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British Sea Power - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 22 / 1 / 2002

British Sea Power - Interview


With their new EP 'Remember Me' just out , British Sea Power have been described as the equivalent of " a Force Ten gale on the peak of Scalfell Pike" . One of the highly tipped bands of the moment, they speak about their unique vision of rock 'n' roll

One of the highly tipped new bands in Britain at the moment, British Sea Power moved from obscurity into the public eye in December after releasing their second EP 'Remember Me' on Geoff Travis's infamous Rough Trade label. The group, which consists of vocalist and guitarist Yan ;guitarist Hamilton ; bassist Noble and drummer Wood, formed in the Lake District in 2000, but, after moving briefly to Reading, relocated to Brighton, where they released their debut single, 'Fear of Drowning',on their own Golden Chariot imprint in the Spring of last year. The quartet have been described as the equivalent of " a Force Ten gale on the peak of Scalfell Pike" and combine their exuberant and amplified guitar sound with hoarse, enthusiastic vocals from Yan. They have drawn comparisions with Joy Division, but describe themselves as "attractively positioned halfway between Laibach and Belle and Sebastian" and include among their influences James Osterberg (Iggy Pop), aviator Charles Lindberg and magic lanternist and pioneer filmmaker George Abbot Smith. Unorthodox and free thinking in all other details as well, the group, which runs its own monthly club Club Sea Power, dresses it stage set with foliage, pine needles and sculptures of owls and other birds, and frequently ends its regular shows in London and Brighton with its members trashing their guitars with branches. As well as ornithology, the band claims to have a fascination with maps and the Czech Republic, listing one of its ambitions as wanting to play a gig in the Municipial House in Prague. Intrigued, Pennyblackmusic was keen to learn more. While they sometimes arrange interview location by Ordnance Survey as "reassurance that the age of initiative is not yet entirely worn out", Yan, Hamilton, Noble and Wood opted to talk to Pennyblackmusic about their unique vision of rock 'n' roll by the more conventional option of e-mail. PB : British Sea Power released its first single, Fear of Drowning, on its own Golden Chariot label earlier this year. How many copies of this single were made, and are they still available? Do you hope to use Golden Chariot again in the future either to release records by yourself or by other groups? BSP : We had 1000 printed up. We still have a few available, but they may be gone by the time you read this. We are keeping a few to award as prizes in this summer's British Sea Power Sports Day. This is special pageant that will feature the under-12s yard-of-ale competition, the world famous women turning into hares race and as much potato as you can eat. There are no current plans to release records on Golden Chariot as we are busy, but yes, it's always there if we fancy. PB : The band has recently signed to the Rough Trade label, who have just released your second single, Remember Me. When did Rough Trade first get in contact with you? Why did you decide to sign with them? BSP : Geoff Travis came, unannounced, to a Club Sea Power night in Brighton and thoroughly enjoyed it. He approached us after the show and said he'd love to put our records out. Geoff is an unusual phenomenon in the world of recorded sound: someone whose interest and satisfaction seems to come almost entirely from finding musicians who interest him and then releasing their records. That well-loved creature, artistic control, is important to us and Geoff is quite happy to facilitate our plans and ideas: even our insistence on having our eventual album launch party in Finland's Isojärvan National Park. Rough Trade are part of our gang now just as much as we are part of theirs. PB : 'Remember Me' has been released both as a CD and also as a 7" single. Which format does the band prefer? Vinyl or CD? BSP : "We prefer the sound of 7", but the convenience of a Compact Disc." PB : Most of the members of the band come from the Lake District. The group has since then relocated briefly to Reading, and now onto Brighton. Why did you decide to move there rather than the traditional haven for provincial bands of London? How do you think this has been of benefit to the group? BSP : London is a grimy hurried place, isn't it? Sussex hosts the curvaceous South Downs, while the winter evenings typically see some impressive flocks of Starlings gathering over Brighton's West Pier. Brighton also has some interesting connections with rock'n'roll at its most elevated. For example, the 1966 London-Brighton Vintage Car Rally, an event that Roy Orbison was proud to take part in. PB : One of the critical comments that has been made about the band is that its "Most obvious reference point would seem to be early Joy Division", whom you recall in your "clear determination to make a noise that hasn't existed before." Would you agree with that assessment? BSP : We certainly don't have a clear determination to make a noise that <has> existed before. We prefer not to compare ourselves to this band or that band, or say we're better than this band or other. We prefer to say we're better than this <time>. We just feel a bit removed from this time we're in. There's one fellow who says that "Music and myth are machines for the suspension of time." With our music, we want to suspend this moment's endlessly trilling mobile phones and endless devaluation of the glorious rock form. Any band who are any good at all should take you out of the moment, take you somewhere else altogether." PB : The band claims that it has drawn inspiration from James Osterberg and the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, plus