Music for Drifters : Field Music at the Tyneside Cinema

From the opening scenes, it’s clear that Field Music know how to mesh the scenes in the film with appropriate music.


The apathy and inertia at the wrong end of a seemingly endless cold is difficult to kick, but two things got me out of the house tonight. First, I missed Field Music in their guise of mollusc tribute band “Slug” because of the same cold a couple of weeks ago so I felt I owed it to myself (and the band) to catch them this time. Second, knowing the editors' fondness for herring (especially at 3 October in Leiden - he’s tried to get me to have it too) I knew he’d give me a piece of his mind if I missed this.

The “Classic” screen in the Tyneside cinema is an odd venue for a gig. The stage is very high, and seems quite cramped for the four piece. The ornate, early 1900s decor also looks out of place with the electric guitars and bank of keyboards that sit, waiting for the band to arrive. It’s a good job this isn’t a gig then.

What we’re here for is a live music accompaniment to a silent film from the 1920s about herring fishermen from the Shetland Islands: Drifters. So this is the perfect setting.

The band, including original keyboard player Andrew Moore, take to the stage with an apology that people at the front will only see their backs. They sit, facing the screen, instruments at the ready and wait for the projection to begin.

From the opening scenes, of fishermen walking from their village to the harbour, it’s clear that Field Music know how to mesh the scenes in the film with appropriate music. The rhythm of the music easily suggests the march from village to harbour. It’s a skill they’ve got in spades as when the trawler leaves harbour the soundtrack IS the thumping of a steam engine, each time an armful of nets is cast out a cymbal crashes as it enters the ocean and when the repetitive work of hauling in the nets begins we can hear the fishermens muscles straining in unison.

The music fits in with the film so well that’s it was easy for me to enjoy them both at the same time. The film tells the story of a two day fishing trip. The fishermen gather, the ships leave harbour for the fishing grounds, cast their nets, wait overnight. They then haul in the catch (with a storm looming), gut the fish, and head back ashore for the market. There’s some pretty impressive cinematography on show for such an early film. The shoals of herring and the predatory dog fish must have been filmed in tanks, but they fit in well. The dog fish! They have the best theme as far as I’m concerned.

Recurring themes; I’m not even sure if “themes” is the right word, but the notion started my mind working. When the ship heads for home, the engine theme starts again (of course it would) and my immediate thought was ‘Tubular Bells’: when riffs and snatches of music you heard half an hour earlier come back into the mix. So is this what this is then? A catalyst for a concept album? Or maybe I’m just the right age to hang that hat on it. I was certainly brought up with albums that told stories. Peter and the Wolf, Tubby the Tuba and Harry Nilsson’s The Point (although at least one of those had lyrics).

I’ve seen other bands perform live scores to films (Animat with Dark Star springs to mind) which I’ve enjoyed, but this was something different. Tonight was far more enjoyable, maybe because I’d never seen the film before.

“Drifters” finishes with the sold catch, safely packed into barrels and loaded onto a steam train disappearing over a viaduct. The night finishes with 3 Field Music songs that haven’t been performed for at least 8 years (as Andrew Moore doesn’t tour anymore) and a Andrew Moore original. Judging by the fist pumping in the front row, these are amazing.

I’ve got to say I prefered the the score, but I’m not sure how it’d hang together as an album. I’ll find out, as I bought it at the end of the night, and I can’t wait to hear the dog fish theme again. Maybe it’ll even convince me to let Richard feed me a herring.