British Sea Power are an indie rock band based in Brighton, East Sussex, England, although three of the band members originally come from Natland (near Kendal), Cumbria, England. The wide-ranging nature of their material has led critics to liken their sound to a variety of groups, from The Cure and Joy Division to the Pixies and Arcade Fire. The band are famed for their live performances, the unusual lyrical content of their songs and the adventurous choice of locations for some of their shows. British Sea Power's members are Jan Scott Wilkinson (vocals, guitar), Martin Noble (guitar), Neil Hamilton Wilkinson (bass guitar, vocals, guitar), Matthew Wood; (drums), Phil Sumner (cornet, keyboards) and Abi Fry (viola).
Early years and The Decline of British Sea Power:
British Sea Power's Yan and Hamilton are brothers and were school friends with Wood in Kendal. They were in a number of bands together while at school, but after finishing his exams Yan moved to study at the University of Reading, where he met guitarist Noble, who was originally from Bury, Greater Manchester. A few years later, Hamilton and Wood joined them and formed a band.
They played some gigs and produced a 4 track demo in Reading as British Air Powers, before relocating to Brighton in search of a more active music scene. "British Sea Power" was actually the name of one of these demo tracks, and was eventually reworked into "Carrion". In Brighton, BSP amassed a strong local following, due mainly to their own club night called "Club Sea Power". The club nights featured many different support acts, including the Copper Family, a 200-year-old Sussex folk troupe, and other forms of entertainment such as a 1940s fashion show, and were most frequently hosted at the Freebutt and the Lift clubs.
Their first single, "Fear of Drowning", was issued in limited numbers on their own Golden Chariot label. The artwork for the B side, "A Wooden Horse", borrows heavily from the dust cover of the 1950 book The Wooden Horse that details the escape of Allied POWs during World War II. Geoff Travis of Rough Trade Records, impressed by seeing the band live, signed them to his label in September 2001. Originally a four-piece, Eamon Hamilton was recruited to play keyboards and bass drum in autumn 2002.
The Decline of British Sea Power, the band's first album, was released in June 2003 to critical acclaim. A single from the album, "Carrion", became the band's first Top 40 single. The album only charted in the lower reaches of the UK Album Chart but turned out to be a word-of-mouth success, selling well over 60,000 copies in the following two years and allowing them to play sell-out UK tours to audiences of over 1,000 people.
The follow-up, Open Season, was released in early April 2005, and also enjoyed wide critical praise. It showcased a more accessible, produced sound and charted at No. 13 in the UK Albums Chart. The lead single, "It Ended on an Oily Stage", charted at No. 18 in the UK Singles Chart a week earlier.
British Sea Power had won the 2004 Time Out Live Band of the Year award and by this time had built a reputation for elaborate and well-thought out live shows. Stages were often decorated with foliage and plastic birds and shows would generally finish with a semi-improvised song called "Rock in A", which sometimes lasted for over 20 minutes. Various members would climb riggings and tear down the foliage, while Eamon would walk around the audience beating his marching drum. The encore would sometimes see an eight-foot bear, Ursine Ultra, join in the performance.
The stage antics have become one of the signatures of the band. Another is their choice of venues. Their tours have often included unusual locations such as the Scillonian Club on the Isles of Scilly, Grasmere Village Hall, the Czech Embassy in London and Carnglaze Caverns in Cornwall. They have also played in museums, libraries and sea forts.
The band has built up an eccentric image in interviews and press releases. This has included giving journalists grid references at which to meet them, and expressing obsessions with Field Marshal Montgomery and bird watching. Similarly, they appeared on the TV show Countryfile in which they discussed their love of the countryside and played an outdoor performance of the track "Canvey Island".
At the beginning of 2006, it was announced that Eamon had left British Sea Power to concentrate on his own band Brakes.
Do You Like Rock Music? and Man of Aran:
In October 2007, the band toured east coast USA, showcasing their new 5-track EP Krankenhaus?. They November 2007 tour included a seaside café in Saltdean (East Sussex, England, UK), a River Mersey ferry (Liverpool, England), All Saints' Church (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England) and White Mischief's Around the World in 80 Days indoor bands/vaudeville festival. Their Krankenhaus? EP was released digitally in October 2007 and on CD and vinyl on 20 November.
In 2008, violist Abi Fry toured with the band (later becoming a permanent member). On 14 January 2008, third-album Do You Like Rock Music? was released in the UK (12 February 2008 in the USA) and was a UK Top 10 success. Later that January, keyboard/cornet player Phil Sumner was admitted to hospital in Leeds (after being knocked unconscious attempting to stage dive from a 12-foot PA system), in spite of which he returned to the stage the following day. Prior to their Do You Like Rock Music? tour (of Ireland, UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and USA), Wood injured his back and was temporarily replaced by Thomas White of Electric Soft Parade and Brakes.
