Robin Murray

22 · 04 · 2022

A few years back, a then-unknown Louis Dunford shambled onstage at his local open mic night in North London. The shy, nervous youngster just about got through his short set, entertaining three men and a dog before emerging outside. Spotting the church venue opposite, he made a solemn vow: to sell out that venue, and do it quickly.

What once seemed like bravado comes real tonight, with a packed out Union Chapel feverishly waiting for his entrance. A local boy made good – Louis grew up on the streets close by – there’s an incredible sense of connection between the songwriter and the crowd, something evident from the first note of the first song. There’s only a slim catalogue behind him – recent EP ‘The Popham’ is his second – but the crowd seems to know every word to every song.

Standouts like ‘When We Were Hooligans’ and ‘Bossman’ are greeted rapturously, and there’s a raucous, football-like element to the sway of the audience, the Union Chapel’s pews being pushed to the brink. But there’s an emotional edge, too: Louis Dunford is telling stories about their lives, stories that aren’t often told in the mainstream.

There’s the heart-stopping ‘Ballad Of Benjamin’ and its visceral narrative about the consequences of knife crime; or ‘Henry The Brave’ and its potent contextualisation of the life and cruel death of Henry Hicks, who died aged only 18 after a chase involving the Met Police. His family – who are in the crowd this evening – fought for five years to gain an apology; no one within the force has faced any form of repercussion.

It’s perhaps this ability to speak truth to power that lends Louis’ music such communicative powers. Big tales told about simple lives, he casts the ordinary in a new light – it’s like Springsteen’s New Jersey, or Sam Fender’s North East narratives. While the music industry may be providing a glut of Solo Male Performers – think Lewis Capaldi, Tom Walker, Tom Grennan – there’s a refreshing authenticity to what Louis Dunford does. Retaining elements of that shy demeanour, he’s left to scratch his head in wonder as he performs home-town hymn ‘The Angel’, with the crowd singing back every special word.

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Words: Robin Murray

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