British Sea Power - Salty Water

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I hate British Sea Power. The bastards.

I first encountered them supporting Clinic in a dreary loftspace somewhere in Cardiff. The stage was tartily dressed in bits of tree and plastic birds. Wiry singer Yan was busy diving into a vocal pool that had previously been plundered by Ian Curtis and Berlin-era Bowie. His equally shadowy brother, Hamilton, had bits of twig in his hair and seemed to be marching on the spot in an exaggerated flat-footed style while he gripped his bass like a cocked Sten gun.

Both young men seemed to have clocked me as I walked into the room mid-set. They hadn't, of course, it just seemed that way. But still I felt the blood drain from my face as I fell victim to their collective glare - an unblinking accusatory screwing out that seemed to burn through my retina and into my very soul. I tried staring back at Hamilton, but as I took in his military jacket and cropped hair I was reminded of a photograph I'd seen of my late Uncle Ted on Home Defence duty at the AA guns in Sidmouth, circa 1942.

As "Lately" kicked in with its 16 epic minutes of landmine-dodging terror, stuffed bird frottage and deathly shrieks, I felt the tears start to roll. This was powerful, spectre-filled stuff being played out in front of me. I was unable to speak about anything else for weeks. Still can't in fact. Ask any of my friends - I've become a BSP bore. The bastards.

Go to the PlayLouder singles club and you'll hear a bit of what's got me so fired up. Check out their recent dalliances with pioneering aviation - the marvellous "Spirit Of St Louis" - and you'll grasp another side of their complex personality. Keep that CD spinning (or flip that 7" if you're a traditionalist) and you'll come across the very marvellous "The Lonely".

"A lot of The Lonely is about Geoff Goddard, the composer best known for his work with Joe Meek," explains an impersonal email signed simply "Hoots mon, British Sea Power.

"Yan and Noble (guitarist) worked alongside Geoff at The Cedar Rooms Canteen at Reading University, a place where Geoff had happily washed up for all the years after he quit showbiz.

"We just thought he was this eccentric old guy who liked to sing when he was doing the dishes. He was a bit like Frankie Howard.

"We gradually found out he'd had a Number One single in the 60s with Johnny Remember Me. He became quite an inspiration to us.

"The lines about the Casio piano and Liberace are definitely about Geoff. When Joe Meek first heard him play, he said, 'Great! Let's make some records. I shall call you Hollywood!' That led to his initial stage name, Anton Hollywood. The history of popular music doesn't get much better than that."

History, yes. Very important to BSP, this history thing. Hence the song about Lindbergh and his transatlantic solo flight. Hence, also, various subtle references to Sussex-based pioneer film-makers and assorted East European shenanigans. The whole military thing goes way deeper, though.

"Yes, our dad did serve in World War II, manning the anti-aircraft guns all the way from Sunderland and the New Forest to the India and Java," relates the collective Yan/Hamilton emailing finger. "We are the youngest of six children and we think the way we were brought up gives us a different perspective to most people of our age. We never thought twice about sharing a bath, wearing thermal underwear or sharing a bed - right up to the age of about 16. Luckily, we didn't reach puberty till we were almost 20."

Funny boys. But funny how? How seriously, for instance, can one take their claim to being admired by Jeremy Vine? Or that Bill Oddie is going to jam with them at the Eden Project in July? All the way, according to the horse's mouth. Similarly, we should accept that BSP are hated by The Vines, Sarah Lucas, Ben Elton and Nick Hornby, should we? If you like. BSP would much rather spend time asserting their one overbearing belief - in the power of music to suspend time. They have a good explanation for this.

"Any halfway decent band will suspend the flow of time in its mundane, day-to-day, minute-by-minute form. Any half decent band will stop the clock. They will stop you thinking, 'Hmmm, cheese for tea? Or do I fancy fish?'

"Instead you will be taken back to that ice-cream on the beach all those years ago, or moved forward to contemplate The End Of It All. We are young, but we are not immortal. In fact, we have already composed our collective obituary: "British Sea Power. Like Malcolm Lowry, their work was glowery, but never flowery. They lived nightly and drank daily and died playing the ukelele.'"

Not the crap ramblings of a wannabe Ocean Colour Scene, you'll agree. They've got substance, these boys, and they're not afraid to use it. All in one go, if necessary.

They have a name for all this, too. "High church amplified rock music". Or: "A nice big power chord smashing the stained-glass window and sending a shiver through The Book Of Common Prayer." That's one worth remembering.

I could ramble on, if you want. Like I say, these boys have turned me into a BSP bore. The bastards.

Author: Andy Barding
Source: Playlouder
Date: 1st June 2002

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