British Sea Power - Salty Water

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The Grand Foliage

"It starts with love for foliage and ends in camouflage..." - 'Something Wicked'.

Been to see British Sea Power lately? Boy oh boy... their live shows, once merely a quaint eccentricity of wood and electricity, have evolved into a chilling, thrilling all-out assault on the brain - with you, dear gigger, the quarry in their crosshairs.

A BSP show is a cinematic hoot for the psychologically sturdy and a headfuck for the emotionally weak. Think David Lynch hosting a sleep-over in Kew Gardens. Think Tim Robbins guiding a Berlin-era Bowie around the set of "Jacob's Ladder". The Sunday Times last weekend called them "the best live band in Britain". BSP's official two-word response: "bloody liars".

Comparisons, like resistance, are futile. There has never been a band with so much substance. From the superficial and comedic to the strange and beautifully inspired, the modus operandi of this five-strong freakshow is convoluted and still expanding. The scary stares, the plastic birds and bits of trees, the tin helmets, the military badges, the Betjeman and TS Elliot poems, the Spitfires and the Stukas, the torn ligaments and sprained ankles, the fashion line, the gig on the Scilly Isles, the socks, the scarves, the BSP chocolate, the ornithology, Operation Lighthouse, the amateur gymnastics, the soap wrapped in road maps, the slogans "Bravery Already Exists", "Exceeding the National Average" and "All You Will Need This Winter"... all a quintessential part of the BSP DNA.

And now a final piece in the jigsaw, so to speak. A debut album: "The Decline of British Sea Power". Avance!

Monday is their D-Day. In the same week that (59 years previously) the Allies pushed into Normandy, British Sea Power will launch their first full-length assault on our unsuspecting heads. The band's itinerant crew of military jacketed acolytes, the "Third Battalion", are slathering at the bit. Some goon stuck a promo copy on eBay and it fetched £62.

British Sea Power's songwriting has already been revered as among this island's most astonishing and original. Check out the singles to date, which range from the peculiarly biographical "Spirit of St Louis" to a right-on ecological warning ("Childhood Memories") and a uniquely perceptive stomper in "Remember Me" - last year's magnificent outrage.

But, hey, as "The Decline of British Sea Power" proves, there's much more swilling around the heads of Yan, Hamilton, Noble, Woody and Official Fleet Reserve than just that.

The forces of nature - good and evil - the bravery and dynamism of history's heroes and villains, dad's war stories, the vast open spaces of northern England and the beguiling influence of a genius 60s songwriter are all part of the BSP make-up.

Bookish? Yes. Their name, the album's title and the cover art of all their releases to date have been borrowed from volumes purchased cheaply from the many secondhand shops in The Lanes, Brighton.

"I used to read biographies a lot," offers the softly-spoken voice of Yan across the pitch-black unlit space in the back of their tour bus, parked on a dirt road behind Coventry's Colosseum.

"I haven't found any good ones for a while, but I used to read them all the time. A good book will completely absorb you. A good biography gives you an insight into how someone's mind works. I like reading about people, because it helps get you motivated."

Another voice in the dark, this time belonging to guitarist Noble, adds: "What some people do in their lives is amazing, don't you think? Fucking hell... we've all got to do something like that."

Famous folk are strewn across "The Decline Of..." in varying degrees and in strange guises. It was Field Marshall "Monty" Montgomery, the victor of Alamein, who encouraged his soldiers to raise their spirits by taking advantage of "Favours in the Beetroot Fields" - a euphemism for banging a prostitute.

Nineteenth century Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, is similarly immortalised in "Apologies To Insect Life", a soviet-inspired rocker that calls the Psychedelic Furs, Echo and the Bunnymen and the Red army Choir to mind.

Then there's the album's closing song, "A Wooden Horse". Piano player/drum beater Eamon (aka "Official Fleet Reserve") thinks it might be inspired by imprisoned-Austrian-kid-turned-weird-genius Casper Hausen. But Yan's not convinced.

"That's probably the oldest song on the album. When I lived in Reading, before we moved to Brighton, I decided that I wanted to make a musical version of the Trojan Horse. Something we could use to somehow sneak in, establish ourselves, and cause a bit of trouble. You know."

A re-recorded version of "Remember Me" is about dying slowly. Cheers.

"That's a good thing, as long as you don't get depressed about it," offers Yan. "You reach a peak, physically, and it's quite early in life. It's a fact of death.

"That song is also about someone who died, Geoff Goddard. Noble and I worked with him in the Cedar Fields café in Reading University.

"He used to write death discs with Joe Meek. Johnny Remember Me - that was him. He was a bit odd, but I think he was probably pretty clever. The whole album is dedicated to him."

As is "The Lonely".

"He used to sit up all night in front of his plastic piano with his stereo headphones on, watching B-movies with all the lights off.

"It was a romantic image that stuck in my head. He used to take a lot of speed, I think, and he was pretty on edge. He wore the same red trousers for 20 years, maybe more. He's worth writing a song about, is Geoff."

Yan's brother, evergreen-garlanded bass player Hamilton, sings on the charming "Blackout", a schizophrenic beast that cites references to the awe-inspiring majesty of the great Cumbrian outdoors, experimenting with hyperventilation as entertainment and the ghostly apparition of a silver-clad future lady on Narrow Moor. Um... thanks.

The young Hamilton also penned the neo-classic, "Something Wicked".

"That was originally inspired by a book I read, The Shining Levels, about a guy who lived and worked in the Lake District.

"We want to write songs that give you a sense of the awe, majesty and confusion that you feel when you stand on the top of a mountain. Other things have come into that one, though, like the use of nature for evil. Nature cults, and the use of natural imagery on fighter planes and stuff."

"Carrion"? That'll be about blood, guts, JG Ballard, autopsies, lighthouses and hair gel, then.

And "Fear Of Drowning", a revamped and revitalised version of BSP's self-financed debut, could be about very bad floods in Lewes, a rowing boat with a hole in it or loss of identity in a sea of information - depending on which explanation Yan is minded to give you.

I prefer the latter - and specifically this analogy: "If you take all the classifieds out of the New York Times, there's enough type for eight average novels. And that's more information than they had in total 150 years ago or even 100 years ago."

Yan and Hamilton's father, their personal WW2 hero, tells a great story when pushed, it seems. Bits of his adventures appear on the 14-minute epic "Lately" - the album's zenith. The song also bravely tackles the impossible concept of infinity with surprising success.

Yan: "I took a really strong microdot one time when we went camping in Dorset. We did a lot of stupid stuff and had a lot of fun, and then when it got all spaced out I'm pretty sure I saw infinity. It was like a tunnel with a Dr Who effect going on. It had an understanding to it.

"That stayed in my head, and after that experience I wanted to write a song that didn't have an end, that had a never-ending guitar riff. So I did."

So what do BSP hope people will get from the album?

Noble: "It's a waste of time not to give it a good listen. People could listen to a couple of songs and ignore the rest, which would be a shame. It's really, really good. I hope people take the time to listen to it, properly."

Yan: "I hope it has the same effect as iodine - the chemical you get off the sea. You know that slightly dreamy feeling you get when you sit down next to the sea?"

Author: Andy Barding
Source: Playlouder
Date: 7th June 2003

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