Traditional Northumbrian songs and tunes brought bang up to date by award-winning electro-folk artist Frankie Archer.
Release Date: 3rd November 2023
Label: Self Release
Formats: CD / Digital
Northumbrian electro-folk artist Frankie Archer is making quite a name for herself. A rising star on the UK folk scene, she initially drew attention to herself at English Folk Expo 2022 and expanded that attention considerably when she was awarded the prestigious Christian Raphael Prize at this year’s Cambridge Folk Festival, not to mention an appearance on the Jools Holland show. And Frankie is a lady who thrives in flying in the face of expectations and preconceptions…
For a start, she manages to integrate her loves of electronic sound and traditional Northumbrian songs and tunes to produce a brand of folk music – and folk music it most assuredly is – that gives equal space to synthesizers, fiddle and her gentle, alluring voice. But secondly, and probably more importantly, she’s willing to challenge the norms of the folk tradition that dictate – in some quarters – that it remains acceptable to enshrine and glorify the treatment that women receive in the lyrics of a significant portion of traditional song. You’ll get a better idea of what I’m on about shortly.
Indeed, all five songs on Never So Red proffer some form of challenge to the harmful stereotypes and narratives that are common in folk song and, by extension, in everyday life. Even today, would you believe? As Frankie is keen to point out: “Women are not responsible for men’s projected feelings and don’t deserve to be punished for them. Women are powerful and wise, not voiceless victims. Sexual violence happens and needs to be called out, not swept under the rug. Chasing and pressure is not the way to go about love and sex. Expression of love and sexuality should be free for everyone.”
Now, I believe that many – hopefully most – visitors to these pages will accept that statement unconditionally but there are many, many others to whom such sentiments have never occurred. And, if Frankie wants to use the medium of folk song to issues reminders to society to that effect, then that’s absolutely fine by me. And I’m an unashamed old folkie.
Never So Red is the first collection of songs that Frankie has released, but already there has been interest in her music and unique approach on the national airwaves; her three single releases, Lucy Wan (featured on the EP), Close The Coalhouse Door and Over The Border have each received airplay and there’s no doubt that the material in this collection will cause that media interest to be increased still further.
Never So Red is a singular bunch of songs, of that there’s no doubt. Frankie has clearly chosen her material with great care to ensure that the traditional songs cover such unpalatable subject matter as murder, rape and unwanted male attention. She’s an accomplished singer and fiddler and uses these talents to anchor the songs firmly in the folk idiom, but she’s not afraid to push the boundaries by adding layers of lavish electronics, and the result – which will, no doubt, shock some of the more staid traditionalists – is startling.
It’s current single Oxford City that gets Never So Red underway. Frankie sings and harmonises beautifully, with her Northumbrian accent proudly on display, and the positive impact of mixing shimmering synths with traditional fiddle is evident from the outset. But it’s perhaps on second track, Lucy Wan, that Frankie really hits her stride. It’s a song that tells the familiar tale (in folk song at least) of sibling murder; this time it’s Lucy, the song’s character who falls victim to her brother’s depravity, and Frankie recounts the story with great passion. Lucy Wan is also the song that provides this EP with its title – the phrase is a reference to the reaction of Lucy’s mother when her murderous son attempts to claim that the blood on his hands and clothes is the blood of a dog or a mare. The blood of a dog or a mare was “never so red” retorts the mother…
And the subject matter of Alone Maids Do Stray is no less gruesome or more comfortable. Sung to strummed and plucked fiddle accompaniment, it’s a harrowing tale of a rape, committed by the local squire on a young maiden who ‘brought the assault upon herself’ by having the temerity to walk out alone…
On the surface, Peacock Followed The Hen is a lively jig with a delightful fiddle line and the usual (by now) resonant synth accompaniment. But anyone who has listened this far will realise that things are seldom as they first seem in a Frankie Archer song and the song takes on a decidedly more sinister tone once the jolly fiddle festivities are over.
And that leads us into the EP’s closing track, O The Bonny Fisherlad. It’s a song that will be familiar to many students and lovers of Northumbrian folk music and, here, it’s given the special Frankie Archer treatment. She certainly plays and sings it her way and, whilst her interpretation is recognizable, she scats the words and drowns the tune in synths – and it’s wonderful. And, so, I’ll leave the final words to Frankie; she’s speaking specifically about O the Bonny Fisherlad here, but, really, her words could easily be applied to the entire EP and, indeed, to her whole approach to adding freshness to the folk tradition:
“…Why can’t a 150 year-old Northumbrian tune go hand-in-hand with a driving synth riff and four-on-the-floor? For a genre of music that’s supposedly from the people and for the people, there can be a lot of snobbery in folk. Someone told me after they saw me perform this that I would never get away with playing O the Bonny Fisherlad at a certain folk festival. I think that’s wonderful news, and I can’t wait to add it to my summer setlist.”
Amen to that!
Watch the official video to Oxford City – the opening track on the EP – here:
Categories: EP Review