These indie rockers have got the power

British Sea Power
British Sea Power
Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Cllr Ken Ellcome with Jean and Allan Thompson. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

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Without doubt, I have never been so confused and panic-stricken while waiting for someone to pick-up their phone.

‘I’ve had that ringtone for about six years. They were the sirens we played at our gigs.

‘If it’s someone you don’t like or someone trying to sell you stuff it puts them off.’ explains Yan (real name Scott Wilkinson).

Yes, very effective. Well done.

On the end of the phone is the laidback, and now quite amused guitarist and singer for unconventional indie rockers British Sea Power.

The sirens he referred to were the air raid sirens blasted out at their earlier gigs when the band took to the stage.

Now here we are, eight years after those ear-splitting sirens were first heard when the band had burst on to the indie music scene with their modestly-titled debut record The Decline of British Sea Power.

And no matter what your opinion is of their music, they keep on impressing all dark and trendy corners of the music media industry. The word flop just doesn’t enter their vocabulary.

While many UK indie bands fail to follow-up on the hyped of their debut, BSP have found that winning formula record after record.

Their new offering, Valhalla Dancehall, continues that trend.

This time round, the band cut themselves off from the world and spent 18 months in a secluded farmhouse somewhere in Sussex by the South Downs.

Says Yan: ‘I don’t think the recording process was relaxing, although it was enjoyable.

‘A lot of stuff happened in there which never really got on the record.

‘We had the long-term benefit of getting to experiment in different directions. We ended up with so much music, it was hard putting it down on to the album.’

The logo on the band’s new album sleeve is a three-legged horse. This is a nod to the late inspirational Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal, who suggests there’s no better feeling than betting on a three-legged horse with a beautiful name.

Quite an apt symbol for the band really as BSP continue to charge on without submitting to the conventions on mainstream indie rock.

The band actually have a racehorse named after them, which was a recent runner at Kempton Park And somewhere out on the ocean, there’s also a big three-masted yacht named after the band.

But, forgetting their rather excellent indie name, BSP have done things in their own way, which could be their secret to their success.

Says Yan: ‘I think we do whatever we want. We do put pressure on ourselves but it’s more of a group thing, between us all.’

To bring you up to speed, BSP formed in 2000. From Cumbria came brothers Scott ‘Yan’ Wilkinson and Neil ‘Hamilton’ Wilkinson, plus school friend Matthew Wood. Guitarist Martin Noble arrived from West Yorkshire.

They released their first record in 2001 – the Fear Of Drowning single on their own Golden Chariot label.

The band’s debut album, The Decline Of British Sea Power, followed in 2003 to critical acclaim. Second album, Open Season, continued to please the crowds.

BSP live players Abi Fry (viola/keyboards/Ealing) and Phil Sumner (keyboards/cornet/Shropshire) became full band members after the release of Do You Like Rock Music? in 2008. Then, Man of Aran came in 2009. Phew. That’s a lot of musical greatness there.

The Wilkinson brothers shared their lyrical and vocal responsibilities on past records, and Valhalla Dancehall is no different. The band like to tell miniature stories in their songs.

Says Yan: ‘I write the lyrics for the songs I sing. And my brother (Neil) writes the ones he sings.

‘With my songs there’s a 10 per cent space for negotiation with the rest of the band.

‘I quite enjoy writing stuff and I don’t really think it is right or wrong, it’s just something to think about in a different way. I don’t take it too seriously.’

Yan says when they were in the farmhouse the closest thing to real life was the television, and so he drew some inspiration from programmes for Valhalla Dancehall.

He also admits that the band’s music on the new album is a lot for people to take in.

He adds: ‘Some songs are quite an easy listen, it’s the combination. Some songs are trying and demand a lot of attention.

‘It’s like with some films you have to sit down and pay a lot of attention but then you get engrossed and watch it a few times.’

It’s hard to ignore BSP’s reputation for playing quirky venues. In the past they have played in the highest pub in Britain, atop of the Great Wall of China and on March 1 they will play on a boat on the Thames, next to the Houses of Parliament.

‘That parliament gig has come from our next single (Who’s In Control). There’s a line “Sometimes I wish protesting was sexy on a Saturday night”. The song got us into it. Basically they approached us to play the gig.

‘We do come up with some of the venues ourselves, like the highest pub gig. We get offers but the only thing gets missed out is we do normal gigs as well.

‘People think I wouldn’t go in Wetherspoons, I would only go in a quirky ale pub. Ok – that’s not a good example because I don’t go in Whetherspoons, but I would do. I like doing scenic gigs.’

The six-piece who are currently based in East Sussex and on the Isle Of Skye, look set to impress audiences across the globe once more.

The band have started their UK tour and will soon be playing Germany, France, Holland and the USA.

Valhalla Dancehall entered the UK chart with a position of 14. On their blog the band challenged fans to buy 10 copies, ‘giving yourself unlimited audio pleasure and satisfying all 2011 Christmas needs in one fell swoop’.

The band pledged to walk one mile for charity for every album bought on this basis. Something tells me they are going to be doing a lot of walking.

You just can’t keep a good band down. Eight years after first hitting the indie music scene, British Sea Power come up with another stonking record in Valhalla Dancehall. LEWIS BROWN speaks with singer and guitarist Yan about their latest musical gem.


British Sea Power’s gig at the Wedgewood Rooms in Southsea next Friday is a sell-out. But we’ve got a pair of tickets for the show to give away to one lucky reader.

To be in with a chance of winning, you must correctly answer the following question.

Q) Which is the correct title of BSP’s 2005 hit single?

A) It Ended On An Oily Stage

B) It Ended On An Oily Sea

C) It Ended On An Oily Scalp

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