How many cowbells are too many cowbells? The limit does not exist. Or so was the case for Field Music’s recent gig at Exeter Phoenix. Both Field Music, fronted by Sunderland-hailing brothers Peter and David Brewis, and their warm up act, Mary Epworth, certainly delivered on that front, treating the audience to a celebration of percussion. Considered one of the more difficult idiophonic instruments to bring into mainstream music, they seem set for a resurgence in the hands of indie-rock bands, if this gig was anything to go by. Having said that, I am happy to report that the joyful energy of Field Music is not bounded by their proliferation of this particular instrument, but rather buoyed by it, a complementary addition to the bright guitar riffs.
In a quick interview kindly given by Peter at close of show, the swell of Field Music from a 3-piece minimalist band to the now touring 8-piece was explained to be something not necessarily untoward, but rather an unpredicted direction for the Brewis brothers to travel in. “Well, we started the band in 2004, and the idea was… well, it wasn’t meant to be a band,” Peter explains when asked what the initial inspirations for the band were, “it was meant to be me, David, and my old school friend Andrew Moor. And obviously this was like, you know, 12 years ago or whatever. More than 12 years ago. And we had an idea that we were going to make an album and we were going to call it Field Music. That was the idea.”
The plan for this one-off album, by a group with a yet undecided band name, was to fill it with a minimalist sound. Peter elaborates, “the idea [was] that we have a limited palette of sounds, there was a lot of what people would call experimental music being made at that time so what we wanted to do was make interesting music using very simple sounds.”
What had initially started as an exercise in non-experimental music, per se, soon progressed to be the music played on stage tonight, featuring an 8-piece band: the brothers Peter and David on drums and guitar interchangeably, Kev Dosdale on guitar, Andrew Lowther on bass, Liz Corney on keys and backing vocals, Damo Waters on percussion, and Sarah Hayes on keyboard and flute. Speaking about the new album, Open Here, Peter attributes the growth in instruments and genres covered by the band to an uncensored appreciation of all the music they listen to regularly:
“It’s kind of like we realised quite early on that actually what we really like, as well as jazz and classical music, was rock music. It can be fun and expressive, so we took from that and thought, you know what, we also really like Michael Jackson. We also really like Led Zeppelin. We also really like Hall & Oates. We also really like The Neptunes, Pharrell… So why not just do it all? Everything that we already have, let’s just add to it.”
The lead single from the album, “Count It Up”, has been heralded as a ‘Brexit classic’, an outpouring of irritation and call to check your privileges and be grateful for the basics often overlooked. The song was thoroughly enjoyed by the crowd, though perhaps not so much as their older tracks, especially “Disappointed” from their 2016 album Commontime. This was not something missed by the band who remarked that it had garnered the “best audience participation” so far. It turns out that Exeter Phoenix was only their 4th show out of 11+ dates but this comment was met with wild appreciation by the crowd who perhaps enjoyed more the return to Field Music’s back catalogue of tracks.
The support, Mary Epworth and band, provided a vibrant and futuristic space funk warm up for the main act. They should definitely be lauded for their outfits and hair styles, providing a visual translation of their synth heavy sound. Quoting directly from my notes, made fairly haphazardly on a smashed phone and after a couple of drinks – the Phoenix has a small but well-chosen selection of local ales – encapsulates the overall aesthetics of the act: “shiny suit sax man, electronic experimental space monk clad in metallic bin bag and sporting impressive facial hair.” Epworth’s dreamy, other-worldly vocals gave the synth heavy music definition and direction, without which the music itself may have struggled to be particularly memorable for anything other than being energetically noisy. It did, however, provide an excellent starting point to get into the rhythm of a lively night.
Epworth’s sophomore effort, Elytral, was released in September of last year and is available on Soundcloud, iTunes, and Spotify. The lead single of the album, “Me Swimming”, is 6 minutes of understatedly jubilant electro-pop. A good addition to any Springtime playlist if you are so inclined.
Field Music’s fantastic gig will continue to tour into May, with many summer festival dates on the calendar too.
– Emily Earp
Featured image source.