There are debut singers whose tender years and inexperience clearly inform their early recordings you can almost hear the tentativeness and reserve in their vocal performances. And then there are those who clear this hurdle in one bound, who hurl themselves over the precipice, who go straight for the blood and guts of a song. Nobody who has heard Karima Francis, live or on disc, can be in any doubt as to which category the Blackpool-born, Manchester-based musician belongs to. Listening to the 21-year-old grab a melody and lyric by the throat is to experience the sound of a singer whose pent-up expressiveness was hidden away for too long, and is now exploding into glorious colour.
Musically, her songs deeply personal compositions inspired both by a difficult single-parent upbringing and by moving to Manchester and falling in love are far removed from the current vogue for folk-tinged whimsy. Comparisons have been made with Joan Armatrading and Tracy Chapman, but these offer only a superficial sense of how unvarnished and arresting and unlike that of her contemporaries Francis' music is. You may search in vain for traces of her former job as drummer with a Blackpool metal band, but Franciss melodies are nonetheless forthright and full-on, never fey or hesitant. Her lyrics are uncompromising and heartfelt, too no English reserve here. And her voice, which will journey to the lower reaches of the register one minute, and soar to the top the next, is a once-heard-never-forgotten instrument. Amazingly, Francis only began singing properly once shed moved to Manchester. I just wrote a song and the voice kind of came with the words, she says, attempting to explain her talent. Ive always had this range, which still shocks me.
Early song postings on Myspace included The Author, which alerted tastemakers to just how special a proposition Francis was. I want to tell you a story, it begins, over a spare acoustic-guitar figure, ... how we kissed a thousand times / Not like a movie / This is real. Raw and impassioned, it immediately created waves, and it wasnt long before the labels came a-courting. Kitchenware Records, home to Prefab Sprout and Editors, secured her signature, and she was soon holed up in London's famous RAK studios with the producers Bacon and Quarmby. The Author wasn't, says Francis, the first song she ever wrote, as some have suggested. But it was, she adds, with characteristically dry humour, the first good one.
Looking back on her experience so far finding her voice, signing a deal, recording an album Francis says: I still cant believe its happening. And then she adds: Its so precious to me, it has to be perfect; and I fear it ever going wrong. I don't want it to end. She's unlikely to have any worries on that score. Karima Francis has to paraphrase one of her musical idols, Karen Carpenter only just begun.