Here's a question for you.
What do the following acts have in common : Eska, New Young Pony Club, Sway, Helicopter Girl, Black Star Liner?
Take your time, no pressure, I'm waiting and I've got all day.
The answer is that they've all been shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize in 2015, 2007, 2006, 2000 and 1999 respectively. At some point they were all highly rated as the best of that year's musical crop.
Here's a follow up question.
If you remembered any of these acts, how quickly can you call to mind their songs and hear them in your head? The only act on the list that I remember listening to is New Young Pony Club. I remember there was one track on the album that I liked a lot. I think it was a clean sounding synth track but I'm not sure. I realise that this is hardly selling them to new listeners but, having done a bit of digging in my i-tuns library, here it is :
Last weekend I rediscovered The Field Mice, active between 1988 and 1991 and pretty much vanished from sight ever since. They're brilliant. How could they be allowed to disappear?
The rediscovery came via their excellent anthology "Where'd You Learn To Kiss That Way?". This 36 track compilation contains gorgeous, crafted songs. They sound defiantly analogue and organic. Even the synths are rudimentary and that adds to their charm. They're a cross between St Etienne and Belle and Sebastian. St Etienne covered Kiss and Make Up as one of their early singles and the unhurried flow within songs is similar for both. They write about real life situations and relationships as do Belle and Sebastian, but without the slightly seedy nature of some of the latter's output.
If there's a common theme running through this collection it's the blossoming of love followed by romantic loss. The songs provoke a nostalgia for younger days when relationships were forming and breaking all around amidst a heightened emotional intensity that fades into a less perfect and demanding reality as you grow older. 'End of the Affair' is a great track, full of subdued intensity, culminating in the realisation that "This is it, isn't it? This is it, isn't it? This is the end of you and I." It's sung as a round of desperation and it's bleakly beautiful. The brutal but caring honesty of "Willow" can move me to tears. (Not every time, only if I'm on my own and I've reached the bottom of the wine bottle.) 'Emma's House' showcases their art of the apt, reassuring lyric. "You have nothing to live up to. You have nothing to live down." And if that's not enough, I like the bass playing throughout.
What happened to them?
Well, they split following a fractious tour. Some members, led by Bobby Wratten, went on to form Northern Picture Library (No, me neither.) According to Google, a couple of years ago guitarist Harvey Williams was working in BBC film presentation and restoration. Singer Anne Marie Davies featured in an interview earlier this year with the C86 show on Mixcloud Radio https://www.mixcloud.com/david-eastaugh/12-february-the-field-mice-special-with-anne-mari-davies/ .
And that seems to be that.
I'm not sure how you might measure the current popularity of the bands you love, but one rough measure might be the number of monthly listeners on Spotify. The Field Mice have 50817 monthly listeners. That might sound like a lot but to put it in perspective, Taylor Swift has 37.3m monthly listeners. Bruce Springsteen has 14.5. (I'll be honest Bruce I thought you'd be doing better than that!) Even Steps have 1.1m.
It led me to thinking about other acts that seem to be dormant or, perish the thought, overlooked. Coincidentally they are also some of my favourite bands.
The Boy Least Likely To, who provide exquisite, catchy and funny sad meditations on life have 47467 Spotify followers.
The Leisure Society, who may be the nicest and friendliest band recording and touring today (well, before and after the pandemic I hope) have 44271 and have recently had to solicit suggestions for a covers album to get through Christmas.
The Trashcan Sinatras, who recorded 'Weightlifting', my favourite ever song, clock up 30897. The Silver Seas have 30528 monthly followers. Neither band could fill a League 1 football ground with all their monthly listeners around the globe (providing that football ground was Sunderland FC's)
And, criminally, Obi who released 'The Magic Land of Radio' and 'Diceman Lopez' between 22002 and 2004 have a pitiful 403 monthly followers on Spotify. Let's start to right that wrong, right here.
I'm sure that everyone can compile a list of acts that could be huge, that should be huge, but who are overlooked or forgotten. Personally, I think that if you love music it's not enough just to be a consumer. You need to be a promoter, encourager, supporter, advocate and sharer of your favourite bands too.
Don't be shy. Your favourites need you.