Francis Dunnery

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Francis Dunnery
Francis Dunnery Robin.jpg
Dunnery performing in 2007
Background information
Born (1962-12-25) 25 December 1962 (age 58)
Origin Egremont, Cumbria, England
Genres Progressive rock
Occupation(s)Musician, record producer
InstrumentsVocals, guitar, bass guitar, drums, keyboards, tapboard, programming
Years active1984–present
Labels Aquarian Nation
Associated acts It Bites, Robert Plant, The Syn, Ian Brown, Chris Difford, David Sancious, James Sonefeld
Website Official website

Francis Dunnery (born 25 December 1962 [1] ) is an English musician, singer-songwriter, record producer and record label owner.


Dunnery was the lead singer and guitarist for British prog-pop band It Bites between 1982 and 1990. Since 1990 he has pursued a solo career, and has owned and run his own record label, Aquarian Nation, since 2001. [2]

He has collaborated with artists including Robert Plant, Ian Brown, Lauryn Hill, Santana and Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe and as a producer and/or collaborator with David Sancious, Chris Difford (of Squeeze), James Sonefeld (Hootie and the Blowfish), Erin Moran, Steven Harris (ex-The Cult, Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction), and Ashley Reaks (Younger Younger 28s).

Dunnery was one of the candidates invited to audition as a lead singer and frontman for Genesis following Phil Collins' departure in 1996 (although the position ultimately went to Ray Wilson). [3] He also played in the reformed 1960s beat/prog band The Syn between 2008 and mid-2009.

Early life

Francis Dunnery grew up as part of a musical family in the small Cumberland town of Egremont (at 28 Queens Drive on the Gulley Flats estate). He is the younger son of Charlie Dunnery, a former member of the Jimmy Shand band, and his wife, Kathleen. [4]

He displayed an interest in music from an early age, with his mother later recalling that "he was always drumming with his hands. Asking him what he wanted for his tea, he'd be drumming on something the whole time." [5] His elder brother Barry "Baz" Dunnery (whom Dunnery cites as his greatest single influence) [6] was a guitarist with heavy rock band Necromandus and subsequently Ozzy Osbourne's first post-Black Sabbath band and the ELO-spinoff Violinski.

"The only thing that was ever permanent in my life was my Genesis collection. When things got weird at home and the alcohol cycle was in full rotation, I could return to that little piece of upper class England where Peter Gabriel and his boys were playing croquet on the lawn, eating cucumber sandwiches and deciding which one of their country cottages they would visit next. Still to this day, old Peter can soothe my anxiety faster than Eckhart Tolle... My Genesis albums were my security."

Francis Dunnery on the inspiration he found in the music of Genesis [7]

Dunnery has described his family home as having been like "a bustling café" full of musicians and family friends of all generations, and recalls "my Mam and Dad were the greatest. They were kind, funny and gracious in a working class way. They were giving people. They had a way about them that made everyone feel welcome in our home... My Mam and Dad would feed them great food, share cigarettes and partake in humorous and interesting conversation." [7]

His childhood was blighted by his parents' mutual alcoholism. He described them as "binge drinkers, two weeks on and two months off... Once my Mam and Dad started drinking alcohol I never knew what was going to happen. Everything seems to happen fast. One minute it was paradise and the next minute it was sheer hell. It was horrific. ... Anyone who has lived under this nervousness will know exactly what I mean. I lived under this constant threat all my life." [7]

From the age of eleven, Frank spent four days a week living by himself on a trailer park to avoid problems at home, going to school during the day and bolstering his independence and living expenses by working as a musician at night. His first professional work was as half of an early teens duo with his friend Peter Lockhart which played local venues including the Tarnside Caravan Club and various cabaret venues. [7] He recalls "we were the cute little duo that would open up for the main act... I would just bash along as Peter sang Elvis songs and played the organ." [7] Adding guitar and singing to his musical skills, Dunnery moved on to other projects of varying levels of commitment – "I played in a few local bands and with lots of different musicians, especially a group called Waving at Trains I was in with Don Mackay, who is a fantastic musician. He wrote some really good songs, too." Waving At Trains featured Mackay as frontman, Dunnery on lead guitar and vocals, and Glyn Davies and Frank Hall on bass guitar and drums respectively (both of the latter having also played in bands with Frank's brother Barry, including Necromandus and Nerves). [6] [8]

