All The Way From Water Orton
The Felt Reissue Series … pt 3
I hear a lot about Ten Year Plans during the working
week. And sometime at the end of the ‘80s Lawrence declared that there had been a Ten Year Plan for Felt. They would make it through the ‘80s,
release ten singles and ten LPs, then disappear out the decade in a silver
space ship. And they would end it all with the fantastic country soul set Me
And A Monkey On The Moon, and that would be that.
That grand finale, that goodbye, would be produced by Adrian Borland, of the somewhat less than wonderful band The Sound. Lawrence’s links with Adrian went back to the early ‘80s, and there is a fantastic story of Felt being booked to support The Sound at a Club 18-30 event in Great Yarmouth, and lasting just a few minutes before the revellers made their feelings known. And that day Lawrence’s old school friend Nick Gilbert purposefully wore a trendy tracksuit top to irritate his band leader. It backfired because someone from PiL had worn one recently, so that was alright then. But that was the beginning of the end for Nick.
And while there are plenty of other stories of that sort to have Lawrence hallmarked as one of the great English eccentrics, as irresistible as such tales are they do detract from appreciating just how singularly gifted Felt were. But then again, PJ Proby’s strange stories provided the inspiration for Nik Cohn to create the immortal I Am Still The Greatest Says Johnny Angelo (now back in print through No Exit). And we have to hope Lawrence’s legend will yet one day provide the source material for the greatest of pop books.
So we left Lawrence with the very up ultra-pop of Forever Breathes, possibly on the brink of genuine success. To which Lawrence responded by bringing out a beautifully melancholic record exquisitely called Poem Of The River, which remains my favourite Felt set. Because I like my Felt sulky and sullen. Because it was another strange sidestep. And it was produced by Mayo Thompson, who could probably tell some strange stories of days with the Red Crayola, Pere Ubu, and the Rough Trade in crowd of the early ‘80s. By then Lawrence had cultivated this strange persona which was a mix of obsessive awkward outsider hidden away in odd orderliness and romantic starsailor hanging out with the beautiful people in the most fabulous of apartments. And it was irresistible.
Sometime around 1987 becoming 1988 Lawrence must have realised he was never going to be the prettiest of stars lighting up the silver screen. And it hurt. And it inspired the best of Felt’s pop oeuvre. Hence The Pictorial Jackson Review, recorded quickly in a back-to-basics way with genial Joe Foster. This was a clever move, as Joe is responsible for many of the earlier Creation recordings still sounding great now. He had a gift for making groups sounding more raw than they really were, and it is disappointing he did not develop his talents. But thankfully he is still out there unearthing lost treasure and releasing it through his Revola outlet.
So the main part of Pic is fantastically formulaic Felt with lots of sulks and sighs, and Lawrence having found a more simple way of making his feelings known in stark contrast to the earlier poetic flights of fancy. Then it was the turn of Duffy to express himself, with some expressionistic jazz sketches, which are again quite lovely. I am not sure how the purists would view these, but my view still is that if they stimulate any sort of interest in the great jazz recordings then it has to be a good thing. Like, say, the startlingly appropriate inclusion of Donald Byrd’s 'Cristo Redentor' on the A Bronx Tale soundtrack must surely have prompted people to buy records like New Perspective and Mustang, which is what I hope whenever I attack my keyboard in this way.
The companion set to Pic was Train Above The City, an imaginary New York soundtrack which again pre-empted the resurgence of interest in exotica and easy listening. It’s another classic Felt sidestep. The irony this time around is that Cherry Red initially got their pressings mixed up, and Train Above The City was put out to all intents and purposes as Pic. The ever-meticulous Lawrence must have been furious or highly amused.
Then for the classy climax Felt were back on Cherry Red, and saved face by appearing on its subsidiary él, the idiosyncratic indulgence of cultural chameleon Mike Alway, where at least the Shockheaded Peters and Vic Godard had passed by. Me And A Monkey On The Moon is a gorgeous and occasionally incredibly sad record. It features one of my all-time favourite lines in “shadows that are falling are merely angels calling”. And it is as good as Dexys’ Don’t Stand Me Down and the Blue Orchids’ 'Agents of Change'. There is even a guitar solo at the end of 'New Day Dawning' that suggests the otherworldly beauty of the Carpenters. And the new inside cover features my favourite Lawrence portrait where he is clutching a copy of Herbert Gold’s The Man Who Was Not In It.
So that was that. You’ve got to love Felt. There will never be another group like them. Lawrence, of course, returned with a group cut from a very different cloth. Myself, I never guessed the special place his home town Water Orton would go on to play in my own life, but that’s another story.
© 2004John Carney