When I last saw them in 2008, they were accompanied by the London Bulgarian Choir in full costume. For this gig at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, they will be accompanied by the Redbridge Brass Band, who are 11 times London and Southern Counties Champions and Butlins Mineworkers Champions 2009.
It is fair to say that over their 14 years thus far, British Sea Power have not been, are not and most likely will never be your average rock band.
The Sea Of Brass show they are performing this evening will then go on to the London Barbican and the Gateshead Sage. It is a vast, ambitious show designed for large spaces. The down side to this is that fitting at least twenty brass band players and their instruments, a six strong rock band and their instruments plus more foliage that you could, well, shake a stick at (groan) together with a backdrop of films makes things “something of a squash”, to put it mildly. On the plus side, it is a tribute to the clout of the De La Warr nowadays. This beautiful venue now attracts bands and shows of the highest quality and is genuinely competing with the big venues like the aforementioned Barbican and Sage.
The “jumping off point” for tonight’s show is the film “From The Sea to the Land Beyond: Britain's Coast on Film”, a documentary feature film directed by Penny Woolcock which examines social history, life in wartime and peacetime, women's history and the rise and fall of fishing and shipbuilding. British Sea Power, with their epic sonic landscapes and huge hearts full of love, despair and the natural beauty of world around us, are the perfect choice for the soundtrack.
In fact, much of this gig feels like being in a film. For a start, it turns out that a brass band plus a rock band equals the kind of volume that turns your soul inside out – both metaphorically and nearly literally. There are two types of facial expressions in this audience; one type belongs to those with earplugs in and the other type belongs to those without. They are strikingly different, as you can probably imagine.
But music this heartfelt and this dramatic needs to be this big. Ed Miliband’s speech to the 2014 Labour Party Conference gave prominence to two words – “People” and Together”. Watching the brass band and rock band side by side, roaring away from different angles but united in a common purpose, I realise that this might well be what he was aiming at.
Curiously, the thing that gives British Sea Power their enormous power is their honesty. The Sturm Urm Dang would mean little without the fragility at which they excel. It is stamped all over Yan Hamilton’s strong yet emotional vocals, an incredible combination of fear and wonder.
The lyrics are pleasingly brainy in their love and their pain – see “Lately you seem like another language” from Lately and “A light above descending, below a dark ascending, for you I am returning” from A Light Above Descending. Yet four of the band joining together to sing “ohhhhhhhhh” equally says so much about the human condition.
During the aptly-titled Machineries Of Joy, whilst the lights on the back screen imitate the sun rising, the band on the front line pounds away like the waves with the brass forming the rest of the endless ocean behind them. It is, needless to say, entirely tremendous.
The band return for a triumphant encore including a spirited “Waving Flags” which features a very enthused lady waving her way back to her seat. Kudos to you, Madame. The standing ovation at the end seems like it might last for ever – it would certainly be well-deserved if it did.
In a way, the story of the gig doesn’t “end” here.
As it happens, British Sea Power are sadly unable to appear at the London Barbican the next night, due to a freak power cut. And thus, we are finally able to answer the question “What does Bexhill have that London doesn’t?” with the question ”British Sea Power’s Sea Of Brass”.
All (British Sea) Power to Bexhill’s elbow, then.