Hammering out harmonies

David Francey riding the rails to success

Musician David Francey is at Upstairs Cabaret April 10.

David Francey writes about life’s little moments. From a friend’s wedding to a chance meeting on a plane, the three-time Juno award-winning singer/songwriter finds soulful stories in everyday events.

The 61-year-old began writing poetry as a way to “understand life.”

“When I was a teenager, I started listening to the really great singer/songwriters we’ve produced and I was really inspired by that,” he says. “Rather than just writing the words down I would get a melody in my head and then sing the words. Then over time they came out as songs instead of poems.”

The songs were like journal writing, he says, never intended for public consumption.

“I was a construction worker. I literally wrote every single song for myself. I never had any intention – I never even entertained the thought of anybody else listening to them. Not that I didn’t like them or anything I just thought, ‘that’s nothing I’ll be doing.’”

It was his wife, artist Beth Girdler, who urged him to share his talent.

“I had a stack of songs I never played for a soul. I wrote them for me,” he says. “They helped me sort out my world and the world around me and everything else. They were just part of what I did and I’d feel the compulsion to write but I never felt any compulsion whatsoever to perform them or share them. It was Beth, my wife, that’s insisted on that. She was right.”

Born in Ayrshire, Scotland, Francey immigrated to Canada with his family at age 12 and discovered wanderlust as a teen.

“I always really liked (adventure). I love travel. I hitchhiked across the country umpteen times. The first time I was 16, hopped a freight and all that stuff I read about in John Steinbeck novels and was so taken with. Everybody at school that year was going to ‘hitchhike to Van man,’ so I said, ‘yeah I’m going to go.’ Came back that year and not one of them had gone. I was the only one who’d done it, so that was a good lesson learned. Just keep your mouth shut and do it instead of just talking about it.”

After high school he briefly flirted with post secondary education. “That was just a disaster,” he says with a laugh. “I had no business being there because I didn’t know what I was doing, so I just started lifting heavy objects because I could do that.”

Francey worked in construction until age 45 when he recorded his first album Torn Screen Door which was followed by 2001’s End of Summer, which earned him his first Juno award.

“After I won the Juno I went full time into music,” he says, though if music ever fails him he’s happy to pick up a hammer again.

“I was not an unhappy construction worker. When you’re used to the job, you work at a certain pace, it does leave your mind free to wander off. If you’re roofing, no one’s coming up to bother you when you’re on a plank 40 feet off the ground. You’ve got all the time in the world to think.”

His latest album, released in February, is a collection of songs that he’s written over the years. “I wrote a love song for Beth called Big Texas Moon and had John Showman play fiddle on that,” he says. “There’s a song about the porn industry – that doesn’t get done very often. It’s a song called Blue Girl that came out of an NFB film called Give Me Your Soul. It’s a heavy duty bit of film. I watched that and then just penned the song immediately afterwards.”

The title track, Empty Train, was written in Ashcroft BC. “Those big empty ore trains going up and down the valley there … I just remember them rattling and I remember thinking, ‘man, that’s the emptiest, most lonely sound I’ve ever heard rattling off these hills around me.’”

David Francey is at Upstairs Cabaret April 10.

 

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