Friday, 18 April 2014

911 BRITISH SEA POWER, Michael A Grammar, Reading Sub 89, Thursday 17 April 2014

Following British Sea Power’s triumphant return to my gigging dance card back in November last year, supporting Editors, I was certainly up for any future BSP headlining tomfoolery. So catching this early 2014 tour was a no-doubter, particularly when recent facebook friend Andy Fenton (with whom I’d started chatting thanks to his BSP t-shirt!) decided to organise a gathering for the gig. Tag along? Thanks, I do! 

So I met up with Andy, his wife and a cast of thousands (including old 80’s mate Simon Legge!) for a swift and jolly buffet-ensconced train ride to Reading for this early gig. Spent a lot of time in deep musical conversation with Andy’s friend Stuart, definitely a kindred spirit; 59 and still gigging, with a gig record stretching back to 1972 all fully documented, just like this gig book! Much of our conversation, which carried on into the venue at 7, consisted of one of us replying to the other; “yeah, I was there too!” 

So we were in place in this cool new upstairs venue, which reminded me of the old Alleycat “Live” (do all Reading venues look the same then?), for openers Michael A Grammar at an unfeasibly early 7.30. A 4-piece named after their main vocalist, they played an attractive blend of generic but tuneful indie rock, with smatterings of glam guitar and drifty 60’s psych, with a bit of polite discordant riffery and vocal interplay. Recalling for me a raft of post-Britpop bands, they made a favourable impression on these cynical ears. 

Our crowd joined us down the front, stage left, in front of the stage as ever liberally festooned with foliage and twinkling fairy lights. British Sea Power joined us at the again startlingly early 8.30, heralded by a melange of foreign radio transmissions merging into the expected Gregorian monk chanting. An evocative start, continued by their instrumental opener “Heavenly”, a moody, windswept and slow-burn epic building to a huge, widescreen crescendo, setting the tone for tonight’s proceedings. Then the stomping beat and slashing, strafing brass of “Monsters Of Sunderland”, and we were away, for some serious rock… 

Much more overtly rocking and dynamic “live” than on record, British Sea Power tonight were on top form, playing to a devoted audience and feeding off their enthusiastic response. “It Ended On An Oily Stage” was an early highlight, a powerfully swooping, sweeping epic with some extra power riffery embellishing an unexpected “big rock” ending, giving way to another tempo- and mood-changing delight in “We Are Sound”, the anthemic chorus huge and fulsome; “let’s go on into the night…” indeed! 

One fellow front row punter attracted guitarist Martin Noble’s attention, soliciting the odd response, “you had humous all over you the last time I saw you!” Then main vocalist Yan handed vocal reins over to bassist brother Neil for a lower-key set mid-section, the shimmering finale of “Loving Animals” notable here. The inscrutable Yan, his expression a mixture of quizzical pride and satisfaction, took the reins again for a meandering yet naggingly insistent and hooky “Machineries Of Joy”, giving way to a sprawling, epic “Zeus” and the chopping, tumbling chorus line of the tremendous oldie “Remember Me”. By this time we were skirting around the edges of an enthusiastic moshpit, skilfully avoiding one idiot crowdsurfing punter who was thankfully removed. The soaring, anthemic “Waving Flags” was a potent, mighty highlight, then the lengthy terrace chant anthem “All In It” ended a superb set. “Spirit Of St. Louis”, the first encore, recalled Echo And The Bunnymen, with a stretched, sinister libidinous rhythmic base providing the backdrop for an almost sinister segment of “The Clapping Song” from Yan, before the, “easy, easy,” chants for set closer “Lucifer” closed a 1 ½ hour set perfectly. Quite likely the best I’ve seen this idiosyncratic, enduring and quite unique band. Great stuff. 

Shame the journey back was such a pain in comparison – a slow train ride back took 45 minutes to do the 17 miles from Reading to Didcot, resulting in a midnight return after a 10 o’clock curfew. Bugger! But British Sea Power made it well worth the hassle tonight. Gentlemen (and lady); fine job!

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