Crowds greet bluesman Frank’s stage comeback

Frank White returns with a new album and management deal and, most importantly, a new lease of life, says Rachael Clegg

INSPIRATION for songwriting can strike Frank White at any time.

“I was once up a ladder at a friend’s house in Mexborough doing some painting and decorating and suddenly got the idea for this song. I climbed down and wrote it – it took me about ten or 15 minutes,” he said.

The Sheffield bluesman has just performed a big comeback gig and been playing the city live circuit for more than four decades, starting out with pubs and progressing to clubs as a young musician.

“When I was a kid you could play clubs and pubs every night of the week. You could learn your craft. But now there are fewer outlets for up-and-coming bands and musicians.”

White certainly learned his craft. Since the 60s, he has dominated the Sheffield blues scene. It is said that even the Rolling Stones wanted him to join their band.

But, despite the lure of rock and roll success, White remained in Sheffield, his spiritual home (with Nashville coming in at a close second place). “I grew up here. I was born in Darnall and the city’s part of me,” he says.

And if, for some reason, Sheffield suddenly disappeared off the map, he’d jet over to Nashville at the drop of a hat: “If I was going to live anywhere other than Sheffield it would be there.

“People think of it as a country music city but the music industry’s much broader than that – you can go and play or see jazz, blues and rock and roll too.”

He released his first album in 1972, alongside raising a young family. He put his career on the back-burner, opting to play Sheffield venues and stay at home rather than travel further afield.

And now, after a 16-year hiatus, the Sheffield bluesman is releasing another album, The Cat, which features both original White numbers, such as the title track, and covers.

“The album’s named after an instrumental track that had a ‘slinky’ sound. I knew a harmonica player from Manchester thought it would be nice to compose an instrumental to feature his sound – he is very, very good. It’s a slinky instrumental that sounds like a cat.”

Last weekend, White played The Cat launch gig at the Pheasant Inn, where he’s had a weekly residency for 19 years – the show was such a success that more than 1,000 were left disappointed, unable to get into the already sold-out venue.

Even Sheffield club magnate Peter Stringfellow sent a tribute to be read out on stage, which described how special the Steel City blues player is to him.

White’s now signed to management company Kudos Music UK, a deal which has afforded him the luxury of being a full-time singer-songwriter. “The management deal has given me the freedom to concentrate on songwriting again.”

He’s also discovering material written in the past that he had since forgotten: “I keep coming across lyrics I wrote ages ago and thinking ‘why didn’t I use this?”

Now, however, he has an outlet, and is already planning another album release next year, as well as a blues festival tour.

Next week he’s releasing digital single You Send Me, from The Cat.

“That seems to be the stand-out track, though it’s difficult for me to say which songs stand out because I just do what I do. I just say ‘okay’, record them and then let songs stand up on their own.”

This is the first time White has enjoyed the limelight since illness took him away from the stage in 2008.

Now he’s back on top form: “I take every day as a highlight. I’m lapping this up. Friday night was absolutely sensational – it was packed out and there was someone shouting ‘welcome home, Frank’ from the crowd, which was wonderful. I’m here and I’m rocking.”

Frank White plays at the Midland Hotel, Killamarsh, on Wednesday December 1 and The Pheasant Inn, Barnsley Road, on Friday December 3 to accommodate the people who couldn’t get in last week.