Regarding this period, Dunnery commented "There was no one I could rely on... I somehow made sure that I had other places to live and spend my time (talk about the power of the human spirit) because I couldn't bear to be at home when my parents were drinking. I can still remember the smell of the house when my parents were drowning in hops. To this day the smell of Carlsberg Special Brew makes me want to vomit." [7]


1982–1990: It Bites

In 1982, when he was nineteen, Dunnery formed the rock band It Bites (taking the role of lead singer and guitarist). The other members of the band were his Egremont school friends Bob Dalton (drums, vocals) and Dick Nolan (bass, vocals) plus John Beck (keyboards, vocals) who came from Mirehouse; a suburb of Whitehaven. Following a career playing the pub and youth club circuit the band temporarily split, with Dunnery moving to London. The band reformed some time later and left Egremont entirely to relocate to London in 1984, eventually signing a record contract with Virgin Records.

It Bites released three studio albums, The Big Lad in the Windmill (1986), Once Around the World (1988) and Eat Me in St Louis (1989). It Bites' biggest hit single was "Calling All The Heroes" in 1986, which reached No. 6 in the UK Singles Chart. It Bites split up in 1990 in Los Angeles on the eve of recording their fourth studio album. Commenting on the breakup, Dunnery said: "the band had come to the end. It was a natural process. We fell out over a few things, there wasn't one big issue or problem, it was daft little things. We had just drifted apart. It wasn't anyone's fault, but we split." [6] Following Dunnery's departure, It Bites briefly continued with a new frontman (Lee Knott) and a succession of new names (including Navajo Kiss and Sister Sarah) but split up after failing to sign a new recording deal. A post-breakup It Bites live album (drawn mainly from 1989 concerts) called "Thank You and Goodnight," was released in 1991.

1990–1995: Los Angeles and London

"The last night I drank I had a gun put to my head and I was smoking crack on Hollywood Boulevard, out of my brains on whiskey, crack and crystal meth. It scared the living shit out of me. That was the moment in my life where I went, 'Something's gotta change.'"

Francis Dunnery on quitting alcohol and drug abuse [9]

Following the 1990 break-up of It Bites, Dunnery moved to Los Angeles, indulging what he later acknowledged to be a disastrously hedonistic lifestyle. [10] [6] [9] During this period he recorded his first solo album, Welcome to the Wild Country , which was released on Virgin Records in 1991 and produced by David Hentschel. The record enjoyed little success and was released only in Japan. He regained the rights in 2001, re-issuing it on Aquarian Nation Records. [11] He has since described Welcome to the Wild Country as "having been recorded at a time when I didn't know who I was". Towards the end of his time in Los Angeles, Dunnery addressed his drugs and alcohol problems and cleaned up his lifestyle. He has subsequently been open about his problems with alcohol addiction and drug abuse during this period. [12]

In 1993 Dunnery returned to the UK and joined Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant's live band, performing on several tracks on Plant's 1993 album Fate of Nations and on the accompanying world tour.

Dunnery then released Fearless on Atlantic Records in 1994, promoting the album with his first solo tour of the UK. The Glasgow date of the tour was recorded for a live album, One Night in Sauchiehall Street , released in 1995.

1995–1999: New York and Vermont

In 1995, Dunnery relocated to New York City. His third studio album, Tall Blonde Helicopter, was released on Atlantic that year.

"I try everything and the number of times I fail is unreal, but I never ever let it beat me and I try something else. People might look at me and say that I am successful, but that is just because I try so many different things. Someone once said to me that Americans are not Americans because they are born there, being an American is a state of mind. It is the need to expand and grow, to explore, basically a pioneering spirit ... I think I have that, the American mindset."

