Singer-songwriter Alex Francis is certainly going places. He is currently performing at several UK festivals and has recently released his debut EP ‘These Words’. He very kindly sat down with JLTT to discuss his hometown, working with Melanie C and the first gig he went to. Enjoy…
Supplied By Artist
Where is your hometown and could you please describe it in five words?
Hitchin, Hertfordshire – Communal, vibrant, cliquey, cultural, musical.
What are your favoured stage guitars?
I use my Tanglewood TW-170AS Acoustic 99% of the time on stage, but I also use my Epiphone Dot Electric from time to time on certain songs that extra beef.
Could you tell me about your new single ‘The Last Time. Is it autobiographical?
‘The Last Time’ was conceived a some time ago after a relationship that I had recently finished, but my co writer and I felt the theme for it was universal so we analysed it again. It follows the idea that it isn’t as easy as simply letting go somebody once you’ve called it quits, even if you really want to.
Recently you have duetted with Melanie C and toured the UK, Ireland and Europe with her. How did that duet come about and do you have any particular special memories or funny stories from the tour?
The duet came around after some friends of mine recommended me as a potential male voice for the duet (serious props to them!) I had performed a private show for those friends in Sweden in 2015 where I met somebody who was involved with the distribution of Melanie’s music and the whole thing was essentially born out of that. It’s amazing how opportunities come about after you think the dust has settled on certain things.
A couple of definite stand outs from the tour would some of the suitably shocking Spice Girls tattoos that I was (proudly) shown by fans at the merchandise table each night – wish I had some pictures of those – and walking in on a to-be-unnamed crew member whilst he was full birthday suit at the show in Zurich is something that unfortunately might be imprinted on my mind for longer than I’d like it to be. Great times were all had all tour.
Do you have a favourite Melanie C or Spice Girls song? If so, which one and why?
I actually really dig the Spice Girls track ‘2 Become 1’. I love the chord changes in that song. The melodies remind me of some of the 1970’s Isley Brothers material like ‘For the Love of You’. It’s a really well crafted song.
Where are you planning to tour next?
We kicked off festival season with the Isle of Wight, then I’ve got festivals all over the south of England through June and July so it’s going to be a busy summer!
When you perform live shows, are you solo or do you have a band? If you have a band, could you please name them and tell us what they play?
I’m lucky to be able to perform certain shows solo acoustic and others with my band. A lot of the songs that I write start off in a pretty organic format, so being able to present them stripped back and full band is an ability that I’m very glad to have since I can cater to different live atmospheres. Ben Simon plays bass guitar, a very talented guitar player all round who I’ve kept the same hours with since our days studying music in Brighton.
Gui Rezende plays lead guitar – I found Gui after a co-writer friend recommended him. Guitar hails from Brazil and there’s definitely something in the water down there because he’s a ridiculous talent. Stefan Mehandra plays keyboards – Stef and I hooked up on recommendation of an old tutor friend of mine from Brighton. As soon we played Donny Hathaway Live over a few beers I knew he was the guy! Iain Mcfarlane plays drums – Iain is a long time friend of Stefan’s and came into the fold at perfect timing. He’s incredibly versed in several styles and knows exactly where I come from musically.
Do you have any favourite tunings?
I’m usually standard or a half step down for certain live shows, however I’ve experimented with several open tunings before and I’ve put a few recent ideas together that may resurrect some of those appearing live..shapes and chords you thought you knew have a whole different meaning when voiced in open tuning! That’s pretty awesome when coming up with ideas.
What two songs make you think of the seaside/coast?
‘Wooden Ships’ by Crosby Stills and Nash always transports me to a coastal place, I can feel the heat and the smell the sea when I listen to that song. ‘Forever My Friend’ by Ray Lamontagne to this day takes me back to a holiday on the south coast of Spain over 10 years ago. That first album got a lot of play on that trip. It’s amazing how powerful songs can be in calling on places, scenes and memories.
Name a song that makes you laugh (intentionally or otherwise!)
