Sunday, 2 October 2011

Karima Francis @ The Glee Club, Birmingham 30th September 2011

In July 2007 I was at the Latitude festival in Suffolk and happened upon a singer called Karima Francis at the In The Woods stage which, as the name suggests, is a small stage in a clearing in the middle of the woods.  The entire tent was silent, focused on this incredible-looking musician playing acoustic guitar and singing with a voice the size of which belied her tiny frame.  I only saw her final song, but it was nevertheless the highlight of my entire festival.  Fast forward 18 months and Francis released her debut album, The Author, appeared on Jools Holland, and promptly disappeared off the face of the earth due to mysterious "health issues".

Well, two years later and Karima Francis has "come back from the dead", in her words, been back in the studio recording a new album (with PJ Harvey producer Flood, no less) and just embarked on a tour of the UK.  Tonight she begins with a couple of new tracks, including the lovely Remedy (which is to be the title track of the next album) and quickly demonstrates that a couple of years away from music have done nothing to dull her passion nor alter her remarkable voice.

And what a voice it is: on The Author she effortlessly moves across almost two scales within the space of one word and there is a richness to her singing that gives texture and depth to songs which might otherwise be mere 'radio friendly unit shifters'.  Yet for all the strength of Francis' voice, there's a fragility about her that makes you want to give her a cuddle.  Her query, "Are you not bored yet?" raises chuckles the first time, but becomes rather plaintive when asked again.  Happily the rest of her between-song chat is more confident (and extremely funny: a rumination on Blackpool rock littered with innuendo being a highlight) although at times she seems overwhelmed by the enthusiastic audience response, which borders on the adoring.

Each song is simple, performed on acoustic guitar, and her lyrics deal with love and, more often, the loss of love.  Nothing terribly earth-shattering there, but the frankness of her words and the vulnerability in her voice makes the songs sound terribly intimate.  They take the listener into the heart of the relationship and even into the bed, as in gig closer Stay, when she sings "asleep on my chest you lay," with such longing that it rises above cliche to become something far more moving and special.

Check out her Facebook page for upcoming gigs and to take a listen.

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