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Sea Power I can't believe it's happening – and that it's happening now

Canvey Island, Wilko Johnson and Ursine Ultra – the legendary gig that sealed my love for Sea Power and their third LP Do You Like Rock Music?

Back in 2008, this writer's gig-going was a tad spasmodic, typically based on a Steve Lamacq recommendation.

That all changed for a couple of reasons, or rather due to a couple of people – one a long-standing friend, the other, my new boss at work. An outbreak of gorgeous serendipity led me to not only discover an incredible band, but an amazing album, the third by then-named British Sea Power, called – without irony – Do You Like Rock Music?

It turns out I didn't like it. I loved it. Here's what happened.

Part one. My mate and his wife were – very much still are, in fact – serial gig and festival-goers, searching out off-kilter indie bands, loving them, watching them grow and then discovering that the support bands are great too.

Regular missives from my mate extolled his love for a Brighton-based combo called British Sea Power, a seriously weird band who wrote songs about dislodged Antarctic ice shelves, the Carpathian mountains and Danish nuclear physicists. Their stage show included foliage local to the venue and irregular appearances by a ten-foot bear named Ursine Ultra, who would suffer rock’n’roll related injuries from the band through, let's say, excitable over-exuberance.

Part two. "We've got a new internal client," said my line manager in early 2008. "Or rather you have – he wants to meet you. Now". I make my way to his office to be met by his PA. "He'll be here in five minutes. Wait in there." It's your typical office in that there London. Big boss. Big desk. I move towards the windowsill which is littered with small bits of paper.

Except upon closer inspection, they are tickets. Gig tickets. Loads of them, from Editors to The Coral, Spiritualized to Hope of the States, Idlewild to Magazine.

"Bet you've never heard of any of them, have you?" says the questioning voice behind me as the new boss sweeps in. "Well, as it happens I saw Editors last week,” I reply. “‘Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors’ is a great track.” Cue an hour of non-work related indie music chat as we share our mutual favourites and gig-going experiences, of which his trump mine by a country mile.

"My favourite band isn't on that pile though," he concludes. "Oh, who are they?"

"British Sea Power."


The Monico on Canvey Island, scene of the now-legendary gig.

David Kemp on Wikimedia Commons.

Fast-forward to February 2008. My mate calls me up. "I'm in Belgium for work, but they've cancelled my return trip. Trouble is, I've got two guest tickets for BSP at a pub on Canvey Island. Do you want them?" Some geographical context – Canvey Island in Essex, just about in sight of Southend-on-Sea, is basically a below-sea-level oil refinery. But it has a sizeable and proud population, and it’s a place where you never quite get used to seeing miles of sea wall higher than the ground you're standing on. It's part of Essex (and musical) folklore, more of which later.

I meet my incredulous boss at Benfleet station. "How the hell did you get the tickets?" he smiles as we make our way to The Monico Hotel. The gig is supported by Canvey Island FC, after whom a track on the newly-released Do You Like Rock Music? is named, telling the story of lost football records in the catastrophic floods of 1953.

As our names are ticked off the guestlist, we move upstairs to join the assembled throng. The 200-capacity room has a small stage bedecked in greenery, all watched on by cameras from the BBC’s Culture Show.

The band appear in Canvey island FC shirts and proceed to launch into their set. I don't remember the exact setlist, but ‘All In It’, ‘No Lucifer’, ‘Canvey Island’, ‘Waving Flags’, instrumental ‘The Great Skua’ and ‘Atom’ from the new record are all played, and boy, what songs they are. Expansive, emotive, soaring and enigmatic, intertwined with a lyrical originality and depth that is neither fun-quashing nor pretentious.

The band respond to the raucous audience response by playing ten-minute guitar wig-out ‘Rock in A’ as an encore, proudly introducing special guest Wilko Johnson, who I'd previously seen way back in 1975 playing at Dagenham Roundhouse with Canvey Island pub-rock legends Dr. Feelgood. Johnson proceeds to spray the crowd with his unique, stuttering machine gun-style guitar licks, at one point joining Sea Power's Martin Noble in riffing on the (fully stocked) bar top next to the stage.

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Hamilton and Abi of Sea Power at a gig in 2018.

Paul Hudson on Wikimedia Commons.

The new songs from Do You Like Rock Music? continue to burn a hole in my CD player for weeks afterwards, and I'm still reminded of that incredible gig every time I play the album, an LP that stands proudly in the pantheon of Sea Power releases.

Point of order though. They aren't "my" band – that prestige goes to my mate and his wife, who can proudly claim that honour through seeing more than 50 shows, and even owning some original artwork by lead singer Yan. If you get the chance, go on ‘A Trip Out’ and see for yourselves what the fuss was, and is, all about when they play the album in full at the Leadmill in February.

Sea Power are the musical oddball's oddballs. Go see 'em.

Read our interview with Sea Power's Martin Noble.

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