Thursday, September 30, 2010

David Francey: Recognition was all he needed

First Juno award gave the singer-songwriter the courage to jump headfirst into his music career

One would assume that after winning Canada's biggest music award, a singer-songwriter might quit the day job without a second thought. But David Francey, Juno in hand, still considered whether he wanted to say goodbye to construction and carpentry work.

Francey's second album, Far End of Summer, was named best solo album in the roots and traditional category in 2002. On the way home to Ayer's Cliff in the Eastern Townships from the awards ceremony in St. John's, Nfld., Francey and his wife, Beth, did some soul searching.

"I was happy with my job. I really enjoyed the guys I was working with. I had been with the same crew for 11 years," the singer remembered during a telephone interview in advance of his Saturday Petit Campus concert, which opens this season's Wintergreen folk music series. "But I was throwing crap in a bin in December and in April I'm collecting a Juno in St. John's. It seemed incredible. I looked at Beth and said, 'Maybe we should go into music. We've just won a Juno, for crying out loud.' "

The slow but steady buzz around Francey's 1999 debut, Torn Screen Door, had already opened the door to an increasingly busy folk festival schedule. A supportive boss on the construction crew, Francey said, had been patient with the growing demands of his musical life.

But with the awards ceremony, the time had finally come for Francey, then 48. Since that fateful car ride, two more Junos and several other honours have taken their place on the household piano.

Francey, who was born in Scotland and came to Canada with his family as a boy, said he got early exposure to writing through his father's love of poetry. "He was a huge admirer of Robert Burns," Francey said. "He was a factory worker, but he could recite, off the top of his head, any number of poems. I listened seriously, enjoyed it and appreciated it. A lot of kids have it rammed down their throats with a two-by-four."

Francey dates his own first stabs at poetry from when he was 10. Some primitive songs, which he assesses as "dreadful and very derivative," came in high school, but the good news was that they acquainted him with the writing process.

At 16, Francey began hitchhiking across the country, an experience that would draw him back to the road every year for some time. "A lot of songs came out of different aspects of those trips," he said. "It's something we should all get to see. We can go the length and breadth of this country and anywhere we stop can be ours. Everything's so diverse and so beautiful in its own way. The idea of being a part of it made me feel great."

A love of his adopted country, its land and its people would stay in Francey's songwriting. But what has also distinguished his songs from those of many contemporaries is the economy of his lyrics. Lives are lived and backstories told in very few words. The Ballad of Bowser MacRae and The Chief Engineer, from Seaway, his recent collaboration with Mike Ford, are fine examples. And there's always the simple image of the torn screen door on a farmhouse, which in Francey's hands speaks volumes about the economy.

If Francey has an equivalent word craftsman in the non-folk world, it might be Ray Davies -- if Davies were less black smoke and more open spaces.

"It's what I strive for," Francey said of lyrical simplicity. "The biggest problem people have in songwriting is overwriting. It's apparent everywhere you look. I've always enjoyed people who were economical with their words, who just said what they had to say and got out. It didn't matter whether it was two minutes long or eight."

Francey's melodies, like his words, are unadorned and instantly memorable. His writing process has something to do with that: the tunes come fully formed from his head, with musical collaborators formalizing the chords. The melodies, he said, generally come naturally with the lyrics. Francey cited Red Wing Blackbird as an example. The song came when he heard one while driving, he explained, humming the tune that came to him in the car.

Not relying on an instrument, he said, frees him up to write anywhere. "It makes the songs singable," he suggested, "because they start out as sung songs before an instrument even gets near them. Maybe that's why the melodies are easily accessible."

Francey said he always knows when the final arrangement matches his tune, and when a chord shouldn't be there. "I'm a slave to melody," he said.

Full-time performer; City gig another stop along the road for Canadian folk troubadour

Published on August 5th, 2010

Jamie Bennett
The Western Star Staff Writer

CORNER BROOK — David Francey’s route to the top of the Canadian folk music scene has been far from typical.

Born in Scotland, Francey moved with his family to Canada when he was 12. While music was part of his life growing up, it wasn’t until after spending 20 years as a carpenter that he decided to try his hand as a musician.

Even then, Francey continued to work in construction until his debut album “Far End of Summer” was named Best Roots and Traditional Album at the 2002 Junos in St. John’s, a surprise win which prompted him to make the switch to music full time.

“I said maybe we should be doing music because we just won a Juno for crying out loud,” Francey said with a laugh recently from his home in Elphin, Ont. “So it was a leap of faith in a sense but to tell you the truth, I thought the time was right to try it. And I guess it’s worked out the right way.”

While he admits he misses the work and the friends he made while on the job, crafting songs is far less taxing on the body.

