British Sea Power - Salty Water

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Interview with Noble & Hamilton

A lot can be inferred from a band's battle plan, as it were. Ambition, for instance: the reedy lads behind UK post-punk outfit British Sea Power migrated all the way south from their Yorkshire and Lake District homes, before establishing a base in the resort city of Brighton, from which to set forth and conquer nicer shores.

You see, England, like beer, is rather bitter. The food is mush; the streets are narrow; the beaches, even, are composed of pebbles, not sand. Northerners suspect the Southerners are soft, while Southerners insist the Northerners are simple. Trust it to a band like British Sea Power to invert both stereotypes, and unite the United Kingdom in critical adoration. Their newly streamlined sound is at once gorgeous, shivering, and dangerous, like white water rapids, or an attractive addict. In January '04 they won the Time Out Best Live Band in Britain award; more recently, UK daily The Guardian dubbed their sophomore album Open Season both "marvelous" and "triumphant."

The band's widespread acclaim in their native land is not without reason: Open Season reigns in the nervier excesses of 2002's The Decline of British Sea Power in favor of unabashed arena-pop majesty. Echoes of Echo & the Bunnymen, Lloyd Cole, and Joy Division abound, but once again British Sea Power anchor their sound with demented unity all their own. In a better world, there would be an award for Most Compelling Literary References in a Pop Album.

Before the band's May 16th show at the Cambridge's Middle East Downstairs, ace guitarist Martin Noble and vocalist / bassist Neil Hamilton dropped by WERS, to share a few book recommendations and idiosyncratic cover versions.

You sold out your two Bowery Ballroom shows this weekend in New York. How did the shows go?

Martin Noble: The first one was better than the second one. Sunday service, I guess. It was only half an hour, really. Had a shit gig.

I got a Monty Python vibe from the live show. Any influence there?

Neil Hamilton: They're English and we're English. They're funny guys. I like funny guys. Charlie Chaplin's more of an influence, isn't he?

I understand you're from the Lake District...

NH: I'm from the Lake District; he's from Yorkshire. We went via two shitty cities. He went via Reading as well.

Was it calculated that the band name references Brighton's biggest tourist attraction, the sea?

MN: We named the band before we moved to Brighton.

Was it strictly for the amusing puns?

NH: No, it was totally serious. ::laughs:: I never lived by the sea before we moved to Brighton.

How would you say the American beaches compare to those in Brighton?

NH: Bit sunnier.
MN: More varied.
NH: More sand.

It's mostly pebbles, over there.

NH: You haven't got the sparrows here flying around every night. Two thousand sparrows every night.
MN: Starlings.
NH: Starlings, every night.

Will they crop up in the album artwork soon? Your covers feature a lot of silhouettes of small animals.

NH: They're in one of the videos we made. Wonders of the world.
MN: The coasts are very nice in Cornwall. They're really just lovely.
NH: Rocky and stormy.
MN: San Francisco is quite good. The beach.
NH: Yeah. It's just bigger.

Everything is bigger in America, you'll find.

NH: Better women.

You think so?

NH: It's just because they've got less clothes.

A sunny day in England and you immediately get all sorts of pasty English thighs exposed.

NH: We're skinny English white boys.

What is the worst injury you've sustained during a live show?

NH: Mental, really.
MN: I got one. ::shows leg:: It's not actually bruised at the moment. It got better.
NH: I broke my little finger once. That's about as bad as it's got.

Your stage show famously involves branches and bird calls...

MN: No branches anymore.

Problems with the forestry commission?

MN: Yep.

I heard there was an incident where someone was chased out of Central Park...

MN: It's our manager. It was like a private garden and we didn't know. This crazy guy got hold of the pruning shears and tried to stop him.
NH: One of Eamon's [British Sea Power keyboardist / percussionist] friends - they were on a walk in the South Downs. They were off their heads on mushrooms, climbing trees, and she fell out and broke her leg. That was the end of the trees. It's a warning.

I also heard something about someone sawing through the branch they were on...

NH: Yeah, me. ::laughs:: The branch snapped...

So, most of the injuries are involved with the preparation for the live show, rather than the show itself?

NH: All self-inflicted.
MN: It's a lack of respect [for the trees]. We respect them a little more now.

Who was it who chose the Bohumil Hrabal quote in the inside cover of the new album?

NH: I don't know how you say his name either. He's a good writer. He's just like a character. A drunk. He'd just sit around in bars, listening to people talking. He'd take everyday stuff and make it magical. He had a weird mind. Something about Czech people. I Served the King is a good one. I don't know where the quote's from. I don't have a good memory for details.

They say that Hrabal had a hard drive for a brain. Apparently all his work was autobiographical and he simply rearranged things for his novels. Would you say you work in a similar fashion?

MN: We don't have hard drives. [We've got] Jelly.
NH: You just pick things up here and there.

So no one "found God in a parking lot"? [from "It Ended On an Oily Stage," the opening track of Open Season]

MN: In someone's kitchen once. I found something.
NH: Eamon was talking to angels on New Year's Eve.

What was the most religious experience you've had lately?

MN: Walking down the seafront. In Brighton. The sun was glistening on the sea. Don't know if that's a religious experience.

We'll take what we can get. Any other favorite authors?

MN: Don't know. Anything that evokes that feeling of awe. When you're just blown away.
NH: There's one book, one song on the album's almost about him. This guy called John Wyatt. He just wrote an autobiography about when he lived in the Lake District as a kind of woodsman. He'd describe about how he'd be walking for miles and he'd come up upon a clearing and a little deer would run up. Just those magical moments in the Lake District. He calls them "shining levels." We almost called the album that.
MN: There's a really good book by Iris Murdoch, called The Sea, The Sea that I'm reading. This one's really vivid. It's about this guy who retires from the theatre business and lives in a little hut by the sea in Scotland. And he's just on his own, he hasn't got any heating or anything. And he has a few flashbacks from taking acid. And he just writes everyday - sometimes it's just a few lines; sometimes it's a couple of pages. Just describing what he does. Like he buys a little bit of rope and he ties it around a rock, because there's no beach where he lives. And he just jumps in and he has to climb out with his little bit of rope, and he scratches his legs.

So you seem to be into the Thoreau / Walden way of life. How did you spend last night in New York?

MN: Went to a bar with the guy from Interpol.
NH: I rode around on a scooter.
MN: Yeah, you didn't end up getting to the bar, did you?
NH: No, just rode around on a scooter. This girl gave me a lift on a scooter. I hadn't been on a scooter for years. Used to have one when I lived in the Lake District.
MN: Daniel Kessler from Interpol, he took us to this bar near his house. Black and White. It's not got any signs on it.
NH: Six foot lesbians kissing.
MN: There was, wasn't there?

There's some imagery for the next album.

NH: Don't get carried away...


Author: Aaron Ayscough
Source: WERS
Date: 16th March 2005

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