Black to Front
Dublin Singer Frances Black celebrates the luck of the Irish
Frances Black's fortunes seem to mirror those of Ireland itself. Both have a rich musical heritage. Frances is the younger sister of Mary, both of them part of the near-legendary Black Family. Both Frances and her country have a hesitant history, but have found the 1990s a time of increased prosperity.
Apart from recording and touring with her family, Frances was a member of Arcady and recorded a best-selling album with singer-songwriter Keiran Goss. The apparent success was just a front, though: "When Keiran and I decided to split, I found it very difficult. I decided that I was just gonna give up completely. I said 'I can't work on my own.' But I suppose I had such a great source of support over here, and a lot of people, including my sister... She probably would have put the final touches on my decision. She was the one who phoned up and said, 'You've got an album deal, you just have to go for it'. So I went solo in 1994 and when the album came out it went straight to number one." That album, Talk To Me, also helped Frances become the biggest-selling solo artist in Ireland for two years running, as well as a multiple award-winner. "I actually went into the studio with the thought that I'd have my solo album and this would be something to show my grandchildren. I didn't think it would do well at all. I would have been the shyest member and the most insecure member of the family, really. The black sheep, kind of thing. I thought I was destined for disaster. So it was more of a surprise for me than anything." Has that taught her about taking risks? "It has, and about not being afraid, or feeling afraid, and going ahead with it. I was petrified, to be honest."
Frances is refreshingly frank about her personal trials. She is vociferous about divorce rights in Ireland, following her experience of an early marriage. Frances is also willing to talk about her long-gone alcoholism because it changed her life when she read a journal ist's own experiences in a magazine. "I went into Stanhope Street [a Dublin centre for help with alcohol problems] and said 'I'm not an alcoholic or anything, but I would like to give up drinking and I find it difficult by myself. And after they'd questioned me, they said, 'Frances, you are an alcoholic'. I was shocked because the perception of an alcoholic is someone who's drunk all day and I wasn't like that. I was having a few jars at night."
With solo LP number four, the newly released Don't Get Me Wrong, Frances has a new deal with Sony Records and has moved towards jazzier, funkier elements in her music. Frances now has her eye on British audiences. Is she aware of the success of Irish acts over here at the moment? "I know for a fact in America to be Irish is really the in-thing. Ireland is a very musical culture. For some reason over the last eight years, it's just every single corner of this country has unbelievably brilliant and talented musicians, singers and songwriters. It really is oozing talent. In Dublin, at the moment, it's just phenomenal. If you move through the Temple Bar area, it's just like a festival atmosphere. It's dramatically changed, whereas in the '70s we were pretty badly off."
"They call it the Celtic Tiger over here. The economy is really flourishing, everything is going really well, there's jobs for everybody. And everbody's terrified that it's all going to collapse!" Frances laughs at this very Irish view of good for-tune. "In a way we're almost wishing it to stop, because we're terrified."