Frankie Shanley has been a DJ since his teens, when he competed in 2FM’s ‘DJ for a Day’ competition in 1994, but he also had a parallel life as a petty thief. He is now a reformed man, writes.
DJ FRANKIE Shanley has some bad days, but mostly good ones, like the afternoon Cliff Richard and Bonnie Tyler guested on a radio show he was co- hosting, all bundled into a tiny studio, alongside main presenter, Owen Gee. It’s Shanley’s natural habitat.
“He was such a gentleman to me,” Frankie says of Cliff. “Brought me out to lunch after.”
There was advice from the former Shadows man, referencing the title of his latest song, ‘Rise Up’.
“You get the significance of my new single,” Cliff said to Frankie. “You’ve had to rise up.”
Frankie, from Boyle, Co Roscommon, and known to his listeners as Frankie Beats, is a man with a past that he wishes he could leave behind.
He’s full of dichotomies: The polished broadcaster who shied away from adulation, the non-violent man who became “the most transferred prisoner in the State”, the wandering DJ who loves coming home.
“There’s the ‘me, Frankie’,” he says, “and there’s the distorted media view of historical me, which is still carrying on.”
This isn’t the first time Frankie has featured in these pages. In 2011, he was the subject of a lengthy article that catalogued his criminal convictions, dating back to 2002.
His life was a curio: A talented man with a flair for radio, who committed smalltime acts of deception and car theft and who was the subject of more than one Liveline debate on RTÉ radio.
He appeared in numerous courts, and court reports, across the country, but seems to have never left a bad impression. As his then-solicitor, Cahir O’Higgins, said, in 2011: “I have found Frankie to be a largely pleasant individual, who is motivated towards resolving his difficulties and he deserves to be treated fairly and appropriately.”
Seated upstairs in the Bodega Bar in Cork during a recent visit home, Frankie Shanley had the aspect of a man who has come out the other side. In recent years, he has lived in Greece and now primarily in Portugal, where he presents on the English-language station Kiss FM, broadcasting five afternoons a week.
Online paper The Portugal News featured him in April, noting his taste in music as “Mozart to Iron Maiden”. There was better news again last May, when he scooped the Mixcloud Online Radio Award in the pop category, for his online ‘Breaking’ programme.
Based on public votes from a global audience, it was a significant achievement and prompted congratulations from people at home and abroad, including senator Frank Feighan and RTÉ’s John Kenny, who tweeted: “Good man, Frankie, been a long road for you, upward and onward.”
As a young lad back in Boyle, Frankie listened to Kenny on 2FM, alongside his idol, Tony Fenton. It was the music bug that pitched him onto that “long road”, one he’s still travelling.
“It was always music,” says Frankie, recalling the time his parents got him, aged 15, a Sanyo cassette deck.
“It looked the bomb back then.”
There was the good stuff: 1970s and 1980s American rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Boz Scaggs.
“Aw, Huey Lewis and the News were my favourite,” he enthuses. “‘The Heart of Rock and Roll’ is one of my favourite songs ever.”
And there was the tricky stuff. School was “very difficult”, and a time characterised by long, solo nighttime walks through his hometown.
“I didn’t know at the time,” he says. “I just thought it was part of growing up or whatever, but I became a kind of a recluse.
I withdrew from everybody. I wouldn’t speak to friends, I wouldn’t talk to family, I’d be in my room the whole time. And that’s when I found the music. I focussed on listening to music and recording illegally the songs, giving out when the DJs would talk, and I started to get a good ear for music.
Frankie was a quick learner.
“When I was doing my Leaving Cert, that’s when I got the 2FM competition, that was the first big thing. Which was huge for me back then, so it was.”
He hesitates, the wilderness years hoving back into view.
“Everybody thought that I was impersonating a DJ [later on]. They didn’t actually realise: ‘Frankie is actually a DJ since he was 16. His first gig was at 17 in a hall in Boyle, where he started crying, because he didn’t know what he was doing and he had a freak attack.’ ”
When he refers to “the 2FM thing”, he is talking about the station’s ‘DJ for a Day’ competition, which was a very big deal in the mid-1990s. He was a contender.
“I was in the top five in 1994,” he says. “You can check with 2FM, ‘DJ for a Day’ competition. I got into the last five for it. I co-presented ‘The Hotline with Tony Fenton’ and that’s when I really got the bug. He was so cool. Part of the competition was I had to do some gig with him and the gig was in some hall in Dublin, but the judges see you there and they were judging you on your live performance. That was one part of it and he was brilliant.
