Interview: Karima Francis

As part of altblackpool’s Illuminations Week, Duncan Hodgson chats to local singer-songwriter Karima Francis who is performing at this Friday’s Illuminations Switch On.

Duncan: How did you first get involved in music and make that initial break into the industry?

Karima: It was weird because I started drumming at school, I was a bit a naughty kid. I went to Bispham High and they gave me a subject to channel my energies into because I couldn’t concentrate in lessons. From that I started drumming in bands in Blackpool, I kept getting melodies into my head and I started singing. I moved to Manchester to do a course and sold my drums for a guitar and went to every open mic night there was, I did that for four or five months and met my guitarist and was spotted by a management company. It was really weird because people just kept coming back to see me, I was just doing it because I was driven to it. I got spotted at In The City 2008 and that’s how I got spotted. Blackpool’s great but you’ve got to get seen and to do that you’ve got to make a bit a buzz in a bigger place.

Duncan: Who would you say are your biggest musical influences?

Karima: When I was a kid my mum used to listen to The Carpenters, so Karen Carpenter was the first person I saw playing drums so probably her. Simon and Garfunkle and then that led on to Jeff Buckley when I was in my teens. As I grew up I was quite into Damien Rice when I was about 15 or 16 and that was the kind of thing that made me want to start writing the kind of songs I did – I went and played at a wedding the other day and it was really weird because Damien Rice was there, and he saw me playing, he’s like my actual hero.

Duncan: What would you say have been the high points of your career so far?

Karima: Back in 2009 when my first record was out, playing on Jools Holland was probably the main thing but recently I supported Paul Simon at Hyde Park on the main stage so that was amazing. Yesterday I went on BBC Breakfast on Channel 1 and played my new song out – it was so nerve wracking but I think I went well!

Duncan: Obviously you’ve taken some time out from music, do you think that you are back better than ever?

Karima: I think I’ve got a bigger fight, with an illness like anorexia it’s like something that takes you away a little bit and preoccupies your mind. I’ve come through the main part of it and it’s almost gone but things do crop up when times get stressful or hard but I’m managing it and the music is the thing that I fight for.

Duncan: Your new album, The Remedy, is in the shops now, how did it come about and what drove you to come back?

Karima: I wrote the first song, The Remedy, when I was admitted to hospital on the first night. It was absolutely horrible realising that I had let something beat me. I think that song was kind of like a desperate cry for help you know? During getting better I met a girl and fell head over heels for her and then the situation got really tough and that damaged me again and put me in a risky place again. I got in the studio recording the album last year and this break up happened, and it really threw me again so quite a lot of it went into the record.

Duncan: What was it like working with Flood on the new album?

Karima: It felt normal, just normal because it felt right. It’s really weird, we were speaking the other day on the phone and it’s a strange the relationship we’ve got. He’s like a dad, I’ve never had a dad but he’s like how I’d image a dad to be, you know? Just a really good, caring friend with a nice tone in his voice. It’s kind of like we fell in awe of each other’s work.

Duncan: You were at HMV earlier in the week signing copies of your new album, do you ever get used to that or do you still have to pinch yourself to make sure it isn’t a dream?

Karima: It’s the first time I’ve done it really, it wasn’t a big deal though because no-one really knew who I was. I’d like it if it got a bit more success and I was going round doing load of them. I love meeting people, some people hate it but I really like it. It’s not a chore at all – I think I’m an attention seeker maybe?

Duncan: In just a couple of weeks you are going to be performing at the Illuminations Switch On, what is it like to be part of one of Blackpool’s biggest nights of the year?

Karima: It’s just brilliant, it’s insane. It hasn’t really sunk it yet, it will probably hit me just as we get on stage. I’ll be like there’s The Tower, I used to skate on the bandstand all the time and kind of grew up hanging out on that headland from an early age. All my life I’ve kind of felt like I couldn’t really fit in in Blackpool because I look a bit different – but when people see me up there, it might make people think “oh right, that’s why she looks a bit different”. I just want to do Blackpool proud – have you seen my tattoo? I think I’m just really proud to be from here, I plug it all the time wherever I go.

Duncan: Do you have any advice for musicians or bands who are just starting out?

Karima: Just gig. Write and gig. Get on YouTube and get your stuff out there. Record low budget and get out there.

Duncan: If you could support any band or artist (living or dead) who would it be and why?

Karima: I think it would be Ray LaMontagne, he’s an American singer-songwriter. He’s got a raspy voice, it’s like velvet – you’ll die. Download it or go on Spotify and listen to his first record, it’s called Trouble, you’ll be blown away.

Duncan: What album are you listening to the most at the moment?

Karima: I’ve started listening back to Damien Rice’s recently when I’m at home. After I met him it just made me start listening to his albums again, I think I’ve been listening to them for the last two days.

Duncan: Finally, what are your three favourite things about Blackpool?

Karima: Can I just have a think? I’ve got many many things but I want them to be the right things.

I kind of like it’s tackiness, it’s like kind of stuck in the 70s, like it’s in a bit of a time warp. I like that it’s full of unique and wonderful characters. And I think, the smell of The Ghost Train at The Pleasure Beach.

Can I have four? In the Alice In Wonderland ride at The Pleasure Beach there is a sign that says “Alice threw a stick to the giant puppy” – and it’s the way that Alice says it when you got past.

Duncan: What have you got coming up for the rest of 2012?

Karima: The Switch On is the big thing but also The Salford Music Festival, I fly out to Sweden tomorrow, I’m playing Leopalooza Festival and then in September I’ve got a Scottish and Cornish tour – and that’s it.

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