Belligerent But Beautiful Songs

When I grew into adulthood in the 1980s, the Tory government’s onslaught saw us staring into a bleak future unless we fought back. So we did, and our fightback had a soundtrack.

The better-known voices of that soundtrack — the Paul Wellers and Billy Braggs — are still playing to this day. But one of the less known, and to me one of the best, died last month at the too-young age of 60.

Billy Franks led the Faith Brothers, writing belligerent but beautiful songs of working-class lives and battles, and playing them to an ardent congregation who lived those lives and fought those battles. Their music was brassy and passionate, Billy’s lyrics, political poetry. He didn’t need a macho swagger or an attitude: he was one of us.

Billy won his place in the annals of the community where he lived with ‘Fulham Court’. In ‘Easter Parade’, he exposed Thatcher’s bloodthirsty Falklands War and subsequent refusal to allow disfigured soldiers to attend the victory celebration:

For nineteen years you chart my life
With your morals and your incentives
In six weeks pull it all apart
For horror’s real and you are far away

And with ‘Eventide (A Hymn for Change)’, Billy and the Faith Brothers offered hope.

I cannot count how many times I saw them, from a sweat-drenched Marquee in London to supporting REM at the Ritz in Manchester. After the Faith Brothers split in 1987, Billy continued writing and playing, often with former bandmates including Lee Hirons. He travelled, fundraised, wrote a book and made a film, but never got the breakthrough or recognition he merited. I regret that I did not keep up with him as time moved on.

Billy Franks deserves to be honoured and remembered. And to be discovered if you missed him the first time round.

R. I. P.

“Only change is true, the rest guesses and lies.”



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