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Lucy Wan artwork by Frankie Archer, featuring a woman's image divided up into light boxes

Frankie Archer takes on ‘Lucy Wan’ as her next single

The Northumbrian singer releases a typically alternative version of the disturbing ballad, and explains where she found her influences.

Those of you that have listened to the Old Songs Podcast on ‘Lucy Wan’ [Roud 234] will have heard a snippet of Frankie Archer’s latest release. We were lucky enough to hear about its existence while we were making the episode, and the artist was kind enough to let us use it to kick the podcast off (have a listen on the player below). You’ll be able to hear it in full on September 9th, when it will appear as her latest single on all good streaming and download websites.

Fans of the singer’s alternative approach to traditional song will not be disappointed. Layered over a heavily reverberating digital drum track and multi-tracked fiddle, Archer’s faltering voice is direct and raw, resplendent in its natural Northumbrian accent, and the overall effect drags this ancient ballad of incest and fratricide into the horrific present. It’s not quite as chilling as ‘Close the Coalhouse Door‘; it’s a different beast entirely – a cinema short that you struggle to turn away from, rather than the visceral snapshot of a mass grave that we experienced on her second single.

What makes Archer’s take on ‘Lucy Wan’ particularly interesting is the inclusion of two new verses that hound the bloodthirsty protaganist to his own grizzly death. She explains, “As a female folk musician, it is irritating and boring when, in song after song, women are murdered, raped, deceived, burned – you name it – by men. ‘Lucy Wan’ is a perfect example of this. Man impregnates woman, man murders woman, lies about it to his mother, runs away and ultimately gets away with it. What is the moral of the story? Folk songs don’t need to have morals of course, but this story is a harmfully overused archetype. I wanted to give a voice to Lucy in my version of the song, because in most renditions all she can do is cry and tell her brother he has made her pregnant, and that’s all we hear from her because he swiftly kills her. I gave Lucy Wan power and a voice in the song, just as she and endless other women in endless other folk songs deserve.”

Frankie Archer has also spoken for the first time about her influences. “My experience of the song ‘Lucy Wan’ is, in a way, quite backwards,” she says. “Often a musician first learns about a song from reading lyrics in a manuscript or hearing it sung in the raw closeness of a singing session. The first version I heard, though, was a very contemporary version by Jim Moray featuring Bubbz. This blew my mind. It showed me for the first time what UK folk music can actually be like. Enough of the fair maids and lily-white hands, the metaphors and suggestions, Jim Moray and Bubbz match the true yearning of storytelling with a blunt, sexually graphic set of lyrics, expressing the brutality of the song in language that is appropriate for the situation if it were to happen today. Quaint language and metaphors still rightfully have a place in traditional song, just the way that I heard this fused with genuinely contemporary storytelling in the form of rap was a spark for me. I felt inspired then to create music that is new and fresh whilst still honouring the old forms.”

‘Lucy Wan’ by Frankie Archer is released on September 9th. Follow her progress on her Linktree site.