Interview: Modest Field Music on Mercury Prize shortlist

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If the Mercury Prize was about sheer modesty as much as musical talent, Field Music would be dead certs to win this year, writes Graham Chalmers.

“Shortlisted for the prize” rather than “nominated for an award”, co-leader Peter Brewis tells me tongue-in-cheek, this brilliant art-rock band don’t seem to think their excellent album Plumb will win.

What’s more, they’re not even sure they want to trump Plan B, Richard Hawley et al on the awards night in London on November 1 .

“We’d heard something through our record company but we were told it was top secret. I didn’t believe it until we were called down to London. I thought we might as well go down and enjoy a few drinks anyway.

“It’s a really nice to be part if it but we’ve sold a lot less records than almost all the other nominees. People might resent it if we won.”

While Peter may think this most creative of bands aren’t made for arena-size success, his brother and co-leader David is not of the same opinion.

“The Mercury Prize is something we’ve grown up. It’s great that it’s a music lovers prize, rather than The Brits. I try not to speak for Dave but he thinks it would be fun if we did happen to win.”

It’s a dichotomy that makes these Sunderland-based siblings the modern era’s equivalent of Lennon-McCartney or Jagger-Richards - with a prog-ish pop eccentricity all of their own.

Angular but melodic, gentle but spiky, intricate but a bit, well, rawk, it’s not that Field Music are not pleased to finally be getting the attention they deserve.

With four group albums and two solo albums under their belt since Field Music formed in 2004 , it’s been a slow-burning success which means they can now play venues like The Cockpit in Leeds rather than the Pack Horse.

Peter said: “It’s a really nice to be part if it but we’ve sold a lot less records than almost all the other nominees. People might resent it if we won.”

While Peter may think this most creative of bands aren’t made for arena-size success, his brother and co-leader David is not of the same opinion.

“The Mercury Prize is something we’ve grown up. It’s great that it’s a music lovers prize, rather than The Brits. I try not to speak for Dave but he thinks it would be fun if we did happen to win.”

It’s a dichotomy that makes these Sunderland-based siblings the modern era’s equivalent of Lennon-McCartney or Jagger-Richards - with a prog-ish pop eccentricity all of their own.

It’s not that Field Music are not pleased to finally be getting the attention they deserve, a slow-burning success which means they can now play venues like The Cockpit in Leeds rather than the Pack Horse.

“It’s good to be playing bigger venues but I don’t think our music is right for the world of arena tours. We want to be free to make the sort of music we want to make rather than it being decided by someone else.”

It would be wrong to mistake the versatile, instrument-swapping Brewis brothers’ unfashionably down to earth ethos for lack of ambition.

It’s just that the raison d’etre of these creators of pocket prog-pop gems is simple and pure - to make great music.

To them, it’s easier to do this on a tiny independent label such as Memphis Industries rather than on an international conglomerate.

“I was speaking to a previous Mercury Prize nominee the other day who she said she signed to a major label after the awards. All she got out if it eventually was a deposit for a house. ”

Their own list of influences reads like a encyclopaedia of music history, from Can to West End musicals but, on stage, the brothers’ sense of humour is more evident.

“We do make a few more mistakes live! I’m a massive Freddie Mercury fan but I think he was just being himself. As people we aren’t outwardly flamboyant.”

On stage Field Music are a lot of fun, as Harrogate fans who caught them on a memorable night at Harrogate International Festival Fringe a few years back can testify.