You could, you know – see singer and songwriter Bobby Wratten alone forever. I remember him standing apart from everyone at a service station off the motorway coming back from a gig in Stoke, and he looked so thoroughly alone that I wanted to take a photograph of that two in the morning moment. Well, in a way I did capture him in that state, because it’s always stuck in my mind, and I am presenting it to you now. It looked like the sharper, harder, bristling kind of loneliness of someone parted from one they love against their wishes, rather than the make-do, self-sufficient, aloneness of someone habituated to being in their own company, though there may have been something of that in it too. Contrary to the theme of this song, Bobby was already busy detailing the starts and ends (but not so much the middles) of relationships, as he did across all the recordings made by the Field Mice, and beyond them. Self-evidently he was a loner looking – or pining – for love.
The Field Mice grew rapidly from a duo to a quintet. At the time of ‘I can see myself alone forever’, they were still a duo. Michael Hiscock is one of my all-time favourite bass players, habitually adding a layer of bubbling undertow melody to Bobby’s already highly melodic songs. They may have been the crown jewel in Sarah Records’ roster, but using a drum machine helped make it plainer that their lineage was rooted in the sounds of Factory Records as much as Sarah’s antecedents. The pair were south Londoners, though they seem to have grown up in almost the same kind of isolation that Welsh or Scottish groups used to, or that the original Flying Nun groups did in New Zealand. Bobby wrote from the heart, developing a trick of reversing grammatical parts of sentences to great effect, thereby giving his simple, thoughtful lines a complexity suggestive of the tangled knot of feeling.
I’m also picking this for its label, Caff, being Bob Stanley’s first go at the music business proper after co-producing a fanzine of the same name. ‘I can see myself alone forever’ and its B side ‘Everything about you’ were offcuts rightly rescued from the Snowball recording sessions. It may not be quite on a par with ‘Sensitive’, but somehow ‘I can see myself alone forever’ resonated more with me at the time. And Caff went on to release a string of notable limited edition seven inches, one or two more of which are likely to turn up further down the line in this series.
Twenty years ago I was in France, and so were the Field Mice. During their September tour they (or rather two-fifths of them) stopped off to record a live acoustic ‘Black’ session for France Inter’s Bernard Lenoir, a.k.a. ‘the French John Peel’.
I was in the studio while the show was live on air, and during ‘Between hello and goodbye’, Bernard – mistaking me for someone who knew anything about sound engineering – passed me his headphones so I could hear what France was hearing over the airwaves. Sounded pretty damn impressive to me, so I grinned inanely at him and put my thumbs up in the direction of the rest of the group. But I also remember how dangerously, intoxicatingly fragile Bobby and Annemari’s performance was, as if it could fall apart at any moment, despite Bobby’s underlying assurance as both a guitarist and a prodigious songwriter. And sadly fall apart is what the Field Mice did not long after the end of a tour that had been troubled by Annemari’s stage fright.
Of the other songs they played, there is a version of ‘Sundial’ which was otherwise only recorded for John Peel, ‘Willow’ from For keeps, and a lovely cover of Neil Young’s ‘Birds’ – a song made to measure for the Field Mice, really – which I’ve posted over at Nightingales, not being one to miss a trick.
And because 16th September was Monsieur Lenoir’s anniversaire, I also got to (help) sing ‘Happy birthday’ live on French national radio. Fortunately audio evidence of this has disappeared.
Thanks must go to my friend whose finger was poised over the pause button that night – merci Jean-Philippe!