Gig Review: BRITISH SEA POWER @ The Chalk Farm Roundhouse – 13/06/2015

CA - Sep - British Sea Power Having caught them live back in 03, Mark K went to catch them along with Bo Ningen for an evening of art rock and rock as art. The question seems less ‘was it any good’ so much as ‘in which way was it excellent’…
Read on and find out…


I must confess that it came as something of a shock to realise that British Sea Power’s debut album The Decline of British Sea Power was now sufficiently venerable to be afforded the full heritage treatment: i.e to be played in full in front of an adoring, appreciative, and above all, nostalgic audience. I had seen BSP touring the album as support to The Flaming Lips in 2003, and this aforementioned realisation made me feel, well… old. Still, before the nostalgia commenced we had Bo Ningen to give our senses a damn good shaking.

Bo Ningen’s art rock did initially seem a bit challenging. However, after a few minutes it became apparent that there was plenty to enjoy, with guitar parts meshing then flying apart, a bit like an aural Red Arrows. Their whole performance is pleasantly mad, with occasional hints of prime time Hawkwind. The singer jumps offstage and plays his bass behind his head. His bass, I should add, is the first 1980s Steinburger bass that I’ve seen played in anger for many years. CA - Sep - British Sea Power - Bo Ningen

There is much guitar swinging in what occasionally comes across as a kind of loosely organised anarchy. The singer climbs onto his amp and jumps off, while proceedings are brought to a close in a feedback drenched crescendo. They should have neon letters behind the band spelling out ‘follow that’.

As it happens British Sea Power tonight have no concerns about following anybody (apart from perhaps the reunited classic line-up of The Beatles). They have a partisan audience who know exactly what they’re going to get. Well… at least to an extent.

CA - Sep - British Sea Power - The Decline of BSP As is now traditional, the stage is decorated with foliage and interesting stuff like stuffed owls and pelicans. Tonight BSP play two sets. The first is an authentic and enthusiastically energised run-through of The Decline Of British Sea Power, followed by a cover of Julian Cope’s Out of My Mind on Dope and Speed.

The second set is effectively a BSP fanboy’s wet dream, with singles, b-sides and EP tracks mostly of Decline era ancestry. There’s Scottish Wildlife Experience from the Remember Me EP, A Lovely Day Tomorrow which was the b-side of the Remember Me single, Childhood Memories which was a single from 2002 and The Spirit of St Louis, the title track of an EP from 2004. This section of the set is delineated by a cover of Galaxie 500’s Tugboat. The rest of the set consists of three tracks from Do You Like Rock Music? (No Lucifer, Waving Flags and The Great Skua) along with the title track of Machineries of Joy.

This is not a normal British Sea Power gig, if indeed such a thing exists! This is essentially a celebration of the past. For a couple of hours it’s 2003 or thereabouts, and it’s enormous fun. BSP live are utterly sublime. Whether it be Yan and Abi Fry whirling like dervishes; an unidentified member of the crew wearing a World War II tin hat, jumping offstage and roaming at large around the auditorium banging a drum; or somebody dressed as a grizzly bear similarly departing the stage and getting ‘up close and personal’ with the audience. It’s all great stuff!

CA - Sep - British Sea Power - Sea of Brass

Sea of Brass – 2015

All good things come to an end however, and the encore A Wooden Horse is dedicated to Geoff Travis, who signed them to his Rough Trade label. This simply underlines how very little that British Sea Power do is done without prior consideration. The artwork for early British Sea Power releases was based upon the cover of a 1950s edition of the book A Wooden Horse.

What a band! If anybody should ever doubt that rock music is art, they should fully immerse themselves in the work of British Sea Power.


Mark Kelly