In February 2008, the band appeared on Later with Jools Holland, playing "Waving Flags", "Canvey Island" and "No Lucifer". They were accompanied by members of the London Bulgarian Choir and a display of Cumbrian wrestling.
The band also played an intimate concert at The Monaco Hotel in Canvey Island as a nod to the 5th track on their new album. Prior to the gig, the band took part in a training session at Canvey Island Football Club. They were joined on stage for their encore by Wilko Johnson of Canvey pub rock icons Dr. Feelgood. The performance was featured on BBC2's The Culture Show.
The band played "No Lucifer" on the Late Show with David Letterman on 12 March 2008 and had a concert filmed for the Canadian music series Beautiful Noise. During Summer 2008, the band played at Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds, T in the Park and Bestival in 2008, amongst other festivals.
On 22 July 2008, Do You Like Rock Music? was announced as one of the nominees for the 2008 Mercury Prize. To coincide with the nomination British Sea Power re-released their song Waving Flags on 8 September 2008, which they also performed at the award ceremony the following day.
In August 2008, the band hosted their own music festival, Sing Ye From The Hillsides!, at the Tan Hill Inn, the UK's highest pub. A second festival was held at the same location in May 2010.
On 23 January 2009, the band announced that they were recording a soundtrack to the documentary Man of Aran. They performed it in concert at the British Film Institute in April, and a CD/DVD was released in May. On 7 February 2009, they released a new 10-minute track, "The possibility of an island", on Myspace.
Their live performances in the summer of 2009 included a show at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in London.
The band headlined the Festival Republic Stage at the 2010 Reading and Leeds Festivals, on 29 and 28 August respectively. They supported the Manic Street Preachers on their autumn 2010 tour of Britain.
The band released a 'Maxi EP' Zeus, in October 2010, featuring songs recorded during the sessions for the forthcoming album.
The album Valhalla Dancehall, recorded on the isle of Skye in Scotland and at a farmhouse in East Sussex, was released in January 2011. Initial copies of the album sold by some independent music stores in the UK were accompanied with a bonus EP, Valhalla V.I.P.. The band toured the UK in the first three months of 2011, and a tour of the United States was planned for March, including an appearance on Late Show with David Letterman on 21 March.
To mark the ten-year anniversary of their first single, "Fear of Drowning", the band played three intimate shows at Berwick Village Hall in East Sussex in May 2011.
British Sea Power announced a number of forthcoming festival appearances for summer 2011, including Latitude Festival, Leefest, Get Loaded In The Park and the Port Eliot Festival. In addition, the band performed at Jodrell Bank Live at Jodrell Bank Observatory, with the The Flaming Lips, in July 2011. They also performed at festivals in Australia, China and Japan.
September 2011 saw the publication on Rough Trade Books of Do It For Your Mum by Roy Wilkinson (brother of Yan and Hamilton), an account of the author's experiences of managing the band and of how the family's octogenarian father became the group's most ardent fan.
Machineries of Joy:
In 2012 they announced that they would not be extensively touring, but would be playing at their own monthly club night, "Krankenhaus", in Brighton. The band were also commissioned to make a soundtrack for the 1999 documentary Out of the Present, which follows Sergei Krikalev's time on the space station Mir. It was screened at CERN in March 2012 as part of the Cineglobe International Film Festival.
The band took a novel approach to the creation of their 2013 album Machineries of Joy. During the first half of 2012, the band wrote and recorded new songs each month, which they released as limited edition EPs, coinciding with their "Krankenhaus" club nights. A selection of tracks from the six EPs were re-recorded later in the year, and the final album was released on 1 April 2013.
From The Sea To The Land Beyond:
British Sea Power recorded the soundtrack to the film From the Sea to the Land Beyond: Britain's Coast on Film, with the main track being a version of "The Land Beyond" played at both the beginning and end of the film. The film itself showing archive footage taken during the 20th century featuring aspects of the British Coastal life, and montaged together. The film premiered at the Sheffield Doc/Fest in June 2012 with the band performing live at the screening. They also performed live at an initial screening of the film at Brighton's Cine-City film festival. The film was also shown on BBC Four television in 2012, and repeated in 2013, as part of their Storyville series strand. A first DVD of the film was released in January 2013, but was later re-released together with the soundtrack album in December 2013.