Originally posted on The Alternative Soundtrack
A keyboard, a chair, a medium sized pub in Bristol; the amateur setting for a critically acclaimed musician in the supposed professional era of artistry. Fifty people stand facing the stage, none of whom paid for a ticket, another two hundred or so in earshot probably here for the two for one deal on the renowned pub burgers. The acoustics have to fight the oohs and aahs which come from the foosball table. This is a pub gig from the nineties, surely?
In fact, this was Frances performing, a talented individual whose voice is truly fantastic live. Soulful is a word bashed around these days ever since Adele entered the pop scene being an actually soulful singer, but Frances is most definitely soulful in the same vein. And this is where I want to eliminate all comparisons to Adele because although she was playing the keyboard presumably on classic piano mode, was wearing a long black dress, had a impressive mid to high range, used a stripped back stage, and sang powerful love songs which stung every wound your heart has experienced, she is not Adele. And also because the style of music, notably its simplicity and lack of gimmicks, is in short supply. This is because it the singer's voice is vulnerable to scrutiny. In these conditions, I was absolutely expecting to notice flaws. However, I did not. The odd awkward mic shuffle apart, it was a great half hour of performance.
"I've seen so many artists playing piano while standing up... Urgh."
Two highlights were her final track Let It Out and a shaken up and stirred cover of Justin Bieber's What Do You Mean?. The former featured delicate pedal work, which only the more observant of the fifty would have noticed, the latter she had performed a few weeks ago in BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge after being called up last minute to replace The Libertines. I mentioned the word before, but Frances is powerful. Both her lyrics and her accompanying chords were. The imperative nature of her songs, "throw your arms down and grow your heart out" she repeats in Grow, leaves this impression of strong emotion on the audience. You really do feel sometimes you have been struck down by her lyrics.
Yet she is funny too. "I've seen so many artists playing piano while standing up... Urgh." She would have had a packed arena in fits of laughter pulling that one out between repeatedly bleeding her heart out onto her red keyboard in song. The contrasting moods of her songs and stage persona adds the fun to seeing her talent live. When you look back at Taylor Swift's projection to stardom, it revolved around her ability to bring joy to her fans when she was, early in her career, singing less joyous material. Frances' humour and laugh added greatly to fifty people's evening.
But are doing these gigs going to launch her career? Straight answer: no, I would not say it will. I would hope it is not the pinnacle and I am sure it will not be, but neither will it have much influence on her reaching the pinnacle. Her airtime on Annie Mac's show might, every share on Spotify will, but a gig this small has little impact outside that pub. This is a different profession than it was in the nineties. An artist's manipulation of social media and image sadly is as important as their musical talent. Their lighting and stage effects the same. In this overly professional era, we are flooded with an array of barely adequate musicians backed by far too much money and media, yet talents such as Frances have to work double as hard than they should do to sell records and tickets. I genuinely believe Frances was there on Tuesday night because playing music is what she should be doing and she would play anywhere, to anyone who wanted to listen. And I think if you have that aptitude and willing, then you deserve to be more successful in the modern world.