“So I won that and I got through to the final five and, eh, I flunked the final five. I don’t know where I came, but I didn’t get it. Club M, in Dublin, was the final and it was live on 2FM. I was shitting it. I thought, ‘I’m making a tit of myself here’. Part of me was like....”
He trails off.
“I think that the 2FM DJ thing, that was the highest point and then it was the lowest point, because something happened. I was depressed getting up to that, I was in and out of hospital in Roscommon, which records will show, and I was pretty low. But when it got to the final, things just didn’t seem right. I didn’t do it properly. I wasn’t even in the mood when I was doing it. I wasn’t feeling it.”
Nonetheless, at 18 he got a local radio gig on Northern Sound and people began praising him.
“I loved that,” he starts, but then: “No, that’s wrong. I didn’t like the praise, it made me feel awkward.”
His “very supportive” parents were there for him, but he seems to have been consumed by his low mood.
“I was so depressed I wasn’t open to anybody telling me what to do. I didn’t give a shit what was going to happen to me, I was just feeling down. And then I went into this fantasy world.”
And it was into that surreal, at times unreal world that Frankie — the man who racked up all those convictions he now wishes he could undo — disappeared for a while. It brought with it a sense of notoriety which, looking back, might seem disproportionate. Was he ever conscious that it was a fantasy world?
“No. No, no, no, and that’s been proven, as well. And that is not to take away from any of the crimes I committed, because I committed them. I’m just talking about the general fantasy world.
“I had this kind of a rush,” he says, adding that he was deeply depressed at the time, not thrill-seeking.
Did you ever get that excitement where something ... you get like a five-second or a three-second rush of excitement? Well, that’s what it was.
As to his awareness of what he was doing, he says: “I honestly can’t answer that. From [age] 18 up until 2006, life is a blur to me, so it is. I’m 41 now. Absolute blur.
“I was going into garages pretending to be X, Y, or Z at the time and I’d take the car for the test drive — which I’m even getting embarrassed talking about — and I’d drive the car around for a day, two days tops, and then I’d park it up outside a garda station and I’d ring the garage that I was after taking the car from, ‘so the car is here, outside Bailieborough Garda Station’, or whatever, but then I’d go into another garage in that town, I’d take another test drive, and I’d be gone for another two days. So it was snow-balling. I wasn’t keeping track of where I was going, so it had a snowball effect.”
It appears to have been an almost out-of-body experience, a crisis that required intervention, and when he says he feels embarrassed about it — he puts his eyes towards the ground and hunches his shoulders — he’s not lying.
If a DJ can have two personalities — one on-air, the other off — Frankie seems to have taken this idea to extremes.
“It was gone,” he says of the idea of normal life at that time. “It was gone. That was gone, that was finished.
“They were very fair to me, by the way, and very nice,” he says of the gardaí.
“But then panic, and then another set of emotions would seep in and then the whole panic: what am I after doing? And then you’d kind of seep back, and you’d find yourself depressed again.
“It all came to a head on Liveline. That’s when it came to a head, when I turned on a radio one day and I heard everyone talking about me.”
Radio, the love of Frankie’s life, was hitting back.
“I done the whole ‘pinch myself’ thing: ‘This isn’t happening’,” he says. “The more I listened to it, the more reality started to sink in. Now, there were people ringing up, saying I done things that I didn’t do, cars, garages, which I have records of from the gardaí.”
The convictions from the 2000s are no joke, but Frankie maintains that he became so addled, being moved from one court to the next, all linked with older misdemeanours, that he began admitting to crimes he had not done.
“100%. Because when I was being brought to court, this is why — and I don’t want to sidetrack; I’m trying to put it into perspective — I was being brought to [almost] every court in the land [he estimates approximately 24], but it wasn’t like I had offences in every court in the land, it was because when I did hand myself up, I was remanded in custody and you are only remanded in custody for seven days at a time, which means you have to follow that judge for four, five times to wherever he is sitting, before a decision is made.
“So, I heard all this on Liveline and then I heard people say I’d done stuff that I didn’t do and instantly I drove to Manorhamilton garda station. There wasn’t any thought about it, it was the closest big station to me at the time.
