It’s almost six years since Sunderland indie-rock band Frankie and the Heartstrings got together, and four since their debut album, Hunger, saw them tipped as the next big thing to emerge from the North East.
Their finely-honed pop sensibilities and ear for a catchy tune saw the national press single them out as likely to follow The Futureheads and Maximo Park into the charts.
Hunger duly reached No 32 on the back of joyous nuggets like Photograph, Ungrateful, Possibilities and Tender.
They toured with Kaiser Chiefs and The Vaccines, and the world seemed to be at their feet as they prepared to release second album The Days Run Away in 2013.
Opening a pop-up record shop, Pop Recs Ltd, to promote it seemed to be a masterstroke; it gave them a high street presence in their home town, and meant fans could walk in and buy the album from their heroes.
The shop was so successful that’s it’s still going today, albeit in a slightly different guise, Pop Recs 1.5, after a recent move.
Curiously, the album didn’t do as well as its predecessor, even though it was packed with jaunty singalongs like I Still Follow You, Nothing Our Way and Everybody Looks Better (in the Right Light).
The album was still praised by the critics, but perhaps the fast-moving music scene had changed, leaving them behind?
Undeterred, the band ploughed on, and the result was third album Decency, one of the first to come out yesterday on the new worldwide Friday release day.
Some clever marketing, where fans could buy a ticket for the launch gig and get a copy of the album for a bargain price, ensured The Cluny was packed to the rafters last night.
And though the album undoubtedly shows a more mature side to the Heartstrings, it’s still overflowing with the infectious pop for which they’ve become known.
The band pondered the question if being back at The Cluny, where they launched their first album, meant they haven’t progressed.
Their devoted audience were having none of it, and the band responded by putting on an excellent show, with frontman Frankie Francis a mesmeric presence at the heart of it all.
There’s been a couple of personnel changes since the last album, with Ross Millard of The Futureheads replacing Mick Ross on guitar, and Michael Matthews of This Ain’t Vegas coming in for Steven Dennis on bass.
The new boys seem to have energised the rest of the band; someone who’s seen them eight times reckoned this was the best, with Millard’s guitar adding more ‘crunch’ to the sound.
This being an album launch gig, half of the setlist was new songs, and half the ‘classics’ which everybody present knows and loves.
They started with the new record’s title track, before whipping through a handful of the songs which earned them the adoration of those in the room in the first place: Possibilities, Ungrateful, the outstanding That Girl, That Scene and Tender.
The crowd firmly onside, they slipped in some of the new material, Berlin Calls (familiar to anyone who’s seen them live in the last three or four years, but recorded at last), Hate Me Like You Used To and Balconette.
Now it was time for the new, mature Heartstrings to play their ace, in the shape of a three-piece brass section, and it certainly gave a different dimension to new songs Save It For Tonight, Money, Someday Anna and old favourite I Still Follow.
After a short break the band re-emerged for the obligatory encore dressed in matching powder-blue suits, to round things off with the album’s Dexys-like lead single Think Yourself Lucky and a stunning version of heartfelt early 7in Fragile.
On this showing, Frankie and the Heartstrings have far from stood still. In fact you could say they’ve progressed to Frankie and the Heartstrings v1.5.
You can catch them for free at Reflex record shop in Newcastle at 3pm today, and at Sunniside Live in Sunderland at 8.45pm tonight.
* The support acts also deserve a mention, particularly the opener, 11-year-old Houghton singer Tom Smith, who looks a rare talent in the making.
His set of covers, including Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus, The Smiths’ Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want and The Zutons’ Valerie, suggest he’s a name to look out for.
Sunderland singer-songwriter Rhys Patterson was next, and drew warm applause for his short set, despite looking nervous as a kitten, while Pity Me fourpiece Martha raised the bar and the temperature in the sweltering room with a lively set of DIY indie-punk.