Ten years since Sunderland band Field Music made a lasting impression with their lengthy third album Field Music/Measure, they have kicked-off 2020 with the release of their seventh, Making a New World. The core propellant of the band, brothers David and Peter Brewis, have indulged in several musical spin-offs and collaborations in the interim, making a new Field Music album a reassuring return to the hive for busy bees.
The songs on the new album represent something of a departure for the band, being a commission from the Imperial War Museum to put together music inspired by end of the The First World War. They are performed accompanied by large-scale projected graphics, based on contemporaneous images and shifting text, overlain with a six-line motif, wobbling and twanging in time to the music. This pulsing effect was inspired by the images the band used as their starting-point, of a sound-wave readout from immediately prior to the Armistice – all violent clatter of bombs and artillery, and then immediately after – flat, echoey tranquillity, and signalling the beginning of a new world.
This new world theme serves as a launchpad for song-excursions which might be described as glimpses of international minutiae, stemming from the signing of the treaty ending the War. They go on to highlight some of the following 100 years’ developments, particularly in the way military technological advancements have given way to medical and social ones, marking the century’s pioneering spirit with an ironic eye on its absurdities. So, songs about the post-WWI invention of ultrasound, gender reassignment surgery or sanitary pads, accompany others about the development of the Becontree social housing estate, or the (surprisingly long-lived) US artist Chris Burden, who had himself shot as part of his performance pieces, finally coming to a close with the story of a German treasury office worker making the last First World War reparation payment, over a hundred years after the conflict has ceased.
This all unfolds as a seamless series of musical landscapes, as if glimpsed from a train, with the band’s trademark restless songwriting ever-evident, never abiding in one place for long, and the textures and moods varied as ever – considered, thoughtfully-articulated and enjoyably sharp. It’s historic reportage of sorts, erudite but not over-earnest, with a certain Pop Art-like detachment in the band’s slightly-elliptical lyrics and trademark deft sung melodies that leap over angular, economic arrangements, often strident and occasionally poignant. It feels familiar, fitting comfortably in the Field Music cannon, and the band play, as ever, with relaxed good cheer: although the album is performed uninterrupted, with a detectable air of respect, it is followed by a nicely-judged selection of stand-outs from previous collections, and the musicians’ enjoyment becomes obvious and infectious, with the between-song banter upbeat and jocular. The brothers Brewis swap drum and guitar duties, exchanging nods and glances throughout; keyboardist Liz Corney appears especially cheerful, while guitarist/keyboardist Kevin Dosdale adds colour, both musically and literally, by being responsible for the graphics, which roll on continuously, right to left, in a never-ending on-screen pictorial ticker-tape.
Highlights from the new collection were the energetic Talking Heads-like funk of Only In a Man’s World, recalling the band’s own Let’s Write a Book, slowing a little for Money is a Memory. The new album thus closed, additional delights included Plumb’s ‘Just Like Anyone Else’, Commontime’s ‘Disappointed’, Measure’s ‘Them That Do Nothing’, and Nobody Knows, from David Brewis’ School of Language album-project, the band’s unwitting temporary lyricist being Donald J Trump, the wording culled verbatim from his wellspring of boasts.
Having appeared in Glasgow at the modestly-sized Art School, and more recently St Luke’s, the Kelvingrove’s centre hall certainly meets us more than halfway. With its elaborate array of organ pipes, ornate lanterns and lofty ceiling, tonight’s venue made an imposingly auspicious venue for the penultimate night of Celtic Connections. However its cavernous volume and multi-faceted marble surfaces did make for one difficulty – that bass-heavy, beat-driven music inevitably reverberates around the space, conspiring against sonic clarity, especially for those in the rearward seating, even though the mix sounded faultlessly balanced. It even made between-song chat occasionally indistinct. However, as a backdrop for the coloured lighting, shifting subtly around the performers, there could be nowhere more impressively appropriate than this monument to civic philanthropy.
Special praise ought to go to the Festival, which continues to expand its musical reach, with an ever-more imaginative and promising annual programme bringing international musical talent – and audiences – to Glasgow. Celtic Connections 2021 will take place 14th to 31st January.