People have told David Francey he’s too old to be touring the country, doing 50 shows in a little less than two months.
His reply, he said, is simple, “Well, I’m not going to be any younger next year.”
What they’re not taking into account is that Francey, 57, could be described by the title of the album he’s on tour to promote: “Late Edition.”
After 20 years working in construction, Francey made his debut as a folk singer/songwriter in 1999, at age 45, after persuasion from his wife.
A native of Scotland, Francey immigrated to Canada with his family at age 12. As a teenager, he wrote poetry that he turned into songs, not knowing how to play an instrument and simply coming up with tunes in his head.
“I discovered if I wanted a melody, I just made it up on the spot and sung lyrics to it,” Francey, who has held on to his thick Scottish accent, said.
“I’ve never written a song on an instrument in my life. I’m just lucky enough that if I have something bothering me that I want to write about, I get the melody and the lyrics at the same time and I just go from there.”
Francey eventually picked up a guitar and learned to put chords behind his songs, but still kept them more or less a secret until he met his wife, visual artist Beth Girdler.
“My father didn’t even know I wrote songs,” he explained.
“I got married to Beth and everybody was coming up at the wedding saying, ‘Your son sure writes great songs,’ because at that point some people had heard them. He came up to me and said, ‘What’s all this about singing and writing songs?’ I had never said much about them at all.
Francey later gave into to pressure from his family and friends to start performing his music.
“I fought it for a while, and then I finally gave up and went out and did them and it turns out, Beth was right again,” Francey said, laughing.
“They were just so well-received that I just thought maybe this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Francey released his first album, “Torn Screen Door,” in 1999, showing obvious influences by his career in construction with songs like “Hard Steel Mill” and “Working Poor.” It wasn’t until 2002, when he won the Juno for Best Roots/Traditional Album for his record “Far End of Summer” that Francey quit his day job for good.
Since then, Francey’s gone on to win two more Junos as well as Canadian Folk Music, International Acoustic Music and international songwriting awards, and has recorded a total of nine albums.
A feature-length documentary, “Burning Bright,” has been made about his life.
After being introduced to music by Nova Scotia rockers The Trews by his teenage son, Francey co-wrote a couple of songs with the band.
“My son said, ‘You’ve got to hear this, Dad,’ and I said, ‘Holy, who is that?’ I was pretty much an immediate fan, and I got to meet the boys down in Austin, Texas, and just loved them,” Francey explained.
“We got together in Toronto and did a night of writing, which was really fun, and we’re trying to get another night to write. We keep in touch through emails, and I’m just so grateful for their success.”
“Late Edition,” Francey’s latest album, released last April, is a collection of songs reflecting his reaction to news, be it personal, local or world events.
“Yesterday’s News” is about consigning one’s troubles to the past; “Pretty Jackals” is a condemnation of media sensationalism.
“It’s a comment on TV news and the way it’s presented. Beauty queens giving me the news, that’s the last thing I need,” Francey said.
Accompanying Francey’s passionate vocals are electric guitar licks and banjo picks, the entire album recorded live off the floor with no overdubs, apart from two lines of harmony Francey did in one song. Everything else, he said, sounds exactly the way it was recorded.
“It’s just a little bit of a different sound,” Francey explained, adding he wanted the album, recorded in Nashville, to be more on the roots side of things as opposed to folk music.
“It was a chance to do something slightly different and keep it all interesting, and I think it turned out great.
“When this album came out, I thought, well, it’s basically a David Francey album with a bit of a different twist to the songs. Essentially, as far as I’m concerned, all the words matter and the tunes really serve the song, and I think the arrangements do that as well.”
Francey’s current tour, which he started at the middle of September, will bring him to St. John’s for two sold-out shows at The Ship this weekend, one Saturday and one Sunday.
The tour wasn’t meant to be as big as it is, he explained (although St. John’s, which he says is “actually one of my favourite places, it really is,” was always on the list), but as people started calling, wanting to book a gig, he kept agreeing.
So far, for Francey and his touring band — Mark Westberg on guitar and Chris Coole on banjo — being on the road has been a lot of fun.
“It’s been a riot, we’re having a great time,” he said,
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m new in this game and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, go coast to coast, so I’m really thrilled.”