British Sea Power, Rose Elinor Dougall

Alisha Ahmed 27/04/2010

Before I sat down to write about the "Man of Aran" performance that British Sea Power held at a very crowded Union Chapel on the 27th of April. I had to actually check my articles history, because I could not quite believe that I'd never written about them before. Especially considering the fact that I hold them in a quite high regard since I had the luck to "bump" into them a few years ago.

Thankfully, here at GIITTV I was alone in this, so I won't be the first to tell you how much of a peculiar (for lack of a better word that could contain my enthusiasm about them just as well) experience this one has been.

Whereas the thousands -maybe millions- of bands that currently exist are all mainly consumed by two or three common subjects (usually, such fantasy, subject is love), British Sea Power have taken on the responsibility, ever since the beginning, to sing about... everything. Mainly? Anything else. After all, how many odes to sleeping pills, antarctic ice shelves or light polluted skies had you ever heard before them?

So, as peculiar as they might look from the outside, I guess that, considering their history, their Man Of Aran project -where they sat down as an orchestra rather than a band, scoring a 76 years old (and 76 minutes long too), Black and white and mute documentary about the life on the Aran Islands- seems to be pretty coherent with what they've done so far.

Along those same lines as I previously mentioned, when you see BSP, you have to take into account that that's gonna be an experience with capital E, and as imaginative as it can be, due to their unusual nature, something unexpected is always going to happen. For Union Chapel, the fact in question was a double support slot, where 15 minutes after the doors opened, the band came on stage to perform an acoustic set, featuring both obscure b-sides (rejoice!) and tracks from their forthcoming new album due to be released in the summer (double that rejoice now!). And in such a scenario, it was quite interesting to see how both the public and the band were composed and well behaved because, from my experience with British Sea Power live, I know they get fully unleashed by the end of the gig, whereas this time, this was a different show, definitely a show without a moshpit and no band member to stage dive (*that* part alone missing, is already kind of unusual for them). Even just the little laughs extorted by Yan's eagerness to play Atom (introduced briefly a couple of songs too early than it was actually meant to be) were muffled, like a whole feeling of prizing was diffused all around the church. Still this set could not be further away from plain, and to actually see that sort of reverence and respect British Sea Power clearly have for this project was also really sweet to witness.

After an "intermission" time with a soundtrack provided by the best part left of what were once the Pipettes -Rose Elinor Dougall- somehow... all the chairs and instruments on stage got turned around to face the big screen, hanging in the altar spot (quite emblematic, don't you think?). I believe that was just one of the crucial details that had allowed British Sea Power turn from an -already- unusual indie-rock band, to a composing orchestra scoring for the next hour or so, while Flaherty's movie was displayed before them and the audience.

And the thing is, no matter how unheard of is for a band to resume and redo the soundtrack for a documentary from the 1930s. Learning about the nature of it, the sea and the simple yet constantly challenging life lived by the Man of Aran compared to what it must have been like for his Galway's neighbours, sums up an interesting parellel with British Sea Power themselves and the way they carved and established their position within the British music scene. And I am not sure at which degree of awareness this was felt by the public, but it must've been perceived nonetheless as the whole crowd ended up doing a standing ovation to the band by the time the words "The End" appeared on screen.

And just because British Sea Power are the remarkable artists and human beings that they are, it looked like such recognition came unexpectedly, and had sincerely humbled them.

But if they had seen it all through the eyes of the crowd, they'd probably have understood how the concept of "worship" still applied to that church set, even if this time, they were the main act of it all.