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.
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 as “Hot, 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.