Black on 'Scarlet'

By Dermott Hayes

Frances Black's just-released debut album, Talk to Me, which went straight in at No 1, is a collection of those songs she says would make men turn 'scarlet'. But they're the songs she wants to sing. For once, you feel, Frances is in control of her own destiny and enjoying it. But whatever else it did, A Woman's Heart, the compilation album that brought together the work of six of Ireland's finest performers gave an identity to each of them and helped introduce at least three of them to an audience that was waiting for them to happen. Frances Black was one of those singers. 'There's a unique quality to her voice, a trembling timbre that envelopes and involves the listener.

The songs on Talk to Me are about affairs of the heart. She rounds up all the usual suspects - cheatin', lyin' and heartache and regret - in their sombre livery, an entourage she reckons will have men turning puce.

Not that she's, putting Irish men down, she hastens to add, "Irish men are the best men in the world," Frances declares resolutely. At 33, Frances is the proud mother of two teenagers, the result of an early marriage. She has sung all her life with her family and so on, but only began to pursue a career in the past five years.

First there was the Black Family albums and then she joined Sharon Shannon and Maire Breathnach in Arcady. "We toured all over the world and I really learned how to be myself when I was with them." Leaving Arcady, Frances teamed up with songwriter and musician Kieran Goss. Talk to Me is her first truly solo album.

"I can't hide behind anybody anymore,' she says. Frances involved herself in every stage of the production of her album. "Oh, I had control," she flashes.

One of the first things she did was approach her favourite singer and songwriter, Nanci Griffith. "I decided to ring her but it took me half an hour to lift the phone. I asked her to send me some songs. Four days later she sent 11 songs and I recorded six and four have made it on to the album. I was, so thrilled." Up to then, Frances hadn't met Nanci Griffith but Griffith, it turned out, was one of Frances' growing legions of fans. "She walked into this hotel bar one day,"

Frances recalls, "Kieran (Goss) went up, to her because he had met her before and she asked for me. I took a reddener." Later Nanci Griffith visited Frances during the recording and added backing harmony vocals to On Grafton St, one of her own songs on the album. On Grafton St is typical of the kind of song Frances favours.

"Women's songs", she calls them. "A song must have a powerful picture for me," she adds. On Sunday; she performs her first major solo headline show in Dublin's Olympia Theatre and the notion of it, she says, makes her stomach churn with nerves. Before her recent Late Late Show appearance, she says, she felt even worse. In the end she charmed old Gaybo just as she continues to charm more fans with her combination of steely grit and femininity. Ladies and Gentlemen, Frances Black.

A second Olympia Theatre show on May 1 has been added to the Frances Black tour.