Live Review: Frances – Liverpool


The Leaf, Liverpool, 18th October 2015

Words: Gary Lambert

frances 2015If this gig was not a showcase for Liverpool’s performing arts education offerings officially, then unofficially it most definitely was with the acts and audience made up of students and alumni. It gave the night a strange feel as so many people watching seemed more concerned with chatting until the end of songs when they would give the correct whistles, whoops and hollers. It felt to me like people were attending as a matter of acquiring compulsory credits rather than to be entertained by musicians.

Jalen N’Gonda performed a soulful but delicate set which showed off both his warm vocals and classy, simple guitar playing i.e. no overblown attention grabbing moments. I felt sorry for him though as he seemed to be not yet comfortable on stage whenever he was not singing. How someone can sing beautifully yet quietly mumble at all other times. I think if he had been a bit bolder from the start, he would have grabbed attention tighter. You Deserve To Die and She’s Leaving Tomorrow were the self-penned standout tunes. Even when the set finished, there was an awkward momentary silence until it was realised that Jolan had completed his work for the evening and was walking off. Performance is all the more important in these days of low record sales and small streaming revenues. During Frances’ performance I counted at least eight people on the front tables videoing her during Grow. If one person videoed Jalen and put it on YouTube it would do nothing for him. I must say I did feel sorry for Jalen too as advertising around the venue, his name had unprofessionally and insulting been written as “Jolan n Gonad” as though it was a wacky pair of DJs.

As for Francesset that was a different kettle of fish completely. I am never going to buy the records of Frances as her Adele-styled balladeering is as far removed from my own tastes as possible. However getting to watch her perform was incomparable. I was able to watch an artist tonight who has grown from my last visit to one of her gigs back in May. Back then she was insipid and dull in my opinion, but without changing from the girl behind the keyboard performance style she was flowered into a bold and engaging singer. The confidence from her upwardly mobile career trajectory made the forty minutes fly by. I was actually shocked how long she had played for as I was enjoying it so much. Her tales of touring and her recent opportunities were at times witty and charming, but did occasionally come across as tedious pieces of oneupmanship that she wanted to thrust on to her old university pals. In particular she regaled us with a tale of a gig in Edinburgh where the whole audience sang every word of Grow. I’m going to say now they didn’t. Grow was undoubtedly the peak of the set, but it is that because it is such a difficult song and her effortless performing of it showed exactly why Frances is such a buzz artist at present. But an audience of average singers could not handle that song and the fact that, other than a couple of committed fans near the front, nobody sang along almost diminished the moment as my first thought was “not as good as Edinburgh then”. It created a negative where there was no need for it. But really that is such a minor gripe. Frances and her keyboard gave a wonderful demonstration of the power of simplicity. Every time she sang it was breathtaking and masterful. The previously chatty audience hung on every note and syllable. It was an honour to be so fortunate to catch her. And there was no cheap drum machine or bass effects to put a dampener on some shining examples of pop songs. Next time she comes to town, grab a ticket and go with some friends or on a date. I will be even if I don’t buy the records.

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