How the hell did that happen? How did we all get so old? Seriously, looking around the Old Market tonight, the feeling of time passing is inescapable. If you shone a bright light from the back of the room the glare bouncing back from the bald spots would blind you. And British Sea Power aren’t helping. The music is more bittersweet, tempered and introspective than ever, and the brief, startling visits to their back catalogue are just vignettes of a time we can’t return to.
To compound the feeling, our heroes play a set when the doors open as well as headlining, leaving the support (East India Youth) nestled between. It makes for a very long evening – in total BSP play 2.5 hours – which, when presented with an album only released that day, can leave anyone but the hardcore (who are, of course, down the front) wanting more sonic reassurance.
The first set is billed as acoustic (but isn’t), although it largely leans on slower songs from ‘Machineries Of Joy’. After ‘The Land Beyond’, during which co-frontman Hamilton looks perpetually annoyed to be on stage (“It’s our first gig in a while. We’re not saying much cos we’re concentrating”), the six-piece slip into a mood more befitting of the ‘toned down’ goal, with Abi Fry’s violin chiming beautifully. All the way through to closer ‘Radio Goddard’, this mini set signals where the band might head next, and is, frankly, very pretty.
After the support, things switch a gear. Yan takes a leading role and his voice, always one of the greatest things about BSP, comes to the fore on ‘Machineries Of Joy’ and ‘Monsters Of Sunderland’. Disorientating projections place the audience in holiday camps, nature reserves and rainbows, but during ‘Lights Out For Darker Skies’ they become symbolic, as if the group have had one colossal idea. By ‘Bear’ they’ve closed ranks and are making a sound more akin to New Order than Arcade Fire. Their pop – and it is pop – is balanced by melancholy and loneliness, and another glance round the room suggests these are feelings everyone here knows well.
Perhaps that’s why BSP have retained the same audience for over a decade now. Maybe that’s why new recruits are so scarce. When emotion breaks through their austere wall, as on ‘Carrion’, a righteous ‘Fear Of Drowning’ or ‘Waving Flags’, they stand a chance, but the casual listener, maybe just dipping into this lengthy set, could be wrong-footed. BSP can be unnecessarily protracted, unwieldy even, and it can make finding an ‘in’ hard.
So, where do British Sea Power fit into our lives now? They’ve a punk heritage but wear Aran jumpers. They write songs about islands. They seem happy, most of the time, but we’re never sure. We’ve grown middle-aged alongside them – where the hell should we keep them?
In our hearts, obviously, for better or for worse.
Old Market, Monday 25th March 2013
Words by Jake Kennedy
Read our recent interview with the band here.