Only in a Man’s World
The track, Only in a Man’s World, is available via:
18th September, 2019
The album, Making a New World, is available from 10th January, 2020. Pre-order here:
THIS week has been a big one…
for British and Irish music. We have just had the Mercury Prize and it was won by Dave for his album, PSYCHODRAMA. It is a worthy winner and it (the album) showed great talent and direction. The album is very personal and honest; a statement that you cannot forget and are engrossed in. The entire field was pretty stunning and this year’s Mercury was one of the tightest and most competitive ever. Field Music are no strangers to Mercury nominations, having been nominated in 2012 for their album, Plumb. On the list that year were albums from alt-J (who won for An Awesome Wave), The Maccabees and Jessie Ware. It is a completely different look/list this year and shows how much British and Irish music has changed in that period. I will keep on the Mercury theme because I want to talk about the best of British and Irish; how there is a North-South divide when it comes to music that gets the most attention; bands that go deeper and produce their arresting songs that have a fun edge; the current scene and why we need bands like Field Music; this year so far and why it has been so stunning – I will look and see where Field Music might head next year. The band consists brothers David and Peter Brewis but, in terms of touring, Andrew Lowther, Kev Dosdale and Liz Corney are in the line-up – actually, current promotional photos show a more fleshed-out and band-like Field Music (the rest in this review are of the brothers Brewis). Let us get down to some assessment and discussion. I wanted to keep on the Mercury Prize theme because, actually, back in 2012, Field Music said it would be outrageous if they won the award because their album, Plumb, sold far less than others on the shortlist. Maybe they are not a huge mainstream act but, as they were then and are now, they are a huge act who makes fascinating music. Last year’s Open Here is one of my favourite albums from the year and completely floored me when I first heard it.
If we think about what defines the best British and Irish music and, ergo, what deserves award, then one must recognise Field Music. I think prizes like the Mercurys are about originality, impact and quality rather than sales and popularity – so many other award shows build a platform on how famous and stream-worthy an artist is. Field Music resonate and reflect; they are becoming, I feel, more political – compared to their earlier work – and the quality of music running through their albums is sublime. This is more than a passionate nod to the band: indeed, this incredible outfit are making some of the most intelligent, nuanced and appealing music in the world. I do hope that, when they bring out their next album in 2020 (more on that later) they get a nod from the Mercury Prize judges. That is a little way off but, in my view, Field Music are everything you want in a band (or whether you consider them more as a duo). The tracks have that great blend of the personal and political; the music and lyrics have a unique edge and draw you in; the production is fantastic and makes every element and angle come alive! What strikes me hardest when thinking of Field Music is the warmth and wit you get from music. This is one of my biggest gripes at the moment – and something I should expand on later – and I think, in ways, modern music is very serious. By that, there seems to be an aspect of fun missing. We are more angry in these charged times and, when you look at the majority of the Mercury shortlisted acts from this year, one can hear a definite passion and aggression – that was reflected in the performances on the night! There is nothing wrong with that but I wonder, when we are living in a time where music is becoming heavier and less fun, whether we could learn from Field Music. They do not shy away from bigger themes but they can also give the music a buoyancy and bounce that gives you a smile. I guess the music world can accommodate all styles and ideas but I do feel people can take guidance from Field Music. I shall tip my hat to that subject later but, staying on a Mercury-themed tangent for now, I want to discuss the North-South divide.
This is not a criticism of the Mercury Prize and its judging criteria but, as you will note, the last few years have been dominated by artists from London. Ironically, when I talk about a North-South divide, I am not necessarily referring to one in the U.K. and Ireland: more, there seems to be a (friendly) civil war between artists from North and South London. This year saw the prize go to South London’s (Streatham) Dave but, last year, it was scooped by Camden’s (North London) Wolf Alice. Maybe there is this impression that the greatest passion and resonance is coming from London but I feel that is unfair. I know one must consider quality but, more and more, the media fixates on the South and London especially. I feel people get this impression that, because Parliament is based in London and this is the political hub of the U.K., that artists down here are the most important and relevant. You only need to hear artists such as Sam Fender (from North Shields) to realise that there is plenty of talent and fire coming from the North – Fender has just scored a number-one with his album, Hypersonic Missiles. Whilst Fender celebrates and we see where the young man heads next, I do wonder whether more media sources need to shine a light on the North. There is so much activity, brilliance and diversity originating from the North right now. Many feel the most striking music comes from London and there is less treasure to be found further north. I will argue against this in a bit but I want to bring in an interview David Brewis conducted for The Quietus, when speaking about Open Here. He was asked about the anger that goes into the album and how Brexit is affecting the people of Sunderland:
“Is Open Here Field Music’s angriest album to date?
