(L-R): P. Brewis, D. Brewis, Andrew Moore (who left the band and is now training to be a chef. True fact)

So rather this than talk, grab your keys and get to work / Cos them that do nothing make no mistakes” – Field Music – Them That Do Nothing

I’ve got this sneaking suspicion that Peter Brewis is a bit of a genius.  Make sure to watch him during a Field Music set – the care and precision with which he works his way through odd but wholly methodical, inside-out drum patterns, the adeptness with which he plays every instrument, his seeming immunity to error – the way he conducts and encourages the new band members, guitarist Kevin Dosdale and bassist Ian Black, cajoling them with conspiratorial looks and broad grins.  Also check the solo album he produced during Field Music’s hiatus, as The Week That Was (why did it take me so long to work out how good that record is?

We’re a few months ahead of the release of the new album, which the band have decided to call Field Music, even though their first album was also called Field Music.  Somebody somewhere has added the word Measure in brackets to distinguish the two.

The group play a lot of new material during their 90-minute set and are typically eager to thank their audience for the opportunity.  Let’s call it an advance road-test, at a very reasonable door tariff – £7  is not a lot more than you pay to see a bunch of no-marks at a ‘showcase night’, over at the dear old Night & Day.

At first listen, the new stuff sounds definitely, proudly English, in a way that not many groups do any more, since it became the overwhelming cultural norm to draw almost your entire sphere of influence from the American underground and canon.  Field Music have never sounded remotely American and for that, they should be applauded.

There’s a streak of the seventies running through their sound, very definitely a touch of early Roxy Music, even a little Pink Floyd (a group whose sound and ethos I’ve always rejected). I once met Peter at a Futureheads concert – I still feel guilty for distracting him as he tried to enjoy the headliners – and remember being somewhat stunned when I asked who their main influences were and he just said ‘Queen’.  Full stop.   Queen were, to me, everything that was wrong with music.  Yet here was a group whose intriguing, canny music was giving me so much pleasure and there was the influence, from right out of the Red Zone, as far as I was concerned.  Balls, another preconception to be dismantled.

Back to the Deaf Institute show. For now, it’s hard to unpick the lock of the new material.  It’s dextrously played, never formulaic, riddled with ideas, time signature changes, unexpected twists.  That prog inclination rears its head when Dosdale and David Brewis play twin lead guitar with slightly abashed smiles (‘are we actually allowed to do this?’). The odd dip into the back catalogue rewards the faithful, but there’s no Closer At Hand, no You Can Decide – a particularly vivacious rendition of the latter moons ago at The Roadhouse is still one of my favourite ever live moments.  We do get Shorter, Shorter, If Only The Moon Were Up and an encore of It’s Not The Only Way To Feel Happy, but plenty of gems are missing – which is a great sign in itself.

Now I’ve been fortunate enough to hear the new record, I can tell you it’s a double album, which is something in itself.  Who makes double albums?  Since punk orthodoxy became the default, the idea of a rock album that doesn’t fit onto one side of a C90 has been somewhat verboten.  Double albums were pomp-rock excess and prog long-windedness.  But iTunes and so forth changes the concept of the album, which can now be as long or as short as you like.  If you don’t like a track, just deselect it.  Re-order the tracks, if you want.  Fuck it.  An album’s just a collection of songs.  The group give you a proposed order, but once you have it, it’s yours to deconstruct.

If Queen are OK, everything I have ever believed must be reassessed. Even YES might be acceptable...

Independence, goddamnit!  Field Music have their own studio, they produce music as they like.  They talked seriously about getting proper jobs, so they didn’t have to bother with the PR duties that go with being a ‘professional band’ and could just work at home in the evenings.  They’d do music whether they made money out of it or not.  They don’t think they’re rock stars.  They don’t want to be rock stars.  Peter’s defiant chorus line from the superb new track Them That Do Nothing sums them up very nicely indeed – that attitude is what I love about them.

