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British Sea Power at the Natural History Museum: The Quietus film trailer
Richard Augood , July 1st, 2008 10:20

What A Carrion! British Sea Power recently played a stunning show at the Natural History Museum. Richard Augood looks back at the gig, and The Quietus offers up a sneak preview of our forthcoming documentary on the exemplary shindig

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What startles you upon walking into the cavernous main hall of the Natural History Museum isn't the replica Diplodocus skeleton. Quite apart from being a placid herbivore, it was robbed of any lingering sense of threat by Derek Nimmo and Peter Ustinov in Jurassic caper, One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing. Instead, it's the tiny little terracotta gargoyles that cover every available inch of the gothic pillars and vaulted ceilings that are most unnerving. Deaths-head hawk moths and cataract-eyed rams heads. It looks like the sort of place that Lord Summerisle would have constructed following a couple of particularly good apple harvests.

This accidentally macabre Victorian Gothic ambience complements British Sea Power' aesthetic so perfectly it's maybe surprising that it took so long for anyone to think of asking them along. And given the cathedral-like structure of the place it's maybe not surprising that the venue was so suitable for the show, the acoustics working with the band's sound perfectly. The addition of Abi Fry on viola has added a richness and depth to BSP's music that happily has gone hand-in-hand with a renewed sense of focus. It was notable that only one song (’True Adventures’) from the wayward and lacklustre Open Season has made it through to the current live set. Instead they have rediscovered the discipline that marked their shows around the period of their debut The Decline of British Sea Power’ demonstrated most directly by their perennial closing freak-out 'Rock In A', which has come back from being self-indulgent to having a real sense of purpose and direction. If it didn't sound so incongruous to use the term of BSP, one might be tempted to say that it had established a definite groove.

The other, more remarkable, illustration of how BSP have bulked up and rediscovered a sense of purpose is the way that bassist Hamilton has matured into a confident performer for the ever-increasing number of songs he fronts live. Previously he would resemble an Edwardian schoolboy giving a poetry recital, his prematurely old face wide-eyed at the thought of the beating that would accompany any stammer. The audience would almost breathe a sigh of relief as he made it to the end of a song without wetting himself. Now Hamilton seems to have acquired a louche air of entitlement, like a young aristocrat from an Evelyn Waugh novel.

But for all the individual developments it is as a group that British Sea Power excel, never more than in the show's high point, the glorious instrumental 'The Great Skua', which is accompanied by an in-flight movie of migrating Canada geese. It’s the best illustration they have yet given of the dual appreciation of beauty and horror that has always been their greatest asset; sounding not just majestic, but appropriate in that temple to the wonders of the old red-in-tooth-and-claw. It's apt that that should be there, surrounded by the bare remains and the idealised representations of so many animals, that we are reminded that it is BSP who set us apart from the beasts.

Watch a trailer for The Quietus' forthcoming short film on British Sea Power's Natural History Museum

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