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Music Felt

Published on March 16th, 2018 | by voxx

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Felt – A Decade in Music

The first five LPs by the ‘80s indie influencers get the deserved reissue treatment…

“I think we’re a band for future generations,” declared Felt frontman Lawrence Hayward, in the corresponding entry to his sticker in the 1987 Smash Hits Panini album. With every passing year, a body of work whose most enthusiastic adherents include Bobby Gillespie, Manic Street Preachers and Stuart Murdoch appears to be bearing out that assertion. For the first time, a thorough programme of reissues, overseen by Lawrence, with typical attention to detail – a 7-inch single and four badges with each album – should accelerate the group’s rising posthumous currency.

With the remainder to follow “shortly”, this release covers the five albums between 1982 and 1986, a period which saw Lawrence steer the group from the dewy dawn rapture of Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty through to their Creation debut, Let The Snakes Crinkle Their Heads To Death (which here, reverts to its original intended title The Seventeenth Century). In common with fellow West Midlander Kevin Rowland, the remarkable knack Lawrence brought to bear upon Felt was that of an ingénue bandleader. Though by no means a skilled musician, he was able to tease consistently extraordinary performances out of musicians surrounding him.

On early highlights such as ‘Birdmen’ and ‘The World Is As Soft As Lace’, Lawrence allows his febrile free-associations to be veiled by Maurice Deebank’s euphoric electric filigree work. A hundred miles north of Water Orton, Vini Reilly’s sonic explorations in The Durutti Column were yielding comparable results, but the fact that Reilly lacked a Lawrence to his Deebank became increasingly apparent as Felt started to edge into palpably poppier terrain. As evidenced by indie hit ‘Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow’, 1984’s John Leckie-produced The Strange Idols Pattern And Other Short Stories saw the emergence of a more confident Lawrence and, for the first time, had fans wondering whether they might follow The Smiths onto Top Of The Pops.

However, if that was ever going to happen, it would have done so with the release of the next album. Given a brighter remix by Lawrence for 2018, Ignite The Seven Cannons was a transitional record, the only one to feature both the outgoing Deebank and, fresh from completing his O-levels, incoming teenage prodigy Martin Duffy (later to join Primal Scream), who injected the group’s strongest set with an oxygen rush of inspired organ percolations. Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie’s involvement was crucial – not just for the luxuriant sonic setting he created, but also for his inspired suggestion that Liz Fraser sing on ‘Primitive Painters’. Without her contribution to this outsider’s lament, it would have been Felt’s best song; with it, it remains one of the most astonishing recordings by any band of that era.

Perhaps wary of trying to emulate it, Felt’s next move saw them eschew their two most recognisable sonic hallmarks, in the process, pushing Duffy further into the centre of their sound. And while, admittedly, there wasn’t much that Lawrence could do about Deebank’s departure, his decision not to sing on The Seventeenth Century portended the wilfulness that has merely heightened the enduring fascination with him. He’s spent the past 26 years flying the novelty rock flag on the sparest of means – firstly in Denim, then with Go-Kart Mozart. But as that Smash Hits album reminds us, Lawrence always seemed to know that these records would form the bedrock of his legend, though he continues to declare that no sum in the world could persuade him to reunite Felt. You might not be able to buy the man, but these records remain essential purchases.

- By Jake White


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