Irish folk singer Francis Black grew up singing with her sister - the very famous Mary - and her brothers. Shay, Michael and Martin. They were described as one of the ‘most important musical clans in Ireland’ and their voices had clarity, pitch, harmony - the kind that can perhaps only be developed by groing up in a musical family and having singsongs of an evening by the hearth. Frances Black’s parents were both musical - her father Kevin was a fiddle player from Rathlin, Co Antrim - where the family spent many summers - while her mother, Patty, regularly sang in dancehalls. Frances and her siblings were destined for a musical life.
“I haven’t been up North in such a long time,” says Frances, beautiful, clear-skinned and possessed of a certain gentleness that makes it easy to understand why she has successfully qualified as an addiction counsellor after overcoming her own long struggle with alcohol dependency. “I’m so looking forward to coming up and meeting people and promoting the new album,” she adds brightly, referring to her tour dates at the Strule, Omagh, the Riverside, Coleraine and the Market Place, Armagh.
“I want to give people plenty of the well-loved old songs and then some of my new material.”
Frances’s last album was released in 2003 so at first she was tentative about returning to the studio after such a hiatus.
“I went in and recorded covers of songs I’ve always loved, that have always meant something to me. Many of these are sad songs. When I looked back I was like, ‘what’s wrong with me? So many of these songs are about heartache and misery!’ And yet I’m in a really good place in my life - that’s why the new album is called Stronger.” I suggest that Frances is just tapping into the Celtic tradition of lament; many folk songs from this part of thre world have a melancholy strain that is an intrinsic part of their timeless, universal beauty.
“Yeah,” she agrees, “some of the best songs in the world are written about grief and heartache.”
Frances Black plays Strule Arts Centre, Omagh, October 25; Riverside Theatre, Coleraine, November 2; and January 4, Market Place Theatre, Armagh.