Manchester’s notorious mythmakers WU LYF burned fiercely, briefly at the beginning of this decade. They played kiss-chase games with the press before coming to an abrupt end after just one album.
Bound to happen really, no one can be too cool for school for long.
More positively, in the wake of the split it emerged bass player Tom McLung hid his light way deep under a bushel during his WU LYF tenure. His subsequent solo EPs, under the moniker Francis Lung, showed depths and imagination from a very skilled songwriter indeed.
Home recorded and lo-fi they might have been, the two releases Vol I (Faeher’s Son)and Vol II (Mother’s Son) carried eleven revelatory and intimate songs of blood ties and affairs of the heart, yet it took until this summer for a debut Francis Lung album to arrive. And what a delight A Dream Is U is, produced by Brendan Williams (Dutch Uncles, Go Go Penguin) and released by Memphis Industries (Field Music, Jesca Hoop).
McLung’s ambition to be a ‘a short Mancunian boy single-handedly trying to incite Beatlemania’ with the record may be tongue in cheek but this collection of delicious melodies and beautifully arranged pop songs showcasing affections for ‘baroque ’n roll’ arrangements, chamber pop, The Beatles, Beach Boys, Elliott Smith, Love and vitally, 60s girl groups, is an understated highlight of the year.
It’s certainly true those initial EPs are pick n mix rather than fully cohesive works and when Tom approached making an album it seemed a case of, ‘oh, here’s another genre, another thing that doesn’t fit anywhere’.
One song even seemed at first ‘a bit folky. And I’m not really a folk guy…’
Only when writing the bright and punchy Up And Down did his thoughts nudge the project into an alternate direction. His fondness for the original girls groups, who combined vocal drama and fun with often dark and sobering messages, gave him a fresh angle to work from. When Up And Down was recorded, Tom’s lyrical confession ‘I’m feeling down…’ is balanced with ‘don’t be so down…’ sung back at him Ronettes-style, hitting the perfect mood and tone.
‘That dead pan sort of sound of a lot of those girl groups, the best bit is where they’re all singing out of tune and they’re shouting it in the background. I don’t know if we got that sound (exactly)…you’d have to go way back to get that!’
‘Eventually I had more and more songs and a thread ran through them. It was, “oh this is cool”. I started using chords that I hadn’t really used before, maybe some jazzier chords or strangeness, more dissonant things. I was more interested in this than any other music I’ve made before. I didn’t want to make a record of chilled out beats and wobbly guitars, wigged out synths or something. I wanted to make something very natural and real sounding.’
It’s certainly that and what’s more, the album is exceptionally pretty, a beauty fleshed out by two members of Manchester’s Halle Orchestra on violin, viola and cello. It’s no saccharine exercise, though. Comedown tugs hard, plucking at the sense of heartbreak and melancholy which made The Left Banke’s Michael Brown’s delicate songs of love and loss so unique and precious. And the sweet Elliott Smith yearning of Unnecessary Love is a wrenching listen. Up and Down might be bouncy and bright but explores love and hate, two emotions both scarily close and far apart at the same time.
‘I was a bit worried it was too pretty,’ Tom confesses. ‘But I just went for it. You can’t second guess yourself.’
The original plan was to base the record on the emotional journey within the lifetime of a relationship. A route wisely discarded?
‘It was too hard to make a definitive statement about relationships,’ he says of the shift.
‘I think it’s there if you want it to be. I didn’t want it to only be about that. I guess the narrative that runs through it is there, but intangible. I don’t want it to be so concrete.’
It is appropriate, then, that the album’s cover art echoes a sense of softness, linking in to such a mindset. A woozy dreamy pink, it features a sleeping woman at peace and floating mid-air. On first, second, third glance it resembles a photograph but is in fact a painting.
In Chinese ink by French artist Julien Gorgeart, ‘it captures the spirit of the record. The bedroom is like a safe place and I feel the record is a safe place for people to dream, or imagine a better reality. There’s the pink as well. I feel it’s a gentle record and that’s important to me. It has a girl on the cover is important to me, I want my music to be approachable for everybody, you know? And the fact she is really powerful in that image, she’s defying gravity…’
A Dream Is U as an album seems concerned with sleep quite a lot. Sleep is a very underrated past time, is it not?
‘Totally agreed. It’s so important. I like to take naps!’
he think he’s achieved the Beatlemania ambition he spoke of?
‘I could never achieve that, it’s just the feeling I get when I listen to a really good Beatles song, I wanted to get that feeling when I listen to my own music. That’s my goal. If you listen to I Want To Hold Your Hand when (The Beatles are) performing it in Shea Stadium and all the girls going crazy.
‘I don’t want 10, 000 girls going crazy for me,’ Tom adds hastily. ‘I just want to feel what they felt. I love The Beatles.’
There’s a freshness to The Beatles’ early songs, and a joy of melody. That’s in your work too. You can claim that.
‘I’d like to think so, I’ve realized recently I’m doing this for me and if I was doing it for another reason I think it would come across as not genuine. When I made this record I was on the bones of my arse. I’m still amazing that I made it happen. Just getting it recorded. I couldn’t have done it any differently, that’s for sure.
I just wanted to make music that I like. It’s not really like young people music, if you know what I mean? None of my friends are listening to baroque pop music. It was, “ok, I’m doing this for me then.” I hope people like it!’
18 Oct Hyde Park Book Club – Leeds, 19 Oct Simple Things Festival – Bristol, 20 Oct Swn Festival – Cardiff, 23 Oct Old Blue Last – London, 25 Oct Hug & Pint – Glasgow, 26 Oct Soup Kitchen – Manchester, 1 Nov 81 Renshaw – Liverpool, 2 Nov The Fulford Arms – York.
Interview by Cath Holland