Sonic Bloom : Francis Dunnery

By: Ric Hickey

In his youth he vainly wore his long and flowing hair well past his shoulders, his pants tight, and his shirt open to the waist to reveal the full splendor of his hairy, rock star chest. Though clearly an exceptionally gifted guitarist and singer even in the earliest days of his career, “Francis Dunnery, guitarist with the band called It Bites” was still years away from realizing that these skills, that hair and clothing, even that description of his role in the international music scene, were all just meaningless names, tags, titles, accoutrements. Signifying nothing, as the bard said.

Having started out in London, Dunnery’s band It Bites attained a modicum of success and a few hit singles across the pond but sadly none in the States where indigenous slang loosely translated the band’s name to “It Sucks”. The band unceremoniously broke up in 1990. Now adrift in Los Angeles, Dunnery fell into the cliché rock star lifestyle of drug and alcohol abuse.

In the early 90s he cleaned up his act, moved back to London and soon got a job playing guitar on record and on tour with Robert Plant. By the end of the decade Francis had released a number of solo records on various labels who all failed to promote the records effectively, leaving him at loose ends and disillusioned with the industry.

Retreating into the mountains of Vermont, Dunnery led a monastic existence breeding horses and studying carpentry. He studied astrology and developed a natural propensity for readings while pursuing his interest in psychology all the way through to a Master’s degree. He built a house of stone from the ground up and lived in it with his girlfriend.

Eventually succumbing to the undeniable siren song of the music still stirring in his soul, Dunnery returned to the music business with a renewed sense of spirit. He started his own Aquarian Records label and returned to the concert stage. Performing sometimes with a full band, other times solo, Dunnery augments his normal touring routine in the usual concert halls by undertaking regular tours dedicated to private “living room concerts”. It is in this setting that Dunnery’s performances soar far beyond what could be described as a great concert and into the realm of a deeply moving personal experience for everyone in attendance.

Armed only with an acoustic guitar and employing no microphone or electric amplification whatsoever, Dunnery’s living room concerts are an intimate and deeply emotional affair. Invariably representative of his hardcore fan base, even audience members “in the know” are frequently moved to tears by Dunnery’s performances. This intimate setting provides Dunnery with the forum to speak at length in between numbers, expounding on spiritual and philosophical subjects, spinning tales of his youth in Scotland and lessons learned from his experiences in the music industry.

In possession of an uncanny and almost supernatural gift for reading the room, he looks into the eyes of all in attendance and seems to know instinctively which songs to song, which tales to tell. Over the years he has honed his routine to a point where he has a number of different “programs” to choose from, each spotlighting a certain album from his catalog or a specific psychological subject such as the “midlife passage show”. This writer has been fortunate enough to attend two of Dunnery’s living room concerts and each time was moved to tears by the performance.

An imposing figure standing well over six feet tall, Dunnery is in reality a humble and disarmingly charming man. Strapping on an acoustic guitar at the evening’s outset, he begins the show with a brief introduction and explanation that we are all about to take a little trip together. He paces back and forth throughout his performance, if the room allows enough space for him to do so, while gently strumming the guitar and singing in a ghostly ethereal voice that is eerily similar to Peter Gabriel. Dunnery was once approached about replacing Gabriel in Genesis, a band that he has vociferously praised throughout his career as his all-time favorite, but he turned down the gig. While singing or talking to the audience, his hands effortlessly accompany him on the guitar as if controlled by an outside force and his guitar skills are nothing short of astonishing. Muscle memory deeply entwined with the big heart of this man combine to produce a natural grace on the guitar. And that voice… He sounds like a friendly ghost calling out to you in your dreams.

His living room concerts are as much a spoken word performance, a spontaneous dissertation on the human condition, as they are a musical concert. Dunnery himself has said that these shows require him to be “part priest, part philosopher, part storyteller, part musician, part facilitator.” He goes on to say, “It’s like you are absolutely raw and completely there. So what you have to do is get involved with these people.” Having walked the hallowed halls of many major recording studios and legendary concert venues the world over, these days Francis Dunnery is just as likely to walk through your front door armed with only an acoustic guitar and a humble determination to bond us all with his one love spiritual message. He’s been there and back, his experiences transposed into a vibrant Zen message of love and acceptance.

Much, much more than a super-talented singer/songwriter, Francis Dunnery’s soulful and moving living room concert performances shatter the whole concept of ego and bring into undeniable focus that we are all bonded together as one, even if our day-to-day existence precludes us from seeing this most of the time.

I’ve been to my share of amazing shows in my day. But a Francis Dunnery living room concert is so much more than just a great concert. It is a profoundly moving emotional experience. I would advise any and all music lovers and interested parties to monitor Dunnery’s website for news of his next living room concert tour. He is unlike any other performer you are ever likely to see and the experience could even change your life.

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