Hitting you where it hurts
Northern Uproar: Frankie And The Heartstrings

Frankie And The Heartstrings have a way with words. You might just fall in love with their combination of romantic realism and boys’ own humour, but don’t be fooled by the cheeky exterior.

For bands, self-expression is limited to two avenues: lyrics and interviews. Some pen lines that stick like superglue and others make headlines with interviews overflowing with catchphrases, yet the band that does both, whilst retaining genuine identity and eschewing artificiality is increasingly rare. Sunderland’s Frankie And The Heartstrings are one such band.

Everything about them oozes emotion, honesty and boy-next-door cheekiness. From frontman Frankie Francis’ floppy quiff and giggle-punctuated chatter, to drummer Dave Harper’s barrage of one liners and bravado (with guitarist Michael McKnight’s youthful honesty thrown in for good measure), they are a refreshing proposition in this age of hype and hyperbole. Spending an hour squashed on the sofa with them (their number completed by bassist Steven Dennis and guitarist Mick Ross) in their label offices, Clash gets a delightful snapshot of a band that’ll break your heart.

After forming out of frustration at the lack of “kitchen-sink pop bands around”, Frankie And The Heartstrings threw themselves headfirst into a whirlwind of love and gritty determination. Their journey yielded a record deal and, subsequently, a hit-packed debut album (recorded with band hero Edwyn Collins) and legions of devotees. Michael describes ‘Hunger’ as “the album we all wanted to make”, Frankie adding that the “competition for ideas” that characterised its recording “is healthy, if you take a step back from the situation.”

Taking time to quantify their position is something the band enjoy. From their origins (“pit villages in County Durham”), to the “dark moments” on their album and their reluctance to be classified as “current or nostalgic”, FATH have a carefully measured opinion on almost everything. Michael begins explaining the emotions within the album. “It’s like opening your diary and letting the world in,” he begins before Dave interrupts. “Not my diary mate, it’s all pictures of cocks or a wall of words written in me own shit,” he deadpans to raucous laughter from the rest of the sofa.

Ironically, it’s not last time that a serious point descends into laddish giggling. The irony lies in the fact that the band have strived to unshackle itself from their hometown’s lad-rock trends. “While the lad bands’ spray tan’s drying we’re smashing it, doing what they say they’re doing every night - there’s pasties to be smashed and pints to be drunk!” says Dave bullishly. Frankie brings him back down to earth, “That’s some of your best work,” he grins sarcastically. But it’s been a hard slog to get the recognition they are enjoying. “We’ve all shovelled shit,” says Dave as they remember putting on gigs and generally doing it themselves.

“You get called a poof in the street, it’s a hard place to be different and we’re eccentric characters,” says Frankie, “but that drove us creatively.” They utilised that creativity to craft an album of 1980s-indebted literary indie-pop, with the Brylcreem sheen of the ’50s and an inebriated ’90s swagger, that sticks two fingers up at school bullies and ex-girlfriends. “Every story is true, we’re still living them now,” Dave says straight-facedly. “Nothing’s changed, we’ve just got a record to go with it,” smiles Frankie, as the impact of their commitment and hard work becomes apparent.

Frankie And The Heartstrings hit you where it hurts - in the head and in the heart. “We’re singing about being dumped, how can you not be affected?” Michael asks. We nod, thinking that it’s fitting that a band with such a masterful way with words should have the last one. “We’re the real deal, it takes a special type of person to turn adversity into excitement, where there’s shit there’s diamonds,” that’s Dave again. “And that’s us,” finishes Frankie, “the diamonds, that is.”

Words by Ben Homewood
Photo by Jesse John Jenkins


Follow Clash: