<preform>Snoop Dogg, Apollo, Manchester</br>British Sea Power, High Rocks, Tunbridge Wells</preform>

Welcome to the Dogg pound - where they party like it's 1994
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'I hear it's Valentine's Day," he says, his whistly sibilants piercing through the mic on every letter "s". "So I wanna do something for all the laydeez in the house. Fellas, you're gonna have to help me sing this..." Sure thing, Snoop. Whatever you say. Anything for the laydeez.

'I hear it's Valentine's Day," he says, his whistly sibilants piercing through the mic on every letter "s". "So I wanna do something for all the laydeez in the house. Fellas, you're gonna have to help me sing this..." Sure thing, Snoop. Whatever you say. Anything for the laydeez.

"...Hell, we want some pussy!!" And they say romance is dead. With an insouciance that only he could manage, however, the Dogg slides effortlessly from the profane to the sacred, following his crude booty-call with "Beautiful", a song so divine you can only gaze up at it and weep.

Hearing 2,000-odd Mancunian voices (and one Welsh one) straining to hit the high notes in lieu of the absent Pharrell is as funny as Snoop's lyric itself - "Lil' cutie, lookin' like a student/ Long hair, wit'cha big fat booty" (he's got some peculiar ideas about higher education) - but somehow he still manages to preserve the pulchritude of the tune.

It should come as no surprise that he pulls it off. The career of Calvin Broadus - from that early murder rap onwards - has been a case study in getting away with it. Snoop Dogg has always made everything look so easy that you could be forgiven for thinking he's sleepwalked his way through the last decade and a half, from G-funk to P-funk, guided by a combination of remarkable luck and a succession of collaborations with true geniuses (his mentor Dre, his cousin Warren, and his new buddies the Neptunes).

It didn't always look as though it would work out for the dachshund-faced rapper. After quitting Death Row records and releasing the disappointing Doggfather album, Snoop couldn't get arrested (something at which he was previously rather adept). But, more cat-like than dog-like, he's always landed on his feet, and now stands tall - very tall indeed - as a movie star (his turn as Huggy Bear absolutely made Stiller and Wilson's Starsky and Hutch), a porn entrepreneur and, when he's got time, a hip-hop survivor.

In his low-slung denim and red fur (fake, or is it?), presumably worn because, as he reminds us, he's "a motherfucking P.I.M.P.", the man oozes charisma. He's mastered the art of never looking as if you're trying too hard. The Dogg's whole persona is that of a lazy, laaaid-back waster, and to some extent it's accurate: I once flew all the way to Los Angeles to meet Snoop in Dre's studio, only to find him in monosyllabic mood over a family bucket of KFC, and eventually conducted the interview over the phone, when he could finally be bothered to speak, from my home in London.

However, in a notoriously lazy industry (where perfunctory 20-minute PAs are the norm), Snoop Dogg is a remarkable exception, keeping Manchester entertained for over an hour and a quarter (a Springsteenesque marathon in hip-hop terms), dropping all the hits and more. Not that he gets through it unassisted: while ordering us to "smoke weed, get drunk, have fun," he sparks up a fat one in defiance of the venue's No Smoking signs (not to mention the ring of non-undercover cops performing compulsory pat-downs outside), and for "Gin and Juice" he swigs from a crystal flute of Tanqueray.

Snoop has the charisma to make audiences do silly things. "All the ugly ladies be quiet!" is perhaps the cleverest bit of crowd manipulation I've heard in a long while, and if our throats weren't already ruined by our earlier Pharrell impersonations, they certainly are by the end of "Drop It Like It's Hot", in which he persuades us to shriek a sustained "SNOOOOOoooooOOOOP!!" "Who in the house wants to hear some of that classic Snoop shit?" he asks, knowing full well that the answer will be affirmative: he's prepared a neat medley of "187 On An Undercover Cop" (his first ever cut) into "Nuthin' But A G Thang" (his star turn on Dr Dre's classic The Chronic). But it's his signature anthem, "What's My Name", which finally brings the Apollo down.

Involuntarily, I find my self throwing my hands in the motherfucking air, and then proceed to wave those motherfuckers like I just don't care. Most uncharacteristic, but that's the power of the Dogg.

