“I don’t want to say thank you to God because I think I did this all by myself”. Surprisingly not my words (although I’ve never quite understood how Brandon Flowers can justify the intervention of the divine in an industry described by Hunter S. Thompson as “a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs”), but those given by the mononymous Lawrence upon his acceptance of the Q Maverick Award in October ’18. You’re unlikely to have heard of him but his inspiration runs deep through the dark underbelly of the indie cult. As a devout follower of this sect, it would be heresy for me not to include a Lawrence LP in this writing series, and so, with three Hail Marys (screamed à la Black Francis), here beginneth the lesson.
Lawrence has been peddling his wares around the English music scene for the last forty years. Formed in Water Orton in ’79, Lawrence’s first band Felt attracted critical acclaim from all the major press and media outlets (bar the oracular John Peel who was not, for some unfathomable reason, a fan — David Gedge once said to me that Peel was like the Roman Emperor (if his thumb went down then it was curtains) — is there a more apt testament to Gedge’s theorem than Lawrence’s career?). With their unique brand of European jangle pop, Felt churned out an admirable one LP per year, and by ’85 they rose to the top of the independent charts with their single ‘Primitive Painters’ (the music video for which, in a long distant life, my father directed). Joined at various points by Primal Screamer Martin Duffy and my good friend Phil King of later Lush and Jesus and Mary Chain fame, Felt released ten LPs in ten years through Cherry Red and Alan McGee’s Creation Records, yet no dice in terms of commercial success (Phil often regales me with stories of Felt tours, where he and Lawrence were forced to sleep in the same bed “like an indie Morecambe and Wise” due to a lack of funds). Wrapping up the band in ’89, Lawrence switched musical territory and created Denim; a glam-rock-come-satire project, with various members of The Glitter Band providing musical accompaniment. Debuting in ’92 with Back In Denim (engineered by the inimitable John Leckie, who famously exclaimed that “I’ve worked with Phil Spector and John Lennon and Syd Barrett, but I can’t take this anymore. You’re [Lawrence] madder than any of them.”), critical praise came thick and fast but, as Lawrence retrospectively commented, “The tills were closed”. ’97 was to herald the first sniff of commercial success, with Denim’s single ‘Summer Smash’ becoming Radio 1’s Single of the Week and the accompanying LP undoubtedly set to chart upon its September release. Yet Princess Diana’s death in August ’97 led EMI to shelve the single and upcoming album, feeling it would be in poor taste to release a song with such a name, and Lawrence was dropped by the label. After taking a three-year hiatus, Lawrence formed electro-pop outfit Go-Kart Mozart in 2000, releasing their debut Instant Wigwam and Igloo Mixture on Cherry Red subsidiary West Midlands Records. Following this, Lawrence decamped to Bark Studios in Walthamstow with band in tow to record their sophomore offering, Tearing Up The Album Charts.
Down drops the needle and the record crackles to life. The opening track ‘Glorious Chorus’ conjures a sense of childish innocence as viral honkey tonker Terry Miles fingers his synthesiser and Lawrence waxes lyrical about his paramour. Milton Berle famously asserted that “Humour is an instant vacation”, and whilst I doubt that Lawrence was binge watching re-runs of Texaco Star Theatre around the time of recording (although, knowing Lawrence, it is entirely plausible), he certainly imbibes the spirit of Berle. Nursery rhyme melodics and quintessential rock ‘n roll lyricism pair in the most surprising sonic formula, transporting the listener to a blissful crib away from the horrors of daily life. A wonderful Anglo-American wryness also permeates; one can identify the influence of various Davies’ records in the urban commentary (‘City Centre’) or Television’s Tom Verlaine in the musings on narcotic addition (‘Donna and The Dopefiends’). And let us not forget the high quality of song writing Lawrence is famed for; the chord progressions of ‘Electric Rock & Roll’ and the bubble-gum catchiness of ‘Summer Is Here’ indicating a certain commercial potential. I shan’t dwell on the production, apart from commenting that Brian O’Shaughnessy does well at sculpting the sonic aesthetic of the LP, maintaining (where appropriate) the live sound of the band whilst embracing the technological wonders of the modern studio.
Lawrence continues to create, with his most recent LP Mozart’s Mini-Mart released in 2016. But I know that I will not have the same feelings towards any other production of his than Tearing Up The Album Chart. Truth be told, my childhood was defined by instability, and music (as it is to so many) was my tonic. Every weekend in ’05, I could count on the playing of this LP in the car journey up the A3 to my father’s home in London, half-imbued with a deep sadness at being temporarily bereft of my mother and half-excitement with the thought of time in the capital. I suppose it is this greyness of emotion which this album symbolises to me, evoking the angsts and uncertainties that that little boy felt in yesteryear, but in the full knowledge that one can find stability in the sonic; a temporary alleviation of the adult horrors that a child can neither control nor understand. And in pre-pubescence, the LP provided the same function, as more fluctuation was hoisted upon the shoulders of the young Josef; but to paraphrase that old sweetheart Horace Rumpole, “It is the golden thread of pop music that runs through the life of J. Oscar Weinstein”, and thank god. So I must say thank you to Lawrence and all of the others whose music has saved my life; for providing that glimmer of light in the dark times, and making survival just that bit more manageable.
As Les McQueen from Crème Brulee succinctly put it in The League of Gentlemen, “the music industry … it’s a shit business!”. A quip applicable to so many artists and bands smited from on high, but perhaps Lawrence’s career is the most indicative example of how those who pave the sonic way are often criminally neglected. As ever, listen to the record and decide for yourself. Godspeed to Lawrence, and let us hope that one day he acquires the recognition he is undoubtedly due.
Featured image of Lawrence courtesy of Danny Weinstein.
Tearing Up The Album Chart was recorded throughout the early 2000s at Bark Studios, Walthamstow, London, United Kingdom. Released July 12 2005 on West Midlands Records.
Track Choice – ‘Electric Rock & Roll’
Word Choice – “While we’re scrounging our next drink; We ain’t got time to think of a future plan; We’re getting tipped off; Then it’s lift off; You’ll get ripped off as we pull our latest scam”.