Frank Watkinson: YouTube’s Septuagenarian Rockstar
Frank Watkinson went viral after posting stripped-down covers of all types of songs on his YouTube channel. He covers milennial mainstays like Death Cab & Radiohead, standards, pop songs, and even — in one of his most popular videos — masked-up heavy metal icons Slipknot. Why I Cried talked to him, well, because we wanted to. He’s a nice guy. Make sure to check out his originals, too.
Frank Watkinson: I’m not sure what you want to talk about.
Why I Cried: I’m not sure either. We’ll see where it goes. We can start simple. When, where, and why did you get your first guitar?
FW: I’ve got a photograph with me holding a guitar from when I was 7. But that’s just something someone brought home from Spain. I was 17 when I actually bought my first guitar.
It’s been a long time. I should be amazing at it. But I’m not. When I started, there was no YouTube, no internet. There were books. Either books or watching people. So, it took me a long time to even get to know a few chords.
I had a few long spells where I didn’t play the guitar. But it was always there. I realized that I was never going to be any good. I can’t play riffs or songs exactly right. Then I thought, “If I can’t play it the right way, I’ll play it my way.”
WIC: Was there music in your family? Your mother, brother, father, sister?
FW: No. There still isn’t. My wife never listens to what I do.
WIC: No?? Does she listen to anything?
FW: No, not really. She used to listen to Top of the Pops and things like that, but she’s never been a music fanatic.
WIC: Can I ask, what made you want to start playing guitar again 20 years ago?
FW: I was always buying guitars. Because I like them. I just thought I’d start doing it, play more and more, to relax. I’ve never performed anywhere, ever. I just like to practice and wanted to see if I could write songs.
I wrote some pretty bad songs at first. The songs are good now, but I wrote some very bad songs.
I started posting on YouTube when I was working. I’d have a couple of drinks to chill out. If you have too many drinks, you tell yourself, “This is worth posting on YouTube.” Then, you wake up in the morning and think, “Why did I post this?”
WIC: I discovered you after your “I Will Follow You Into the Dark’’ cover appeared on my YouTube home page. Is that your most popular video?
FW: It’s not. I think “Snuff” has more views than that.
WIC: The Slipknot song?
FW: Yeah. “Snuff.” Slipknot. As far as I know, that has a lot more views. My friend asked me if I could play this Slipknot song. I just sat there and quickly learned it. Tried to play it my way. I sent it to him and said, “I can’t really play it, but this is how I would do it.” He messaged me back and told me to post it.
Someone must have put it on Instagram or Reddit or TikTok because it just went off like mad. Before I knew it, they had me in all the heavy metal magazines. They were saying, “Look at this old dude playing Slipknot.”
WIC: In the comments on your videos, people often note that they get emotional when your voice breaks. Do you get genuinely choked up when you play these songs?
FW: Sometimes, I get too choked up. Do you know my song, “Miss You”?
I had only just written the song when I first recorded it, and I was quite emotional. It was during the lockdown era when everyone was kinda sad. When I listen back to it, I think that I maybe went over the top with that one.
When I cover songs, I read the lyrics and try to put myself in the position of the person who wrote the song. If it’s a really sad song, then I do get quite sad.
I struggle with happy, cheerful songs. I just can’t pull cheerfulness off. I’m quite a cheerful person, but I can’t pull it off in a song.
WIC: Describe the experience of “going viral.”
FW: It’s almost like I’ve turned into a cult leader. But it’s heartwarming, too. I read all the comments. I don’t reply to them all, but I read them.
People in the comments say that they listen to me when they go to bed because I put them to sleep. That’s one of the reasons I shouldn’t do live shows. I’d have to tell the audience, “Wake up, please. I’m going to do another song.”
Just performing songs my way ,nothing too serious, we can't all be polished professionals but that shouldn't be a…
This interview was edited for clarity :)