All In It: British Sea Power's Scott Wilkinson On His Favourite LPs
, March 29th, 2017 09:14
Ahead of British Sea Power's soundtracking of Polish animation at the Barbican as part of Kinoteka Film Festival and the release of new album Let The Dancers Inherit The Party, vocalist Scott Wilkinson guides Richard Foster through his favourite albums, from War Of The Worlds to Mighty Sparrow, Pavement and more. Photo by Mayumi Hirata
What can we say that hasn't been said about British Sea Power? A brilliant pop-rock band, blessed with a considerable emotional and intellectual hinterland and proponents of a wisdom that speaks in tongues. They make catchy tunes. Their members regularly drink long draughts from the sacred well of Folly. What's not to like? Yet, rather than being the biggest band on the planet they seem to forever exist in the corner of our eye, floating through the world of popular music like Ophelia drifting downstream. They still baffle and charm punters on the continent of Europe. Even when they destroy stages, incite riots in Germany with tulip bulbs and a plush horse's head, and jump into lakes at Russian showcases. They just don't make sense on a "meta" scale.
I'm sat in my flat talking to singer Scott Wilkinson; on the Leiden to Brighton analogue/digital line, talking ostensibly about the band's new long player, Let The Dancers Inherit The Party, and the albums that have "stuck with" the singer, which you can peruse below. The wonders of too much technology means Scott sounds unearthly and muffled. Somehow this adds to a conversation that - due to my genuine delight on hearing his voice again and Scott's wry sense of humour - turns slightly surreal. What was planned as a nice introductory talk about the record ends up as a gentle debate round the attractions of ping pong and calypso, the power of kittens in the digital age, the weirdness of Polish short films, and the benefits of being a daft lad. At one point Scott leaves the conversation to check out some "harmless nutjob in the street" shouting outside his window. Par for the course.
Sea Power's ability to evoke the spirit of the age - as if by magic - can be seen in the new LP's title. It's taken from a poem of the same name from the "multidisciplinary" Scottish poet, Ian Hamilton Finlay. The band's fascination for autodidacts, or singular people working through their own curious obsessions (even if they "don't really understand" them or their work), often pops up in Sea Power's music. "There's a line in that Finlay poem - it's not a very long one - about talkers sitting about and glowering. I think that is partly what the poem is about, that just sitting around and talking can be destructive. When people get involved and have a bit of a dance, they get on. It's a communication thing."
We are talking the day after Geert Wilders' delusions of grandeur have been exposed as less than world-beating by the Dutch electorate. Media fascination with bad lads in Europe and elsewhere can temporarily be put on hold as we turn our attention to what the daft lass and lads in BSP have been up to. I ask Scott about Sea Power's ability to disappear from view only to pop up at a point where it feels very pertinent, or refreshing to reappear. "I suppose that's true. The new record's been the longest one to make or maybe the one that created the longest gap. I take quite an interest in things that are going on in the world. I don't believe I can do anything about it, other than softly supporting niceness perhaps. These things find their way into the narrative of the songs. I think we try to weave our personal lives and ways of living into our records." On the Dutch elections: "That was a relief wasn't it? We hope that [Wilders losing out] starts a change for the better. We all like Europe. You know, England's alright and everything but Europe is often more exciting. There are a lot of people in Europe who don't know anything about us and think we're all about Britain but we're not. Really; we are all outward looking people in this band. And anyway, I like walking round the streets and listening to people speaking different languages, both when I'm in Europe and in England. I really like that."
One final point before we start talking about Scott's records. Does the track 'Electric Kittens' have anything to do with the continued fascination with kittens in the Internet age? "Not really. It started off with a riff that was left over from the soundtrack we did about the Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev [at the BFI in 2012]. So there was a sort of sci-fi feel to it. And then I was thinking about 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep' and I started to think about other animals, not just the sheep. And I like cats. There's something about them. The ancient Egyptians liked cats and William Burroughs said they are doorway to another world."
British Sea Power's new album is out on Friday 30th March. They soundtrack Polish animation films at the Barbican on April 5th, for more information go here. Click the photo below to begin reading the Baker's Dozen