CD Review – Francie Conway – Hidden Gems

Irishman Francie Conway might not be a familiar name to you, but judging by the list of musical collaborators on this release he has some fine connections. He describes himself as a singer, songwriter, musician, producer, and peace activist. Francie actually started his musical career back in the 1970s with the band Clutch. (Can it also be a claim to fame that you were a busking partner of Alistair Campbell’s?) The band had some limited success, before Francie moved to Europe to continue his musical career. During the course of this he came across Chris White from the bands The Zombies and Argent. As an A&R man, Chris was also instrumental in discovering the band Dire Straits. Francie and Chris started working together in the 1980s with Francie making contributions to albums by The Chris White Experience.

Hidden Gems is primarily a feel-good rock album, featuring lots of great performances from a number of legendary musicians. These include Russ Ballard (Argent), Jan Akkerman (Focus), Tim Renwick (Pink Floyd/Sutherland Brothers & Quiver/Al Stewart), John Verity (Argent), Jim Rodford (Argent/The Kinks), Bob Henrit (Argent), Vivienne Boucherat and Chris White (The Zombies), Christy Dignam (Aslan), Finbar Furey (The Fureys), Gerry O’Connor (Joe Bonamassa/The Dublin Legends), Keith Donald and Matt Kelleghan (Moving Hearts) and many others. How do you assess a line-up such as that? Russ Ballard is an excellent song writer, of course, having written God Gave Rock’n’Roll To You, Since You’ve Been Gone, and a host of others for all sorts of people, and there is the extraordinary fretwork of Jan Akkerman both with Focus in the 1970s and as a solo artist since. But on this release, there is no grand-standing. All performances are integral to the songs and solos contained and to the point. Indeed, Akerman’s lead guitar spot on Broken Shoes, by the Dutch singer/songwriter Cornelis Vreeswijk, seems most subdued on first listening, but is actually an interesting concise solo.

The seeds for Hidden Gems were sown when The Zombies were inducted to the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in March 2019 in New York. This saw increased widespread interest in the band and the members various individual projects, which, of course, included Argent, Colin Blunstone and The Chris White Experience. This release is a kind of career retrospective for Francie, bringing together recordings from across his career that has seen him in the company of some of the outstanding musicians of his generation. Three tracks that Francie did with The Chris White Experience are included on the album.

The music on the album is quite diverse in feel. Occasionally there’s a hint of the poppier side of Thin Lizzy and Dire Straits, maybe a suggestion of 1980s Eric Clapton. The opening track Outbreak Of Peace is Lennonesque both in feel and lyrical content. Indeed, the album was released on 8th December 2020, the fortieth anniversary of John Lennon’s murder. One of the interesting tracks is Francie’s cover of Argent’s Hold Your Head Up. Rather than a straight-up fan-sing-along, Francie here brings out another side of the song. This is an acoustic led interpretation with less emphasis on the rhythmic chant aspect of the tune and more on the quality of the song writing. There is a lilt to the affair too and an excellent performance by Gerry O’Connor on banjo and violin. Francie’s contributions to The Chris White Experience are featured on the CD.

Overall, then, this is an album of succinct and tasteful pop-rock encompassing the talents of a host of musicians. Francie has a good story teller’s quality about his singing. His writing, both solo and in collaboration with others, is more about the songs themselves than an individual’s performance. There is a slightly gravelly quality to his voice at times that is reminiscent say of Tom Waits, which stands out most prominently on Still There, at others it is more similar to that of .

John Lennon. Which is not to say he emulates their voices; it is more a quality and breadth of his own voicings. These tracks are taken from across Francie’s career, displaying an assuredness and almost an urge to have a narrative within the songs. The variety in his music comes from the diversity of the songs rather than dramatic shifts in tempo or key within a specific song. This might not be prog rock as you know it, but it is a fine release by a progressive musician featuring a splendid array of his musical friends. An enjoyable listen.

Tracks & Line-ups:

Outbreak Of Peace 

Written by Francie Conway
Francie Conway – Vocal, 12 String Guitar & Mandolin; Finbar Furey – Low Whistle; Greg French – Backing Vocal & Keyboards; Brendan Williams – Lead Guitar; Ken Gillick – Bass Guitar & Piano; Peter Lundgren – Drums; Damian Greer – Percussion; Dom Torche – Hammond Organ; Danny Healy – Trumpet; Backing Vocals – Emily Conway; Grainne O’Brien & Rory Conway.

