“I could be the first pop star pensioner. I’d be happy with that.”
Lawrence’s dream to be rich and famous, to live in a celebrity bubble, remains undiminished with time. Forming Felt at the dawn of 1980, he immediately assumed the status of a star in waiting – no surname necessary – and gallantly swished through the decade, convinced of his genius, releasing ten albums and ten singles before, with immaculate precision, closing the chapter as 1990 approached. Despite occasionally flirting with minor success – ‘Primitive Painters’ topping the independent charts in ’85 and providing Creation with a pop (near) masterpiece in Forever Breathes The Lonely World – their ten year mission to create “an underground/overground thing” was ultimately a commercial disaster.
Going full tilt at what Lawrence imagined would lead to mainstream success with Denim – the 90s viewed through the prism of his 70s childhood – began with being briefly touted as a flagbearer for an emerging Britpop but soon he was passed over once again and would be signing on rather than signing autographs for hysterical fans. After a period of freefall, he’s since settled on more modest ambitions as Go-Kart Mozart, something he describes as “the world’s first b-side band”.
Paul Kelly’s Lawrence of Belgravia, finally released on DVD by Heavenly Films, is a character study of one of music’s nearly-men (if music is judged by fame, and it is here) and plays more as a Channel 4 documentary than a BBC4 music biography. There are no talking heads espousing Lawrence’s influence on music or style; no musicians or colleagues offering a glimpse into his working practices, behaviour or personality; no grainy footage of Felt foppishly treading the boards at the Hammersmith Clarendon or Denim posing on Choppers. Instead the viewer takes a peak at the world through Lawrence’s eyes as he faces eviction from his flat while playing gigs, providing interviews, shopping for hats and creating the 2006 album Go-Kart Mozart On The Hot Dog Streets.
Lawrence, it’s fairly clear, isn’t made for these times. He’s a dedicated student of pop culture – a Lou Reed fanatic - who yearns for gangs of kids to paint his band’s name on the back of their jackets. He’s possesses, on the surface at least, an endearing mixture of naivety and childlike innocence. He’s incredulous when he discovers someone interviewing him doesn’t make money from his website. “Just for the love of it?” he wonders, wide-eyed. “I knew it was crap, the internet,” he says in his soft West Midlands accent. And yet this is someone who sent John Peel such a vitriolic letter Felt were scarcely heard on the radio and his current notebook contains details of small ad entry ‘Looking for love in an intimate relationship’ in which one of the things he is “into” as genital mutilation.
Kelly is sympathetic to his subject and personal issues regarding his finances, criminality, court appearances, drug use and mental health are skirted over, blink and you’ll miss them, as if impolite to pry, although with a noticeable sense of pride Lawrence does confide “I’m legally bonkers, you know” and rueing he wasn’t born in the 16th century when he could’ve had a patron to fund his projects. With a degree of envy, he suggests he would be much better for Kate Moss than Pete Doherty and they could merge their money in a joint account, “She could put in all her millions and I could put in my dole money every two weeks”.
Money is a big issue, mainly because he’s never had any and yet even in poverty he still wears a Vivien Westwood tie and look like a pop star when painting walls. One thing he point blank refuses to entertain, for whatever money, is the idea of a Felt reunion although his reasons aren’t given.
But still Lawrence, keeps his eyes on the prize: craving fame, to be a millionaire and never have to travel by public transport. Whether this’ll happen with Go-Kart Mozart and their synthy 70s TV theme tune style and lyrics about the Queen Mum’s hip operation; drinking Um Bongo; scoring dope; and being “still susceptible to vaginas allure” remains to be seen but Lawrence’s indefatigable spirit will keep him going. Nobody has come this far and failed he notes. Enigmatic to the last, he’s no failure.
Lawrence of Belgravia is out now.