INTERVIEW: New British Sea Power album to cause waves among fans


BRITISH Sea Power are back with their first new album in four years. KARL STEEL catches up with frontman Yan Scott Wilkinson to find out why it might take some fans by surprise

FAMOUSLY Cumbria's biggest musical exports of the last 20 years, British Sea Power enjoy a reputation as one of the few credible bands left in the mainstream.

Chart success has done nothing to quell the praise from critics, and even though every new album or off-the-wall project seems to tear them away from their indie pop roots, they still hold a place among the genre's elite.

"The divide has got really big again between bands that are popular and bands that are credible," says frontman and guitarist Yan Scott Wilkinson.

"I think there's maybe only someone like Radiohead who are both."

Yan and his brother Neil Hamilton Wilkinson, and their schoolmate Matthew Wood, were the three Kendal kids that founded the band back in 2000, along with Bury boy Martin Noble.

Establishing themselves with local shows and appearances at the fledgling Kendal Calling festival, they quickly became the county's big new hopes.

With multi-instrumentalists Abi Fry and Phil Sumner also hopping on board, they have long been spread out across the UK, as far apart as the Scottish Highlands and Brighton.

In recent years, the only visits home have been to keep their eye in at Kendal Calling, and to headline a huge hometown show at the ill-fated Factory venue - the only major concert ever held there.

For 18 months though, they've been completely off the radar.

Yan says: "We've pretty much just been doing the record. Obviously we've had a few festivals and things, and we haven't just been sat around or gone off hibernating, but it was a case of finding the time to get together and get it recorded.

"There's still the North-South divide in the band, so when we get together it's very focused and we get a lot done. The rest of the time it's mostly writing individually and sending things on for others to add to.

"It's always been like that with us to a degree because there's a lot of songwriters in this band, but it's not so hard these days to send the song and let others work on it."

Making an album is a totally different process to when British Sea Power started out, almost two decades ago.

The new full length, Let The Dancers Inherit The Party, came off the back of a successful crowdfunding campaign - a massive departure for the band, following five albums under the Rough Trade banner, which saw them become the longest continually-signed band in the label’s history.

"Everyone's doing it, so we thought we'd see what happened," admits Yan.

"We were pretty happy on Rough Trade, because as far as labels go, they're not pushing you to be Justin Bieber or whatever, they just let us do what we want.

"I think we were a bit worried, but it actually worked really well and we got the whole album made and mixed thanks to it.

"We didn't go in for any of those things like playing an acoustic gig in people's living rooms for thousands of pounds - we're not that kind of band.

"There was one novelty one, which we thought was a joke at first, where fans could get a tattoo that gave them free entry to any of our gigs for life. We raised about £10,000, and had to limit it otherwise we might never have anyone paying into a gig."

It's the first all-new release from British Sea Power in four years, and launches next Friday, March 31.

Inevitably, there will be a tour of the major cities in its support - and understandably, Cumbria is not among them.

However, Yan says that they would hope to have an appearance close to home at some stage this year, and one very special Lakes location has long had his eye.

He and his brother have been fascinated by the work of Kurt Schwitters, a German artist who fled the Nazis and made his home in the Langdale valley, and there is even a nod to his style with the avant-garde typography on the new record's cover art.

This summer will be the 130th anniversary of Schwitters' birth, and also mark the 70th anniversary of his famous Merz Barn project, so Yan is keen to mark it in some way.

"With it being the tour straight after the album, we're doing the main cities, but we'll hopefully get to do some of the towns that we haven't done in a long time later on in the year.

"One of the places in Cumbria that we've visited a few times and would like to play there is the Merz Barn, near Ambleside. We've been talking about that and fingers crossed that it could happen.

"The link on our artwork was actually completely unintentional, but it felt like one of those 'meant to be' accidents. With a couple of big anniversaries around Kurt Schwitters coming up, it would be good to do something around that."

British Sea Power is a vastly different band to the one that headlined the first Kendal Calling in 2006, and they have been through numerous stylistic shifts and evolved almost beyond recognition at times.

 Yan Scott Wilkinson

Yan Scott Wilkinson

With their projects since the last studio record including two film soundtracks and a live tour alongside brass bands, the pop-heavy bent of Let The Dancers Inherit The Party will certainly stun a few listeners.

Yan acknowledges that the initial perception might be that they've made sweeping changes again, but when people dig deep, they'll realise it's a British Sea Power album at heart.

"I don't think it's massively different, but there's maybe a vibe about it that on first listen people might feel that way," he says.

"We've done a few side-project kind of things recently, like Sea of Brass and a couple of soundtracks, which were all interesting things to do, but it kind of got me thinking how much I also like pop music.

"It probably is our most direct album, but people have taken that to mean it's punky or something like that. It's really not, but it's more like a Talking Heads kind of thing.

"It's meant to be a modern record, though nowadays that sounds a lot like the 80s anyway.

"I'd like to hope people will like it, and I think the reaction will be pretty positive. There will be a few people who may consider themselves big fans of ours that might say it's not for them. That's fine.

"I've heard this a few times, where people will slag off an album, but after they've listened to it a few times, it slowly becomes their favourite album. I think it will be like that for a few people."

British Sea Power release Let The Dancers Inherit The Party on Friday March 31, via Golden Chariot.

Thursday, March 30, 2017 at 4:54PM
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