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Image © Caroline International 2017

British Sea Power: An Interview with Yan Scott Wilkinson

2 April 2017 | London Calling

Enigmatic indie six-piece British Sea Power return after a four-year hiatus with a new album – ‘Let The Dancers Inherit The Party’ – and a nationwide tour that includes a visit to the Bristol Trinity Centre. Marking almost 15 years since the release of the band’s debut record, ‘The Decline of British Sea Power’, vocalist and guitarist Yan Scott Wilkinson discusses with Culture Calling onstage antics, memories of Bristol and what makes a Bad Bohemian.

Having toured extensively for almost a decade, enjoying notable artistic acclaim in the process, one would imagine there is very little that can faze Yan Scott Wilkinson, British Sea Power’s inimitable front man. But when asked if he is looking forward to the release of the band’s highly-anticipated new record – Let The Dancers Inherit The Party – he becomes suddenly pensive.
 
“I’m pretty happy, but then I’m thinking about the tour and for some reason I’m a bit nervous and I don’t know why. I don’t normally get like that about touring, but I just think it’s because it’s been a while…” he muses, before realising that his anxiety may be because the very day before the first date of the tour, the band are providing a live soundtrack for their favourite Polish cartoons at the Barbican Centre as part of the KINOTEKA Film Festival. “All this new music is more than my brain can handle,” reasons the singer and guitarist.

British Sea Power
Image credit: Caroline International 2017
 
During their impressive career the idiosyncratic sextet – Wilkinson along with (his brother) Neil, Martin, Matthew, Phil and Abi – have gone out of their way to obfuscate the press and delight their fans. Whether scoring Eastern European animations or hosting elaborate concerts in the countryside, they are consistently surprising, openly pretentious and sonically thrilling. Their latest single Bad Bohemian – a pulsating and urgent slice of modern indie rock – is no exception and has become a regular on BBC 6 Music and Radio 2. But despite the song’s soaring guitars and uplifting melodies, there is an underlying melancholy, which Wilkinson happily takes responsibility for. “That’s because Martin [Noble, guitarist] wrote a lot of the actual music and he’s more euphoric than me – I’m the sad one!” he chuckles.
 
On the new album, the first since 2013’s Machineries of Joy (not counting the brass band treatment on the Sea of Brass compilation), Wilkinson reveals that we should expect more of the same but also with a more ‘buzzy, dance-inflected pop’ vibe and weightier themes. “There is quite a lot of that kind of stuff, particularly the first couple of singles,” he says. “I also think it’s less mentally exhausting than some of our previous records. We used to fit epic proportions of things on albums and I’m starting to think I’d like to do one record that does this and another that does that; smaller scale, filling in the gaps of what we’ve explored before.”
 
On 6th April, the band will roll into Bristol Trinity Centre for a night of dancefloor debauchery, which may or may not include giant botanical-themed scenery, dancing bears and the smashing of instruments. “I always say I’ll stop doing stupid things, but I don’t want to curse it,” says Wilkinson sheepishly, before recalling a gig a few years ago where he threw a guitar into the air and rather than catch it, got nearly knocked unconscious. “I think we may have calmed down a bit from the old days… Martin hasn’t made us fear for life for a few shows. He always starts climbing up stuff when he gets excited, like a monkey.”

British Sea Power
Image credit: Mayumi Hirata 2017
 
In the past, the mysterious musicians have played many unusual locations including an abandoned lido in Saltdean and Carnglaze Caverns in Cornwall, and Wilkinson brightens up at the mention of Bristol’s own strange treasure, The Thekla. “We’ve played there are a few times and it’s a great venue,” he says. “Although it is quite weird for sound-checking because it’s a big metal hull of a boat! But in the evening when it’s full, it’s fine and has a brilliant atmosphere.”
 
Softly-spoken and coming across as inherently humble, Wilkinson seems quite baffled by the career he’s had. “As you get older you do think it’s amazing how much time has gone by when you still feel like a kid, but then you look in the mirror and realise you’re not!” he laughs. “But we never used to think that far ahead and if I’d known we’d be going this long I would have planned a lot better.”
 
As fans will be well aware, BSP’s lyrics are often obscure codes to be deciphered. So what’s the latest – “don’t be a bad bohemian” – all about? A reminder that artists should always stay true to their art, no matter the acclaim or challenges? “Well that’s an optimistic way of looking at it,” he smiles. “But I wanted it to be mysterious, and I’m not going to let on what I think a bad bohemian is.”
 
British Sea Power’s new album ‘Let The Dancers Inherit The Party’ is released on March 31st, with the opening night of the band’s mini-UK tour at Bristol Trinity Centre on April 6th.
 
 
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