Felt & Lawrence: Down But Not Yet Out

Felt are loved or hated – there is no middle ground, no gray area of indifference. Fronted by the eternally enigmatic Lawrence, and Martin Duffy (later of Primal Scream) they occupy a strange realm somewhere between early indie pop and clichéd adolescent mood music. Lawrence (whose surname remains a mystery some 30 odd years since his first appearance in the musical world.) formed Felt in 1979, when he was just 16 years old. Felt would continue to release 10 singles and 10 albums over 10 years – disbanding soon after. This sequence of 10 gives them the aura of an art project as opposed to a band. He says this was intentional, but I don’t believe it for a second.

In naming the band, Lawrence took inspiration from Television’s song Venus, and Tom Verlaine’s emphasis on the word felt. A name that was the past tense of emotion spoke strongly to his interest in the punk scene. Yet he wanted the opposite of a punk lifestyle. While he idolized the punk legends, he strongly desired to be rich and famous. In the documentary Lawrence of Belgravia he goes so far as to say that he will relish the day when he no longer has to ride public transportation and instead travel by chauffeur. What a misguided idiot.

He was extraordinarily eccentric – obsessively clean, only ever ate meat, and fired drummer Tony Race because he had curly hair. After dropping acid before a show, he played one song and asked the audience to take back their money and go home – an audience that consisted largely of A&R guys. Ouch.

Their biggest record, Ignite The Seven Cannons (’85), a collaboration with Robin Guthrie of Cocateu Twins fame veered so far away from their standard album format of short, fragmented songs that it could easily have been mistaken for a 4AD release. Odd, when considering that Lawrence et. al. were credited with birthing the indie sound… not that I would agree.

Following up on this ‘fathers of the indie sound’ sort of thing, Fortune, off their first LP draws an easy comparison to the Smiths – lazy, detached vocals, jangley guitar . And if any artist should be considered the origin of the ‘indie sound’ (What does that even mean? Jangley guitars? Annoyingly eccentric frontmen?) it’s the Smiths. Moving on.

Felt are a musician’s band – redundant, I know. But if it has been well over two decades since your last release, and you only receive recognition from fringe publications and outsider artists, you’re a fucking musician’s band.  Sure, they occasionally placed high in the indie charts, but they disliked the idea of touring because it would dissolve their air of mystery – which of course backfired commercially. While Felt never moved into the clichéd 80s sound, they still feel like a quintessential 80s band – perhaps this is the reason why they are often detached from the 80s culture. Or maybe it’s because Lawrence is.. difficult.

Tim Burgess (of The Charlatans) in an interview once described felt as “Definitely written for the detached and for the outsider.” Fit the bill? Give ‘em a try.

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