Frances Black: Don't Get Me Wrong

By L.A. Livingston
From Live & Reelin

Gearing up for a new CD release in September, Frances Black is doing the rounds to promote Don't Get Me Wrong, released on Sony Music. L.A. LIVINGSTON spoke to her on her way through London.

When she lost her voice a couple years ago, Frances Black says she panicked. Her voice is important to her; it's her livelihood. While there is no trace now of the difficulty she had then with her voice, the Irish singer says she had no back-up plan for such emergencies.

"I would consider now having a back-up plan, but at the time, I didn't. I just fell apart. I completely went down under the strain and the stress of it all. I didn't know what to do. It was like I'd lost my arm or something. It was like losing a friend," she says.

"I was very, very worried. I had never realised I had never appreciated my voice before that, and when it went, I just went down, got very depressed."

She says she lost her confidence; what started as a mental hurdle became "psychosomatic" and began to manifest itself as physical symptoms -losing her voice. The doctors told her she had bruising on the vocal chords.

"What I really needed to do was just take time out. I got my voice back and the bruising had fixed itself, but I still thought I couldn't sing, and that was the problem," she says.

"I'm back again, thanks be to God I'm back singing again. I'd say I'm about 99 per cent. I don't get complacent anymore about my voice." Back at the microphone again and planning a tour for September after the release of Don't Get Me Wrong, Black has put that scare in the past. She joined up with Sony music last year, and worked with producer Declan Sinnott to record this latest CD.

"I'm really excited about it (the CD) because I feel like I'm starting over again with this album. The last three before that, I've said goodbye to them, and now I have a new producer, a new record company, a new agency over here in England.

"I don't know why, I just feel as though there's a new vibe about it," she says.

"I did a tour here in 1995, but this is my first tour with the backup of a record company, and that's very important to me. It doesn't affect the show, but it certainly affects the promotion."

Black still seems surprised by the circumstances of the start of her career, which is attributed to the release of two of her singles on the first Woman's Heart album. Although she says she isn't interested in doing another Woman's Heart, she recognises the boost it gave her career.

"It was something that happened, and now it's over, it's gone. It served its purpose and it served its time, and it changed my life for me from the point of view that it helped me a few rungs up the ladder," she says.

"It's beyond me. I don't know how it happened. It's brilliant."

It shouldn't be such a surprise. She comes from a musical family, and toured with them - the Black Family - in the 1980s. They could be considered Ireland's answer to the Jackson Five. The family recorded two albums together. Her brothers Michael and Shay - known in the music industry as the Black Brothers, oddly enough - recorded an album last year in the United States, where they live. A third brother, Martin, lives in Ireland.

Frances' name often seems to be uttered in the same sentence as her sister Mary's. While both are singing and touring their way around the UK popularity charts, Frances says she doesn't feel like she's living in her older sister's shadow.

"If I'm having a problem that's anything to do with the music, the first one I'd ring is Mary because she'd relate to it," she says.

"She's very supportive in that way, and always has been . . . She always gives me brilliant advice."

She says she would like to record an album with Mary at some point, but their lives are so busy that the chance of finding time to do it is slim. Black says she's close to all her siblings. Michael and Shay live in the US, but come home often to visit, and Martin lives in Dublin, as does Mary.

Black's struggle with alcoholism created some trials in her life, but she says her husband, Brian, and children - Eoghan (17) and Aoife, (15) - have kept her grounded.

"They're the only ones who keep me going. They've given me a great source of strength through the years, and still are," she says.

"My husband is great. He has the patience of a saint. And my kids are there and they just come in - they don't understand if you're feeling down - and say 'Where's our dinner and our clean socks?' It just brings you back to earth very quickly."

Down to earth is one way of describing Black; she doesn't seem like she's one to let success -whatever that is - go to her head.

"You just accept what you have, and you can't hold on to it. That's the thing about this business. You're as good as your next album," she says.

"I don't really strive for anything. I've don't have any ambitions - I've never had any ambitions. I only do things if I want to do them, or if I feel like doing them."

She says she doesn't believe in failure.

"I don't believe anyone fails, and I think it's terrible to put that pressure on somebody," she says.

She has been reading some books on Zen, given to her by Declan Sinnott. She took them home and put them away, but when her husband picked them up and started reading them to her, she says she got interested because it felt like things were falling into place.

As a result, she says she is now learning how to live for the moment.

"With Zen, you live for the moment, and you live for the here, and for today, and you enjoy it, and you treasure it, and I think that's a brilliant philosophy," she explains.

"It was just like all of a sudden the jigsaw was coming together. It's only starting, but it's coming together, and it feels good. I feel I'm on the right path. If things don't work out, it doesn't really matter."