DB: I don’t know whether it is our angriest album, but it’s got my two angriest songs on it. The album was written post-Brexit and ‘Count It Up’ and ‘Goodbye To The Country’ are definitely the angriest songs I have ever written. I am quite proud that I have managed to make them into listenable songs and I am sure that anger will resonate with some people.
How was the Brexit experience for you, especially living in Sunderland, which voted ‘leave’?
DB: Sunderland was the first place to declare a result. Brexit was a shock to a degree. I felt awful about if for a while. You start to feel suspicious of everybody and you feel let down. I felt that my understanding of other people was way off. I though the world worked in a certain way and it turns out I was wrong. That began to dissipate a little – even in Sunderland, which was strongly pro-Brexit, it was still ‘only’ 62 per cent of people that voted to leave. So, 38 per cent of 300,000 is still significant and there is a myriad of opinions. It was probably good for me that not long after the Brexit vote, the doomed Sunderland City of Culture bid started up. Amongst the artistic community, there was almost an optimism – a sense that things can happen – that proved to be a bit of solace. However, I am still furious about Brexit. I’m furious about how the arguments were presented on both sides - the fact that nobody really made an articulate positive argument for being more involved in Europe. It was just about how disastrous it would be if we left. Anyway, I don’t want to this to turn into Question Time.
I particularly dislike the ‘boys will be boys’ mantra.
DB: I totally agree. I have seen dads with tiny sons telling them not to cry and to be tough, as if it is entirely appropriate to toughen up a two-year old. Also, I feel a bit weird about dolls – one of the first things a baby girl gets is a doll baby, as if the first things a girl needs to learn is how to look after a baby. That’s totally mental. The idea that because Mary is one, she probably needs to learn how to look after a baby is a bit surreal. For girls to have that throughout their childhood is a pretty insane. So, we don’t have a blanket ban on pink, but there’s not a lot of pink going on. For us, the challenge - not to apply gender neutrality, as I don’t feel that extreme about this – is to ensure the kids can do what they want to do, and play with whatever they want to play with. I want them to develop their own characters without everything from the outside telling them that boys go one way and girls go another way.
I do think, especially now, artists from the North are as important and passion-worthy as anyone else. Not only is the situation with Brexit affecting their communities hard but I tend to find northern music more original and rounded. That might seem an all-sweeping statement but I do find myself gravitation to the North when I want that sort of nourishment and voice that I cannot get anywhere else. I have so much respect for Field Music because they are one of these bands who continuously give us top-notch music despite the fact they do not have the same sort of fanbase and platform as the biggest artists. I have never sort of understood why Field Music are not bigger than they are because, if you listen back to their album, they are so rich and intoxicating. In fact, before I go on, Field Music have just released a statement on their official website regarding tasty plans for 2020:
“Big news from FMHQ: We’ve accidentally made a new album – it’s called Making A New World and it’ll be out for your delectation in January 2020. And…err…it’s pretty much a concept album about the aftermath of the First World War. Wait! Come back! It’s not THAT kind of concept album! Honestly!
We’ve done songs about ultrasound and about shooting yourself for the sake of art and about gender reassignment surgery and about Becontree housing estate. We’ve even done a party tune about sanitary pads, called Only In A Man’s World, which is now streaming in all of the usual places (huge thanks to Lauren Laverne and BBC 6 Music for giving it its first airing this morning.)”.
Their latest track, Only in a Man’s World, talks about the invention of sanitary towels and I think this is only something you’d get from Field Music! If a lot of artists are limited to politics and the personal, Field Music step into new realms and explore themes that are not covered elsewhere in music.
