‘Do It For Your Mum‘ is the biography of Britain’s most exciting and endlessly creative band, British Sea Power. Passionately and cheerily told by their amateur manager and older brother, Roy Wilkinson, it is an uplifting account of how a group of lads from a Kendal council estate came to make music that is enthused by nature, celebrates diversity and Ordnance Survey maps in equal measure, and simply gets the blood pumping.
‘Do It For Your Mum’ is also a story about family and, in particular, British Sea Power’s biggest fan – the septugenarian father of the band’s singer-songwriter brothers, Yan and Hamilton. Never short of an opinion on how and why BSP should achieve world-rock domination, Ronald Wilkinson’s pithy quotes are stardust sprinkled throughout the book. The title, indeed, is taken from his exhortation to the young band to “Do it for your Mum! Do it for the Butthole Sufers!”*
I remember with absolute clarity the first time I saw British Sea Power. I was on a break from serving pints at the Reading Festival and had popped into the nearest tent just to pass the time. On a stage adorned with stuffed birds and half a forest of branches, leaves and vines I was confronted by five pasty blokes wearing army-surplus clothing and singing something about apologising to insect life. The music was frenetic one minute, and orchestral the next. The assembled crowd was either standing with their mouths open, or fighting to stay upright in a moshpit that was steaming up enough energy for take-off. I was instantly hooked (and very late getting back to my shift).
Over the ensuing decade, BSP have provided many of the highlights of each music-loving year. Along the way they have celebrated John Betjeman, opposed library closures, supported Occupy, provided the soundtrack to an extraordinary film about the British coastline (From the Land to the Sea Beyond), and another for Man of Arran, lamented the collapse of the Larsen B ice-shelf, toured with assorted brass bands, and penned a sublime paen to cycling (Machineries of Joy).
What they haven’t done, it appears, is made any money. The author and erstwhile band manager reckons they achieved something like the wage of a postie for most of his tenure in charge of their finances. Similarly, despite early Mercury Prize recognition, fame has also largely eluded British Sea Power. Contemporaries with whom BSP have shared stages and labels have gone on to much bigger things – The Libertines, Killers, Feist, Pulp, to name a few. BSP instead attracted a dementedly loyal following early on and, from empirical observation, it is this hardcore that largely keeps the band going today.
But fame and material rewards has never seemed to rank high on BSP’s list of ambitions. Instead the band appear content with the chance to travel (particularly where there are new bird-watching opportunities), gaining the creative space that comes with being professional artists, and making good use of access to free beer and psychedelic drugs. Long may it stay that way.
Roy Wilkonson, a music journalist, is a bit hard on himself for his failures as a manager, but what most strongly comes accross is his passion for rock music and utter devotion to helping his younger brothers become a success in the music industry.
I somehow failed to buy the paperback edition of Do It For Your Mum and it has subsequently became impossible to get hold of a copy at any price. So I was more excited than any 43 year old should be when it was recently published as an e-book. It’s life-affirming stuff. Long Live BSP!
* The song ‘Father’s Words’ off BSP’s ‘Valhalla Dancehall’ album is based on Wilkinson Snr’s advice as relayed to his son in numerous on-tour phone calls.