Articles


THE ROUGH GUIDE TO ROCK

FELT

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Formed Birmingham, England, 1980; disbanded 1990.
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As a child weaned on glam and punk, Lawrence Hayward dreamed of glitzy pop stardom. Through a combination of musical idealism and bad timing, he has never achieved his aim, although as leader of Felt he became a late 80s cult figure, with an impressive track record of Lou Reed- and
Television-styled pop.

Lawrence produced the first Felt single, "Index" (1979), alone in his
bedroom using a portable cassette player. It consisted solely of one
guitar, two or three thrashy chords and a bit of mumbling over the top, but by some quirk was hailed as a minimalist masterpiece by the music press.
Lawrence happily formed a band to carry the Felt banner, though his
despotic habits meant that early line-ups were volatile (original drummer
Tony Race was sacked largely for having curly hair). Still, a core trio
eventually emerged -Lawrence, Gary Ainge (drums) and guitarist Maurice
Deebank -and signed to Cherry Red. They produced a string of three-minute singles, which were gathered in 1983 on the superlative mini-LP, The Splendour Of Fear, alternating with lengthier experimentation.

Felt's primitive sound was hardly suited to mainstream pop, but the
delicate impressionistic blur was an antidote to the greyness of post-Joy
Division new wave, and they became darlings of the UK music press. Most
attention was focused on Deebank's extraordinary guitar style: classically
trained, he mixed Tom Verlaine, Durutti Column's Vini Reilly, and even a
smattering of Hank Marvin, into a mercury cascade. Much was also made of Lawrence's 'new puritan' stance, disowning drink, drugs and smoking in a rejection of post-punk fatalism.

After a patchy pop-song album, The Strange Idols Pattern And Other Short
Stories
(1984), Hammond organ whizzkid Martin Duffy joined the band, but the flare-ups continued (Hayward and Ainge once had to play a disastrous festival date as a improvising two-piece). Deebank vanished for good in 1985 after they had finished Ignite The Seven Cannons with Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie. This dense and psychedelic album gave Felt a near hit with the six-minute swirl of "Primitive Painters", which was augmented with extra vocals from fellow Cocteau Twin Liz Fraser. Major labels still weren't keen, though, and the band ended up on Creation, then going through one of its purple periods.

Duffy was now the musical focus of a shifting line-up, and a series of lush
and slightly Dylanesque releases followed. Forever Breathes The Lonely Word (1986) was the peak, a wonderful album smeared with vocal harmonies.
Lawrence wriggled once again in the music-press spotlight, and his
personality quirks - obsessive cleanliness and a pathological fixation with
image - filled column inches.

A triumphant appearance at Creation's all-day festival, Doing It For The
Kids, in August 1988, marked the pinnacle of Felt's popularity. This was
despite the wilful uncommerciality of their current LP, Train Above The
City
(1988), which consisted entirely of jazzy piano instrumentals by
Duffy.

Next, a move to Cherry Red offshoot El Records yielded Me And A Monkey On The Moon (1989). Lawrence decreed that this would be Felt's swansong, after realizing they'd now made ten albums and ten singles in ten years. (He suggested to the press that this had been a master plan cooked up in 1980.)
A cycle of songs about growing up in the 70s, this final album was Felt's
greatest achievement, restating all their musical ideas and featuring
unexpectedly direct, honest lyrics. As the dust settled, Martin Duffy was
welcomed into a career of rock'n'roll debauchery with Primal Scream, while
Lawrence laid low and immersed himself in 70s nostalgia. The result was
Denim, a loose aggregation of session men and ageing glitter-rockers chosen more for their image than prowess. Their debut live appearance was reliant on backing tapes and the keyboard player's synthesizer was notable for not being plugged in. Back In Denim (1992), however, with its glam and synth-pop influences, received brief acclaim, and was followed in 1996 by Denim On Ice. This ploughed the same furrow, an eighteen-track epic packed with insider references to bands and music journos, and parodying genres from New Romantics to pub rock. Denim looks like a project doomed for cult attention, though ironically it shows Lawrence can still turn it on when he wants to, and, given another lifetime, could just have been Jarvis Cocker.

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Bubblegum Perfume (1990; Creation). A mid-period compilation,
concentrating mainly on short sharp, pop and brittle instrumentals
(always a Felt strongpoint).

Absolute Classic Masterpieces (1992; Cherry Red). A more
straightforward collection of Felt's early output.

Chris Tighe