2019 – the year of live performances in unfamiliar settings. Having warmed up for the year with a live screening of England valiantly crashing out of last year’s World Cup right before Californian speed-freaks OH SEES played on the very same stage, I’ve already pencilled in NYC post-punk darlings BODEGA in a Northern library this March. This past week kicked it off proper though, with the turn of Sunderland’s own Field Music and a specially commissioned live performance at the Imperial War Museum North.
As part of the Imperial War Museum’s ‘Making a New World’ season (exploring how the First World War has shaped society), the performance drew inspiration from a rare document in IWM’s extensive collection – an image taken from a 1919 publication on munitions by the United States War Department. Created using a technique called ‘sound ranging’, utilising an array of transducers to capture vibrations of gunfire, the image highlights the minute leading up to 11am on 11 November 1918 and the minute immediately after, when the guns fell silent.
With this as a starting point, the Brewis brothers (Peter and David) then created a show through imagining the six parallel strands of the image continuing throughout the next hundred years, resonating and vibrating across the globe in the shadow of the First World War. From the programme on the night:
“In writing these songs, we felt we were pulling the war towards us – out of remembrance and into the everyday – into the now.”
(Photo Credit: Imperial War Museum)
As far as venues go, leading up the evening it sounded like we were in for a real treat. IWM North is quite the spectacle, with tanks at every turn and old clobber lining the walls. But what could be expected of the evening and its musical performance? David Brewis to arrive on one of their many tanks? Peter Brewis via fighter plane?
As a hush fell amongst the gathered crowd, the Brewis brothers arrived on foot with a number of familiar faces from Field Music live shows – keys player Liz Corney, bassist Andrew Lowther and Kevin Dosdale. Guitarist Dosdale it would turn out had gone above and beyond for the evening’s performance, not only learning an entirely new set of Field Music songs within a short space of time, but seamlessly weaving together the audio with accompanying visuals that were projected behind the band, linking up pivotal points across the six strands as above.
As the band kicked into gear, led by David behind the kit with his swell vocal, the six strands bounced into life, individually twanging like the strings of a guitar on each beat, moving continuously throughout the performance to reflect the document of 1919. Chosen blips in the timeline came thick and fast with the arrival of each new song, with stories of Supreme Allied Commander Marshal Foch, the first Housing and Town Planning Act, ‘Best Kept Garden’ competitions and rebuilding following WWI.
(Photo Credit: Imperial War Museum)
In terms of the music, outside of tonight’s setting these are confined for the time being to a few BBC 6 Music sessions and their forthcoming IWM London performance. But what I can tell you is that each track is groovy as you like, typical of the exquisite Field Music brand and very much in the style of 2016’s ‘Commontime‘ LP. There are lots of little tinkerings and extra percussive sounds throughout, small elements that really add to the overall sound and give a sense for the setting.
A daunting, heavy bassline permeates ‘I Thought You Were Something Else’, a song on the deadly influenza pandemic, whilst ‘If The Wind Blows Towards The Hospital’, inspired by the advent of mustard gas, features a particularly strong passage that I find myself completely lost in. ‘Only In A Man’s World’ is an incredibly funky Prince-esque sprint about the development of the first modern sanitary towel from Kimberley-Clark.
This is one of the great aspects of the evening – each song being ridiculously good in its own right, backed by intriguing stories from the past century. From developments in ultrasound technology (‘From A Dream, Into My Arms’) to pioneering reassignment surgery (‘A Change Of Heir’), the development of the Ondes Martenot, one of the first electronic musical instruments (‘A Common Language’) to the staggering reparation bill dealt to Germany by the Treaty of Versailles in 1921 (‘Money Is A Memory’) – not paid in full until 2010!
Not long after Donald Trump’s name appears on the timeline (‘An Independent State’, based on the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – considered a major blow to the Peace Process), the six strands disappear one by one until there’s just one remaining, its pulsing becoming ever fainter until it just stops. Silence.
There’s no encore – we’re told that it wouldn’t really make sense given the circumstances. But it ends on a high, the band offered much applause given not only was the evening a learning experience, but it came with an entirely new Field Music set! It’s suggested that on the journey home we may think of that lonely person downstairs in the German Treasury department, still organising the payment of reparation debts almost a century on from the First World War – its impact still casting a shadow today.
Read our review of ‘Open Here’ from Field Music!
Like what you see? Why not stick around and check out the other articles and interviews!
Don’t forget to follow Birthday Cake For Breakfast on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!