Today’s lockdown tracks are picked by Frankie Francis. Better known to many as Frankie from Frankie and the Heartstrings and to others as the music and words bloke from the Stadium of Light. Frankie was into, or rather under, music at a very very young age indeed.
So where did your musical journey start?
My Dad was a mobile DJ in the 70s and 80s and, when I came along he was still doing it as a second job at weekends. I went along with him when I was really young and have memories of sitting under the desk while he worked. I love all of those pop songs that get people dancing and I think that goes back to those trips.
And what about in the house?
We got a CD player really early, before most people certainly, and we didn’t have many CDs! I remember when we got Dangerous by Michael Jackson and listened to that first track, Jam. It blew my mind. It was just so clear, I think that was the difference. The production values and the quality of recording.
And how about your first purchase of music?
Well, again, I remember it very clearly, I saved up and was taken to the record shop to buy a song I really wanted. And, funnily enough it was produced by Michael Jackson, but it hasn’t gone down as a classic! My first 7 inch purchase was Do the Bartman.
A classic of its time!
Yes, it was and actually there was a massive range of music then. We used to listen to the Now Albums loads as a family and, the thing I really loved about them was that you got such a massive range of songs in a short space of time. We used to put them onto tapes and listen to them in the car going all over the place, caravan trip to the South of France, you know, you can listen to a lot of music on those trips.
And it was a good time musically. Brit Pop was happening, so you had Oasis and Blur, The Spice Girls. Actually, my favourite track from those trips was Missing by Everything But The Girl. I think they get ignored sometimes because of the other bands at the same time but they’re awesome and that track especially.
And what else were you up to?
I always loved live music, so I went to a lot of gigs. I went to see people like The Futureheads, This Aint Vegas and Golden Virgins. Local bands then but they were still idols to someone like me. It’s weird now that they’re friends of mine because, even though they were just playing in Sunderland and the audiences weren’t huge, I really looked up to them.
And if we could let you out for one day at the moment, would you head to a music venue?
At the moment we’re quite heavily locked down for family reasons, a bit more locked down than most to be extra safe so, if you could let me out it’d be to go for a run. Maybe to Penshaw or Tunstall Hills. You can see for miles, I’d love that, just being outside and able to run would be great.
How did you make the first steps up onto the stage?
I asked to DJ! DJing between bands was good, you get to chat to people and also learn what tracks get people up and which ones to avoid. Some friends and I decided it’d be cool to hear more music that we liked in the area, bands like Dexys and Orange Juice and then we decided we’d have a go ourselves. We met up in the White Room in Sunderland and rehearsed upstairs. And then it went mad quite quickly. We did gigs and then heard that people were coming up from London to hear us. Geoff Travis came to hear us and you’ve gone from ‘it’d be cool to do a gig’ to the guy who worked with The Smiths and The Strokes making a trip to the North East for you. That was insane. But then I think the Futureheads had made people appreciate the music from the region and so people started looking out for other bands up here.
You think they opened the door to the Sunderland sound?
For us, yes, but then I think Leatherface and Kenickie had done the same for them. There’s something about Sunderland bands.
They’re very different bands. What do you think they have in common?
I’m not really sure. There’s a real lack of resources here, there’s maybe two venues, one rehearsal space. It’s like, if you succeed it’s because you really wanted to. You must have really wanted it to keep going and force yourself forwards. I think it’s that drive that those bands have in common.
Also, we’ve never been a trendy city, we don’t follow fashion, so I think all those bands stayed loyal to what they started off doing. Somewhere like Manchester or Liverpool, I think there are expectations of what you should do. Because we don’t have that we can do what we want.
So, you’ve obviously seen a lot of bands live, some from the side of the stage. Any stand out?
It’s really difficult to think of one. They’re all so different. We played at Glastonbury for the first time and the Flaming Lips were headlining. Someone said I had to see them play live so we did and, they were right, you’ve got to see them play live! The detail they go into before and during the performance is incredible. They’re probably be the best show I’ve seen.
And when you hang out with these people do you get star struck?
Not really. Because once you’ve had a beer backstage with one, you start to realise they’re just people doing a job who are probably really bored on tour and as keen to talk to you as you are them. I think our first was Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream. That was cool but then it becomes a bit normal while you’re doing it. It’s all a bit out of body really, chatting to Iggy Pop backstage and then performing. At the time you don’t think about it.
How about the events?
Yeah, they can be pinch yourself moments. We opened the Reading festival one year. Everyone had run in and run to the front and was up for it and dancing. We played to about 10-15,000. Liam Gallagher was backstage watching. I turned to Michael (on guitar) and just looked at him. He said ‘this is like we’re popstars or something’. That’s an amazing memory.
And what would get you dancing?
I’m normally getting others dancing! A really good track for that is Ping Pong by Stereolab. On my radio show I play new music trying to get people to try different things so, that’s one I’d say people should listen to. And it’ll definitely get you on the dance floor. But for me, Northern Soul. Anything you like. There are thousands of amazing tracks from all sorts of people. But you play Northern Soul and the dance floor will be bouncing all night.
And now you control the music we listen to on Saturdays.
Yes, that’s great to do but really hard work on the day and in the run up. Everything has to be perfect; it runs to the second from 1.30 onwards with all sorts of streams and adverts and things which have to be at exactly the right time. I always start with Slow Life by the Super Furry Animals. It’s a great track but it’s also really good for testing the PA because it has such diverse sounds and frequencies so my day always starts with them.
And how is the PA?
Do you know what, it’s actually OK. It depends where you sit. Main Stand is great and other places less so. To be fair, it’s as old as the stadium so it needs work in some areas but, when we went to Wembley I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had exactly the same set up and, if it’s good enough for them…
And that leads me to the last question. What is the best walk out music?
Well, it’s not the best yet but I think it will be. I think we should stick with Wise Men Say at Sunderland before kick off. When the EFL said we could play something before the Checkatrade Final and we played Wise Men Say and everyone sang it, it was deafening. I was on the pitch with Oscar and Sam and Bally and it was so loud. I remember George Honeyman looking up at me and just mouthing ‘wow’. That day we decided to have it pre match at the Stadium of Light and I’m really glad we have. It’s a brilliant sound and I think it could be our Sunshine On Leith or You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Let’s hope we’re back there singing it soon.