INTERVIEW: FIELD MUSIC | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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In the 15 years that Peter and David Brewis have released as Field Music, their formidable blend of accomplished pop has seen the brothers receive a Mercury music prize nomination in 2012, and a rare online plaudit from Prince prior to his untimely death, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Their latest record, Making A New World, is a concept album based on the First World War that triumphs in its ambition. The album, their seventh, originated from a project commissioned by the Imperial War Museum, in which the band was presented with a striking image from WW1 as a visual prompt. The image in question was that of the seismograph (a sound ranging technique which represents noise visually through a series of parallel lines), depicting the minute before the guns fell silent at the end of the war. Their resulting creation is one continuous, breath-taking composition, divided into a series of songs, each dealing with the after-effects of the Great War.

“We wrote it at a time when there was a lot of remembrance going on around the First World War and we didn’t want to encroach onto that territory,” Peter elaborates. Unearthing an array of topics turned out by internet searches, they discovered “stories that echoed down the next hundred years” Peter confirms, not just in historical terms, but also in technological, sociological and cultural terms. The brothers decided to confront the consequences of war, and its lasting legacy through a series of narratives. “[Rather than] relegating these very real consequences into the box marked ‘remembrance’ as something to feel sad about in an oblique way,” says David. As Peter affirms, “we decided we’re not really going to mention the war in the songs themselves; we’re just going to write about these little stories that we find out about.” As such, they address a wide array of topics, encompassing chemical warfare, social housing, gardening competitions, gender reassignment surgery, war repartitions and the development of women’s sanitary products.

The first track to emerge was Best Kept Garden, composed by David. Offsetting a jaunty opening guitar riff against ethereal vocal harmonies, the shifting mood of the track reflects the ironies of its subject matter, expressed from the perspective of a resident of the Becontree housing estate. As David elucidates, best-kept garden competitions emerged after the war “in order to encourage these working class families to look after gardens which they’d never had before. The competitions were initially judged by the local rent collectors, making for a slightly patronising mix of attrition good intentions.”

I look forward with a sense of dread, but tinged with the optimism because I don’t really believe that most people are terrible

“The album’s title refers to the world that the First World War created, but all of the songs have the lens of now imposed on them,” David summarises. “If we’re talking about the failures of cooperation as a League of Nations [as on Between Nations], then that has a very direct mirror image in what’s happening with the European Union. If we’re talking about the first gender reassignment surgeries [Change of Heir], there’s a very direct echo around the debates around Trans rights at the moment. If we’re talking about Becontree housing estate [Best Kept Garden], then that has very direct parallels in the housing crisis at the moment and the decimation of the principle of social housing.” Given the volatile political backdrop against which the album emerges, David reflects on whether or not the album anticipates another era-defining silence. “I look forward with a sense of dread, but tinged with the optimism because I don’t really believe that most people are terrible,” he laughs, before adding wryly, “just some of them.”

Lead single Only In A Man’s World comes from David’s personal perspective as the narrator. A pulsating synthesiser section introduces the track, coalescing around an irresistible funk beat: the overall effect is a neo-disco romp as danceable as anything they’ve previously delivered. “You can’t stop Dave getting his funk chops out,’ jokes Peter. “I’ve tried before and it’s just impossible.” The song was inspired from learning that sanitary towels had been developed from a cotton bandaging material that was repurposed by nurses at the frontline. Yet lyrically, it addresses the issues surrounding the occluded cultural status of such necessities. “How have we ended up in this crazy position where something which is just like an everyday health issue for half the population of the world has no language to discuss it?” This exasperation is reflected in David’s vocal refrain, recalling David Byrne’s oral yelps, in which he repeatedly declares “I don’t know what to say”. “Because it’s not part of public discourse people aren’t confronted with it, especially men,” he states. “The only criticism there’s been that I’ve seen has been blokes saying ‘do you have to write songs about this?’ Yeah, we do, because we’re now looking at centuries of people not talking about it.”

For their upcoming tour in February – during which they play Whitley Bay Playhouse on Thursday 27th February – the five-piece band play against a visual technicolour reimagining of the seismograph created by Field Music guitarist Kevin Dosdale, with collaboration from Andy Martin. Vacillating sonic waveforms traverse the screen, interwoven with brief summations of the historical facts that inform the narrative of each song. As David explains, “We had this idea that, in the same way the sound ranging artefact idea came from, we would have the text echo on the screen.” This audio-visual element allows for a degree of audience interpretation and engagement, whereby viewers can trace the stories against the aural assemblage onstage. As David puts it, “the idea is that it’s going to be a pretty seamless audio-visual spectacle for those dates.” But before they do, they undertake a special string of instore and outstore performances in January (calling in at Newcastle’s Reflex on Sunday 19th January – they’ll also play a matinee show at The Cluny on the same day), which David gleefully promises “are going to be rough and ready and rocking.”

Field Music release Making A New World via Memphis Industries on 10th January. They play The Cluny and Reflex, Newcastle on Sunday 19th January and Whitley Bay Playhouse on Thursday 27th February.


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