Gone But Not Forgotten: #1 Billy Franks

“Sixty? He wasn’t sixty, you bloody twats!”

That was my initial reaction to reading the headline that Billy Franks had died suddenly late last year. It was the shock of it all, the disbelief that the media could get it wrong in much the same way they had when they commented that a friend was survived by three children in his native Ireland when he suddenly passed.

The media had done its’ fact checking; there were three children and Billy Franks was sixty.

Sixty. It didn’t seem possible. It was only yesterday when he’d been bounding around the stage of the Greyhound, the Marquee and other iconic London music haunts. As much as you could bound around on those cramped stages.

The Faith Brothers are, as far as I am concerned, probably the most under-rated band I’ve come across. You’ve got your own pick, I’m sure, they are mine. Eventide, their debut, to this day remains firmly and resolutely in my top ten favourite albums.

There was something oddly reassuring about buying the CD version, as well as hearing it on Spotify. When I first listened to the vinyl version, it sounded like it was scratched. The unsettling click signalling a small jump on the plastic. That’s when you got frustrated as record buyer; a brand new vinyl and there it was, damaged.

Closer inspection of the LP revealed no imperfections so I stopped berating myself for being a clumsy oaf. The replacement version carried the same fault at which point I realised it must be on the master tapes.

Proof of it comes with its’ emergence, reassuringly, on the streamed version as well.

Eleven songs but rarely for albums of that era, it captures some of the energy of their live performances. Eventide with its base in the soul which made the Faith Brothers name also underlines the scope of Franks’ lyrical abilities.

From the elegiac title track through the thoughtful Easter Parade – his own Shipbuilding – and the jangling guitar of Dust In The Soul. All of them influenced by his upbringing and the inequalities of society at the time. Eleven songs which whizz by in a little over forty minutes.

Fast forward two years to the follow-up A Human Sound. You can instantly identify Steve Lillywhite’s production with the bombastic drums dominating the soundscape.

There are some great tracks but it was a shift away from Eventide and probably not one I was following at the time. The punt at the big time didn’t come off despite support slots with some of the biggest acts of the era, U2 among them.

The break-up of the Faith Brothers led Billy onto a solo career. A move ‘oop north’ meant I sporadically heard his recordings. Not signed to a major label, the airplay for arguably the best songwriting of his life was missing. Undeservedly so, as well.

He has (had) a healthy YouTube channel with plenty of clips of live performances.

Among them is the excellent documentary, Tribute This! The full version is shown below.

As was commented during the course of the programme, it was as much a road-trip as having an end product. To be fair, it sounds like the sort of idea many of us had as the ales filled an evening. They got off their arses and tried. Hats doffed for that.

An unknown singer-songwriter? Stretching the theme a little I think but an unusual and marvellous idea. I’ve pulled together my favourite tracks from his solo career and hope you enjoy them. His book, A Far Cry From Sunset, is still available through Amazon.

Billy went on to walk the Camino Way last year, documenting it on the blog, The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s an interesting journal of his journey and the people he met along the way.

For his musical career, Billy’s own website stands as a memorial to his talent.

His death may not have grabbed the headlines in the way other musicians and actors did last year but few pierced my heart with as much sadness.

2016 really was a bastard of a year.

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9 thoughts on “Gone But Not Forgotten: #1 Billy Franks

  1. I love Everything But The Girl YW……got all,of their albums….fabulous band that could write proper lyrics and music

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  2. Thank you for writing such wonderful things about my dad Billy Franks. Please share his music as widely as possible. As his daughter, it is heart warming to across such niceness from others. Much appreciated. KEEP THE FAITH BROTHER, with Love Alison x

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  3. I’m sorry for your loss, Alison. Still listening to Eventide after all these years. Your dad was a part of such good times back in the day so I raise a glass to his memory.

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  4. Fully agree with your opinion. Under-rated band. Been in contact with Billy about his projects. Even got a link from him ro dowanload his first album with Faith brothers. Didn’t know he passed away. Sad to hear. Was playing his Faith Brothers albums this afternoon when I read your blog. I raise a glass to his memory too

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  5. Lovely to have a place for Billy’s many fans to come together and celebrate is life and music.
    With a couple of mates I followed the Faith Brothers for a few years in the mid 80’s mostly at the Marquee but at some other venues also. Billy was an incredible front man with infectious enthusiasm and energy. At one gig he had a broken leg but still performed superbly from a chair! My mates and me ended up on the stage leaping around in a drunken frenzy, it felt amazing to be ‘part’ of the band for a few minutes!
    I met Billy with his girlfriend/partner once in Kingson and recognising me he stopped and chatted, who knows, that might have been Alison’s Mum?
    More recently I followed him on twitter and he replied to a couple of tweets which was lovely. I was planning to go and see him play with a couple of the old gang when we could arrange a suitable time so was utterly heartbroken to hear of his untimely passing.
    I still have Eventude and A Human Sound on vinyl and am seeking a copy of Mass. Whenever I play these beautiful old records I remember Billy and the joy his music gave to me and my friends and I consider myself so blessed to have been a part of it all, they really were great times.
    To Alison and to all the fans out there my heartfelt condolences and love, because I know Billy is out there somewhere smiling at us, tuning up and getting ready to entertain us all over again.
    Keep the Faith
    Benjy xx

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  6. Dear Alison,

    I found out about your dad’s (cruelly premature) passing only yesterday, as I was reminiscing on Youtube. He was a double genius, made so by the rare quality of both his music and his lyrics. I was a 19-year-old university student when the ‘farm animals’ video for ‘A Stranger on Home Ground’ caught my attention in my local record shop, in the summer of ’85.

    I am now a 51-year-old research scientist, with four children of my own, and your dad’s melodic and poetic masterpieces are all over my iPod. ‘Dust in the Soul’ brings tears to my eyes, as my late grandfather was a coalminer; ‘Easter Parade’ is one of the finest tributes to fallen and maimed soldiers ever written; and the sheer humanity of the classic that is ‘Fulham Court’ is almost beyond description.

    If there is one song, however, which seems to encapsulate everything about Billy Franks, it is – for me, at least – ‘Consider Me’, which could only have been penned by someone with immense thoughtfulness, humility and love for others.

    The music will live on – certainly in my family – and, if my own sons and daughters feel anywhere near as proud of me as you must do of your own father, then it will have been a life well lived.

    I shall keep the Faith.

    With sincere condolences and all good wishes,

    Paul

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