Gig Review by Adrienne Frances with Photography by Lee Allen

I’d not heard of Liv Dawson before… the older I get, the more out of the loop I become.  But I DO love a good female singer songwriter – hence being here to see Frances, and who couldn’t resist the chance to see someone with a shared name?!

Liv Dawson

Liv, wearing a 90s style mom jean with cropped Bardot-style top, completed her ensemble with a bearded bassist and a guitarist playing shiny new instruments.  Her vocals felt a bit Joss Stone meets Amy Winehouse? – But sadly with no real edge.  Songs like “Beside You” were inoffensive, but unexciting to boot.  Her voice was beautiful, but her songs unremarkable. In between the 2nd and 3rd songs she finally introduced herself, and it was a shock to discover her speaking voice to be very middle England, borderline plummy – jarring with the soulful tone of her singing voice. 3rd track had odd clashing harmonies from bearded boy which was vaguely unpleasant to the ear – don’t know if this was intentional, or down to poor onstage feedback? Either way, I wasn’t in love. Her Lianne La Havas cover was executed well, but I wasn’t there to witness good karaoke! Oddly my favourite track of hers was her final – her new single released on the 19th, entitled “Tapestry” – the first track that had more engaging and intriguing lyrics: “all the things that I’ve seen, you will always be part of my tapestry”. At only 17, she seems to have caught the attention of certain people who are pushing her hard.  I just hope she develops more along the ‘Tapestry’ lines, rather than her more insipid other pieces.

Liv Dawson

SO – I’d hoped there would be some kind of merch available, as I already knew I loved her voice, and had even hoped for some kind of limited edition single – vinyl, or other. According to her wiki entry (which is SURELY true?!) Frances has been an active musician since 2014. In that time she’s released a grand total of 4 singles. No albums.  And yet somehow, she’s been nominated for BRIT awards ‘Critic’s Choice’, and BBC ‘Sound of 2016’… AND HAD NO MERCHANDISE.  NOTHING.  Frances: I wanted to give you some money, but you didn’t seem to want it! Hmph!

Frances

But that surely didn’t matter, because I was there to be blown away by her beautiful voice! Right?

Frances arrived late on stage – odd, given there was already a 45min gap between her set and Liv’s.  She bustled onto the stage regardless, chatty and charismatic in (again!) a plummy way about being late “I’m never late”.  Says those who are regularly running late.

Her stage setup was just her and a piano.  Exciting for me, given my love of Tori Amos! But that’s where the parallels END.  Her voice did not disappoint.  Achingly beautiful, and loud – filling the room.  Easily comparable to Adele in power and range – but I say that with closed eyes and as a feminist. Nothing to do with appearances. Compared to Liv, her lyrics were engaging and original.  And just to reiterate, as I can’t say it often enough: BELTER of a voice. Mature and rounded, deep. I’m a sucker for a girl with a piano.

Frances

THIS IS WHERE IT WENT DOWNHILL FOR ME.

Meet Polly the piano. Frances made a formal apology for Polly, for making it hard for anyone to see her face, having her back to half the audience, and hiding her from the other half.. ::snorting laugh:: She can’t help her guffaws – it’s endearing, right?

Her 2nd song was written with Howard from Disclosure. I’M OFFICIALLY OLD – I don’t know who he is.  It becomes apparent that he’s some kind of dance/electro dude. Hey ho! Can see the dancier influence, with the tempo of some of the vocals – but otherwise it seems like a very ‘strategic’ move to collaborate so early on in your career with someone so very different.  Everything about Frances starts to feel more and more strategic to me. Which is where it all starts to go downhill for me.

Frances

“Tonight I’m very excited because I’ve been given FIJI water, and it’s my favourite brand. Sounds silly, but there’s something about it that’s very smooth. ::Snort:: Discovered it in LA. Only thing I discovered there apart from fish lips, all Botox-ey.”

Is this endearing? Am I going to bond with a musician over their love of a specific WATER BRAND?! And let’s pick this apart a little bit more – she’s spent time living/working in LA… BUT she doesn’t have an album and has only ever released 4 tracks? What was she DOING in LA?! BUT – that’s also not really any of my business, so let’s just put that to one side for now, and just enjoy her beautiful beautiful voice.

Her 4th track, “Drifting”, felt VERY Adele-esque, and I mean that as a compliment.. Though I’m sure she will tire quickly of such comparisons. Let me once again REITERATE: I N C R E D I B L E VOICE!! Which leads on to her non-announcement, of her album launch – or not launch – that is, her album MIGHT launch in September, but it might not, so don’t hold her to it.  Not so strategic here, but then straight into a JUSTIN BIEBER cover, “What do you mean?”, which she played for her “first live lounge” – HOW do you do ANY Live Lounges, let alone multiple, with no album and only 4 singles? She goes on to tell us that she hasn’t yet played this cover on tour – but that her manager said she really should do. Presumably because she’s offered the world so few recordings so far, adding BIEBER into the mix is an additionally recognisable 20%?

Frances

Everybody has to start somewhere – so I don’t want to be critical simply because she is a new artist at the start of her career.  My main issue with her should easily be demonstrated by the following story she told:

“I once won this little competition, hosted by the fans of Billy Fury – I mean I don’t even really know who he is… I had to pretend I knew who he was, and they were giving away £600 to a student and I had to write a page about how much I love him, and because I won I had to spend a day at a Billy Fury fan event full of pasty old men and wrinkled skin, dressed up as him, and a very sweet lady called Diane who fed me biscuits and drinks… It was very scary, but very sweet, at a Blackpool hotel. Maybe if it hadn’t been for that £600 I wouldn’t have made a demo? Nah, I would’ve done. ::snort!::”

And in one fell swoop I manage to put my finger on my problem with her.  She’s deeply deeply unlikable. She humble brags, she mocks those who helped her out along the way – making a mockery of their generosity, and more so the current climate of limited support available for young artists. She won a competition that she didn’t even need, not by being passionate or deserving, but by being convincing.  What else is she simply convincing people of? What else is carefully constructed so as to deliver the most commercial.

Frances

I feel conflicted because how can someone who comes across so obnoxious also write such beautiful lyrics? ‘Grow’ was beautiful, made more powerful by the intimacy of the venue and the clarity of her voice and piano.  Is it all as a result of her expensive education that she’s cannily figured out what her niche can be and how to make money from it? Or is it legit? Is the emotion legit? I’ve never questioned this before in any artist I’ve seen – when you see pop stars, you know what you’re getting. Singer songwriters you expect something else from. But am I being naive? Is this all just a profiteering industry?

“Don’t worry about me” comes with a preamble in which she explains she was convinced “no radio would play this song – well, DEFINITELY not R1.. At a PUSH R2! – because of ‘all the acapella at the start”.  PUTTING ASIDE the arrogance of an artist with 4 tracks to her name dismissing R2, and having an expectation of that as evidence of FAILURE.. putting that to one side, the acapella was just one short initial refrain.  Does she not know Suzanne Vega – Tom’s Diner?! Sinead O’Connor – nothing compares 2 u?! How can you be a Female singer songwriter and be unaware of your predecessors??

Last song – “Let it out”.  She encouraged a singalong. Ugh. Contrived singalong WHEN YOU HAVE NO ALBUM, NO PROVENANCE!

Frances was one big frustration for me.  I’ll stick to listening to her on record, as and when she deigns to launch any actual album.  Otherwise, I’m out.

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