Faye Fantarrow: Sunderland musician remembered

Faye Fantarrow
Faye Fantarrow was a talented musician attracting a lot of attention

Faye Fantarrow was a rising star, a hugely gifted singer-songwriter with a bright future ahead of her. But just as her career was taking off, she was diagnosed with cancer for the third time. She died in August. The BBC takes a look at her life.

Faye was one to watch - literally.

The accomplished musician from Sunderland was heralded by BBC Introducing in 2022 and her music won praise from Clash, Rolling Stone and Billboard magazines.

In 2021 she was winner of the Lindisfarne's Alan Hull Award for her songwriting, which prompted the music industry to sit up and start paying attention to this up-and-coming talent from the North East of England.

It was obvious she had what it took to make it big.

But four months after her 21st birthday she died, her life and career cruelly cut short by an aggressive brain tumour.

David Brewis, one half of Mercury Prize-nominated band Field Music, met Faye as a teenager when she attended the Young Musicians project in her hometown and started using his studio.

Faye Fantarrow
Faye Fantarrow was praised for her songwriting skills

He remembers Faye as a prolific songwriter and a true artist.

"It was clear she already had a very developed style," he says, adding: "Her songs were like real songs.

"You don't really expect that from someone so young, but her songs - musically and lyrically - had a shape and a sense to them which made it really clear that she just absolutely had it.

A young woman with a guitar stands on a stage
Faye Fantarrow was named one to watch by BBC Introducing

"We all saw in Faye someone who could have this amazing longevity, a real career in the music industry.

"It's awful that she is not going to do that."

What little time she had was not wasted though, David says: "She did incredible things in that time, things that musicians dream about doing."

Dave Stewart and Faye Fantarrow in a music studio
Faye was working with Eurythmics legend Dave Stewart

Her mentor, Eurythmics legend and fellow Mackem Dave Stewart, was equally captivated by Faye's obvious talent.

"What she was doing was so interesting and unique," says Dave, adding: "Her lyrics and her way of describing the life around her - and her feelings - were so interesting.

"I just loved everything about Faye."

My memories of Faye Fantarrow

By Sharuna Sagar, BBC Look North arts and culture reporter

There was something about Faye that was immediately apparent when you met her.

Putting her talent as a singer-songwriter to one side, she had a presence - a charisma and a lust for life that shone.

This has been one of the most upsetting stories I've covered as an arts specialist for the BBC because I knew Faye - and to know her, was to love her.

The first time I met her, I was impressed by how articulate and self-assured she was at such a young age.

Over the months, her name kept cropping up on the gig and festival circuit. Her profile was growing and she was getting noticed.

But suddenly it came crashing down. She was diagnosed with an aggressive tumour.

Her family and friends went into fundraising overdrive. I arranged to meet them and talk to Faye about everything that was happening.

It was hard for Faye to go on camera because at this point she'd lost her hair, but her charm and her beauty shone through.

Faye was only ever able to have one round of treatment, in January, before she got too ill - something that shocked the music community.

That interview at PopRecs was the last time I saw Faye, but I kept in contact with her mother throughout her illness.

Last Sunday, I got the text I was dreading. What do you do? What do you say? The pain the family is going through is palpable.

The Eurythmics star signed her to his label, Bay Street Records, and flew her over to the Caribbean to record with him in his studio in the Bahamas.

But even before that, they had made a recording together virtually over the internet called The Weekend - and at that point Faye had been well enough to make an upbeat video to go with it.

"For me, she is very rare type of artist and could have really built up a huge following of faithful followers who understood what she was singing about and where she was coming from," says Dave.

A woman with her back to the camera looks out over a crowd of people
Faye was already getting used to playing big shows

"I loved the fact that she kept her north-eastern accent, she was very true to who she was.

"As fast as we were recording the songs, she was writing new ones - more and more and more and more. They were just pouring out of her.

"She could have gone on to make hundreds of songs and recordings, and lots of people would have started to recognise her brilliance," he adds.

Faye Fantarrow
Faye died in August, at the age of 21

Despite being so ill, Faye wanted the music she recorded with Dave released so she could see it out there.

Her EP AWOL was released but, by that stage, Faye was too ill to promote it or make a pop video to go with it, which was very frustrating for her.

Despite her tender years, Faye made a huge impact on the region's music community which came together in a unprecedented way to raise money for treatment in the States.

A woman in a purple dress sings into a microphone while playing guitar
Faye Fantarrow won Lindisfarne's Alan Hull Award

Among the local artists who performed at a big benefit gig in Faye's name earlier this year was Frankie Francis, the singer from Frankie and The Heartstrings.

He said: "When we found out how ill she was, people from many different backgrounds in the [North East] music scene came together and immediately wanted to do something.

"In fact, it is the most connected I have ever seen the music industry in the region.

"To unite a music scene which is sometimes snobbish or has rivalries, takes something very unique and special. "

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