Lawrence Hayward has penned heaps of absolutely perfect pop songs, and yet none of his bands—Felt, Denim, and the latest, Go Kart Mozart—has ever delivered a massive crossover hit. According to Lawrence, this is due to two things: his...
INTERVIEW BY DOUGLAS HART
Left: The best-dressed band in Britain, circa 1986. Right: Lawrence with bolo. Photo by Alistair Indge
PORTRAIT BY BEN RAYNER
Lawrence Hayward has penned heaps of absolutely perfect pop songs, and yet none of his bands—Felt, Denim, and the latest, Go Kart Mozart—has ever delivered a massive crossover hit. According to Lawrence, this is due to two things: his unfailing ability to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity and simple bad luck. From what I’ve witnessed, both are true.
After a string of incredible albums and resounding reviews, a concert was arranged for Felt in 1987. All the major labels, music publishers, and influential critics were in attendance—it was the most important show they’d ever played. That morning, Lawrence called me to ask if I wanted to meet up and take acid. I did. The rest of the day was spent in a glorious blur, but Lawrence was confident he could play the show. “Yeah, I’ll be fine” is what he said, right up to the moment he made his way to the stage. The house lights went down, the massive stage lights faded up, and the first chord was struck. I was tripping heavily, thinking, “I can’t believe it! He’s going to fucking do it!” Then Lawrence began to scream: “Stop! Turn the lights out. Everyone’s looking at me!” The stage lights went down and the band started again, in total darkness. Thirty seconds later, Lawrence began shouting again: “Stop!” And in the dark, silent hall he very calmly said, “I can’t do this. If you want your money returned, see the man at the back.” He walked offstage, leaving behind a stunned band and an audience already considering what they’d be destroying first in the ensuing riot.
Later, with Denim, Lawrence penned “Summer Smash,” an outrageously catchy pop tune that was immediately picked up by mainstream radio and just as immediately dropped when the death of Princess Diana in a Parisian car crash rendered a song called “Summer Smash” less than tasteful. A few months later, the label destroyed every copy of the surefire hit that never was.
Don’t believe any songwriter who tells you he’s happy to remain an underground figure or cult concern. It’s a defense mechanism meant to deflect defeat graciously. Hits matter to Lawrence. Like me, Lawrence is still addicted to the mysteries and myths of popular music. This is why, when no music journalist has been able to squeeze a word out of him for the past decade or so, the one thing he finally agreed to sit and have a chat about was why the fashion of music will always be important to him.
Vice: What have you got there?
Lawrence: I brought you this book to have a look at: Knuckle Sandwich.
Its full title is Knuckle Sandwich: Growing Up in the Working-class City and it’s about these kids who go to a disco club that’s eventually closed because of all the fights. I fell in love with the chapter titles. Things like “We Hate Humans,” “Whatever Happened to the Teenage Dream,” and “The Fall of the Black Horse Disco, Part 1.” It’s a bit like the original 1964 version of the Generation X book. It got me thinking about T.Rex and Gary Glitter and the whole pre-punk period when pop stars were proper pop stars.
I thought it was funny that after year zero, most of that stuff was off-limits, but you were still allowed to like T.Rex. Siouxsie did that cover of “20th Century Boy” and Captain Sensible wore that great T.Rex t-shirt. The Damned even toured with them.
He was the only one in with the punks.
I used to rush home from school to watch The Marc Bolan Show, and he had Generation X on as guests.
He had everyone on. Public Image…
I saw a feature the other day about the making of the first Public Image record and there was this amazing picture of them. Johnny Rotten was wearing a shirt with his own head screen-printed on the front that a fan had sent him. It was all weird and purple. In the article he said, “We were into Atomic Rooster, that was what inspired the song ‘Public Image,’ an Atomic Rooster track.” So I bought their best-of CD to try and hear where that Public Image riff came from, but it was like this prog-blues stuff. It was horrible.
