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Field Music - Interview

  by Owen Peters

published: 19 / 6 / 2015

Field Music - Interview


Owen Peters goes to the cinema in Belfast, watching 1929 silent film 'Drifters' in order to track down Mercury Award nominated-band Field Music

Directions and I have never been compatible. So three taxi drivers, one grumpy door man (bouncer) and a woman asking if she can come along, and I've finally found the Queen's Film Theatre in Belfast. From the outside it looks no more than a solicitor's or doctor's front door. Once inside this independent cinema art house there is, however, a spacious open bar area. Get this. It’s the only cinema in Northern Ireland with a licensed bar. Result. Mention silent films, and immediately Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton etc spring to mind. Silent films weren't, however, all based on comedy. Social commentary was a popular theme captured by filmmakers of the era. It wasn’t unusual for working class communities, miners, steelworkers, millworkers and the like to be caught on celluloid at work and play. I'm here in Belfast to see Field Music, who were nominated for the Mercury Aawrd in 2012 and are made up of the Brewis brothers David and Peter. They are playing a live musical score to John Grierson's 1929 silent film 'Drifters', which is based on the lives of Shetland Island fishermen on the North Sea trawling for herring. The idea of scoring the film was originally commissioned in 2013 by the Berwick film festival. While this isn’t a new idea - British Sea Power, King Creosote, the Dodge Brothers have worked similar themes - it does convey Field Music aren’t afraid to step away from studio albums and diversify into uncharted musical waters. The Brewis brothers have worked together since their eponymous debut album in 2005. Behind the scenes their relationship has been turbulent at times. There have been threats of disbanding, periods of inactivity, solo projects with and without each other's support. An interview with 'The Guardian' back in 2012 indicated their music is a labour of love. Their collective monetary earnings where coming in at less than £5,000 per annum. It is more like minimum wage than rock and roll. Without introduction David Brewis emerges from the stage side curtain, offering a rather nervous introduction to the evening's format. First on the bill, he explains to the audience is a fifteen minute silent movie 'Granton Trawler' which was shot along with a scratchy music score by John Grierson. Without further ado, he exits stage left and the film begins. From the general bar area chatter, not surprisingly not everyone is here for the music. Some have turned up just for the two films on this evening's bill. Once the credits roll on 'Granton Trawler', Field Music as a four piece take to the stage. This time it’s Peter who converses with the audience from his drum stool in a more relaxed and humorous manner. Once the band are settled he gives a thumbs up to the projectionist, and silent footage of 'Drifter' begins. The opening five minutes or so is a challenge to your senses as they work out how to match the visual with musical accompaniment. As the opening scenes begin with fishermen getting ready for the work ahead, musical improvisation is at a minimum. Once there is movement, fires being stoked, or nets being cast, this is when the score gets creative. Percussion conjures up the pace and rhythm of manual tasks being completed and the boat increases its knots. Andrew Moore on keyboards adds subtle runs to the changing scenes. Once the boat hit a sea swell, or seagulls are captured diving and gliding the score really comes together. Whilst there are undoubtedly nodding influences to Floyd, Jethro Tull or Stravinsky in the arrangements, I couldn’t help parallel some of the keyboard sections with Neil Diamond’s score to 'Jonathan Livingstone Seagull'. David Brewis and Andrew Lowther blend lead and bass guitar riffs with a neat and concentrated precision. The arrangement picks up the film’s pace as opposed to every change and movement attempting to be captured. From a day time working boat the crew have eaten and settle down to sleep. A screen caption confirms “The Mizzen is set for the night”. A whispering of drums and keyboards gently counts down of the sleeping fishermen, as another day on the sea closes. With the dawning of a new day, bulging trawler nets are hauled on board containing the night's catch. A more muscular composition ensues, matching the strength required of the crew members to haul on board their booty. As instructions are bellowed and followed, snatches of Debussy style accompaniment add to the structured mayhem being played out as the boat sets sail for home. Once the boat docks, dozens of women are lined up along a conveyor belt gutting the fish as they pass by. I swear I could smell the stench of oily fish! Once packed and crated, transportation by rail begins to the final destinations. As the steam train's rolling stock - with pistons pumping- move away from the dock, Field Music’s tempo conveys and captures the sheer power of this engineering feat. The fishermen’s work is done, along with the sellers, gutters, buyers, lifters, and pushers from the local community. The score is respectful without being intrusive to the film. "Well we can’t get away with one silent film, and us playing another silent film for 39 minutes, so we’d better play some