Francis Dunnery [6]

In 1996, Dunnery was approached to audition as lead singer for Genesis. [13]

Dunnery's next album Let's Go Do What Happens , was released in 1998 on Razor and Tie Records, initially only in the United States. During this period, Dunnery also played on Lauryn Hill's 1998 debut album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill , and Carlos Santana's 1999 album Supernatural .

"I don't feel fulfilled by just doing music; I have other sides of my nature that I need to express. It's very damaging not to express yourself, so I like to keep my life full and diverse."

Francis Dunnery [14]

Dunnery went into semi-retirement as a musician later in 1998 and set up a new home in the Vermont mountains where he devoted the next few years to breeding and training horses (for which he studied under John Lyons, the "horse whisperer" [6] ) as well as carpentry, astrology, and Jungian psychology. [15]

2000–2003: Return to music

In 2000, inspired by watching a televised Shakti concert, Dunnery later admitted he "realised there was still a musician in me, and that I had to be as true to that side of my character as I was being to the other sides." [6] He decided to re-engage with the music business by returning to the UK for the first time in five years to play a few concerts, and by creating his own internet-based record label, Aquarian Nation, with the intention of releasing his future albums as well as albums by other artists. [15]

For the UK tour, Dunnery formed a new backing band called The Grass Virgins, featuring second guitarist Dave Colquhoun, bass guitarist Matt Pegg, and singer/keyboard player Erin Moran, followed soon afterwards by a larger tour and support slots with Hootie and the Blowfish.

Dunnery's first new album following his comeback was Man , released in 2001. On the album, Dunnery said: "I was very depressed when I wrote the 'Man' CD. It was a difficult birth. I was going through such turmoil in my life. My mother was dying, my relationship was ending, and in complete contrast, my daughter Ava was being born. [But] I think I'm at peace with that side of my life now." [16] Dunnery toured the UK to promote Man, accompanied by Matt Pegg on bass guitar. A live album – Hometown 2001 – was recorded 14 June 2001 at the Whitehaven Civic Hall in Cumbria and released later the same year.

During 2002, Dunnery played on and produced several albums released on Aquarian Nation. The first of these releases was Chris Difford's I Didn't Get Where I Am, with whom Dunnery also toured to promote the album. This was followed by John & Wayne's debut Nearly Killed Keith, and Songs From the Mission of Hope, the debut album by Stephen Harris.

In 2003, Dunnery performed with former It Bites members John Beck, Dick Nolan and Bob Dalton at the Union Chapel, with the event was recorded and released on DVD as Live at the Union Chapel the following year.


In 2005, Dunnery released The Gulley Flats Boys , a more sedate and acoustic album than its predecessor, featuring next to no drum or percussion parts and sparse use of electric guitar. It was recorded by Dunnery with piano/keyboard player David Sancious and Dorie Jackson on backing vocals.

"(The house concerts) give the incredible feeling of being heard. For an artist – in fact, for every human being – it's an incredible and fabulous feeling to sense that someone really heard what you said or played... During the house concerts there's the intimacy of one man with an acoustic guitar, talking to people about philosophical things. You can't really get into people's souls like that if they've had a pint of beer and are standing screaming at a rock god."

Francis Dunnery on playing house concerts [10]

In 2005, Dunnery embarked on a "house concert" world tour, suggesting to fans that they book him to perform in their own homes for a paying audience, in a drug and alcohol-free environment. Dunnery continues to perform house concerts to this day. [10]

In October 2007 Dunnery released a free download of Feels Like Summertime, a song which had initially been written for It Bites shortly before the band's original split in 1990 and was reworked as part of the unsuccessful 2003 reunion.


