One of the more revealing moments last night came when Frances introduced Don't Worry About Me. She explained that despite starting unconventionally with a minute of a capella vocals, to her surprise the song had been picked up by Radio 1. This led her to wonder if she should write the songs she wants to write in future, or whether this was a one off eventuality. It's clear that her career has been carefully nurtured and supported by others up to this point: Sophie Frances Cooke is signed to the illustrious British Communion label and has a management team in common with the phenomenally successful Sam Smith. I do hope that she's able to exercise artistic freedom in an environment where such commercial investment is at stake.
Even though she played solo, the most significant absent party at the gig wasn't her band but an even more commercially successful artist than Sam Smith, Adele. Her influence was pervasive, from the relaxed on stage chatter, to the focus on vocals, and the honesty in her songwriting. It wasn't long until Adele was mentioned, Frances proudly explaining that she'd been working with Greg Kurstin in LA, the producer behind the hit Hello. Even before the album release, scheduled later this year, work is already underway on establishing Frances' brand in America: she played Coachella last month, and toured in The States with James Bay. You can hear the ambition: the vocals are mixed with echoing reverb, as if stadium ready.
The buzz around this artist was given impetus by her shortlisting on the BBC Sound of 2016 poll and a Brit Award nomination, both of which have brought radio airplay and press coverage. This attention helped to sell out this small venue, despite falling on a busy evening on the Manchester music scene. The audience was genuinely enthusiastic, and Frances picked up and amplified their excitement. She's talked about her initial nervousness, not envisaging herself as a performer at an early age, but now holds Master Classes at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts where she studied herself. There was little sign of reticence on stage. Yet, in certain respects, this gig felt like a run through for her date at London's 1400 capacity Koko next week: the forty minute set could have been given more time to breathe, an encore was absent, and backing of a band missed, despite her sensitive pianism. The stage arrangement in Manchester, with Frances sat sideways behind an upright piano, felt awkward in this small space. Her one slip in an otherwise flawless performance, in the piano chord during Don't Worry About Me brought some welcome humanity amidst the calculation of her promotion.
Another celebrity collaborator is Disclosure's Howard Lawrence, who worked with Frances on Borrowed Time, yet for my own taste, musical blandness prevails in the writing of the mid tempo ballads (as it often does in Adele's 25). Lapsley is a British rising star also compared to Adele, but with influences I find more stimulating, perhaps because she's insisted on greater personal creative input into the song writing. The evening was saved, though, by Frances' stage presence: the simplicity of presentation allowed for direct communication of emotion. Her voice is less rich in tone than Adele's, but the delivery is genuinely moving, and it's not entirely surprising that she reported on a member of the audience in Glasgow breaking down in tears during that gig. The undoubted highlight, and a starting point to explore this artist was Grow: if you're drawn to her music, you'll certainly appreciate her emotion live, and it looks almost inevitable that you'll be hearing much more about Frances soon.
- When It Comes To Us
- Borrowed Time
- Cloud 9
- Say it Again
- The Last Word
- Don't Worry About Me
- Let It Out