British Sea Power - Salty Water

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Village Hall, Grasmere, UK

Overnight, a strange indie rock version of the Paris-Dakar Rally is taking place. Because for British Sea Power fans, one gig is rarely enough - and the next day's is 333 miles away in a village hall in Cumbria. Thus bruised limbs are crammed into various cars, and stumbling bleary-headed around Oxford Services in the early hours it's interesting to muse on whether this was a deliberate challenge to the faithful.

Grasmere is not so much a one-horse town as a one-hundred-gift-shops town, in the heart of the Lake District a few miles from where three of the band grew up. Not that this connection means much to the regulars in The Lamb Inn. "There's a rock band playing at the Village Hall" one was heard to mutter; "Why do they want to do that?" As the fan who overheard this exchange was actually the person who suggested the band should play here, in response to a request on the band's website for interesting venues, he sensibly kept quiet. As we park up by the hall the band are soundchecking and the windows are rattling heavily. Cumbria throws us some traditional weather, so we pile into the Lamb Inn - safety in numbers and all that. Returning to the venue we find badminton court markings on the floor, an old-fashioned stage with red velvet curtains and specially brought in drinks being sold through a serving hatch. Local support act The Witch And The Robot frighten all the incomers with their anti-folk meanderings on dead farmers and the use of a flute.

British Sea Power start with "Apologies To Insect Life" and the PA, a rather precariously balanced stack of speakers, starts to wobble. The local youth lining the front of the stage are again wonderfully enthusiastic, but then I suspect it's been some time since a proper signed band played Grasmere. The atmosphere is the friendliest imaginable, with a real family feel to it - there are a few grey hairs, whilst a couple of the regular fans have brought their kids. Five-month-old George, modelling a one off "Baby Sea Power" babygro, will have a lifetime of winning "What was your first gig" discussions ahead of him anyway, whereas seven-year-old Archie's an old hand now having first seen them a couple of years ago. By "Remember Me", four tracks in, it's become apparent that the floor is sprung and bouncing by a good couple of inches in the middle under the weight of the jumping mass. The PA is staring to look very dodgy indeed, and not sounding much better, although everyone's having far too much of a good time to care about things like that. More new songs get a run out, as the ever stunning "Carrion" is followed by an equally soaring anthem called "Please Stand Up" - yet another clear contender for a future single, before the reins are once again handed to the angel-voiced Hamilton whose "The Land Beyond" is a beautiful, colour-drenched successor to his timeless "Blackout". This is the sound of a band going from strength to strength. One day they may decide not to end on "Lately", but this is not it - and as the crowd sing along to every word half of the PA finally gives up the ghost. The band are undeterred and as the song descends into the regular "Rock In A" coda, a lone girl crowdsurfer lands on the stage. Suddenly there are 10, 20, 40 fans up there, tearing at the foliage hanging from the stage curtain and grabbing at the band and each other. Noble falls over a monitor almost crushed by his own admirers, Hamilton leading from the front shrieking into a mic with a bunch of happy fans, Eamon's marching drum's being thrown from side to side and shedding bits along the way, Wood carries on knocking seven bells out of his drums, whilst Yan slips quietly to the side of the stage, away from the unfolding mayhem, still mouthing something typically incomprehensible into another mic from a safe distance. As we drift away down icy roads, the sky is full of stars this city dewller hasn't seen for years.

And the next day, high above the village by Easedale Tarn, a bedraggled bunch of rather amateur hikers who three years ago didn't know each other but have now become close friends as they travel the country and further together, reflect on the fact that the band once called the best live band in Britain are going to retain that title for some time yet.

Author: Cath Aubergine
Source: Manchester Music
Date: 12th February 2005

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