FRANKIE & the Heartstrings have a new record, a new line-up and a renewed passion for their craft. Katy Wheeler caught up with them.
Frankie & the Heartstrings are quite the plate-spinners of indie pop.
When they’re not writing and recording new music, planning a tour and forming a new line-up, they’re running a record shop, brewing independent coffee and managing to convince big names such as The Charlatans, Franz Ferdinand, Badly Drawn Boy and Edwyn Collins to come and play their home town.
Since opening record store Pop Recs Ltd in Fawcett Street in June 2013, they’ve become adept at juggling band duties with running a hub of culture in the heart of Sunderland.
As well as being their way of bringing more live music to Wearside, the shop has also been the base for the writing and recording of the band’s third album.
The as-yet-untitled record will be released in June and will showcase the fruits of their labour over the past few months, a period which has seen the Sunderland outfit lose and gain two members.
Joining the fold are Ross Millard, formerly of The Futureheads, on guitar who replaces Mick Ross and Michael Matthews, formerly of This Ain’t Vegas, on bass, who’s replacing Steven Dennis.
They now make up the five-piece with founding band members Dave Harper, Frankie Francis and Michael McKnight.
Frankie said: “Mick didn’t want to be in the band anymore so he could concentrate on other projects, so we came up with this outlandish idea to get Ross to play.
“We had a situation just before Christmas where Dennis didn’t want to be in either. Michael had been part of a touring party, working with us for years, so it was a no brainer to ask him, he knows the songs anyway.”
Let’s face it where else in Sunderland can you get an above average cup of coffee and a Chris Rea record?Dave Harper, drummer with Frankie & the Heartstrings
The past few months has seen the new line-up throw themselves into producing new music, with the first single from the new album due for release in April.
“I know it’s a cliché, but I think it’s the best record we’ve ever made, but I think when people hear it they will agree,” said Frankie.
“Ross has certainly breathed some fresh air into the band, he’s made us reassess what we’re about.
“We spent far too long recording the last album and, not to say we’re not proud of it, but I think it suffered because of that.”
The band are looking forward to the summer festival circuit and have already been lined up to play Willowman in North Yorkshire, Strawberry Fields festival in Leicester and Lindisfarne Festival in Northumberland.
Ross, who along with his fellow band members has taken a hiatus from Futureheads, said: “I think when you’re in band you get used to a certain routine, so change is good, it can make you think of things differently.
“Sometimes when you’ve been in a band for a long time it’s like you stop considering yourself a musician, like it all happens by accident.
“So then coming and joining this band has felt like becoming a musician again in a way.
“We’re writing new songs, building new chemistry and I’m really enjoying playing the music with different people. One of the reasons The Futureheads decided to have a break is because we wanted to try new things.”
As well as the band, the lads’ other shared passion is, of course, Pop Recs.
They transformed the former derelict Tourist Information Office with just a couple of hundred quid.
It was intended to open as a pop up venture to promote independent record shops, live music and second album The Days Run Away, but snowballed into a gallery, gig space and independent coffee shop.
It’s now seen household names play Sunderland, many of them for free.
And Dave, who’s responsible for booking the acts, says we can expect more this year.
“I’ve got the telephone numbers of people I’m trying to get,” explained the drummer.
“There’s a couple of acts that I’m working really hard to secure, that are big names in British music.
“I think people know where Sunderland is now for gigs because of Pop Recs and people like Tim Burgess (The Charlatans frontman) supporting us.
“Our whole ethos is that you don’t have to go to the black and white place for gigs, it’s ok to enjoy yourself in Sunderland and it doesn’t have to cost the world. Good entertainment can be free.”
Ross added: “I think the great thing about Pop Recs is that it’s a permanent spot. It’s not someone hiring a function room in a pub to try and make it happen.
“It’s a permanent spot with a good stage, people know it, and it’s become more now, it’s a cultural hub.”
Dave said: “It’s still hard work, there are still people that don’t know we’re here. But I think what’s great is the drop in element we have here.
“We have such a wide age range of people coming in, from the blazer-clad man to the track-suited youth.
“Plus, let’s face it where else in Sunderland can you get an above average cup of coffee and a Chris Rea record?”