FRANKIE ARCHER – Live at Aces & Eights, Tufnell Park, London – 19th February 2023

Frankie Archer
Photograph by Tony Birch

I first came across Frankie Archer at the Love Folk festival in Southport this year, playing a showcase session on the busk stage.  She came with a recommendation from Jim Moray, no less, who was headlining on the Friday but said he was coming back on Saturday just to see her. That was good enough for me and I was impressed by what I saw.  Even better, Frankie had a headline gig the following weekend in London, so I wanted to see if twenty minutes could translate into two forty minutes sets.  It did, it most certainly did.

To get the basics out of the way Frankie hails from Northumberland, has a lovely voice across a wide range and is also a decent fiddle player.  However, she’s so much more than that.  Frankie sings traditional songs, as well as her own work, but is not a traditional folksinger and that’s something I always enjoy.  Gustav Mahler put it much better than I can, “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire”.  Around her on the stage are various boxes of tricks I don’t understand but she uses to great effect.  Within the boxes are “samples”, so clips she’s recorded herself and manipulated to get the sound she wants.  Watching her select the clips is like watching a pianist at work.  Even, on one occasion, the audience were recorded to provide a backing.  The great thing about this is that every performance will be different; we had somebody scraping a chair. Having said that a lesson Frankie had applied well is that just because you can doesn’t mean you have to.  There must be a temptation to try to throw everything in to every song, but here the effects are used as seasoning, not the main ingredient.  Ultimately it’s the voice that leads.

The evening opened with ‘Close The Coalhouse Door’, written Alex Glasgow, followed by a Portuguese tune that Frankie has put words and a fiddle melody to. The tune, in English, is ‘At The Prow’ and the feeling of being at sea came through very strongly in this relaxing song that has us gently swaying.  We were back to proper folk after that, with a happy tune about a sixth sister who had watched her five older siblings all die in childbirth.  She was determined not to follow suit, but it’s folk music so spoiler alerts aren’t really necessary.  This was another different style, being sung a cappella, and followed by ‘Oxford City’ so even more fun and merriment.  There was plenty more in this vein, such as ‘Young Edwin Of The Lowlands Low’ and ‘Lucy Wan’, but here Frankie did what all traditional songs have done over the years. Not particularly content with the ending, Frankie has written an additional verse where Lucy comes back to haunt the brother who both got her pregnant and then murdered her.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though, with a delightful fiddle tune ‘Brerhen Bridge’ Frankie wrote herself and even a trip abroad for the Bulgarian ‘Otivam, Ne Otivam’, ‘Going, Not Going’, and a very rousing ‘Elsie Marley’ to finish the evening.  What also made the evening a delight was Frankie’s very relaxed style on stage, with plenty of chatting to the audience.  Of course one of the delights, for an audience, with a performer like this is when it doesn’t quite go right and the wrong button is pressed meaning everything stops.  We all saw the funny side of it and it is one of the joys of live music because something like that would never find its way onto an album.  There was even a version of a raffle, where Frankie will draw a name at random from her mailing list and write a tune for the winner.  It was a very fresh, sparkling evening which the good sized audience thoroughly enjoyed and it has to be hoped there will be more live shows to come.  At the moment there isn’t much in the way of recorded material; three digital only songs on Bandcamp, or available as an EP at live shows.  Keep an eye on social media though, because I think that may be about to change.

Tony Birch

Artist’s website:

‘Close The Coalhouse Door’ – live session: