Spike: 100% Pure Frankie Miller

Quireboys frontman pays tribute to gravel-voiced Glaswegian

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Quireboys’ Geordie frontman Spike has spent years piecing together an album of unreleased songs by one of his biggest heroes, Frankie Miller. Its part tribute to, and part continuation of, the career of a Scottish rock cult hero cut down by a brain aneurysm in 1994, and unable to record since. His enduring standing is shown by the crew Spike has painstakingly assembled for the job: Ronnie Wood on guitar, Free’s rhythm section Andy Fraser and Simon Kirke, plus Ian Hunter and Bonnie Raitt.

**So who is Frankie Miller? **A proudly working-class Glaswegian who moved to London in 1971. Briefly forming the band Jude with Robin Trower, he passed through the nascent pub-rock scene, though resented being typed as part of it, liking the pubs more than the music. Chrysalis showed long-term faith in his talent, trying out a string of top producers. But the NME knowingly dubbed Miller “one of rock’s more mercurial and less teetotal talents”, and self-destructive tendencies of a Glaswegian stripe left a trail of broken backing bands and chances behind him. 1978 finally brought a Top 10 hit, Darlin’, and he found success on film soundtracks in the 80s and 90s, before the aneurysm felled him.

**Wasn’t Rod Stewart a fan? **Miller’s gravel-throated voice would become even more shredded on his rare full-scale tours, perfectly suiting both blue-eyed soul and blues-rock. Rod said it was the only voice that made him cry, and complimented him as the only singing competition he feared. Just a good job, Rod winked, that Miller wasn’t good-looking.

**But surely the Quireboys’ singer isn’t the right man to bring Miller’s lost songs back to life? **Spike’s a family friend of the Millers, and his first solo album was called Blue-Eyed Soul. His voice here sounds like its been hollowed to a husk, dragged across a gravel road, then left in the Sahara to dry out. In other words, perfect.

**What about the songs, though? Off-cuts from a man who didn’t have much success in his prime don’t sound promising. **When the New Orleans R&B legend Allen Toussaint was producing Miller’s second album, he was eager to work on further songs by the Glaswegian, really rating his writing, and paid fulsome tribute to him at a 2008 London gig. Blues, soul and country basics fuel these lost songs, but they never feel like clichés. Committed performances help bring the late-night existential crisis at the heart of Other Side of Town’s Exile-era Stones sway to life, Bottle of Whiskey sings the alcoholic blackout blues, while Cheap Hotel is comically desperate rockabilly. Did You Ever Wanna Go Home even brings out the bagpipes.

**Job done then? **Yep. Spike should be proud of bringing a lost, living legend who, he says, “just wants his songs to be heard” back into the picture.

Nick Hasted

Nick Hasted writes about film, music, books and comics for Classic Rock, The Independent, Uncut, Jazzwise and The Arts Desk. He has published three books: The Dark Story of Eminem (2002), You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks (2011), and Jack White: How He Built An Empire From The Blues (2016).