Lifestyle Interview: Frances Black

By Annette O'Meara
From Irish Star

Popular singer Frances Black battled with alcoholism for years, but now she’s forging a new career for herself in addiction counselling.

The Dublin singer has been studying to be an addiction counsellor for almost two years now at All Hallows College, in Dublin’s Drumcondra.

“I love it but it’s very difficult and challenging, and particularly hard for me cos I left school at 15. I was never very good at school and hopeless at exams,” explains the Dublin-born singer in the Westbury Hotel to promote her new album and tour.

“The whole third-level thing for me is hugely challenging and scary. The addiction stuff is easy because I know a lot about addiction but the essays, assignments and the academic side is very hard, the first year was the hardest,” she says.

Frances is now halfway through her second year of a diploma in addiction studies – so why did she decide to do it?

“After my mother died two years ago, I just thought life is short and I began to ask myself what do I really want to do with my life?

“I decided that I wanted to do things that I’m really happy doing – firstly folk music and secondly, I began to wonder when I’m not doing music anymore what will I do then?

“I also decided I wanted to do something that I am passionate about and that I love. I want to work with people I can help and people who are going through the same things as me cos I’ve been through them,” reveals Frances.

“I remember talking to my daughter Aoife at the time and she dialled the number and said "talk to them." She was so influential, she said ‘do it mam’. I’ve had great family support,” she adds.

“My mother left a small amount of money to all of us and I wanted to do something with it that would make her proud – so I used it to pay for college,” explains Frances.

“I plan to work in a treatment centre depending on the music, but for the moment I need to learn more. I have a choice after I finish the diploma to take a year out from music and do a third year at college or do a year’s placement

Frances married young and was a teenage mother to son Eoghan (24), and daughter Aoife but her marriage was short lived.

A year after her first marriage ended she met her second husband Brian and the couple are 20 years together this year. Brian’s also her manager.

This month sees the blonde Dublin singer back in her favourite spot – centre stage on a nationwide tour!

She’s about to release a 24-track folk collection double album called This Love will Carry.

This is a ‘best of’ back catalogue of Frances’ 18 years in the music business specifically folk songs with a few personal favourites among three new tracks.

Her new album represents a return to her roots for contemporary folk singer Frances who started back in trad and folk in the 80s.

“This is a compilation of all the folk tracks I’ve recorded down the years and the reason for that is that folk and trad are my first love so it’s really a return to my roots,” reveals Frances.

“I love folk and I feel comfortable there – I’ve been thinking about it for a while but I’ve found in the last few years I’ve been listening to a lot of folk like Dougie McClean, Altan, Seamus and Brendan Begley – they are the albums I’m listening to more and more,” she adds.

Frances was a member of a band called Arcady in the 80s and she’s always been into folk music.

The album’s three new tracks are the title track, This Love will Carry, which Frances saw Scottish folk singer Dougie McLean perform at a huge charity concert in aid of the Lockerbie disaster over a decade ago.

There’s also The Hills of South Armagh which on which Frances duets with her 23-year-old daughter Aoife. Her son Eoghan plays bass on some of the tracks and is part of her touring band.

The third new track, The Foggy Dew is husband Brian’s favourite ballad.

“It’s his favourite song in the world and he never asked me to do it, I just did. Whenever we go on a long journey in the car, he asks me to sing it. And he has said to me ‘When I die, you’ll sing The Foggy Dew at my funeral’ – so it’s really special to him,” she says.

“This album is also a way of introducing me back into the folk world again as I suppose I’ve been singing contemporary folk for a while now. It feels on this album as if I’ve let a lot of things go and am making a fresh start,” adds Frances.

Her sister Mary Black also features as does former musical collaborator Kieran Goss.

But does ever she get tired of the touring and recording? “I love it, I thrive on it and I’m so grateful that I’m still able to do it.

“I still really can’t believe that I’m still doing it so long cos it’s such a short life in music, so many people only have three or four years so I can ’t believe I’m still going strong,” explains Frances (45).

