In today’s necessarily thrifty environment, it’s reassuring to know that a bargain may still be had. Supermarkets have their ‘bogof’ deals, petrol stations have their Nectar rewards programme, rail tickets have reduced museum entry offers. And indie rock has British Sea Power.
For ten years their high-church amplified rock music has been dispensed with a dizzying array of bolt-on extras. Mint cake, beer mats, country walks, beer, bears, robots, chocolate, movies, mystery tours, caves, the National Maritime Museum, fannying about with lighthouses, girl guide uniforms and Ronnie Corbett. All part of the story: ‘apps’, if you will, to BSP’s smartphone. With such a glorious amount of baggage, this Cumbria/Yorkshire-cum-Brighton collective were always destined to exceed the national average. They are NOT The Holloways. Phew. Somebody should maybe sit down and write a book about it all. Oh wait…
With ‘Do It For Your Mum’, music journo turned BSP manager Roy Wilkinson exposes the peculiar forces at work behind this most unusual family affair. Chief player in this story is not singer Yan, nor bass player Neil (his charismatic kid brothers). It’s their dad, Ron: an 87-year-old World War Two veteran and ‘self-instructed expert on alternative rock from The Smiths to the Butthole Surfers’.
This amiable octogenarian became so energised by his kids’ musical leanings that he dedicated his most recent years to learning all he could about the alternative music industry and the players within it. While boning up on band biographies, he would write letters to the likes of U2 suggesting British Sea Power could liven up their shows no end. And he would badger elder sibling Roy to steer the band towards the toppermost of the poppermost.
This Roy did – with admirable aplomb. While the band were busy sellotaping magic mushrooms to their heads, he slipped effortlessly into his role of ‘The Secretary’ – BSP chief ideas man and propagandist. Moderate commercial and chart success ensued: massive artistic progress was made.
But none of this came without a price. Hidden from even the most ardent BSP spectators (and as band followers come, there are none more committed or involved than the loyal ‘Third Battallion’) was an unbelievable pressure from both sides of the Roy Wilkinson family timeline: from super-enthusiastic dad to the daughter he yearned to spend more time with.
‘Do It For Your Mum’ is a hilarious, heart-warming, proud, honest and emotional insight into the Roy that BSP enthusiasts thought they knew – but didn’t. On the face of it all, it’s a cracking read, super-injected with Roy’s trademark attention to exquisite detail. The touring tales are hilariously told (right down, in fact, to the shape and pricing policy of Greggs pasties); there are slapstick injuries, celebrities such as Tracy Barlow and a spectacular personal encounter with the man who will one day be our king.
And just as Sex Pistol Steve Jones once famously summed up his punk career by saying he was ‘only in it for the booze and birds after the show’, we find Roy is of much the same mind: as long as it’s Oranjeboom at ÃÂ£2.79 for four refrigerated tins and a glimpse of a fast-swooping petrel.
This is the stuff. But it’s more, much more, than an above-averagely eventful music biography. Roy’s British Sea Power adventures are a fitting vehicle for a broader enquiry into the human experience – from the rarely smooth mechanics of the family unit to one’s personal place within history and the future. From mental anguish and even worrying hallucinations to the joy of witnessing a pine marten in the field.
This is like no other rock-related tome. Thankfully. Its closest neighbour, perhaps, is Mark Oliver Everett’s (Eels) ‘Things The Grandchildren Should Know’. Like that modern classic, this is an astonishing and thought-provoking book – an effortless, enjoyable and compulsive read. I hope, and believe, that this will not be Roy’s last. It’s chock full of nature, rock’n’roll antics and deep soul-searching – and most definitely not one for the British Sea Power fan alone.