Last night, my wife and I went to the Backroom at Greystones in Sheffield to see Winter Mountain (Joe Francis.) Having reviewed both the band's albums, I was keen to see Joe and meet him to see if he is as good live as he is on recorded media. Well, I am pleased to say that he exceeded expectations.
Joe usually does an acoustic set although on his current tour he uses a support three piece band. The venue is fairly small and the audience somewhat sparse but very appreciative. Some, like us, had travelled a good distance to see Joe and hopefully, again like us, thought the effort well worthwhile.
I first heard Winter Mountain in 2015 with their eponymous first album. At that time, it was a duo, but it is now a solo act. The music immediately struck a chord with me, I know, terrible pun, and obviously did the same for others as it received both rave reviews and numerous plays on Radio 2. The latest album, "I Swear I Flew" received the same accolades, so it is no surprise that the set list last night was a combination of both albums.
Joe Francis is an accomplished singer songwriter and guitarist. He is also a superb story teller with natural warmth that comes over delightfully to the audience. The venue is arguably too small for the volume that the full band used in some numbers but it all added to the atmosphere. When Joe sang with just his acoustic guitar as backing, his voice was able to show its full range and quality.
The music is a fusion of folk, soft rock and modern country. A fairly unusual combination but Joe's voice, lyrics, guitar playing and versatility brings all the genres together in one superb package.
As I have said above, Cornish born Joe has both charisma and warmth to him and his stories are both amusing and informative, providing a window into his somewhat self-deprecatory approach to life. I especially loved his story about his sister's pregnancy and his tribute to his friends in Ireland where he lived for six years. He wrote this particular song, "Sunlight and Good Roads" in Dublin on his departure and having visited the Emerald Isle on many occasions, you know exactly where the title came from.
There was no break in the show, perhaps the band was keen to explore the nightlife of Sheffield so after an hour and a half of music and stories, it was time for the traditional encore. Joe explained that at most venues the band plays at there is no way for them to leave the stage without walking through the audience. However, this time there was a door at the side of the stage so they left to tumultuous applause and returned about ten seconds later. Joe asked for suggestions for the encore and then launched into a very bluesy version of "Oh Darling" with the band. He then picked up his acoustic guitar as the band left the stage and played "Dragonfly" which I had asked for. He admitted that he had never played it live before but it was stunningly beautiful and finished off the evening in perfect style.
My wife and I had the chance to meet Joe after the show when everyone else had left and I have to say that he is a very nice man, honest, enthusiastic and most of all gentle and totally unassuming. He expressed his gratitude to me and FATEA for the reviews of his music and I thanked him for singing Dragonfly which is just about my favourite song of his and one that I likened to Paul Simon in my album review. It is also the song that I think best shows off his vocal abilities and guitar playing to their full potential.
So, all in all a fabulous show from a brilliant musician and genuinely nice man! If you get the chance to see the band, take it. There are not many bands in the music industry or people quite like Joe Francis.
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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