writes a love letter
Francis Lung is the alias of Manchester based musician Tom McLung. Formerly a member of the much loved yet short lived band WU LYF, he's been releasing solo material for nearly a decade. 2019's A Dream Is U, his first full length, is an atmospheric album which spans the emotional spectrum - moments of euphoria, melancholy, and nostalgia coexist, as do jangling guitar riffs and soaring string sections.
For Hook's Love Letter series, Francis Lung wanted to celebrate Mark Hollis of Talk Talk and the influence Hollis' music has on his own work. Read his tribute to the late singer below:
“And yet I'll gaze
At the colour of spring
Immerse in that one moment
Left in love with everything”
There’s a particular feeling I get when I listen to Mark Hollis’ later work. His voice and the music surrounding it share a peculiar, contradictory quality. Both are powerful, yet fragile. Both are emotional, yet somehow almost stoic. There’s anger in there too, but it evaporates almost as soon as it appears. When he sings, notes are as likely to soar and disappear like shooting stars as they are to shiver bitterly under his breath, like pangs of regret on a hungover morning. I suppose the feeling Hollis’ voice and music gives me is somewhere between hushed wonder and a deep ache in my chest. There really isn’t anyone else that sounded quite like him.
That ‘deep ache’ I was talking about can be felt at 2:46 in Spirit Of Eden’s ‘The Rainbow’. After the rallying cry of bluesy harmonica just seconds before, your heart rate rises in anticipation of something huge happening, but what enters catches you totally off guard. A drum kit (snares off, bone dry and menacing) pairs with bass guitar (a thumb strumming barely audible chords) to deliver a seductive, understated and primal groove. Your wary heartbeat starts to slow again, warmed by the excitement, steadied by the insistence of the beat. You realise this music is trying to penetrate somewhere deep within yourself.
A different drum kit unwittingly plays proto trip-hop far away in the corner of an echo chamber. I don’t think it can hear the rest of the band. As the music shifts and changes around it, it neither reacts nor falters, like a tape loop. It approaches softly, a metallic ringing getting steadily louder, a comforting force pattering underneath a malevolent F7 chord. At 1:26, a bass guitar figure orders the band to transpose down a whole tone to Eb7 and back again, showing the listener that the groove can be even more unsettling. Then, the unease is broken. The glints of darkness give way to a yearning D minor chord, and at 1:41 a Hammond organ cries out in desperation. It’s here that the true emotion of ‘After The Flood’ (from 1991’s Laughing Stock) is revealed. It laments a profound, otherworldly loneliness, and it’s a moment that often reduces me to tears. Neither Hollis’ anguished calls for ‘death to the spectre’, nor the agony of the frantic, two note guitar solo at 4:01 can better After The Flood’s 1:41 organ figure as one of the most emotive moments in the history of Hollis’ music.
Silence is one of the most talked about aspects of Hollis’ music. He - now famously - stated ‘I’d rather hear one note played well than two notes played badly, and I’d rather hear no notes than I would one’. This reductive philosophy is in fact a theory of maximization, the silence between notes providing greater emphasis to what is played.
In the opening track of his eponymous debut, Hollis’ use of silence is at its most explicit. For the first eight seconds of ‘The Colour Of Spring’ there is a silence that might make you think your volume is turned all the way down. Then, when you’ve turned your stereo up too loud, you’re greeted by a warm sound that could be easily mistaken for silence – Tape hiss (0:09). Usually a symptom of a lower quality tape recorder, or sometimes a factor of recording excessively quiet music, the tape hiss in ‘The Colour Of Spring’ illuminates a new kind of silence in that it is recording the moment before a musician starts to play. In fact there are seventeen seconds and two different kinds of ‘silence’ before the first piano chord is heard. This creation of mood is more akin to an atmosphere created by a musician in a live setting – the audience must wait for the musician to play a song before it can be heard, and the longer they wait, the more tension is created. As we wait for Hollis to play, it’s like he’s in the room with us, readying himself.
Inside Looking Out
In Hollis’s later work, every note has a purpose. Hollis and producer Tim Frieese-Greene would pore over hours of improvised sketches of music, searching for passages where every musician clicked and knitting them together to create musical collages that embodied the spontaneous spirit of Hollis’ vision. Perhaps the greatest example of Hollis’ minimalism is in his vocal approach. Hollis would generally compose his vocals after the fact, when the music already existed. He would improvise instinctively based on when he felt moments needed the punctuation of his voice, singing nonsense words. Then he would listen carefully to the nonsense and apply words that were phonetically similar to his utterances, retaining the feeling of the spontaneous improvisations while imbuing them with new meaning.
When Hollis sings ‘Forget our fate’ in ‘The Colour Of Spring’ it is deeply affecting, encouraging us to forget our ultimate fate, death, in favour of ‘immersing in that one moment’ of the first day of spring and its glorious regeneration.
For me, it’s the sentiments and the intention behind Hollis’ music that will colour his legacy. Not a word or a note too many, not an indulgence or unnecessary moment in sight. In an age of constant change, self-promotion and endless streams of virtual content, a moment of silence is rare. I’m reassured by the existence of Hollis’ music, and I’d like to believe that many new kinds of silence will be discovered and inspired by his output, as culture eventually tires of its own reflection as it often has, looking inward to discover its true self once more.