I couldn’t tell you the exact name of the song (for rude reasons) but last month in Hamburg after the show with Melanie C we descended upon an Irish bar and watched a guy from Manchester deliver a self penned track that had us all in stitches. Truly clever song-writing in deepest darkest Hamburg.
Could you please tell me about the track ‘Make Believe’
Make Believe deals with the feeling of when you want something that you really can’t have, which I think plenty of people can relate to in day to day life. We picked a love theme for it, but I’d to think it could stand for more than that to different ears.
In doing a bit of research I found that you used to play in a band called Shakey Jake and you performed in local pubs. What did you learn from that experience and do you like the music of Humble Pie?
I did indeed! There must still be some stuff knocking around the deepest darkest corners of the web. I slogged so many different gigs with that band. Looking back, I’m so glad I got to play as often as we did, whether it was locally or in surrounding towns and cities because it was a real ‘lesson’ in performing live and working out the best way to arrange our set list and our songs so that they would be engage people the best way possible live. We were almost exclusively a live act as we released very little. Humble Pie are a huge favourite of mine and when we started the band ‘The Sad Bag of Shakey Jake’ was a song that we’d often jam through at rehearsal so we thought it made sense!
They say that you shouldn’t write when you are in love. What are your thoughts on this?
I would say that it is harder to put into words the way you feel about somebody that you love so much, that it is genuinely more difficult than writing about anything else. I wouldn’t say it is the wrong thing to do at all! There are some amazing ways it’s been said in songs. But it isn’t easy..
Is travelling a boost or a bore?
That would totally depend on where you’re heading to.
What is the music scene like in Hitchin?
I’m not so frequent of Hitchin anymore, but when I do go back there always to be stuff being advertised and happening even if it’s a vibrant open mic in one of the local pubs, an outdoor stage in the town centre or a show at one of the venues from a travelling band. Still vibrant I’d hope!
You have a pretty packed summer schedule with festivals. How do you approach a festival set?
For me a the style of a festival set can be largely down to where I am on the billing and the size of the stage – you can do as much homework as possible and usually come up with something suitable based on those things, but you also never know what kind of reaction you’re going to gauge in the first couple of songs so I always try and be ready to shift things around / stay a little longer on certain things that audiences are getting into..it’s proper wild animal.
Some people may not know this but you have brother who is also in the music industry. What was the first song of yours he heard? Have you ever recorded together and if not would that be something you would be interested in doing?
He had a trio around the same time that I was playing in Shakey Jake. They had some great tunes – that’s the first time we’d started writing for our own projects outside of each other so it was cool to hear his sound evolving for the first time. We’ve worked on numerous things together and I don’t think either of us ever count it out – it’s usually a case of where and when that’s the trickiest thing to work out.
Which song in your repertoire do you find yourself explaining the most?
Usually I don’t! Audiences have been quite quick on the up-take of a lot of the narratives, especially during the Melanie tours. One of the coolest moments was in Ireland when I was approached by another artist in the audience after the show who wanted to tell me how much she related to the theme in a fairly new one I’d been playing in the solo sets called ‘Get Around’. It’s awesome to know people are listening in hard on lyrics as well as melodies and gives me a huge buzz when they let me know.
What was the first gig that you went to? Who was it, where was it and how old were you?
The first ‘proper’ show I saw was Santana at Wembley Arena in 2005 with my brother, a couple of mates and our dads. We’d had a good blast of Woodstock for the first time shortly before that and Santana’s set was something pretty magical – seeing all of that full scale production along with his unique was something I’ll never forget. Still a favourite to this day – Abraxas is a killer record.
Who would you say your EP is aimed at?
These songs are from the heart, for the heart.
(Many thanks to Alex Francis, Pete Sargeant and Ant Giannaccini at Wilful Publicity for all of their help with this interview)
Alex Francis’s debut EP ‘These Words’ is out now.
For more information about Alex and his upcoming live dates visit his official Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/alexfrancismusic/