25 May 2010

The Field Mice - music to walk alone by

Wrote this in January. For various reasons, didn't have the courage to post it until now. Ho hum...

Things changed. Things got harder. Someone who had become important to me was leaving the city. Leaving the country, even. I got into the habit of walking around the city by myself, sifting my thoughts. Before, we had walked together. At the same time I was trying to write a story about a man and a woman who have a disagreement on a London street and she walks off and they never see each other again. The story would be named after the particular street on which it was set. I needed to walk down that street a lot to be able to write the story. And these days I have that modern disability where I can no longer walk down a street without personal, piped music. Only one act could soundtrack this particular mood and moment: the Field Mice. After a while, I became convinced they must have written a song about this same street at the some point, for they did things like this, but if they did, I never found it.

I hadn’t listened to the Field Mice for exactly one year, when I was trying and failing to write a story about a different couple who see each other for the last time in a London park. Clearly, it’s a January thing. Again, I would walk around the park trying to think of the words the people in the story would say, and when doing so listened only to the Field Mice. Which tells me that in my head the Field Mice must be all about wintry melancholy, about leavings and frustrations and things you wish had worked out differently and things you imagined saying better in your head and things you never quite managed to say. They’re a band about that ache in your throat when you’re trying to say ‘I love you’ but end up saying ‘see you later’.

There have, I suppose, been other bands quite like the Field Mice, but they have never been exactly the Field Mice. There have been any number of sensitive types not averse to wearing both hearts and learning on their corduroy sleeves, bemoaning their repeat failures to sustain a relationship against a backdrop of guitar either acoustic or jangling. I've liked most of those bands too. But like Field Mice successor bands, such as the Trembling Blue Stars, who despite the odd moment, have never reached those same heights, those bands just aren't quite up to the same mark.

My love for those mid to late 80s jangling and shambling guitar bands, and their formative influence on me, is a matter of record. I doubt that any music will ever mean as much to me as that made by Razorcuts, McCarthy, the Bachelor Pad and Biff, Bang, Pow! when I was a shaky sixteen year old suspecting there was more to life than what was then this in a distant corner of the north west of England. That fey, anorak or amateruish music clustered around Sarah Records, now bracketed dismissively under the banner of twee, will always unlock something adolescent in me. But even amongst labelmates of that era, there was something of the outlier about the Field Mice. They were different. They were somewhat outside their time, outside fashion, resistant of labels. And they were songwriters.

It doesn't always work for me. There were too many Field Mice songs. There were all those slow, acoustic ones, fine enough, but which blur together. And of course the songs that did it for me then aren’t necessarily the ones that do so now. An alternate, basic version of ‘Everything About You’, that most simple of songs which offered a plausible substitute for the romance I hadn't then experienced at first hand, appearing on that favourite of formats, the flexi disc stuck to the front of a fanzine, issued by Caff Records, now seems to me a bit too simple. I loved 'Missing The Moon', their genre-defying leap, built around keyboards and repetition years before pale white boys started doing that sort of thing, but now when I hear it, it’s like I’ve used it up and it can yield no more, possibly because so many things now sound like that these days. But others have stepped up to take its place.

'Missing the Moon’s' b side, 'A Wrong Turn and Raindrops', now seems to me to offer the perfect soundtrack to present big city loneliness, the Thames tide ebbing in time to that harmonica lament as you cross a bridge alone. 'Sensitive' comes across as perfect credit roll music for the end of a film as the camera crane-shots up and we see a single and increasingly distant figure condemned to trudge forever across the snow. 'Emma’s House' is a gem that lay neglected for years, patiently saving its gleam. 'Let's Kiss And Make Up' and 'End Of The Affair' are two, six month apart chapters from the same sad story. And of course we will always, always, have 'So Said Kay'.

Argh, 'So Said Kay', surely one of the great songs of loss, longing, lust and departure? Ever known that feeling of not being able to give someone up, even when you know they're bad for you? Of knowing something can only fail but wanting every additional second of it any? Of being scared about how much it turns out you can care about someone and what that does to your insides? Of course you do. You’re human. And that's 'So Said Kay'.

With some reluctance, because the imagined words in my head are always different and sometimes better than the writer's intended lyrics, I googled the words of So Said Kay, finding them on a curious site. Just read them. Oh my god.

'I cannot leave you alone. Honestly I cannot.'

'Never seeing you again. I am scared to death.'

'Ride with me to the next station. I want to spend another half hour with you.'

They're raw and bare. They're the essence. Missing someone, wishing someone was here, they are how I feel. They're particular, and they're universal. Oh christ, this is just so fucking sad. This is a song that, sometimes, would be impossible to listen to.

The opening line of 'So Said Kay' of course provides the name of the definitive, two CD Field Mice collection, 'Where'd You Learn To Kiss That Way?', which might be all the Field Mice you'll need for your portable music player as you walk alone and lonely down cold streets, but it will be the gift that keeps on giving, year upon year. Astonishing, indeed, to realise that even this compilation has been around for more than a decade now. Doubtless the miracle of the internet ensures it remains an essential part of the fabric of our shared humanity. That there are fresh people out there still to cherish this fills me with hope in dark days.

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