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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Frances Black Live ? - I can Handel it.

The Boathouse Inn, Parkgate, South Wirral
February 2004


Not long after I joined Frances' website's mailing list I received a newsletter notifying me of some forthcoming Frances Black concerts. Much to my surprise there was one for The Boathouse Inn, Parkgate, South Wirral. It needed a double take on my part because the venue was just a couple of miles from our house. In fact we had lunch at the very same place on the previous Saturday. Oddly enough, I picked up a Folk Club pamphlet from one the wall racks while I was waiting for my wife to return from the rest room.

Even while I was thumbing through it, speed reading as you do when you’re more focussed on other matters, there was nothing in the pamphlet which leapt out at me. At the same time I thought that it might make a nice change on a Thursday night if we paid the place a visit. It was just one of those thoughts which evaporated the instant I left the pub.

At this moment in my life, the only prior knowledge that I had of Frances were the tracks on the AWH trilogy, the fading memories of an interview that she had with Mike Moloney on RTE 2FM about 4 years previously, and the information that is available on this website.

About 10 months prior to receiving this e-mailed concert list I bought a copy of A Woman’s Heart - a decade on from an Eleanor McEvoy concert. Eleanor autographed it for me. And after I’d added Juliet Turner’s and Cara Dillon’s at more recent concerts I just thought it might be a novel idea to add Frances Black’s to this already impressive album sleeve. So I dialled the number advertised.

They guy who answered the phone sounded surprised because I was the first person to ask for the tickets. Furthermore, I wasn’t a member of his Folk Club and he was curious as to how I got to know. When I found out where to pick the tickets up from I discovered that he only lived on the neighbouring estate. I drive past it on my way to work.

With blissful ignorance, I managed not to suffer from my usual pre-gig butterflies on the lead up to this concert. I couldn’t (and I still can’t) fathom how someone as ‘world-famous’ as Frances could be appearing at a cosy pub venue which was right under our nose.

So at the start of all this, it was curiosity , rather than Frances, that led me to that venue.

The function room was located upstairs in the Boathouse Inn. It took up the space of what originally could have been 4 double bedrooms. The stage was little more than a raised plinth, about 15 feet from side to side and about 3 feet from front to back. A good step back from the mike and you could sit on a windowsill. The seating was about 6 rows deep (approx capacity 100). There was a small bar to far right of the room.

The resident band, Brass Tacks, provided the early entertainment and then it was time for Frances. She was accompanied by Eoghan (bass) and another guy (I’ll find out later) on lead acoustic. If I’m not mistaken, it was Stranger On The Shore for openers.

The list of songs were irrelevant on this particular occasion. What was important was simply that statement, “you can’t beat live music” . Frances sounds great on CD, but when you see someone singing and hearing, nay feeling, the way those songs are delivered - straight from the heart - then that’s when it really gets you.

Add the fascinating stories, both the heartbreakers and the funny ones and the glancing across to the missus and seeing her nodding and grinning, then you just know that it’s been a great night.

The Boathouse Inn is situated in a very ‘well-to-do’ area, overlooking the Welsh hills from across the other side of the River Dee. There must have been a few residents at this venue as well as the members of the folk club. And when Frances duly agreed to return to the stage with the usual encore, you could hear those that knew draw a sharp intake of breath because they feared that Legal/Illegal may cause a little upset. Needless to say their fears were unfounded. Everybody absolutely loved it.

I bought my first Frances Black album that night, How High The Moon. And I also got Frances’ autographs for both that album and my AWH-a decade on album. You know, it took nearly a week to get down off that cloud.

And here’s a little item of trivia to close with. Did you know that Handel set sail from Parkgate to give the first public performance of The Messiah at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. It looks like it took little while to return the complement.

Just think, Mr. Handel could well have stayed in the Boathouse Inn prior to setting sail. And if he did, he might just have looked out of a bedroom window and possibly have stood on the exact spot where Frances’ mike stand was.