My partner and I have been so excited to see Karima Francis live that we’ve both had countdown apps on our phone for the event since he booked the tickets back in September. I was introduced to her music through him sending me a flurry of YouTube links one day, after I’d sheepishly told him I had no idea who he was raving on about, which resulted in me discovering a new favourite singer-songwriter. And finally, last night, we headed on down to The Library on Cowley Road to see her.
The Library is a gorgeous little pub venue with the welcoming feel of someone’s living room as you walk through the doors. But behind its deceivingly narrow street-front, the pub stretches back through doorways and tiny passageways into another small room, an enclosed beer garden and down to a low-ceilinged basement room with its own little bar. It was here, in this rather funky (if slightly sparse furniture-wise) setting, that we found ourselves up close and personal with our entertainment for the evening.
For once we arrived on time, early even, and we made our way downstairs towards the sounds of a live guitar to discover a couple of young lads sound-checking. So we took advantage of the rather unseasonably warm evening and soaked up the studenty ambience outside while we waited.
It was worth the wait. Roberto y Juan are a quirky duo who gave us a distinctively Spanish-flavoured start to the evening, with their Latin-pop guitar sound juxtaposed against interesting laments about beer and its effects. I spent their set with a smile on my face as I tried to keep up with the many tempo changes and imagined myself seizing the moment and performing a Flamenco while they jammed behind me. Fortunately for everyone present I managed to hold myself in check, and simply toe-tapped my way through their clever riffs and melodies.
They were shortly followed by Charlie Hole, an unassuming young man, very polite and well-spoken as he thanked the small crowd for coming out to see him, and then launched into his first track with a deliciously gruff and powerful singing voice that had me captivated from start to finish. It’s clear that he puts his heart and soul into his song writing and his performance reflects this. There’s a distinct resemblance to the likes of Kelly Jones from the Stereophonics in his voice and sound, and he’s already known to that other ballad-rasping legend that is Rod Stewart, who name-checked him in an interview a few years back. Not bad for a 22-year old from sunny Bournemouth! I enjoyed hearing the stories behind certain tracks and am looking forward to playing his CD in my car.
But it was Karima we were there for, and we were not disappointed. The talented singer-songwriter from Blackpool had us in the palm of her hand by the chorus of her first song, 'Black', taken from her new album of the same name (which has been on high rotation in our house), and once again I was transfixed. I managed to get to ask her a few questions (in my totally non-professional and rambly way) after the show, and having tried to describe her style of music myself, I asked if she was able to. The short answer was no; obviously it’s a question she’s been asked before, but she said she can never really use musical terms, instead saying it’s “lyrically quite emotional, dramatic and romantic” but adding that now she’s moved onto the electric guitar, her style has “got a bit more balls” than previous albums. She says that her Mum got her into The Carpenters at a young age by randomly blasting it out at 4am along with Annie Lennox, Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye (hopefully at less invasive times of day), and there is definitely a hint of soul and blues in her music. But it was Jeff Buckley and Damien Rice who moved her to want to write her own music; she started writing her acoustic music off the back of Damien Rice’s album O. She is one of the most talented singers I’ve seen live in a long time and if I had the business acumen, I would make sure she got the massive following she deserves. I can’t imagine how tough it is facing a small mid-week audience at an intimate venue such as The Library, but Francis took it all in her stride and was humble and funny and a complete pleasure to listen to and see in the flesh. Her performance was full of emotion, even with older tracks (such as 'Author', requested by one audience member) which she may not carry the same feelings about anymore. Her willingness to hang around after the gig and spend a few minutes chatting to her fans shows how approachable she is, and my partner and I fell a little bit in love with her and her partner. So much so we walked with them to make sure they got back to their hotel safely, and helped them with their bags…