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Transvocalizers — Frances UK

| May 18, 2009
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Transvocalizers by Pamela DeGroff

There must be something in the Guinness in England. When you start to list all the incredible musicians whose talents have not only influenced our lives but have changed the course of popular music…well, there’s not enough space in an article of this length to make a comprehensive effort. There’s the obvious ones…The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Elton John… that’s just without really thinking about it, and that’s not even a decent “short list.”

Of no less importance to the GLBT community are artists such as Boy George, George Michael (Wham! and post-Wham!), and David Bowie, to name only a few. Transgender musicians from England have often been featured in our companion column, Perpetual Change, and while many are not household names, they are making some incredible music and have equally incredible stories.

The musician who simply goes by the name of Frances (or Frances UK), is someone who recently came to our attention, and she was gracious enough to share some thoughts about her music, and her life.

When she was 10, she was bitten by the music bug from an Elvis record she purchased for her sister. The record was Suspicious Minds, and that did the trick. Later on, her father bought Frances her first guitar from Frank Hessy’s in Liverpool, the store known for supplying the early Beatles with gear. There’s an old saying about being from Liverpool: you’ll either turn out to be a comedian, a musician, or a footballer. Frances claims she didn’t have the legs for football.

Actually, it was through a religious organization that Frances first became interested in what music could accomplish. “I was training for the priesthood from 14-17,” she said. “However at 17, I came across an Evangelical group called The Children of God. I joined them and stayed for 10 years. The doctrine went south so I quit. However, it was them that introduced me to the power of song, so much so, that i had to have that power.”

While she was musically involved with the group (which basically is known as a cult and for which Frances did a lot of street musician type performing…), music continued to be a major part of her life once she finally left.

The decade of the 1990s was spent writing corporate videos and playing on commercials, doing some radio, and just plain gigging around.

It wasn’t until the age of 32 that Frances started crossdressing. “For me, it wasn’t anything psychological,” she said. “It was simply boredom and curiosity with my then hetrosexuality .I’d been married for fifteen years and we had five children.

“As time progressed, I began to tweak and perfect my look. My sexuality shifted so slowly that looking at where I am today (living as female), it all seemed quite seamless. Back in the early ‘90s, information was thin on the ground, so one learnt by trial and error or word of mouth. These days, if one wants information, you simply have to Google it and up it pops.”

Perhaps an even bigger change that occurred during this time was that Frances’s wife died from breast cancer at the age of 38, leaving Frances to raise five children. “I had to become both mother and father,” she said.

Musically, there was something of a long, self-imposed sabbatical that Frances experienced. But the overall experience is what helped shape her current life both personally and as a performer.

Her style is best described as acoustic based, melodic new folk/soft rock. “I’ve always been a solo artist,” she said. “I sing, play guitar, ukelele, piano, and write, too. In the last few years, I’ve moved toward that Cash/Elvis/Rockabilly sound, and that requires more ‘oomph’ if you’re doing live work.”

She does front a band of her own called The Frantastics. “They are composed of myself, on guitar and vocals,” she said. “Also, Sam on bass and vocals and Andrew, drums and piano.”

Frances describes her musical tastes as “…very catholic: everything from Gregorian Chant, Baroque, singer/songwriter; jazz, blues, and Arabic music. To be creative, one has to be sponge-like, soaking up and absorbing the musical influences that make one’s hair stand on end. From there, you reconstruct it and rebuild it.” What she ends up creating are songs that might be joyous, passionate, or reflective, but never your “angry” song. Disappointed, yes; very pissed off at stuff, yes; but not the deeply tormented angst that seems to fill popular music now.

Not surprisingly this creativity has manifested itself in more than musical ways for Frances. Several years ago, she ran what she calls a high-end escort business. “I was a good communicator, a good listener, genuinely liked people, had been in entertainment and hospitality and delighted in my own sexuality,” she said. “I put those all together and identified a niche and decided to give the Courtesan role a whirl.”

Okay, so that’s an unusual thing to have on one’s resume’, but a gal’s gotta eat. The interesting outcome of this is that it lead Frances to begin formal studies in sex therapy. Four years ago, she went back to college to learn the formal mechanics of counseling. “One can’t teach empathy,” she said. “I had that already, having been in a similar position whilst coming to terms with my own sexuality.”

Frances has also become involved with an upscale multi-gender club night in London called Lola that she has been instrumental in getting off the ground. She serves as a hostess and manager of sorts. The entire idea grew out of the need for a better alternative for nightlife entertainment.

“Like many others, as I grew older my tastes matured.” she said. “I’d fallen off the ‘scene’ radar many moons ago, as it no longer reflected what I considered to be a good night out.

“Lola is a soiree. It provides an intimate lounge club ambiance. We’re an unashamedly Madonna/Britney/Rap free zone where the music is strictly lounge. If you can imagine Old Berlin, Soho, and Greenwich Village colliding, then you’ll have an idea what Lola is about.”

Frances emphasizes that while the club is GLBT community friendly (especially the “T” part…), Lola is not meant to be strictly a T-girl venue. Many transpeople in London had expressed a desire to have a place to go where mingling with the straight world would be comfortable and relaxing. “There’s no other place in London like this,” Frances said.

Frances is definitely not easy to catagorize. Yes, there’s the musical part that does trend to folk. Since she was blessed with a completely androgynous voice, the female Frances was able to pick up where the male Frances left off. Not a problem there. Apparently, finding her place as a member of the GLBT community, the larger straight community, and her place in her family with her children has all come to fruition for her. “Between gigging (with and without the band), studies, family life (three of my daughters still live with me), and Lola, I’ve been bless with more than my fair share of a rather serendipitous life,” she said.
And yes, I believe she has.

For more information on Frances, please check out her website, her MySpace page and the Club Lola page.

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Category: All TGForum Posts, Music

Pam Degroff

About the Author ()

Pamela DeGroff been writing for TGForum since the start of 1999. Her humor column, The Pamela Principle, ran until 2005. She started the Perpetual Change music column in May of 1999, and in 2008, Angela Gardner came up with the idea for the Transvocalizers column and put Pam to work on that. Pamela was a regular contributor to Transgender Community News until that magazine's demise. While part of a support group in Nashville called The Tennessee Vals she began writing for their newsletter, and also wrote for several local GLBT alternative newspapers in Tennessee. Pamela is currently a staff reporter for a small town daily paper in Indiana, and is also a working musician.

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