British Sea Power – Haldern Pop Festival, 5/08/2005

Other writers have, for the most part, depicted the following events as ones that verged on insanity. I wholly concur with their estimation. It was insane.

Other writers have, for the most part, depicted the following events as ones that verged on insanity. I wholly concur with their estimation. It was insane.



To queue outside for an hour in the muddy, chilly gloaming and then be confronted with the serious, sonorous jazz-rock of penultimate act Zita Swoon was too much for some. One bold gentleman went so far as to screech "hippies" at all concerned, before storming out of the door (doubtless to drunkenly re-join the ever lengthening, increasingly desperate human line outside). After a good forty minute session of sonorous noodling, Zita Swoon packed up and left to respectful and, (in some quarters,) relieved applause. The chin-stroking crowd retreated to the safety of the back, whilst a determined collection of people, some bedecked in leaves, linens and marching band paraphernalia, flooded the dance floor.


Before we can proceed any further with this review, a word must be said for the considerable beauty of the Mirror Tent. A mobile wooden dance hall of the old style, it boasted a circular dance floor, surrounded by a raised-aisle walkway, which, in turn, gave access to a dozen or so partitioned snugs, each replete with tables and chairs. Coloured glass windows placed just below the rafters gave the interior an ecclesiastical feel. At one end was a bar serving beer and food, at the other end, framed by two rather wobbly speaker stacks, was the intimate, low-set stage on which British Sea Power were shortly to perform.



The band duly turned up, seemingly walking straight from their tour van onto a set already festooned with various "props", most notably a cardboard box and a plush toy horses head, which kept guard over the set list. Both of these items were later to play a role in the proceedings, a role as yet unforeseen by both band and audience.


Sea Power, seemingly dressed for a day’s ramble in the countryside (except, of course for keyboardist Eamon who, as ever, sported a tin helmet) began their set with a rumbustuous version of Scottish Wildlife Experience and a heady take on Carrion. One thing that was immediately apparent about British Sea Power – and, indeed, has been all the times I’ve seen them – was how graceful they looked on stage, despite their anti-rock and roll demeanour. Singer Yan’s and guitarist Noble’s balletic, ethereal poises and gestures contrasted sharply with the galloping attack presented by Hamilton’s bass playing and Wood’s thunderous drumming.



Another thing immediately noticeable was Yan’s continual battle with the sound guy. Baleful stares were sent towards the mixing desk throughout Carrion, Remember Me and Oily Stage, Yan going so far as to pause halfway through Remember Me to bark out instructions for "more of everything, please" (to which Noble quipped "and more horse head for me, please"). Yan’s baleful stares had a glassy eyed nature about them. Whisper it, but the band may have had a wee tipple pre-gig. When one crowd wit told Yan its no good asking for more vocals, the singer replied with a disdainful "Oh, I assure you I can get more, actually", just like a prim choirboy telling some oik in the tenors to sing on-key.



For a while, the show thumped along like many other Sea Power set; artistic, other-worldly, eccentric guitar rock, albeit with a twist. The band certainly know that there is something in the air this evening. Eamon disappears into the crowd with his drum during Remember Me and Apologies to Insect Life and Yan does a little jogging on the spot during a scorching version of Spirit of St Louis, a rendition made all the more brain-frying by the psychedelic lighting behind the drum kit, which occasionally turns the room into a set from Top of the Pops in the mid-seventies. So far so good. The audience enjoys the spectacle in a friendly relaxed manner.


Things get considerably more interesting when the props come into play half way through St Louis. The cardboard box, which has sat untouched on Noble’s amp for the first part of the show, is opened by the guitarist. He plunges his hand inside, grabs a handful of its contents, and proceeds to throw these objects (which look suspiciously like tulip bulbs) around the room with some vigour and aplomb. The audience, up to that point respectful and fairly docile, begins to show dissent. Cries of "das kan nicht" are heard. Guitarists, after all, are not supposed to assault their paying public. Especially with objects as compact as tulip bulbs. A plastic glass flies through the air and things are on the verge of becoming troubled. Luckily Noble, using a couple of defiant gestures, demands that the audience throw the tulips back. And they are. Suddenly the mood lifts, the band begin to smile at each other, and the whole tent realises there is something special in the air.



