Frankie and the Heartstrings are a band from Sunderland who ply their trade in jangly, upbeat numbers, with the occasional dalliance into songs with a slightly rougher edge. Their singer, Frankie (no surprises there, then), enunciates his words in a thickly coated Wearside accent. The band’s songs endure a surfeit of gibberish yet melodic ‘wo-oh-ohs’. Before setting down to write this review, I consciously sought not to draw the obvious comparison between Frankie’s band and the Futureheads. Alack.
Mapping the relative demise of the Futureheads – which culminated in their being dropped by their label and having to set up their own – it is curious to consider the way that Frankie and the Heartstrings have emerged with what is essentially the same musical template. The band have picked up a number of cohorts as they’ve entered the mainstream, not least in the way of 6Music’s Steve Lamacq, and have benefited from the extended airtime afforded to the singles ‘Hunger’ and ‘Ungrateful’. It is clear from their performance that these two songs easily remain their best: they are infectious, colourful, playful and positively memorable.
However, the rest of the set falls disappointingly short of the mark, especially for a band whose recently released debut album was produced by Glasgow’s laudable patron saint of post-punk, Edwyn Collins. The lyrics are, for the most part, rhyme-heavy, and their inherent gaiety soon mutates and becomes nauseatingly sugary. ‘Tender’ is a ham-fisted attempt at something remotely intelligent. Rather than draw on F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel Tender is the Night, it seems to scribble on the text in crayon (‘I’ll read you Tender is the Night / Because I like it by candelight’), before drowning it in a pool of niggling guitar notes. Sadly, the performance seems stagnated; the slower numbers fail to captivate and the quicker, louder ones fail to move out of third gear.
Visually, meanwhile, the band’s members don’t hold together. Throughout the set, Frankie tries his very Sunderland best to invigorate the crowd through (very good) Morrissey impersonations – arms all flailing, lips a-pouting, feet a-scuffling – while the seemingly bored Heartstrings play with the vigour and enthusiasm of an anxious, perhaps Heart-broken, string of kittens. More to this, it would appear the band have all just met at a ‘favourite band’ fancy dress party: the bassist has come as the indiscriminate early-90s Britpop throwback, beavering away in a heavy parka; the second guitarist dons a patterned tank top that might as well have ‘Mumford and Sons’ woven into it – and lone behold, is that Alex Kapronos on the keyboards over there, replete with lovely haircut and skinny jeans/fitted blazer combo?
I’m sorry, Frankie; this time your strings just weren’t quite attuned to the beat of my heart.
(after George Shaw)
As the dawn cracks and breaks its back,
Curtains twitch and the moon starts to fade:
The world yields to the morning sun.
Gears click into motion:
Cogs turn and ratchets scratch;
Rivets fasten and clocks fashion
The course of the Everyday.
And as I nestle in the contours of your body,
I know: it would be good to say, arm in arm,
Nothing else matters; no one else cares.
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.” —Edward Thomas, ‘In Memoriam (Easter, 1915)’
It happened at once -
Time unravelled itself in a fleeting second
Like it did for the women when the rock had rolled away.
Life was laid bare.
The back door open, the garden alive,
I took to my seat, and keenly felt
The fall of leaves, twigs and guano,
The tree’s outer reaches wobbling to and fro.
In the glimmering yawn of the sun I spied it:
Flapping periliously, trying to grip and grapple
On something more stable. Its flap and fumble
Revealed the underwing: gleaming electric blue;
Specks of familial black and white.
And then it settled in its own red-brown tinge.
The tremors of its call did not fall my way;
It took up flight and made no hint
Of its coming again.
Maybe I’ll attach bells to the bark
And watch it move in time to Sunday’s chimes.
If it ever comes back again.
We cycled through the crisp summer night
Trying to forget events in town.
You rode with me in tow;
You rode out of town and over a plastic cup,
And I did too.
We crossed the city’s river:
Evening unfurled; two birds flew abreast;
The sun winced and the sky was left blotted -
Tie-dyed shades of fading day.
We pushed ourselves away
From what had been in town.
Our pedals turned and our hands clenched grips.
Buttocks saddled we rode on -
No taste of wine or cigarettes -
Making traceless tracks away from it all,
With the listless flap of wings above us,
And the stirring of foxes over some wall.
The sun shone
Through the naked branches
In the city backwaters.
I was walking, again
In a polo shirt and jeans
And forgot it was February.
The gentle breeze
Told me it was Sunday;
Told me where to go.
The tea-time sun threw flashes of gilded light
Across the metal rails.
The magnolia petals peeled back
Their own delicate mass,
Awoken with sudden surprise;
Frogspawn twitched in back-door ponds.
Childish wails cascaded over garden walls.
The month came of age, down in St. Paul’s.