Francie reflects on very happy memories
Fergus Dennehy talks to Tralee’s most famous musician Francie Conway about his incredible career to date, his origins in music, the musical awakening in Kerry and revisiting Queen’s studio where he spent happy years working alongside producer David Richards
At the end of my almost hour long conversation with Tralee's Francie Conway, just before we are due to finish up, he stops me mid sentence and thanks me for reminding him of all the happy memories that we had talked about.
"I'd forgotten so many of them, it's been wonderful looking back on everything - you don't think about it too much when you're doing it, you're just in the moment. It's only when you look back years later that you can say, 'wow, that was unbelievable.'"
It's been a busy few months for Francie, as he's worked on releasing a number of new songs, including his latest single 'Drop Dead Gorgeous', all of which were written and helped brought to life by legendary Queen producer and close friend of Francies, David Richards,who sadly passed away in December 2013.
A man synonomous with the word 'music' in Tralee and indeed Ireland, Francie has played and recorded with some of his biggest heroes in music, recorded in Queen's Mountain Studio in Montreaux while also mingling with THE definitive music names of the past century, including an almost meeting with legendary singer Freddie Mercury, a few months before his death.
I sat down with Francie to delve a little more into his musical background, what he loves about performing and finding out just little bit more about one of our most famous sons.
"My parents Peggy and Denis owned the first ever bar in Tralee that featured live music - it was called Macs Bar and it was on Pembroke Street here in town, right where 'Joe's Place' is now, and it was one of the first pubs in Kerry that musical gigs," said Francie, talking to The Kerryman on Thursday.
"I got my very first guitar lessons from Johhny Wall and Alfie Curtain of the Kerry Blues, two men who are still living in Tralee. I think then when I was about six years of age, I used to get on stage in my little shirt and shoirt pants with my guitar in my parents bar and sing Chuck Berry's 'Rock and Roll Music' to the crowds there. Looking back, I looked like yer man out of ACDC," he laughed.
"I can remember playing guitar as long as I can remember - I was literally performing from one of the earliest ages possible - I think I could play guitar before I could ride a bike," he chuckled.
From these early days of performing, Francie was hooked, and by his teens, he was willing to help out on stage with anyone he could find.
"I never actually actively decided that a career in music was for and that's being honest with you! My mother actually wanted me to join the Bank of Ireland - she filled out the application forms for me and she was quite good friends with the manager there so I was probably a shoo-in to get it."
"She made one big mistake though, which was that she asked me to post it off! It made its way into the closest bin that I could find!," he said, letting out a guffaw as he remembers this story.
"I'd forgotten all about that, god she watched the post for months waiting for a reply!"
It was a meeting with local drummer Casba O' Callaghan at age 17 that ultimately set Francie on his musical path as they started up a band called 'Clutch' that thanks to their original songs, led to them enjoying quite a bit of success, something which he says led to the 'musical awakening' in Kerry.
"We were one of the first bands in Kerry playing original material, we supported a band called Planksty in the Ashe Memorial Hall in Tralee back when we were still in school and I think that at that gig, people got such a shock that there were young guys like us able to write and perform their own songs."
"I always like to think of this as the period of Kerry 'waking up' you know? You had Rory Gallagher in Cork, Phil Lynott in Dublin, all these different Irish acts that were already making a buzz.
"When I was about 12 years old, I remember listening to Phil Lynott talking once about writing songs and creating his own music and I just always remember saying to myself 'how do you write your own music?'. It was a concept completely new to me and I was hooked from then on."
From then on, Francie enjoyed quite a few years living in his adopted home of Amsterdam, a base from which he travelled Europew with his guitarm playing in concerts in Holland France, Spain, Germany and Belgium, where it was in Brussells that me met possibly one of his most bizarre and famous busking partners, Downing Street Press Secretary, for Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, Alistair Campbell, who recently tweeted his approval of Francie's new song to his almost 400k followers on Twitter.
"I had stopped off in Brussels on my way to Spain and I knew there was a big music pub down there called the Double Diamond Pub and there was always accomodation there if you play. When I arrived then in Brussells at the pub, Alistair was there at the time and we just hit it off."
"He was there busking on his own, he was a very clever busker you know, it wasn't his style to stand at the side of the road and just hope for the best you know. He'd make sure to check the cinemas for what movies were going to be popular and he'd stand outside at the long lines and he'd dress up in the kilt with the bagpipe and I'd go along with him and collect the money."
"We had some great times, the two of us," he said with a smile.
What many people might not know about Francie and something that this writer certainly did not know before this interview is the amazing connection that the Tralee singer shares with the legendary band Queen.
"I was good friends with David Richards and I spent many months and hours working with him and sitting behind that famous desk in Queens Mountain Studio while David worked alongside artists like Feddie Mercury and the rest of the band."
"I remember that I was sitting outside the studio, and David and Freddie (Mercury) were inside listening to one of their recordings. I was offered the chance to go in and meet Freddie, but as an artist, I know how annoying it can be when someone walks in when you're listening to a song. It can break the flow of things, so I never took the chance to meet him."
Many years after his time working in the Mountain Studio, in 2009, Francie received an out of the blue phone call from his old friend David Richards asking him to come back to the studio if he [Francie] had any unfinished songs.
"Who would turn down an offer like that to go back to Mountain Studio," said Francie.
"We wrote and recorded together for the following few years and I was actually joined by my son Rory for a few of the recording sessions. How incredible it was to see Rory sitting at the recording desk with David in his comfort zone."
"David often spoke about how difficult it was to finish the Queen album 'Made in Heaven' after Freddie passed away, little did I imagine that I would be in the same heartbroken situation after David passed away in 2013."
Francie's latest single 'Drop Dead Gorgeous' is currently receiving good reviews and radio play and is now currently available to listen to on Francie's main website at www.francieconway.com