“I remember driving to it in 2006/7, September or something, pressed the buzzer. ‘Who is it?’ I can’t remember what name I said, but they opened the garda barrier for me, where all the cars were in the back. I walked in through the back office and they were looking at me, and I said: ‘You’re looking for me. I’m Frankie Shanley.’ And they all looked at each other.”
Some people might have little sympathy, adhering to the adage that if you do the crime, you have to do the time, but Frankie does seem to have disappeared into some particularly Kafka-esque nooks in the Irish criminal justice system.
He says he began pleading guilty to put the brakes on the endless travelling.
“At the time, the recession was really kicking in and the prison service had no money. If your case was 30 miles away, in Castlerea, for example, they’d send you to Dublin for the transfer, because two other guys were going anyway, so I was going to courts without legal advice, because solicitors couldn’t find me and getting five minutes before your name is called to talk to a solicitor, so that’s why I just...”
He shrugs. “You get it over with, but it dragged on a long time.”
Frankie knows of Frank Abagnale Jr, the former conman whose story was told in the Steven Spielberg film, Catch Me If You Can. He’s heard of The Invention of Lying, in which Ricky Gervais plays the first human with the ability to lie in a world where people can only tell the truth.
Except he now he says he can’t tell a lie. He knows that even a small lie will undermine his newfound credibility, like someone pulling out the wrong block in the board game Jenga.
So when he argues that, yes, he did commit some crimes, but, no, he didn’t do those other ones, it’s hard to disbelieve him. After all, what’s to be gained? His own recovery, which began when he landed in Cork Prison, owes everything to facing up to his past.
“In its simplicity, it was perfect,” he says.
Everything that I was hiding. I went into [the prison psychologist] one morning and he had every newspaper story about me in front of me and he said, ‘read them’. He said, ‘you’re not going to want to, but I want you to read these article because,’ he said, ‘you’re hiding in this, so you are. So face it now.’ He said I’ve lost touch with reality and that I needed to be brought back and the only way to do it was by hitting it head-on. Which I did.
Life since then has had a notable upturn, or, as he describes it, “Life 2.0”.
He started by building his own online radio station “from scratch — built the website, the brand, everything, mainly for my show, to showcase me. I’m the station, that was the whole point of it.”
It took off in the digital world, leading to messages of support from big-name broadcasters, such as Zane Lowe, and many of the acts he has been playing on air, as well as a tie-in with Rode Microphones. But it hasn’t all been good.
“My main problem the last four years has been trolls, absolutely,” he says. “It’s hurting me a lot, financially. I’ve lost a lot of work over it. The Irish mentality of ... there’s one thing worse in Ireland than someone succeeding, and that’s someone succeeding who shouldn’t be succeeding.”
He did ask Google if he could qualify under the ‘right to be forgotten’, but to no avail. Google said it assesses each request on a case-by-case basis.
Some time after our interview, someone posted material relating to Frankie on the Facebook page of his employer, with whom he has been upfront about his past.
He tweeted he was thinking of dumping broadcasting, his “dream job”, which would leave him “heartbroken”, although his outlook changed over the following days and he thought better of it. His employers, to their credit, have been consistently supportive.
The Irish Examiner contacted several people for this article, all attesting to Frankie’s hard work and character; one, his friend Jules Weakley, a DJ and singer, wanted to go on the record.
“I believe in second chances,” he says. “This is a guy, to me, who has come through the other side and has worked bloody hard to do so.
“I am very proud of him. He has managed to do something he actually loves.”
During our interview, Frankie says: “I’m lucky, I’m doing what I love, I’m getting a second chance at it, but I’d like to think I’ve warranted that second chance, that it’s not out of sympathy. I’ve worked very hard for the last couple of years, under hard circumstances, which are self-inflicted, but I have stuck with it. I’ve stayed focussed and its paid off.
“I’ve a lot of friends, and a big family, huge family. They’re aware, but they’re not concerned. They can see it in me, that something changed. I’m more articulate with life.”
With his Apple Mac laptop, even when he’s not in sunny Portugal, he can broadcast with what is effectively a mobile radio studio. He explains how he hears new music before others do.
“I’m sourcing stuff on blogs,” he says. “I’m looking at what is trending on Spotify, I’m googling bands, I’m getting emails...”
Wouldn’t he make a good A&R man?
“Do you really think they’d have me?” he says, laughing at the thought of it.
But why not? Doesn’t music love a comeback?