The blurb on The Roundhouse website says the following …“Today the Roundhouse is a space dedicated to nurturing creative young talent, as well as presenting an eclectic line up of the best in Live Music, Theatre, Dance and Circus."A glance at the line up for this gig may not inform you that you were likely to get all of the above mentioned in one go, but we did. First up were The London Bulgarian Choir, 35 Men and Women in traditional Bulgarian costume line the stage, and we were given the background to the half dozen folk songs prior to each by the ebullient and engaging Dessislava Stefanova.
‘This is a song about knitting socks’ she told us, followed by; ‘This song is about Maidens, the youngest is 83’. We were charmed by these tales, warmed by the exuberance, and fully entertained by the talented harmonies. ‘We may see you again a little later’ added Dessi at the close of their short set. We all sincerely hoped so. Film School took to the stage shortly after, and the Californian quintet soon construct a laminated strata of sound, bonded by a mixture of heavy bass and fogged by scuzzy guitar feedback. It's music to get lost in, and its best played loud enough to make your hair move or your spit fly back in your face. Film School have played better, and louder as support for BSP on this current tour, and they certainly warrant deeper inspection as a headlining band, but tonight they didn’t quite hit the spot. Maybe the Roundhouse was too big, too soon for them. However, they certainly show promise, and if gazing at your Doc Martins while angry bluebottles eat your brain is your idea of music heaven, then they are well worth checking out.
Around 2000 people have made the effort to come to The Roundhouse for British Sea Power. On the back of a short UK tour, playing to crowds of around 400 – 800, this really can be considered a step-up for the band, who are long overdue this kind of recognition. Fans who have followed the band through recent years, and who have seen them play in forts, caves and far flung venues, are here to see the band they love, thrill in being part of such a crowd. The time has come to show that they deserve to be playing to bigger audiences, in bigger venues. The lights are dimmed and a hush falls across the crowd as a distant drum beat is heard and we await the approach of the band, who will come on stage to a communal chant. All In It is the chant, preaching togetherness, harmony, and unity of thought and feeling. It is truly considered Rock Music to have that feeling, that knowledge, that everyone in the room is experiencing the same euphoria as you are. That consciousness is apparent tonight.
BSP take to the stage to great cheers and flag waving as the mantra steps up a gear and is backed by an explosion of recorded sound, then as quickly as it came, it leaves, and to the rear of the stage, the muslin curtain becomes transparent through light, and we once again see the Bulgarian choir, who along with the band and the audience sing a moving and powerful rendition of Men Together Today, the opening short A’cappella song from The Decline of British Sea Power. As the song ends, they kick perfectly into the frantic Apologies to Insect Life, (as per that album's running order), and the crowd just bursts free with excitement. From then on, they have the crowd in their pocket. In between songs there are shouts from the audience. “What a band, What. A. Fucking Band!!”, shouts one person, and Noble grins widely and nods. He knows, and he knows we know too.
Another person shouts for little-known song Runaway and is fixed a stare by Yan, who could outstare an owl, and who retorts, (albeit quietly) ‘You runaway!” Yan sings the first few songs, ending his 'mini set' with the best rendition I have ever heard of Waving Flags, done once again with the full backing of the London Bulgarian Choir, and that feeling of togetherness is once again reinforced. As if this wasn’t enough, we are then given The Great Skua, which has become a favourite at recent shows. British Sea Power have the uncanny knack of making a song walk the line between melancholy and exhilaration, and letting the listener decide which way they should fall.
Skua, with a filmic backdrop of seabirds and seascapes, builds beautifully, flies high and soars, and ends once again with a powerful vocal cry from all in the band. Indeed this is irresistible to the crowd, who throw their hands in the air and join in the crescendo. A swap in guitars and vocals and brother Hamilton takes the mic for a trio of songs. Down on the Ground, A Trip Out, and pick of the bunch, the extended A Lovely Day Tomorrow, are all delivered with fervour. A Lovely Day Tomorrow, with its extended intro and uplifting sentiment, is especially well received.
The addition to the band of English Rose Abi on Viola, and of Phil ‘the horn’ Sumner on keys and cornet give a certain depth and extra feeling to the songs, culled from all of the band's now extensive back catalogue; and they are now considered by most as part of the British Sea Power ethos. This mixed set seems to be particularly enjoyable for the band to be playing just now. Its obvious that they are enjoying tonight. Phil is clearly buoyant, exuberant in between songs, and dashing from one end of the stage to the other, playing horn into the others’ mics, and really feeling the music. There are lovely, warm moments of tenderness as Yan and Hamilton rest between songs with their heads on one another’s shoulders as Abi looks on, smiling. A Wooden Horse even gets a run out, surprising; in that we are told it is not on the setlist, but an added bonus nevertheless. Lights Out For Darker Skies and Carrion too; songs which never fails to please the headbangers in the crowd, and the magnificent Fear of Drowning, where drummer Wood displays why he is clearly one of the best drummers around. The drumming on this track is truly exquisite, and the whole song seems to revolve around it, rather than be held together by it. Hamilton takes the vocal once again for True Adventures, which I admit brought a tear to the eye on this occasion.
The cheers come right from the back of the hall, and people are standing in the seats upstairs when the band leaves the stage after Spirit of St Louis. They clearly want more, and the backdrop flashes up the word ‘EASY’ for all to see. The crowd know that there’s more to come and that No Lucifer will form part of the encore. When they re-emerge, Hamilton comes on riding a bicycle, and the Big Daddy chant fills the air. The crowd really go for it in this one, and people surf their way to the front of the stage to be intercepted by security, where Hamilton gives a wide eyed delivery, the veins in his neck erect and pulsing as he vigorously champions good over evil.
Forget the rest of the shit. This is where it’s at! British Sea Power have shown they are equal to this size venue, easy! They have shown that they can take their live performance to a sizeable crowd, and they could have ended the show at that point and nobody would have complained at all. As it is, they decide to end with the epic Lately, a song which encompasses everything about British Sea Power. It has drive, it has passion, it breathes as a song. It lives, screams and dies all at once. It’s a joy to see it performed live. Over ten minutes of pure majesty, culminating in a disorderly mass of screaming pleas, and of music which becomes the infinity of space and formless matter, the sound which could have preceded the existence of the ordered universe….and then comes the chaos.
Noble, intent on mischief, discards his guitar, his shoes and socks. He dons a padded helmet and a look of utter menace. Wood, the mainstay throughout the performance, stoically pounding the drums, Yan with a fierce riff, and Hamilton atop the speaker stack thumping the bass, keep things going musically. Noble throws himself into the audience from the stage, and is rigid, torpedo like, while being passed among the crowd. Ursine Ultra appears and gets into a fight with Abi, and Phil has picked up a guitar and is joining in the experimental jam that is Rock in A.
The cameramen don’t know who to film, there is so much going on. Noble, back on stage now, goes to rescue Abi and it takes three of them to wrestle the bear to the ground when Phil arrives. The crowd are in raptures as it ends and the stage is eventually left empty barring feedback and looped sound of the final few seconds of the performance. And it was a performance!As the crowd disperses, long-time fans hang back and come together in the middle of the auditorium. There’s back slapping, laughing and cheering, and punching the air long after the band have left the stage. They know how good this performance was. They already knew that British Sea Power could deliver, but they don’t know why they aren’t playing venues of this size more often, and moreover, why the bulk of the music loving public are missing out on the worst kept secret that British Sea Power are pound for pound, the best band in the world. To reiterate – What a band! What a fucking band!
Words: Mark E