The phone line to the west coast of Ireland splutters and squawks before finally going dead.
For the few short minutes that conversation is possible, the melodic Scottish burr at the other end is unmistakably that of Ayrshire-born singer-songwriter David Francey.
Francey has stepped outside of his hotel in the County Clare fishing village of Doolin to take the call.
Doolin’s music pubs have placed it at the centre of the Irish traditional music resurgence over the past half century. It’s one of the last stops on Francey’s most recent tour of the United Kingdom.
Since moving to Toronto at the age of 12, Francey has travelled extensively throughout Canada and abroad. Travel, he says, definitely provides grist for his songwriting mill.
“I have been to some amazing places, and what I see or experience finds its way into my music. I have written about people I saw waiting in a train station in Denmark and about a bad motel in California.”
With nine CDs to his credit and another ready for release, Francey is known as much for his unornamented melodies and homespun lyrics as for his rich voice and wry storyteller’s wit.
If his frequent themes of working-class lives, love of the land, and unabashed romanticism call to mind another Ayrshire poet, Robert Burns, it should come as no surprise.
“He’s been a big influence in my life,” Francey admits.
“My father was a wonderful Burns man. He could sing you a song or recite you any poem, so he gave me that gift of poetry really early through Burns’s work, and it’s stayed with me my entire life.”
Besides writing “unparalleled” love poems and love songs, Burns had “that commonality with everyone and he exalted the common man, as my Dad used to put it, and he wrote about his times,” Francey says.
“I try and do the same, I think. It’s not so far as setting out to do that, it’s just that’s what I ended up writing about, and it could very well be that influence very early on.”
When Francey dedicated his 2004 album, The Waking Hour, to his parents, he used a Burns couplet to honour the memory of his “kind and gentle” factory-worker father:
“Wi’ sic as he where e’er he be,
May I be, saved or damned.”
Despite that early poetic influence, it wasn’t until he was 45 that Francey found his legs as a performer with the release of his first CD, Torn Screen Door, in 1999.
“I was in construction for, I guess, about 20 years,” he says.
“I wrote the whole time, but I just wrote for myself. I had no aspirations to bring them in front of people or put them out there, I just wrote them to make me feel better about the world, and it sorted things out for me.”
Francey credits his wife, artist Beth Girdler, with prompting the change.
“She was the one who kind of shoved me into the music, and it was the right shove at the right time,” he says.
It was only after his second CD, Far End of Summer, won a Juno award in 2002 that he decided to give up construction work to pursue music full-time. His albums have since garnered two more Junos and an additional pair of nominations.
In 2004, he finished first in the Folk category at the prestigious USA Songwriting Competition and two years ago he won the John Lennon Songwriting Contest.
His single, “Skating Rink”, is the official theme of Hockey Day in Canada.
Does he harbor any regrets about waiting so long to launch his musical career?
“No, I don’t. I really don’t. I had nothing to really write about when I was a younger man. I had to do a lot of living to get the songs, and it was through that living the songs came out. And so I don’t regret that at all.”
In some ways, Francey’s appearance at the Yukon Arts Centre on October 16 is the continuation of a journey he began as a teenager, when he came here with a friend, Derek Cooke.
“He and I hitchhiked up and ran out of money in Whitehorse, and ended up getting a job in the bush,” he recalls.
“And I did a lot of writing in the bush, actually, while we were standing there waiting to move along, as it was. And it was just a wonderful experience. Never forgot it.”
After a second stint in the Yukon bush the next years, Francey found it a “real yank” to leave the Yukon.
“I just adored the place, and I often wondered about that, but everything’s worked out just the way it should, I think.
Among those in next Tuesday’s audience will be Cooke— “my oldest friend in the world”—who is currently working here as a curator.
As for what Whitehorse audiences should expect, Francey’s email following the truncated phone call states it simply:
“A good time. I sing about day-to-day life. People usually recognize themselves in what I sing about. There’s usually a lot of laughing and some singing along.”