Seven Day Mile (live)
Love Will Tear Us Apart (live Joy Division cover)
The Frames are an Irish band who have been around for, well, ages. Their singer and guitarist, Glen Hansard, busked on Dublin’s Grafton Street when he was only 14. He presented Other Voices: Songs from a Room back when it was actually good, and had his own band appear on it, once or twice if I remember right. He recently completed a solo album with Marketa Irglova (called The Swell Season), and a movie with her, entitled Once, which won an Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. The band themselves have been around since 1990, and now seems to be the time when they are finally achieving the recognition they deserve.
It’s worth considering why thus far this recognition hasn’t been forthcoming. Primarily, in the past, their recorded output has always had a kind of sonic inconsistency about it, with albums rarely flowing easily. Add to that the fact that their take on indie folk-rock is either revered and adored, or simply discarded as dull and lacklustre, and you get a feel for why although dearly loved in Ireland, they haven’t been making quite so many ripples across the Atlantic. In my humble opinion, this is soon to change however.
Recently, I had the chance to once again see The Frames live (after seeing them three times previously), and this time it was at the Oran Mor. It was a dreary cold February evening in Glasgow, but everyone knew from the moment the band got on-stage, that this gig was going to be interesting at the very-least, and spectacular at the very-best. As I queued at the bar for my two Vodka - Lemonade - and - Blackcurrant's, like the woman that I am, everyone else was ordering pints of Guinness. As I took my place in the crowd, and the band appeared on-stage, members of the audience started singing “Ireland forever” and waving Irish scarves about with vigour. Worth noting, of course, that the venue was in Scotland - a whole sea of water away from Ireland.
People Get Ready (live)
Lay Me Down (live)
God Bless Mom (live)
Rent Day Blues
The gig kicked off with “People Get Ready” in all its bounteous glory. The song coincidentally, which perhaps best defines The Frames, and their dedication to their sonic evolution – “we have all the time in the world to get it right”. Indeed, the band have continually improved their sound over more than a decade, continually synthesising their violent emotion with quiet sadness.
The endearing cheekiness of Glen was fully on display as he told a few of the trademark stories which he's renowned for; prior to playing “Lay Me Down”, he offered forth a story behind the song: that it was about when he was 16 and “had a girlfriend – she was a Goth, [he] was a Rocker, so obviously [they] couldn’t go out in public. At Christmas [he] bought her this plot of land in a cemetery and [they] lay down in the hole and had a bloody good time”. However, fewer stories were told than usual, as for the majority of the gig he let the songs speak for themselves.
He also wore his beliefs on his sleeve: “God Bless Mom” was dedicated to the British Queen; the crowd were asked to “sing like little Catholics, sing!” whilst Glen clasped his hands in prayer. During one of the heavier parts of the song Glen screamed “You will never be like us! You should never have married a monarchy!”; “Rent Day Blues” was dedicated to “the landlords, the ruling classes, who have taken money off the Irish for over 800 years”, and was met with rapturous applause. On record, perhaps, some of this energy isn’t felt, but live the crowd laps it up. And it’s not a negative energy by any means – this sense of entitlement, this anguish and bitterness. It’s one that as a band they manipulate and channel into an inspiring creative force.
When Your Mind's Made Up
Star Star (live)
Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova
The Frames had the crowd in the palm of their hands for the duration, willing to go along with every whim – for instance, Glen insisting that the crowd raise their palms in the air and mimic the vocal melody whilst singing it; making the crowd hold the note for over twenty seconds while he sang over the top of them. Even the extended song titles got a laugh from the awestruck crowd: “this one’s called ‘When Your Mind’s Made Up There’s No Point Talking To You So I Won’t’”; “this is ‘Too Many Sad Words Make For Sad Sad Songs’”.
It wasn’t a flawless gig by any means; gigs rarely are. The performance of Leave wasn't quite as eye-watering, heart-breaking and fragile as I've seen it previously; the guitar and bass notes were clashing with each other on “Pavement Tune”, making it slightly more raucous than usual. However, Glen went along with it and merely repeated “fuck it, fuck it, fuck it” to reassure Joe that it was fine. And it was fine – it was more than fine – if only all fuckup’s at gigs could be this insignificant; the band held tight regardless and the song was dizzyingly excellent right up until the final lines which Glen sang in “a slightly German accent” to the hushed, appreciative audience: “I vont my life to make more sense. I vont my life to make amends.”
Prior to the penultimate song, "Star Star", (requested several times by the audience), a story was told of a young kid – Glen – lying down in the middle of a field, in the middle of the night, and writing this song, while staring up at the stars and wondering about “the big questions, the one’s that really matter, like ‘Will I ever get my own lightsaber? So I can… turn the losers into winners and smash the liars – no, smash the greedy… fuckheads’… you know what I mean. This one is for all aspiring Jedi Knights”. The band performed the song, tacking on the expected Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ending, and when Glen sang about keeping the dream alive, and “if it comes down to this, I will”, I believed him; everyone did.
Fighting On The Stairs
The Frames have struggled financially in the past, but their spirit has never wavered and now they seem to be coming into their own. Adverts bearing their name are plastered all over the internet recently, including the top banner on Pitchfork last week and the bottom banner on the Hype Machine at the moment, all advertising their most consistent record to date, The Cost. More than that however - because good PR can only go so far - they have just recently given an outstanding live performance – slotting in alongside Broken Social Scene, Radiohead, and Sigur Ros as one of the best live gigs ever witnessed by these eyes and ears.
If ever there was a band that could start a revolution, an uprising, its The Frames. An unexpected observation to make, it may seem, if you’ve only experienced the subdued tracks on their albums and not the emotional violence of their live show. Once you experience the energy and witness the adulation that is poured onto them in abundance by their fans, you realise that you truly are in the presence of a formidable force. U2 have pretty-much become a stadium band, The Pogues have become a money-spinning caricature of themselves, but The Frames are truly a band of the people destined for imminent world-wide recognition. They are as comfortable playing a sold-out Marlay Park gig in Dublin to thirty-thousand odd people, as they are playing in a small packed room like The Venue at the Oran Mor. It certainly looks like the future will be bright.
+ All photos taken by myself on the 24th of February, 2007, at the Oran Mor. To see more from the same gig, click here.
- To read the longer version of this which briefly recounts the previous times I've seen The Frames, then you can download it as a Word Document here.
+ To buy albums by The Frames, click here.
- To read Glen's tragic article on the death of his best friend, Mic Christopher, click here.
Mic Christopher's album "Skylarkin'" holds a special place in my heart, as it has helped me through a rough Christmas period in the past. "Heyday" is the song post-posthumously used in the Guiness advert where one brother swims across to America, and says... "Sorry".