Photography Alex Kurunis

Louis Dunford is London’s next great musical storyteller

The singer-songwriter flexes his talent for nostalgic social commentary on debut EP, 'The Morland'.

by Frankie Dunn
21 January 2021, 8:00am

Photography Alex Kurunis

When Louis Dunford was six years old, his Aunty Lynne taught him the words to “Bohemian Rhapsody” as they drove through the streets of north London. “She blared it on repeat as the pair of us screamed out the opera section,” the singer-songwriter remembers. “For some reason, she used to sing the ‘So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye’ part in a thick German accent which always made me piss myself.” With that sort of introduction to music, it’s only natural that Louis would go on to prove himself a master of emotion in his lyrics.

Throughout his teens, the Islington-born and raised artist turned to music to help him make sense of the often cruel world around him. Noting down verses inspired by his friends, family and community -- the underage nights out, as well as the unfair twists of fate that left young lives lost and others struggling -- Louis’ storytelling is a very personal sort of social commentary.

On his just-released debut EP, The Morland -- named after the estate he was raised on -- Louis takes to the piano to deliver an ode to his miserable but beloved city with lead single “London’s Requiem”. Tear-jerker “Ballad of Benjamin” was written for his best friend, who died as a result of knife crime at just 16, while “Hello Depression” tracks the aftermath. Lightening the mood somewhat, “Regretamine” turns accidental ketamine use into a beautiful sesh song, and “When We Were Hooligans” reflects on a carefree time of teenage delinquency, riding stolen bikes and running from the sound of sirens. 

“It’s a collection of songs that navigate through the best and worst days of my youth,” Louis says. “They are stories from those teenage years where I first experienced real friendship and brotherhood… and my first experience with death, the toll it takes, and the struggles that follow.”

Discover why Louis Dunford made i-D’s list of artists to watch in 2021 via these 10 interesting facts, in his own words… 

1. The first song Louis ever wrote ended up being his first official release
“It was ‘London’s Requiem’, the first single on my EP. It started off as a poem and then when we moved into our new gaff, the old lady who lived there before us left a battered, out of tune piano, which I taught myself how to play chords on. The song just kind of fell into place and I remember thinking, ‘Oh this is kind of easy’. It was a fluke. There’s an old iPhone in my draw full of the absolute shit attempts at songwriting that followed.” 

2. Whatever you do, don’t ask Louis what kind of music he makes
“I hate being asked that. I never know what to say. I normally try to avoid telling strangers that I make music. When I do tell people, I can tell they think I’m chatting shit. I normally just say I try to write about mine and my friends’ lives in as honest a way as possible.

3. There’s a story behind the whistle that opens "When We Were Hooligans"
“There’s not a soul in The Angel who hasn’t heard that whistle. It’s a call and response kind of thing. We used to whistle into the parks at night and if you got a response you’d know someone you knew was in there. My dad used to do it with his mates and I’ve always done it with mine. The police even picked up on it when we were teens and would trick us out of our hiding spots when we were drinking in the park. I could be on another planet and if I heard that whistle I’d know I was about to see someone from home.”

4. That’s his grandad’s mugshot in the middle of the EP artwork
“He was my best friend and an absolute one of a kind. He lived the most incredible life that I’d love to write about one day. A retired criminal turned movie lover, we used to go cinema together nearly every week or eat at his favourite cafe or drink in his favourite pub. The photo of him on my EP is actually his mug shot and it makes me smile every time I see it.”

5. A couple of years ago, Louis almost lost all of his music
“When I was working in the bookshop, I used to write in my notebook all day when it was quiet, and I accidentally threw it in a customer's bag with the books she’d just bought. I ripped the shop apart looking for it before realising what I must’ve done. I was gutted. I didn’t make copies and the book was full of tunes and ideas. Luckily, a month later the lady brought it back. Lesson learnt. I now make copies of everything I write.”

6. Louis worships at the altar of Joni Mitchell 
“I’ve been listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell again lately. She can make you feel so much by saying so little. Something I wish I could do.”

7. It’s unlikely he’ll ever get through a live show without making someone cry
“As long as they're crying at the stories and not my singing, I hope I don’t.”

8. He recommends you get stuck into Bruce Springsteen’s biography
“It’s fucking class. I listened to the audiobook after reading it and it’s even better as it feels like Bruce is telling you a bedtime story.” 

9. Louis would like you to remember that he ran 26.2 miles… twice
“Not many people know that I’ve ran two marathons. It nearly fucking killed me so I want more people to know about it. Gonna have it on my gravestone.”  

10. Most importantly, he hopes to return to the stage in 2021
“I plan on doing more writing, more recording. Seeing my family and friends in the pub as much as possible and finally getting back to playing live (I hope!).”

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