Others artists might approach heavier themes, politics and songs like Only in a Man’s World with clumsiness or a lack of fun. Not to obsess too much on this theme, but Field Music are a lot more interesting and original than so many acts out there. I have mentioned a divide between artists in the North and South and I do think things will change next year. More and more, we are discovering brilliant acts from the North who cannot be ignored; who are singing loud and want their voice added to the conversation. Maybe the Mercury Prize is still a little Londoncentric but this could well change too in a year or so – one feels Sam Fender will get a Mercury nod in 2020. Field Music offer this sense of electricity and character that charms as much as it informs. I do find a lot of modern music is quite intense and hard to love instantly. Maybe that is intentional but I do like music that talks about important themes but does not scare me away with too much force and aggression. One has to admire Field Music because they frame their music in such an appealing way. By that, I mean there is this blend of the serious and fun; their lyrics are always memorable and quotable and the vocal work is always full of personality and emotion – almost like a musical bouquet of flowers! I do think we need to foster and augment the brilliance of Field Music because they are offering simply stunning music. I like the fact all of their music has a bit of spring and smile; a step and spirit that gets you smiling and keeps you coming back for more. Before getting to the song I am meant to be reviewing, I wanted to bring in another interview; this time from The Skinny. Peter and David Brewis, when talking about Open Here, revealed how a studio they were used to working with in Sunderland was demolished as the area was changing – their little world was being closed and they had to adapt.
The band not only responded to changes in their community and the political world but their own lives too:
“The result is possibly one of Field Music’s most stylistically diverse, big and bold records to date. It literally opens up their sound, moving away from the more distilled, compartmentalised approach of Commontime to something far grander in scale. On top of tight rhythms, funk-inflected melodies and hooks, it packs in a wealth of additional instrumentation at every possible turn, from sweeping string quartets and blasts of saxophone to strident synths, flourishes of flute and even some flugelhorn. Count It Up was even written on David’s son’s toy keyboard, while No King No Princess is a supremely exuberant cut challenging conventional gender stereotypes by enthusiastically telling children that 'You can dress up how you want / And you can do the job you want.' For the most part, musically it fights despair with joy, isolationism with expansiveness, anger with unbridled release. Brewis puts it best: “we’ve gone all out.”
At a time when people seem to be increasingly fragmented, Field Music also sought to create their own tight-knit community of musicians to contribute to the LP. “I think because it was the last thing we were doing in the studio, we got more people in to work with us,” Brewis says. “We wanted to include as many people as possible.” Their cast of contributors includes their regular string quartet of Ed Cross, Jo Montgomery, Chrissie Slater and Ele Leckie, as well as the Cornshed Sisters, but they also welcomed saxophonist Pete Fraser, flautist and piccolo player Sarah Hayes (Admiral Fallow), backing vocals from Liz Corney, and Simon Dennis on trumpet and flugelhorn”.
This year has been an amazing one for music and I am glad we have new material from Field Music. I loved everything about Open Here and, as you can see from the interview above, the guys have widened their music but also had to deal with change and transition. Maybe it is the political strife and issues around us but I think music this year is the strongest we have seen for many years. There might be other reasons behind the surge but we have seen so many phenomenal albums and moments from musicians in 2019. I think this is going to continue into 2020 and who knows just what we will expect.
The opening moments of Only in a Man’s World provides all sorts of possibilities. The electronics start off jumping and skipping but then they warp and stretch – almost sounding a little like Gary Numan. There are some songs that one needs to dig deep to find meaning; others that have various interpretations and possibilities. In the case of Field Music’s latest release, we know its background. In this feature, we discover the origins:
“Explains David Brewis, “I found myself researching the development of sanitary pads—not a statement I’ve ever imagined myself making—and was surprised at how little the advertising material has changed in a hundred years. It’s still, Hey Ladies! Let’s not mention it too loudly but here is the perfect product to keep you feeling normal WHILE THE DISGUSTING, DIRTY THING HAPPENS. And you realise that it’s a kind of madness that a monthly occurrence for billions of women—something absolutely necessary for the survival of humanity—is seen as shameful or dirty—and is taxed MORE than razor blades?!”
Brewis adds, “At every stage of making this song, I had to ask myself, am I allowed to do this? Is it okay to do this? And I cringed in the next room when I first showed it to my wife. But I think confronting my own embarrassment is a pretty fundamental part of what the song is about”.
Not only would most artists avoid such a subject but, in terms of tone and feel, it would be very po-faced and serious. Not that Field Music make light of the subject but there is a definite energy and uplift that makes the subject matter more illuminating and accessible – without cheapening the sentiment or creating jest. The lyrics ask why a woman should feel ashamed; why a necessary condition for procreation is a luxury. The music has such strut and electricity that you get caught and hooked in. The vocal has a nice mix of traditional Field Music and a bit of Talking Heads.