“When I was getting up on stage and maybe feeling sorry for myself for being on the road, I’d be thinking to myself ‘well, I’m not getting up in the morning and doing a couple of roofs or wheeling cement all day,’” he said. “So everything for me was a treat. The things I got to do and the people I got to meet, they were something to look forward to every day.”

Coast-to-coast kindness

Francey will get the chance to meet some local fans Tuesday when he plays a gig at the lower level of the Bar Room. The trip will be his second to the city and as someone who’s enjoyed visiting many of the country’s tucked-away corners, he said he’s looking forward to the experience.

“We’ve made it out to phenomenal places, the west coast of Newfoundland being one,” he said. “There’s also Iqaluit up there in the north, I’ve been there a few times now. I was up in the Yukon working in the bush as a young man, but it’s certainly a lot nicer to go up as a musician.

“The last time I was up in the Yukon I was staying in a really nice place and right across the road was a little mission place where we stayed the first day we got into Whitehorse looking for work. I thought ‘boy oh boy, it was a different person that walked that street,’ ... but it wasn’t, really”

A songwriter who tends to write from his own experiences, he said his eyes are always open for interesting subject matter. Francey said while the country is a vast, sprawling one, he’s noted a certain spirit that unites its citizens

“I’ve certainly met kindness from coast to coast. People have time for you here,” he said. “I find Canada’s a great country for that. People will take the time for you and they just want to help you out, more or less. It doesn’t matter where you are, you get that feeling.”

Stripped-down style

As with most of his shows, Francey said his Corner Brook appearance will feature a mix of old and new songs with an attempt to honour requests. Backed by Craig Werth and Jeff Somers, fans will note Francey’s stripped down, no-frills style.

He said the stark arrangements are a deliberate attempt to present music as simply as possible to audiences.

“I liked the Stones like everyone else but my real love was just straight ahead, folk music or singer/songwriter stuff,” he said. “When I got into recording I thought the same thing. The lyrics and the melody are the most important thing and the more you crowd it out, the less chance of those things getting heard.”

Now just eight years into his musical career and with three Junos and more than his share of critical acclaim under his belt, a modest Francey said he often has to pinch himself when thinking about the heights he’s reached.

“Every single day, I can’t believe it,” he said. “Even at these festivals, you’re sitting there on stage with Buffy Sainte-Marie and all these people you’ve known and listened to your entire life. It seems unreal when you’re up there and it’s almost humourous because you’re like ... how did I get here?

“But I’ve been really well received by everyone I’ve run in to. The audience makes you feel like you belong and the people you’re on stage make you feel like you belong there so, obviously, you do. You have to accept that at some point along the line, this is what you’re doing now. It’s a great thing and a great gift to get.”

David Francey to perform in Prescott Park on Wednesday

As part of the Prescott Park Arts Festival 36th season, Canadian singer/songwriter David Francey will perform in Prescott Park as part of the River House Concert Series on Wednesday, Aug. 25. Francey is hailed as one of the top Canadian songwriters with three JUNO awards for Best Album of the Year. "Francey is the kind of performer who instantly captivates you," said Prescott Park Arts Festival executive director Ben Anderson, IN A PRESS RELEASE, "He is absolutely one of my favorite performers and I'm thrilled that we have the chance to present him as part of the festival this summer."

Returning from a recent tour of Australia, Francey has won three prestigious JUNOAwards (Canada's Grammy Award) for Album of the Year and is recognized as one of today's finest singer-songwriters. Francey brings both intimacy and energy to his performances, mixing slow ballads of everyday like with rousing anthems.

Born in Scotland, Francey's family immigrated to Canada when he was twelve. He grew to understand the people while working in Toronto train yards, the Yukon bush, and as a carpenter in the Eastern Townships. These experiences color his songwriting. David Francey currently tours with American ballad maker and multi-instrumentalist,

Craig Werth of Newmarket.

"Francey's concert was rained out last summer," said Anderson, "He still performed in our backstage tent that was packed full of people, but I had to bring him back again this year as his music needs to be experienced. He's incredible."


One Smokin' Hot Fest

"Show closer David Francey offered something new — to these parts, anyway — in the form of violinist Geoff Somers, in addition to guitarist Craig Werth, adding some extra lyricism to songs capturing the wonder of childhood and chasing the often elusive magic of love and family in adulthood.

Francey’s innate ability to capture emotional truths and deliver them in that wonderful mossy voice proved to be a great pleasure as always. The audience might not have let him leave if there wasn’t a concert curfew, which the show likely surpassed anyway, going until nearly midnight."

Stephen Cooke, The Chronicle Herald