Live Review

British Sea Power - From The Sea To The Land Beyond, Indigo2, London

The score is spot on in the sentiment it evokes and goes hand in hand with the footage.

It immediately becomes apparent this is no normal gig as British Sea Power take to the stage to rapturous applause and plonk themselves down on stools, backs to the audience. Then, on the monitors the band slump themselves in front of, and the large projector screen above them, swirls of shimmering ocean appear before a piano chord rings out. Exactly where the notes come from is hard to tell since the musicians are mostly hidden from view from the audience.

‘From The Sea To The Land Beyond’ is a film exploring our affinity to British shores, from seaside trips and donkey rides to the rise and fall of industrial docklands. Soundtracked live on stage by British Sea Power with little other sound, the film uses 100 years of BFI National Archive footage, stretching back to speckled black and white footage of the early 20th century through to the faded pastel colours of early 90s Blackpool, all the while tugging on the heartstrings of a quintessentially British relationship with our coastline.

On paper, this is just often-silent footage of long-dead men working the docks or admiring their ships while a band plays inaudibly. But in reality, it’s an incredibly moving piece of cinema that mines each audience member’s personal memories of the coast or understanding of how Britain has become what it is today. The presence of the live band draws the audience in further, engaging with every note and providing a warmth of musical accompaniment rarely featured in gigs, let alone films.

The flow of the soundtrack is affected at times as it seems British Sea Power have opted for a number of instrumentals and songs fit together as opposed to a continuous run of music, but the gaps are rare. The music is tight and varied with horns, strings and pianos on top of guitars, bass and drums, and the band do an impressive job matching the original score to the visual sentiment of the footage. For the images of seaside fun and mid-century commercial work, British Sea Power deliver light, nostalgia-tinged flow, complete with a hair-on-ends note of sorrow, while to scenes of military preparation, industrial growth and the departure of D-Day landing ships, the band notch up a thumping, drum-driven instrumental piece wrought with tension.

Though at least some of the enjoyment is derived from the novelty value of a live band accompaniment (though really it is a revival from the days of silent movies accompanied by a pianist), it’s clear British Sea Power are a perfect match for a film about the coastline. The score is spot on in the sentiment it evokes and goes hand in hand with the footage - to the point where it is easy to forget the band are even there.

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