British Sea Power: Remembering Remember Me

Ahead of their set in Newcastle on Saturday to commemorate the end of WWI, we recall British Sea Power's brilliant Remember Me video

This Saturday, 10th November, British Sea Power play Newcastle’s historic Boiler Shop venue as part of 100 Years, a series of concerts marking the centenary of the end of the First World War. British Sea Power’s lyrics and aesthetic has long been entangled with ideas of historical loss, sacrifice and change. Instead of jingoism, they understand that we can only understand the present by exploring the difficult truths of the past. Over ten years ago now they released the single ‘Remember Me’, a meditation on death and loss, accompanied by a stirring video that saw the band reimagined as a war memorial in a London park. It was deeply fitting for a band who always seemed to imbue a rather shellshocked sense of masculinity under trial. Below, in an extract from Roy Wilkinson’s brilliant Do It For Your Mum (how about a reprint, new Rough Trade Books!), he tells the story of the video. British Sea Power play the Newcastle Boiler Shop this Saturday, 10th November. For more information on 100 Years, which also features Chris Watson’s A Nightingale On The Western Front installation and performances by Shirley Collins, Richard Dawson and Darren Hayman, go here.

"The idea for the video for BSP’s ‘Remember Me’ single came from the British filmmaker Dougal Wilson. It involved the massed monumental statuary of London, plus some computer trickery. Dougal filmed London’s statues, including Nelson and Wellington. In post production the band and a selection of actors would have their faces grafted on to the statues, turning the sculpted stone and metal into a range of eerie singing rock homunculi. By this stage the band were concerned about their public profile – a cross between Dad’s Army, a militant RSPB unit and Lord Baden-Powell conducting his Scouts through physical jerks on Dartmoor. Fair enough, Eamon did wear a customised World War Two-era British Army helmet on stage. We were, however, trying to avoid being pigeonholed as pigeon-fancying youth-hostel rockers. Hence our insistence on having in the video statues of the native American lady, some suffragettes and Edith Cavell – alongside the male military monuments.

"During the First World War, Edith Cavell helped around 200 British troops to safety while working at a nursing school in occupied Brussels. After the Kaiser’s forces had occupied Belgium, Edith became part of an undercover operation channelling stranded British soldiers to the neutral Netherlands. She was eventually captured by the Germans and shot. Around the same time we had Edith in our new promo video, The White Stripes had a video with Kate Moss pole-dancing in her bra and pants.

Jack White had Kate Moss. We had Edith Cavell. With her undergarments safely hidden being a high lace collar, Edith gave us a kind of moral victory. But would total-rock triumph follow?

"For the ‘Remember Me’ video, alongside the animated statues, BSP were to be turned into statues themselves. The five band members were dressed as men of action – aviator, sailor, explorer, bugle boy and soldier. Everything was to be covered in metallic paint or make-up – the band, their clothes, some cheap stand-in guitars and drums. The shoot took place in Victoria Park in east London. A hire car delivered us to the location for 6.00 a.m. Our base for the day was a pub called The Crown. Most of the pub’s interior had been cleared of regular drinkers, but the place was still full of people and activity. The band found themselves at the centre of a film shoot, surrounded by about twenty people going about their various jobs. On arrival we were presented with marvellous outside catering opportunities. Egg or bacon rolls, plus tea and coffee on demand. Later there would be a choice of penne arrabbiata, shepherd’s pie or fennel-and-parmesan quiche. If that didn’t satisfy it was a short walk to a chip shop, the Saucy Kipper. It all added up… to catering costs of a whole £476.47.

"There were two make-up women on the shoot. One of their jobs was to make sure all visible parts of BSP – excepting teeth and eyeballs – were covered in the metallic make-up. One of the women sat there gently applying metallic nail polish to the band. She looked a bit like Sarah Jessica Parker from Sex in the City. Hmm, imagine the matronly frisson. Metallic manicure was not available to the band’s manager, but I didn’t really have any work to do either. I wandered down towards Victoria Park and the adjacent Regent’s Canal. At one of the park’s entrances sat two stone statues, The Dogs of Alcibiades. These stone effigies had been donated in 1912 by a Lady Aignarth. The statues were copies of a second-century Roman sculpture. The park’s Dogs have been vandalised over the years – daubed with a demonic ‘666’, their limbs and faces hacked away. By 2009 the park authorities would remove the sculptures altogether. Even when wrought from stone our monumental gestures aren’t necessarily forever.

"I strolled along the canal. This navigation connects with the Grand Union Canal which, to the west, runs by 2kHz, the studio where BSP had worked on their debut album. I walked on, past Salmon Lane Lock, past a couple of juvenile coots. Heading up off the towpath, it was time to buy a few bottles from St Peter’s of Bungay – organic bitter from Suffolk, benefiting from both Soil Association accreditation and Chariot malted barley. It would help pass the day. The route back to the video shoot led through Victoria Park. The park has a tradition of debate and protest, a history reinvested when, in 1978, the Anti-Nazi League organised an all-day concert featuring X-Ray Spex, Steel Pulse and The Clash. The park is also said to be home to the oldest model-boat club in the world. Maybe the BSP video could encompass all these park traditions – in the spirit that everything will happen sooner or later, it just being a question of when.

"For the video, BSP were furnished with their own monumental plinth. On the front of this big block was some leafy metallic ornamentation, plus a metallic rendering of a BSP graphic – the three rifles morphing into spade, fork and hoe. Beside these flourishes ran an inscription: ‘WE REMEMBER BRITISH SEA POWER.’ But the plinth was made from plywood, and the inscription fashioned from cardboard and spraypaint. It had been made by a man who had just worked on a stage adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Here was pop music’s take on monumentalism

– smoke, mirrors and Plasti-kote Metallic Projekt Paint.

"Throughout the day one sound blared on playback from a big ghetto-blaster – endless repeats of the track the video was being made for. It seemed to be the sole job of one member of the film crew to press the start and stop buttons. As the filming proceeded a growing collection of local youngsters hung around, laughing and pointing. They shouted over to Eamon, telling him he looked like ‘Gaylord Focker’. Later we’d work out that this was a reference to Ben Stiller’s character in the big-screen smash Meet the Fockers. But at the shoot the band were unfamiliar with both this film and its prequel. They thought they were being called ‘gaylord fuckers’. Over the course of the day, the only time any dynamic managerial intervention was called for was when Martin and Woody asked if they might get away in time to catch the 2117h train to Portslade. No, I was told, they couldn’t. They had to wait until after filming was completed with the man who would become the face of Lord Nelson."

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