A girl and her ukulele

Francesca Belcourt photos by Stu Johnson

Her music is just the antidote you need to pull you out of your annual grey Vancouver winter stupor. Belcourt, who recently had 28 seconds of fame on MTV,  started playing the guitar in 2007 after she received one as a Christmas gift. From her home at the time on Cortes Island, she started to write songs the following year. Her style echos the island environment she grew up in. Whimsical, folksy, and full of glimpses into youthful, bright curiosities.

Born in a borough of London, England in a town called Tooting, Belcourt was has working class roots.  The hustle of London wasn't the ideal situation for the family at the time, so they made the decision  to leave behind the urban sprawl and headed for the Pacific coast of Canada.

Her father made the leap first. He left behind his wife and one-year-old daughter to literally build a home for his family on an island between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia that is part of the Discovery Islands archipelago on the northern end of the Gulf of Georgia.  When Belcourt and her mother made their way to Cortes soon after, they moved into a house with three walls, a tarp with no running water nor electricity.

They moved in a year to a house on the edge of a lagoon. "When I was little, the tide would be going in and out at different times of the day every day and I'd just play there," Belcourt recalls.

When she was fourteen, the Belcourts made the move to Vancouver Island to settle in the costal city of Campbell River so the kids could attend high school. Campbell River, with a population of just over 32,000, is the closest thing to a big city that the young musician has experienced first hand. "It's a really small town, " she laughs, "not much goes on here."

At just seventeen, the unsigned musician is just starting to make waves from her Campbell River base. In July 2010, she released her first album, "Hungry for Butterflies". Later this year, she will finish school, record her second album, and will be be crossing waters to make the big move to Vancouver. The Vancouver Observer had the opportunity to catch up with Francesca for a little Q & A about her music, her drive to hone her craft, and to find out, why  ukulele?




So you recently had 28 seconds of fame on MTV. How did you land those 28 seconds of airtime on a major network like MTV?

MTV came to the island to do a segment of a show called "The Buried Life". Johnnie from "The Buried Life" had come to Cortes because he was answering someone's "what do you want to do before you die" thing. I heard about it the day before and was like "Okay, this is good. This sounds like a good thing".

They filmed in this really secluded place, you have to take an extra hour or two or four if you take the wrong way, like we did. I have always gone to it by boat, Carrington Bay. We went on the trails and went all the wrong ways so when we finally got there, they were just wrapping up filming and I was like, "Hey, I'm Francesca, I play music, do you want to hear me play?" - so someone suggested to film me playing. So I played for them and they really liked it. I played a song that I wrote, sold a CD and Johnnie told me, "Oh, this is really good, I'm going to try really hard to get one of your songs on the show".

That's great. When did you begin to show interest in making music?

I used to record stuff with my piano teacher when I was nine. I didn't really get into it until the hormones, I guess the major hormones, started kicking in. Actually, I started writing songs when I got my ukulele. I was sitting at the dinner table one evening with my brother and asked him if he wanted to go halves on a ukulele. I really love playing the ukulele, just making up chords and such. I'm self-taught. I found it easier to write songs with the ukulele. I began writing things down here and there and then started playing for people.

Why the ukulele?

I have no clue. It was really practical. I can take it with me wherever I want, really. I had a little ukulele backpack so I can take it with me and go for bike rides and just take it to different places.

I've read that your ukuleles are named. Do you name all your instruments?

I never named my guitar for some reason. My first ukulele was called "Lucy" and my second ukulele is called Mathilda. They needed names. They just came to me.

Why feminine names?

I don't know, they're playful and happy.

What or who inspires your music?

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