The words are delivered with definite punctuation and gravitas, whereas the music has a looseness and elasticity that blends nicely. There are important questions being raised. I think there is a problem when it comes to advertising sanitary pads. It is not reserved for them strictly but there seems to be this stigma; the language used sort of shies away from reality. The tax on sanitary pads is extortionate and, as Brewis has said, this is a bit outrageous. It seem perverse that sanitary pads and periods are still talked about in whispered tones; there exists this sort of uneasiness in the media and society and, when it comes to affordability and access, many women are being denied. Field Music highlights the root of the problems: the fact that this is, to an extent, a man’s world and people who are charged with taxing are men. If a boy/man bled, would we have the same problems? It is unlikely. Rather than overload the song with a lot of different lyrics or a narrative arc, Field Music keep it simple and repeat certain lines to enforce their point. That recurring question as to why women need to feel ashamed is the biggest takeaway. It is fascinating to hear how Field Music blends vocals and music. I think Only in a Man’s World is as powerful because there is this infectious sound grabs your attention but, as I have alluded to, the meaning of the song is not distilled or made jokey. This is a song concerned with how girls and women are being priced-out and excluded. It is brave that a man should ask such questions but it does not surprise me. We are living through a time when artists in all genres and across the world are speaking up and tackling so many important subjects. Only in a Man’s World changes pace and direction. It swoops and turns; it has twists and there is a fluidity and sense of flow that means you keep coming back time and time again. I do love songs that raise awareness and ask us to think more deeply about certain things. It can be hard to embrace certain songs because the mood is quite heavy and dark. Field Music are masterful when it comes to mixing the importance of the theme and giving the music a lightness and energy. I have heard Only in a Man’s World played on BBC Radio 6 Music and I cannot wait to hear the forthcoming album. Field Music are always fascinating and essential and, on their latest cut, they are in terrific form. I went away from Only in a Man’s World and felt more educated, open-minded and curious. There is always this anger left that irks when you realise the reality – why, indeed, are so many women being charged so much for a necessity?! It is egregious and baffling. The fact that, yes, so many men in power do so little to make things better is an underlying message. Kudos to Field Music for releasing such a timely and important song.
We do know there is going to be another Field Music record in 2020. Field Music have some dates coming up - so go and see them if you can! They are a magnificent act and I hope to catch them when they come down to London. There have been some changes in the camp (in terms of their studio space and the fact their promotional photos are less about the brothers and more about the band), but the music remains dependably solid and stunning. If you are unfamiliar with Field Music then I would recommend you get behind them and check what they are about. I have covered their music from a number of different angles and explained how, at a time when certain genres and artists are being favoured, maybe we need to reassess and look further afield. I have nothing against London acts and certain genres but I do think it is unfair acts like Field Music do not get the acclaim and popularity they deserve. The band has a great fanbase but I feel they warrant more because the songwriting is so strong and potent.
I shall leave things alone in a bit, but do make sure you follow Field Music on social media and have a good listen to Only in a Man’s World. It is a fantastic song – not that you’d expect anything less from Field Music! -, and one that bodes well for their forthcoming album. Making a New World seems to suggest changing against the current tide and looking to build a more stable and positive landscape. I am not sure what we will expect but it is going to be a terrific album none the less. The Brewis’ will keep us informed, I am sure, so make sure you keep your eyes peeled regarding development and news. I shall end things here because I have gone a bit…one can forgive that. I have always had a soft spot for Field Music and they are, as I keep saying, a band that should be getting more love and focus. Let’s leave that mystery there because, more importantly, there is a new single out in the world – it is already one of my favourites from this year! Go and pre-order Field Music’s upcoming album (as an early/late Christmas present) and go and see them perform if you get the opportunity. They are pretty wonderful and, as they look to the future and grow as a unit, I feel another Mercury nomination will head their way! I have enjoyed dissecting the latest track from Field Music and I look forward to seeing where they head next. Their music provides different colours and emotions. There is a serious side and personal aspect to their work but, with everything, there is an energy and spirit that moves the body and mind. The brilliant music of Field Music always provides such…
A huge rush.
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