On tour with rock group Sea Power
February 2024

Rock music. Arcane nuclear devices. The ruby-crowned kinglet. The best audience in modern music. All can be found here…

Photo: Mayumi Hirata.

It was a thrill and delight to attend the closing stages of February’s UK Sea Power tour. The two London concerts at the gorgeous Islington Assembly Hall were exhilarating, uplifting – bringing a little light to our occluded planet. Do you like rock music? Yes, when it’s like this, I like it more than almost anything.  

These shows marked the 15th anniversary of the release of Sea Power’s Mercury-nominated Do You Like Rock Music? album. The DYLRM? LP was released in 2008. We are now in the year 2024. Committed mathematicians will tell you that’s 16 years. Don’t worry. This band’s approach to memorial chronology is fluid, infused with temporal paradoxes. Some in the audience would have bought the album in 2014 and, come the shows, were joyously celebrating a decade’s immersion in this remarkable combination of words and music. Others might have leapt on the 16th/2024 anniversary vibe, effortlessly conflating it another 2024 commemoration, the 75th anniversary of the first Badminton Horse Trials. What, exactly, had those horses done?

Above: This is how to enjoy an anniversary. Photo: Paul Hudson.

The DYLRM? album is famously wide in scope, taking in light pollution, floods in Essex, piratical seabirds, Big Daddy and Biblical end times – to name the five things that come first to mind. Your correspondent’s own 2024 live DYLRM? anniversary experience included superb examples of sounds, words, audience, auditorium, crew, pals, merchandise, ping pong and falafels. Backstage chat ranged from the life and times of suffragette Christabel Pankhurst to the wonders of the ruby-crowned kinglet – a delicate, miniature bird, whose bright red twin-mohican makes it the avian counterpart of the late Keith Flint of The Prodigy. The kinglet is a North American relation to the goldcrest you get in Europe. Generally solitary but will join foraging flocks of warblers and chickadees. 

Image from Feather Tailed Stories

I joined the Sea Power tour in Bristol, for a lively show at Trinity Centre, a former church. Great minutes and hours, with a cool crowd and an empathetic performance from the band. Bill of Stroud was there, waving his tree/walking stick, as if a miracle had arrived and ancient legs had been cured and mended. Next morning, my wife and I finally found the fabled Hart’s bakery/cafe, right by Bristol station, but round the corner and down the steel steps. Getting on the train to London, the synth-rave euphoria of the Spacemen 3 track Big City started looping round my mind: “Everybody I know can be found there…” 

Generously, members of Sea Power have supplied memories of favourite pre-Bristol tour times and places, as follows.

“These were possibly my favourite gigs we’ve ever done,” says viola player/vocalist Abi. “The crowds seemed so full of love that it felt amazing. It was great being back on the road with the gang, doing a bit of Qigong with Tom [White, drums] and watching the highly uncompetitive squatting, planking and press-up competitions unfold.”

“In the van,” says guitarist Noble, “we listened a lot to the Brian & Roger comedy podcast. We also had some fave playlists in the van –  Young Fathers and one called ‘Lawrence’, which featured Denim, Go-Kart Mozart and Mozart Estate and triggered group singalongs to Lol’s The Pink & the Purple. There was the new VLT sandwich from Pret and also the emergency van banana. In the evenings I made margaritas for all and we played our best to wonderful crowds each night. In the end I lost my voice. Nourishing times.”

Above: experienced Sea dog Noble crowd surfs in London. Photo: Paul Hudson.

“I particularly loved going back to the West End of Glasgow,” recalls drummer Tom White. “Few places feel like home to me anymore, but Byres Road to Great Western Road and across into Kelvingrove Park is a square mile or so that feels incredibly close to my heart. And the crowd that night really gave us a stunning welcome.”

“I really remember our day-off curry in Sheffield,” says Phil, keyboards and cornet. “We ate torso-sized family naan breads and then carried on the celebrations at the local Travelodge bar. It was all a perfect run up to Scott’s birthday show at the Leadmill, which involved a Colin-the-caterpillar cake and a lot of booze. Valentine’s Day was tough.”

Frontman Jan enjoyed his birthday and more besides: “My favourite thing was the band performing exceptionally well as a team… Total levels of music effort mixed with the obvious fact that we have the best supporters in the music world. It’s strange it’s taken so long to reach this peak. I liked seeing many new faces in the crowd alongside the stalwarts – a new element bringing something spectacular to the mix. It was all very much appreciated. My single best moment was the inspirational sight of long-time soundman Ben eating a raw carrot for lunch. Something I never thought I’d see… The vegetable/debauchery balance remained in perfect alignment for 10 whole days.”

