Illustration: John Biddle / johnbiddle.co.uk

Hype is a very dangerous word, a word that can sound the death knell of a band even before they get past their first demo tape; like a cursed locket, it has dragged many a fledgling career down in to the murky depths of ignominy, but it can also be the spark that lights the blue touch paper of success, an unstoppable force that helps propel the select few into the stratosphere of popularity. Despite having only played 3 live shows, BY THE SEA are a band around whom there is a considerable amount of interest already, and their trajectory surely has only one direction.

Hailing from Hoylake and Oxton, these 6 chaps are mining the rich stream of creativity that runs through that part of the Wirral, producing some delicately formed folk tunes that are soothing and uplifting at the same time, proving that they are well on the way to becoming your next favourite band. Not that they are aware of this, Lord no.

“We hardly even get any feedback on our songs,” announces guitarist and lead vocalist Liam Power, genuinely surprised at the interest shown in his band. “We don’t see ourselves as a gigging band who are out there all the time, mixing with all the other bands and going for a bevvie. We’ve only played a few low key gigs, we’re still putting things together and learning.” With friend Steven Campbell (Guitars, Vocals), Power started by playing Simon & Garfunkel songs over and over until he had them nailed, leading to them wanting to form a band that offered something different, and wanted to make tunes that people could dance to.

“We’ve been in bands before where the aim is to play loads of gigs, get signed and really push for it. You end up doing too much and get to a point when it’s not fun anymore,” says Campbell. Power adds, “It all became about money. I heard a quote the other day, ‘If you don’t want to enjoy something, do it for money’. We’re on the bones of our arse, we’ve got no choice but to enjoy it!”

With this more laidback attitude in mind, the two started recruiting like-minded individuals to join them on their journey. Mark Jackson (Guitars) and Andy Royden (Drums) were both former schoolmates, and a friend from another band, Daniel O’Connell, joined them on bass. With the style of their previous bands ranging from proto-jazz to shoegaze to psychedelic noise, it is no surprise that their early sessions were like a melting pot. They jokingly refer to their early sound as “frog – folk prog!” a sound which they have refined so expertly that they now resemble the grandchildren of The Byrds playing Townes Van Zandt songs.

With the addition of Joe Edwards (formerly a Rascal) on keys, their music has taken on a different bent, lending them otherworldly atmospherics that smooth out the rough edges and lift them out of the mediocre into the superlative. Their perfectly formed folk tunes play out in your head like vintage family video footage, dripping with memories and tugging at your heartstrings. The influence of Paul and Art comes through strongly on When The Night Falls and Sinking Stones, with the guitars and keys delicately picking up the threads of the story in the instrumental parts. The soft chimes of Shadows On My Wall welcome you like your hammock under your favourite tree on a summer’s day, with the achingly good refrain; ‘a melody wind blows through my bones/We’re playin’ games, in the shadows.

“We are taking a lot of time getting the tunes right. We’d rather do a few and make them amazing than be playing constantly.” Steven Campbell, By The Sea

Above all else, there is a warmth that permeates By The Sea’s songs that really gives them something special, like reclining in a comfortable old sofa and letting the waves of serenity wash over you until you are immersed in the sound.

“We are taking a lot of time getting the tunes right,” admits Campbell, a fact that is evident not just in the free ‘n easy nature of the songs, but also in the sparsity of live gigs. “We’d rather do a few and make them amazing than be playing constantly.” While this restraint seems to add to their mystique, they do need to find a balance between low profile and no profile, a fact that they have recently become wise to. They are in the process of recording an EP, a feat that Power admits they once found daunting. “We saw people releasing stuff and we never really thought we could do it. Then we saw The Loud do it when we played with them at their EP launch and thought, wow, that’s dead good…” “It set the standard,” chips in Royden, a fact agreed on by Campbell. “Yeah, and it made us think, why not? It’d be great to get something physical into people’s hands.”

With a mix of 60s folk and country music, as well as some experimental psychedelic sounds, By The Sea’s influences shine through markedly in their sound, as does their heavy interest in films and literature. Dante’s Inferno is listed alongside Bert Jansch as a reference point, along with all manner of fantastical and mythological pieces of work, from The Golden Bough to the short stories of Philip K Dick. This lends a strong imagery and a vivid lyrical content to the songs that is hard to ignore. Add in to this a book about exotic plants and trees, and you can see that their inspiration comes from further afield than the usual three-chord suspects.

“Ha ha, that book,” laughs Power. “It’s a great bath-time book! It’s this mad book of plants and spells that I got for my Mum and Dad, it’s weird. I’ve definitely taken some inspiration for lines from it. I’m big into fantasy and it just sort of fit. I don’t know why I picked it up in the first place actually, I guess I just really liked the cover.” Said cover can be seen adorning the band’s myspace page now, depicting a medieval illustration of the mandragora, or mandrake, root that is said to have all kinds of hallucinogenic and fertility properties. It may be difficult to see the marriage between these interests and their music at first, but listen deeper and you can see that their music has a strong connection to the natural world, in particular the eerie farmer’s lament of A Meadow’s Song. If you close your eyes you can almost hear the sounds of the forest and the crackling of the campfire around you, and on the edge of the flickering light you can see the shadows of the imps and sprites of Mother Nature dancing in the gloaming light, weaving their spells and drawing you in. Can you resist their magical charms? Somehow, I think not.

 

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