​Something I Heard

Written by Tim Renwick & Chris White
Francie Conway – Vocal; Tim Renwick – Lead Guitar; Russ Ballard – Backing Vocal & Guitar;  John Verity – Backing Vocal & Guitar; Jim Rodford – Bass Guitar; Bob Henrit – Drums; Andy Clark – Keyboards

Today More Than Ever

Written by Tim Renwick & Chris White 
Francie Conway – Vocal; Tim Renwick – Lead Guitar; Russ Ballard – Backing Vocal & Guitar; John Verity – Backing Vocal & Guitar; Jim Rodford – Bass Guitar; Bob Henrit – Drums; Andy Clark – Keyboards.  

The Last Outlaw

Written by Francie Conway
Francie Conway – Vocal, Guitar & Harmonica; Greg French – Backing Vocal & Keyboards; Brendan Williams – Lead Guitar; Ken Gillick – Bass Guitar & Piano; Peter Lundgren – Drums; Damian Greer – Percussion; Dom Torche – Hammond Organ; Mickey Harte – Backing Vocal; Rory Conway – Backing Vocal. Published by Copyright Administration Services Ltd.

Do You Want To Make Love

Written by Russ Ballard
Francie Conway – Vocal; Russ Ballard – Backing Vocal, Piano & Guitar; John Verity – Backing Vocal & Guitar; Jim Rodford – Bass Guitar; Bob Henrit – Drums

Up Against The Wall Again

Written by Francie Conway & Chris White
Francie Conway – Vocal; Tim Renwick – Lead Guitar; Russ Ballard – Guitar; John Verity – Guitar;  Jim Rodford – Bass Guitar; Bob Henrit – Drums; Andy Clark – Keyboards.

One Night Love

Written by Peter Sinfield & Terence Taylor
Francie Conway – Vocal; Tim Renwick – Lead Guitar; Russ Ballard – Backing Vocal & Guitar; John Verity – Backing Vocal & Guitar; Dave Winter – Bass Guitar; Bob Henrit – Drums; Andy Clark – Keyboards.  


Rock On

Written by Francie Conway
Francie Conway – Vocal & Guitar; Greg French – Backing Vocal & Keyboards; Brendan Williams – Lead Guitar; Mickey Harte – Backing Vocal; Ken Gillick – Bass Guitar & Piano; Peter Lundgren – Drums; Damian Greer – Percussion; Dom Torche – Hammond Organ. Crowd Backing Vocals – Ken; Peter; Damian; Brendan; Rory Conway; Trevor Smith; Emily Conway; Alan Holmes; Mona Klofver & Grainne O’Brien.  Published by Copyright Administration Services Ltd. Produced by Greg French, Francie Conway & Dom Torche.

Broken Shoes

Written by Cornelis Vreeswijk  
Translation & Interpretation Francie Conway
Francie Conway – Vocal & Guitar; Jan Akkerman – Lead Guitar; Siard de Jong – Violin; Vivienne Boucherat & Chris White – Backing Vocals; Dom Torche – Hammond Organ; Peter Lundgren – Percussion; Tomas Reinerson – Bass Guitar; Matt Kelleghan – Drums. Published by Multitone Scandinavia AB/Copyright Administration Services Ltd. Produced by Matt Kelleghan & Francie Conway. Assistant Producer Rory Conway. Recorded at Tempo Studio, Dublin.

Somewhere In Heaven

Written by Francie Conway
Christy Dignam – Vocal; Francie Conway – Vocal & Guitars; Finbar Furey – Uillean Pipes, Banjo & Whistle; Vivienne Boucherat & Chris White – Backing Vocals; Dom Torche – Piano & Hammond Organ; Tomas Reinerson – Bass Guitar; Matt Kelleghan – Drums.  


Hold Your Head Up

Written by Rod Argent & Chris White
Francie Conway – Vocal & Guitar; Gerry O’Connor – Banjo & Violin; Matt White – Percussion; Kevin Flynn – Guitar; Martin Curry – Double Bass; Peter Lundgren – Percussion. Published by Verulam Music.

Still There

Written by Paul Williams & Keith Donald
Francie Conway – Vocal; Fiachra Trench – Piano; Keith Donald – Saxophone; Des Moore – Guitar; Dom Torche – Bass & Drums.

The Troubadour

Written by Francie Conway
Francie Conway – Vocal, Guitars, Mandolin & Keyboards; Vivienne Boucherat & Chris White – Backing Vocals; Peter Miklos Erdai – Bass Guitar; Matt Kelleghan – Drums. 

Swampman Blues – Bonus Track

Written by Francie Conway
Francie Conway – Vocal & Guitar; Casba O’Callaghan – Drums; Liam Hartnett – Lap Steel Guitar; Con Brosnan – Bass Guitar. This was the original line up of the band Clutch, later to be joined by Brendan Williams & Eamon Campbell. Published by Copyright Administration Services Ltd. A live recording from a TV show on RTE Dublin 1974

Release date: 8th December 2020

Label: Satellite Records

http://francieconway.com/

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