Saturday, January 22, 2011

David Francey/Craig Werth; January 22, 2011; The Brink Lounge

David Francey is equal parts storyteller and songwriter. Every song was given an extensive introduction before he would sing it. At least once he promised “the song will be shorter than that story.” But to hear him talk he is even more a construction worker. No one seems more surprised than he that after twenty years doing manual labor he has now spent the last twelve years writing and recording albums and touring the world, and he makes it sound easy. “You record a couple records and all of sudden they are inviting you to conferences,” he marveled, “twenty years of construction and I never got invited to a conference.” The conference was Folk Alliance and it was in Florida. Since Francey’s wife and muse Beth Girdler won’t fly, they decided to drive from their home in Canada. He pulled out a map and picked a route, thinking it would be a beautiful drive right along the coast. The route was Interstate and it was neither beautiful nor right along the coast.

Much of Francey’s charm comes from his willingness to laugh at himself. He is the sort of down to earth character than you can imagine sharing several beers with and hours later wonder where the time went. He was born in Scotland but moved with his family to Canada when he was quite young. He still has the Scottish accent, but the years growing up in Toronto have mellowed it, leaving him with a hypnotic lilt infinitely easier to understand than most Scots. He still seems in awe that people are willing to pay to see him sing his songs. But people certainly are... a capacity crowd had come out for his Madison Folk Society sponsored show at the Brink Lounge. And they were treated to two sets of stories and songs from Francey and his sideman Craig Werth. Unlike most singer/songwriters Francey doesn’t play much guitar, he leaves that to Werth who seems able to play anything with strings and he switched instruments frequently during the set.

Many of Francey’s songs were written for his wife Beth. The first of these isn’t a love song at all, but one about the dissolution of his first marriage. Apparently people aren’t listening to the words he claims because many couples have told him they used it for their first dance at their wedding. According to him, it was Beth who first encouraged him to pursue music as a career, before that he had just been a construction worker who also wrote songs. Another favorite subject was the many characters he met while spending time on the M.V. Algoville out at sea. The project was a collaboration between Francey and Mike Ford (of Moxy Fruvous fame). They traveled with the crew for two weeks from Montreal to Thunder Bay, hearing their stories and writing songs about them. It was good to hear accounts of honest, hard working people with no sensationalism at all, like the hero of “The Ballad of Bowser McRae” whom Francey calls one of the most interesting people he’s ever met.

Prior to Francey’s two sets of songs (which went till after 11, giving folks a three hour show for their money) Werth played some of his own material. The one that stuck with me was a song called “The Spokesman” about a retired man who repairs bicycles and gives them away to children who need them. The Spokesman? Get it? The funny part of his story was that he had originally read the tale in his AARP magazine, a publication that he ignored for the first several issues he received. Eventually he found himself reading the whole thing. He was every bit as charming as Francey was, just without the accent, and did play a mean guitar. I guess that made them pretty much the perfect pair.

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