In 2008, Dunnery performed numerous solo performances and house concerts, this time centred on material from Tall Blonde Helicopter. His summer and fall schedule included a full-band tour, culminating in a performance in Seattle which was recorded by Flying Spot, Inc. for subsequent release as a special edition concert/documentary DVD. (Originally scheduled for a 2009 release and titled Louder Than Usual, this was finally released in September 2010 as a DVD with accompanying CD)

In 2010, Dunnery released an "official video bootleg" DVD from the 2001 Man tour, titled In The Garden of Mystic Lovers, and produced and played on Snowman Melting, the first solo album by James Sonefeld of Hootie and the Blowfish.[ citation needed ]

Dunnery joined Steve Nardelli's revived 1960s progressive rock/beat band The Syn as guitarist, playing alongside Nardelli, keyboard player Tom Brislin and bass player Jamie Bishop as well as two members of American progressive rock band Echolyn,guitarist Brett Kull and drummer Paul Ramsey. [17]

There's a Whole New World Out There , released on 3 October 2009, featured a new group, The New Progressives, plus guest musicians performing reworkings of It Bites songs. The New Progressives toured the UK, American and Australia to promote the record, with guest appearances from other musicians.

In 2009, Jem Godfrey (Frost*) announced on the Frost* Forum that he and Dunnery had both contributed solos to the title track of Big Big Train's upcoming album, The Underfall Yard . [18]


On 12 August 2011, Dunnery released Made in Space and supported the album with a tour of the UK, which featured himself and Dorie Jackson. He also announced that he would be recorded a cover version of Peter Gabriel's The Rhythm of the Heat as part of Sonic Elements, a new "fantasy rock" band put together by Dave Kerzner.

In 2012, Dunnery made a guest appearance on Steve Hackett's album Genesis Revisited II , singing on two tracks – "Dancing With the Moonlit Knight" and "Supper's Ready" (the "As Sure As Eggs Is Eggs (Aching Men's Feet)" section) – as well as contributing additional guitar. Dunnery also made a guest appearance on Hackett's subsequent Genesis Revisited tour, singing at the Arcada Theater show in St Charles, Illinois on 20 September 2013, and at the Scottish Rites Auditorium in Collingswood, New Jersey.

From late 2012 to autumn 2013, Dunnery recorded Frankenstein Monster , a covers album featuring songs from his brother's former band Necromandus. Regarding the album, Dunnery commented: "I must say that this has been one hell of a journey both emotionally and musically. I learned so much about my brother during the making of this album and so much about myself ... Listening back now as it comes into focus I am very pleased and proud of the results. We have kept very close to the originals, sometimes exact and where it need a little more musicality or space we were smart enough to add our own parts without ruining the song. I know exactly what Baz would have liked so I only added things I know he would have liked. [19]

In late 2013, Dunnery put together The Sensational Francis Dunnery Electric Band, which toured both Necromandus songs and songs from the Francis Dunnery back catalogue. [19] The band also featured on Dunnery's 2016 release Vampires, an album of re-recorded It Bites songs.

Since January 2016, Dunnery has presented "The Francis Dunnery Radio Show" on British progressive rock radio station Progzilla Radio. [20]

Musical style

"When I heard John McLaughlin on fire, I wanted to be on fire like that. When I heard Allan Holdsworth, I could hear a different approach and wanted to know what he was doing. I once saw Shakti on a TV show in the '70s, and these guys played themselves into a fucking frenzy and the molecules were jumping around. It was always that kind of stuff that excited me about music ... Later in It Bites, we were criticised for being virtuosos, but I was silly enough to think that I could change people's opinions about musicianship. I thought I could get everyone to listen to Soft Machine, Yes, Focus and Pink Floyd. And I badmouthed bands like The Smiths, saying that they couldn't play!"

