Live Review: Field Music with Stealing Sheep at Newcastle Cluny – 12th February 2012

By on Friday, 24th February 2012 at 2:00 pm

This hastily-arranged show was the second of Field Music’s shows in Newcastle that kick off their latest nationwide tour. The first gig sold out, so a second date was added… and that sold out too! Proof, if proof were needed, that something special is in store for Field Music this year.

But before the Sunderland lads take to the stage, we are treated to Stealing Sheep, three lasses from Liverpool who specialise in a quite wonderful brand of off-kilter postmodern folk music. Sparsely instrumented with percussion, synth and Stratocaster, the songs are a melange of influences. There’s a touch of contemporary female angst à la PJ Harvey in their signature track ‘I Am The Rain’: all droning guitar and thudding drums. But things get weirder from there. There’s a heavy English folk influence in the plaintive harmony vocals, and songs often descend into surrealist chaos by the end; think Eliza Carthy jamming with Captain Beefheart over a polite supper of psychotropic substances. There’s little bleeps, discordant vibratoed guitars, crashing cymbals, all overlaid with those sweet, delicate, yet somehow menacing three part harmonies – it all adds up to quite a shamanic experience. Should modern society collapse as so many have prophesied, Stealing Sheep will be found on a blasted heath, under a massive Stonehenge replica built of discarded electrical goods, giving the survivors something to dance to as the dawn rises.

As we wait for Field Music to take the stage, a quick glance around the venue reveals that this is no ordinary crowd. The place is positively teeming with the great and the good of the North East scene. The lady next to me is the girlfriend of Barry Hyde of the Futureheads; he himself stands at the front and boogies obligingly throughout; Dave Hyde and his increasingly bushy beard is over there; Frankie Francis (he of the Heartstrings) is at the bar; there’s Peter’s wife Jennie of the Cornshed Sisters, and bits of Milky Wimpshake; one almost expects Sting to be spotted nursing a Brown Ale in the corner.

And then it’s time: the unassuming four-piece take the stage, and kick straight into the song cycle which opens new album Plumb, and it sounds just as good as it does on record, even though the arrangements are necessarily a little simpler. Although at first it appears the band might be playing the whole of ‘Plumb’ in order (album review here) – and what a treat that would be in its own right – the band wisely intersperse new material with older favourites like ‘Shorter, Shorter’ and ‘Let’s Write A Book’, although by the end, most of ‘Plumb’’s 35 minutes have been heard. Both Peter and David Brewis are multi-instrumentalists: both take turns on drums, guitar and lead vocals, and there’s little to pick between either of them in terms of instrumental excellence. The band are clearly having a great time, with smiles all round, which become broader for the encore when keyboardist and founder member Andy Moore joins the band for the first time in years. This heralds a number of songs from the earliest Field Music releases – quite a treat for the completist. The atmosphere is of a long-lost family reunion, albeit with a much better soundtrack.

When it’s over, there’s much back-slapping all round, and a general sense of a job well done – if the rest of the country is as easy to win over as tonight, and with Marc Riley doing his utmost to ensure every date of the tour is sold out, as is his native Manchester – then Field Music stand a good chance of finally hitting the big time. So there we have it: a perfect way for Field Music to start taking their show around the country with the utmost confidence, another page written in the annals of the Cluny, and the region has reassured itself of the relevance and quality of its musical output. With upcoming releases from several other big North East bands due shortly, 2012 promises to be an exciting year. And what a superb way to start it.

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