Sea Power (formerly known to us as British Sea Power) are one of the few acts producing music that sink into the pores, forever occupying the bloodstream. Like following your football team, they are a disease. Unlike most peoples’ teams, however, Sea Power’s form rarely slips.
Sea Power were the first band my wife and I talked about when we met all the way back in 2006. They were the last band we got to see together in 2018 at the Liverpool O2 Academy before she passed away two weeks later.
Today marks four years since her passing and rather than take to social media and be met with monosyllabic responses and care emojis from ‘friends’ (whatever works for you, I suppose), I thought it best to mark the day by talking about the band that proved to be one of the strongest threads in our relationship.
This probably isn’t a unique diatribe to be etched into Sea Power folklore; it’s not intended to be. Many others bound to the SP madness undoubtedly have their own tale or two. After all, this is the kind of power a cult band commands.
Suffice to say, Sea Power were our band. From avoiding Phil Sumner diving from the speakers inside the Leeds Irish Centre (only just!) and dancing with mascots in bear costumes in a Louth car park, to being bleared-eyed and hungover at Splendour In The Grass and Glastonbury, throughout the years we were privileged to witness Sea Power in many guises.
Those guises ever-changing, too, with the band shedding the charity shop chic not limited to safari suits, pilot hats and Tour de France attire in favour of more conventional garb. Sea Power circa-2022 are a band growing older gracefully and embracing it.
Which brings us to their former moniker. With the lines between nationalism and xenophobia as blurry as ever (patently accelerated by Brexit), the band subjected the ‘British’ to the scrapheap. Truth be told, since Waving Flags it’s probably been in the back of their mind.
In between references of European philosophers and ice shelves in the Weddell Sea, Sea Power have always enjoyed taking the piss out of masculinity and militarism. Which is probably why they have spent an existence being a square peg in a round hole.
Too bookish for the loutish Soccer AM crowd (although the band have appeared on the programme) and too left-of-centre for trend-hopping hipsters dismissive of longevity, some say Sea Power are band not born for these times. Throughout history, however, we can always reference artists that should have ‘made it’.
Look at The Chameleons. A band, ironically, which Sea Power has always echoed as sonic touch points. It’s not the case of these two artists not born for such times, but in fact being ahead of them.
I remember Mercury Rev suggesting that they’d go and see The Chameleons at Wembley when they toured the UK only to be shocked at the lack of impact the band had on a wider scale. In another six degrees of separation, on Everything Was Forever, Sea Power’s dazzling new album, they take the ’Rev’s symbolic resonance, adding more beautiful nuances to their all-encompassing allure.
With a quick reshuffle in the collection from ‘Bs’ to ‘Ss’, Everything Was Forever is yet another solid chapter in this inimitable story. Seven studio albums in, and Sea Power maintain their wistful grandeur and uplifting surge of majestic charm (or, indeed, that ‘iridescent sheen’). The same hallmarks which make Sea Power the most vital guitar band in Britain since the turn of the century.
Everything Was Forever only strengthens the claim, with more outer-church religious harmony on offer.
Spearheaded by brothers Scott and Neil Wilkinson, since Sea Power’s 2017 LP, Let the Dancers Inherit the Party, the siblings have suffered their own loss, with the passing of both their parents. Everything Was Forever is filled with references that cut deep (“All of this used to mean so much to me / It doesn’t mean so much anymore” – Transmitter – which is the first of many). Suffice to say, there’s no escaping the darkness as it closes in as we grow older.
Alongside the Wilkinson brothers, the underpinning of Sea Power remains steadfast, led by trusty riff dispenser, Martin Noble, Matthew Wood (drums) Phil Sumner (cornet, keyboards, guitars)and Abi Fry (violin).
With Bark Psychosis’ Graham Sutton back in the production chair for the first time since Valhalla Dancehall (2011), the formidable partnership is restored; Sutton responsible for Sea Power’s greatest moment put to tape in Open Season (2005) and its follow-up, Do You Like Rock Music? (2008).
Somewhat against the Sea Power norm, Neil gets first shot at vocal duties. His furry vocal is wonderfully haunting and has long been the band’s secret weapon. From the off, he’s on form with Scaring at the Sky. A bleared-eyed crawl filled with that off-kilter Sea Power majesty.
The hymnal reach-to-the-skies bliss of Two Fingers has the kind of sound waves that makes No Lucifer such a fan favourite. However, on this occasion the shades are darker, as Scott references the death of his father (“You’re all wrapped up in plastic/ You’re all wrapped up in leaves / And this is where it gets you / Oh, my Leviathan / It has been way too long / Slowly insane we lose our minds”).
It’s followed by one of the most gorgeous moments on Everything Was Forever in Fire Escape in the Sea. Alongside a slow medieval riff, Sumner and Fri’s brass and strings add the kind of subtle inflections that dampen the eyes.
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Once again, Neil takes the microphone for the orchestral heavy Fear Eats the Soul and the anthem in wait, Folly (“Well then it’s time to go / One morning / You are gonna wake up in a different world”). Proof that purity is found in far-off places and here Sea Power produce plenty.
Speaking of anthems, Green Goddess will be elevated into the Sea Power live canon between Carrion and Waving Flags. A scream-your-lungs-out love in, Green Goddess is riddled with the kind of references that feel like they are directly written for you (“Drowning in the ambience/ Waiting for an ambulance / This is not the place for you“). It’s one of the finest songs the band has written in years.
Penultimate tack, Lakeland Echo is the slow burn of the bunch, joining the likes of Lately, True Adventures, No Need To Cry and Once More Now in the pantheon of great melancholic epics. No one writes them like Sea Power and Neil provides yet another in a long line.
It slowly drips into the final track, We Only Want To Make You Happy. “Why on earth aren’t you with us tonight?” sings Scott and Neil. A song with over-arching strings that provide drama and florescent glare, it’s delivered with dazed hesitancy. That feeling only bereavement can bring.
While Everything Was Forever is Sea Power’s most personal record to date, the band musters strength to find optimism in the depths of despair. Led by Scott on the aforementioned Green Goddess, he stridently sings, “Everybody needs somebody/ So take my hand and follow me.”
As ever, the Sea Power faithful will do just that. Everything was forever. But now it’s a new life. Or a new chapter, whichever way one sees it. Four years on, I may just take that hand and follow.
Everything Was Forever is out now via Golden Chariot Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.
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