SOME WORDS OF APPRECIATION FOR FELT

I once read somewhere that one of the reasons why Felt aren’t as widely revered as so many of their 80s peers is that they never managed to release an album that folk could hold up as being their one true and defining classic piece of vinyl. It’s a very fair point to make, for none of their studio albums is really one that can be defined as being “essential” for a collection.

Nor indeed has there ever been a real gathering of the ‘Best of Felt’ (however which way you choose to try to define that) as most of the five compilation LPs that have been released have either focussed in on a particular period of time while the one that went for the entire career contained only the singles.

It’s also the case that the eccentric and enigmatic frontman Lawrence probably ensured that there would never be any one LP to define his and the band’s career;  after all this was someone who announced a plan, which he stuck to, of having a ten-year career during which there would be ten singles and ten albums and nothing more. It also can’t be denied that the band were forever changing their core sound, albeit they are probably best-loved (certainly in my case) for those records which are as close as can be to the formula of jingly-jangly guitars making perfect indie-pop.

My favourite song of theirs is Ballad of The Band, a track featured previously on the blog via a guest contribution back in January 2014 from Friend of Rachel Worth when he wrote about cult classics. Another one that I have a huge amount of time for is Primitive Painters, a song from the LP Ignite the Seven Cannons, and which was also released as a single.

mp3 : Felt – Primitive Painters

It’s an epic rolling track of more than six minutes in length that has all the hallmarks of the involvement of the Cocteau Twins with Robin Guthrie behind the production desk and Liz Fraser on co-vocals. It turned into Felt’s biggest selling single, topping the indie charts for two weeks in September 1985, but where others would have sought to at least maintain such a head of steam their next release was a ten-track instrumental album less than 20 minutes in length. And for an entirely new label.

But there’s another earlier track from Felt that I rate above what is the undoubted majestic shimmering of Primitive Painters, It dates back to June 1983 and would have been the first time I ever heard any of their music, thanks to it being aired often at the Thursday night alternative/indie disco in the student union:-

mp3 : Felt – Penelope Tree

In an era when indie-guitar pop was king thanks to the likes of The Smiths, Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, The Fall et al, there is something really special about these three minutes of music. The lyric is one that Morrissey must have read and realised immediately that he had to up his game, particularly the line “I was lonely until I found the reason and the reason was me.” It’s a sad, depressing and melancholy thought buried in a tune that is as jaunty and carefree as they come.

What I didn’t know at the time I was gyrating my hips to this tune – and indeed nor did I find out till the turn of the century when I came across the name in a magazine piece about fashion – is that Penelope Tree is a real person. I had always assumed it was a name adopted in the song given how easy it was easy to rhyme with ‘me’.

Not only a real person, but someone who was, for a while, incredibly famous. A member of UK high society in the swinging 60s, Penelope Tree became one of the first so-called supermodels in 1966 at the age of 16, living with photographer David Bailey and being someone whom John Lennon described asHot, hot, hot and smart, smart, smart.” Six years later things suddenly unravelled very quickly as her career was ended by scars from late-onset acne and she was arrested for possession of cocaine.

I hadn’t known anything of her life but clearly Lawrence from Felt was not only familiar with every nuance but sympathised so much with her sad predicament that he wanted to immortalise her. Incidentally, if I’d ever bought the single at the time I would probably have learned all this as said supermodel adorned the cover.

 

JC

14 thoughts on “SOME WORDS OF APPRECIATION FOR FELT

  1. There have been times where I would have described Felt as a Rock Band and times they are most definitely a Pop Band. Here in lies the problem with trying to find one album that is definitive. There are two Felts. But this isn’t a problem, it a wealth of riches really. Back in the 80s I could easily place a Felt song alongside a Bunnymen track or a Smiths track on a mixtape.
    Penelope Tree is far and away my favorite Felt song and probably the best lyric Lawrence Hayward ever wrote. Your quote, JC, is brilliant, but it’s ‘Goldmine trash seeks brave dark warrior’ that slays me every time I hear or sing it to myself.

