Karima Francis wears her heart on her sleeve – and a tattoo acclaiming her love of Blackpool on her body.
“Why not? It has its faults and it has its detractors but it’s home and I love it,” says the distinctive sounding and looking singer and songwriter who came oh so close to making it big time three years ago with the release of her debut album, The Author.
Critics (and Jools Holland) loved it, her fan base adored it. But it failed to leapfrog her from small and middle sized gigs to the major circuit.
A lot has happened since its release in 2009 including a broken heart, an eating disorder, a career hiatus and a burst of songwriting which sees 10 news songs on the soon to be released second album The Remedy – and a drawer full of 42 (so far) songs for the usually “difficult” third album.
“They’re not all great but there’s plenty to go at,” she smiles over a light lunch, coffee and water outside the Pepper Mill on Blackpool’s Clifton Street.
You may have seen her in town – hair like a cross between the electric Bob Dylan period and Noel Redding from the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and a guitar never too far away from her side.
“Do you think it puts people off?” she asks about the hair. “I’m actually very accessible and love meeting people but they often seem a bit wary of me.”
She’s made the most of the recent good weather by pretty much practising anywhere – including down by the Cenotaph on the Promenade and on the roof of the Hounds Hill Shopping Centre’s Car Park.
“Most people seem to quite like it,” she says.
That’s hardly surprising. At her gigs you can hear a pin drop and, raw though they may be, the songs on her second album will make people sit up and listen.
Debut single Wherever I Go is extremely radio playable – and hints at one of her favourite songwriters, Bryan Adams.
And as well as a guitar she never goes far without a notebook.
“It’s where I write down my ideas for songs and notes to myself like ‘don’t swear when you are being interviewed!’. I think things like I-pads are soulless for songwriters whereas a notebook catches the moment.
Of The Remedy she says: “The new album is everything I’ve ever strived for in a record. I thought when the first one was released that it was amazing but I’m so proud of this one. First time around I was just stuck in a studio with a guitar and a microphone, there was no pre-production.
“This one was demoed in my bedroom but then I gave them to Flood, the producer, and he just took them and made them bigger and better.”
So this time there are gospel tinged harmonies, occasional lush string arrangements and above all Karima’s distinctive vocals.
“It’s very autobiographical like the first one but reflects more recent events in my life,” she says. “I wear my heart on my sleeve. I honestly don’t know what I’d do or where I’d be if I didn’t have music to express myself through.”
Coming through her recent traumas means she can smile more.
“I’m happier,” she says. “Making the record was like going through therapy. I wouldn’t say I’ve become more confident as a person but I certainly have as a performer.”
Her long awaited Blackpool home town return gig is tomorrow – an intimate early doors affair in the Radio Wave Theatre for 100 fans and Gazette ticket winners but she’s also been signed for the Illuminations switch-on night and “thinks” she has a North Pier date later this month.
All a bit different to her recent showcase at The Ivy in London and a future opening slot for Paul Simon.
“I hope my songs can help people realise they aren’t as alone as some of them think they are,” she admits. “I still have people who thank me for helping their lives with my first album. That’s something to be proud of isn’t it?”
While the next few months will be spent promoting The Remedy her dream is still to conquer America.
“Just me and my guitarist Simon, travelling from place to place in a van, stopping off at radio stations and bars, just touring,” she says. “I’m all about promoting myself. I want people to remember my songs, I don’t want them to be something they hear today and throw way tomorrow. I’m in this or the long haul. It’s what I live for.”