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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.

 

Album Review: Field Music – Plumb

 
By on Friday, 17th February 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

Emerging from the post-millennial resurgence of North East guitar music that also gave us the Futureheads, of which Peter Brewis was a founder member, Field Music continue to plough their own distinctive furrow several years later. With Maximo Park taking an indefinite break and new pretenders to the North East crown like Frankie and the Heartstrings and Beth Jeans Houghton emerging into the mainstream, Field Music are a reassuring, almost elder-statesman presence, and 2012 could well be their most fertile year yet, seeing the release of their fourth album, and a national tour that kicked off with two sell-out dates in Newcastle.

‘Plumb’ is an elegantly constructed album full of miniature delights: wistful vignettes of thoughtfulness and loss, only occasionally punctuated by more meaty pieces which could justifiably call themselves fully-grown songs. However, even the shortest pieces pack in more musical themes and complex arrangements than many albums manage over their entire running length. Not a second is wasted; no sooner has the album started do the complexities present themselves: a musicologist could define the arrangement of the opening track ‘Start The Day Right’ as ABCBCBDC; such a bald technical summary is obviously inadequate to describe the brief beauty of the track, but it does help to communicate the songwriterly depth on offer. Immediately we are treated to delicate xylophone, swelling strings, the trademark Field Music chromatic guitar figures, and of course broad Wearside accents.

Four songs but only just over 5 minutes in, second single ‘A New Town’ heralds the first of the longer pieces. There’s an unmistakable water-bubble sound by way of introduction, which can be interpreted as the sound of blowing into a Coke straw, sucking on a shisha pipe, or enjoying a relaxing bong, depending on your social background. Nevertheless, it features throughout the song, and achieves an unsettling backdrop to the music; rather a clever strategy, and hints at the “found sound” sampling which is so prevalent in ambient electronica. A similar tone continues in the lyrics, which document a crumbling relationship on the verge of collapse, and ponder whether a fresh start could rescue things. A brave choice for a single.

Newcastle is literally heard in ‘A Prelude to Pilgrim Street’, with its chiming clock and pedestrian crossing beeps recorded on location in tribute to the Tyne-Bridge-to-Northumberland-Street thoroughfare, which carries plenty of history but currently has its best days behind it, being mostly a derelict mess nowadays. In its urgent, ticking arrangement, dreamlike lyrical imagery, and thumping ’70s drum tone, this could be a lost B-side from Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ sessions.

To continue the neo-retro tone, the album implies two distinct sides, and would benefit from being played on vinyl: made easier by its LP-friendly running time of 45 minutes. The second half starts with ‘Who’ll Pay the Bills’, possibly the most overtly political piece on the album, yet still pretty oblique. Ostensibly, there is plenty of political content here, but it is sufficiently disguised by artifice as not to be obvious. This is both a benefit and a disadvantage: overtly political statements can often alienate large chunks of one’s audience; however musicians are in a powerful position to comment on and even influence the political process. As it is, ambiguity is chosen over partisanship.

Nothing outstays its welcome, indeed several of the shorter songs leave you wanting more, and wishing they had been developed further. Yet everything hangs together as a piece; there’s enough detail to keep even the most fervent, cerebral listener occupied for some time, as the album reveals its subtleties. Two of the finest tracks appear just before the end: ‘From Hide and Seek to Heartache’ is as good a paean to loss of innocence as has ever been committed to tape, and ‘Just Like Everyone Else’ – possibly the best track here – is a spaced-out, reverb-laden mid-tempo masterpiece, referencing early Fleetwood Mac in its bluesy guitar, and potentially heralds a new, more relaxed direction. More of the same, please.

Throughout the album there’s a nagging sense of loss, bleakness, and a desolate end-of-the-road finality. This is reflected in some of the song titles: ‘So Long Then’, ‘How Many More Times’. There’s clearly something on the minds of the Brewises; it’s a tribute to their songwriting that’s it’s never obvious exactly what. A troubling thought: if there was going to be a last Field Music album – and many thought that the hiatus that brought about the brothers’ individual solo projects in 2008 was the last we’d heard of them – then this would be the way to end things. But let’s set aside that depressing thought for now.

