Spring may be in the air as March draws to a close; it also seems to be in the step of British Sea Power as the indie rock band unveil their seventh studio album.
Called Let The Dancers Inherit The Party, it’s arguably the six-piece’s most immediate collection of songs to date. Guitarist Martin Noble says that was the intention.
“We’ve been doing soundtracks – one was From the Sea to the Land Beyond then we did a couple of small indie films as well – so we wanted to get back to being a band and it just felt that a bold thing to do would be to write some bangers,” he explains.
The band set themselves a few basic ground rules. One was to “get back to writing songs”.
“Some of the albums have had a more atmospheric, soundtracky kind of vibe, with a few real punky tracks; they’ve been quite varied. Something we wanted to do[this time] was not to be so varied, for it to still have a bit of ebb and flow about it and for it to sit together as one whole,” Noble says. “We didn’t want people to go ‘I’m not in the mood for this one’. I think our intention was to make sure it flowed.”
Real world events from the past year inevitably impinged on the band’s main song writers, Scott and Neil Wilkinson – otherwise known as Jan and Hamilton – while they we making Let The Dancers Inherit The Party.
“I don’t think it’s feeling the need to [address such issues as political lies, the rise of ‘fake news’ and social media clamour], for a lot of people when you’ve got a lot of things on your mind – even if it’s just domestic things, you’ve got lots of jobs to do – sometimes it’s better to write it down on a piece of paper,” says Noble. “And in a similar way, there’s a lot of information out there and things can get quite confusing so sometimes it is easier to write a song, write some lyrics and get it all down.
“It is generally only after six months or a year when you look back on it that you can actually see what kind of album you’ve made.”
The song Keep On Trying (Sechs Freunde) is a rousing nod to Europeanism. Noble admits the whole band were shocked by Britain’s vote last year to leave the European Union. “We were on tour at the time and a lot of us stayed up watching it,” he says. “Straight away afterwards I felt quite angry and then you end up finding a few people, friends or relatives, who maybe voted the opposite way and listened to what they had to say instead of just flinging muck at each other.
“We’ve always been open and internationally-minded. A lot of people that voted for Brexit get told they’re racist and it’s not the case. There are a few. But we’re kind of looking at this as maybe not getting too bogged down with it and pointing fingers, it’s just being open-minded and looking forwards.”
Even though we love Rough Trade and everything they’ve done for us, you get that feeling that you’d never know if you don’t do it and it felt like the time to do it. You can feel too safe in your shoes; it was a kind of re-energising move.Martin Noble
He explains the “shouty bit, sechs freunde” is a reference to the small-world experiment where American social psychologist Stanley Milgram worked out you’re on average only six connections away from anyone on the planet. “That was an interesting theory – if you’re only six people away it’s quite a small world,” Noble says. “It’s a small world in a lot of ways – you can travel to places quicker and you can connect to people on the internet – but it’s just the fact that if you influence someone or someone can influence you then you pass that on it’s not such a big chain.”
After more than ten years at the indie label Rough Trade British Sea Power decided to strike out on their own by asking fans to help fund the recording of Let The Dancers Inherit The Party. Noble admits they were “sad” to leave a record company to whom they become its longest continually signed act. “Initially we went out to our fans and raised enough money to record and mix the album so we owned it and it was a choice whether to try to do a lot of the work yourselves or license it to another label,” Noble says. “We did talk to Rough Trade about licensing it to them but it just seemed like we’d come to the stage where we hadn’t tried anything else and you think maybe it would be different somewhere else. Even though we love Rough Trade and everything they’ve done for us, you get that feeling that you’d never know if you don’t do it and it felt like the time to do it. You can feel too safe in your shoes; it was a kind of re-energising move.”
Among the things the band offered fans in return for financial pledges was lifetime entry to their gigs for hardy souls who pledged to get British Sea Power tattoos. “They all went,” reports Noble. “There were five lifetime passes and ten three-year passes. Not everybody got tattoos. One person got us to do an acoustic show at their house, another person just wants to go on a dog walk with me – fortunately I know them, it won’t just be a complete stranger – and some people live in Australia as well so I don’t know how they’re going to get full use of the lifetime pass but I don’t think that’s the point to them. I think they just wanted to help us out as much as they could, which is amazing, really.”
Sadly Scott and Neil’s father, Ronald, recently passed away, aged 92. Noble describes him as “a big inspiration” for the band. “He’s also the father of Roy who used to manage us and he was a big figure,” he says. “He was a real strong character and he used to tell you which tracks he liked and you felt like it was good advice because he got so much into music – in his seventies he’d be listening to Butthole Surfers and Nirvana and the Pixies and House of Love. I remember him saying, ‘You know that one, Shine On? You should do something like that’. He’d tell you if he thought something was s***, he’d be brutally honest. He was hot to handle but he was great fun.”
As for their British tour this month, Noble says it’ll be back to basics. “It’s never that straightforward with us but we’d like to do just a really good, powerful show. It feels like we haven’t done that kind of thing for quite some time so it’ll be good, it feels like it’s new and something that’s exciting for us.”
Let The Dancers Inherit The Party is out now. British Sea Power play at The Church on Woodhouse Lane, Leeds on April 7. britishseapower.co.uk