Frances Lion ain’t gonna lie: she has a way with words, an angle on persuasion, a bent for the blag.
It’s how, aged 18, the singer-songwriter got a gig in a French ski resort, working behind a bar and playing as often as they’d let her, her own Beatles-in-Hamburg moment (with more Jägermeister and less speed pills).
Her gift of the gab is also how the teenager from smalltown Hampshire continued her musical education – and her globe-trotting – when she pitched up on Australia’s Gold Coast and opened her own open-mic night.
“It was the best six months ever,” the woman born Beth Lowen grins of her Alpine adventure. “I was just a jammy kid: I’d message people and annoy people and blag it. One time I met this random Portuguese dude in a bar in France, who had connections in London. I pestered him so much that he got me a gig in Camden.” She’ll tell us some other time the story of how she got another London gig after nipping the ear of a random at a summer solstice dawn gathering at Stonehenge.
Luckily, Frances Lion also has a way with tunes. And with a belting, nape-tickling vocal that can hit both the bluesy depths and the soulful heights. It’s there in Second Hand, her taster single from last year, an intense, almost unnerving blast of self-laceration.
“I envisioned a girl in the dressing room of a band, idolising a singer… That’s how it started, then it turned back – as it always does! – to me,” she acknowledges with a “what can you do?” smile.
Other album highlights include the “vulnerable love song” Stay and the crowd favourite Home.
“Music was just there,” she says, thumping her breast bone, reflecting on her quaint upbringing. “And smalltown Hampshire is a bit of a brain-deadening place if you’re hungry for more. No disrespect to my gorgeous friends who are still there, but I had to get out. So I did, the day after I finished Sixth Form. I was gone. For four years.”
After four years travelling, Beth Lowen came home. Then she promptly went away again. By word-of-mouth and worm-of-ear, demos she’d written, some with her brother, made their way to management, then publishing – and, then, ultimately, Linda Perry.
“I flew to LA and rock up to Linda’s studio like a shaking lamb – I knew she’d written Beautiful [for Christine Aguilera] and Get The Party Started [for Pink]. And funnily enough, when I was playing covers in pubs as a teenager – Bob Dylan, Tracey Chapman, Joni Mitchell, Michael Jackson; I’d play anything, I had hundreds – I always used to end my set with What’s Up? by [Perry’s band] 4 Non Blondes.”
So, yes, she was excited-slash-bricking it to meet the woman herself.
“I played her some of my demos but she didn’t really like them. So she made me pick up a guitar and play her a song – then she pretty much there and then decided she wanted to make an album.”
Wolf, the new single by Lion, was an early standout. It’s big, “a screamer”, the process “the weirdest – me and Linda wrote it on the spot, me having a meltdown in her studio in LA.
Indeed, Wolf was written at a time when she was more Beth than Frances Lion, and full of self-doubt: was she worth it, was she worthy of music, would all the teenage pub gigs and four years’ travels amount to anything? Then out came a howl of defiance, “which I ran with”.
The surging, defiant, anthemic Wolf is the perfect showcase for both her sides: “The rocky, rocky thing and the stripped back aspect of me. It’s about being fucking scared and not knowing what the hell you’re doing, and just rolling with it.
Last year, she toured as Frances Lion for the first time, supporting Isaac Gracie, The Vaccines, Albert Hammond Jr. and Girli. This year there have been shows at The Great Escape and around London, with a summer of festival shows ahead of her. Catch this self-confessed “scruffy tomboy” (“all my clothes have holes in them, even my Doc Martens”) in a field, tent or club somewhere, playing the songs of her life and the songs of her soul. And, if she’s had a beer and if you’re lucky, the songs of someone else.
“As a kid I was obsessed with Stevie Nicks and Joni Mitchell. I used to sit in my room as a kid and mimic voices like Ray Lamontagne and Kurt Cobain – in fact, quite a few husky men!” this irrepressible, up-for-it, bound-for-glory woman laughs again.