An evening of bear-faced joy...

British Sea Power are known and loved for a batch of good reasons, one of them being their penchant for unusual gig venues.

They’ve played atop the Great Wall of China, on a Mersey ferry, in a water tower in Ipswich, a fort in Cornwall and a forest in Prague. The legendary Trades Club in Hebden Bridge may not be quite so leftfield, but it still proves to be a perfectly intimate place for a whacked-out night that mines BSP’s six-album strong catalogue.

BSP have been building an ever wider cult-like following since the release of debut album ‘The Decline Of…’ a decade ago. The merchandise table alone speaks of the special place this band inhabits in the hearts of many. Besides the customary shirts and records, fans are investing in branded mugs, tins of travel sweets and iron-on orienteering patches. The band has carved out a unique position all of its own, and as the five-piece shuffle onto the twinkling forest they have created on the stage, the welcome is heartfelt and loud.

The lilt and chug of the magnificent title track of new album ‘Machineries Of Joy’ begins proceedings. The venue is rammed and poised for some release, but this optimistic paean to life and humanism makes for a gentle introduction – easing us in gently before the impending bedlam.

Jumping 10 years back in time, the plangent ‘Something Wicked’ continues the subdued start, but then the band lurches into the discordant glee of ‘Apologies To Insect Life’, and the room begins to twitch and bounce maniacally. For the rest of the evening BSP proceed to gain momentum and work up a storm.

They belt out self-contained explosions of thematically intriguing material, covering everything from intense self-alienation, Franciscan friars and erotic movie stars to the jeopardy of ketamine and the Viking afterlife.

During the driving pace of ‘Loving Animals’, from the current album, two huge bears – one big black grizzly, one an eight-foot polar bear – emerge from backstage to join the audience and indulge in a sweaty dance and free hug session.

The first set ends with the delicate charm of ‘What You Need The Most’ but it’s not long before the band returns for a lengthy encore, which kicks off with an incendiary rendition of their 7” masterpiece, ‘Remember Me’.

The smouldering atmosphere is further stoked by a generous helping of encore tracks, more bear shenanigans and the circus skills of Yan repeatedly tossing his guitar high into the air to pull off claps and catches.

Always inventive and unpredictable, BSP are in good health, continue to change and feel like no one else. Catch them when you can for a splendid evening of choreographed abandon.

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Words and photos: Nick Rice

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