There are many bands which claim to have loyal followings, but The Fly questions just how many acts would be able to get paying punters to wait for a boat on a cold, deserted waterfront in the dead of night.
But then British Sea Power are very different. Not for them the seediness of Shoreditch or New Jersey, Jack Daniels and leather-clad groupies, but Scapa Flow and Wiltshire, old sea forts and country inns.
And it is in this spirit that we shiver under the stark orange lights of the Liverpool docks waiting to take a trip on one of the famous Mersey Ferries. But for a blessed change, instead of having to listen to that song while we cruise along, onboard entertainment will be provided by Yan, Noble, Hamilton and Wood – collectively known as British Sea Power – in another of their legendary alternative gigs.
If it’s an unusual gig venue, it’s even more of an unusual interview venue. We meet in a makeshift dressing room below decks. In a big reversal of this show, the following week will see BSP play a gig at the highest pub in Britain. “It’s 1,872ft above sea level,” guitarist Noble informs us. So why there and why here and why can’t they just stick to Barflys and Carlings when touring like everyone else?
“We try and make it fun by doing things like this,” says Noble. “Once you get going it’s a good laugh. When you’ve got things like Tan Hill [That high pub], where you can just cuddle up with a sheep by the fire, makes it worthwhile.”
And according to frontman and principal songwriter Yan, the fans love the unusual venues, “These days’ people just suggest them to us. We used to actively seek them out but now people just say, ‘Oh it’d be brilliant if you played here.’’”
Their choice of venues seems sums up their whole ethos, doing things their own way, writing about what they like, sounding like they want, and playing no rock and roll games. For this, and of course their music, epic but sensitive, clever but heartfelt they have won a dedicated army of fans since they formed at university in Reading at the turn of the last decade. Fans that will follow them everywhere, even onto a nightime cross-river ferry in the middle of winter.
It’s a few years now since their 2003 debut ‘The Decline of British Sea Power’ first gained them attention. Then they almost went stellar with 2005’s bigger and more dynamic ‘Open Season’. But how has British Sea Power changed since their last outing? Latest album ‘Do You Like Rock Music?’ is yet another shift. Still unmistakeably BSP, lost but hopeful, openly English but alternative, epic with the odd rip-roaring chorus, but it’s darker and more experimental.
Yan feels the album is a reflection of the time that we are in:
“Yeah, it’s a bit more apocalyptic, it sounds a bit rawer. It’s just how things are isn’t it? It’s taking things with a bit of a joke as well sometimes; it isn’t doom metal or anything. There’s various stories in there, but in general, the background is the present day, that’s just how things are. At least half the time anyway.”
Despite the darkness, unlike some other artists tackling this subject, ‘Do You Like Rock Music?’ seems to maintain the quiet hope that can be heard through all BSP’s music. “Yeah, it’s because we’re looking forward to the apocalypse.” Yan deadpans. “No, we’re always fairly optimistic people.”
Perhaps this new direction has something to do with where the album was put together. For the first time BSP recorded and mixed trans-continental. In the Czech Republic where they encountered Wild Boar, in Cornwall where they encountered military helicopters landing on the roof and Canada were they encountered ice storms. Was it all as dramatic as its sounds?
“That’s pretty much my memory of it!” says Yan.
But Wild Boar wasn’t the only thing they encountered in the Czech Republic, as Noble explains: “We got some cheap bicycles over there and just cycled around the forest. We saw all sorts. There’s a lot of couples getting it on in the woods. There’s like a little valley with a stream with a load of huts where old people live and mow the lawn in their underpants.”
“Perving on bicycles basically,” adds Yan.
It all sounds very much a British Sea Power scene. But has the recording process, travelling around the world, affected their material? What influence has it had on such a defiantly ‘English’ band?
“I’d say travel broadens your appreciation of home,” says Yan. “It’s nice to get away though really. It’s just more fun than going to a modern studio in London.”
Another shift in British Sea Power has been the line-up. Eamon Hamilton, who joined in 2002, left to concentrate on his successful side project Battle. Yan explains he was sorely missed:
“The main thing I miss with his little bare feet and his big bass drum. And having a bit of fun with him”
Despite the obvious devotion of their fans, the band are not afraid to challenge them occasionally. The title of their new record is a case in point.
“On the one hand it’s kind of a joke. In terms of it’s meant to be quite stupid,” explains Yan, “we’re quite well-known for having clever titles, and we kind of got bored with that. And we like to piss off some of our more keen fans now and again, just for a laugh.”
But as ever, deep down they’re sincere: “But mostly it’s about, well, to us rock music should be something massive and moving and beautiful, and normally it isn’t. It seems to be in a bit of a bad way, it needs a bit of help. And we’re trying to expand, not in terms of the way like Radiohead would like in technology or whatever, but more in terms of subject matter, and just sort of sound in general and how it can relate to what’s going on in the song. To prop up rock music and bring it back to where it should be really.”
With British Sea Power fighting its corner, it seems English rock music may still have a chance.
By Kenn Taylor