Frazer King – live review
all photos: Cath Aubergine
Of the 150,000 people who are estimated to suffer a stroke each year in the UK, a third sadly don’t make it through the first few days, whilst a third make a recovery within a month. These statistics come courtesy of The Stroke Association, and you might nave noticed that that leaves a third unaccounted for. Those 50,000 people every year are left disabled and needing rehabilitation: a quarter of a million people are thought to be living with long-term disability as a result of stroke in the UK.
A sobering thought – and original Manchester punk fanzine writer Steve Shy knows it all too well as he’s had two of them and swears by the selflessness of those involved in the therapy side of things for getting him back on his feet. One support worker in particular was singled out for praise: once a month she would hold a social event where people who had suffered strokes could go to share their experiences – as Steve tells me outside Night & Day it’s not something anyone can imagine until it happens – and she’d sort out some tea and butties and things. Not much, but it made a difference. And then the Tories got re-elected and started dismantling the National Health Service, starting with things they considered unnecessary. Goodbye went the funding for these therapeutic socials for Manchester’s stroke sufferers. Steve mentioned this to a few friends, and we are gathered here today (as they say – well it is Sunday, and the event’s been named the Sunday Service) because members of Frazer King figured that whilst the government might be too tight to pay for the sessions they and their friends and fans certainly wouldn’t be. And they have a lot of friends and fans…
Danny Mahon’s as good a way as any to get a crowd warmed up – not that this afternoon’s gathering need a lot of that. Fuelled by punk spirit, Danny’s a good old-fashioned down-to-earth singer-songwriter straddling the worlds of gritty, intelligent and funny street poetry and rabble-rousing pints-raised terrace anthems. His words spill out like rounds of ammo (although rather more tuneful) backed by just a strong strummed rhythm guitar – he’s unpretentious and quietly more talented than he’d let on. Fiercely and proudly Mancunian, his take on a love song is to tell his girl “to me you mean everything, even more than Eric the King”. Meanwhile a cast of characters is drawn with his words: “I don’t need to work cos I can sell drugs…” starts one song, going on to boast of a “flat screen TV in my council flat, bulletproof vest” until the twist comes in the chorus “cos I’m a twat!”. Brilliant stuff.
By the time Frazer King have gathered their membership ready to play, Night & Day’s as full as I’ve seen it this year at least – and everyone seems to know everyone else. Loads of them are in other bands but I’ll spare you the name-drop-a-thon – aside from to say that The Janice Graham Band, one of a few who burst through the floodgates Frazer King had prised open for young working-class Mancunians playing music several billion times more interesting than your traditional fly-sky-high mainstream “indie” guitar rock, have claimed their spots down the front.
There’s always been a big community scene around Frazer King; the first time I saw them they’d brought half of Wythenshawe into town and I couldn’t believe what I was watching. Writing for ManchesterMusic.co.uk I was pretty much the first reviewer to cover the chaotic many-headed whirlwind of talent, imagination and alcohol that is Frazer King: I’ve told the story a few times over the years, but not here, and it’s a good one. Me and a mate were sitting in Font bar near Oxford Road station in January 2008 just having a couple of drinks and a bite to eat after work when a scruffy, unshaven young lad with a massive swollen black eye came over to our table, and after confirming that I was indeed the local music reviewer he thought I was, told me to come and see his band later that week because they were the best band I’d never seen yet. Another chancer all full of braggadocio: this city’s full of them, but there was something about this one that made me kind of believe him and with nothing much to do on whatever day it was, I did. Reviewing the glorious collision of pretty much every form of music ever that exploded in front of me proved rather tougher (although I did sign off with “this is one of the most exciting new bands I’ve seen in a while”) and three years and a double-figures’ worth of gigs later I still struggle. They’re just Frazer King.
So for the benefit if any readers as yet unfamiliar with this creative force of nature, I’m trying to listen to them with new ears… yep, I’m getting Balkan folk, DIY 80s proto-indie, spaghetti westerns, dirty soul, gypsy-punk, 2-Tone, west end musicals, skiffle, drunken waltzes… they’re like those bands from the immediate aftermath of punk who chucked all the rules (including punk’s) out the window. Their songs are laced with dramatic pauses, slowing right down and speeding up towards raucous choruses. Not especially subtly decanting a can of Guinness from his bag into a pint pot, Nathan McIlroy is a brilliant bandleader. Frequently looking like he sleeps in bus shelters he’s nevertheless got a passionate, smoke-roughened gritty-white-soul voice and devilishly incisive words, while second singer Tony Boardman and drummer Jack Hardiker join in from time to time and turn the whole vocal half of the band into what sounds like a barbershop troupe several hours into a particularly heavy night’s drinking. The venue is packed from front to at least half way back with people singing and dancing, and when they reach their final “Sail A Boat” any unwitting observer would think they were watching a band play their big hit single such is the chorus of singing along (even to the odd little doo-wop bits and three-part splits) and swaying from side to side. There’s nobody being cool and aloof – they’re just not that sort of band.
A little plastic seaside bucket is produced, and the cash pours in. Enough to keep the stroke sufferers’ social going for a few more months – and then I guess we’ll have to do it all again.