Frankie South: Surviving Lock-down as a Session Guitarist

Frankie South: Surviving Lock-down as a Session Guitarist

Frankie South is a Brighton-based guitarist who has a range of experiences under her belt, from touring with the hit West End show: ”Six: The Musical”; to working with the prominent Iranian activist and musician, GOLA; to numerous other projects with artists & producers. We caught up with her to find out how she’s weathering the lock-down...

[MPS]
You have a range of musical projects under your belt, can you tell us about the most recent project you were involved in?

[FS]
The ongoing project I was involved in as lockdown started was ‘Six The Musical UK Tour 19/20’. However, the most recent new project that I was involved in was a TV performance for Iranian pop artist; GOLA. This was my first TV experience, and I feel lucky to have been a part of it, and for that to be what introduced me into the world of performing for TV.

[MPS]
It's clearly an extremely challenging time right now for any musician; how have you found your way through this?

[FS]
Yes, very challenging time for most people working in the arts, and for everyone mentally. Myself, and everyone in the Six the Musical family were feeling especially lucky recently, in that Six had been asked by the company 'Cuffe & Taylor' to be involved in their Drive-In UK tour. The show is known for its large online following and loyal fan base, so it would've been great to keep it hot on the market. I believe we were the only musical to have been asked too, which is pretty cool! We were hitting some major cities, (London, Edinburgh, Bristol etc..) and were to be set up in large fields and car parks; a super exciting and new experience. Unfortunately, only 3 weeks before we were due to start rehearsals, the Drive-In concerts under this particular organisation were cancelled. This was devastating to us all, as we were so looking forward to being back on the road and performing again. Especially with the scares of theatres, venues and arts company's closing due to the financial situations in the lockdown period, it would have been an honour to bring glimmers of hope to the arts and entertainment industry. However, the reason for the cancellation was the severity of the spread of the virus across the country, so it's all for our own safety! Six as a show will return to theatres when it can though, that's a promise! 

Besides this, I've just finished up a bit of work for some producers who have formed a YouTube series in light of lockdown, and one of the episodes features a live band, hence me being involved! (I've been asked not to reveal who the series is for… so look out for the announcement on my Instagram!) For this I was required to record and film in my own flat, which was a good experience, and something that might not happen in this way again. I can't say too much though, It's still in the filming process!

All in all, I've had little bits and bobs going on to keep me working and occupied. The thing I've been able to do most though, is practice - which is great.

[MPS]
Given the variety of work you do (from musical theatre, to songwriting, to educating) what do you find gives you the most satisfaction?

[FS]
I try to keep a big part of what I do as what’s most rewarding and satisfying for me. I feel I’m always striving to be better at what I do (sometimes probably too much), and look for opportunities of work and experience with a rewarding nature. To be honest, anything that’s helping others to learn to express themselves (teaching, theatre, workshops) or anything that helps me express myself, like songwriting, is most satisfying.

This is a bit of a disclaimer, but I didn’t grow up as a lover of theatre. I just wasn’t exposed to it; so, I didn’t ever realise how ‘caught up’ in shows people really get. I never considered that playing in a Musical would be overly rewarding, until playing in Six and watching the audiences react to the show; seeing people mesmerised by live shows and getting lost in the atmosphere of a room. Six is all about female independence and empowerment, so being able to portray that to a room containing such a variety of people (anxious teenagers, insecure adults, or even those who are unaware of what they’re about to watch - which we, amusingly, see a lot) really is a satisfying and rewarding feeling.

Having said this, I absolutely love teaching. I’ve always been big on observing personality types and learning styles, so it’s great to aid someone’s learning experience with music. I think in the future I’d like to head onto a route towards solely helping others, and aiding their lives and futures somehow. Potentially some kind of music therapy.

[MPS]
Tell us a little bit about GOLA and your experiences performing with her?

[FS]
When I was initially asked if I wanted to be involved, I was simply told that it was a TV performance for an Iranian pop artist in London. It wasn’t until I was being driven to the studio that one of the girls informed me with the true meaning of this performance, and of what GOLA stands up for.

The state in Iran remains as men having control over women. Women are disrespected to extreme lengths, they don’t have a voice, they especially cannot be performers. GOLA grew up in Iran, and eventually, had enough of this way of living; she moved to London to pursue her passion for music. She has now continued to write and perform music expressing how awful the gender inequality in Iran really is. She’s protesting for women’s rights in her home country from London, and it’s incredible.

She’s honestly such a powerful and inspirational woman to work with. The performance took place on international women’s day, and was aired on Manoto TV; a largely watched Persian TV channel. I hope to work with her again in helping to protest for women’s rights in Iran, and everywhere for that matter!

[MPS]
You’ve played live gigs in venues, theatres, TV studios and more - can you pick out a favourite show?

[FS]
It’s hard to pick one ... I think theatre wise, the whole week we played in Glasgow was insane. The audiences were spot on, and got well involved in the audience interaction parts of the show. They just got it - which is a great feeling.

I also think it’s important to remember low key gigs. I have a particular one in mind; I was playing with my first band from Uni, and we did a headline show at a small venue in Brighton called The Prince Albert. We sold it out (mainly with friends and fellow students) but it was one of my favourite gigs ever with the best atmosphere. Playing intimate venues will always be something I cherish and hope to continue doing.

[MPS]
Who do you count among your musical influences?

[FS]
I think from a current guitar playing perspective, I’m heavily influenced by Mark Lettieri and Mateus Asato. I learned a number of their pieces whilst in my last year of Uni for my performance exams, and they opened my eyes to expression and all kinds of inflections that can be played in numerous ways. I’m still learning from them all the time from music they release to short videos they upload to Instagram. I think on that front, they have inspired my creativity in playing and continue to show me different ways of approaching things. The main thing though, is how they play with feeling as well as having ridiculously musical-theoretical minds.

