Film: Lawrence Of Belgravia (2011)
Director: Paul Kelly
Felt have been cited by many bands as being a great influence but sadly fame always eluded Felt’s leader, Lawrence. Last year a documentary went into production about Lawrence, a film that was finally released a couple of weeks ago. Louder Than War writer Kevin Robinson was lucky enough to see one of the first screenings of it, one which included a Q’n’A with the star of the film himself.
I first encountered Lawrence at Wembley Arena, of all places. His “novelty rock”Â project Denim were booked to support fellow indie misfits Pulp. Both bands had pre-empted Britpop’s obsession with nostalgia, and the glam rock influenced ‘Back In Denim’ retreated to an English childhood of bovver boys, Chicory Tip, chopper bikes, Camberwick Green and leftover hippies who “looked like Jesus in crushed velvet flares.” It was Pulp however, who, having spent a decade and a half of under appreciation on pop’s periphery, were then being catapulted to fame and fortune. Sixteen years later at this film screening in Kilburn and Lawrence, a skeletal figure, free of surname and perpetually concealed beneath cap and shades, still yearns for pop stardom. Even after years of balls-ups and crushing disappointments, his cravings for fame have not diminished.
Paul Kelly, former collaborator with Saint Etienne, follows Lawrence as he pieces together a new album for Go Kart Mozart, yet steers clear of the clichÃÂ©d rock biopic and the standard fly-on-the-wall documentary. Pitched somewhere between Ondi Timoner’s ‘DiG!’ and Jeff Feuerzeig’s ‘The Devil and Daniel Johnston’, there’s little archive footage, no sycophantic tributes from showbiz mates and not many golden oldies. Suggestions of a dysfunctional existence plagued with debt, mental health problems (“I’m legally bonkers”) and drug addiction are alluded to, yet are never investigated in any depth. Instead, the narrative of the film runs as a series of interviews with journalists and bloggers.
During the opening sequences, the self-titled “misanthropic moribund”Â and neighbour of Margaret Thatcher is seated on the floor of his apartment beside a television and an ashtray stacked high with fag ends. He’ll tell us later that Joan Rivers (we suspect he means Joan Collins, but nevermind) would stare at him disapprovingly in the queue at the local chemist. His paranoia though, is due to the fear that he’s likely to be evicted at any moment and be reduced to hauling his life around in Sainsbury’s carrier bags between hostels. Memorabilia and notebooks are methodically archived in boxes, but it’s a squalid existence in comparison to the 1980’s when, as leader of Felt, his fastidious behaviour was legendary. So excessive was his cleanliness that he would sooner direct any visitors to the nearest public convenience than permit them to use his own facilities, and he only allowed guests to thumb through his record collection once protective gloves had been issued. Even his experience of a mud-sodden Glastonbury proved predictably traumatic.
“I thought there would be cottages for the pop stars,” he was heard to moan.
Luck and Lawrence have remained largely unacquainted throughout three decades of personal misfortune and acts of commercial suicide. John Peel didn’t care too much for Felt, prompting Lawrence to compose an intensely vitriolic diatribe to the DJ which demanded that he return all un-played copies of their records forthwith. A gig attended by several major label A&R men had to be abandoned when Lawrence, having just dropped LSD, was unable to ascertain where verses began and why the venue walls had started to melt. Eventually Felt completed their plan to release ten albums and ten singles in ten years, but despite Alan McGee’s claims that the band had made Creation’s equivalent of ”ËThe Queen Is Dead’ or ”ËLow-Life’, few even really noticed their demise.
Later, disaster-prone Lawrence conceived the idea for Shampoo (the ”ËTrouble’ girl duo) but failed to profit from their million-selling Japanese release because a DAT got stuck in traffic. His plans for a sure-fire Denim hit were scuppered when its intended release coincided with the death of Princess Diana. The single, entitled ‘Summer Smash’, was quietly removed from the playlists.
The failed and uncelebrated musician often provides unintentionally comical on-screen moments, and this film veers into Spinal Tap territory at times, not least of all when Lawrence is running through songs with working titles like ‘Vagina’s Allure’ (“You’re coming in too fast on ”Ëlure”), when decorating his new abode, a plaster inexplicably hanging from his chin (“I wonder if Lou Reed’s ever painted? Can’t imagine him getting the roller out”) and when constantly bewildered by technology (“Why would you want 4,000 songs hanging around your neck?”Â).
This is a film, remember, about a man who has claimed to suffer from phobias of cheese and vegetables, recruited band members solely on the greatness of their hair, and, when faced with hair loss himself, considered the possibility of sewing a fringe onto his head.
However, it’s also a moving portrait of the outsider in the big city; the isolation and frustration of battling adversity for a creatively fulfilling existence.
“No one has ever gone this far without making it,” he concludes, exasperated that mainstream success still eludes him.
He tells us during the Q&A later that he’d have no qualms about writing a song for Eurovision, and you sense that, given the chance, he’d willingly do battle with David Guetta or Nicki Minaj for chart supremacy (even though he’s probably oblivious to them).
“I want to live in a celebrity bubble,” he says openly. “The day I don’t have to go on the tube any more will be the day I celebrate.”
He’ll get rich or die trying. He’s convinced he’s Bob Dylan with a synthesiser. He knows that he must meet Kate Moss, because obviously she’d agree to marry him, set up a joint bank account and subsequently relinquish a sufficient amount of her fortune to fund an album.
Whether or not you consider him to be a reclusive genius or a delusional nutcase, you have to admire his uncompromising attitude and his insatiable ambition. He’d be perfectly willing to sacrifice a friendship for the sake of a band, but in an era of relentless reunion tours, reissues and repackages, however, he refuses to entertain the notion of getting Felt back together. He sees it as an admission that a career is over.
“I can’t think of one reformation where it’s been about the art,” he says. “Can you?”Â
All words Kevin Robinson.
The new album by Go-Kart Mozart is due for release on 25th June and can be pre-ordered from Cherry Red here.