Tuesday, 7 December 2010
FRANKIE & THE HEARTSTRINGS at the BETHNAL GREEN WORKING MEN'S CLUB
My finger is nowhere near the pulse of up and coming bands. My hand stays tucked in my pocket, nice and warm and cozy, only occasionally poking for life in the chilly outside world that left me behind over a decade ago when I hung up my “indie DJ” headphones.
But now and again a band cross my radar and catch my attention. Frankie & The Heartstrings are one. To start with, I like their name - it has a ring of Wigan Casino about it. I like they mention Mike Leigh’s Naked in one of their songs and watch Ken Loach films on their tour bus. I like their forthcoming LP is named after Knut Hamsun’s Hunger. I like they are from Sunderland, free from associations with the usual tired cities. All these things score heavily in my book without them even playing a note.
I’m conscious I’m twice the age of most of those here to see them. Predicting this would be the case I shaved before leaving the flat, removing the festive white whiskers from my stubbly chin. It took weeks off me. As I hover around the edges of the club I’m hoping the hip young scenesters think I’m the cool mysterious head of Pieface Records. Instead I bet those even seeing me think I’m the bass player’s – hopefully groovy - Dad. Maybe I could pass for the guitarist from a half remembered Brit Pop band? “I used to be in The Bluetones don’tcha know.” On second thoughts, “that’s my son up there”.
Up there, the Heartstrings and Frankie do their thing and do it well, mixing infectious twitchy pop with epic torch burners. Singer Frankie Francis adopts two stances: a camp spasticated dance that’s less Ian Curtis and more Freddie Garrity for the bouncy songs, and the pained furrowed face of the crystal meth woman for the wounded soul numbers. The later style is more impressive. Not the face but the thoughtful romanticism of “Fragile”, “Ungrateful” and the brass backed “I Want You Back” which elevate them above the latest Orange Juice obsessives. Edwyn Collins’s son is manning the t-shirt stall, which makes perfect sense. It’s all good yet falls short of being exceptional or offering anything unique or inspiring – they’re simply a decent pop band. Nowt wrong with that, and one or two "make it" for a brief moment, but I’m not going to sign them to Pieface. Without a huge investment I can’t see where I’d get my money back (although having Steve Lamacq, Simon Price and Ryan Jarman among the hundred people in attendance on a freezing Monday night suggests they’re being backed by someone). Even megabucks Peter Jones got his fingers burned with Hamfister on Dragons’ Den.
Fortunately for the Heartstrings they’re signed to Pop Sex Ltd/Wichita and don’t need my investment, so I’m out. I shall invest in their album though and play it through the spring when I’m doing the washing up and sing along, annoying Mrs. Monkey with my tuneless caterwauling and incorrect lyrics. I’ll spot them on Later With Jools Holland and go all sniffy because I saw them ages ago and they were better then. In July they’ll open for Pulp in Hyde Park and all us Heartstringers will claim them as our own. Then they’ll get forgotten about, eventually knocking out a second album that I’ll never listen to. Finally, before you know it, some old git is saying “I used to be in Frankie & The Heartstrings don’tcha know” and no one will be any the wiser.