Not afraid of assertive techniques like hard panning, it’s great to hear long-lost production sounds make a comeback in such a contemporary album. There’s plenty of double-tracked vocals, and the thudding drums are spectacular – a sound once thought lost down the back of Nigel Olsson’s drum stool circa 1975 makes its long-awaited return here. Musically, the sound of late ’60s and early ’70s British songwriting looms large, seasoned with a sprinkling of New Wave. The influence of the Beatles is probably almost too obvious to mention in the harmony vocals and documentary lyrics, but I’d be very surprised if one or other of the brothers hadn’t heard and loved Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s autobiographic pinnacle Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy; ‘Plumb’ sounds comfortable in the company of such strong examples of the grand tradition of English provincial songwriting.

Quite what it is about Field Music that asserts such passion is a complex question: certainly most of their songs are not immediately hummable; but perhaps its a tribute to their fans that such complex, cerebral guitar music is so popular. The utter antithesis of the three-chord trick and tired quiet-loud arrangements, the ongoing success of Field Music proves once again the listening public’s hunger for intelligent, well-thought-out guitar music.

8/10

‘Plumb’, the new album from Field Music, is out now on Memphis Industries. You can watch Field Music playing ‘(I Keep Hearing About) A New Thing’ live in session for the Guardian at the end of this post. Suggested listening companions are as follows (accompanied by Spotify links):

The KinksThe Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society

10ccHow Dare You!

Milky WimpshakeMy Funny Social Crime

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpaAtZQeNnQ[/youtube]

 

MP3 of the Day #478: Field Music

 
By on Friday, 20th January 2012 at 10:00 am
 

We here at TGTF are just a wee bit excited about the new Field Music album ‘Plumb’, ready to drop the day before Valentine’s Day (13 February) on Memphis Industries. (For myself, the excitement stems partially from seeing the Brewis brothers soundchecking last month for Marc Riley’s 6music programme in Salford while I kept murmuring “oh my god, oh my god” under my breath in the next room…)

The forthcoming single, ‘A New Town’ (out 26 February), is less manic and complicated than we’re used to for FM (though contains some interesting bubble gurgling), and it features a falsetto that, counterintuitively, might help them make waves in America. (RCRD LBL seems to think Pharrell would be partial to it…) I hope so anyway. It’s for your listening and downloadable pleasure below.

 

Field Music / February 2012 UK Tour

 
By on Wednesday, 7th December 2011 at 9:00 am
 

Sunderland’s Field Music has planned out a tour of the UK in February 2012 to coincide with the release of their next album, ‘Plumb’, on the 13th of February. Tickets are available now. The Brewis brothers will be supported by Stealing Sheep on some of the dates.

Monday 6th February 2012 – Edinburgh Picture House
Friday 10th February 2012 – Newcastle Cluny
Saturday 18th February 2012 – Glasgow Stereo*
Sunday 19th February 2012 – Manchester Deaf Institute*
Monday 20th February 2012 – Leeds Brudenell Social Club*
Wednesday 22th February 2012 – Nottingham Bodega*
Thursday 23rd February 2012 – Bristol Fleece*
Friday 24th February 2012 – London Kings College*
* support from Stealing Sheep

 

MP3 of the Day #432: Field Music

 
By on Thursday, 3rd November 2011 at 10:00 am
 

We have some exciting news from the world of Field Music (David and Peter Brewis). The Sunderland brothers have a new album scheduled to drop early in the new year. Their fourth will be called ‘Plumb’ and its planned release date is on the 13th of February 2012 on Memphis Industries, just right before they go on tour in the UK (details here). To celebrate this great news, the duo are giving away ‘(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing’; you can stream and download the new song below.

 

Field Music / November 2011 and February 2012 UK Tours

 
By on Wednesday, 2nd November 2011 at 9:00 am
 

Field Music will be touring the UK in February 2012, as well as play 2 dates this month. The February tour will be in support of the Brewis brothers’ fourth album ‘Plumb’, which will be released the day before Valentine’s Day (13 February 2012) on Memphis Industries. Tickets to the February tour can be purchased from the band’s Web site by themselves or with CD or vinyl album bundles; all the details are here.

Saturday 26th November 2011 – Middlesbrough Westgarth Social Club
Wednesday 30th November 2011 – London Koko (Memphis Industries 13th Birthday Party)
Saturday 18th February 2012 – Glasgow Stereo
Sunday 19th February 2012 – Manchester Deaf Institute
Monday 20th February 2012 – Leeds Brudenell Social Club
Wednesday 22nd February 2012 – Nottingham Bodega
Thursday 23rd February 2012 – Bristol Fleece

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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