Things step up a further gear as the Sea Power smash their way through the last few songs of their set. Fear of Drowning is presented as an epic gothic melodrama, whereas Please Stand Up is beautiful and warm and possessing a real thump and verve. The song’s heady, sing-along nature is made all the more wonderful by the sight of tulip bulbs flying through the air. Oh Larsen B is simply brilliant; the juddering riff that underpins the song is played out for all it is worth. A beautiful and dramatic softening of the music allows a seamless segue into Lately, which rises and falls in intensity, crashing over the crowd like a tidal wave, a seemingly never ending, pulsating throb of feedback. The crowd is utterly entranced now. Surely this can’t be the last track. The band’s stage time is almost up. Except of course it isn’t.


Other people have already described the last, (unscheduled) twenty minutes of this performance elsewhere on the web. These writers have, for the most part, depicted the following events as ones that verged on insanity. I wholly concur with their estimation. It was insane.


Rock in A (the live tail off from Lately) contained all the elements of what made this show so special. Noble’s continuing tulip-throwing battle with the crowd increased in intensity. Hamilton began to jump up and down on the spot with such force that when he eventually came a cropper, he did so with disastrous effect, smashing through Eamon’s keyboards, and rendering them useless. Hamilton sat on the keyboards like a rag doll, his head lolling like a string less puppet, yet still somehow playing his bass guitar. Eamon didn’t seem to mind this intrusion, as he was already employed in destroying his equipment with a spare drumstick, shards of which flew in all directions. Yan decided to go for a stage dive, his small frame carried off into a crazed audience, Eamon followed his singer, accompanied by the plush horse’s head, which he waved with abandon above his prostrate form. Yan came back, grabbed the horse head off Eamon and proceeded to enact a strange ritual mime, hiding his features behind the horses, seemingly caught up in some appropriation of a long-forgotten pagan ritual, neighing and whinnying for effect.



On thundered the music, the roadies joining in the playing, Wood smashing the drums like a man possessed (or a man fried by the set-long close encounter with the psychedelic lighting that framed his kit). As for Noble, he was engaged in a battle with a now terrified sound man, who was imploring the guitarist to vacate his perch atop the increasingly mobile stack-speakers. Obviously Noble could vouch for their safety, as he hadn’t fallen yet. Contenting himself with rearranging the lighting bank, he jumped onto Hamilton’s shoulders, and continued to destroy the stage. And on the music thundered, squalls of feedback and the humming and groaning of destroyed equipment all the while backed up by incessant, triumphant drumming. The security shook their heads and abjectly turned away, as if in defeat.



At this point, Noble gestured to the crowd to join the band in their merry-making. One or two adventurous souls did so. A couple of guys (BSP virgins apparently), who had repeatedly shouted "das ist illegal" throughout the last twenty minutes, seemingly gave up the ghost of respectability and began to hit each other (and themselves) in wild abandon on stage. Noble was engaged in a charming waltz with a supporter festooned with vine leaves. Hamilton danced enthusiastically with another audience member. On Wood drummed. Shamefully, your correspondent saw his chance for glory, grabbed the horse head and held it aloft to the crowd as if in communion. Yan reappeared, (from God knows where) to berate the audience, a half finished bottle of wine in his hands, seemingly going through some ballet exercise as he asked the crowd in a sing song chant, "I hope you liked it, I hope you liked it".



We did. Very much.


A final band hug and they are off into the night.


According to certain sources, when asked about this gig the following day, some of the members of British Sea Power had very little, if any, recollection of the events that occurred. Maybe they should read this.






Words: Richard Foster.

Pictures: Damian Leslie and Volker Racho.