Francis Dunnery on early musical influences, [10]

Dunnery's musical approach is diverse. His early musical influences were progressive rock (with Genesis being a particular inspiration) [7] and jazz-rock fusion musicians including John McLaughlin, Soft Machine, Focus, Return to Forever and Jeff Beck. [10]

His aggressive and dramatic playing style merges hard rock, pop and funk stylings with a fluid, spiralling hammer-on lead-guitar technique inspired by Allan Holdsworth. He has criticised his lead guitar approach at that time as having been immature. [10] He has also incorporated elements of jazz, classical and country fingerpicking into his style. [21]

On his songwriting, Dunnery has said: "I cannot write songs on a nine-to-five basis. At the risk of sounding pretentious, my songs come from somewhere else and I have to wait for them, so it's not up to me when I receive them. When the songs start to come, they all come at the same time. I may get 20 songs in three to four days and then it all stops again." [16] [22]

"If rap stars can go on about the drug dealer on 73rd Street in Compton then why can't I sing about Gulley Flatts or Thornhill? That is my history, I am as valid as they are. I love Cumbria, that is where my roots are. I sing about Wasdale and Murphy's pies, because that is part of my history."

Francis Dunnery on letting his Cumbrian roots feed into his songwriting [6]

Aside from singing and playing the guitar, Dunnery plays drums, bass guitar, organ, keyboards, percussion and tapboard (a guitar-related instrument).

Personal life

Dunnery has a daughter, Francine Nicholson from a relationship with Jackie O'Sullivan. He married American singer Julie Daniels (frontwoman of the rock band Star 69) on 8 December 1990 in Las Vegas, Nevada. [23] He was later in a relationship with Helena Faccenda, with whom he had a daughter, Ava Faccenda-Dunnery, in 1999. Around 2004 he met his girlfriend Erica Brilhart. During their relationship they had two children, Elsie (2012) and Frankie (2015) Dunnery.

Dunnery's nephew, John Dunnery, has contributed to his uncle's live concerts and recordings.

Charitable work

In 2002, Dunnery founded the Charlie and Kathleen Dunnery Children's Fund [24] a volunteer-run fundraising charity based in his hometown of Egremont, and named in honour of his late parents. Explaining his reasons for setting up the charity, Dunnery has said "My mother was a wonderful woman... so this is my way of honouring her and my dad. A line in one of my songs is that the only thing you get to keep is what you give away – I like that idea. I think that by the time you are 40 if you aren't doing something to help others then you probably should be. People take all the time and I think it is nice to put something back." [6]

The fund raises money for projects and activities supporting the health, wellness and educational needs of children and young people in the Egremont area. [25] He continues to support the charity via regular concerts in Egremont as well as participation in and publicity for various sponsored events. [26] [27]


Studio albums




Other appearances

as group member

guest and session appearances

as producer

  • Chris Difford I Didn't Get Where I Am (Aquarian Nation, 2002) – also co-wrote and played guitars and keyboards on all tracks.
  • John & WayneNearly Killed Keith (Aquarian Nation, 2002) – also co-wrote and played drums and organ on all tracks.
  • Stephen Harris Songs From The Mission of Hope (Aquarian Nation, 2002) – also co-wrote and played guitar, piano and Mellotron on all tracks.
  • John Gilmour SmithThe Story We've Been Sold (Aquarian Nation, 2010) – also co-wrote, and sang on several tracks

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  23. First Name: Francis
    Last Name: Dunnery
    Gender: Male
    Spouse First Name: Julie
    Spouse Middle Name: C
    Spouse Last Name: Daniels
    Spouse Gender: Female
    Marriage Date: 8 December 1990
    Marriage Location: Clark, NVMarriage info: Record Type: Marriage Record
    Instrument Number: 92705
    Book: 1214
    Page: C247510
    Certificate Number: 1990982705
    Recorded Date: 14 December 1990
    Recorded County: Clark
    Collection: Nevada Marriage Records data
    Source: Nevada Department of Health and Human Services (1966–2007); collection of Nevada marriage records was provided by Nevada's Department of Health and Human Services, 4126 Technology Way, Suite 100, Carson City, Nevada 89706
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  25. Charlie and Kathleen Dunnery Children's Fund website; accessed 14 April 2010
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  27. "Dunnery Fund Helps Provide Magnificent Library for Bookwell". Egremont Today. 12 July 2005. Archived from the original on 10 July 2011. Retrieved 14 April 2010.