I’ve heard Keith Levene and Mick Jones talk about the basement where they’d hang out with Bernie Rhodes in the pre-Simonon Clash days. They’d watch films together and listen to records they loved, but Rhodes would tell them that they could not admit to liking them.
It’s true. [Felt guitarist] Maurice Deebank’s favorite band was Yes, and I spent years telling him that he could not mention it in interviews. I said: “If you tell people that, we’re finished.” But Rhodes was from that older generation, and he could obviously see what was happening. He was giving them little hints and tips. It was the same with McLaren and Westwood and the clothes. The main thing for me pre-punk was that I never knew where those pop stars got the clothes. When you walked down the street, you wouldn’t see clothes like the ones guys in bands wore. But then punk came along and suddenly we were all dressing the same. You would try hard to look cool, but you couldn’t wear anything flashy. You had to consider everything.
Lynval Golding of the Specials once told me this story about how Bernie Rhodes had taken him aside one day and said that if you saw someone with an amazing sense of style who everyone is looking at, you steal his ideas. That’s the way things evolve. That goes back to the Larry Parnes idea that you had to have a gimmick, a look, and a stage name.
You knew they were a total gimmick, but I loved the names: Sid Vicious, Billy Idol, Billy Fury, Johnny Rotten. But most of all they had the clothes. McLaren knew everything about clothes, how to cut them, how to put them together, what worked, what didn’t.
To us it seemed like a year-zero thing, but the whole look had been put together from bits of the past and just given a sneer. Malcolm and Bernie are responsible for so much of that.
There is this young band I’m friendly with and I want to give them advice, but I dare not even open my mouth. They’d just laugh at me. McLaren and Rhodes used to sit there in the Roebuck and say you need to do this, this, and this. Wear that and write a song about submission.
If I tried to give these young kids advice like “You shouldn’t wear those shoes. You look like you’ve just come out of Topshop,” they wouldn’t listen to me. These kids were 15 when I met them, and they looked like slobs. They all had great hair but they wouldn’t do anything with it. Now if you’re a kid, your dad listens to the same records as you do, and all the bands look exactly the same.
And yet they all have stylists!
Their stylist takes them to Topshop and the job’s done. They all have those awful skintight jeans and it’s all from some huge shop in Oxford Circus. They go in and get their uniform in a day. We’d spend weeks scouring markets just to get the right jacket.
If I headed down to the swing park in drainpipe denims when I was young, I’d get my head kicked in. People would spit on me.
There was a kid at my school in Birmingham whose dad made him wear a pair of drainpipes, and he got mashed to a pulp. He nearly got his son killed. Now you can walk around in whatever you like and you won’t get touched. That danger isn’t there. In Birmingham, you used to take your life in your hands. You’d get people pointing at you, chasing you, all the straights and football fans. I remember being scared going to the one punk club, Barbarella’s. But I couldn’t tell anyone. I just had to tough it out.
That is my memory of all those first punk gigs: excitement mixed with fear. Everything was twice as intense.
You just don’t get that now. Can you imagine going to a gig and being scared? It just wouldn’t happen. Or watching a band come onstage and thinking the singer looked amazing? The first time I went to see Siouxsie and the Banshees, I didn’t know what they looked like. I got to the club early—there was barely anyone there apart from this one guy who looked like he was dressed as a clown. He had this big black fringe and the biggest pair of trousers I’d ever seen. I remember just thinking, “What the fuck is this guy wearing?” because at that point it was all drainpipes. At the end of the night he came onstage. It was John McKay, the Banshees’ guitarist. The whole idea of wearing something like that was so new then that I couldn’t get it into my head. That feeling of looking at someone and thinking “What the fuck?” just isn’t there anymore.
Go Kart Mozart is set to release an album entitled On the Hot Dog Streets, as well as a mini-album, Mozart Mini Mart, later this year on West Midlands Records. A film about Lawrence directed by Paul Kelly and entitled Lawrence of Belgravia is set to premiere in October—although it has been set to premiere for two Octobers running now. And PS: Douglas Hart is the coolest guy in London. Google that shit.