Culture Shock: The day I turned down managing The Frames

I wouldn’t have lasted 25 days in the gig, let alone the 25 years that Glen Hansard and the rest of the band have survived

Multiple line-ups: Glen Hansard and The Frames in 2009

Multiple line-ups: Glen Hansard and The Frames in 2009

 

It could have been so different. The Frames are celebrating 25 years on the go with shows in Dublin and Cork and the release of a new career-spanning collection of songs, called Longitude.

There have been many highs, some lows and countless great moments along the way from this intriguing outfit. The bunch of kids who charmed all and sundry with exciting shows at the Purty Kitchen, in Dún Laoghaire, in the 1990s have grown up to become the vastly experienced, well travelled and relatively together musicians of today.

They have even survived a propensity for self-destruction. Indeed, The Frames’ lead singer, Glen Hansard, used to describe his band as a group who would always snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

One such disaster could have unfolded back in 1991 when the band, clearly in a rush-of-blood-to-the-head moment, approached me about managing them. Luckily for all concerned – especially me, in hindsight – that notion went nowhere, and potential catastrophe was averted. I don’t think I’d have lasted 25 days in the gig, let alone 25 years.

That encounter has meant I’ve always watched with interest as The Frames have developed into a power to be reckoned with. A quarter-century run for any band is worthy of note.

It’s fascinating to watch the relationships, including the power struggles, at play within a group of creative people. As outsiders we can only speculate about what’s going on and how the inevitable disputes and disagreements are resolved. You have to wonder, for instance, how exactly Larry Mullen jnr has put up with staring at Bono’s behind on stages around the world for the best part of 40 years. It can’t be just the (tax-efficient) millions.

Obstacles

Often, a well-rounded band emerges that you think will last the course only to fall over after a handful of albums and call it a day. It always seems to be the more cantankerous, difficult and infuriating groups that keep on keeping on.

The fact that The Frames still exist all these years on is particularly astonishing when you look at the struggles they faced. Many bands meet similar obstacles and setbacks, but The Frames seem to have encountered them at almost every stage of the journey.

There were many moments in the early days that threatened to scupper their momentum.

Initial interest in the band was tied, in some quarters, to Hansard’s appearance in the film of Roddy Doyle’s novel The Commitments, which was a bit of a distraction at first.

There was also the fact that Island Records, the first of the band’s many labels, had signed the singer rather than the group and often seemed confused about what exactly was going on.

Along the way band members have come and gone, with the film-maker John Carney and the producer Dave Odlum among those who have served within the ranks.

Yet the band endured. They came into their own with the release of For the Birds, in 2001, after they quit the major-label merry-go-round and decided to embrace the independent, do-it-yourself way of working.

They became masters of their own destinies and could turn their huge fan base at home into a tool for financing foreign tours.

And then came the Oscar-winning Falling Slowly, from the film Once, which had both nothing and everything to do with The Frames. On the one hand it was completely removed from what the band were doing. On the other hand you had the lead singer and his songs marshalled by the former bass player, so it was natural to fold The Swell Season, as Hansard’s duo with Markéta Irglová was called, into the narrative of The Frames.

The success of The Swell Season overshadowed The Frames for a few years. The popularity of the film and the song meant there was a commercial demand for The Swell Season to tour and release records.

That the touring version of The Swell Season was staffed by musicians from the existing band led to some confusion among long-running fans. It also meant that The Frames took a bit of a backseat as Once and The Swell Season continued onwards and upwards.

Studio exploits

For the next few weeks, though, it’s back to the old house. The fact that the upcoming shows are already sold out shows that the band’s appeal has not waned.

There’s a strong new song called None But I on the new collection, which is credited to The Frames and presents all kinds of possibilities about future studio exploits. Perhaps it might be wise not to bet against the band extending that 25-year run some more.

The Frames play Iveagh Gardens, Dublin, on July 4th and 5th and Live at the Marquee, Cork, on July 11th. All shows are sold out

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