If any current band could soundtrack Spirit of ’45, Ken Loach’s new documentary on Britain’s post-war spirit of utopian belonging, it’s British Sea Power.
The films they have scored to great acclaim - recent reverie on the British landscape From the Sea to the Land Beyond and 1934’s tale of wind-battered Irish island life, Man of Aran – give a clue, as does their name, to their archaic yet idealistic concerns. Ten years into what can loosely be called a career, they are the old retainers at Rough Trade Records, the label’s longest-serving loyalists. While The Smiths and The Libertines imploded, BSP continue. Values central to their music, the implicit culture being a fan of them lets you tap into, explains their endurance.
The stage looks, as always, like a woodland clearing as British Sea Power take their places among the misty, fairy light-garlanded shrubbery for this first gig in support of their fifth album, Machineries of Joy. Singer Yan (aka Scott Wilkinson) fixes his band-mates with wary stares, trying to get unfamiliar new songs right. A brace of them, “Machineries of Joy” and “Monsters of Sunderland”, show how exciting the new album is. The former song is a typically sensual and positive description of humanity. The latter, with a trumpet fanfare like a hunting horn, describes obscurely extraordinary, outrageous behaviour. “Lights Out for Darker Skies” from 2008’s Do You Like Rock Music? follows, and here people “dance like sparks”. The wide-open optimism is infectious.
Whether sung by Yan or Hamilton (the former’s brother, Neil Wilkinson), British Sea Power lack charisma. There’s no performer to idolise, no star-power to blast them free of the underground. But “Mongk 2”’s mix of motorik, monochrome 1980s pop and saurian rock guitar shows their sonic openness. “Lucifer” is an anti-Nazi song which rallies round Big Daddy’s 1970s wrestling battle-cry “Easy, easy!” And it is bettered by “Waving Flags”, an anti-nationalist anthem which presents Britain not as the timidly xenophobic island posited by politicians, but an ecstatic place of asylum. A lone crowd-surfer sinks out of sight during another inclusive song, “All In It”, only a shoe clutched in his hand still visible amidst the British Sea Powered dancers.
This band will never be stars, or consistent; maybe not ever quite great. But, like the visionaries in Loach’s film, they inspire by suggesting a better world.