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Frankie Armstrong

Born 13 January 1941, Workington, in Cumbria, England, voice-coach Frankie and her traditionally-biased dirges have been a stalwart purveyor of ye olde folk music for decades now – and she’s still going strong. With sparse accompaniment, at times just plain a cappella, the Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire-raised lass began her long folk-chanting career in 1964 when she joined local group The Ceilidh Singers; she was to play the Edinburgh Festival two years later as part of a “Poets in Public” entourage highlighting John Betjeman, Ted Hughes et al.
ARMSTRONG’s first recording came via her two contributions (ANNE BRIGGS had four) on A.L. LLOYD’s bawdy & risque mid-60s album project, `The Bird In The Bush: Traditional Erotic Songs’, for Topic Records. After a time augmenting EWAN MacCOLL, PEGGY SEEGER and Charles Parker on a series of `Poetry And Song’ LPs, she subsequently joined The CRITICS GROUP (showcasing SEEGER, SANDRA KERR, among others), leading out the conglomerate on two sets, `Waterloo: Peterloo’ and `The Female Frolic’ (both 1968).
Finally getting her own solo show on the road, the socially-conscious Frankie delivered her inaugural debut set, LOVELY ON THE WATER (1972) {*7}, an entirely sourced record that also contained a few children’s songs and backing from JEZ LOWE and Jack Warshaw. Released only on an American independent, “…OUT OF LOVE, HOPE AND SUFFERING” (1974) {*6} saw one of Frankie’s own rare originals, `Doors To My Mind’, sitting alongside two by PEGGY SEEGER (`Too Much Of A Good Thing’ and `I’m Gonna Be An Engineer’), John Pole’s `Anti-Carol’ and trad stuff like `Prince Heathen’ and `The Cuckoo’. Her voice workshops and semi-festivals soon spread far and wide, reaching countries such as Ireland, North America and Australia, while a collaborative project set, THE VALIANT SAILOR (1973) {*6}, featuring her on four solo pieces, saw her working in harmony with fellow Topic folkies A.L. LLOYD, MARTYN WYNDHAM-READ and ROY HARRIS.
Augmented by various session people (including Appalachian dulcimer player, Susie Rothfield), SONGS AND BALLADS (1975) {*6} broke her free from the shackles of entertaining alone; while she covered John Pole’s `Jack The Lad’, she also co-penned `Lament For The Hull Trawlers’ with the aforementioned EWAN MacCOLL. Joint efforts aside (and there were a few), a set recorded in May ‘78 with Swedish musicians Lena Ekland and Jan Hammarlund, AND THE MUSIC PLAYS SO GRAND {*7}, finally saw light in 1980. Mixing up the musical medicine somewhat and taking her across the pond to Alameda, California, I HEARD A WOMAN SINGING (1985) {*5} had a variety of great recitals from JAMES TAYLOR’s `Millworker’ to (guest) LEON ROSSELSON’s `My Daughter, My Son’ and `I Don’t Want Your Red, Red Roses’; she would return the favour by appearing on several of the latter’s subsequent sets. ROSSELSON, too, added a bit of flare to ARMSTRONG & (DAVE) VAN RONK’s turn-of-the-decade joint effort, LET NO ONE DECEIVE YOU: SONGS OF BERTOLT BRECHT {*5}; the Brecht work included material like `Mack The Knife’ from `The Threepenny Opera’ (which he composed with Kurt Weill, incidentally).
Signed up to Harbourtown Records (with Fellside getting in on the act periodically), Frankie continued to combine her day job with a string of albums, WAYS OF SEEING (1990) {*5}, THE FAIR MOON REJOICES (1997) {*6}, TILL THE GRASS O’ERGREW THE CORN (1997) {*6}, her collection of traditional ballads THE GARDEN OF LOVE (1999) {*6}, another joint effort with Sarah Harman and Shanne Taylor, DARKEST BEFORE THE DAWN (2004) {*5}, and her most recent ENCOURAGEMENT (2008) {*6}. Worth also checking out is her autobiography (edited by Jenny Pearson), As Far As The Eye Can Sing.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Aug2015

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