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The Power And The Passion

Heavily Hyped British Sea Men Dazzle With Decline

Let's hope the members of British Sea Power don't let a bit of good press go to their heads. The Brighton, England­based art-rock band has certainly received its share of glowing notices for its cheekily titled debut album, The Decline of British Sea Power. The Guardian called the disc "startlingly audacious", while New Musical Express praised it as "an intriguing and frequently dazzling debut record". Sunday Times critic Dan Cairns went so far as to declare British Sea Power "the best band in Britain".

Eamon sounds off on the things that enquiring minds want to know.

On whether or not the Pixies reunion excites him:
"Oh yeah, yeah, completely. I just read today that they're playing over here, but I rang up for tickets and they've all sold out. The Pixies were the first band I ever saw. The first big band. It was their Doolittle tour, I think. I was 13. I went with my older brother. He'd seen them on their first tour, so he piled me into the Doolittle tour gig. That's when rock 'n' roll first took me, seeing the Pixies."

On Club Sea Power, the offbeat variety nights of rock 'n' roll, bagpiping, 18th-century hosiery, and quirky theatricality the band hosts occasionally in Brighton:
"Rather than just seeing who's the new cool band and what leather jackets they're wearing this week, we decided to make it a night where you could go and have a completely different experience to what you'd expect from an indie band."

On putting on a full-spectrum show:
"We feel like people go to gigs with ears and eyes and noses, and so it should be a sensory experience rather than just watching some people play music. We feel like a gig should stimulate you, really."

Not everyone has been so kind. Thanks in part to its eccentric image--the quintet dresses up in Royal Navy uniforms circa 1917--and singer-lyricist Yan's penchant for literary allusion, British Sea Power is often pegged as difficult, impenetrable, and hopelessly pretentious.

"We had loads of bad reviews at the start," admits keyboardist Eamon, reached at his Brighton home, where he's just popped in from the local pub. "People really hated us. So the good reviews that we've had subsequently have been kind of weighed up. We don't really take it that seriously. Anyway, it's pretty flattering to get good reviews. It's pretty nice. But it's kind of flattering to get really awful reviews as well. It's been kind of odd, our relationship with critics. They hated us to begin with, then they liked us, so they're obviously going to hate us again."

Critics haven't been the only haters. The band relishes the memory of a record-label talent scout who, in marked contrast to Cairns's opinion, called BSP "the worst fucking band in the country". Fortunately, Geoff Travis didn't think so. The Rough Trade records boss, mostly known in recent years as the bloke who discovered the Strokes, was sufficiently excited by British Sea Power to sign the band to the label that launched such acts as the Smiths and Belle and Sebastian.

Not a bad turn of events for a weedy lot of mono-monikered lads from the middle of nowhere. Eamon, in fact, is a Canadian by birth. He was born in the mining town of Stewart, B.C.; his father is from Nelson and his mother is from Salmo. Yan and his bass-playing brother Hamilton grew up, along with drummer Wood, in England's rural Lake District. The band formed while those three were living in Reading in 1999, when guitarist Noble came onboard. To hear Eamon tell it, there isn't really much of a music scene--or any other kind of scene--in Reading, so the four original members of BSP did what any aspiring young musicians would do if they found themselves mired in a no-fun city: they left. "It started to germinate in Reading, but when everyone moved to Brighton, that's where it really kicked off," the keyboardist says. "Brighton's got quite a good structure of places to play and bands to sort of spark off. So it was in Brighton that it really sort of jelled."

Eamon was the last to be drafted. In fact, he didn't sign up until after The Decline of British Sea Power was completed, but he shares his bandmates' musical passions. "We all listen to the same stuff: Sonic Youth, the Pixies, the Fall, Julian Cope," he says. "And we've just been turned on by a band called Broken Social Scene. They're from Toronto, and we're awestruck by them. They're an amazing band."

Perhaps we'll hear traces of Canada's favourite indie-pop supergroup next time BSP enters the studio. This time around, however, the group has synthesized its formative influences in a most convincing fashion. The indelible imprint of the aforementioned Pixies is evident on "Apologies to Insect Life" and "Favours in the Beetroot Fields", which find the band chugging along with guitars set on Annihilate while Yan howls like Black Francis caught in a leghold trap. Elsewhere, British Sea Power effortlessly conjures up the fever-dream melodrama of Echo and the Bunnymen, another English band that favoured surplus-store fatigues and combat boots.

Unlike the Bunnymen, British Sea Power doesn't drape its gear in camouflage netting when it plays live. Then again, it has been known to dress the stage in full woodland drag, complete with tree limbs and stuffed birds. When he's not fixing the audience with a brand of thousand-yard stare not seen since Ian Curtis walked among us, Yan has been reported to break into manic gymnastics routines during songs. For his part, Eamon won't speculate as to what might transpire when BSP plays its first Vancouver show on Monday (February 23).

"I'm not sure. We never know what's going to happen at the end of a gig. That's what keeps us going, really, because each gig's been quite different to the previous ones. That makes us happy, at least. Hopefully there should be some twigs, some local foliage on the stage," he says with a soft chuckle. "That's about all you can expect."

Author: John Lucas
Source: Straight
Date: 19th February 2004

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