Black is Back

By Ciara McGuigan
From The Anderstonstown News

Ciara McGuigan speaks to songstress Frances Black about her newest passion in life and her eagerly awaited return to Belfast for Feile an Earraigh.

The talents of songstress Frances Black need no introduction. Her musical abilities and many memorable hits are well documented in the history of Irish traditional music, not least for her contribution to the biggest selling album ever, A Woman’s Heart.

But the woman, Frances Black, who is set to return to Feile and Earraigh for a one-off show in St. Mary’s University College on March 11, and her passion for projects which deal with the range of issues affecting Irish society, are much less documented.

Having used her music to actively support various political, environmental and social issues – including a prominent role in supporting the needs of battered women and children – Frances has now turned her attention to the plight of addiction sufferers, revealing that she has returned to college to train as an addiction counsellor in order to help those who have suffered, as she herself has.

“I am totally intrigued by the power of addiction, and how people can get addicted so easily to drink and drugs. Most of those I know who are in recovery from addiction are the loveliest people,” says Frances, “so I decided I would go back to college to train to work with these people, to try to help as many people as I can, and perhaps share my own experiences with them.”

“I think people in addiction are lost souls,” adds Frances, “and I have an absolute empathy and compassion for them.”

A woman who is obviously acutely aware of the problems facing society, Frances also sympathises with those caught up with the situation in Iraq, having experienced first-hand the humanity of the Iraqi people during her visit to the country with the group Arcady in 1988.

Having travelled to Iraq to take part in a world music festival representing Ireland, Frances describes her visit as “probably one of the most amazing experiences” in her life, and laughs fondly at the memories of how passionate the Iraqi people were for traditional sounds. “We played in a temple in Babylon in the middle of a desert,” says Frances “We played to the locals and they just loved the Irish music, especially the bodhrán, they just went mad for it.”

“I really consider myself so lucky to have had the opportunity to have done something like that.”

Frances admits that West Belfast holds a special place in her heart and says that she is itching to get back to the warmth and hospitality that always greet her here. “I’ve played the West Belfast Féile so many times now that I’m afraid you’ll all be saying, oh no, not that Frances Black one again!” laughs the ever-popular songstress. With an obvious passion for the west of the city, Frances waxes lyrical on her numerous appearances here, and chats with enthusiasm about her upcoming gig that, with just 150 tickets available, is sure to be close-up and personal.

“Small, intimate gigs are my favourite,” admits Frances, “and to be honest, it’s a passion of mine to play gigs up in West Belfast because the people there are so warm and so receptive and great craic, and any time I’m asked to play the Féile, I wouldn’t even attempt to say no. I’d go out of my way to do it.

The people of West Belfast remind her of the inhabitants of the Rebel County and Frances oozes enthusiasm as she chats about her favourite audiences – those in West Belfast and Cork. She even admits that she’d think about moving here, because she’s so drawn to the warmth, eager welcomes and “amazing hospitality.”

Usually a one-woman show, Frances is set to shake up her March gig by inviting local musicians such as Stephen Duffin, Deirdre McAliskey, Brendan McFarlane and Brian Moore (to name just a few) to join her on stage for a feat of traditional music. “I think it’ll be fantastic, the more the merrier, I say. It’ll be better craic and it’ll be lovely to meet some local musicians. I always enjoy that, it’s part of the music,” says Frances, “ and I’m really looking forward to it.”

• See Frances Black at St. Mary’s University College on Friday March 11. Tickets are available through Teach an Feile. Telephone 02890 313440.