In terms of general musicians, I could give you so many artist or band names that I grew up listening to and watching live performances of on YouTube. I grew up listening to Arctic Monkeys and Muse and literally fantasising about playing tunes in front of a stadiums worth of people. A lot of what did it for me about them and other bands, was their presence on stage and their passion. It is and always should be about the feel and expressing yourself.

[MPS]
If you could go back to any musical era what would it be?

[FS]
I think I’d love to go back to the 60s. With artists like The Beatles being one of the first pop bands and the craze that came with that, and Jimi Hendrix introducing his wave of distorted guitars and heavy riffs. I think I’d just love to go back to a time where you’d experience these things for the first time having never heard anything like it before.

[MPS]
What was your first guitar?

[FS]
I got my first guitar when I was 6. It was a nylon string 3/4 acoustic, and I loved it. I couldn’t play a chord until I was 12, and yet still managed to play around on it constantly from the day I got it. I then got my first electric, a silver Epiphone SG Special VE, which I thought was the coolest thing ever!!!

[MPS]
What guitars are you playing at the moment?

[FS]
My go-to is my trusty Fender Strat, which I bought in my first year of Uni. I’ll use it for most stuff I perform and record, and I love it. In the last year I also bought a PRS Standard, which is what I’ll use when I need a beefier sound (however is does have a lush clean tone too!).

[MPS]
Tell us about your BigSky and Sunset, what made you choose them?

[FS]
For me the BigSky was a no brainer. I remember being in college when I was 16 and I was first getting into pedals and gear; I watched a BigSky demo and I couldn’t comprehend how a guitar could sound so like other instruments. ‘And this is all from reverb?!?’. It kind of opened my perspective of the versatility of guitar as an instrument. Once I was coming into my last year of University and getting more serious about wanting to play professionally, I finally bought one, and I’m still discovering things to this day. From using a simple spring reverb and exploring how far you can modify this sound, to venturing deep into the chorale and shimmer settings, creating synth like waves of sound. I do think this pedal really changed things for me. It’s completely broadened my outlook into writing and creativity. I’m currently drawn to the swell setting on the wet mode, and taking time to explore that with other pedal sounds too. Often trying to create icy and meditative sounds.

I recently got my hands on the Sunset dual overdrive. I’d been looking at upgrading my overdrive/distortion sound for a while, and quickly decided on the Sunset. Again (notice the pattern here), discovering the versatility of this pedal was great. You can watch all the demos you want but for Strymon pedals particularly, they never seem to do justice to how much you can do. You’ve got your treble boost of which can act like a clean boost, all the way to an old-school overdrive sound (the kind that was first influenced by artists like Hendrix; pushing amps too far volume wise and actually distorting the signal). You’ve then got your crunchy, light overdrive that can be pushed to a harder overdrive with either a sweet bassy tone or a harsher crunch, or you can go all the way with the hard setting. To me this is a full-on distortion channel that I’d use for much heavier, lead solo playing. I think what makes this pedal special is the ability to use the two channels in unison, meaning you have so many more combinations to experiment with, which really helps you find your tone for any particular music you’re playing.

Both the BigSky and the Sunset have really aided me as a musician in finding my sound. To be fair I think you’re sound is always evolving, which is great, but these pedals let me find elements I never would have otherwise.

[MPS]
What else do you have on your pedalboard?

[FS]
My full, current setup from guitar to amp:

  • Boss TU-3 — Tuner
  • Dunlop CBM95 — Cry Baby Mini Wah
  • Ernieball VP Junior — Volume Pedal
  • Xotic SP Compressor
  • Electro Harmonix Nano Pog — Octave
  • Strymon Sunset — Dual Overdrive
  • Electro Harmonix Nano Big Muff — Fuzz
  • Strymon Mobius —Modulation
  • Strymon BigSky — Reverb
  • Tc Electronic Flashback — Delay

[MPS]
Is there any advice you can offer to people starting out on their musical journeys?

[FS]
Firstly, I think everyone has their own journey. Mine is different to every other person I know who is in the industry, which I know is super annoying to hear for someone who’s trying to find their way to professionalism haha! The main thing I learned from my journey is to keep meeting new people and musicians, try to play with as many people as you can; make connections. You literally never know who could get you some work, and it’s probably the last person you expect. Being a genuine and down to earth person is almost as important as being a great musician. Actually, it’s part of being a great musician. People aren’t going to want to work with you if your ego is overpowering or if you don’t listen to advice or instruction about your own instrument. You learn from everyone.

One of my pet peeves is people saying ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. It’s 100% both! Yes, someone might be offered a great opportunity just ‘cause they knew someone who was involved, but they wouldn’t have been asked if they couldn’t do the job well. And how/where would they have met this person? Probably through another job, a friend of a friend who is in the industry, etc. You always have to work as hard as you can, always practise and improve, learn new styles and techniques. Show willingness, and you’re most likely to be asked to work when you’re at that professional standard by working yourself to get there. You’ll never stop learning. I’m still learning constantly. Keeping an open mind is one of the most important things to do.

I think if you’re starting from square one (just starting to learn an instrument) just keep going. There will be endless times where you want to give up, or you think you’re not good enough. I have those a lot. When I first started Uni I was overwhelmed by how good everyone was and I didn’t start as ‘one of the good ones’, but you have to use that as your drive, your motivation. Push as hard as you can, and keep learning. You will get there for sure, if you want it enough! Music and the arts (obviously being biased) is such a great career choice. People will tell you you’re not good enough and how hard it is, but it’s so worth it when you get there.

 

Find out what Frankie's up to:
www.frankiesouth.com
@frankiesouth.music

Image #2 credited to Gili Dailes (Instagram: @gilidailes)

 

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