- Bobby West
- Sara Wolff
When an artist difficult to fit into easily defined perimeters comes to town (Francis Lung’s early recordings were lo-fi bedroom efforts; his debut album an understated combination of 60s and chamber pop on a bedrock of winsome indie) arranging suitable local supports can be a challenge.
Opener SARAH WOLFF is a wise choice; the Norwegian loose and restrained with full band and easy chatter between songs. Wolff’s tone is perfect and on the cool side of sweet, her songs beautifully melodic but with bewitching, dark undertones.
To fit all seven members of BOBBY WEST’s band onto the stage is a challenge too far. There’s no room for the singer himself. The former Broken Men singer leaps from the mellow and restrained Don’t Be Polite and veers scarily to a hip thrusting Tom Jones at his most raunchy. West has a pleasing warm baritone, though, and it’s all quite amusing if you’ve come along to indulge in some delicate and romantic melancholic melodies from FRANCIS LUNG.
Manchester’s Tom McClung has had a zig-zag career trajectory. In the early part of this decade he was bass player and co-songwriter of the mysterious and mischievous WU LYF, before going solo as Francis Lung and releasing two very strong solo EPs – both teasing at an even bigger ambition.
The profile of those recordings did insufficient justice to someone who is a very outstanding songwriter indeed, and his debut solo album A Dream Is U from this summer proved a personal highlight of the year. This more accomplished work may go over some heads but those who do delight in it are intoxicated by an album flavoured with shivers of dreamy, gentle psychedelia.
During his performance, I’m wearily sad to report a drunk man insisted in rubbing up against me while I was sat. And, while a woman should be able to enjoy a glass of wine and tunes carefree, it’s satisfying to see that even venues as bijou as 81 Renshaw on such a busy night notice such things and act quickly and without fuss. I doubt this happens at Francis Lung shows too much and the incident involving “that dickhead” (staff member’s words) faded in the memory as the band’s quietly confident performance charmed and engaged. McClung’s story about finding a tooth pick in his chips at a Liverpool restaurant, his waiter pithily writing in the accident book “Injury – small prick in mouth” raises giggles all around.
The album comes to life on this tiny stage. Up & Down is sing-along fantastic, bursts big and in full glorious technicolour. Coralie Monnet’s girl-group backing floats above a piano-keyboard that sounds slightly unhinged. Such touches make up the magic. On Unnecessary Love, a wistful love letter to The Left Banke, maybe, synths deliver the violin parts without the drama of the recording but we’re not robbed. Even when the McClung picks up the gleaming saxophone for album closer The Lie, it’s understated, never showy, lulling us in and the low, long harmonies from the band are bloody gorgeous.
Fans of the two solo EPs are catered for, Back One Day’s “give it back” refrain tugging at the memory. There’s neither room nor budget for Francis Lung to have a full baroque ’n’ roll set-up this evening, probably a good thing all told. Less is definitely, wonderfully more. And it’s a total pleasure to let the songs sink in, dickhead free.