British Sea Power have been very good to Birmingham in recent years. Previous visits to the city have seen the band perform at a plethora of venues, ranging in size — take last summer’s trip to the diminutive Hare and Hounds pub for the fleeting resurrection of their now legendary club night ‘Krankenhaus’, to the grandeur of the Town Hall for a spectacular performance alongside the Jaguar Land Rover brass band — and always warmly received by a dedicated following. The city can consider itself as having being rewarded once more as tonight’s show brings to a close the UK tour in support of British Sea Power’s newly released album ‘Let The Dancers Inherit The Party’. A privilege for any city as such night’s often bring with them an additional sense of celebration, and will hopefully make for yet another memorable performance.
With praise being heaped upon the new album from all quarters, it should come as no surprise to discover that tonight’s show is a sell out, but it does. Not that this is a slight upon British Sea Power in any way, it’s just that over the years the band’s popularity has been subject to peaks and troughs. The size of venues, particularly in Birmingham, have tended to fluctuate, from the likes of main room of the O2 Academy, to the modesty of the Glee Club; before upscaling to glory of the aforementioned evening at the Town Hall in early 2016.
So, what with tonight’s show taking place in the second room at the O2 Academy, and with the news that it is going to be filled to capacity, this could signal British Sea Power’s popularity making tentative steps towards an upward surge in interest. What could be the reason for this feeling of renewed enthusiasm for the band? The obvious answer to this question could be down to the band producing an album of outstanding songs, worthy of the multitude of plaudits being spouted from across the gamut of media outlets. In addition to this, the 2015 anniversary activities around the band’s sublime debut ‘The Decline of British Sea Power’ was a timely reminder as to the immensity of the group when they are operating at the height of their powers, and might have had a rejuvenating effect upon both the band, and their fanbase.
The venue has an ample capacity to satisfy local band July Skies as they take to the stage; tasked with the challenge of warming up the audience. This undertaking is made all the easier by the fact that tomorrow is a holiday for most, and so the room is in jubilant mood. It also helps that July Skies, a largely instrumental band, cite a list of inspirations for their music that could easily be considered as beguiling as the content of much of British Sea Power’s output. With a list of influences extending to lost youth, pylons, fractured 70’s memories, old ordnance survey maps and the Orford Ness nature reserve, on paper, this band should go down a storm.
The room is attentive and respectful for the duration of July Skies’ performance; as you would expect from a British Sea Power audience. The band deliver’s an accomplished set, managing to keep the engagement levels up, whist offering up their measured and wistful musings on the notion of time and memory.
The arrival of British Sea Power is imminent; signalled by the appearance of the band’s long-held tradition of decorating the stage with locally harvested foliage. The cloak of darkness covering the stage is splintered by the beam of light bursting through the rear of the stage’s doorway as the group emerge to take up their positions. The group look as determined as ever; Hamilton even more so than usual on account of The Deer Hunter-esque headscarf wrapped across forehead.
The opening song is ‘Who’s In Control’; taken from 2011’s ‘Valhalla Dancehall’ album. This rousing opener is followed by a sizeable chunk of material from the new album. ‘International Space Station’ is followed by ‘Bad Bohemian’; ‘What You’re Doing’; ‘Praise For Whatever’ and ‘Electrical Kittens’. The new material sounds superb and is rapturously received by the jubilant audience. Hamilton reprises lead vocal duties for a cover of Galaxie 500’s ‘Tugboat’; taken from the Rough Trade compilation album ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Head This One Before’.
The opening riff of the familiar favourite ’Remember Me’ sears itself into the audiences ears on account of Noble’s vehement guitar clamour. The latter part of the set is peppered with rousing songs taken from the bands back catalogue, including; ‘No Lucifer’, ‘Waving Flags’ and ‘The Great Skua’. The latter bringing the set to a close in heroic fashion. If ever there was a song fashioned in the mould of the perfect song with which to leave a crowd craving more; then ‘The Great Skua’ is it is.
The band return to the stage for the encore clothed in silver suits, adding a further touch of the surreal to the already bizarre activities wholly familiar to any British Sea Power show. I am of course referring to the appearance of two giant dancing bears ambling their way through the audience; much to the delight of the crowd. The encore open’s with ‘Machineries Of Joy’; followed by ‘The Spirit of St Louis’ and ‘Carrion’; with the latter bleeding into the stirring ‘All In It’. A cover of Iggy Pop’s ‘Funtime’ brings the set to a close. The band depart the stage having once more delivered on all accounts. On tonight’s performance; it will be interesting to see whether the next visit to Birmingham will have seen the band propel themselves into the realm of one of the larger venues, then again, it won’t matter greatly to all those in attendance this evening for they will always be out in force to support one of the true greats.
Review: Chris Curtis
Photographs: Stephanie Colledge