“Frances Madden’s songwriting is a great mixture and is incredibly accessible to the public, with beautifully written melodies”. Chong Lim AM, who has been musical director or producer for many of Australia’s most renowned artists, produced Frances Madden’s most recent album “Beautiful World” and is full of praise for the Sydney-born singer, songwriter and pianist.
Frances Madden has just moved to London within the past few months, and will perform her first ever UK gig at the 606 Club on 24 July, with a top-flight band: Carl Orr, guitar, Geoff Gascoyne, double bass, Rod Youngs, drums, with Tasmanian-born Elly Hoyt as backing vocalist and Paul Higgs on trumpet and organ. Interview by Sebastian Scotney.
LondonJazz News: We understand you have moved to the UK from Australia. What brought you here?
Frances Madden: I came to bring my music to the lively music and festival scene both here in London and in Europe and also find new people to collaborate with. I’ve loved being here so far and have found there’s a lot of inspiration around as well as ‘space’ to create.
LJN: What are your hopes and ambitions now that you are in UK? What are you working on now?
FM: I hope to release my current album Beautiful World here in the next few months, at the moment it’s only available in Australia and soon to be Japan with Universal Music. As well as touring and performing through the UK and Europe, I’d love to get in the studio and start recording the material for my next album.
LJN: There are so many wonderful Australian singers & musicians in the UK now, are there any left in Australia?
FM: It’s true, I’ve noticed that a lot of our artists eventually leave for foreign shores! I used to see some of our best moving to the UK and the USA and wonder why, then I came to the point myself where you feel like you’ve gone as far as you can in that environment. It’s a much smaller industry and sadly, there’s a lack of vision and artistic risk-taking that you don’t face in the bigger markets overseas. Having said that, Australia is a wonderful place to grow up!
LJN: What is it that you like about England, and what do you miss about Australia?
FM: I love the diversity in London; the fact that you can turn a corner and find yourself in a place that feels like a whole other world culturally. You get on the tube and the majority of voices you hear are speaking foreign languages.There is an energy or a vibe here that comes from critical mass. I miss the sunshine and the proximity to large bushland areas where I lived in Sydney, but I have to say London has been very kind with the weather so far! Side note, we seem to talk a lot about the weather here . . .
LJN: At what point in your musical development did the jazz light bulb get switched on?
FM: I grew up listening to my dad’s record collection, which included everything from Bach and Beethoven to The Beatles and James Taylor, to Ella Fitzgerald and Diana Krall. These last two artists really cultivated my love for jazz, beautiful lyrics and thoughtful arrangements. Being exposed to such a variety of styles though really gave me a love for great songs and songwriting in general.
LJN: When did you start writing songs, and what inspires you?
FM: I started learning classical piano when I was about six years old, but didn’t start singing professionally until I was at university. Songwriting just followed naturally a few years later. Sometimes song ideas come to me out of the blue as I’m playing away at the piano and other times I’m inspired by particularly moving events. I wrote my song ‘The One Who Walks Me Home’, a lightly spiritual ballad with hints of country, whilst on a songwriting trip to Nashville watching the sunset over the Tennessee hills.
LJN: We hear you’ve been nominated for awards in several songwriting competitions. Are you very competitive, and do you think that it is beneficial for musicians to participate in competitions generally, from both an artistic and professional standpoint?
FM: I probably do have a moderate competitive streak which has helped drive my journey, but I don’t think you can be too competitive about music which is essentially a collaborative and artistic thing. As an artist still establishing myself though, it is gratifying to win awards or be recognised in song-writing competitions because it gives a sort of professional or industry validation to the quality of what you’re doing.
LJN: We understand that you are part Vietnamese. What impact has your heritage had on you, both personally and as a performer?
FM: Yes, my mother arrived in Australia in 1975 as a refugee from the Vietnam War. I feel it’s a special part of my story that I am only just starting to explore properly now as I’m getting older. We grew up with much of the traditional Asian values in our home and I think these have informed both my beliefs and work ethic. The voices that I’ve heard of traditional Vietnamese singers had a pure quality to them and I’ve sometimes been told that you can hear a similar thing in my sound.
LJN: When you play live, do you have a prepared set list, or do you like to choose songs spontaneously?
FM: I generally like to work on a setlist beforehand and put together a show that includes a variety of styles and genres, with something for everyone to enjoy. I’m conscious of always having a balance in styles and tempo so that the show has a dynamic shape that takes the audience on a journey. In the set there’s vocal jazz, latin, groove and singer-songwriter styles among my original songs and a few select covers. The show always includes some improvisation from the guys in the band, who are all amazing musicians.
LJN: What are you really proud of?
FM: Earlier this year I was invited to sing my original women’s anthem ‘She Will Rise’ at the Women’s Singles Final of the Australian Open. I’d written the song during the lockdown of 2020 and had no idea that two years later I’d be performing it on Center Court in Rod Laver Arena, moments before Ash Barty came on to win what would be her last Australian Open. It was a huge moment for me and an incredible international event to be a part of.
LJN: Can you tell us about the music, and will you be playing songs from the record at your upcoming 606 Club show?
FM: Our show will indeed include a lot of the songs from Beautiful World! The album has a mix of jazz-influenced original songs with swing and latin flavours, as well as some singer-songwriter ballads. For the show we’ll also be playing a few new original tunes and our unique take on some classics. I’m thrilled to have a 5-piece band joining me with some of London’s best musicians and also featuring some vocal harmonies from the beautiful Elly Hoyt. It will be my first show in London and I’m excited to introduce my music to the audiences here!
LINK: Frances Madden’s website