However frustrating Field Music’s hiatus may be, the Sunderland-based brothers Peter and David Brewis have made sure that fans have not gone wanting since 2012 album Plumb was released, toured and shamefully robbed of that year’s Mercury Prize (at least in this writer’s humble opinion).
Last April drummer David revisited his School Of Language persona, with a poetic post-punk flurry called Old Fears. And in November, a 2013 commission by the Festival Of The North East between keyboardist Peter and long-time pal/Maxïmo Park frontman Paul Smith greeted the general public as the gorgeous travelogue Frozen By Sight hit plastic/mp3.
Tonight is the middle date in a festive trio that stretches the nine-piece ensemble across the country from Manchester right down to the Capital, and then back up closer to home to the Sage in Gateshead. Oddly planned then, but as the players – including a string section, and David on drums – settle into positions under St Giles’ impressive uplit Palladian dome and Smith begins to address the crowd, there’s a frisson of nervous energy, as well as anticipation from both sides of the stage.
Frozen By Sight is played in its recorded sequence, with urgent strings signalling the Bernard Herrmann-like Old Odeon. Striking in an all-white trilby, blazer and shirt against dark denim jeans and wingtips, Smith is a genteel host with a cheeky twinkle that you might miss when he’s scissor-kicking around a stadium in his day job. While the songs are often delicate and poignant, he contrasts this with jocular references to the nearby Christmas tree, or how last night’s gig was unintentionally uproarious, or by playing ‘guess the next song’ with a wag in the front row.
Worried that the untested sonics of the 300-capacity venue would scupper the material, it turns out this 1733 building – aptly known as the Poet’s Church – is a perfect venue for Peter Brewis’ modern jazz and chamber-pop score. Santa Monica takes on an air of The Madcap Laughs. A false start on the harmony for Barcelona makes people laugh, the piano resonance of A Town Called Letter and St Peter’s makes people cry.
Frozen By Sight has been called a step into the avant-garde for the pair. For Brewis it’s a natural evolution, while for Smith it’s a leap backwards to re-embrace to his proggier-than-you-thought roots via his personal jottings as he toured the globe. On record, Smith effectively ‘found’ himself, as he reacted to each new place. Live, it’s an even more fascinating and somewhat emotional work that tips its white trilby to Eno, Wyatt, Bartok and Bernstein – small details on record brought beautifully to life.