Frances Black
at the Lowry Centre, Salford,
Manchester, England
(29 June 2006)

Frances Black's most recent album, This Love Will Carry, featured a compilation of her more folky tracks ranging from the early days of her career with the band Arcady to her later successes as a solo artist. This celebration of her roots was very much evident right from the start of this enchanting concert when Frances began the night with the song "I'd Cross the Wild Atlantic," which was originally featured on the Arcady album After The Ball. It was obvious from the outset that Frances was in top form tonight, and her performance of this opening song was absolutely sublime, with her unerringly beautiful voice soaring gracefully throughout.

Frances was accompanied on stage by her son, Eoghan Scott, on bass and keyboards (himself a talented emerging singer-songwriter), the astounding Jimmy Smyth on guitar, Gerry O'Connor giving the whole set a real rootsy sound with fiddle and mandolin, and Peter McKinney on sympathetic drums and percussion. The musicianship displayed by these guys was a perfect match for Black's laid back and intimate delivery.

Those who have seen her perform live will know that a Frances Black gig is about so much more than just sitting down and listening to somebody sing. She talks to her audience between songs as if she were chatting to friends gathered around her kitchen table. Her endearing nature immediately wins the warmth and affection of the audience, and she makes you feel you have been a part of the whole night, much more than merely an observer. A case in point, and a highlight of my evening, was the Dougie MacLean song "This Love Will Carry," one of many moments when Frances asked the audience to sing along, an invitation which was accepted enthusiastically by all of us.

The beguiling "Rathlin Island" was preceded by Frances's fond recollections of her happy childhood holidays spent on the island where her own father was born and raised. Before launching into the emotionally charged "How Sweet the Tune," she gave a similarly heartfelt explanation about what this song meant to her; it was written about a mother's love for a child whom she is watching experience a first heartbreak. It is her impassioned dialogues prior to such songs that make you certain that you're listening to a true lover of great songs. The added bonus follows when you witness Frances investing that passion into delivering her own interpretation of the songs, of which she is obviously so fond.

I am personally indebted to Frances for introducing me to the songs of Nanci Griffith via her debut solo album, Talk to Me, which has led me to become a great admirer of Nanci's. It was therefore a real treat to hear Frances perform two of those songs tonight; "Talk To Me" and the poignant "On Grafton Street." Frances brings a whole different layer of emotions to these Griffith classics, and this was highlighted further tonight hearing Frances perform them live.

A further nod to her folk roots was evident on her spellbinding delivery of the traditional song "Foggy Dew." Frances's moving rendition reached heights that other singers could only dream of. There were a few surprising "pop" offerings in the set; Gabrielle's "Rise" was perfectly executed and could prove as big a hit for Frances as it was for Gabrielle, should Frances choose to record it. The night was closed with the Bill Withers classic "Lean On Me," which saw Frances calling on the audience to join her for one last time in this uplifting rendition.

It was obvious from Frances's banter between songs that she is experiencing a particularly happy and fulfilling life at the moment, and this resulted in those present benefiting from a thoroughly enjoyable, heartfelt performance from a consummate artist.

by Mike Wilson
22 July 2006

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