"Francey's simplistic artistry evokes spirit of Robbie Burns"

ROBERT REID The Record (Waterloo Region) Arts, Saturday, June 7, 2003

Francey's simplistic artistry evokes spirit of Robbie Burns

David Francey was born in Ayrshire 49 years ago. This would be of nominal biographical interest were it not for the Scottish-born, Toronto-raised singer/songwriter sharing so much in common with Ayrshire's most celebrated writer -- Robbie Burns.

Even though Francey has lived most of his life in Canada, and has emerged in recent years as an eloquent chronicler of Canadian life, he evoked the spirit of Burns last night at the Princess Cinema during his first theatre concert in Kitchener-Waterloo.

As usual, Francey was accompanied by Dave Clarke on lead acoustic guitar and backup vocals and Geoff Somers on fiddle, mandolin, guitar and backup vocals. Clarke opened for Francey with a six-song set, accompanied by Somers for some songs and tunes.

The material was drawn from his superb new instrumental album, Guitar Songs, and songs he either wrote or co-wrote with his wife, Lucinda Chodan, for his Montreal-based country folk trio Steel Rail. Clarke is a gifted finger picker and cross-flat picker with a big, rich, rounded sound reminiscent of the late John Fahey.

Like his 18th-century predecessor, Francey's songs, and the way he sings them, are direct and immediate. His lyrics embody the plain speech of ordinary people, similar in principle to Burns' use of Lowland Scottish vernacular.

Like Burns, Francey's artistry is one of deceptive simplicity which, in turn, is conveyed effortlessly, casually and warmly.

There's nothing forced about Francey. He's a natural songwriter (both lyrics and melodies), as well as vocalist and storyteller. He never sings a song without regaling listeners with an oftentimes humorous introduction.

Listening to Francey perform is like listening to a wandering minstrel, back from his travels with a bagful of songs of the road, playing for family and friends on the porch or in the kitchen.

Like the celebrated poet-ploughman, Francey writes of what he knows, gleaned from his years of manual labor. At one point in his two-hour concert, he described his approach to songcraft as writing from real-life perspectives.

Consequently, he writes songs of labour, reflecting what he describes as an "industrial landscape" (Paper Boy, Mill Towns, Hard Steel Mill, Border Line).

He also writes with intense sympathy for the poor, the downtrodden, the dispossessed and the lost (Torn Screen Door, Exit). Like his predecessor, Francey has a keen sense of social injustice (Streets of Calgary).

Similarly, both celebrate rural and small-town life, away from the hustle and the hassle of the big city (Skating Rink, Red-Winged Blackbird, February Morning Drive, Far End of Summer).

And, like Burns, Francey writes of love -- joyously won, sustained over time and painfully lost (Saturday Night, Lucky Man, Belgrade Train, Nearly Midnight, Valley's Edge).

Burns satirized what he believed to be the hypocrisy of organized religion. For his part, Francey celebrates spirituality not as something high and mighty, but as grace, forgiveness and doing to others as you would have others do to you (Saints and Sinners).

Whereas Burns initially supported the French Revolution, in later years he grew disenchanted. Francey writes touchingly about the terrible loss that results from war and terrorism (Flowers of Saskatchewan, Grim Cathedral).

The large crowd gave Francey a well-deserved standing ovation and audibly buzzed when the former carpenter from Quebec's Eastern Townships announced he would be appearing later this summer at the Hillside Festival.

Francey's songs are stamped with the imprint of endurance. Some commentators have already predicted that people will be singing his songs a couple of hundred years from now.

Just think, Canada's very own Robbie Burns.

back home