her Roman robe looking like his wife Portia, and keyboardist Phil Sumner swilling rouge from the bottle like a Withnail-esque old soak. I can't see Wood for the hi-hats, but for all I know the drummer is blacked up as Othello.

They aren't alone. For much of the show, the twin staircases behind the Cumbrian band are occupied by the extraordinary London Bulgarian Choir in their traditional embroidered smocks, adding their ghostly voices to "Men Together Today", and gamely assisting the "Easy! Easy!" wrestling chant in "No Lucifer". British Sea Power aren't the first in the indie sector to discover the magic of ancient Bulgarian folk singing: in 1986, Ivo Watts-Russell, encouraged by Peter Murphy of Bauhaus, issued the Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares album on the 4AD label. But it's a timely rediscovery. Prior to BSP, the LBC belt out a set of their own, all diaphonics, dissonance and irregular rhythms, simultaneously haunting and hearty, eerie yet emphatic, and utterly bewitching.

The choir's presence proves that, far from the fogeyish Little Englanders the band's name and general demeanour might convey to the uninitiated, British Sea Power are actually proud grands Européens, and an ever-rousing "Waving Flags" is a hymn to pan-continental solidarity to a Joe Meek soundtrack. Indeed, in a month when we've lost Henry Allingham and Harry Patch, British Sea Power – whose early gigs had them wearing First World War uniform and taking the stage to the opening scene from A Matter of Life and Death – are one of only two bands I can think of who would know or care what it all meant.

British Sea Power – the History Boys of rock music – are the perfect synergy of the intellectual and the physical. Tonight we hear songs about Dostoyevsky and Charles Lindbergh, the splitting of the atom and the radioactive shadow of Windscale and the fear of mortality. But we also encounter music of such stirring visceral force that Regent's Park security doesn't know how to react to the frenzy, with the Third Battalion – BSP's hardcore fan squadron – brandishing branches like the advancing army in Macbeth.

"This is the rowdiest picnic I've ever been to," says guitarist Noble. "This isn't a Rolling Stones moment," Yan intervenes, "but people are getting hurt. Dance up and down, not side to side." But the real bedlam is yet to come. As the encore of "Carrion", "All in It" and "Rock in A", a giant 10ft bear dances through the aisles, thrashed with branches as he goes. (It transpires that the suit's occupant is Gavin & Stacey's Mathew Horne.) Meanwhile, Hamilton is shinning precariously up the central flagpole. Yan falls to his battered knees, pulls a rock-hero pose, and they're gone, Bulgars and all, and the only thing left is a whirl of leaves.

Shakespeare meets Schama, plugs into a Marshall amp and tears it up. British Sea Power ought to be compulsory on the curriculum.

It doesn't happen often, but I'll hold my hands up: I got it wrong. Last week, when I described the debut album by The XX as "wallpaper music", I hadn't given it enough time. A couple more listens, and it had grown into something else entirely. Yes, songs like "Basic Space" and "Crystalised" work as background mood music, but gradually their tendril-like arms reached out from the wallpaper, slowly enveloping me.

They're equally beguiling live. Shadowy figures on a shadowy stage in what is rapidly becoming my favourite new (or new-old) London venue, the quartet of 19-year-olds conjure an exquisite self-absorbed gloom, led by the elegantly intertwining vocals of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim – a Serge & Jane from the dark side – with a restraint and subtlety beyond their tender years. It's the kind of music teenagers voraciously consume, as Robert Smith's bank manager can attest, but rarely create themselves. Or at least, never this well.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent