British Sea Power play soundtrack to ‘Man Of Aran’
This is seriously powerful, emotive stuff.
I’m sat in the cavernous main cinema of Sheffield’s Showroom complex for the final event in the city’s fantastic music/film/arts Sensoria festival. Live on stage, in front of the screen, with their backs to the audience are one of the best and most inventive modern British bands- British Sea Power.
They are playing their live sound track to ‘Man Of Aran’– the 1934 semi fictional, semi documentary film by Robert J. Flaherty. The film is a stark black and white depiction of the tough lives of the Aran islanders whose stubborn self-sufficiency and toughness, set against the backdrop of the fierce Atlantic Ocean makes for powerful viewing.
It’s a perfect combination- a salty sea stained film about the tough life on a lump of rock in the Atlantic (most recently the setting for Craggy Island in Father Ted) and a band that have made their name in the past decade with three great, highly original albums that stand alone in the oceanic waves of indie banality. A series of albums that seem eccentric in the context of modern indie rock that is mostly not only not independent of distribution but also thought.
British Sea Power have carved their own idiosyncratic path with a music that is somehow harking back to a long lost age when people were interested in more than football and cars. There are references to non rock n roll topics like bird spotting and a love of nature- total genius in a rock world where conversation rarely rises above the ‘what goes on the road stays on the road’ grunting.
The band have a brilliant attention to detail that even sees their merch droog dressed in the same sort of hardy fifties Ealing tweeds as the rest of them who retain the Spartan whiff of the bohemia about them.
Their music has a powerful cinematic sweep that oozes with the power of nature- you can smell the salty air crashing on the rocks when you blast out a BSP album which makes this project perfect for them.
Originally from Kendal and now based in Brighton they have also played a series of highly original gigs in off the wall locations, like the Boste Social Club in Kendal and the Isles of Scilly or on a ferry- gigs that make tonight appearance in Sheffield playing the self composed soundtrack seem like a normal event for the band.
‘Man of Aran’ itself is a semi fictional account of the tough lives of the islanders on Aran- a clump of rocks off the west coast of Ireland battered, due to several geographical quirks, by some of the biggest waves in the Atlantic. The islanders live off the sea, which at any minute threatens to engulf them. They grow potatoes in the bone hard rock using seaweed as a soil substitute and wrestle with giant basking sharks to get the oil for their lamps whilst risking their lives catching fish for their meals- their tiny boats looking like match sticks against the might ocean and their faces rough hewn like the bone hard granite of their islands. Even if the film is somewhat fictionalised it opens a window onto a long lost, tough, yet honourable life- a warrior existence on the edge of the world and one that has been long lost in a cosseted modern world where people get fish from a tin instead of risking life and limb in the sea.
British Sea Power were sent the film by a fan and film buff and when asked to write a soundtrack for an art project chose the perfect film for their powerful music that smells of sea salt and brine. The band, who have always intertwined the powerful, primal forces of nature and an almost pagan imagery into their music and stage sets, have created the perfect soundtrack that makes your emotions swell like the mighty Atlantic that is the fluid spine of the film. Their sense of theatrical- with branches of trees and stuffed animals as part of their normal touring stage set and a music that oozes with the power of mother nature are perfect for this sort of exercise.
What they have composed for the film is a genius match for the forces of nature in the film and the tug and flow of the wild Atlantic that pours over the island. The music and the visuals perfectly combine to affect you in a powerful emotional way. I leave the cinema with my legs shaking like an Aran islander getting out of one of the tiny boats, feeling drained by the thrilling, emotive music provided by one of the best current British bands at the height of their powers and a 70 year old film that is still powerfully affecting.