Thursday, June 23, 2016

Welcome In

With my anxiety over the EU referendum reaching fever pitch, what I really needed to do on the eve of polling day was get an early night. What I did instead was go to the best small venue in Britain (as voted by the NME), have a skin full of Sussex Seacider and listen to rousing anthemic music that celebrates the heritage and diversity of our island life.

The mighty British Sea Power rolled into the excellent Tunbridge Wells Forum last night as part of a series of dates to road test new material. Despite seeing the band many times in recent years, I did not see them at all last year - and how I have missed them. Opening with the title track from 2013’s Machineries of Joy album, they immediately had the sold out crowd on their side. With all six band members on the tiny stage, there was no room for bears or robots but there was still some space for their customary foliage.

Seven or eight new tracks were aired and, although Yan did not introduce them, we had been promised numbers with working titles typical of the band, such as Electrical Kittens, Telstar II, Tropical Banana and Kugelschreiber Hotdog; that eclecticism was also reflected in the more electronic elements of the songs. It was not all new material, though: in a two-hour set there was plenty of room for BSP favourites.

Remember Me, voted one of the top ten songs of the 21st century by 6 Music listeners, was greeted rapturously by the audience and, when Hamilton took over vocal duties from his brother, we got rousing versions of No Lucifer and Carrion. By this time things were starting to get hot and sweaty - there was moshing, stage front - as the band ramped up the tempo. Old live favourite, The Spirit of St. Louis, even led to accusations from keyboardist Phil Sumner that Noble was rocking out like Guns ‘N’ Roses.

The song I desperately wanted to hear was Waving Flags and, of course, British Sea Power did not disappoint. This inspiring hymn to tolerance – “welcome in/from across the Vistula/ you've come so very far” - with its open-minded attitude, had the audience bellowing along with arms aloft. At this momentous, and somewhat poisonous, point in our history it was life-affirming to hear European immigration validated rather than demonised.

Earlier in the evening, support was provided by ex-Hefner frontman Darren Hayman as part of his audio-visual project, Thankful Villages. Thankful, or blessed, villages are places where every soldier returned alive from World War I. There are 54 in England and Wales and he is visiting each one to make a piece of music and a short film. With just a guitar and some spoken audio for accompaniment, he played a short set of poignant and tender melodies celebrating rural life.

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