“I cherish it and enjoy performing,” explains Frances who’s new album is her eight solo one released to date.

“I love the live audiences and live performances but I’m not great on the album work, I usually feel pressure and stressed but I think that’s to do with confidence.

“I hate doing interviews and I hate photo shoots – it’s all very nerve-wracking to me – but I do it all because I love gigging and the audiences,” reveals Frances.

The singer will be on a 10-week work placement as part of her course bang in the middle of her nationwide tour – how does she feel talking about her own addiction now?

“I’m still a recovering alcoholic and that swayed me when choosing this course because of my own experiences with addiction. I know the horror of it and how hard it is to come off of it,” Frances says referring to her personal battle with alcoholism.

“It’s not easy for people especially when society looks down on people who are in addiction and that’s even harder because it shames you more. I want to share my experiences and to tell people you can do it but there’s a certain way you have to do it.

“People with addiction need empathy, courage, and as much support as they can get,” she says.

Frances recalls when she realised she had a problem with alcohol.

“The first time I realised I had a problem was in 1988 and I’ve been off drink every since – apart from a few minor lapses,” reveals Frances who used Alcoholics Anonymous and counselling to deal with the problem.

“You have to hit rock bottom before you realise that and I think I got to the stage I’d had enough of it and where I felt if I do it again, I’ll die,” reveals Frances. “This time I won’t survive it and I was afraid of that. Alcoholism is an amazing, powerful and cunning disease – it slips back in when you’re least prepared.

“It’s baffling really which is why I want to learn as much as I can about this disease – so that when I’m feeling vulnerable or low or life’s hitting me hard that I do not go back into addiction again because I have another outlet,” she says.

“There are different levels of alcoholism and it’s different for everyone – I never ended up in jail or on the streets.

“When I told my family they all went "what?" Because the image of an alcoholic is of someone in the gutter. My drinking started in the evening and once I started I couldn’t stop, but I would get up the next morning and function – I think addiction is a disease of the soul,” says Frances.

Has she ever grown tired of the music business?

“I never wanted to be a performer, I may have dreamed about it at times but I never thought I was good enough to be a singer,” reveals Frances.

“In fact when I look back on my life, I was led, things just happened. I wasn’t ambitious but now I am taking charge more,” she says.

“The music business is for someone with low self-esteem and I think I had huge self-esteem issues – I couldn’t live up to my own expectations,” reveals Frances.

“I never believed I was good enough and I don’t know why, who knows? Why is someone an alcoholic and you are not – it’s in me and it and not in you,” she says.

Today Frances is happy and retains no sense of bitterness or resentment for her earlier struggles.

“Life is amazing, I’m so grateful that I’m not drinking today – I’m so grateful for the motivation to live a full life,” adds Frances.

January 21st - Riverbank Arts Centre, Newbridge, Kildare; 29th - Olympia Theatre, Dame Street, Dublin; February 2 - Millennium Forum, Derry; 3rd - Simon Ryan Theatre, Tipperary; 4th - LIT Millennium Theatre, Limerick; 5th - Everyman Palace Theatre, Cork; March 3rd - Brockagh Resource Centre, Wicklow; 4th - Forum Waterford, The Glen, Waterford; 5th - Mullingar Arts Centre, Westmeath; 10th - Dundalk Town Hall, Crowe Street, Louth; 11th - Newport House Hotel, Newport, Mayo; 12th - Birr Theatre & Arts Centre, Offaly; 18th - The Market Place, Armagh; 19th - Dunamaise Arts Centre, Portlaoise, Laois; 24th - Tí Chulainn Centre, Mullaghbane, Armagh; 25th - An Grianán Theatre, Letterkenny, Donegal; April 1st - Ramor Theatre, Virginia, Cavan; 2nd - Backstage Theatre, Longford; 8th - Watergate Theatre, Kilkenny and April 9th - Síamsa Tíre Theatre, Tralee, Kerry.