Now that ‘We Are The Young Men‘, the new Frank And Walters single and the first cut lifted from the group’s forthcoming album, Songs For The Walking Wounded, has been sent out into the wider world, I’m going back over twenty-five years to a cracking live show of theirs in The College Bar in U.C.C. in late 1990.
I’d met the band some months earlier – during that summer’s World Cup – and I’ve covered that aspect of our relationship in detail in a post that’s available here. Having worked with them on some of their earliest recorded material, I was adamant that I could land them some sort of a record deal. As with most other things at the time, I had no idea how I was going to achieve this but I genuinely thought they had the songs and enough sparkle. Buoyed by what I was seeing in other parts of the country – especially by Toasted Heretic, who were based in Galway and who were running a terrific home-spun operation – and by a number of other excellent bands who weren’t seeking the blessing of the Dublin archdiocese, we were confident of landing something. It just didn’t seem like an overly difficult thing to achieve, certainly not in theory.
Although Paul Linehan, the band’s singer and primary songwriter, had dabbled briefly with another excellent local outfit, the 3355409s, The Frank And Walters had no profile at all and even around Cork, existed for the most part in name only. I badgered Les Nolan, then soldiering with U.C.C.’s Live Music Society, into taking a punt on them and asked him to book them to perform during Live Music Week at the college towards the end of 1990. As I recall it, Les was unconvinced by the whole thing, most probably because he didn’t know them or their material which, at the time, amounted to two pretty cracking demo tapes. But he eventually saw my point and did the honourable thing ;- in the many years since I suspect he may have revised his views on that period somewhat.
And so The Frank And Walters fetched up in their home kit – purple loons and orange tops, which they’d bought in Leader’s, a long-standing outfitters on North Main Street in Cork – and, despite a Neanderthal sound system and the typical ennui of the sixty-strong student audience, they just levelled the place. Convincing the crowd that they weren’t a cabaret or joke act – with their stage banter, their name and their look – was possibly the first challenge, and they saw that one away quickly enough. I’ve long felt that, during the band’s commercial pomp, this aspect of their make-up was never definitively dealt with. And that this, on one level, tends to blur their impact as one of the finest pop bands – and maybe even the finest – Ireland has ever produced.
I’d started contributing some small pieces the previous year to Hot Press magazine – live reviews from low-key shows in Cork and Limerick, mostly and, with Niall Linehan’s squall still ringing in my ears days later, sat down to report on events in The College Bar for the paper. I didn’t see a single conflict of interest ;- I thought they were excellent and, if no one else was wide awake to their potential and if no one was going to push them off, then I was going to do so myself, and with gusto. It didn’t matter, in my mind, that I was actively advocating for them in other areas too ;- to me, this was now a campaign and, with all of us shouldering the wheel, we were on our way. The end-game was all that mattered.
This was one of the first pieces I had published in Hot Press ;- it wasn’t commissioned, I just submitted it blind, as I tended to do with most of my stuff back then. Damien Corless, then on the staff at Hot Press, was a huge support to me back then and he stuck with me when, as evidenced below, I had more enthusiasm and opinions than writing ability. But, in this instance, my hyperbole has ultimately stood up to scrutiny and, reading back now, I stand over every word. Even the contemporary references to ‘ecstacy’, ‘yuppies’, ‘spare ribs’ and Norman Metcalfe, an organist who provided oblique musical clues on the RTÉ television quiz show, ‘Quicksilver’, which was hosted by Bunny Carr.
By June of the following year, The Frank And Walters were playing the Cork Rock festival in Sir Henry’s and were about to release their first E.P. for Setanta Records. Next month they release their sixth album and I await that record like I’ve always done with all of their new material. Some things never change and some things never will.
My review was published in Hot Press in December, 1990, and read as follows ;-
The Frank And Walters [College Bar, UCC]
Down here in the pit, The Frank And Walters offer some pristine light. They’re a funked-up three piece, found in the rock directories somewhere between The Kinks, The Wedding Present and The Stone Roses. That’s pedigree.
Sometimes they try too hard, and with their purple loons and fluorescent shirts might easily be taken for yet another cartoon pop piece. But when their spiky guitars and their blurted bass-lines do gel, The Frank And Walters are an intoxicating and refreshing little brew. Pure ecstacy.
They’re completely insane. Completely and utterly. Singer Paul cites Shandon’s bells and Norman Metcalfe’s shrill organ as primary influences, and he dedicates Michael, with itsringing guitars and radical drums to ‘the yuppies who insist on calling spare ribs ‘bodice’’. Character.
But the songs aren’t lost, thankfully. The Frank And Walters have an uncanny knack of writing three minute pop songs to order, where they decorate their bursts with swathes of melody, ever-changing hooklines and devious beat-poetry. And it works, too. Angela Cray, all noisy wah-wah and intimidating chorus and Walter’s Trip are testimony to a keen eye and a smooth writing hand. And then there’s the various insanities.
Pop gems fly and, despite the shite sound, The Frank And Walters toss their contenders’ bonnets into the ring. With a second guitar, they could be unstoppable. Right now they’re underway, coming shortly into your bedrooms. Just remember to keep your medicines well hidden.