The Field Mice -By thatch • Apr 21st, 2009 • Category: Indie, Music, Pop
The Field Mice were an early Ninties pop band, long broken up. But as Chris Anderson of “Long Tail” fame points out their music will be around for a bloody long time. Which is exactly how I found them.
I honestly can’t remember listening to them their first time around, but I was reading an article on another band that referenced “The Field Mice” as as an influence. So I looked them up.
About The Field Mice
THE FIELD MICE were formed in Mitcham, a dull outer suburb of south London, by Robert Wratten and Michael Hiscock. Bob and Michael first got to know each other while in the Lower Sixth at Tamworth Manor, the local comprehensive, and often discussed the idea of forming a band. On leaving school, however, they went their separate ways, and it seemed the moment had passed. But a chance meeting in Croydon Our Price brought them together again, and the idea was quickly rekindled.
A local studio – Ian Catt’s in Yorkshire Road, housed in Ian’s parents’ spare-bedroom and literally just round the corner from Bob’s house – was chosen from an advert in Melody Maker. Here they recorded their first demo, with Bob on guitar and vocals and Michael on bass, primitive rhythms being supplied by a cheap drum-machine bought as a present for the nascent band by Bob’s sister Lisa. Three of these songs found their way onto a demo sent to Sarah Records – Bob had heard a couple of the label’s early releases, by bands such as The Sea Urchins and Orchids, and thought The Field Mice would fit in – and Sarah liked it enough to tell them to send their next demo when it was ready. On receipt of this second tape, featuring the song Emma’s House, Sarah offered to pay for the band to return to the studio to record 4 songs for a 7″ EP. Emma’s House was released in November 1988 and, pretty much by word-of-mouth alone, went on to sell 5,000 copies. The band also now made their first tentative steps into the world of live performance.
Their first gig was at the Apple Orchard in Brighton in January 1989, their next supporting the Inspiral Carpets at Exeter University, their third in Southampton and the fourth at the Square Club in Cardiff, playing to a dark, cold, empty basement after a long drive down the M4 in the rain. A second single, Sensitive, came out in the following February. It received great reviews everywhere, most notably in Les Inrockuptibles, the leading French music monthly, which made it Single Of The Month, the review being signed by the entire editorial staff – a unique event in the magazine’s history! This was probably the start of the band’s huge popularity in France – they toured there several times over the next couple of years, including headlining two sell-out Sarah Festivals in Paris, and are still regularly name-dropped in the French press to this day.
Next came the Snowball mini-album, its entirely blank lilac 10″ sleeve an early indication of Bob and Michael’s fondness for the anonymity and enigma typified by early Factory releases (no Field Mice, Northern Picture Library or Trembling Blue Stars record ever provided so much as a line-up or writing credit, let alone a photo). By the time of their next release – the 2-part 7″ Autumn Store – they’d expanded to a 3-piece, having added Harvey Williams from fellow Sarah act Another Sunny Day on guitar and keyboards. Another mini-album (Skywriting) and more singles followed, and the band picked up two Melody Maker Singles Of The Week. There was also a one-off 7″, I Can See Myself Alone Forever, on Caff, the label run by then Melody Maker journalist Bob Stanley, who’d become a huge fan of the band, and who was later to ask Bob and Harvey to play on the first St.Etienne demos. St.Etienne also covered The Field Mice’s Let’s Kiss And Make Up as their second single, and it was through The Field Mice that Bob Stanley was introduced to Ian Catt, who received production, arrangement and co-writing credits on a lot of early St.Etienne material.
Over the course of all these releases The Field Mice continued to confound people with their range of influences – initially early Factory bands such as Joy Division, New Order and The Wake, but later the burgeoning dance and ambient scenes – e.g. Skywriting featured Triangle (essentially an 8 minute sequencer solo) alongside the sample-barrage of Humblebee (with it’s droning chocolate-love-sex mantra – later a top-selling T-shirt design!), and Missing The Moon was described in the NME (who made it Single Of The Week) as heralding the long-awaited meeting of Pop and Acid-House. By this stage, the band had become a five-piece, having added Mark Dobson (originally from Hartlepool, but now living in London where he was a DJ at Syndrome and contributor to Lime Lizard magazine) on drums and 18 year-old Annemari Davies (a student in Manchester, but originally from Poynton in Cheshire) on vocals and keyboards. Both had been fans of the band, and had asked if they could join. The first gig as a 5-piece was at Bedford Esquires in September 1990.
The Field Mice split in 1991 at the end of a highly successful but increasingly acrimonious UK tour to promote their final album, For Keeps. There were many reasons for the rancour, including disagreements between band and label about how best to record and market future releases (the band had always felt held back by the endless generic Sarah reviews, in which reviewers persistently linked them with some post-C86 “indie-pop” scene with which they felt no affinity and for which they harboured no especial fondness), disagreements within the band as to whether going full-time was now a serious option, and frustration that live performances were being hampered by Annemari’s increasing tendency to bouts of stage-fright – often she would arrive or leave halfway through the set, and sometimes be unable to join the rest of the band on-stage at all. Perhaps most significant, though, was the relationship that Bob and Annemari had begun whilst the band were on tour in Japan, which had to some extent split the band into two camps, and made Michael in particular feel somewhat isolated from his old friend. A meeting between band and label was arranged for the final night of the tour, and it was here – after soundcheck, everyone huddled backstage before going out in front of a packed King Tut’s in Glasgow – that Bob surprised everybody present – including, it turned out later, himself – by announcing his intention of leaving the band. They played the gig as planned – an ill-tempered set, not surprisingly – but that was effectively the end. Their final show was a couple of weeks later in London at the Tufnell Park Dome: they encored with The End Of The Affair and, as they walked off-stage for the very last time, Michael paused just long enough to whisper “the end” into Bob’s abandoned microphone
Yep, I know. Way more than you ever wanted to know but it seemed like a good I idea. I took it all from their MySpace site www.myspace.com/thefieldmicesarah. The band are a lot of fun to listen to and it seems a pity they gave up.
Website at www.myspace.com/thefieldmicesarah.