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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, October 02, 2003
    This is Frank time

    I have done my bit for ecumenism this evening: by going to see Frank Black and the Catholics in concert at the Uni. Frank - bigger than the Pope (ie, more rotund), as generous to folk with bleeding ears as Mother Teresa was to folk with bleeding hearts. Frank - once The Pixies' frontman, with Joey Santiago at his Right Hand and Saint Kim at his Left - returning again with songs of love, joy and space flight.

    After the warm-up act I sit on the floor, a coughing little phlegmatic island in a sea of empty plastic beer glasses, amusing myself with the conceit that here I am, probably the only priest in a room full of Catholic devotees. The dark thought crosses me that had I taken a University chaplain's job this would have been work, another of life's great pleasures sucked into the dusty realm of duty. I let that pass quickly for this is not a solemn time. This is Frank time. And Frank time means, pin back your ears, you're in for a jolly loud, merry old ride.

    Frank's still got great vocal range, as he shows by singing Kim's parts on the old Pixies numbers. But the trademark still remains his thunder: his lament (something like) "Helen - the only girl I ever loved" is so loud that pigeons fall from their perches on the Metropolitan Cathedral spires outside; he hymns "I need peace" at a volume and pitch which make statues of St Ignatius shudder throughout the city. It's not noise, though, with Frank. It's crafted sound. Shakes the knees, stirs the gut and connects the listeners' heart.

    Is Frank just mucking about with religion, or is there something more? The new cd ends with Manitoba, which describes a close-call with death perhaps with the lines, "I have seen the face of God and I was not afraid". Which makes you wonder. But then again, in another track he confesses without shame, "In the evening I want my coffee / and in the morning I want my dope / and in the afternoons I'm drinking / in the New House Of The Pope". Which street of this Irish town is that house down? Soon after arriving at theological college I lost my only Frank Black and the Catholics cassette down the back of the cupboard, retrieving it two years later when I left. Only now do I realise what an education I missed.

    At times this man has been feted as the saviour of rock (by the likes of Bono and Bowie), for his majestic sonic adventures of the eighties, when he went by another name. He doesn't pay too much heed to that; those days are over. But it's good to witness an artist still enjoying crafting music as big in heart as in decibels. So tonight I say: rejoice! - kiss the tarmac holy, paint the sky Sistine; for Black Francis was lost, and now is found - renewed, redeemed, renamed as the wholehearted and bountiful big Frank Black.