Rising Folk: Frankie Archer on Jools Holland, New Music and Connecting with Audiences through Song
From being the newly-crowned recipient of the Christian Raphael Prize to appearing on the iconic Later… with Jools Holland with a powerful performance of Oxford City, Frankie Archer is only going from strength to strength. Stunning audiences nationwide with her unique, fresh style and bold blending of fiddle, vocals and electronics, her music and storytelling are both exquisite and shimmering with possibility. Ahead of her highly-anticipated show at St George’s, we caught up with Frankie to discuss major milestones, new music and more.
“We could swap music like a love—like a way of communicating—a really wholesome, sharing activity. I just thought, ‘this is me’.”
Your music and artistry have been described as something that ‘crackles with possibilities’ (Bristol 247). Mixing the traditional with manipulated samples and electronic technique, you take folk music in an entirely fresh direction. What has guided this and inspired you in the process of finding the sound you want to create?
I suppose I’ve been guided by the things that I listen to, really. I listen to a lot of electronic and pop music but also a lot of more alternative and weird stuff where electronic elements are more prominent and heavy. Clearly, I do love folk music as well so the meeting of those is something that’s really natural for me. I never set out thinking ‘I’m going to write this song that sounds like that’—I’ll start with the lyrics of a traditional song and maybe the vocal melody and build up from there. A lot of the time that can be a big, fat synth sound or a glitchy vocal. I feel like I’m guided by everything I’ve absorbed so far and that comes out when I make music.
Can you tell us a little more about your attitude towards traditional folk music in the present day and the potential it has to hold new meanings?
There’s so much talk of reimagining folk and bringing it into the times today but I feel that all of these songs already have meaning that’s relevant now. I don’t need to twist things or rewrite much—although I do some of that. Most of the time, when you look at a traditional song and what it’s saying, it is still one hundred percent relevant now, just in a slightly different context. And a lot of the time I’ve picked songs because they resonate with me and if they resonate with me, obviously I’m somebody living now—in this time, in this society and situation. You just bring out the meaning by reframing, I guess.
How did you first get involved in the folk scene?
I don’t come from a big family of musicians, which happens a lot in traditional music. I had violin lessons through the county music service at school when I was nine or ten and I really enjoyed that. Then my Mam and Dad took me to see Blazing Fiddles in Stanley thinking ‘little Frankie will like that,’ and me and my family thought it was really cool. Then I started to get involved with Folk Works
at The Sage and the local Trad and Folk community and loved how I didn’t have to read music on a page or only play Western classical—I could have fun and jam with my friends. We could swap music like a love—like a way of communicating—a really wholesome, sharing activity. Which for a lot of people, classical music can be, but folk just really set me off and chimed with us. I just thought, ‘this is me’.
In what ways do your Northumbrian roots influence the sound you create?
I’m in Consett which is a really cool and interesting place in some ways. Northumberland’s over that way, Newcastle is just over there and Durham’s there so there are always really cool things going on. Even in Consett, a youth club music group was really important to me. I know a lot of people are really influenced by nature and being on the open moors but I’m not directly influenced by landscapes. For me, it’s more connecting with people that inspires me and connecting with stories, I suppose. There’s also a massive history of mining and industrial labour round me and, going back, that’s in my family so I connect particularly to that. So I tend to do a lot of songs about North East industrial experiences.
We adore your interpretation of Oxford City. What influenced this and your sound choices on the track?
Oxford City is one of those songs I was talking about where I read it and although it’s very, very old, it’s still relevant today. To be honest, I’ve got a really intuitive way of working and I don’t record my process. I don’t set out to do certain things so a lot of the time I’m so caught up in the flow of creating that I almost don’t know how it happened. But with this, I wanted the lyrics to be completely front and centre because they’re the soul of the song and hold the message of the song and the thing that connects the song with both the past and the present—even the future, I would say.
I focused first on the vocals and wanted to harmonise those. I wanted it to be a really powerful and full song so I wanted there to be a big synth or bass element to it. I also decided to put some percussion in—it’s actually me tapping on a book. So there’s this percussion that’s weirdly stumbling and ticking along because that goes in 5 when the rest of the track is in 3—I wanted that to be like a push and pull, I suppose. The fiddle line wasn’t actually written originally for Oxford City. When I wrote it I was feeling quite upset, disconnected and helpless, and there’s a darkness to the melody that’s got the same energy—almost a helplessness and a really powerful, heavy and dark significance—so that’s why I married them together.
From winning the Christian Raphael Prize earlier this year, to rave reviews of every performance, you’re only moving from strength to strength. What’s been your personal highlight of the year so far?
So much has happened. I’ve been working very hard and meeting loads of wonderful people and having such amazing experiences like winning the Christian Raphael Prize at Cambridge Folk Festival. Every gig and connecting with every audience is incredible. But my highlight that I’m majorly excited about is being on Later… with Jools Holland which I didn’t see coming this year but is so cool and it was an incredible experience. I’m just really proud because it’s a show that I love and always has amazing musicians on. So being on that… I’m happy now for the year!
What’s next for you as an artist and where do you see yourself this time next year?
At the minute, I’m about to step into another writing phase, making more music so I’ve got more to share with audiences and with listeners. So I’m about to squirrel away for the autumn. I’ve also got my new EP which is out on the 3 November—my first EP, so that’s a huge thing for me. Just sharing more music with audiences really—that’s such a special thing for me.
We can’t wait to see you perform at St George’s! What can audiences expect from you?
Connecting with people and sharing some beautiful thoughts and beautiful things. Giving people something special and something to think about is what I aim to do. Also, continuing to create something new. It happens quite often after a gig that someone says they’ve never heard anything like that before in my life which is amazing!
If you could choose one dessert island track, what would it be?
Loading by James Blake. I could have a little dance around in the sand as I’m going slightly mad and enjoy the music!
Words by Louise Goodger