Saturday, October 22, 2011

British Sea Power at East Wintergarden


British Sea Power how do I love thee? Let me count the ways: the first song of yours I heard references the opening line of L.P. Hartley’s 1953 novel of fatal attraction across the class divide, The Go-Between – it was love at first sound; you sing of “interstellar clouds on the Sussex Downs” and write sleeve notes about Malcolm Lowry’s death in Ripe; and you play gigs in the strangest places – from the Whitecliffs Promenade Café in Saltdean to the highest pub in the Yorkshire Dales, the Tan Hill Inn. And yesterday’s venue, at the hellish heart of business, was no exception: East Wintergarden is a glass atrium some 80 feet high in the middle of Canary Wharf in London; more used to hosting corporate swilling, somehow BSP had managed to convince Mammon to let them in to its temple. With capacity for only a couple of hundred, seated cabaret style, this intimate early evening semi-acoustic set was a warm up for the band before hot-footing it across London to play at the Barfly in Camden later in the night.

It was standing room only when we arrived and Roy Wilkinson, BSP’s former manager and brother to Yan and Hamilton of the band, was giving a reading from his book Do It For Your Mum, his tale of rock dreams and family farce. This was quickly followed by further support from punk poet Jock Scott, whose ramblings took in backpacks, domesticity - “a poem from when I thought I was happily married” – and John Cooper Clarke. When we spotted the band getting up to prepare to go on stage, we nipped in and grabbed their table. I had never before been to a gig where I was sat at a table, let alone one with a tablecloth; and with a bottle of merlot in front of us I was half expecting some chicken to arrive in a basket.

This was a different experience from when I saw BSP at Leefest in the summer: no foliage and supporting cast of robots, bears and foxes; the band were sedentary, so no antics from Noble; and with Yan on acoustic guitar it was a stripped down, mellower sound which worked beautifully. With the “high-church amplified rock music” reined in, Phil Sumner’s cornet and Abi Fry’s viola and backing vocals shone through. Songs already tender – The Lonely, The Land Beyond, Bear – sounded magical. Bear, inexplicably tucked away on last year’s Zeus EP, was particularly gorgeous. Heartier BSP favourites such as Carrion, Larsen B and It Ended on an Oily Stage were transformed. Even in skeletal form, Waving Flags prompted an outbreak of dancing with one group atop their table, much to the concern of the staff who were more used to corpulent corporate types.

By 9.30 the band were gone and so were most of the audience – probably following the trail to the Barfly. Sadly, we had no tickets for the second gig but, as we seemed to have polished off three bottles of wine, it was probably wise. Feeling thoroughly sated, we stepped out in to the dark canyons of Canary Wharf to make our way out of Hades.

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