Interview with Frances Black
Being one-fifth of one of Ireland's best-loved musical dynasties, some might think that Frances Black's path to fame was a foregone conclusion. But her road to success was not as easy as one might think and the self-confessed "wild-child" admits she had her fair share of struggles before finally finding happiness. Now with a number one solo album, The Sky Road, and a second, How High The Moon, just recently released, 42-year-old Frances has prospered despite the pitfalls.
Ironically, for such a professional performer, Frances was a reluctant musician.
She never intended following her siblings into the family industry and wanted
to work as a child-minder. But her prayers were answered a little too quickly
when she fell pregnant at the age of 18.
" As a kid, I was a bit wild," she confesses. "I wouldn't have been a responsible teenager. I liked going out at night and having the craic.
"I used to go to McDaids [Dublin city centre pub] a lot. But that stage
didn't last long because I had my son when I was 18. It was quite a shock
and I didn't know what to do or what to expect. And I had this image of a
doll-like baby. It was like Awwww, little baby, aaaaawww”
"I was all innocence and immaturity. So when he came along it was a big shock to the system. He was quite demanding as a baby and I wasn't prepared. He cried a lot and I never knew what was wrong. I think he could sense my nervousness because I was so inexperienced. But I really tried my very best, I know I did. I really tried hard for him and wanted the very best."
After the birth of Eoghan, Frances married her then partner and moved into
a house near her parents home in the inner city: She admits it was a difficult
time as she was working part-time in a snooker hall while her partner worked
in Dublin Corporation.
Just over a year later, Frances was pregnant again. When she was told it was a daughter she was thrilled, but the labour was difficult.
The Black family nearly lost their youngest sibling and Frances had a "life-changing experience" while unconscious.
"After I had Aoife, I couldn't believe I was so lucky to have a little girl. Up to that point I felt luck hadn't really been on my side. She was really beautiful and I was saying to them, 'gimme me baby, gimme me baby'. I really had such strong maternal instincts towards her. But I started to fade and they said “quick take the baby off her - there's medical problems”. I had this dream and a very attractive man in a suit came to me. He said, 'It's your time to go. It's time to leave now.'
"I was laughing. I was like, leave where, like? And he said 'well you're gonna have to leave your children and your family behind”. They started flashing in front of me -my brothers, my sisters, my friends, my son. Then I saw my daughter but I wouldn't let go off her - I held on to her. And I liked this man, I trusted him. "I told him I wasn't leaving -I wasn't leaving my baby. So he went away and came back and then he said, 'Frances, your will has kept you with your child. Your will has kept you alive'."
During her unconsciousness Frances had been haemorrhaging badly (specialists at the maternity hospital had been struggling to discover the source of the bleeding, but could not find out where the problem was. Frances' singing sister Mary Black told her that doctors had given her eight units of blood to replace what she was losing. She also said that the "heart machine was going ballistic". It looked certain that Frances would die, but the bleeding then stopped of its own accord and the new mother made a full recovery.
Frances had survived and was blessed with two healthy children, but her personal troubles were far from over. She had married in a panic, but hadn't considered the consequence of such a hasty union.
"We were too young, too immature," admits the singer. "We
really hadn't a clue -we were playing house. "By the time Eoghan was
five and Aoife was three, we separated. I moved out and started on my own
and that was very difficult and I was trying to hold down my job in a snooker
hall. He still has a great relationship with the kids."
Frances also had a high-profile battle with alcoholism, the details of which emerged during a Late Late Show interview with Gay Byrne. The nation was aghast that such a healthy-looking woman had such a troubling secret. But greener pastures were on the horizon.
" A wonderful man came into my life and really helped me pick up the pieces and he took on caring for me," reveals Frances. "He was from Cork. I thought he was lovely - just gentle and kind and quiet and sensitive and funny; really funny. I just fancied him for ages and ages. He was really shy so I didn't know if he liked me -I know now he did. He's now my manager."
That manager is Brian Allen, with whom Frances now lives. But her own family, and her siblings, still play a massive role in her life. Her daughter Aoife (21) is finishing a film
production degree in Wolverhampton, England, and Eoghan plays in his mother's backing band and has written a track for her new album.
The Black family; meanwhile, have remained "extremely" close down through the years, especially Mary and Frances. Frances recalls Mary being a "natural singer. She was always the lead singer in the choir, whereas I was much, much shyer. "I was really, really proud of her though - she was my big sister." Frances describes their relationship as being "like twins. We'd often turn up for things nearly dressed the same. She'd be wearing a black double-breasted jacket and I'd be wearing a black double-breasted jacket and we mightn't have seen each other for months. "
At the moment the Black family are maintaining a vigil around their mother’s nursing home bedside as she struggles through an illness. And although the entire family of five are tight-knit, it is Mary who Frances turns to for support.
“She’s great, particularly with Mammy being sick” says Frances ”because I might go to her ”Jeez Mary, I really miss her” And she’d day “yeah, I know what exactly what you mean”.
But even at her most difficult moments, it is music that soothes their ailing mother, who is now 87. “When she was 81, she made an album of the songs she knew” says Frances wistfully. “A friend of hers brought her down to Kilkenny to record her songs – it wasn’t for sale or anything. We all have that CD. But she’s 87 now, she’s very sick. It’s a bit worrying. She can’t talk or anything but if you put her CD on, she knows. It really brings her back to life, it fills her spirit”, she adds.