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Sea Power "The songs are like amazing time capsules that open up memories that I'd completely forgotten"

Sea Power are celebrating the 15th anniversary of Do You Like Rock Music? with a UK tour, taking in a February date at The Leadmill. Guitarist Martin Noble takes us through his recollections of making the band’s celebrated third LP.

British Sea Power at Koko 26382289668

Martin Noble during a Sea Power gig at Koko in 2018.

Paul Hudson on Wikimedia Commons.

As we know all too well, time marches inexorably forwards. But as we also know, some time appears to go by faster than we think. So it's somewhat of a surprise to me that it's been fifteen years since Sea Power – back then prefaced by ‘British’, before a 2021 name change to distance themselves from antagonistic nationalism – issued their seminal LP, Do You Like Rock Music?

The band are soon to embark on a UK tour showcasing the album, and we lucky folk of Sheffield get to see them at The Leadmill on 13 February.

The album cemented Sea Power's position in the public spotlight, with an appearance on Jools Holland playing ‘Canvey Island’, ‘Waving Flags’ and ‘No Lucifer’, joined by The Bulgarian National Choir and – in a nod to band members Yan and Hamilton’s Lake District upbringing – a display of Cumbrian wrestling. Typical Sea Power fare, to those in the know.

Early 2008 also saw the band play an intimate gig at The Monico Hotel on Canvey Island (which this writer was lucky enough to attend, but that's another story) in recognition of the eponymous album track which tells the story of football club records lost during the floods of 1953. The LP went on to be nominated for the Mercury Prize.

But does the music stand the test of time? We set Sea Power guitar maestro Noble the task of re-living his memories of making it, asking how the songs came to life and what they mean to him now.

British Sea Power at Koko 25383947707
Paul Hudson on Wikimedia Commons.

Do You Like Rock Music? was your third album, and the one that brought the band national and international prominence. Were the songs all newly written for it or were any held over from second album, Open Season?

I think most were freshly written, though ‘Waving Flags’ existed in a more basic incarnation around Open Season time. There are demos of it on our soon-to-be-released demos and lost tracks CD. I think a version of ‘Lights Out for Darker Skies’ existed too, in a more laid-back, lovely style.

Can you recall what the plan was for the album? Did you aim collectively for a vibe or theme?

We never really ever have a plan at the outset. Maybe a collective mood steers the direction a bit, and also a reaction to the previous LP. It always seems to evolve as we go and come together the closer we are to finishing the songs and the album.

I think the journey of this record dragged us, and the songs, together around various places we'd been to, such as Montreal, a water tower in East Anglia, Fort Tregantle in Devon, a cottage in the New Forest, a Czech national park... It was quite an influential trip.

The Great Skua’ – what a song. Did you have any idea when you wrote it that it would be a live set staple for years to come, and was it a conscious decision to write an instrumental?

No, I wrote it and shared some DNA and musical parts with ‘Waving Flags’. I had two instrumentals called ‘Plover 1’ and ‘Plover 2’. If you listen to the demo of ‘The Great Skua’, the ending is actually a slowed down version of the ‘Waving Flags’ ending.

The song seems very personal to you.

Weirdly, I always thought of my grandma passing away when working on ‘Skua’. She was the first family loss I'd experienced.

Working on it felt like a liminal space, a portal to the infinite, a place to consider the sadness and glory of existence and work your way around raw emotions.

Most bands cite albums coalescing around a couple of perceived bangers. Was there a nap hand of songs you all knew were strong that gave you added confidence?

Not really, to be honest. ‘No Lucifer’ came really late to the party. ‘Waving Flags’ was probably the first bit of music that the band accepted of mine, and it took a while to come together. I think every song that Yan and Hamilton were bringing to the table had great qualities to them, and we felt we could get somewhere with them. It just took a long time to get there. We eventually went to the Czech Republic with Graham Sutton on mixing duties to put the album to bed.

No Lucifer’ has the classic football chant intro of "Easy, Easy!". That must be your doing, surely?

No! That was [Yan and Hamilton’s older brother, and former band manager] Roy Wilkinson's idea. He always had a few ideas. It seemed rather incongruous on that track at the time. On our demos and lost tracks CD you'll hear the original demo Hamilton presented to us that has no chant.

However, we fell in and out of love with the chant, but at the end of the day I see it as having absolute belief that evil can be banished if everyone pulls together. That's to be embraced!

No Need To Cry’ taps into a similar mood and vibe to songs such as ‘Cleaning Out the Rooms’ [on 2011’s Valhalla Dancehall]. Is there anything you guys do specifically as a band that helps you tap into that beautiful, melancholic groove?

That's a Hamilton track through and through, really lovely. He can really live in those spaces, it's one of his fortes. To play them live as a band you have to put yourself in that different headspace.

Anti-nationalist anthem ‘Waving Flags’ is a fan favourite. How did the spirit of the song evolve and, looking back, was that a point where the need to discard the "British" part of your moniker became clearer?

It came from a banner seen at a Sparta Prague football match, something Roy had shown us that we found amusing. I think it's a common banner that they reel out at matches. Whether we admit it or not, we are (nearly) all fans of alcohol. It's not dark or light.

And yes, we really should have changed the name after our first album. It would have been perfect to change it after a debut entitled The Decline of British Sea Power.

The bookend tracks ‘All In It’ and ‘We Close Our Eyes’ work brilliantly. Whose idea was that, and are recurring musical themes something you're a fan of?

That was Yan's idea. It seemed to expand the idea of the song even more. Recurring themes are pretty cool when they work without going into full concept album mode. ‘Please Stand Up’ and ‘North Hanging Rock’ on Open Season share some DNA, as do ‘Waving Flags’ and ‘The Great Skua’.

When you look back at Do You Like Rock Music? now, 15 years on, does it still surprise you? Are there any songs that didn't make the final cut that resurfaced on follow-up LPs?

Yes, as memories shift to the dark corners of our libraries, I sometimes have no recollection of how things came about. But on the other hand, the songs are like amazing time capsules that open up memories that I'd completely forgotten.

When we were chatting about stuff for the extended sleeve notes [for the re-issued LP], I was amazed at some of the things Hamilton remembered. He's not as daft as he looks! One track on the demos CD ended up as an instrumental on Man of Aran. If you know, you know.

When we last spoke in March 2022, you told me about completing a horticulture course and building a natural wildlife garden. How's that coming along?

Yes, I completed a RHS course, and even thought about going into horticulture full time and stopping playing music. But I just like using what I've learned through horticulture and zoology as a hobby, really.

Top tip: don't tidy your garden over winter. Insects are overwintering there and create a food source for birds in winter and spring. Be messy. I can't believe I'm ending this on amateur horticultural advice, but there you go!

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