Six albums of Alan’s songs have been released. He began writing and performing while studying English at University College, Oxford, where his contemporaries included Bill Clinton. Among his first efforts were four-minute versions of literary classics such as the Old English epic Beowulf and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. He played these and other satirical numbers at the 1969 Edinburgh Festival, where his fellow cast members included the actor Jane Asher’s sister Claire and the economist Robert Reich, who became Secretary of Labor in the first Clinton administration.
In the 1980s he began playing and recording with Patty Vetta, a highly regarded and versatile singer. She had toured the world with folk/pop band The Settlers, who had had a hit single with The Lightning Tree in 1962. She had also worked as a backing vocalist for, among others, Don Everly, Johnny Tillotson, Joe Brown and Bert Weedon, and toured with Johnny Cash and Billie Jo Spears.
They were joined by West End actor and singer Charlotte Moore, whose career includes recording work with The Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart and stage appearances with Roger Allam and Helen Mirren. Moore is still a regular performer of Alan’s songs. They appeared at top musical festivals throughout the country, including Cambridge and Aldeburgh.
Their first CD, Will, was named by Time Out as one of the top “Roots” albums of 1995. It was praised for its wide range of styles, which included the slow blues of “Baby Blue Eyes,” the ebullient jazz of “The Day It Started Raining Millionaires on Wall Street” and the classic English balladry of “The Frozen South Atlantic.”
Jointly produced by Vetta and Alan’s brother, Michael Franks, it featured a number of distinguished musicians, including Dave Olney on double bass, Bob Loveday (fiddle) and Al Stewart (saxophone). Lyricist Sir Tim Rice said he gave the CD “the ultimate accolade” of having it in his car, while the late singer Jake Thackray, with whom they appeared in two London concerts, said: “These songs are lovely, true, addictive things. I wish I could write, think and play like Franks, and sing like Patty Vetta. This is the real boogie, I promise.”
One of the songs, “The Wishfulness Waltz” was recorded and performed live by the veteran band Fairport Convention, and became the title track of one of its compilation CDs. Another number, “GI’s Lament,” about an American serviceman, was recorded by the Irish singer Joe Giltrap. The late poet John Rety, who ran the poetry and song nights at the Torriano Room in Camden, described Alan as “a modern-day Sydney Carter” (author of the song “Lord of the Dance.”)
Five more albums followed Will.
Seven years ago, shortly after leaving The Times, Alan joined The London Gallery Quire, singing tenor in the thirty-strong choir founded by composer and teacher Dr. Francis Roads twenty-two years ago. With string and accompaniment, the choir forms the so-called West Gallery music that was prevalent in town and country churches between 1700 and the middle of the nineteenth century. The LGQ gives regular concerts and recitals and has been broadcast on Radio 4. Alan’s most recent work includes the composition of hymns for the Quire.
Alan has also written lyrics for jazz saxophonist and composer Tim Whitehead, the Tate Gallery’s first musician-in-residence.