On his latest album, Late Edition, the multi-Juno-winning folk artist David Francey sings about the news of yesterday, the passage of time and things that might have been. He dropped by the Globe offices for a chat about his career.
Extra, extra, read all about him
Pictured reading a newspaper on the cover of Late Edition, Francey endears himself to the printed press. "I've always been a newspaper reader," says the 56-year-old troubadour, a former newsboy in his native Ayrshire, Scotland. "I'm not familiar with computers and such."
Broadsheets serve not only as sources of information in black and white, but as kindling for the woodstove – and starters, in this case, for a song. The lead track of Late Edition, so titled because the album was meant for release two years ago, is Yesterday's News, a jaunty track concerning the headlines of our daily lives that fade with time, sometimes in as little as a day.
"I was making the wood fire in the morning, crumpling up the paper from the day before," says Francey. "I equated myself with yesterday's news. I thought it was appropriate, you know?" And so Francey sings, in a sort of J.J. Cale-of-the-Highlands manner, about news cycles that turnover quickly, sometimes mercifully so – "page one tomorrow, some other sorrow will have to do."
Start the presses
Francey, who immigrated to Canada at the age of 12, worked in construction for 20 years. He has no musical training and to this day tours with a second guitarist to compensate for his own, by his admission, modest abilities on guitar. He wrote songs for himself, seeing his songwriting as a "solitary passion."
After his wife convinced her husband of the quality of his "raft" of tunes, he initially thought he would sell them. Instead, at her prompting, he recorded them, with the resulting album (1999's Torn Screen Door) winning a CBC Radio award for the year's top folk disc.
"I didn't do anything," says the easygoing Ontarian, still working at manual labour at the time. "I put it out and it crawled across the country."
His second album, Far End of Summer, which includes the finger-picked, autobiographical Paper Boy, won the first of Francey's three Juno awards.
The prospect of working full time as a musician was viewed by Francey with some trepidation. He had developed confidence in his material and his ability to present it on stage, but the repetition of the road was a worry. The idea of performing by rote had no appeal to him whatsoever.
Again, it was his wife who set him straight, telling him to always keep in mind the reason for writing a particular song, and the time and place in which he conceived them. If he would just recall the setting of the songwriting before he played the song, his performances would never become routine.
"She was absolutely right," says Francey. "I don't care if I've sung a song 100 times, it flashed in my mind why I wrote it and where I wrote it. It becomes new again for me, every night."
"After the show, I talk to people," says Francey. "I'll be there till the last man standing. It's not an imposition – it's a nice thing I get to do."
As you might imagine, folk artists do not amass fortunes on gate receipts. Rather, they supplement their performance fees by selling their CDs at the merchandise table. From a crowd of, say, 200 people, Francey might expect to sell 50 discs a night. He'll sign each and every one of them, without a second thought.
"They want to tell you that what you've written rings true to them," he says. "It's a part of their of their life, and who wouldn't to hear that?" The recordings sold at the merchandise table are also mementos of the occasion. "People like to know they're supporting what you do," he says.
Music, disposable? That would be news to David Francey.
David Francey embarks on an extensive tour of Canada, beginning in Perth, Ont., Sept. 16. For full schedule, click here.