Field Music are starting to become an English institution and we’re well short of those.  That they went on ‘official hiatus’ after their second LP, Tones of Town, was worrying for the state of the musical nation; that they are back is a great relief.  Their originality, work ethic and commitment is an inspiration.  Hopefully, that lengthy hiatus has had the desired effect and they’ll kick on from here.

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Euros Childs

Euros Childs went overground when his youthful, eccentric (and fitfully brilliant) band Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci signed a major label record deal in the late 90s.  He’s still writing eccentric (and sometimes brilliant) songs to this day, but now, they feature lines like ‘Write a song and send it off / Sign a contract and get ripped off’.

Elsewhere in a stripped-down set culled from the new Son of Euro Child LP (available for free here), Childs pays homage to bread (‘not the TV show or the shit band, the foodstuff’) and claims to have written another song whilst house-sitting for Ian McShane – then adorns a superficially inoffensive pop number, How Do You Do, with the lyric ‘If I had a monkey, he would shit in your shoes’, before shifting it into another world entirely with an unsettling, deliberately off-key chorus croon.

You have to wonder how this uniquely talented but musically wilful man ever found himself in bed with The Man – it’s about as logical as the remorselessly experimental Faust being signed as ‘the German Beatles’.  Still, the pioneering spirit of John Cale flows through Childs’ frequently delicious melodies (although there’s no attempt at the VU man’s granite-stern grandeur) and his restless creativity means that people will always have  time for him. Childs is a bit of a wizard in an era where magic doesn’t happen.  Long may he run.

lovejoy

'Euros mate, I'm off to film another series of Deadwood - can you pop round and look after the yucca plant whilst I'm gone? Feel free to have a tinkle on the baby grand."

Yo La Tengo‘s spectrum ranges from the fiery (Ira Kaplan’s unhinged guitar storms are frequently unleashed tonight) to the delicate and restrained (Georgia Hubley’s perfect drumming and muted, reflective vocal style are also often permitted to shine, best exemplified by the new and beautiful When It’s Dark, which sounds gorgeous with just two acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies.)

Possibly the evening’s only clunker is Avalon Or Someone Very Similar, which swoons wonderfully on the new and excellent album Popular Songs, but fails live, because Kaplan simply can’t sing that high.  In fact, I assumed Hubley took lead vocal on the song and was very puzzled to see the grizzled guitarist attempting a strangled castrato – you’ve heard better vocal performances at a ‘showcase night’  on a wet Tuesday in the Night & Day.

Fortunately, this misjudgement aside, all is well. For the intellect, there’s the bloody-minded, hypnotic growl of More Stars Than There Are In Heaven, powered by bassman James McNew’s metronomic baritone guitar thrum.  Then Periodically Double or Triple, which drops in on the line ‘Never read Proust, seems a little too long’, before proceeding on a loose-limbed bent, incorporating a cheeky Smile-era Beach Boys interlude and a fifteen-second pause.

YoLaTengo

For the indie rockers among us who want to dance, the frankly barnstorming Something To Hide provokes widespread delight, even without the killer organ riff that picks up and carries the chorus on the record.  Then there’s the timeless Sugarcube, from the classic I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One LP – as resplendent as ever – and a triumphant encore cover of Bob Dylan’s I Wanna Be Your Lover, with keyboards from Childs and his bassist Stephen Black (who performs solo as Sweet Baboo and played an excellent set at Fuel in Withington recently).  Kaplan teases the audience by saying ‘when we come to a city, we like to do a cover that’s connected, but we couldn’t think of any bands from Manchester’.  But of course, the legendary ‘Albert Hall’ (er, try Free Trade Hall) ’66 Dylan and The Hawks bootleg was recorded here.  Kaplan’s no Dylan, but the band whoop it up in fine style.

That capped it, or so we thought – but at the insistence of one totally determined audience member, the band stay on for one more, flickering through the candlelit, dusky You Can Have It All, an inspired reinvention of what was originally a George McCrae funk number.  It was a wonderful call from our friend in the crowd and I’m grateful for what followed – it was a special, rare moment of genuinely fine musicality.

Yet more much-needed magic to confound my cynicism.