We love it when someone discovers an apparently “new” traditional song or tune – something that has sat untouched for yonks, waiting patiently for somebody to rediscover it. We’re also delighted when we hear someone doing something considerably different with traditional music – taking it in a direction we wouldn’t have expected.
So, it was with some delight that we heard Frankie Archer’s debut single, ‘Over the Border’, out today, and straight onto our Latest Folk Music Favourites playlist. With it’s minimalist vocal backdrop, it put us in mind of Laurie Anderson – certainly not a setting you’ll often find traditional music in; a bed of light, airy, harmonies onto which the old fiddle tune itself is gently laid. It would’ve been so easy for Archer to record this in a straight tradfolk arrangement. Massive kudos to her for taking it somewhere that is entirely her own.
‘Over the Border’ is a Northumbrian smallpipes tune dating back over two centuries, “passed down in pub sessions, from teacher to student, and recorded in manuscripts.” As Archer herself explains, “I came across the tune Over the Border in a manuscript of traditional tunes collected by John Peacock in the early 1800s. This tune stood out to me because of the lilting nature of the melody and how it has a conversation with itself. The original collector of the tune wrote that it seems to commemorate a border but he never learned the story behind it. This got me thinking about borders in all of their forms, physical and otherwise, and the relationships between borders, nature and humans.”
Archer’s musings present themselves in the second third of the song, as the fiddle joins a team of strings – all played by the artist herself – and her lead vocal takes over, touching on natural phenomena (seeds, trees, birds, clouds and birdsong) that pay no heed to human-imposed borders. The song section is Archer’s; a simple, climbing melody that contrasts against the decidedly tradfolk fiddle tune, but does so gracefully. It’s a gorgeous combination, perfect for sticking on the earbuds and enjoying on a spring morning beneath a reaching sky.
Frankie Archer is not a name we’d come across before, which is perhaps unsurprising given that this is her debut single, but we look forward to hearing from her again. Her’s is a fresh sound that suggests exciting new possibilities for these age-old Northumbrian tunes.