PORT HARDY — First and foremost, David Francey is a consummate storyteller. He just happens to have an uncanny ability to set those stories to memorable and accessible melody and deliver them in a voice as warm and comfortable as a favourite old sweater.
Folk music fans on the North Island Saturday were treated for the first time to Francey’s aural alchemy Saturday as the North Island Concert Society kicked off its 14th season at the Civic Centre.
Francey, who was backed by Mark Westburg on guitar and by Chris Coole on banjo and guitar, has toured throughout North America and Europe in the nine years since walking away from a career in carpentry to take up music full-time. But, while the three-time JUNO Award-winner has previously played on Vancouver Island, this was his first trip to Port Hardy.
“I’ve never been this far up the Island. The GPS said, ‘Here there be dragons,'” Francey joked before launching into an a cappella version of Borderlands, one of two vocal-only pieces he shared with an audience of more than 200 appreciative fans.
The vocal pieces were fitting, as Francey does his songwriting without an accompanying instrument. On the other hand, the sublime fretwork and picking of Westburg and Coole created a perfect counterpoint to his Scots-accented vocal on a range of songs from his nine-album catalogue.
Much like his recordings, a Francey concert is a no-frills exercise in music. Without the benefit of an instrument to lean on — or hide behind — Francey stands alone at a microphone, hands in his pockets or folded behind his back as he delivers tales of love, loss, travel, working-class life and, especially, reflections on the news.
The trio is currently touring in support of his latest release, Late Edition, which came out in April. Port Hardy was the 35th stop out of 50 schedule on what his playing companions jokingly refer to as the “Tour de Francey”.
Each song is introduced by a story, which may or may not directly describe the tune in question. Francey began his introduction to Grateful, one of several songs from Late Edition, by describing it as a love song for his wife Beth. But by the time he wrapped up the intro and Westberg plucked out the opening notes on his guitar, Francey’s tale had veered from Beth’s formidable gardening skills to the hand-digging of a koi pond to trapping a feral cat in his barn — followed by a sales pitch to the audience for a great deal on a slightly used, ill-tempered cat.
At no time did the crowd grow restless, however, and it coaxed a pair of encore tunes from the trio before Francey and his mates retired to sign CDs and chat with the patrons on their way out into the rain.
The NICS will take a break through the holidays before returning with the second event in its five-concert, 2011-12 series Jan. 14, featuring the Afro-Cuban and latin rhythms of Adonis Puentes and his band.
More information on the society is available at niconcert.ca; for music and info on David Francey, visit www.davidfrancey.com.