of our songs," says Peter Brewis teasing his audience. They decide to play material they haven’t played since 2007. When I manage to get some time with Peter after the gig he tells me, "We took the opportunity to play old songs as we have Andrew Moore on keyboards. He was originally involved in the songs, so it kind of makes sense." "Am I pleased with the tour so far?" Peter says (repeating back the question I had just asked him). "Well it’s hard to know really. Some people have never heard of us and they just come along for the films. To them, we can be an unnecessary item on the night but what you heard, well, that’s what we hoped it would sound like, or pretty close." He’s absolutely right on the mix of attendees. A couple in conversation I caught earlier were talking with unbridled enthusiasm about the film being shown in 1.33 ratio. In my layman's terms, this means the film didn’t cover the whole screen. I didn’t try to join in the conversation! Before we can get into too much natter, along comes brother David, telling Peter he’s needed for the van packing. There is a magic formula which only Peter knows as to how to get a big set of kit into a small van. Tonight they are done in Belfast, tomorrow it’s Dublin for what is the second and final date of the Irish leg of these cinema gigs, which will be concluded with one-off dates in Glasgow and Swansea. As a first timer, I thoroughly enjoyed the film(s) and Field Music’s score to 'Drifter'. It confirmed some of the band's influences, namely Peter's classical training, in certain sections and the consistency in producing quality material. The Brewis brothers have a body of work behind them since 2005, solo, amalgamated and with Field Music. I’m keen to know their plans for the future. Once they are back home in the North East, Peter and I grab some phone time. Although he knows what is going on during the football season, and that Sunderland (his hometown team) live to fight another season in the Premier Division, football doesn’t mean as much to him as it once did. He has other things on his mind, such as his wife and two year daughter. He’s a family man. "I don’t really watch a lot of telly. I try and catch 'Match of the Day' and I did see some of Radio 1’s Big Weekend broadcast from Norwich, but that’s not for me." He describes it as if he had just sucked on the bitterest lemon imaginable. His listening style is still Bowie, Queen, even Stock, Aitken and Waterman numbers. We both agree Rick Astley is still our childhood icon, but promise not to tell anyone. Field Music's hub is a small studio in Sunderland which they work from as much as possible. "We tend to start with ideas and arrangements and decide if it works better as a solo project or under the Field Music banner. The one we are working on at present is one for Field Music." He ends with a laugh, which indicates that could change. From being a band signed without a name by independent label Memphis Industries back in 2005 to Mercury nomination in 2012, I ask if their musical direction has gone to plan? There is laughter from down the phone line. "Plans? I am not sure we have many of them. Maybe, maybe we thought there would be more interest when we had the Mercury nomination. We agreed along with our record label to put some advertising promotion around the nomination. I am not sure if it worked. How do you measure these things?. It kind of came and went, and we continued putting our ideas together in the studio." The nomination was for their 2012 album 'Plumb'. Brewis describes Field Music as "a well liked underground band." Is it their intention to stay under the radar? "It’s a matter of deciding the next step I suppose," he explains. "We haven’t settled on a next step, other than releasing a new album early next year” I tell him that from the people I’ve spoken to who know their music, they have only one question, "When can we see Field Music on tour?" "Ah yes that a good question, a tour, maybe we need some new material," he ponders. Now to my little brain this isn’t complicated, so I explain my rationale. They have produced albums which have been received with very favourable comments and reviews. Be it solo or in tandem with older brother David they have a knowledgeable dedicated fan base. If they were a brand or product they have the right formula, or am I missing something? "To be honest, I’m not sure what we want to do. David and me were talking about this the other day. We said from the start we wanted to be self sufficient, no debt. We didn’t want to get into debt. The thought of playing the same set night after night, not sure that would be enjoyable. We do our music because we enjoy it. I know it doesn’t have to be like that, but we haven’t produced (ore laughter before he continues) a business plan. Maybe for now we are settled." To some degree he’s right. It is a misconception every band wants to be touring, in front of cameras, the press, interviews, the exposure. Some crave the fame, others detest it. I’m not sure if Field Music have really decided to stick or twist. For now family matters come first. They don’t have any live gigs or performances after July 2015, and certainly no involvement with any Festivals this year. For those fans wanting to see Field Music on tour, it is 'dates to be announced', but let’s hope it’s soon.

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Field Music - Interview

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