Review and Photography by John Bentley

British Sea Power

On the strength of both bands’ reputations for live performances, this evening’s British Sea Power and Bo Ningen gig at Manchester’s Ritz should be a dream pairing. Tonight BSP are performing one of only three UK gigs to celebrate the 12th anniversary of the release (and now the re-issue) of their debut album, ‘The Decline of British Sea Power’. A strange pairing it may be, but the uniquely British BSP are supported tonight by London-based Japanese acid-punk four-piece noiseniks Bo Ningen. However, although on the face of it the line up is chalk and cheese, both bands share a belief in experimentation and pushing forward the boundaries of their music.

Bo Ningen

Bo Ningen

Bo Ningen

Bo Ningen

Bo Ningen are truly a force of nature, delivering what a Guardian review described as “cosmic shock and awe”.  Bo Ningen roll-out a real onslaught of twin-guitar rock, with attitude. Although it’s loud and pounding, the music is quite complex structurally and rhythmically – at times it makes me think that this is what it would sound like if King Crimson tracks were played by a band made up of mixed members of Hawkwind and The Damned. They are also an arresting sight, all flailing hair and frantic head-banging, but not in a macho rock way. Lead singer Taigan Kawabe has an intriguingly androgynous quality, as he writhes around in a sort of long dress-robe, wielding his stick-like bass guitar and yelping the vocals, which are mostly sung in Japanese. Catch Bo Ningen live whenever you can, as they are a true phenomenon.

Bo Ningen

Bo Ningen

Bo Ningen

Brighton-based British Sea Power have a reputation for being adventurous and taking risks with experimentation. One of their most recent ventures was recording songs with a brass band. They have played live in all sorts of, often strange, locations, including libraries and museums. They thrive on eccentricity and profess an interest in all sorts of non-rock things from bird watching to British military history. However, maybe for fear of things getting too cosy with the establishment, the band have made it clear that they do not wish to be labelled as national treasures.

British Sea Power

British Sea Power

The stage is festooned with green foliage and imitation bird life that includes heron, owl and falcon, as BSP enter. The Ritz is pretty well sold-out tonight for this celebratory gigging of BSP’s debut album and it’s very much an event for hard-core fans. Lead singer Jan Scott Wilkinson (Yan) holds up two pint glasses of beer, as he acknowledges the enthusiastic audience greetings. The band launch into the first track of the debut album, the raucous ‘Apologies to Insect Life’, a track that seems to owe a lot to Pixies, a band that has obviously been influential to BSP.

British Sea Power

British Sea Power

The tour has seen the return of early band member Eamon Hamilton, who plays some keyboard, but mainly stalks the stage and the wider venue in a Bez fashion, armed with a single marching drum. Wearing what appears to be a Russian tank crew leather helmet (maybe partly for practical head protection?!), he makes one of the evening’s several crowd surfing excursions during second song, ‘Favours in the Beetroot Fields’. He is carried over the audience clutching his drum, plainly wildly enjoying himself.

British Sea Power

British Sea Power

The live songs sound pretty good, with the six-piece band recreating the big sound of the album. Their impressive multi-instrument line-up, includes violin from Abi Fry and occasional cornet from Phil Sumner. Lead guitarist Martin Noble does a good job on the memorable guitar riffs of songs like ‘Remember Me’ and ‘Carrion’.

British Sea Power

British Sea Power

Having got through the main billed attraction of ‘The Decline of British Sea Power’, the band take the applause and rapidly launch into the batch of other songs that take up the remainder of the evening. The tracks are taken from other albums, singles and B-sides. There’s plenty to please fans, including BSP staples like ‘Machineries of Joy’ and the singalong ‘Waving Flags’. The rousing finale, a highlight of the evening, is the epic instrumental ‘The Great Skua’, a song that seems to be truly able to capture the atmosphere of the soaring bird over the open sea.

British Sea Power

British Sea Power

During this second part of the evening things gradually become more laid back and raucous, with more drum-clutching crowd surfing from Hamilton, plus the appearance of a large black bear that roams the stage and then joins Hamilton in the mosh pit. Meanwhile Yan has gone barefoot and swaps his trousers and shirt for a Bohemian white bath robe that looks like it has been acquired from Noel Coward’s wardrobe.

British Sea Power

The two hour set finishes with B-side ‘A Wooden Horse’, after which the visibly euphoric band members triumphantly link arms to accept the audience’s adoration. Judging by the reception, the evening has been a riotous success. It’s particularly been a big day for the loyal fans, joyously celebrating the band’s heritage. Never a predicable ensemble, it remains to see what BSP will do next.

British Sea Power

British Sea Power setlist. (Part One, ‘Decline of British Sea Power’ album): Apologies to Insect Life; Favours in the Beetroot Fields; Something Wicked; Remember Me; Fear of Drowning; The Lonely; Carrion; Blackout; Lately; A Rock. (Part Two, other songs): The Spirit of St. Louis; Scottish Wildlife Experience; Childhood Memories; A Lovely Day Tomorrow; No Lucifer; Mongk II; Machineries of Joy; Waving Flags; The Great Skua. Encore: A Wooden Horse.

Leave a Reply