Live Review: Field Music and Emma Pollock, Nottingham Rescue Rooms, 21st February 2020

Perhaps it’s an age thing but I’m now at the stage of my life when my thirst for live music is much greater than it was, whereas the number of albums I buy or listen to each year has reduced significantly. There is certainly a concern that the acts I want to see are likely to be retired (or worse) if I don’t take the chance to see them this time. At around the 40 mark, Field Music’s core members David and Peter Brewis are relative spring chickens compared to Bauhaus, Level 42 or The Stranglers; other bands I intend to see perform live by the end of the year. So when it was announced that the Sunderland outfit’s latest tour schedule included Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms, it was a no-brainer for me to attend. Well, unless Lincoln City were playing at home that night, that is (they weren’t but they did have a home game on the following day).

fieldmusic

The songs for their seventh proper album ‘Making a New World’ were inspired by research David and Peter Brewis conducted about stories, events, and technological advances that occurred during and after World War I, as part of a project commissioned for the Imperial War Museum. So the brothers have used what they have learned to construct a concept album. Bear with me here. Field Music have occasionally been accused of being too clever for their own good and this is a trap they could fall into here but they have still gathered up the usual deserved critical acclaim from most quarters. The question is, can they relay the message effectively to a live audience?

Founder member of The Delgados, Emma Pollock, took to the stage first, accompanied by cellist Pete Harvey. After the first song she announced that the duo were actually meant to be a trio but bassist/keyboard player Graeme Smillie was unable to attend due to the floods in Perth. Nevertheless, the performance of the twosome displayed a raw intensity; Pollock’s slightly nervy between-song banter belied by a strong, confident delivery, with ‘Cannot Keep A Secret’ and ‘Parks And Recreation’ two of the standouts of a bold set. Indeed, as I said to Pollock after the gig, if she hadn’t mentioned that they were a band member short, I would have been oblivious to this not being a deliberate move, rather than one enforced by circumstances. After three well-received albums since going solo, Pollock seems stronger than ever.

So onto the main act. Performing a concept album in its entirety may seem brave, somewhat foolhardy even, and this Nottingham show was the first time it had been aired in full after some shorter gigs earlier in the year. A protesting audience member shouted “It’s Friday night!” but it was a lone voice and with the record only just over forty minutes in length and plenty of the Brewis brothers’ familiar hooky songwriting on show, there was no need to worry. Well, not much, anyway. After two, brief, scene-setting instrumentals, listening to ‘Coffee And Wine’ is the first sign of reassurance, with boxes duly ticked for warm vocals, stabbing keyboard motifs and angular guitars. ‘Do You Read Me?’ and ‘Money Is A Memory’, with their singalong choruses, were perhaps the best received but there was so much more to the show, with a video backdrop displaying the stories behind each song, whether the subject was the invention of sanitary towels (for the unashamedly 80’s funk of ‘Only In A Man’s World’) or advances in gender alignment (the subtle ‘A Change Of Heir’). ‘A Shot To The Arm’ is a typical Field Music song in many ways, where a piano intro best described as “awkward” is juxtaposed with a lovely, melancholic guitar refrain. Very few bands get away with this trick mid-song and Field Music are one of this select few. Another highlight, ‘Nikon Pt. 1’, is full of dreamy melodies and Peter’s tender, longing vocals. The album was played from start to finish without time to pause for the customary clapping and whooping between songs but the experiment received warm applause from a knowledgeable audience.

Field Music then delivered the “hits” they suggested at the start of the show. A chipper track such as ‘The Noisy Days Are Over’ was a good way to start the second part of the gig and the brilliantly infectious, Hall and Oates-influenced ‘Disappointed’ was an equally good way to end the pre-encore. In between there was a highlight of David’s anti-Donald Trump solo album (‘Nobody Knows’) and the surprise of the evening was ‘Just Like Everyone Else’, sung by touring performer Liz Corney. It’s one of the most sensitive, heart-tugging songs written by the Brewis brothers with Corney’s delivery on the night providing a poignant counterpoint to the brothers’ often angular and spikier numbers. The brothers also exchanged plenty of mid-song banter once the shackles were off from playing the new material.

Seven albums in and Field Music have consolidated their reputation as one of the UK’s most enduring acts. There’s no doubt the “hits” were more warmly received than the album but that’s usually the case when a band performs something new that is unfamiliar to much of the audience. I, for one, very much look forward to album number eight, however odd and contrary it might be.

Field Music Official Site
Emma Pollock Official Site

Listen to the album on Spotify:

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