Where'd you learn to kiss that way?
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The Field Mice was a band from Mitcham, Surrey, in the south of London, that existed from 1987 until 1991. Considered by many to be one of the founders of the twee pop movement, they released records through the now-legendary Sarah Records, and were probably Sarah's most successful band in spite of the relatively short time they were together.
Though mostly known for producing twee and indie pop, they also experimented broadly with shoegaze and electronic music, especially mellow dance music. Their best-known songs include "So Said Kay", "Emma's House", "Sensitive" and "Let's Kiss and Make Up", later made famous by Saint Etienne. Initially a duo consisting of singer/guitarist/glue-that-holds-the-pieces-together Robert "Bobby" Wratten and bassist Michael Hiscock, the lineup later expanded to include Annemari Davies (Bobby's ex-girlfriend and the source of many of TFM's trademark melancholy songs about love) on keyboards/synths and backing vocals (with the occasional lead), guitarist Harvey Williams (who would go on to release music through Sarah as a solo artist) and drummer Mark Dobson. During their four-year run, TFM released two and a half albums (two full albums and one mini-album) along with nine singles, all of which have since been reissued by LTM Publishing.
The music can be extremely powerful although the acoustic guitar, shy bass, light synths and gentle drums don't initially seem to be powerful. When combined with Bobby's earnest, heart-wrenching lyrics and innocent delivery, it becomes an unstoppable force. But it doesn't bowl you over so much as it washes over you, as a wave, and fills the cold, lonely places in your mind with rays of warm hope. Anyone who grew up shy or has ever had troubles with romance should be floored by this music and those words. As a whole, it's very hard to dislike, as evidenced by the strong following the band retains to this day, decades after their breakup, and by the critical acclaim that even the reissues received following their releases in 1998 and 2005.
"It could be the subtle funk wah-wah guitars on the opening Five Moments or the bliss-out psych droning of Tilting at Windmills, but writing the Field Mice off as simple twee pop types would be a hard task for anyone after a listen to this album. In the end, the group stood apart from all the early '90s scenes swirling around it to make its own mark." — allmusic guide review of "For Keeps"
The dynamic that made TFM interesting was the relationship between Bobby and Annemari, who stayed in the band even after she broke up with him. Many of the lyrics Bobby writes are about her, their experiences together, his thoughts on what might have been and the ultimate dissolution of their relationship. Though Annemari sings on only a few songs, she is omnipresent due to her influence on Bobby. Even after TFM broke up in 1991 and went their separate ways, Annemari and Bobby stayed apart, together, through the formation and ends of three further bands: Yesterday Sky (1992), Northern Picture Library (1993-95) and Trembling Blue Stars (1996-2010). Only Bobby's work in the side project The Occasional Keepers (sporadically worked on in 2005 and 2008) didn't involve Annemari. I think most people would probably avoid focusing on an ex-girlfriend as much as Bobby did, but as you can hear in his lyrics, it turned out better that his obsession continued to fuel him years after the end of their time together. Without that obsession, lovelorn souls the world over would not have had such quality songs with which to commiserate.
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my feelings are hurt so easily
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that is the price that I
I pay to appreciate
the beauty they're killing
from "Sensitive" (1989)
TFM is frequently labeled twee, indiepop or C86, as were most of the other bands on Sarah Records. Pay such labels no mind. The only label I would apply to their music is that it's great. I would unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone with the ability to understand and appreciate great music. For those with discerning ears, here's the band's full discography:
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- Compilations and reissues:
- Coastal (1990 / SARAH606 / LP + CD)
- Where'd You Lean To Kiss That Way? (1998 / Shinkansen Recordings / 2CD)
- Snowball + Singles (2005 / LTMCD 2419 / CD)
- Skywriting + Singles (2005 / LTMCD 2421 / 2CD)
- For Keeps + Singles (2005 / LTMCD 2423 / CD)
Many of The Field Mice's songs can be found on YouTube, though they're not music videos, as such, as the band never made any. They are, instead, static images of album covers with songs playing, fan-made videos, or sing-along slideshows with lyrics. The best of the lot is a fan-made video for "Between Hello and Goodbye" featuring slow-motion footage of Anna Karina looking particularly lovely in Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre Sa Vie. In 1962, she looked like the perfect example of the kind of girl that someone like Bobby Wratten would longingly write songs about. Looking into her slight face, framed by short, dark hair, one can't help but imagine oneself in the late 1980s, lovestruck by such a girl while The Field Mice plays in the background.
Other great songs uploaded by the industrious but ignorant of copyright law include "Sensitive", "Emma's House", "So Said Kay", "And Before The First Kiss", "It Isn't Forever", "Star of David", "This Love Is Not Wrong", "If You Need Someone" and the band's swan song, "Missing The Moon", the perceived farewell from a great band that was already dissolved by the time it was released in 1991.
While the Sarah Records releases are long out of print, you should be able to find the LTM reissues at Amazon or any other big-box online music retailer, or at the tiny but still indie-credible Tonevendor. You know, if you're into buying hard copies.
And of course, if you enjoy The Field Mice, please also check out its successors (if you haven't already): the similar but short-lived Yesterday Sky, the synthy and shiny Northern Picture Library and the more musically elaborate Trembling Blue Stars.