As expected, a Scouting sense of occasion characterised the New Year evening hosted by those latterday Baden-Powell acolytes British Sea Power at the Garage. Although the schedule of two sets, two support bands and a raffle kept to the promise of punctuality outlined in the decidedly peculiar pre-gig communiqué, the crowd failed to turn up in the suggested dress - "Sir John Betjeman's Olympic Girl for the ladies and jam happy Pole walking to freedom for the men" - assuming that this was even possible.
The audience's end-of-year excitement seemed to be eclipsed by anticipation of this band's first headliner since returning from tour. The sea of darkness in the Garage ensured that all eyes were not on watches but on British Sea Power, assembling on stage amid fog, delicate foliage and blue-green light. Those who came prepared used mini-torches to read their schedules and the numbers on their raffle tickets.
The winds changed for the band when they were whisked away from their south coast pastoral and seaside milieu by Geoff Travis of Rough Trade Records, who caught one of their Club Sea Power shindigs in Brighton. Promptly signed, they released their debut album, The Decline of British Sea Power, in June 2003 and were the sole support for Rough Trade's golden boys, The Strokes, on their tour of Spain and Britain.
British Sea Power's professed love of naturalist pursuits, map-reading, Czechoslovakian writers and military history gives them an idiosyncratic, if not bizarre, form of credibility in this era of bland, sugary pop. There is a queer seriousness haunting what might appear to be a quirky joke.
The idea that British Sea Power sound like Joy Division is perhaps over-emphasised. Yan, the singer/guitarist, presents rousing choruses with the voice of a breathy David Bowie, while swirling chord progressions and tinny treble guitar create upsurges of bitter-sweet sentiment. Their spirited, almost anthemic agit-pop-rock is tinged with wistful melancholia, inviting comparisons with Echo and The Bunnymen, the Tindersticks and Radiohead. By contrast, songs like "Apologies to Insect Life" and "Favours in the Beetroot Fields" sport more chaotic punk sounds, akin to early Nick Cave.
A chaste hymn to snow opened their first set. The quintet donned ostentatious scarves, white furry hats, and beanies with fluffy pom-poms to play some lesser known but well crafted ballads. The second set was met with gay abandon as parts of the stage were appropriated by the crowd and the boys played their raucous and jangly hits, including "Remember Me", "Fear of Drowning" and "Carrion".
British Sea Power's affected innocence is lent some authenticity by the band's fresh-faced verve; the singer Yan and the guitarist Noble flew into the audience and surfed with the people, brandishing drums, branches, a hard hat and a tambourine. Fog spewed out of what looked like a horn in the side of the stage, engulfing the band in white, as Yan "walked" on the low ceiling while floating on the crowd. As the year flipped over, fans wandered to the bar with their branches.
These Sea Scouts are touring North America in February, and playing Shepherd's Bush Empire in late April. Their continuing adventures will be keenly followed.Reuse content