British Sea Power - Salty Water

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Band Info


British Sea Power play amplified rock music and are based in Brighton, on England's south coast. You may have seen them, loitering outside the racecourse and telling you to bet on the three-legged horses with the beautiful names. All very well, but British Sea Power have also turned up some interesting names in the real world. Their debut album was conspicuously praised by David Bowie, Radiohead, Lou Reed and the nice young man who plays Harry Potter, while their last concert in Japan was attended by several Asiatic Black Bears. It's all true, but how did it happen?

The British Sea Power story really started in Kendal, Cumbria, up beside the English Lake District. It was here that brothers Hamilton and Yan attended the same school as drummer Woody. After finishing his exams, Yan relocated to Reading, Berkshire, where he met a guitarist from Leeds called Noble. Hamilton and Wood came down to Reading to join the jamwagon and, in essence, British Sea Power had begun. However, it wasn't until the band moved to Brighton that anyone noticed.

In Brighton, British Sea Power began to stage their own Club Sea Power night. This was 2001, the year which also saw the release of the band's first record, the single, "Fear Of Drowning", on their own Golden Chariot label. With beech branches arcing up over the amplifiers and a plastic peregrine falcon peering out at the crowd, Club Sea Power soon became a byword for a remarkable night-out. At the bar you might see a group of young women, DIY British Sea Power tattoos inked lividly on cleavage. On stage you might see The Copper Family, English folk legends led by the then 88-year-old Bob Copper. The tattoos turned out to be temporary, but Club Sea Power had an enduring effect. One Friday, Rough Trade Records boss Geoff Travis came down to Club Sea Power. Soon after, he offered the band a recording contract.

British Sea Power's first record on Rough Trade was a single called "Remember Me", released in late 2001 (this song would later be re-recorded and, in 2003, give the band their first UK Top 30 single). In 2002, British Sea began to find themselves playing alongside a series of fine groups. In June, they supported Pulp on their Forestry Commission tour, playing outdoors in the middle of the woods. One particularly fond memory is the evening they took Jarvis Cocker out to see the Nightjars in Thetford Forest in Norfolk. This enigmatic bird is best seen at dusk and can be attracted by waving a white handkerchief (in imitation of the bird's white wing spots). Jarvis waggled his handkerchief with abandon.

By this point, British Sea Power were gaining a reputation as an astonishing live act. A review of Britain's Reading Festival 2002 dismissed all the other performances in a couple of lines, before dwelling on the British Sea Power set at length: "Fuck this puerile drivel, we're going to see British Sea Power... All of them have crazy acid-fried stares, the bass player is wearing tree branches on his head and one deliriously psycho-delic tune concludes with singer Yan beating on the drum-kit with a large stuffed owl. British Sea Power rule."

In January 2003, British Sea Power supported The Flaming Lips in Britain. By this point, British Sea Power had expanded to a five-piece, with the addition of Eamon on keyboards and marching drum. It is generally held that Eamon is the most notable player to have emerged from Gloucestershire since Laurie Lee. On the second Flaming Lips date, British Sea Power walked into soundcheck to find the Oklahoma trio solemnly playing the British Sea Power instrumental "Heavenly Waters". In March and April 2003, British Sea Power toured nine European countries with Interpol.

The debut British Sea Power album, The Decline Of British Sea Power, was released in September 2003. It was an ambitious work, ranging from visceral 70-second blasts called "Favours In The Beetroot Fields" to the beautifully structured anthemicism of "Carrion". There was also a Gregorian chant and the 14-minute keystone of "Lately". The latter took in references to the novels of L.P. Hartley, Greek myth and the Scandinavian sea lanes of the Kattegat. Clearly this could all have been a terrible mess. Yet, the album wore its scope well and drew resoundingly favourable reviews.

"British Sea Power's vision makes most independent rock seem callow and weak-minded," said Blender. "Stadium-sized melodies and exquisite songwriting," said MOJO. "Out of this world... a dazzling debut," said the NME. Entertainment Weekly, meanwhile, declared that, "We have seen the future of rock & roll, and its name is British Sea Power. And this, we can't emphasis enough, is a good thing."

The band celebrated the album's release with festival dates and their own concerts. Before one show, the band were hit by an unlikely injury. British Sea Power bassist and singer Hamilton had climbed a tree to gather a few branches for stage decoration. In Keystone Kops style, he sawed through the branch he was hanging onto and fell to the ground. A severe wrist injury meant that night's show was abandoned, while this unlikely story shot around the world's news wires. This, seemingly, was the way to publicity. The band discussed which of them would now stand on a rake, who would volunteer to plummet down an open manhole.

The year 2003 concluded with British Sea Power supporting The Strokes in Britain and Spain. There were two nights at Alexandra Palace in London and it was here that British Sea Power met John McEnroe. Yan and Noble found themselves debating premium-strength beers with the tennis star. McEnroe argued loudly in the cause of Carlsberg Special Brew, while Noble fought the corner for Gold Label barley wine.

The globe-spanning British Sea Power tour schedule bore fruit at the Time Out Awards in January 2004. British Sea Power were presented with the award for Live Band Of The Year. The group were pleased to note that previous winners at the awards included Brian Wilson and Sir John Gielgud. In 2004, British Sea Power completed their third US tour to date and made a riotous second appearance at SXSW. British Sea Power festival appearances this year included Glastonbury and the prestigious opening slot on the main stage at Fuji Rock in Japan. Fuji Rock is quite probably the only festival in the world where your walk to the second stage is likely to be interrupted by a bear strolling up the path.

British Sea Power spent much of 2004 working toward their second album. Songs were demoed in a barn up on the South Downs, beside the ancient chalk-hill figure The Long Man Of Wilmington. The album was recorded at Rockfield Studio in South Wales and at Kore Studios in West London.

The majority of the album was recorded with the tireless Norwegian Mads Bjerke and mixed by the great Bill Price. The latter has, of course, worked with anyone from the Sex Pistols and The Clash to Sparks, The Libertines and Fluffy. However, British Sea Power were particularly impressed to note that Bill is quite probably the only man to have made records with both Joe Meek and Axl Rose.

The second British Sea Power album is called Open Season. It is an album that retains this band's peculiar power while adding new dimensions of poise and prettiness. Somehow, the three-legged horse has turned into an effortlessly graceful thoroughbred, an unstoppable son of thunder. The time is right, then, to put your money on British Sea Power. After all, please remember, the less you gamble, the more you lose when you win.

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