Boats, booze and a seven foot polar bear...

A boozy boat trip down the Thames, a surprise guest appearance from the lead singer of Savages and a seven foot polar bear gatecrashing the stage means business as usual for British Sea Power, even when they're playing one of London's most legendary venues.

'Machineries Of Joy' is a gentle but deceivingly powerful opener to a storming set: taut and lean, its rising melody and passive aggressive bridge ("Tell me what he said / Though I don't really care,") hints towards a passion bubbling beneath the motorik drumming.

This spills over soon enough. 'Remember Me', from the six-piece's rough and ready 2003 debut album allows lead guitarist Martin Noble to show off his masterful knack for a wiry riff, and not for the last time tonight. The madcap punk of 'Favours In The Beetroot Fields' from the same album comes next, followed by the diametrically opposing calm of 'Bear'. Here we have the two sides of BSP.

With Phil Sumner's brassy cornet notes at its heart, the track evokes that classic Hovis bike advert from the '70s, harking back to a simpler time: "I saw you reading the Daily Star, saw you watching the X Factor / And I was wondering how could you fall so far," laments Yan.

Meanwhile, the two brothers of BSP - Yan and Hamilton - and their mish-mash of dulcet Northern tones, grounded in Cumbria but with occasional inflections of Scouse and Mackem, remains a deeply and constantly reassuring presence.

Regal instrumental 'The Great Skua' carries on BSP's canny knack for resembling some sort of sound capsule to some distant past, with a chorus of "Ahh, ahhh, ahhhhhhh……" rising from the belly of the audience almost involuntarily during the song's crashing climax.

Then on rushes Jehny Beth, lead singer of Savages, to lend her cutting vocals to 'Apologies To Insect Life', highlighting a striking similarity between the vitriolic passion of Savages' sound with early BSP, as the joyful beer-swilling continues.

Granted, Abi Fry's work on the viola may have been described as "sweeping" in every single BSP write-up since she joined the band, but that shouldn't detract from the very real air of majesty she adds to other parts of BSP's sound, especially prominent in amongst the buyount chants of "Easy! Easy! Easy!" during the sweaty revelry of 'No Lucifer'.

A decent chunk of BSP's recently released album gets an airing, including 'K Hole', an ode to horse-tranquilizer-induced nightmares that sounds exactly like it should do, and 'Spring Has Sprung', a stirring lullaby tinged with the sad irony that the UK is currently engulfed in a never-ending winter.

Then comes the grand finale. No other band mixes the ridiculous with the sublime better than BSP do, and the mere appearance of a seven foot polar bear during the feverent closer of 'All In It' does more to encapsulate this rare band than words ever could.


Words by Nico Franks

Photos by Rachel Lipsitz


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