  2. Thanks for a great post, JC – any appreciation of Felt can only be a good thing and this one is a pleasure to read.
    They’re one of those bands that, never quite making my ‘top tier’ back in the day (perhaps because of that reason that there was no ‘killer’/definitive album, good as they are), have always been there to return to on occasion and have subsequently matured with the passing of the years to the point where their best is amongst my favourite music to listen to and never fails to sound wonderful.
    Curiously, I always had and retain to this day an ambiguous relationship with ‘Primitive Painters’ – although I adored the Cocteau Twins, I always felt Liz Fraser’s contribution detracted from ‘PP’, in itself and also in the light of other female vocal contributions to Felt songs. Similarly, Robin Guthrie’s production did the subtleties and particularities of Felt’s sound (to that point in their history) no great favours on the ‘Ignite the Seven Cannons’ album, it just sounds too ‘Cocteau-ish’.
    My own favourite Felt ‘epic’ has to be ‘The Stagnant Pool’ from ‘The Splendour of Fear’.
    And yes, ‘Penelope Tree’ is fabulous, I have to agree with both you and Echorich.

  3. During my three years as a student radio presenter in the mid-80s. I’m fairly sure that I was the only one ever to play anything by Felt – which I did on a reasonably regular basis. I used to marvel at the quality of the songs as well as the quality of the album titles.
    I’m with JC in that Ballad Of The Band is my favourite. Its follow-up single Rain Of Crystal Spires still gets a regular blast too – actually quite a lot of theirs do when I look at the play counts – Penelope Tree has the most! I also agree with Echorich – Felt had similar bedfellows on my mixtapes, and I can’t ever recall any negative comments from the various student gatherings where these would be aired.
    I only saw them live once – at Glastonbury in 1987. It was late on the Sunday and I’m sorry to say I don’t recall much about the set other than that I enjoyed it and my then girlfriend didn’t – my memory was that she went off to watch Communards instead, but the programme suggests Felt were on later than that. Maybe the times changed?.
    Anyway, good to see I’m not alone in my ongoing admiration for their output!

  4. I wrote about a Felt track (Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow) as a Clandestine Classic a couple of years ago (here). My theory at the time was that part of what made it great was how it sounded, at various points, like so many other great bands. I suggested The Cure, U2, The Smiths, Talking Heads, The Blue Aeroplanes, Cocteau Twins, Lush and early REM. I held this up as a strength, and the reason the song had struck me so. But two years down the line, and after reading this post, I wonder if it’s also part of the reason Felt didn’t make that step up from “fondly remembered” to “top tier”. They sounded like lots of other people, a fantastic melange, but maybe lacked their own sound a bit?

    Do like a bit of Penelope Tree though.

  5. Album wise, I’d say ‘Forever Breathes the Lonely Word’ is a classic, which could/should have been up there with ‘Rattlesnakes’. It isn’t the definitive representation of Felt (as you note, what could be?) but the point at which they came closest to the prevailing style.

    I’m with James Rowley too – I think they are a band whose work has matured, rather than dated. Galaxie 500 would be another – a band I barely listened too while active (but enough I saw them live) yet whose work I’m still playing 25 years later.

    I think the key point in both cases is that their lyrics were of a higher order, so they still have something to give. (Whereas for a lot of their peers, words were often the thing that came before the noisy bit, or too clear and didactic).

    You can find a large audience over enough time.

  6. Good to see Felt getting admiration from all sides… I’d intended to compile a Felt ICA ages ago but it got out of hand as I kept adding tracks I’d initially missed. Ho hum… maybe someday

  7. Too many thoughtful responses on this post for there NOT to be an ICA. I’d do it meself but I’m really not that familiar with Felt, although I sure like what I’ve heard. Come on, then…

  8. I think this is a great opportunity for a Battle of the Imaginary Compilations. 10 Felt songs from the 10 Felt albums – Start us off JC and lets see if we can create an ICA Box Set 10 different Felt ICA’s….I have already narrowed down….

  9. bit late to the party here but fwiw I’ll throw my favourite into the mix – Crystal Ball; fabulous lyrics ‘we might as well stay in our rooms until we die’ -sigh –
    Still listen to it regularly which can feel a bit bizarre in the blazing Aus sunshine, absent of miserable British weather.

  10. I have written this a few times through the years. Felt ticks all of my boxes. Yet, outside of a couple of songs, I haven’t warmed to the albums.

  11. Oh yeah, Jules – Galaxie 500: I’ve loved them from the start and the three studio albums, each perfect in the own way, have remained some of my very favourite. I’m so envious of you having seen them live, hope you enjoyed.
    There is something very definite in the resonance of the lyrics, absolutely, that’s certainly significant in helping music to endure, and, just thinking about it and reading others’ comments here, there are some wonderful Felt lyrics to return to again and again.

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