Catching up with Alex, better known as musical project ‘Our Man In The Field’, we discuss all
things from touring to Jon Snow. Alex’s intrigue of the world or political journalism is
evident and strikes me as a refreshingly humble and socially aware artist. It takes little time
before he indulges me in a detailed story behind his project name, and social influences,
providing an insight that likely only comes from an individual’s openness as opposed to any
prodding and prying.
So, where did the name ‘Our Man In The Field’ come from?
Well I didn’t want it to sound terrible, and this way no one would know my actual name, or
that it was me making this terrible noise (laughing). Another reason I chose something aside
from my name was that I see ‘Our Man In The Field’ as an old-fashioned news correspondent. I’ve always been interested in writers like Camus, Steinbeck, and people who were writers as well as journalists. The news has completely changed now; it used to be that the reporter would go to wherever something news-worthy had happened, and often that would be a war-zone or a place of famine, somewhere we all needed to know about. Apart from the fact we all used to trust the news a lot more, I think maybe those reporters had more integrity, so there was perhaps more truth and reporting straightforward facts then there is now; less of an agenda behind whoever was paying for it.
There was something that was always interesting about the way a news reporter might be in
some intense situation and keep their cool. There’s a moment when they’re handing back to
the studio when they’ve interviewed someone in a scene of a terrible event or conflict, and
you just see this sort of momentary change where they’re not going to be able to say what
they really think or show that they’re scared, or that they don’t believe what they’ve been
told by the person they’re talking to. There’s this split second where you can see it, when
you’re looking out for it, and I’m interested in that – how those ‘people in the field’ are
trying to tell us what’s going on but they’re bound by the impartiality and integrity that they
should have. There are some reporters and people in the media that have that, and one of
them is Jon Snow – I actually have a song about him, the news reporter from Channel 4
A serendipitous story; I wrote this song called ‘Somethings Gotta Be Done’ which is about
one of the last Israel/Palestine open conflicts, around 2013. He had been to a Palestinian
hospital that had been designated as a safe-zone for wounded children. Israel was
supposedly going to attack Hezbollah positions in the West-Bank, but that these positions
were going to be safe, and then they attacked those places because if they said they were
safe, that’s where they would send their guns. But the place they attacked was a children’s
hospital, and Jon Snow is there the next day to report it, and it was a pretty horrific story.
There was a particularly unpleasant part where a little girl’s eyes had been injured by
shrapnel, and Jon Snow is giving a very straight-forward report. There was a spokesperson
for the Israeli military involved in the broadcast, and everything was very ‘exactly as it
should be’; asking questions, getting answers, no bias reporting, but they were pretty
difficult circumstances. Then Jon Snow made a film with Channel 4’s permission on Youtube
basically saying ‘I wasn’t allowed to say this on Channel 4, and I wasn’t allowed to show you
these images but have a look. There is no evidence whatsoever of military people here or
Hezbollah here that were targeted. It is just a children’s hospital. There are countless dead
people, and badly injured people, who were already here because they were very sick, and
no evidence that there was a legitimate target’. It was a really moving film, and I wrote that
song about that. I sent it to Jon Snow’s agent because I thought I might be able to get him
to listen to it and give me a quote for PR purposes. The next day I went to Paris with some
friends just for the night, and it happened to be the night of the attacks on the Bataclan.
We were caught right in the middle of that and we had to walk for about 12 hours through Paris in the night. We came quite close to the incident at the Cambodian Restaurant, but luckily we were ok. We got stopped several times by police and had to walk through a hospital which was a really horrific scene; people who had been shot, who were either dead or being treated. But we got back to our hotel, it was about 4/5 in the morning, and Jon Snow’s team were just coming in, checking in to the same hotel we were just coming back to. I found myself at the reception desk next to Jon Snow, and I thought ‘this is too coincidental for me not to say something’. So, I said, “Excuse me, Jon, my name’s Alex. You might get a song sent to you from your agent sometime in the future, and I just wanted to let you know it’s from me and it’s strange seeing you here, so I just wanted to say hello”. Then he pulled his phone out of his pocket and said, “are you ‘Our Man In The Field?”, and I said “yes”. He said, “I’ve been listening to it, it’s a great song! Thanks for sending it”. We then had a chat and a coffee and croissant while he asks what we’d been doing. We had a long chat about that night, and the music and stuff. Then he gave me his card and just said “let’s keep in touch”, so we did a little bit after that and we haven’t done anything with that song. But we did plan, at one point, to record a video with Jon Snow and a bunch of other news reporters, maybe lip-syncing or giving us some of their unused footage, that sort of thing, but Channel 4 did say legally they weren’t allowed to let Jon Snow appear in it in that format. As I haven’t released the song yet, we decided to hold on to it and potentially do something with it in the future. So that’s the Jon Snow/’Our Man In The Field’ story.
It sounds like you’re very drawn by an element of journalism. Over the years, music has acted as a different method of journalism, would you say you act as a music journalist in a way?
Well, I don’t write very many love songs, it’s usually something that’s moved me and I try to
be as authentic and as honest as possible with whatever it is that has made me write a song.
The first single we put out from this album was called ‘Ever so’ and it’s about the closure of
the oldest fire station in London by Boris Johnson when he was mayor of London, and what
the impact of that had to the people who were losing their jobs. Their vocation was to be a
fireman and that had been taken away from them. It was about the human experience, but
it was also a comment on how we take those people for granted. I lived in London at the
time, and we’d had these attacks and the fire brigade were the first people to be running
towards what we already knew was a dangerous situation. If you run towards that, you
wouldn’t survive it. It was only a few days after that, that it was happening as if it was ok
and we had enough firefighters, or too many so we had to get rid of some. Then the terrible
situation happened with Grenfell, and that’s not the only time we were probably short of
firefighters but it’s the most recent and highest-profile. That was something that I wanted to
write about, and try to express parts of that story that maybe hadn’t been covered by
reports. We might see one side of it, but there are other elements that have affected us that
we don’t necessarily see literally, but how it happened, what caused those circumstances. One thing will be that we had fewer firefighters than we had 6 years ago.
On the next album, there's a song called ‘Great White Hope’ which I wrote around the time
of the Brexit vote. I played Glastonbury festival on my own, and it was great, but the night I
played was also the night of the Brexit vote, and when it came in it was just terrible shock
that it had happened. I wrote this song, and that phrase ‘Great White Hope’ was starting to
creep in British political debate, but I’d heard it in American political debate and I’d often
wondered what was meant by it. It comes from the Boxer Jack Johnson, who was the first
black heavyweight champion of the world, the first guy to actually be allowed to fight a
white fighter, and he won. Up to that point, it was considered that black boxers were
inferior and didn’t have a chance against superior white fighters, but he won and defended
his title a record number of times. Every time they put another white fighter against him,
they called him ‘The Great White Hope’. So it’s quite a racially charged phrase that was
being used right up to the Brexit vote, in 2016. Now, I expect that since we’re suddenly very
conscious of historical phrases that it wouldn’t be appropriate to use it, but people were
using it. Those sorts of things are the things I suppose I’ll always find interesting and write songs about. Those sorts of songs that I write about always come very quickly, in a short space of time. I’ve written some songs in lockdown about lockdown-type subjects, that have come very quickly. Hopefully, some of them are half decent.