British Sea Power

Miss Fliss 21/06/2008

No other band has played such an off-kilter array of gigs as British Sea Power; previous outings having involved: an oil rig, Sussex cliffs, the Scilly Isles, and an underground Cornish slate mine. But a more grand and apt indoor setting for a British Sea Power gig you could not get, than London's Natural History Museum. I remember their early gigs in 2001 featuring stuffed birds, and here we were 7 years later drinking beer next to glass cases of taxidermy, and fossilised prehistoric life (no, not my gig companion, he was young and lively!)

Sadly, the stage was parked up in an undecorated hall, with no looming dinosaurs abounding, though you can imagine for safety reasons that was wise - fervent fans on the British Sea Power web forum had joked about agile guitarist Noble scaling a preserved beast and crowd-diving off it! As it goes, the museum gig saw fans themselves jumpily active to the point of the floor shaking. Outside there might have been the dead eyes of pelicans, swans, and the like, but inside this felt like a normal gig venue, with blinding lights and pulsating boom. The set up could have been more, well, natural. The mistake was mainly in the lights, oversized and overbright, and quite likely borrowed from the nearby Royal Albert Hall. They scorched and dominated, and rendered the slideshow a foggy distant vision. The sights of swelling sea, birds in epic flight, museum curating procedures, etc, a mere distraction, when these images could have been a powerful and pivotal addition to the weighty, awe-inspiring music.

Nice touches came in the form of guitarist Noble sporting a dinosaur jaw mask, the band releasing a slew of tiny toy dino's into the crowd as gifts, and plenty of sprigs of freshly picked greenery on stage, which ended up in the hands of fans down the front where they got waved manically about, and it was just like those fond old BSP gigs I attended, where people would nonchalently stroll home with 5 foot long tree branches poking in the air.

Since the lighting was so overly powerful and flashing, I could not take any photos of the band in action, and so I drew a picture instead. As you have correctly guessed, it's a dinosaur approaching British Sea Power guitarist Noble, as he wants to know what all the noise is about. Once up close, seeing Noble's dinosaur mask, he becomes under the impression that he made a foolish mistake and that this is not some crazy human rock and roll band, and Noble is one of his kind. So he apologises with a prompt Yorkshire accented: Oop! Beg your pardon, and retreats...

Now for the crux of proceedings: the music. There were instrumental intro moments of songs, where I suddenly realised how close to classical music BSP do veer. Songs were soaring in cerebral beauty to the point where the moshing people surrounding me seemed incongruous, and I probably looked serious and misty eyed, caught up in emotion, thoughts, distant visions of the mind, instead (and enjoyed it just as much as those reacting with dance). And this was interspersed with songs I would personally liken as "indie" "pop" "hits", ie catchy choruses and immediacy to encompass all. This is the brilliance of British Sea Power for me - the two extremes done equally well.

I know some of the band are fans of The Chameleons, and tonight more than ever I could see similar hallmarks - the epic guitar nuances, the intensity of mood, the kinetic splendour - and I feel so grateful to have a band of such calibre alive and active in my times. This is the band I have seen live the most in my many years of gigging (14 to my surprise, and to be precise), and still they continue strong. There are also atmospheric qualities here that I love in The Cure, and live the two are on a near par, which is high praise indeed. It's madness that prominence in pop eludes them still, and yet there is beauty and comfort in that, because this is subtance beyond many a man.