#5: The Field Mice
Who: Bobby Wratten, Michael Hiscock, Harvey Williams, Annemari Davis, Mark Dobson.
Why: With snow a foot deep outside and icy frostbitten winds turning your skin to marble, you’ve probably spent the last week barricaded in your bedrooms, safely away from Yorkshire’s meteorological torments. In which case I present the perfect chilly bedroom band; The Field Mice. Children of Sarah Records, the quintessential jangly 80’s indie-pop label, the band’s poetically minimal lyrics, spacious arrangements and heartfelt melodies shone through a fug of mumbling be-cardiganed peers. Originally a school-formed duo comprising of Robert Wratten and Michael Hiscock, their first efforts, including EP ‘Emma’s House’ and single ‘Sensitive’, brought them Top 20 Indie Chart hits and glowing endorsement from hip priest John Peel.
In 1990 they expanded into a five-piece, adding Harvey Williams of cult miserablists Another Sunny Day on guitar, as well as Wratten’s ex-girlfriend Annemari, presumably to increase the atmosphere of lost love and yearning that pervaded the grooves of those early adventures in acetate to new emotional levels. This tactic worked magnificently, as ‘Anyone Else Isn’t You’, ‘A Heart Disease Called Love’ and ‘Willow’ count as a handful of the most aching and lovelorn songs ever recorded. While the band have been unhelpfully placed by careless critics into the dusty attic-box label of ‘twee C86 indie’, The Field Mice were in truth far more interesting than that. Yes, they may have shared sonic space with The Shop Assistants and The Pastels, but their breed of whimsically, knowingly despondent pop also often incorporated an electronic aspect. Taking a cue from several Factory Records bands in both cover art and textures, songs like ‘Triangle’ and ‘Humblebee’ were rife with sequencers and glacial synths.
Indeed, the NME at the time seemed to think that the epic ‘Missing The Moon’ was the first cross-pollination of acid house and indie. While that particular scribe clearly hadn’t heard of A Certain Ratio, this element to their sound did make The Field Mice seem the unlikely love children of The Smiths and New Order. That’s not to say the techno element was extant; plenty of songs merely rely on sparse guitars or mourning cellos. While the band’s crystalline, minimalist sound is immediately arresting and evocative; it’s Wratten’s plaintive, baleful lyrics and spine-tingling melodies that really make this a band to treasure. As for modern relevance, the band are clearly still trickling down the stream of influence – it would be hard to differentiate their classic ‘Sensitive’ from any track off of last year’s celebrated debut LP from The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. So next time you fancy some mordant jangle to fit the scene outside the window, try The Field Mice for the original deal. Just don’t leave any knives lying around.
Influences: New Order, The Velvet Underground, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, The Byrds.
Influenced: Saint Etienne, Belle & Sebastian, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Wild Nothing.
Sample Lyric: ‘He doesn’t love you, I’m the one who loves you, he’s the one you love’.
Which Record: Coastal (Sarah Records, 1991)