by Elliot Davies
British Sea Power have played gigs on oil platforms, in libraries, in the highest pub in Britain, and at The Chelsea Flower Show. However, it’s tonight’s show that’s described as “strange”.
Why? Because it’s seated.
The last time British Sea Power played Derby, they played in The Venue – a dark sweatbox of a place with an atmosphere that’s somewhere between a workingmen’s club and a garden centre cafeteria. The show took place on what felt like the hottest night of the year, so the room was sweltering. The air itself was an oppressive, tangible presence, and all were visibly glistening with sweat. Whoever wore the Bi-Polar Bear outfit that night will have lost three stone.
Tonight’s show, though, is considerably more refined. For tonight, British Sea Power are playing in the Derby Theatre. The seats that the band found so strange are comfy and upholstered, and many of the musicians onstage, of whom there are nearly three dozen, are wearing suits.
This is the Derby leg of the Sea of Brass tour. Each night, British Sea Power run through a carefully selected set of their most majestic songs, all of which have been restructured to accommodate the sonorous input of a local brass band. Tonight, the Sea of Brass is provided by Derwent Brass. They might look like a friendly bunch, but their sound is formidable. They’re selling their latest CD in the lobby, and I’ve heard it’s a grower.
Many of British Sea Power’s songs already feature extensive use of brass, but it’s usually replicated live by a solitary cornet. As effective as this approach invariably is, it’s nothing compared to the soaring, shimmering wonder offered by Derwent Brass. Their sound fills the room like a rising tide. They provide the Sea of Brass; British Sea Power bring the Wall of Sound. Combined, the effect is devastating. It’s like gazing in awe at a towering stone monolith celebrating the wonders of nature.
Sometimes the brass is used to achieve the sort of sound that isn’t usually possible with your standard rock band line-up. Never has The Great Skua soared like it soars tonight. Other times, the songs have been stripped back to make room for the rumbling low ends and the shimmering high ends that only a full brass band can provide. The interpretations of Atom and Warm Wind are so superior to their recorded originals that, should they feature on the imminent Sea of Brass album, they will surely come to be regarded as the definitive versions.
The Sea of Brass is at its best, though, when it’s used to take songs that are already huge to another level entirely. The stately Lately, which I believe to be British Sea Power’s masterpiece, is tonight rendered stratospheric. On record, the song descends into chaotic guitar feedback. Tonight, the song ascends into a dense and intense orchestral maelstrom that’s nothing short of heavenly.
The most moving moment, though, comes at the start of the encore. Waving Flags was written to counter the prevalent xenophobia of 2007, when the scaremongering asinine press were convinced that Britain was on the cusp of an invasion of Eastern Europeans – an invasion that, if you’ll remember correctly, didn’t happen. Nor did 2014’s promised Lithuanian invasion, for that matter. And where are the threatened droves of Romanians who were supposed to have stolen our jobs by now? Can you spot a pattern here?
Waving Flags has always been an uplifting pro-immigration torch song, but with the backing of the brass, it becomes a life-affirming, forward-thinking, humanist anthem – the perfect antidote to miserable Ukip small-mindedness.
Were Farage in the room, I like to think that the sheer force of the goodwill would have caused his face to melt like those of the Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Any gig capable of conjuring an image of Farage bleeding to death through his punctured eyeballs is surely worthy of the highest praise possible.