British Sea Power have a reputation as a band who like to punch above their weight: Rough Trade signed them on the strength of a single gig, their 2003 debut album, The Decline of British Sea Power, shifted 60,000 copies through word of mouth, and they once avoided interviews by issuing journalists with grid references ‘directing’ them to where they should meet. There will undoubtedly be a contingent of their devoted fans, complete with a sea of waving leafy branches, when they play the main Obelisk stage on Friday at Latitude.
The band – Yan (Scott Wilkinson; vocals, guitar), Noble (Martin Noble; guitar, piano, keyboards), Hamilton (Neil Wilkinson; bass) and Wood (Matthew Wood; drums) – cut their teeth running the 1930s Club Sea Power night in Brighton, and have projected themselves as 19th Century gentlemen of learning and leisure ever since. From their 1930s strides and boots to their strange thematic preoccupations with ornithology and extinct military units, the band have brought a unique approach to indie rock.
In the course of their latest album ‘Do You Like Rock Music?’, they run from gorgeous instrumental sweeps to outrageous six-minute odysseys and short frenetic punk songs in the style of one of their heroes, Black Francis. I predict a lighter-in-the-air moment if they play ‘Waving Flags’, a stirring tribute to Polish plumbers and Hedy Lamarr. It is perhaps the band’s most cogent, powerful song.
Their live shows have become stuff of legends: the stage decorated with foliage and plastic birds, their 20-minute improvised set closer “Rock In A”, various members often climbing riggings and a 10 ft bear patrolling the audience. Sound like a good idea?