And we say Lawrence Hayward is mad.
20-odd years ago, in his bedroom in Water Orton outside Birmingham, Lawrence recorded the first Felt single. Ultimately a sizeable cult on Cherry Red and Creation, Felt disbanded in 1990, and Lawrence made the most misunderstood and utopian pop music of the 90s with Denim, poetry where most saw purism, idealism where most saw recreation. When Pulp exploded in 1995, people said that Lawrence must dream that he had been Jarvis Cocker, that his idiosyncracies and sense of kitsch had finally reached the masses. But I think that, like Momus (who has some very interesting things to say at http://www.demon.co.uk/momus/thought110100.html), Lawrence takes a perverse pleasure in his battles, and wouldn't have it any other way. He's a living paradox - a heart-on-the-sleeve futurist amid a nation of grinning revivalists.
This record is not, sadly, an expression of 1999 / 2000. Essentially, the album could have been written in an NCP in December 1976 (a date mentioned on the sleeve, referring to the Sex Pistols' over-mythologised appearance with Bill Grundy). Like the three Denim albums, this record exudes affection for the Callaghan era, searching for the positive beneath its surface of mundanity, and suggesting that the present recreation of an earlier past is an inferior option (Lawrence's reading list includes two books making a case for the much-maligned housing of the period). It's almost like a plea to go home to the 70s, completely free of the usual entrapping irony and "but of course it was crap" attitude of, say, Steve Wright's sniggering commentaries on TOTP2. The whole point of Lawrence is that he means it (and it helps that his music is rooted in an area of Britain still very much defined, for most of us, by what it tried to be in the 70s - the Lawrence-as-Gordon-Grimley parallel is already becoming a cliche).
Along with records by Plone and Position Normal, "Instant Wigwam ..." marks the emergence of a new mythical homeland in British pop music, to go alongside the ancient, unchanging Britain cherished by the Kinks, XTC et al. This is a Britain defined by its refusal of the past, its utopian Future, a Britain where you just couldn't imagine Poundbury happening - and its keywords are Arndale and Bull Ring (the Tricorn, though beautiful, was something else entirely - something genuinely modern, untouched by the weird idea of "community" held by the new town planners). There's a song here called simply "Today" (because it was used as the theme tune to said Thames TV programme on which the Pistols appeared on that day in '76). It is a Muzak version of The Association's "Windy", pure Arndale Muzak 1982. It is played on the cheesiest Casio imaginable. It is a throwaway. But it is not sniggering. It is heartfelt. It is passionate. And it is wonderful. There's a song called "Selfish and Lazy and Greedy", which says it all about the workshy canteen culture of the West Midlands. There's a song called "Here is a Song", which is what Paddy McAloon would write if his heights were slightly lower than andromeda. There's a song called "Drinkin' Um Bongo", which literally puts a 70s advertising jingle through the war zones of the 90s. There's a song called "Sailor Boy", which is like a perky, pumped-up take on "Little Red Songbook" Momus. There's cod-Underworld ("Depleted Soul"), anti-Oasis projected passion ("Wear Your Foghat With Pride"), a backhanded tribute to the Queen Mother ("Hip Op"), a homage to a vanished pop star ("Wendy James"), dead romance ("She Tore it up and Walked Away"), romance reborn ("Plead with the Man"). There is Muzak for a new kind of city ("Mandrax for Minx Cats", "City Synthesis", the Archigram-referencing "Plug-In City", "Fluff on the Mallow") which, again, Lawrence still believes in, and which resembles a much messier version of Roger Limb's Radiophonic work. There's a sprawling, passionate epic praising Birmingham's Bull Ring shopping centre ("Mrs Back-to-Front and the Bull Ring Thing") which resembles a distorted "Play School", an English Cornelius and a utopian Showaddywaddy. All at once. It is a work of lovable arrogance and superiority-complex ("Any of my mates reading this with pricked ears forget it", "There was a budget though - what happened to it? "Fuckin' spen it din I").
Lawrence is not mad, he is alarmingly sane. The irony is, of course, that the people who say Lawrence is mad are probably the same people who will bravely protest the sanity of Prince Charles.
Robin Carmody, January 2000
It's A Musical World:
A Central Production: