Articles


Aurore Bacmann


Felt

Felt is one of those groups who, despite their musical talent, never managed to obtain the success they deserved and remain today unfairly underestimated. Yet they can claim to have influenced indie pop and to have invented a specific sound. Clear guitars - joined later by an organ - accompany a voice that, rather distant at the beginning (the intonation might remind one of The Fall), amplifies and gains confidence as the albums go by (his phrasing becomes more melodious). Contrary to a lot of groups, the guitars don't just make a noise in the background but have a leading melodic role, as if they also had a story to tell. Besides, a good number of instrumentals can be found among the songs written by Felt. The lyrics, elusive and poetic, often convey depressive sentiments.

Another characteristic of the group is the plan of career they had from the start. Lawrence, the leader and singer, decided the group would record ten singles and ten albums in ten years. The originality of Felt came mostly from the personality of Lawrence, who was very much attracted by the idea of making something different, something new that no one had ever done before.

Before Felt even started as such, a self-financed single, "Index", was recorded by Lawrence alone and released in 1979. The experience did not fully satisfy him and he realised he needed a group. Felt formed in early 1980 in the outskirts of Birmingham, with Maurice Deebank on the guitar and Nick Gilbert, a friend from school, playing drums. The first concert of Felt was a decisive step that boosted the group. They were invited by Mark E. Smith to support The Fall at the Cyprus Tavern in Manchester. That performance impressed and enthused Mark E. Smith so that he invited them to support The Fall again, this time at the Marquee in London. Meanwhile, Lawrence had sent copies of "Index" to the British music weeklies and very quickly, the single was made single of the week by Sounds. After the gig in London, Felt were signed to Cherry Red.

They recorded their first single in 1981, with Nick Gilbert playing bass and Tony Race joining the group on the drums. A bit later, Tony Race left and was replaced by Gary Ainge. During the recording of the first album, it was Nick's turn to leave the group after a row with Lawrence. It was with the new bassist, Mick Lloyd, and without Maurice Deebank that the group recorded their second single, "My Face is on Fire".

In the years that followed, Felt recorded a few singles and two LP's. After The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories, Martin Duffy, a young keyboardist, joined the group. His arrival brought a new approach to the music of Felt. His presence on the keyboard gave the songs another dimension by enveloping their nakedness and making the sound deeper. Felt then recorded Ignite the Seven Cannons, with Marco Thomas replacing Mick Lloyd. That fourth album was the last one to be released on Cherry Red, and also the last one which Maurice Deebank took part in. It was produced by Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins, and had the vocals of Elizabeth Frazer on "Primitive Painters".

After Cherry Red, Felt were signed on Creation Records in 1986, and a second era started for the group with the single "Ballad of the Band". But, instead of going on in that direction that might have lead them to a little success, they released an LP one month later, Let the Snakes Crinkle Their Heads to Death, only made of short pretty instrumental songs. But the press did not perceive it well enough and Felt was labelled as odd. The two following LP's, released in Autumn 1986 and in Spring 1987, although maybe more "conventional", did not manage to change the reputation of Felt. The sound of these albums is marked by Martin Duffy playing Hammond. The songs, though often animated and colourful, have dark or bitter lyrics.

After "The Final Resting of the Ark", produced by Robin Guthrie like "Ballad of the Band", the group released in May 1988 their 8th album, The Pictorial Jackson Review, recorded on an 8-track. Train Above the City was the second instrumental album by Felt, written by Martin Duffy and Gary Ainge. Owing to financial difficulties, it wasn't Creation but El Records that released Felt's 10th and final album, Me and a Monkey on the Moon. After ten years, ten singles and ten albums, Lawrence stopped the original career of his group Felt after a last gig on December 19th, 1989.

Lawrence went on to form Denim with Siobhan Brooks. Denim has released one album so far, Back in Denim (Boy's Own - 1992) in which Lawrence expresses the frustration of not having achieved success with Felt and his anger about the 80's.

-Aurore Bacmann