Incendiary speak to British Sea Power

The train compartment emptied as I hauled my drunken, vinegar sodden form into an empty seat.

The train compartment emptied as I hauled my drunken, vinegar sodden form into an empty seat.

Incendiary speak to British Sea Power

Or A nice afternoon drinking strong Belgian ale with Yan Seapower only to spill a lot of vinegar down myself at the chippy afterwards, and then fall asleep on the train…..



I’m shagged. In order to get to the Park Hotel on time, I’ve had to cycle 15 kilometres into the teeth of a howling wind, then get washed, changed, fed and sorted and then peg it to Leiden station to buy train journey booze and tickets; all in about 10 minutes flat.


Once safely in the place I’m meant to be, I meet up with my colleague, Elze, and finally sit down and have a pint. I’m by no means a fan of “hotel bar drinking” in Amsterdam (especially in an uber corporate bar like the Park Hotel’s) but lordy, that first sip of ale was magic…


It seems that two other young men at a table close by are enjoying a beer too. Belgian beer on closer inspection, Duvel if you must know the brand. Muttering to both each other and their drinks, they occasionally look around, rather in the manner of people on the run. Both are of medium height and dressed in what appear to be clothes specially designed to be worn once escape has been effected from a prison camp. It has to be Yan and Noble from British Sea Power. They see us and shape as if to join our table. Their cover is blown; Noble is grabbed by his manager and dragged off to another team of journalists. Yan shuffles over and sits down with Incendiary.


Yan: Where are you from then?

IN: Me? Lancashire.

Y: Oh, I thought so, I’m from the Lakes. (Reader. This pleasantry, incidentally, is a classic north country identity game. I beg your pardon over this diversion. It’s just something that makes us poor Northerners feel comfortable if we each know where the other is from.) You look flushed…

IN: I spent the entire morning running round a factory filling lorries full of bulbs.

Y: That must have been terrible.

IN: Oh Its not so bad, it’s the middle of the season.

Y: What, for light bulbs?

IN: No, for flower bulbs.

Y: Oh, I had this terrible vision of vast lines of electrical bulbs… Oh flowers aren’t so bad.

IN: Can we get you a drink, by the way?

Y: I’d better have a coffee thanks. Can I have a cigarette? I’m supposed to be giving up today. Hey, you, (Yan points an accusing finger at me) you are not drinking Duvel…

IN: I will, in a bit. I’m not ready for the devil’s beer just yet. It’s a bit early for 9% ale.

Y: 8.4% actually.


IN (Richard): God, we’d better get this interview underway (before the devil’s beer please – Ed) and ask some questions. Firstly can we say that the new album is brilliant (it is an’ all – Ed). We’d like to ask you about the cover. It’s artwork is very much in the spirit of 1930s and 1940s advertising, reminiscent of GWR posters and the like. Is there any reason for that?


Y: (silence) Well, it just seems better for the band… We started off making everything for our first single ourselves. And, as I had studied typography, I knew a bit about design. I think the golden rule about design is that you should steal what you like visually and try to appropriate the whole thing to what you do rather than try to make the whole thing up. All the artwork is based on old book covers. We had a song called “The Wooden Horse”, which is the B side of our first single. And I remember thinking what kind of image we could use to fit in with a song like that. Quite by chance I found a book called The Wooden Horse, published and printed in the late 1940s; it was about an escape of British prisoners of war in Germany, and on the cover it had a picture of an old vaulting horse, interspersed with really beautiful red white and blue stripes…and I just thought, that’s it, I’ll have that!


IN (Richard): Something else that struck me is that there always seems to be a strong literary angle to your songs. Tracks like Larsen B off the new album, they evoke very strong reminiscences of adventure literature by writers such as Erskine Childers and John Buchan. Am I being cheeky here and revealing your sources of inspiration?


Y: Well, I don’t know who you are talking about so I can’t work out whether you are being cheeky or not (laughs)… I’m not massively widely read, though I do have my own preferences… I’m reading Herman Hesse at the moment, he’s my second favourite author. My favourite is Yorishi Murakami, I like his Wild Sheep Chase and Norwegian Wood… that’s a beautiful book.


IN (Elze): You always play with stuffed owls on stage. Did you go to the zoo a lot when you were a kid?


Y: Laughs. Well, they’re not stuffed. Zoos are very confusing places for me, because I really like the animals, but I don’t like the way they are kept in the cages. I prefer wild nature… No, the birds we used were decoy birds, they were made of plastic. I got pecked in the eye by one of them, a plastic heron. A big thing, it became quite dangerous on stage sometimes. And they were getting stolen during the concerts.


IN (Richard): A strange bywater in the world of rock iconography…


Y: It was kind of nice though to see people going out of the gig at the end with a plastic duck hidden under their coat…


IN (Richard): Whatever happened to that coastal tour you were going to do?


Y: We want to do that but we’ve found it very difficult logistically to organise… Did you know this year is dedicated as the Year of The Sea in Britain? Various museums will be doing maritime and nautical events and shows, so we are hoping that these events may make it possible for us to do it.


IN (Richard): Very Bunnymenesque..


Y: Yeah… I remember this bit in the Bill Drummond book about their gigs in weird places. You know we’re meant to be playing on Lundy island soon.


IN: (Richard): The island with all the puffins?


Y: Yeah; (smiles). We’re going across on this thrashy little ferry.


