Black gives it her Heart and Soul
Frances Black's first stage experience was nightmarish. As a nervous 16-year-old, she stood behind the microphone, opened her mouth to sing - and nothing came out. Desperate to be a singer, Frances was convinced she'd blown her best opportunity to make it: She tried her hand at live performance again when she toured with her family to promote the Black Family album in 1986. This proved successful and she went on to join the internationally renowned group, Arcady. But what secured her musical status, what earned her the title of Ireland's top selling female solo artist in 1994 and 95, was her inclusion on the million selling album, Woman's Heart, released in 1993. The record featured the best in female Irish vocal talent.
And more importantly for Frances, it allowed her to step out of the shadow of her sister, Mary Black, the internationally renowned solo artist "Nobody expected the Woman's Heart albums (a second one was later released) to be quite so big," recalls Frances. "I think it was a case of being in the right place at the right time. "I was very lucky because after I left Arcady, I was feeling a bit lost I thought the music was just going to be a one-off part of my career, something that was good while it lasted but wasn't meant to be. "Then Mary, whose husband was launching the album, decided I should be included on it and so I recorded a song. Things just took off from there really." Frances insists there has never been any competition between Mary and herself-indeed, she has nothing but praise for her sister. "Mary has always been tremendously supportive of me and there has never been any ill feeling between us. We're good friends," she says.
Having scooped so many awards, is it fair to suggest that Frances is even bigger than her sister in her home country? "It's difficult to say," she ponders. "Mary is famous across the world, she has thousands of fans internationally. I'm big in Ireland, all of my albums have entered the charts in the top five." .
Frances's success in Ireland has prompted a fierce assault on other countries in an attempt to broaden her fan base. "I'm trying to make my, name elsewhere now," she says.
"I've reached the stage where there is just no point me staying in Ireland because there's nothing left for me to achieve. I can't go any further in Ireland, my aim now is to make myself better known in Britain." With this in mind, Frances embarks on a major UK tour next week, which reaches Leeds' Grand Theatre on October 19. What many admire about Frances is her versatility. She is just as happy singing traditional Irish folk songs as she is upbeat country tracks or passion-filled ballads. Judging by the tracks featured on her fourth album, Don't Get Me Wrong, her style is smoother, more commercial than her sister.
"There's a real mix of influences on this album," she says. "A bit of jazz fusion, a bit of country. I was just feeling a bit bored with the old stuff and wanted to push the boat out with this record."
In her music, as in her life, she takes risks. In Ireland, she is as well known for her appearances on TV chat shows as for her music. On The Late Late Show, Frances openly discussed her battle with alcoholism and her illegitimate pregnancy when she was 19, which sent shock waves through the small. Catholic community in which she lived. Why has she been so outspoken about such personal issues? "In 1988, I read an article in a woman's magazine by a journalist who felt she had a drink problem," she says. "She'd sought help and been told she was an alcoholic and the article was about how she came to terms with the problem. As I was reading the piece, I realised that her drinking patterns were very similar to mine. She wasn't drinking a bottle of whisky a day or anything like that, it was just one too many glasses of wine, too often.
"It panicked me a bit and at the bottom of the page was a number for advice. I rang it and explained my position and when I went down to see somebody, they told me I was an alcoholic. "I was very shocked and it took me a while to conquer the problem. But the reason I spoke about it on TV was because that article changed my life and I felt I owed it to other people to inform them. "I slipped into drinking for comfort really because I was a single parent struggling to cope with everything and I knew there would be others out there in the same position.
"To this day, I still receive letters from people telling me how they dealt with their drink problem after seeing me on the TV." In common with many former alcoholics, Frances sips only soft drinks now. "I'm an addictive personality, even one drink would do some damage."
She doesn't need the alcohol now - she lets her music do the talking.
Frances Black plays the Leeds Grand Theatre on Monday October 19. For ticket details ring Leeds (0113)2226222.