There are moments in life when a song just stops you. From the very first second to the second it ends, all you can do is listen, caught under its spell. When it feels like the song fills the air around you, and all you can do is breathe it in.
Those sorts of songs don’t come along that often, but 'Black Limousine' by Louis Brennan is one of them. A brooding sorrowful hymn that dips and swells around his murky baritone croon, as he free-associates his thoughts and feelings following the funeral of his father.
The London-based Dubliner is a singer-songwriter in the folk tradition, but while other contemporary folk singers turn to traditional touch points for inspiration, Brennan’s muses are the repressed middle managers and ennui-ridden urbanites of late-stage capitalism. These are the characters who inhabit his pre-apocalyptic tales of big city disaffection; tales of bad sex, half-drunk night bus journeys through suburbia and crushing existential anxiety, peppered with pitch-black humour and embarrassing intimacies.
On his last album, Dead Capital, he took the steamy melodrama of the Tindersticks and Leonard Cohen and added a light country dusting, turning his darkly comic gutter ballads into uniquely London-centric Americana songs. Like a chirpier Colter Wall lost in a world of characters lifted from a Mike Leigh film, Brennan is the all singing central character of his own metropolitan end-of-the-world tragicomedy, watching the world as it falls apart in front of him.
Watch the video for 'Black Limousine' exclusively premiering on Holler below
Written after his father died last year, Louis describes how 'Black Limousine' came about.
“On Thursday August 19th. my Dad, Louis Snr. died suddenly after a short illness. I was rehearsing in Crouch End that evening with Ned who plays keys with me for an upcoming show we had booked in Bath. My brother David phoned me shortly before the rehearsal to tell me my Dad had been taken to hospital, but he was being well looked after. I didn’t think much of it but nevertheless I declined the invite for post rehearsal pints at the Betsey Trotwood and took the train home from Haringey to Essex Road. David phoned me shortly thereafter and told me Dad had died half an hour earlier.
At Stansted Airport there were only 13 departures on the big screen for the entire day and most of the retail outlets were still closed due to COVID. I made some difficult phone calls and waited for the gate number to be announced. My sister Síle picked me up at Dublin Airport, neither of us had slept much but it was a huge relief to see her.
The funeral would be on Tuesday and my Mother had put me in charge of the music. The house was a hive of activity, well-wishers and baked goods all weekend. It felt like I was having a slow-motion panic attack as in between dozens of cups of coffee I tried to grab some moments alone to arrange the songs my mother had chosen for the funeral and cremation.
After a mass celebrated by my Dad’s lifelong friend Father Ciary Quirke - in the same church he was Baptised and married in - I sat beside my Mother in the limousine that followed the hearse to Mt. Jerome crematorium. After several days of rain, the August heat was stifling and my throat was dry. As the curtains closed on the wicker coffin containing my Father’s remains I sang “I’ll Fly Away”. I played a cheap Argos guitar I’d hastily bought on a previous trip to Dublin in March 2020, cut short by the Pandemic and imminent lockdowns; it was the last time I saw my Dad in good health.
Two days later I flew to Spain to celebrate the thrice-postponed wedding of my oldest friend to the love of his life. I was hesitant to go but life had to continue. As the two newlyweds left the cathedral having started a new life together, I once again sang “I’ll Fly Away”
When I returned to London everything was familiar but entirely changed by what had happened. The previous weeks were a blur. There’s a whole canon of music and songs whose universalism gives voice to the indescribable grief the loss of a loved one brings about but what did these songs I’d sung say about my Dad?
Certainly, death and grief are not unique, nor is love. Is the universal self-contained or is it cumulative? I went for a walk to clear my head and when I came back I wrote ‘Black Limousine’ in one sitting, something I’ve very rarely if ever done before. It didn’t say anything new, but it gave me a sense of ownership over what others had said before.
That Saturday I sang ‘Black Limousine’ for the first time at the show in Bath I’d been rehearsing for with Ned the night my Dad died. Although not a man of faith myself, I was reminded of words from one of the oldest song books of them all, “To everything there is a season”
'Black Limousine' will be released on January 28th