There’s no such thing as an average British Sea Power gig. I’ve previously only ever seen them on country festival stages strewn with foliage, or headlining their own show at a Sussex hill fort. Their latest venue was equally unusual: The Embassy of The Czech Republic in Notting Hill. I was hoping for one of those grand marble-fronted buildings on Kensington Palace Road but instead we were ushered into a disappointing ‘60s office block round the corner on Notting Hill Gate. Nevertheless, it was still officially Czech soil and with a Budvar in my hand it felt nice to be out of England for the night.
The Czech connection came about because British Sea Power once released a single in Czech (with Czech shoegaze band Ecstasy Of St Theresa) and they also mixed their new album Do You Like Rock Music near Prague. They’ve even borrowed a slogan from the supporters of Slavia Prague FC—“Fans Of Alcohol”, and who isn’t?— for a lyric in the latest single, “Waving Flags,” which is all about welcoming immigrants to Britain with a pint of foaming ale. Makes a change from certain other rock stars saying We don’t want any more of those immigrants, thanks. Even though they don’t live here themselves.
“Waving Flags” itself sounds a little too forcedly anthemic to me, but BSP unveil plenty of other strident new tunes from Do You Like Rock Music. The best might be “Canvey Island,” an atmospheric tale of the floods that devastated the Thames estuary community in 1953—typically arcane but fascinating BSP subject matter. “Canvey Island” apart, however, I prefer the songs sung by bassist Hamilton as opposed to his brother Yan: they seem to have a lighter touch.
Overall there’s still a bit too much stodge and bluster to wade through, but when BSP get it right they can pump out a glorious racket that is always building towards “Rock In A,” their traditional end-of-set improv freak-out. Guitarist Noble takes the opportunity to crowdsurf across the room and mischievously removes a light fitting. He gets the crowd to help him replace it immediately, though, and relations between Britain and the Czech Republic end the night on an all-time high.