IN (Elze): We’ve heard about Club Seapower. A lot of bands are doing that now, Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs…


Y: (The puffin induced smile freezes into a steely grin). We did it first. First in a while.

We did it when we moved to Brighton, and because no-one knew who we were, we found it was the best way to get ourselves noticed. We were just bored of just going to gigs that were all the same. We wanted to broaden things out a bit, and we’d have things like folk singers on stage, and Eighties B Line (Matchbox Disaster) were starting off, and they’d play with us… That’s where we started using the branches and the other stuff on the stage as well. We were bored with dingy clubs and gloomy people.


IN (Richard): Do you feel, as the original torch bearers of the art rock renaissance, that you have been passed by, that your vision have been diluted or maybe stolen, or don’t you give a shit?


Y: Well, we don’t really pay that much attention, other people can do what they want really, and we won’t stand in their way… We weren’t trying to be trail blazers.. First of all it was trying to make good nights. We tried to make nights that people could escape into and forget everyday existence, like forgetting about doing the washing up, or forgetting about the end of a relationship. Something different.


IN (Richard): With something different in mind, could you tell Incendiary just what and who is Old Sarge?


Y: (fits of rather embarassed laughter)..Oh heck… He’s kind of an alter ego of our manager.. Ahh, I can’t blow his mystery away, Richard…


IN (RIchard): Well embroider it!


Y: I don’t know what to say about him. (A long silence ensues).


IN (Richard): Well shall we leave him as a Victorian figure of mystery?


Y: Erm.. yeah… (another long silence ensues) It’s good to have someone who is more interested in art and books than he is about making money, and he’s not very good about making money.


IN (Elze): What was the worst gig you ever played, and why?


Y: Well… It makes me think of a certain gig we played in Boston, America. Looking back on it it could be classed as one of our best gigs, but…(laughs) it was pretty bad. I’d got through about one and a half songs and I had this feeling that my whole body had turned to jelly. We talked about it afterwards and we have this theory that someone spiked my drink with some drug I’ve never had again. But it got to the point where I lost all control over my mind and body. I was throwing my guitar over my head and I was abusing everyone and calling all these American people morons, and I took all my clothes off and rolled around on the floor and it wasn’t like I’d decided to be weird, I had no control over my body. I mean, I couldn’t finish the songs. I’d get past the first line, and then stop the song and call it rubbish, and then throw my guitar over my head. A Harvard professor was there and he wrote a big essay about it afterwards, and he called it a one man human jiihad against America (laughs). Something I never thought would happen.

I blamed it all mostly on the woolly cardigan I’d found earlier in the day at the thrift store maybe owned by a psychotic old woman.


IN (Elze): Your new album (Open Season) is a lot warmer in sound, there are songs that sound like Belle and Sebastian…


Y: It’s a kind of reaction to so much touring. We spent so much time at service stations, and they’re not nice places to spend time in. You kind of start remembering the places you were happiest in. I grew up in the Lake District where it’s really beautiful, Kendal, and when you are taken away from it you appreciate it. You used to see Julian Cope hanging round Kendal when he was doing his book.

(At this point we started discussing stone circles and neolithic monuments for a while. Elze sat patiently, while, like a couple of old hippies, we supped our Duvels and talked about theories over solstices and male and female stones)


IN (Richard): Elze mentioned Belle and Sebastian. I think the last track (True Adventures) sounds remarkably like The Pale Saints, all that noise and transcendent beauty…


Y: I remember the name, my older brother might have played it to me. I think he had it stored next to his Go-Betweens records. My brother wrote that track. He spends a lot of time in the countryside. We played a gig in Leeds and after it Hamilton decided he was going to walk home to Kendal, what is it, about 56 miles or summat? He just had his coat you know? Nothing else. He just does things like that. I think you get a feel of what it’s like to be walking on the fells at dawn, when you experience things that he wrote about in that song.


IN: You do run separately to the scene as a band, don’t you?


Y: What you trying to say? That we’re trying to create our own time-line? (laughs). Actually, we used to use this old French calendar (I presume this is the Jacobin calendar Yan?) to mark the dates for our club nights, stuff like the “Florial” lyric on Be Gone. It’s not that interesting following trends, is it?


IN: Shall we have another beer? Duvel?


Y: I’ll have one of them devil beers an’ all.


After this, things got confused. British Sea Power were hustled into the remaining daylight to be photographed. Elze went back to her college, and I stumbled around town in search of real ale, (yes, real ale). A disastrous attempt to pour more vinegar on my chips at Al’s Plaice resulted in a cascade of the said brown liquid assaulting me; (there’s no better word I can choose here). I stank and was verbally abused by the (always bad tempered) fryer chappy behind the counter. (Point to note, Mr up-tight professional cockernee Ex-Pat chip fryer. If you hate serving people that much, I suggest you go and find another career, else your sanity and your heart are both going to be sorely tested. Or maybe an early grave is what you want. If so, far be it from me to oppose your plans. Indeed, anything I can do to accommodate you in this venture, old bean…)  


The train compartment emptied as I hauled my drunken, vinegar sodden form into an empty seat. I fell asleep like all good old gits do when recovering from an afternoon’s drinking and woke up still wrapped in the fumes of malt vinegar, just as Leiden station hove into view.

Rock and Roll!



Words : Richard Foster