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Andy Martin - This is Sunderland



It’s fair to say Field Music’s David Brewis has been one of the hardest working men in music in recent years. The success of his primary guise’s most recent albums Field Music (Measure) and Plumb brought greater attention from both the mainstream and critics, but this proliferation came off the back of a hiatus that many thought was going to spell the end for the band.

One of the contributing factors to this theory was Brewis’ decision to split off from his brother Peter and release 2008’s Sea From Shore, the debut album by his side project School of Language. The result was a sound that declined to stray too far from Field Music, specialising in the same brand of peculiar pop and irregular time signatures, but the odd glimpse of a heavier guitar influence balanced with some stripped-back balladry perhaps swayed David’s decision to switch to a different moniker.

Others argued School of Language was just a way for the frontman to continue feeding his creative muse during Field Music’s dormant period. With that in mind, many expected Sea From Shore to be it, but they were proved wrong early this year when School of Language unveiled ‘Dress Up’ and announced the release of their second record Old Fears.

Taking the LP out on the road, David put together a new lineup that reads like a kind of north-east of England supergroup. Peter Brewis this time joined his brother on drums, while another welcome addition came in the shape of The Futureheads’ David ‘Jaff’ Craig on keyboard.

On Monday, the tour reached its finale at the Deaf Institute in Manchester and Far Out Magazine bore witness to a set that David Brewis would later dub as School of Language’s last.

Support is provided by the oddball folk of local boy Kiran Leonard and the moody electronica of Barbarossa. The latter of which set the scene in a rather more subdued way than the evening’s headliners, layering a falsetto vocal on top of throbbing hooks that make it fully worth turning up early.

School of Language take to the stage to be greeted by an audience that are gripped with anticipation, but one that does not necessarily vocalise this sentiment on their arrival. The set starts with ‘Dress Up’ though and almost immediately the crowd flip into dance mode, with toes starting to tap. However, it has to be said that throughout the night there is no one inside the venue who can consider themselves a sleeker mover than David Brewis himself.

First album highlight ‘Poor Boy’ is probably the heaviest moment of the set, veering slightly towards the chord-based layers of post-punk rather than the more melodic sound that is more readily associated with the Brewis brothers – but they easily prove that leaving their comfort zone is no problem.

It is always a joy when the interludes between tracks transpire to be almost as entertaining as the music itself, and David’s warmness and dry wit achieve this in the best way possible, keeping the audience comfortable, engaged and amused.

Swapping between the roles of finger-picking guitarist and snake-hipped frontman throughout, he jokes that laying himself bare solely behind the mic is a sure fire indication a ballad is on its way, but sometimes the complexities of School of Language’s song structures are such that they could not really be pigeonholed so finitely.

Tracks like ‘Between the Suburbs’ and ‘Distance Between’ bring to the forefront influences that span funk, electro and disco. Brewis recently described School of Language’s output as pop music that few actually want to listen to, but tonight has proved that despite the project’s impending end, there are plenty who will be left begging for more.

On that subject, Brewis makes it clear that even though it is the project’s curtain-closer, an encore would be nothing more than “bullshit”… “They’re written down on the setlist!”, he exclaims.

So instead of the normally obligatory on-off gesture, the band simply launch into the disorientating pleasence of ‘So Much Time’ – a number that brings to an end an intriguing tangent to the career of the north-east’s most immersive musician. For Field Music fans who are already chomping at the bit for a new album, School of Language’s second coming has done more than  enough to curb their hunger.

Patrick Davies