on a decade
In the early 1980’s Paul Morley once wrote how in an ideal world ‘Ambition’ by Subway Sect would be recognised as the greatest number one single of all time, and that groups inspired by the Sect, like Edinburgh’s Fire Engines, would be more famous than Duran Duran. In this ideal world, Felt would have been bigger than U2.
Lawrence was always the key to Felt. Lawrence made all the decisions about his band, even down to what plectrums they could and could not use. Lawrence understood the importance of detail in the place of Pop mythology, understood the importance of mythology in the place of Pop, period. And like Buddy Holly, Vic Godard, Kevin Rowland, Kurt Wagner and Joel Gibb, he understood the importance of the bandleader. So Felt was a shifting entity, a troupe of odd characters beautifully colouring in Lawrence’s songs, or at the very least his song titles. It was Lawrence who famously proclaimed the plan to release ten singles and ten albums in ten years and then split. It was Lawrence who carried through on the plan. Because knowing when to stop is the key to the best Pop mythology.
Like any great Pop group Felt were a masterful singles band. Each of the songs on those ten singles that peppered the 1980’s were like be-jewelled hand-grenades of Pop poise. Nothing can top them. Now finally Lawrence has collected fifteen of those gems on one CD, away from the album tracks with which they were never intended to rest. Of course it’s the greatest Pop collection ever. With typical deadpan Lawrence humour the collection is titled Stains On A Decade. That the stains are those of the most vibrant colour and delicate hue, are arranged in the most delicious of patterns, should go without saying.
It was always important to the mythology of Felt that singles and albums should be treated in different ways. Felt always gave the impression of being a beautifully crafted Modernist band: everything had its own particular form, function and place in the wider scheme of things. So whilst the singles were wonderful crystal vessels filled with bubblegum perfume, the albums tended to explore other avenues: for Cherry Red in the first half of the decade there were ghostly poetics infused with rivulets of classical guitar; heartbeat drums and the twinkling sunlight of Spain; carrouselling skirls of organ, voyages of illumination and dying of boredom. Then later, for Creation records, a fifteen minute album of instrumentals; an album with one side of infectious Beat Polaroid’s and the other of delicate piano reflections; then more instrumental evocations of New York, hanging out with the vibesmen on Weegee’s sidewalks. Until finally, back on Cherry Red off-shoot El records, an album of feathercuts, the New York new-wave, new days dawning and songs later covered by strange pub bands in the Scottish Highlands. As a friend of mine was once fond of saying, it was all naturally strange, and strangely natural.
2003 sees those ten albums finally all available on CD, their releases spread over five months and overseen by Lawrence so that they emerge just the way they should. No albums being doubled up, no bonus tracks (Lawrence was so determined that there should be no ‘archive’ material available for later release that he once cut up demo tapes with scissors), and no singles tracks being tacked on the end: That was never the way it was meant to be. Minimalism and obsessive attention to detail were always cornerstones in the Felt story. It had to be pure. It had to be special.
And so it was. And so it is again.
© 2003 Alistair Fitchett