The minimally-monikered Lawrence - driving force behind Felt, Denim, and now Go-Kart Mozart - lives like a monk but dreams of pop stardom, drawing inspiration from the 'middle-of-the-road underground'
by Will Hodgkinson
Friday July 8, 2005
When the cult pop
star Lawrence was 12, he saw a film of Gary Glitter disposing of his old life
as Paul Gadd by putting all of his possessions on to a boat on the river Thames
and floating them downstream. "I said to myself, 'I'm going to do that
one day,'" says Lawrence, who began the process by disposing of his surname.
"I'm going to put one life away in a box and start a new one."
Although he hasn't quite reached Glitter's levels of fame or infamy, Lawrence has succeeded in reinventing himself several times. For most of the 1980s, he was the sensitive leader of the influential indie band Felt. Then he re-emerged in the 1990s with Denim, whose wry wit and celebration of 1970s pop culture proved too far ahead of its time for commercial success. Now he is back with Go-Kart Mozart, and a roster of perfectly formed pop songs that he hopes will be recorded by some of the biggest stars of the day. He's setting his sights on Charlotte Church, but whether she will add Um Bongo (about the Rwanda genocide), and Transgressions (about a trend for spraying Lynx body lotion on to your tongue for a cheap high) to her repertoire remains to be seen.
"I got a letter from a fan the other day who said that I was the only true talent left, now that Stephen Duffy is writing for Robbie Williams," says Lawrence, who lives in near poverty in a featureless flat in Victoria. "But I'd love to write for Robbie Williams! I think I write hit singles anyway; it's just taken me a long time to master them because I'm a slow learner. I couldn't tie my own shoelaces until I was 12."
Lawrence manages the unlikely feat of existing as both pop star and monkish hermit. He eats as little as possible because he believes that creativity comes from being hungry - if pushed, he will admit to pigging out on the occasional sausage roll from a stall on Victoria station - yet he is in love with glamour. He likes the Norwegian singer Annie because "she's a gorgeous girl and I'm into beauty. I could never listen to that big fat oaf from Pop Idol [Michelle McManus] because she's over-indulged herself. My whole thing is about not doing things, about being as thin and as minimal as possible. Ideally I'd like to wear brown robes, eat a bowl of rice a day, and go into a trance as I stare at beautiful album covers."
Then there are the records. In the corridor of the tiny flat Lawrence has a shelving unit with his French pop and 1970s glam albums. He's heavily into what he calls the underground middle-of-the-road scene. He has two copies of his favourite ones in mint condition "just in case", and visitors are only allowed to touch them once they have donned special protective gloves. "I don't want fingerprints on the laminated covers," he explains. Asked about his prized albums, he presents the solo debut by the 1960s/70s Israeli pop star Abi and 1973's Aquashow by obscure glam rocker Elliot Murphy.
Lawrence plays an emotional version of David Bowie's Life on Mars by British choral group the King's Singers and follows it with 1973's Dee Doo Dah by the actress and singer Jane Birkin. "And get ready for this," he says, unsheathing a poster of Michel Polnareff depicting the flamboyant French star proudly displaying his bottom. The poster was banned in 1972 and Polnareff was fined 10 francs for every copy printed. "I go mad on Polnareff. In the 1970s, he moved to the penthouse suite of a hotel in Los Angeles and as far as I know he's still there."
His only other significant possession is a book collection, shelved under a durable polythene dust cover and containing true-life accounts by heroin addicts, a few cult novels like Hunger by Knut Hamsun and Ask the Dust by John Fante, and an entire set of the Skinhead novels; the violent pulp books written by Richard Allen in the early 1970s. "I would say that real accounts by junkies are my favourites, and I'm not into fiction. I have everything by Jack Kerouac but his novels are about real life anyway."
Lawrence does dream of riches, despite currently living as an ascetic. "I love prison cells - if I had the money I would definitely build one of those cement beds that extend from a wall - but I'd really love a circular penthouse flat in Mayfair," he says. "I have a jewel case full of hits ready for ransacking, but I'm also in the market for a rich wife. She can be late 20s to early 30s and if her dad's in Who's Who, that's a bonus."
Need to know
bought: Starman by David Bowie
Favourite film: The Mother and the Whore
Record to grab in an emergency: "I'd burn with my collection"
Inspiration: Lou Reed
Recent discovery: Smoosh (sisters aged 10 and 12 from Seattle)
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