'Valhalla Dancehall' out this week
Valhallalujah - British Sea Power

British Sea Power might have predicted their own decline, but a decade after forming, they’re still going strong. It’s not without a struggle, however...

Set your expectations low and you’re less likely to be disappointed. It’s something that indie rockers British Sea Power did early on in their career with the title of their debut album. Released in 2003, ‘The Decline Of British Power’ was a tongue-in-cheek indictment of both the state of the country and of their future career as a band, which was just taking off. To emphasize the point, the following quote ran across the front of the album’s cover: “We ourselves may be loved only for a brief time... Even so, that will suffice... There is a land for the living and there is a land for the dead.”

Seven years after that pronouncement - and a decade on from when the band first formed - the Brighton-based group - consisting of Scott ‘Yan’ Wilkinson (vocals, guitar), Martin ‘Noble’ Noble (guitar), Neil ‘Hamilton’ Wilkinson (bass), Matthew ‘Woody’ Wood (drums), Phil Sumner (cornet and keyboards) and Abi Fry (viola) - have more than defied those ‘low’ expectations, continuing to pursue their experimental sound and infuse it with a playful, and occasionally obscure, intelligence. After all, how many bands would follow up a critically lauded and Mercury Music Prize nominated third album - 2008’s ‘Do You Like Rock Music?’ - with a new soundtrack to a 1934 documentary? But that’s exactly what they did, with last year’s ‘Man Of Aran’ soundtrack. ‘Valhalla Dancehall’ is their latest full-length. It was meant to be out in 2010, but things took a bit longer than the band planned and it’s now set to be released early 2011.

“It was almost our best record yet,” says Wilkinson with a cheeky grin on his face, “and now it is.” He laughs. Sitting inside a cosy pub on a very cold winter’s afternoon, he is joined by Noble, Wilkinson and Sumner, who’s brought along a table he earlier found on the street. It is, they’ve discovered, the perfect solution for crowded winter pubs - if there are no spare tables, you can simply bring your own. It’s a typically eccentric and humorous idea, one that fits perfectly with their sound and their outlook. Consider this answer to why Wilkinson thinks this is their best album yet: “Because it’s got the best songs on it.” They all laugh heartily. “I don’t know, really,” he continues, more seriously, with an air of contemplation. “I think we’ve got the hang of how we like to do records now. We’ve tried a few ways and have slowly evolved into this one.”

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That sense of evolution is clearly present within the album itself. While it may not be a concept album as such, the band certainly took a similar approach to making it. Over the course of eighteen months, as the songs took shape, they’d change and alter them in order to fit their idea of what ‘Valhalla Dancehall’ actually was.

“The title evolved as a place to house what we’d done,” explains Wilkinson. “‘Valhalla Dancehall’ is this fictitious, imaginary place that we had to make up as a place that could house all these songs. Imagine all these different rooms and different things going on in them all at the same time. We’re in the same house, but different rooms. So with the songs, we had a certain structure to fit into this word and atmosphere, but there wasn’t really any limit to what could come out or what was possible. Each song kept getting longer and longer. So writing the record was sort of productive, but a bit of a mess in a way, because we were trying to find new ways of working and new ways of making songs. And I think that every time a song was around and we’d start working on another song, we’d try to avoid going down that same route. I think that’s why perhaps it’s the widest collection of songs that we’ve done.”

Words by Mischa Pearlman
Photo by Phil Sharp

Read the full interview with British Sea Power in the current issue of Clash Magazine. Find out more HERE

Read Clash Magazine's review of British Sea Power's 'Valhalla Dancehall' HERE.


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