"Do you remember that time I raised my voice, because you said you'd never ever heard of The La's?"
Liam Fray - The Courteeners
Too many people have never ever heard of The La’s. Since it’s release in 1988, ‘There She Goes’ has gradually become a British classic, stapled to our culture and independently becoming bigger than the band who recorded it and the frustrated genius who wrote it.That there’s more to The La’s than ‘There She Goes’ was brought to my attention one evening in ‘97, listening to
being interviewed on Radio 1 with Lamaq. In between arguing and Liam storming off, the pair found drunken common ground.
“There’s only one song writer in this country who scares me and that is Lee Mavers”, said Noel, before he and Liam went through the album highlights, enthusing over each before giving a short acapella version of b-side ‘Over’. ”‘Looking Glass’, ‘Timeless Melody’, ‘There She Goes’, ‘I Cant Sleep Tonight’”.
It was something I had to look into.
It’s since been described as the first Brit Pop album, but the raw beauty and soul of the Liverpudlian’s 1990 debut is a million miles away from ‘Country House’ and ‘Roll with it’. At a time when baggy was big and everything had to be a ‘loose fit’, Mavers was writing songs in the old fashioned way on an acoustic guitar. An organic, simple formula, but one that when mastered doesn’t require a pill to be fully appreciated.
On every listen another song stands out and grabs your attention until you start questioning a society which eventually absorbed ‘There She Goes’ without bothering to see if the songwriter had any more up his sleeve.
Their debut album, indeed their only album, was released three years after their first single. During that time Mavers scrapped recording after recording, lost patience with one producer to the next, gained a drug habit and searched for authentic 1960’s dust to be sprinkled over studio instruments in search of authenticity. A magical myth perhaps, but Mavers was painstakingly in search of perfection and a sound that only existed in his head and one which the inability of his band and the producers to lay down on record created tension and frustration. If it wasn’t right, Mavers wasn’t into it. “We’ve got our sound and it’s acoustic based but that’s hard to capture in the modern studio which is geared towards synthesisers”. Scrap it and do it again.
If Mavers could be so critical about such a great record, how fucking good was the sound he was hearing in his head?
Mike Hedges was one producer who saw his efforts scrapped, or lost, depending on who tells the story:
“Lee’s standards were so high that you’re never going to reach them. At some point you have to say, ‘it’s finished,’. I’ve never been 100% on anything I’ve ever done. I don’t think you can be, because how do you measure perfection?”
Mavers was measuring perfection on what he heard in his mind. Even when producer Steve Lillywhite managed to put an album together and Go Discs run out of patience to release it to critical acclaim, it wasn’t what Mavers wanted to hear. He didn’t want it released and he shunned it.
“The recordings for the album are not even proper performances, they’re just us messing around in the studio, tongue in cheek. I’m embarrassed by the singing, it’s terrible. The album is non musical and non rhythmical. Its a mess-like.”
A marketing dream, it’s worth questioning if The La’s would ever have released an album had Mavers got his way. Such damnation only makes you wonder; if Mavers could be so critical about such a great record, how fucking good was the sound he was hearing in his head?
One producer told the story of Lee sitting down in the studio and playing one of the greatest songs he’d ever heard. It had to go on the album. Mavers told him he was saving it for the second album. Twenty years later the world still hasn’t been blessed.
Frustrated with playing the same set of songs since 1986, bass player John Power left in 92 and returned shortly after with his own band, ‘Cast’. Mavers took his frustration away with him and the band faded, reappearing sporadically at festival appearances, support slots and pubs over the passing years. Each occasion leads to a frenzy of speculative hope that new material might be on the way. The thirst for The La’s is somewhat served by the various releases of lost sessions and demos, but it is never quenched.
“I treasure the whole of The La’s album, but if I have to pick one track, then it’s ‘Looking Glass’. We met Lee in Japan and I was asking if he’d make a new record. He said, ‘yeah, we’re recording the first one’. It’s like, ‘come on man, let it go!’ it’s a seminal record. I don’t give a f**k whether he likes it. It’s an amazing record”.
Having missed their reunited Glastonbury set in 2005, I never thought I’d get the chance to see those songs performed live.
And yet on Thursday, July 21st, I found myself in small room above ‘The Old Blue Last’ in Shoreditch, Liam Gallagher in attendance, waiting for Lee Mavers to come onto what could just about be described as a stage.
As he walks on I’ve an initial concern that this haggard, almost fifty year old scouser can’t possibly live up to the night you hoped would be in store and the legacy of the songs. White t-shirt, no image, no effort. Scraggly.
And then the music. The voice surges through passion gritted teeth, belying the age of the body and face it belongs to. There’s only two acoustic guitars, but the rich melodies make it sound like fifty. As the three hundred people gathered in homage sing every word of every song, you might think Mavers would seem touched, overwhelmed? Not a fucking chance. He utters not one world to his public, deeming words a waste when you have these songs in your pocket.
Every now and then there’s a small flurry of activity around The La’s. A couple of gigs, excitement, and then nothing. More recently, a new website has been set up, accompanied by a Twitter account that you know Mavers isn’t arsed about.
It’s now or never for the frustrated genius of Lee Mavers to make another statement, but he’s just as likely to fade once more.
Those songs he has already gifted with never will. Songs that have stayed the distance and twenty years on find themselves ingrained in peoples lives and stained on their hearts forever.
Click here for Ten Years On: A Love Letter To The Strokes
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