Sunday, March 31, 2013

Foliage and Fairy Lights

The Old Market in Hove was built in 1828 as a covered marketplace to provide fresh meat, fish and vegetables to the well-heeled folk of Brunswick Town, a Regency estate built a few years earlier between the villages of Brighton and Hove. The good people of Brunswick were strangely resistant to the market and it became a riding school in the middle of the 19th century. It was subsequently used as a warehouse until the 1980s, when it became the arts venue it is today.

The performance space is excellent: a wide 500-capacity room with a good view of the stage from wherever you stand. When we arrived there on Monday night, British Sea Power were already just over halfway through their five-song ‘mellow’ set that I had been warned they would play before the support act. Having already played the stalwarts The Land Beyond and Blackout, I got to hear two tracks from next week’s new album, Machineries of Joy. A Light Above Descending and Radio Goddard, with Yan on heartfelt whispered vocals, seemed to be – not surprisingly in the circumstances – from the mellower end of their trademark sound. With the stage bedecked with foliage and fairy lights, there was a hibernal atmosphere to match the never-ending winter outside.

Before British Sea Power returned to the stage for their main set, support act proper East India Youth played a short and intriguing set. The ‘youth’ in the name is not a collective noun. William Doyle, a sickeningly young solo multi-instrumentalist from Bournemouth, via East India Dock on the Isle of Dogs, is signed to The Quietus website’s label Quietus Phonographic Corporation. The three songs from his recent four track (one is a re-mix) Hostel EP are showcased here. The melodious Looking For Someone and Heaven, How Long?, a plaintive slice of shimmering beauty, sandwich the more experimental Coastal Reflexions, a litany of south coast train stations that has been described as the Pet Shop Boys meets John Betjeman. Using keyboard, bass, treatments and vocals, Doyle’s sound has been termed a sort of techno-prog; but there are waves of early New Order synths and a rich, clear voice coming through the krautrock rhythms that give his songs a pop sheen. His album Total Strife Forever is out soon.

Now in their tenth year, British Sea Power intended this gig as a warm up for April’s Machineries of Joy tour but anyone worrying that it would be a new album set would not have left disappointed. Despite playing eight out of the ten new songs, they play for two hours over the two sets and, with such a consistently high quality body of work to choose from, draw on all of the previous four albums, especially 2008’s Do You Like Rock Music? The new album’s radio-friendly title track kicks off a pacey main set that romps through barnstormers such as No Lucifer, Fear of Drowning, Waving Flags and Carrion. New song Monsters of Sunderland uses Phil Sumner’s trumpet playing to great effect and, on many of the older songs, he joins Noble and Yan on guitar to provide a behemothic sound. And if Abi Fry’s viola is a little lost in the guitar cacophony of these and new song K Hole, on other debuted tracks such as Spring Has Sprung and Loving Animals, it comes to the fore. With off-album favourites Bear and The Spirit of St.Louis greeted warmly by veterans of the live shows, it’s a crowd-pleasing set. There cannot be many better live bands around than British Sea Power when they are on this form.

When they return to encore with Remember Me and the racket of Favours in the Beetroot Fields from 2003’s debut album, and the apt “winter overture” of Larsen B from the Open Season album, there is no sign of Ursine Ultra, Mr Fox or Titan the robot. However, Hamilton is wearing a Bernie Clifton-style horse costume – of course he is - around which he struggles to play his bass. The word is that Machineries of Joy is the last album of British Sea Power’s deal with Rough Trade and, with drummer Wood relocating back up to Cumbria, could this signal the closing of one decade and the start of the next ten years?

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