Live Review

British Sea Power, The Cutty Sark, London

The post-rock score ebbs and flows like the tides from hope and triumph to disaster and ruin and back again.

Part social document, part expressionist abstraction, ‘From The Sea To The Land Beyond’ is Penny Woolcock’s cinematographic chronicle of over one hundred years of coastal life - from seagull egg foraging to post-industrial decline - and tonight British Sea Power perform their score live under the 963 tonne hull of the Cutty Sark at Greenwich.

Woven around a the twin motifs of a single mournful string melody, and the ever present rhythm of the waves, the 20th Century and its symphonic post-rock score ebbs and flows like the tides from hope and triumph to disaster and ruin and back again. Particularly moving is the Edwardian seaside horseplay - galavanting in the shallows, moustachioed men and all - which morbidly segues effortlessly into bags being packed for the First World War and bravado-laced armed drills. The sextet’s martial military rhythm underpins this and one can’t help but wonder if the mountains of mackerel that follow, the harvest of the sea, are a metaphor for a million dead.

Interwar optimism follows before BSP tighten their sonic fist and rattle bones with four minutes of pummelling noise, soundtracking dive-bombings and a nation steeling itself for an invasion. As the war draws to a close, strings and brass echo and amplify the foghorns of devastation. Sparing the small audience’s ears, BSP take us warmly by the arm and strike up the jaunty big band swing of the mass immigration era and the dream of a brighter future.

Though the score is largely instrumental, Jan Scott Wilkinson’s choked vocal occasionally rises up above the swell and gives rise to one of the most spine-tingling moments of all, the soft and sublime repeated mantra of ‘We’re all in it ‘til we close our eyes’. Bleak on the face of it, but with the musical language flipped once more below the vocals, a hopeful beam of light peeks through again.

‘From The Sea To The Land Beyond’ is a monumental achievement, a treat for the eyes and ears. The secret isn’t in the precedence of the visuals or the music, rather a perfect symbiosis between the two that heightens the effect of the other. British Sea Power rightly deserve their standing ovation tonight. A spellbinding performance and, indeed, creation.

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