British Sea Power are somewhat of a cult these days, a reputation for doing a lot for their fans, most of which are quite mad. Their online merchandise shop is, without doubt, one of the best in the world. They harbour the biggest range of band t-shirts known to man and they even have their own range of ‘British Tea Power’ mugs. They are the longest serving artist to be signed to Rough Trade and have even performed in the gallows of the famous tea clipper The Cutty Sark, moored in London. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone had erected a shrine of them somewhere.
Excitement here means largely male proportioned crowd going nuts for a band that hasn’t taken to the stage yet. Five to Nine and the roadie silhouettes bound about on stage at The Ritz, perhaps feeling the exhilaration in the room and the need to have haste in their actions. It’s a big night after all; this year marks the 12th anniversary of the release of BSP’s debut album The Decline of British Sea Power. An album that came to much critical acclaim upon its release and featured the hit single ‘Remember Me’ that charted in the UK Top Ten.
Tonight, the original line up of Scott Wilkinson AKA Yan, Neil Wilkinson AKA Hamilton, Martin Noble and Matthew Wood will play Decline of… in full and they take to the stage whilst opener ‘Men Together Today’ plays out. Last to take to the stage is special guest and former Keyboard player and Brakes front man Eamon Hamilton – to rapturous applause I might add. The stage is covered in fairy lights and foliage is wrapped around mic stands and life-like looking Owls and Herons surround the stage, looking like additional band members. Yan greets the crowd, two pints in hand, then the band fire into ‘Apologies to Insect Life’, a song with an angular post-punk sound that Decline of…features heavily. The crowd are already screaming over the music, I’m reminded that some of the tracks tonight probably rarely get an outing these days due to BSP’s extensive back catalogue – a shame really as ‘Apologies…’ is such a good tune! Raw guitar lines, hasty drums whilst Yan screams ‘Oh Molasses, it’s like bad acid’. The mosh pit of BSP t-shirts has formed already and doesn’t stop until the final notes of Noble’s guitar. A lot of people, including myself, have clearly been waiting to hear that one live for some time.
The energy continues without time to catch breath into the short, sharp ‘Favours in the Beetroot Fields’ during which Eamon descends from the stage to the front rail and, with drum in hand, promptly jumps into a sea of hands and crowd surfs his way through the audience. I loose sight of him after this but I can see a drum disappearing towards the back of the room. An already sweaty man next to me informs me that “He used to do it all the time, back in the day”. It appears as though it’s not just the fans who can relive the glory days tonight.
As the set goes on the tempo never seems to drop with old favourites ‘The Lonely’, ‘Remember Me’ and ‘Carrion’ being received particularly well. During the latter, one of BSP’s giant bear (a man in a giant bear costume) mascots, Bi-Polar, makes his way onto the stage and stands towering over Yan. At one point he looks like he could take a bite out of him but instead throws some impressive bear-dancing shapes. Abit of the foliage falls off Yan’s mic stand at this point; he swings it around his head and throws it into the crowd. The tallest man around catches it, much to the disappointment of those standing around him. However, he promptly snaps the leafy twig and distributes it around; I count myself as one of the lucky ones, pocket my twig and carry on listening…whilst secretly thinking ‘I GOT A TWIG!!!’
An hour has passed; the band has reached the end of The Decline of…As they depart the stage, the crowd roar, they’ve been absolutely manic from start to finish. Barely a minute passes and the lights come up again, the band return to the stage to play another 45 minutes of their back catalogue. Bi-Polar makes another appearance, this time in the audience. They all rush and crowd around him for a pat on the head and a hug – he’s representing the band at this point, albeit in giant bear form. Amongst the hits in the encore, ‘The Great Skua’ from 2008 album Do You Like Rock Music? is a particular highlight of epic proportions – it’s an instrumental track but has a particularly catching vocalised line towards the end that has the whole venue singing in unison.
It appears we’ve reached the end of the night, the band bows and raise their cans to the crowd. One of the many BSP t-shirts passes me on the way out with the line ‘I believe that bravery exists’ from their song ‘The Lonely’. All too true, I think, about tonight’s performance. It takes guts to stand up and perform a piece of work in its entirety 12 years on. The reaction they gained tonight has convinced me that such a work will be forever remembered.
Read on Silent Radio here