In thanking the audience at her sold-out Leeds show for having held on to their tickets for up to two years, Frazey Ford captured the sense of eager anticipation that filled the room. The warmth of the welcome was reciprocated by those up on stage, who seemed genuinely delighted to be back doing the job that they love. Within this atmosphere of mutual appreciation Frazey Ford delivered a remarkable set that showcased not only her stunning voice and musicianship, but her quality as a songwriter and above all her willingness and ability to develop as an artist.
Those arriving early were able to catch the remarkable talents of Welsh virtuoso folk guitarist Gwenifer Raymond. A small but captivated group at the front of the stage absorbed every note of an instrumental set that incorporated elements of folk, bluegrass and flamenco. Raymond said little and appeared shy and awkward when she did, but that mattered little as her astonishing guitar playing said everything you needed to know. Raymond is probably not an obvious fit with the headline act but she certainly was able to tap in to a new audience and undoubtedly won new admirers. Its such a pity that some of those less open-minded audience members thought it was therefore OK to talk, often quite loudly, whilst she played.
Having come to prominence as a member of the Canadian folk-country group The Be Good Tanyas, alongside Jolie Holland, Sam Parton and Trish Klein, Frazey Ford has since pursued a solo career that has seen her establish herself as a country-soul artist of indubitable quality. Her 2020 album ‘U kin B the Sun’ pared down the big soul sound of its two predecessors whilst at the same time introducing subtle new elements of r&b, funk, and psychedelia. The album provided the backbone of Ford’s set with a liberal smattering of older favourites reworked to fit in with the soulful, funky groove of Ford’s live show.
One such song, ‘Runnin’, from her 2014 second solo album ‘Indian Ocean’ began proceedings and whilst perhaps not an obvious opener, it set the mood for the evening perfectly, establishing a laidback corrugated vibe allowing each subsequent song to slot in perfectly like pieces into an aural jigsaw. Following on with ‘Bird of Paradise’ from her debut solo album ‘Obadiah’, Ford demonstrated herself to be in particularly fine voice on a cold snowy Yorkshire evening. Her vocal quality and range are simply spine tingling at times. When making reference to the meteorlogical conditions outside a retort of “just like Canada” was quickly dispatched when Ford pointed out that she was from “the tropic of Canada”, a reference to her Vancouver home. This was just one example of Ford’s capacity to interact and communicate with her audience in a completely effortless and natural way. When she talked about her upbringing as the daughter of american hippies who had fled their home country to avoid the draft, her ability to inject both humour and pathos into her story, left her audience hanging on every word. As well as the sheer quality of her music, having the personality to endear a crowd to the person as much as the artist is a vital element in building the kind of loyal and devoted following that Ford clearly enjoys. Its also what sets a live show apart from simply listening to the music.
A move from centre stage to the piano marked the first of the songs from ‘U kin B the Sun’. In total, eight of that albums ten songs were included, with a heartfelt rendition of ‘The Kids Are Having None of It’ and the funky strains of ‘Golden’ being particular highlights. Elsewhere a sparkling version of ‘September Fields’ from ‘Indian Ocean’ managed to get the majority of the standing audience shuffling awkwardly on their feet at the very least. Completing her set as she started it, with the slow burning soul of ‘Golden’ Ford then returned for three encores including a completely re-imagined ‘Firecracker’ and culminating with an expanded ‘U kin B the Sun’. A perfectly curated set which saw Ford switch effortlessly between guitar and keyboard, whilst maintaining the majesty of her voice, had concluded.
As the audience dispersed into that cold Leeds air, they would have done so with a warm glow having witnessed an artist at the height of her creative and expressive powers. That hackneyed old cliché about a good wine maturing with age is totally apt when applied to Frazey Ford. Tonight, she placed herself firmly on the ‘fine wine’ shelf, which according to one definition is characterised by having “a reputation for high quality” and being able to offer “intellectual and sensual rewards”. A growing number of musical connoisseurs of would certainly drink to that.
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