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

CULT CLASSICS : ‘I CAN’T CHOOSE JUST ONE’

Today’s wonderful words were typed by Friend of Rachel Worth, the talent behind the much-loved and much missed blog Cathedrals Of Sound (the final posting was May 2013 but you can still enjoy what he had to say by clicking here)

Well this has caused some angst as most of my record collection consists of stuff that I’m convinced should have outsold thriller and be hailed as a work of Sgt Pepper type genius but sold diddly squat and disappeared to find a life only on long forgotten home made compilation tapes or in the darkest corners of the internet

I can’t choose just one so have had to go with 4 bands and 5 songs that should have been massive and played regularly in school assemblies

1.  Ballad of the Band – Felt

R-1032421-1186339082

First up is by surely the ultimate cult band….Felt. Led by Lawrence with a vision of 10 singles and 10 lps in 10 years and then split up. Feted by critics and many of his peers and living in an alternative world where he saw himself as a top pop star with Felt rubbing shoulders with Madonna at the top of the charts, it never really happened as Lawrence was convinced it would. Instrumental lps and songs with long strange titles meant that they never really made it past the indie chart (does such a thing still exist?) and the festive 50.

Their best known song is probably Primitive Painters with the Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser sharing vocals, however I’ve gone for a band divorce played out in a 3 min pop song. The departure of long time guitarist Maurice Deebank prompted Ballad of the Band with its lyrical riposte and the swirling Hammond organ turned up high in the mix as an added insult to the guitarist.

Where you been
Aint seen you for weeks
You’ve been hanging out with all those jesus freaks

Where were you
When I wanted to work
You were still in bed
You’re a total jerk

mp3 : Felt – Ballad of The Band

It also has a gorgeous cover.

2.  Heavenly Pop Hit – The Chills

R-1858027-1248253268

Another band built around a maverick , this time New Zealander Martin Phillipps. Not sure if they really count as they had success in their own country , but in the UK gloriously under achieved. The more culty song is probably early single Pink Frost about the death of former band mate. It is a haunting tune with a bit of early Cure thrown in.

However I love Heavenly Pop Hit which does exactly what it says on the tin .. except for the hit bit.

For about a month this single and the lp it came from (submarine bells) were championed by Record Mirror but quickly dumped when they realised they had failed to back a winner … again (always much better than NME or Sounds at spotting a lost cause or backing the wrong horse)

Its a joyous summer sound that you need a big breath to sing along to and ends with a simple offer

It’s a Heavenly Pop Hit
For those who still want it

The last line whispered / mumbled , a sad realisation of what pop would become in x factor wilderness

mp3 : The Chills – Heavenly Pop Hit

It too has a gorgeous cover

3. The Sun It Shines Here / I’ll be Your Surprise – Hurrah!

R-1361775-1212870988

The exclamation mark is important! Hurrah! were one of the fantastic 4 (alongside The Kane Gang , The Dainties and Prefab Sprout) signed to Kitchenware records. They released a glorious set of jangly guitar singles (brought together in the lp Boxed) before being signed by a major and taking a step too close to rock (leather jackets and supporting U2 included) . The trio benefitted from the fact that all 3 were songwriters and could sing (the quality showed it wasn’t a case of letting Ringo have a go)

The first 4 singles were glorious and the debut double a side remains one of my favourite singles. It may sound like it has been recorded in a cardboard box with broken bass dial and the treble turned too high , but the guitars sparkle with a Byrds sound that at the time seemed fresh and the harmonies are spot on.

I’m not sure how on earth I got hold of a copy of the single (there was no way this made its way into Spalding Boots’ singles rack) so can only think I must have sent away for a copy
Released in 1982 (a year before Hand in Glove), at 15 they felt like my own private cult band

Later solo lps show a spiritual , religious side that has made me look back on some of the earlier lyrics , which at the time would have had me running for the hills (not that we had any hills in the fens), but for a period they seemed like the coolest band going

mp3 : Hurrah! – The Sun It Shines Here
mp3 : Hurrah! – I’ll Be Your Surprise

Fitting in with the style of other Kitchenware releases , it has a great cover

4. Indian by Eg and Alice

R-1087912-1191101067

From one extreme to the other . Take one ex member of Brother Beyond add an ex bmx champion and model and you shouldn’t really have the makings of a cult single. This also breaks the indie label rule and is so smooth it sails close to the dinner party wind , the kind of soulless soul music that was all over the radio in the late 80s.

Somehow Indian rises above all this, it manages to be haunting and catchy at the same time, with enough going on to keep it out of the bland. It ‘s got a strange kind of emotional punch that can creep up on me when I hear it. If it pops up unawares on shuffle it is one of those songs that sneaks its way into the foreground and means I stop whatever I’m doing to listen and start remembering

Its cult because it is one of those songs that just feel like a lost classic and those that like it love it with a passion. One of the joys of the internet is finding like minded souls, and Indian is one of those acid test singles. When it comes up in conversation , if peole like it (and most who have heard it do) then I’m feel pretty safe with anything they are going to recommend

If it hasn’t washed over you the lp it comes from ,24 Years of Hunger is well trying to get hold of.

Eg is now a songwriter for hire , often with people I cant stand , however he has released 2 solo lps that are full of quirky diamonds

mp3 : Eg and Alice – Indian

The cover is pretty smart too

Apologies for being so greedy , I could go on and on !

Note from JC

Ballad of The Band and its related b-sides was one of the very last postings I ever made at TVV before google pulled the plug on it.  Can’t help but agree with Friend of Rachel Worth about it being a classic….as indeed are the other tracks which until now were previously unknown to me.

It could well be that FoRW will be asked to go on and on…..I’ve only, at the moment, got two more weeks of cult classics to go as the inital flurry of e-mails when I started the series has not been followed up with many more over the festive period.

If there’s a flop 45 or 45s you’d like to bring to the attention to the few hundred daily visitors to T(n)VV, then please drop me an e-mail : thevinylvillain@hotmail.co.uk

Cheers