Leigh Franklin’s life story could almost be subtitled ‘paying your dues’. Hailing from Christchurch in New Zealand, she’s spent the last 15 years or so gigging round her native country and Australia, with a stint in London that saw her busk at various Underground stations.
In the capital she became a regular at Islington’s Virtually Acoustic open mic night, formed her own band and eventually returned to New Zealand with a record contract and distribution deal with Universal under her arm.
The resulting album, On A Saturday, has also had some hoops to jump through before eventually seeing the light of day. A studio which wasn’t soundproofed, and a complicated, if ultra-modern, arrangement where Franklin and London-based producer Kiron J would email song ideas to each other while being 12,000 miles apart were just some of the factors that the Kiwi songwriter had to deal with. But it’s all resulted in a remarkably confident and polished debut album.
Franklin’s songs are restrained, bitter-sweet pop numbers, and while there’s nothing particularly edgy or revolutionary on display, there’s a wistful, lovelorn air to many of the tracks, no doubt inspired by years of living away from home.
Although recorded in Christchurch, the memory of London hangs heavily over the record, as titles like Putney Bridge would suggest. Franklin’s voice is strong and sweet, with a pleasingly tremulous quality on some songs, and her voice is well suited to duetting with the dulcet tones of guest vocalist Joseph Junior, a London soul singer, on the gorgeously soothing title track.
Most of Franklin’s tracks are acoustic-based, with a unobstructive backing band adding some muscle, and would sit nicely alongside the likes of Jewel or Sarah McLachlan. The beautiful Cosmic Mistake stands out as a highlight, Franklin’s voice quivering with emotion as her band weave a lovely country-esque melody beneath her, while opening track River already sounds like a hit in waiting, with a chorus that sweeps you up into its arms.
Five Days Gone has a more strident air to it, as Franklin promises “you can’t find me now”, and Away Days has a classy sheen to it which will remind many of Natalie Imbruglia‘s early forays into the world of pop. It’s true that Franklin could sometimes benefit from a change in tempo (it’s pretty much all quite downbeat), but the care and attention with which her songs have been crafted is undeniable.
There’s a timeless quality to On A Saturday – you could easily imagine these songs being performed in a smoky club in the ’70s, or soundtracking a particularly emotional moment in a teenage TV drama in the ’90s. Although some of the tracks on this debut tilt towards the anonymous, there’s no doubt that with the right kind of publicity behind her, Leigh Franklin could well become a bit of a radio staple. All good things come to those who wait, after all.