It’s fair to assume Field Music weren’t expecting a Mercury nod. While Lauren Laverne was reading their name out in a central London private members’ club, the younger Brewis was on holiday. And why would they presume such a thing? They’re four albums and eight years in, neither debutante nor elder statesmen. They’re too well-known to be obscure. They’re not (quite) jazz.
Among this year’s contenders for the award, it’s the Sunderland duo’s nomination that’s the most heart-warming. Lauded by critics and loved by those ‘in the know’ since the release of their self-titled debut back in 2005, the brothers’ intermittent mentions of frugality and getting by as a working musician suggested that so-called commercial success was still slightly beyond their reach. They emerged alongside friends, collaborators and neighbours The Futureheads and Maximo Park, but didn’t quite hit the same peaks.
Compare this to their fellow nominees: Alt-J, Jessie Ware, Django Django, Ben Howard, Michael Kiwanuka, Lianne La Havas, even the customary folk and jazz numbers Sam Lee and Roller Trio are all on their debut. Plan B, as well as winning Ivor Novellos, BRITs and MOBOs, has sold close to a million records. The Maccabees, although largely forgotten in this list, went as far as reaching Number Four in the chart with ‘Given To The Wild’. Richard Hawley is, well, Richard fucking Hawley. So could the £20,000 prize money find a better home than Field Music’s compact studio hidden away on the banks of the Wear?
In the interviews conducted the day following the nomination announcement, it was possible to hear Peter Brewis’ hangover from the other side of the room to whichever radio station he was talking to. Thankfully, by the time we’re talking to him, he’s fully recovered. And he’s not even given the prize money a single real thought – not for themselves, anyway.
“I’m certainly not contemplating that!”, he’s quick to assert, “me and Dave, we get by alright, we’re very, to put it politely, frugal. And so are Memphis, or I hope they are! So we don’t spend that much, and we scrape a living by doing Field Music and a few other things on the side. I don’t know what we’d do with £20,000. Maybe other people on the list would need it to pay off debts? We don’t really have any debts, well, student loans, but I don’t think that’d be a good use for the Mercury music prize! We’re not in debt, so maybe we should just sit out…”
It’s that self-deprecation mixed with a grounded sense of just where Field Music fit in with things that can’t help but endear the pair to you. While business-heads may be poring over statistics for a potential sales bump, Peter’s worried their old fans might desert them.
“I’ve been a bit snobby about the music prize in a way, as I’ve said to other people as well, but music’s not a competition and as we all know, it’s subjective. I don’t know if it’ll make a difference, but I’d hope that people who’ve liked us before getting a Mercury nomination won’t leave us because of it!”
There’s a sense that, while Peter did wonder if ‘Tones of Town’ might have made the shortlist following its release in 2007, this has come at the best possible time for the duo. No expectations from anyone bar themselves, a solid, dedicated and steady fan base – no hype. While his description of the band’s debut as “not very successful” might be a bit of a stretch; it was, at least well-received, their lack of instant fame surely must make this recognition sweeter now than six or seven years ago.
“I don’t think it could’ve happened at a better period for us”, he agrees, “we’ve managed to build up an audience, I don’t think we’ve ever had any hype. Over the past seven years or whatever it’s been now that people have found out about us, come to our gigs and bought our records, they feel like they have a bit of ownership over us, because they’ve discovered us through other ways. We haven’t spent loads of money on press or advertising, so it’s not like we’re ever forcibly fed down people’s throats. So when all of this blows over, hopefully the people who liked us anyway will still like us.”
A band whose profile will have increased at least tenfold in a matter of hours and they’re still concerned their existing fans might still desert them. “Things have picked up”, he continues “more people have found out about us as we’ve gone on. I’m not daft enough to realise that there’s a plateau, and maybe it’s this. Maybe this is where people do get sick of us. It’s alright, we’ve had a good innings!”
The overall winner of the 2012 Barclaycard Mercury Prize will be announced at the ‘Albums Of The Year’ Awards Show on 1st November.
Taken from the October 2012 issue of DIY, available now. For more details click here.