Isaac Rosenberg's Returning, We Hear the Larks emanates from the speaker system and echoes around the oak rafters: "Dragging these anguished limbs, we only know/ This poison-blasted track opens on our camp/ On a little safe sleep./ But hark! joy-joy-strange joy/ Lo! heights of night ringing with unseen larks/ Music showering on our upturned list'ning faces..." The upturned list'ning faces belong to a three-way combination of media daytrippers down from London, local Kentfolk who don't get to see many gigs, and the Third Battalion, the dedicated team of fans who turn up, in vintage military uniforms brandishing fresh foliage and stuffed fauna, to see British Sea Power.

For it is they, this most unusual and cherishable of English bands, who have lured this strange assembly, Agatha Christie-style, into an "alpine-style hunting lodge" at High Rocks near Tunbridge Wells.

It's a peculiarly stuffy place for a rock concert, but then, in many ways, British Sea Power are a peculiarly stuffy band. Posters in the stairwell advertise forthcoming shows by Georgie Fame and Alan Price, and ballroom dancing classes for beginners. Officious photocopied signs warn us that "Staff Must Not Help Themselves To Ice Creams" and "Customers Must Not Help Themselves To Coats". (There is no such sign above the complimentary buffet, so we proceed to help ourselves.) High Rocks was the location where a four-part Doctor Who storyline - "Castrovalva", the first starring Peter Davison - was filmed (I only know this, I hasten to add, because I share the coach trip with at least three sci-fi geeks). It isn't beyond the realms of possibility that BSP, with their penchant for knitwear and scarves, may be closet Who-eys themselves.

The great hall itself, however, evokes a different era of screen history altogether. Its rough-hewn wooden beams and tough iron chandeliers are very Robin Hood, and might have been made for Errol Flynn to swing from dashingly.

Details like this will not be lost on the Cumbria-via-Hove eccentrics themselves. This is a band who once screened the entire opening sequence of Powell and Pressburger's sublime A Matter of Life and Death, with stricken fighter pilot David Niven musing on mortality and bidding a poignant farewell to a radio operator girl he has never met, as his flaming bomber plummets to earth... and who burst into their first song as the Lancaster hit the ground.

British Sea Power, it seems, mourn a lost nobility of the era when fine young men were sent pointlessly and wastefully to foreign fields pro patria mori (although they are doubtless conscious of its uncanny resonances with the modern age). This time, as the last words of Rosenberg - a Great War poet who died aged 27 in 1918 - fill our ears, the air is rent by the dramatic opening chords of "Carrion", still their most epic moment.

And therein lies a paradox. This secret gig is intended as a warm-up for BSP's forthcoming tour, and also as a showcase for their second album Open Season (which, on first, second, third, fourth and fifth listen, will definitely be one of this writer's albums of 2005). Open Season refines the best elements of their debut, The Decline of British Sea Power, and dispenses with the troublesome crazy Russian cossack tunes in favour of stirring old-school indie guitars and surprisingly pop-friendly melodies (one track even borrows the "Be My Baby" beat). It is besottedly anglophile (references to "Wiltshire fields" and sampled seagull noises), unashamedly intellectual (no other record this year will contain the word "ventricles" within a song, nor the phrase "elegiac stanzas" within an actual elegiac stanza), and ever so slightly fogeyish (the line "totally wicked and equally ace" deliberately jars). For some reason, however, only a handful of new tracks are actually performed tonight.

Of those which are, the single "It Ended On An Oily Stage" stands out, as does "Oh Larsen B". No other lyricist on Earth apart from BSP's Yan, whose stark, staring eyes give him the look of reincarnated Ian Curtis (or Bez's brainy kid brother), would think of writing a passionate love song to the ice shelf which broke up in 2002 ("Oh, Larsen B, you can fall on me... desalinate the barren sea").

Yan's lanky, languid, oddly feminine brother Noble takes the vocals for the premiere of another "new song", a very silly, "Yellow Submarine"-style stoner nursery rhyme about wanting to be a bird. It may or may not be a cover of a song by the Holy Modal Rounders from the soundtrack of Easy Rider. Either way, it gives you some idea of how BSP have been amusing themselves on the tour bus.

By the end, the chandeliers and the rafters have proven too tempting. Yan and Noble, given a leg-up by the Third Battalion, both ascend the fixtures and fittings, hanging upside down like giant spiders before leaping heroically to the floor. Errol himself would have been proud.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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