magic-lanternist and pioneer filmmaker George Albert Smith. Why have these two latter figures been such an influence, and who was George Albert Smith ? BSP : Charles Lindbergh was, of course, the first man to fly across the Atlantic alone. But it's the nature of how he achieved it that is soinspiring. Rather than create the most powerful multi-engine plane, with all new equipment, he did it on a budget. He removed all unnecessary equipment, including navigation lights and parachute. With just a few jam sandwiches he flew the long journey across the Atlantic, solo, in his modest plane, The Spirit Of St Louis. James Osterberg took on the name Iggy Pop and did exactly the same thing for rock'n'roll. The two men cometogether in one of our songs, where 'Louie Louie meets The Spirit Of St Louis.' George Albert Smith is someone we came across since moving to Brighton. He was a stage hypnotist and psychic, astronomer and magic-lantern lecturer, as well as a pioneer film-maker at the start of the 20th Century. At that time, apparently, Hove was the centre of the world's film industry. Now, of course, with British Sea Power in town it's the centre of the rock industry." PB : British Sea Power describes its live shows as being of "uncommon valour". At the moment, the band has been concentrating on playing gigs in the London and Brighton areas. Do you hope to play shows elsewhere in Britain during the forthcoming year? What can an audience expect from a British Sea Power show? BSP : "We did want to play forests and outdoor venues, but now Pulp have beaten us to it. Though we will still do it. There are some outdoor venues on the coast we'd like to play. We'd like to do some shows in some of Friedensreich Hundertwasser's buildings in Austria and Germany. And at the Municipal Theatre in Prague. An audience can expect much from a BSP show: hot gypsy jazz, rock music and enough money left over for a pie or pastie on the way home. PB : You've been to known trash guitars at the end of your set with branches, and also to decorate the stage of your set with foliage and life-size statues of birds. Why do you do this? Is this just because you, as a band, are nature and bird lovers, or are there other reasons? BSP : The foliage and birds help to create an atmosphere. It's nice to make an effort, isn't it? Music venues are generally lifeless places, stained by untold years of Stereophonics sweat. We like to bring things we love along with us to make us feel more at home and to give the audience something to look at rather our gawping faces. We do love nature, and birds are remarkable for their ability to fly. Most of us come from the Lake District, so part of it is also bringing some of that with us. PB : You also run your own monthly club nights, Club Sea Power, in Brighton. What sort of music is played at it, and what else goes on at these events? Does the band usually play a live set ? BSP : It's not a club in terms of 'night club', rather it's more like our own version of a youth club/community drop-in centre. The band always play and we always debut new material at Club Sea Power, finished or unfinished. We usually have another band who we like playing with, or some other alternative form of entertainment, like last month's fashion event which brought fishermen, rigging, rum rations, strobes and a concise contemplation of lingerie styles over the past 200 years. Club Sea Power will now be alternating between Brighton and London. We'd like to get a falconer and a boogie-woogie pianist in future ones. The next scheduled Club Sea Power is on Friday 30 March at Brighton Freebutt. PB : The band has a fascination with the Czech Republic and all things Czech. 'A Lovely Day Tomorrow', the second track on 'Remember Me' touches on the country's history. You also make reference to the Czech writer Jaroslav Hasek on your website, and you have said that you would like to play a gig in the Municipal House in Prague. What is it that you find so appealing about the Czech Republic ? BSP : The Czech people have lived a troubled history of repression and pawning by powerful neighbours. Yet there is dignity and optimism in their indomitable spirit, as seen in their much loved President Masaryk, who could do a handstand on a horse at the age of 70. It's a country which can climb out of a dark hole, then celebrate by building a magnificent theatre. We liked seeing the beauties in Prague, where Hamilton and Noble met a tramp who did fantastic farts on demand for a few crowns. PB : One of the things that you have said that you like about the Czech Republic is its ability "To bet on horses with three legs but with beautiful names". What did you mean by that statement? BSP : "This is a quote from a book by the holy fool Bohumil Hrabal, a Czech writer who fully realised that we are all at once glorious and ridiculous. He spent most of his life drunk, but had a keen eye for all things tragic and magic in the world." PB : British Sea Power has an album coming out next year. Do you have a name for it yet? Even Geoff Travis at Rough Trade has said that he is unsure what it's going to sound like. Could you give us any indication of what is likely to appear on it? When is the album likely to be released ? BSP : The album should be released early summer 2002. We hope the album will emit a similar aura to a Turner seascape. PB : Thank you

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British Sea Power - Interview

British Sea Power - Interview

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Interview (2007)
British Sea Power - Interview
British Sea Power have always traipsed a line between profundity and ridiculousness, and philosophical thought and the surreal. John Clarkson speaks to singer and guitarist Yan about the group's soon-to-be-released third album, 'Do You Like Rock Music ?'

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