Alex Francis Q&A: It’s great to perform in Nashville and New York but it’s nice to come back and play Hitchin’s Club 85

Alex Francis

Alex Francis - Credit: Archant

Proud Hitchin lad and talented singer-songwriter Alex Francis has been speaking to Layth Yousif ahead of his live gig at Club 85 on Thursday. Read on for his in-depth Q&A on playing in New York, writing in Nashville and why 2019 is shaping up to be his year...

Alex Francis

Alex Francis - Credit: Archant

Layth: Club 85 is such a special venue isn’t it?

Alex: It’s great I love it. It’s home. In the last couple of years I’ve taken to coming back every so often to put something together. I’m very lucky to have a supportive network of people in my hometown who have put the mileage on when I’ve got things on outside of Hitchin – which is more and more often these days.

Alex Francis

Alex Francis - Credit: Archant

I had this idea to come back and give people a flavour of what I do when I go out on tours. I love showcasing my band too. I’m surrounded by some phenomenal musicians and there’s not normally an avenue to showcase them. I want to utilise the fact there’s five of us there and Club 85 is my home from home. It means something to me. On a nostalgic level, it means something to me to be playing there even now. I’m thrilled to be back.

While things develop on a different scale away from Hitchin I like the idea of coming back and giving people a taste of what’s going on.

Layth: What can your hometown crowd expect from Thursday night?

Alex: The usual raucous, soulful mis-mash of everything that influences from R&B to rock. We’ll be showcasing new songs too. I’ll be releasing new music in February so I’ve lined up some new compositions to bring to the set list. I’ll also be pulling something festive out of the bag too. I recently partnered with Warner Music Group to release a cover of Otis Reading’s Merry Christmas Baby. That’s available now on Spotify. We did our own special spin on it. It’ll be festive. It’s December and I always going to do something festive – why not? A festive mix of soul, rock and R&B.

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We’ve also got an incredible support act coming. They’re good friends of mine, They’re called the Kondoors. I’ve not had the pleasure of having them on the same bill before so I thought it would be a really cool blend. They’re going to open up so I would stress to people to come down and catch them – because as vocalists they’re phenomenal. It’s going to be a treat for me and everyone else I hope.

Layth: I know you’ve been working in New York and other places too..?

Alex: I’ve been to New York a few times over the last 18 months, mostly to write. I’ve been able to team up and do phenomenal writing sessions but when I last went in September I managed to go and perform. We had three shows. I took my guitar player Guy out with me. The final one was a gig at the Mercury Lounge in Manhattan. A lot of artists I love have been in and out of that venue. It was a good night. To cut a long story short I’m with a new agent, Talent Agent who are starting to funnel out opportunities Stateside where we can get work. So that was a first gamble if you will but it worked out really well. I know I’ll be back in New York for more writing in the New Year but we’re just starting to get some dates for performing too.

New York is a new experience to go and play. To go and play in America. I draw on so much American music in what I do so it’s a super treat to be involved in playing in New York. Hopefully playing over there will be a regular thing.

Layth: In terms of your musical influences who inspires you?

Alex: It changes daily! I tend to sway more to stuff that’s been in the 1960, 70s and 80s but then I also tend to sway more into modern stuff as well. At the moment I’m listening to a Brookline-based girl called Emily King.

There’s an artist called Caleb Hawley [a New York-based, Minneapolis-born singer, songwriter, and producer, he released Love, Drugs, & Decisions in 2017 followed by Sex Tape in 2018 and played at Goatfest in August in Codicote]

He’s new to the UK side of things and I’m new to the New York side of things. He’s doing some really cool stuff at the moment.

I’m really into a dude called Gareth Dunlop who’s a Belfast-based songwriter and artist. I’ve worked with Gareth and we’ve written four songs together since 2016. I met him in Nashville a couple of years ago. It was all a bit random but we managed to get a couple of hours together more of an icebreaker. We really hit it off and we have a great working relationship and have become really good friends too. He’s got an album out now called Number 79. If you find yourself on a long drive stick it on.

I try to be as broad with my tastes as possible but anything that feels right is good. Everything from American singer-songwriter, D’Angelo to Joni Mitchell.

Whatever feels good.

Layth: You mentioned Nashville. What was it like being there?

Alex: It was incredible. It’s well famed for its country music. And Tennessee as a state is so rich in cultural history. It was nuts. America has a huge market for country music. It’s a mainstream thing over there. I arrived to work with a number of writers and you definitely get an essence and flavour of its musical history. It’s in the air. You can smell it. They’re very proud of what they’ve achieved. People talk about New York and London and LA being musical hubs and they are. But Nashville is just purely music. Everyone is on that path. Even if they’re working in a coffee shop music is the thing. It’s all side-saddle. It was really exciting. I was working in sessions most days. But then we’d get out in the evening onto their main drag before you hit the river and it’s wall-to-wall bars and venues. And music comes out of every single place. I was there in 2016 at the back end of summer. It’s boiling hot and you can hear so much music. It’s all incredible. One minute you’re hearing really traditional country with steel guitars. The next someone’s waddling through Joe Cocker ‘A Little Help With My Friends’. Nashville is so rich in its heritage of what it is. If you’re a musical person and you’re wanting a spark of musical inspiration then I definitely recommend Nashville as a special place to go and find it.

Layth: It’s great to play in Nashville and New York but it must be nice to come back and play in Hitchin…?

Alex: Of course. I’m not into a hierarchical order of what’s what. Or what I’m meant to be playing. It’s really exciting for me to be bringing in bigger venues and bigger tours but equally when I’ve got an opportunity to come and play in my home I’m definitely going to take it. I’m very proud of where I’m from. I’ll keep coming back to Hitchin until my schedule simply won’t allow it.

Layth: I know we had a quick chat the other day after I saw another brilliant set from you but 2019 is really shaping up to be a special year for Alex Francis…?

Alex: What I can tell you is that there will be a new single from me in February. I will be announcing shows before that as well as announcing further shows in 2019 before this Christmas. 2019 is shaping up well. We’re organising some important stuff so there’s a lot to look forward to.

My ethos with everything is just stay busy. That keeps me happy. I’m playing a long game. I wouldn’t want things to culminate too quickly and then fall off the other side.

Layth: For what it’s worth there are a lot of people rooting for you in Hitchin and elsewhere…

Alex: Thanks man. I’m building a team around me about what we can put together and I’m getting enthused about it. All it is for me is about continuing to grow.

Alex appears on Warner Music’s ‘Christmas Covered’ compilation with his version of Otis Redding’s ‘Merry Christmas Baby’ check it out.

To buy tickets for Alex’s gig at club 85 visit