At the first of the two nights at Islington Assembly Hall, it was fascinating to see the new and young – and young and Asian – audience dimension that’s been brought in by the band’s BAFTA-winning soundtrack for the big-selling high-art video game Disco Elysium. The two London SP sets were full of equal measures authority and joy. Friday was lovely and warm and reassuring. Beer was available on tap. Hats off to support Callum Easter & The Roulettes – from East Lothian and like Suicide as done by the auld kilt-chanson legend Andy Stewart. And that’s intended very much as a compliment.

Above: Callum Easter at Islington. Photo: Paul Hudson.

Walking home after the show the streets were bright with lights. A novel experience for us country folk. I purchased a fresh-cooked falafel, from Bodrum of Highbury. Assembly was bespoke. Chilli and garlic sauces; tomato and red cabbage from the salads selection. In the night air, I found this fare rare – delicious, full of flavour and wonder.

Above: SP audience collective, new and old. Photo: Paul Hudson.

On the Saturday day time I met my daughter in Twickenham. We visited Orlean’s House – to me, an unknown trove of history, trees, egg baps and engaged volunteer guides. Louis Philippe I of France, Stranger Knight of the Garter, lived there in the early 19th century, exiled from Napoleonic France. Then we wandered, accidentally, onto Eel Pie Island. 

My daughter had with her some of my collection of ancient bottled beer, all from Harvey’s of Lewes. She’d been kindly storing them for years. These bottles are fitting here because many of them are old enough to have been in my house in Lewes when my two brothers from Sea Power, Hamilton and Jan, lived there, around 2000. The Ouse Booze beer, pictured here, marks the heavy Lewes flood of 2001. It left many houses inundated, wrecked. We were lucky, high up the hill, but the flood become a back story to the Sea Power song Fear Of Drowning. This song isn’t on the DYLRM? album, but there are floods in that record’s Canvey Island –  a song that takes in a swan dying of avian flu and the destructive Canvey flood of 1953. It all sounded out loud at the Saturday show in Islington. 

The Saturday rockstravaganza was the closing show of the tour, with a strong last-night feel. I was down near the front on the right, the sides of my nostrils vibrating in the sound waves. It’s the loudest set I remember since Leftfield at Brixton Academy c. 1998. In shouting distance of distortion, with chaos glimmering on the horizon. It was good to see Graham Sutton at the show, Graham who worked with such great application mixing the DYLRM? album, all through a memorable month in the Czech woods. I hope to never forget those times.

Above: our friendly rock gods, viewed from the gods… Photo: Paul Hudson.

Above: Sea Power soak up the last-night applause. Photo: Paul Hudson.

At the post-show drink it was lovely to see regular Sea Power photographer Mayumi Hirata, with her partner Nick. Watch out! One does karate with JJ Burnel. The other one does kaito drums with JJ Burnel.

Above: karate/taiko hard cases sandwich your correspondent.

Then it was to the pub for another post-show bonus, with one SP audience regular revealing detailed knowledge of “British nuclear deterrence c. 1950 to 1959” – from a wise, non-war-mongering perspective, naturlich. Much was the booze-bright rumination on Blue Steel – a clunky air-launched UK nuclear missile. British weapons in this period had strange code names. Violet Friend. Purple Possum. Green Thistle. There were plans for a massive nuclear land mine known as Blue Bunny. This led to later rumination: “Another coloured Bunny could have been very different… The Brown Bunny, 2003. Dir: Vincent Gallo. Notable for Roger Ebert’s remark: ‘I had a colonoscopy once, and they let me watch it on TV. It was more entertaining than The Brown Bunny.’” I don’t know if you get this kind of post-gig pub chat with every band. 

With power chords seemingly still echoing into the night, I left the pub – into the street, ready for one more falafel. I wandered off into the night. “Big city, bright lights, cool, cool people… Everybody I know can be found here.” My thoughts edged on. “Maybe everything you need to know can be found here – with this band”. Aiming for the sky maybe, but why not? At moments like this I feel proud and privileged to be connected to this band. Sea Power – importing high-church amplified rock music to London and beyond since 1999.

Report by Roy Wilkinson, February 2024.

From Carlisle to the cosmos: “Two fingers for the dead /
Two fingers for the living /
Two fingers for the world that we all live in”

Carlisle patch c/o Trevor Of Brixham.

Many thanks to Sea Power manager Dave Taylor for keeping this show on the road – and similarly to the Sea Power live crew, Jackie, Paul, Stuart, Ben, Lee and Robey.

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