British Sea Power Panda To The Shepherd’s Bush Empire – Live Review

British Sea Power Polar-ise their audience (that's enough bear puns)
British Sea Power Polar-ise their audience (that’s enough bear puns)

On the day that the last Orchestrator of British Sea Power (via the Falklands conflict) was buried, it was fitting that British Sea Power (the band) marked the occasion by laying unnecessary waste to a Shepherd’s Bush Empire that was minding its own business and retreating into an exclusion zone with a stunning live show last night.

What can I say except every rock band should have its own cheer-leading bear…

Hamilton and polar bear British Sea Power 7100

First, a word about the support act. I have seen a few decent support acts in my time. But I have never seen the headline act be their own support band. Nice touch, boys. They popped onstage for a low key set of deep cuts before the main act. It was like an appetiser of lobster surprise before having a main course of lobster. But in a good, “I like lobster” sort of way. Decent metaphor, that, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Hamilton of British Sea Power

After this amuse bouche came Toy – a London band whose debut album has done well and whose lead singer reminded me of Placebo’s Brian Molko looks-wise. Their debut album was decent enough, but they sound better live, and they earned a warm response from the packed crowd.

Tom Dougall of Toy
Tom Dougall of Toy

British Sea Power are based in Brighton which is (for those who may not know) a very nice seaside town in England, although three of their crew come from Cumbria, which also has seaside towns like Brighton, only colder. British Sea Power first came to my attention when they played Southend on Sea (another seaside town of medium temperature) whilst supporting The Manic Street Preachers in 2010. They had just released their third album “Do You Like Rock Music” and had one of the most unusual merchandise stalls I have ever witnessed, featuring tea towels, mugs and posters of sea birds.

One track, “Canvey Island” (ref. “Southend on Sea” for climate and geographical features of Canvey) stood out as it told of the town a few miles from where I live that suffered a flood in 1953, in which many people died. In the meantime I made a mental note of the Arcade Fire-like stadium-indie tunes which got Pitchfork a bit hot under the collar – they accused the band of sounding like U2, which as all good hipsters know is an inexcusable crime.

At the time, the band featured on The Culture Show playing a secret gig on Canvey itself, a clip of which is below.

Now supporting their sixth album “Machineries Of Joy”, their merchandise remains as entertaining as ever, and the music just as good. Front-men Yan and Hamilton swap instruments and lead vocal duties during a set with as many twists and turns as a twisty-turny thing.

Yan of British Sea Power
Yan of British Sea Power

They kicked off with the one-two-three hit of Remember Me, Apologies To Insect Life (during which we were treated to out first taste of BSP’s rock n roll black bear) and new song K-Hole. On a stage bedecked with more fauna than the upper lip of Doug Henning, the band launched into a powerful “No Lucifer”, prompting “Easy Easy” football-style chanting from Shepherd’s Bush Empire.

Phil Sumner and Hamilton of British Sea Power at Shepherds Bush Empire last night
Phil Sumner and Hamilton of British Sea Power at Shepherds Bush Empire last night

The title track of new album “Machineries of Joy” won approval from the audience who further warmed up with anthem Waving Flags (Isn’t “You are / Astronomical / Fans of alcohol / So welcome in” one of the most crowd friendly opening lyrics of all time?) At this point the first mosh pits opened up, only for the reflective and quite beautiful “Great Skua” to bring everyone back down to earth – or were we just soaring in the sky? British Sea Power showed here – and on more than one occasion – their ability to change direction and take their audience with them. “Please Stand Up” then got the crowd dancing and the set peaked with “St Louis“, assisted by a polar bear to gee along some frenzied mosh pit action.

British Sea Power Polar Bear Hamilton live 7111

The double hit of “Carrion” and “All In It” then led to chaotic onstage scenes of both bears wrestling with the band gloriously before the encores.

British Sea Power remain something of a cult band, but their live shows suggest that, six albums into their career, they have one of the most compelling live shows around.

British Sea Power will perform their soundtrack live to a screening of the film “From The Sea To The Land Beyond” headlining at Sundance London Film and Music Festival on Sunday 28 April at Indig02.

Record #179: British Sea Power – K Hole

The Set List
The Set List


11 responses to “British Sea Power Panda To The Shepherd’s Bush Empire – Live Review”

  1. Dave Reynolds Avatar
    Dave Reynolds

    They’ve come a long way since I saw them in a small club in Leicester circa 2003. Thought they were rather eclectic, to say the least. Sadly, they didn’t have the bear back then. The stage wouldn’t have been big enough!


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Eclectic is the word. Very enjoyable, bears and all.


  2. Push Avatar

    I’ve got a lot of time for BSP, but I’ve never seen them live. I really ought to. Especially now they’ve got the bear. Nice oblique Thatcher reference, by the way.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Hadn’t realised how oblique it was ’til you mentioned it! Yes – definitely a band to see.


  3. John S Avatar

    I was there too! Great review – you know more about the band than I do. I’ve never really got into their music – no reason other than there’s so much else – but I was really impressed by the show. Have downloaded a few albums since and especially like the new one.

    And how do you manage to get such good photos?


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      I found myself checking out their back catalogue in a new way after the show also.
      As for the photos? I get down the front and balance taking pictures with trying not to annoy people around me too much…


      1. John S Avatar

        My review of the concert here. I’ve linked to your review.


  4. Jon Grantham Avatar
    Jon Grantham

    Once saw BSP in a free show in the bowls of the Natural History Museum, complete with dinosaur skeletons. Great haircuts, great music. I too enjoyed Wednesday evening, not least as a way of avoiding any exposure to Thatcher’s funeral.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      They have played some unusual venues in the past – and being surrounded by dinosaurs sounds like one of the most interesting gig venue choices!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: