Review: British Sea Power – Limelight 2, Belfast

February 8, 2018

First published on


First things first: MMODE is just pronounced ‘Mode’ in the fashion of Chvrches and All Tvvins with their misdirection in stylisation. Thomas Gaffney takes the time to tell us this when he takes a break from guitaring and the uninitiated are audibly surprised to hear a Northern Irish accent emerging from the band. Primarily a sibling duo [although with friends helping them out onstage], Lucy takes care of the majority of vocals, cooing 90s-style nothingness in a nonchalant fashion over the joyous waves of blurry guitar that seem both sparse and sophisticated.

The main question before British Sea Power appear at any of their shows has got to be “Is there foliage?” and there is; although surprisingly little. This is remedied in the half hour between bands, creeping up mic stands and sprouting ever bushier on the backdrop, with absolutely no involvement from a speedy team of crew members. Taking to the stage somewhat bashfully to the recorded sound of stuttering synths, the usual 6-piece are down to 5 tonight with Phil Sumner absent which means the band is a bit less cornet-heavy for tonight. No less heavy in general, dominating by launching straight into “Who’s In Control“, brothers Yan and Neil Hamilton Wilkinson dressed as wartime airmen. Admittedly, Yan rather more half-heartedly than bassist Hamilton who sports a fetching WW1-style barnstormer helmet which he gamely keeps on all show, Yan opting instead for a nondescript military green jacket that he takes off midway through the set anyway, revealing a black shirt and promising to strip down to a t-shirt later. It never happens. The brothers share lead vocals as well as sartorial ideas: Yan the steadfast, gentle storyteller; Hamilton wistful, yet also brought in if a more punk edge is needed, especially during “The Pelican“, which encourages an uncharacteristic letting go from the audience so far. Both singing together produce a quiet shoegazey beauty, especially when teamed with Abi Fry’s distant sweetness on “What You’re Doing“, Fry often being unfortunately lost in the sound mix, both vocally and with her violin.

The tour is officially to support the Let The Dancers Inherit The Party album but it’s not as heavily skewed that way as you might think, or possibly fear. No more than two new album tracks in a row here. The 15 years since they’ve released their first album are heavily mined, fan favourites sprinkled liberally throughout with “Lights Out For Darker Skies” appearing within the first ten minutes. It’s a slow start from the audience though; the area at the front of the stage filling slowly, fist-pumping limited to maybe two of the super keen, Yan’s attempt to get people to count to six in German to introduce “Keep on Trying (Sechs Freunde)” falls flatter than most of us were expecting, even the band. But just because we have spectators rather than participators doesn’t mean they’re not appreciative. Quietly. In the end it takes a bedraggled seven foot tall polar bear – their Open Season album cover amongst many polar bear references during their career, including a band-sponsored Arctic expedition to raise money for Polar Bear International Research – to break the ice. Appearing from the merch area during “Remember Me” it’s like greeting an old friend, cheers erupt from a finally animated crowd and a dancefloor is united at last in foot-stomping, bear-dancing to this rock song, as solid as they come until “Waving Flags” and the bear – complete with human occupant – is blindly led away, stopping now and then to pause (paws?) for photo requests. The gentle undulations of “North Hanging Rock” signal the beginning of the end, returning to their first top 40 single “Carrion” with a slow-starting, frenzied-ending chorus of “All In It“, this time the audience joining the feeling and being… well, all in it.


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