Skinned-down music

Phillip Cairns chatted with two-time Juno award-winning singer and  storyteller David Francey before his appearance this Sunday at the St. John’s Folk Festival.

David Francey didn’t really take himself seriously as a musician until he won a Juno in Newfoundland back in 2002.

For about 20 years before that he worked in construction. But making the transition from construction to music, he says, wasn’t a hard one for him or his family.

“I’m away from home a lot, but if you work construction and go up to the Yukon for three months, there’s no real difference, is there?” said Francey from his home in Ontario. 

“You’re away from your family and you’re making money, and you’re providing for them, and that’s what music does for me too. Only I have a lot fun doing it, and I get to go to some pretty nice places.”

One of those places is St. John’s, for the 30th Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival this weekend.

This isn’t Francey’s first time performing in St. John’s. He has already played at the Folk Festival and says he’s looking forward to doing it again.

“Couldn’t wait, man – could not wait,” says Francey.

“I tell you, I left the first time and thought, ‘Why can’t I live here?’

“Every time I’ve been to Newfoundland, I’ve had a terrific time. I absolutely love the music, and I was really thrilled to get invited back.”

It’s no surprise he was invited back. His songs are poetic and unpretentious, simple and affecting. Work, love, family and childhood memories are common themes.

“I like things as skinned down as possible, including the lyrics,” he says. “So when I’m writing something, I tend to try to write the story as succinct as possible, but absolutely not leaving any important stuff out.

“I love melody. I love simplicity in music, too. That’s what always drives me; that’s what hauls me in every time.”
A natural songwriter, Francey is also a natural, though inadvertent, storyteller.

“When I actually finally stepped on a stage and did a song, after the first song, there was this dreadful silence,” remembers Francey.

“I thought, ‘Jesus!, if I don’t talk or something, nothing is going to happen until the next song.’ So I started introducing the songs and they turned into stories, and now some people come for the stories.”

He’s performing Sunday on the main stage of the festival, but he will also take part in an oral traditions workshop and a songwriters’ circle.

“We’re going to be in workshops with people I totally admire like Jim Payne,” he says. “There’s a guy who can put a melody and a lyric together as clear as a bell.”

Francey wants to check out as much local talent as he can while he’s here.

“It’s one place where if somebody’s on the stage, I’m just sitting back listening. I’m just so enjoying myself,” he says.

“Colleen Power is another one I just adore. She’s outstanding, man. That girl’s just great. She’s a huge talent. But the place is full of talented people, so it’s a great place to go.”

Francey is currently working on his next album, due out by 2007.

“I’m really excited about it,” he says. “A new project is always what’s really caught your heart at that particular moment, and that’s what it’s like for me. When I’ve got a new project on the go, I’m pretty happy.” 

David Francey will perform with Terry Tufts on the main stage at the Folk Festival this Sunday evening. See page 6 for more Festival listings. To read a full transcription of Phillip’s conversation with Francey, click here.