Field Music, one of Sunderland’s finest bands, played the Picture House this evening. In a bizarre turn of events, the gig was part of HMV’s Next Big Thing music festival that runs throughout the start of February across nine UK venues. The band themselves admit this strange billing, given that brothers and founder members Peter and David Brewis are both in their mid-thirties and their fourth album, Plumb, is released on Monday. To make the night stranger, at least half the audience seem to be men of a certain age, like myself, who can remember seeing the Next Big Things of at least twenty years ago. Sadly for all playing tonight, the venue is the quietest I’ve ever seen it, surprising given two Scottish bands are playing support and the ticket was good value at £10.
Field Music were grouped together in the NME’s short-lived “post-punk revival” label of the mid-Noughties when they first appeared on the music scene. While firmly in the art-rock sounds, with occasional flourishes into what a Seventies punk might call prog, the band create strong guitar pop with an unselfconscious intellectual bent. Having had a brief spell apart, the brothers returned in 2010 with (Measure), a double album of sprawling yet enthralling music. Their new album is shorter, with only fifteen songs on it, but sees the band develop from their well-established sound. Judging from tonight’s performance and ‘A New Town’, a free download from the new album available on their website, their close harmonies and intelligent sound have progressed and grown in confidence. One of the new songs that stands out is ‘Is This the Picture?’. which allows the band to show exactly what they can achieve.
Both brothers are in fine form, swapping between them who plays guitar and the drums, with Peter also putting in shifts on the keyboards. They even acknowledged the problem of touring unreleased material, asking for people to bear with them. There was even a joke that if people didn’t like the new song ‘Just Like Everyone Else,’ they shouldn’t bother with the album. The band are incredibly tight and obviously are very used to playing together. At one point there is a problem with the monitor levels and they cut-off mid-song, only to start in sync with what seems like only a nod. Later on, while the stage lights are off and the band are wrapped in smoke, they launch into ‘Them That Do Nothing’ in perfect unison, despite having a limited view, if at all, of each other. Both Peter and David chat affably with the crowd and each other during the gig, with David at one point asking if an independent Scotland would accept the North-East of England into the fold. The band play Glasgow’s Stereo later in the month, as well as gigs throughout the country, more information is available on their website. See them now before they start playing larger venues!
Of the support bands, both suffer from different problems. The first, Edinburgh/South Queensferry band Bwani Junction, are thoroughly competent, which I don’t mean as an insult. They play well and the lead singer is well able to interact with the crowd, which included plenty of their own fans, playing songs from their first album and new material. The trouble is, at least for me, they offer nothing new. What they do, they do well, the songs work and the lyrics are intelligent enough. Probably if I was their age I would consider them a great band. Supposedly they have “distinct Afro-Scottish influences,” but I can’t hear them. They are receiving play on Radio 1, which might explain why they leave me cold. They are a good band and the songs have a good beat, but they are not for me, although I wish them well. On the plus side they gave away spent rail tickets with drawings on them free to anybody who wanted them, which showed some thought and originality.
The other support band are, I presume, Laki Mera, a four piece electronica band based in Glasgow. I’m guessing because at no point does the lead singer bother to tell the crowd who they are or the name of the songs. The first time she speaks is to thank the crowd for their applause after the fourth song. The singer, Laura Donnelly, then goes off-stage while the remaining members play a wonderful, escalating piece of music. Obviously whatever refreshment she has boosts her confidence because we are treated to a “How’re you doing?” before the next song and even a thank you to the Picture House staff for treating them well before the last number. The lack of stage presence is a real shame as they play a great set. They are obviously a promising, intelligent band who take their trip-hop and ambient influences and build on them. Laura Donnelly creates loops with her fey vocals that build and compliment the music. The two synths players make good use of their programmes and sequences, as well as obviously enjoying themselves. Having a drum kit backing up all the electronic sounds gives the songs great driving beats and the guitar-work likewise compliments the synths. The two support bands could learn from each other – one to add something different to their guitar music, the other some stage presence and interaction with the punters.
One final note. I find it strange that for three bands, who are supposedly part of the next big thing, there is no merchandise on sale. You would have thought that having new fans advertise the bands across their chests would help them gain some attention and word-of-mouth publicity. A missed opportunity.