The La's - "The La's" - Go Discs - Oct 1990
Lee Mavers - Gtr, vox. John Power - Bass Paul Hemmings/Peter Camell - Gtrs Neil Mavers/Chris Sharrock - Drums
The La's had everything required to guarentee them a place in the cult hall of fame. The band only released 1 lp - they claimed it failed to capture the sound in Mavers head - they dismissed it as "shite" & bitched about their label & the business in general. Just add a touch of mystique, some zen punk attitude & a few phials of quality opiates & the myth writes itself, right?
To say Lee Mavers was under the spell of the 60's is a major understatement. He was totally @ odds with the modern production approach & vehemently anti-innovation when it came to the equipment he wanted to record the La's music on. He famously demanded an authentic 1960's mixing desk complete with period dust! He had to settle for sessions with Mike Hedges & his ex-Abbey Road kit in deepest rural Devon. Early signs were promising, Mavers was happy with the noise that they had captured. This joy was short lived; Power & Sharrock, thinking the lp was in the can, had jetted off to Hawaii with their spouses leaving a sulking Mavers feeling left out. This time alone obviously affected the way he felt about the sessions in retrospect because he soon rejected the recordings & disowned them. Go Discs, the semi-indie label that brought us Billy Bragg, began to panic & hastily brought in Steve Lillywhite as a holding excercise - he mopped up the spillage & delivered the masters. Mavers freaked - the lp was eventually released without his permission, hence the aforementioned bitching.
To a fans ear, listening to the finished release, it's hard to quantify exactly what pissed Mavers so badly. Even 12 years down the line the production bears no evidence of gated snare sounds, over-compressed gtrs or any of the stilted 80's production values that murdered so much promising rock in that disasterous decade. "The La's" sounds as fresh today as it did when it first popped into Maver's head. It's the sound of a writer who knows his Nuggets from his Rubble & is most deffinatley in control of his Pebbles & his marbles. In retrospect, The La's were the only real deal to emerge from the era everyone now loves to hate.
The La's preceeding singles had provided ample evidence of what was to come, digested in a lp setting, early 45's: "Way Out", "Timeless Melody" & "There She Goes" sit perfectly in one of the most concise track running orders of all time.
Kicking off with "Son Of A Gun", Mavers description of a man on the edge could well be autobiographical (a man who's @ loggerheads with himself all the time??); "Now he's doing time in the back of his mind". Indeed.
"I Can't Sleep" keeps up the frenetic pace. Power's jubilant bass runs, Mavers pliable vocals, twin gtr attack - all underpinned with a foundation of chunky acoustic spleandour.
"Timeless Melody" is exactly that - how it failed to light up the charts as a single is a valid condemnation of a nation's taste.
"Liberty Ship" adds nautical nuances; "I way fairer, she fairways." Mavers blurring of sea waves & airwaves may well comment on the lack of radio play aktion afforded to the band.
"There She Goes" was desperate to be a hit from the moment the needle hit the rekkid. The song is one of the finest ever written by a post punk British songwriter, a fact that is confirmed by the £16,000 per anum (approx) Mavers still recieves from the PRS in royalties (Also one of the best Heroin songs ever).
"Doledrum" seeks a better life out of the benfit trap & calls for a little pride, again the spritely delivery is at odds with the subject matter.
"Feelin" sums up Mavers outlook perfectly, it's all about the vibe & it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.
Debut 45, "Way Out", was the most 60's drenched of all The La's songs - it still sounds ancient, authentic & utterly convincing.
"IOU" demands that you stand up on your own two feet & stop bumming off of your mates & fellow citizens - Mavers had one hell of a social conscience as well as unswerving pride in his ability, his craft & his hometown.
"Failure", the harshest cut on the lp in terms of gtr sound as well as sentiment, offers some indication to where Mavers head was @ as he realised that things were not going to work out after all. It's blistering garage dynamic adds venom to the subject & shows again that Mavers was no one trick pony.
The lp draws to close with the melancholic & wonderfully affecting, "Looking Glass". Mavers asks for guidance on his journey, his plaintive vocal requests advice regerding direction home, his world weary feel & delivery transcends time. It could almost have been recorded @ any time during the last 35 years.
Unpredictable to the end, Mavers has kept his head below the parapets & held his countenance ever since. He did record in Brentford & Liverpool in the mid 90's but friends are the only people to have ever heard the results. Mavers reaction to the later success enjoyed by Powers with Cast does shed some light on his perspective, however; "Cast, they're embarrassing. He's learned nothing from The La's".
Only time will tell whether there is another chapter to be written in the extraordinary story of Lee Mavers. One day the truth will out, it always does. A legacy as strong as "The La's" demands it's place in history - Bury Lee Mavers heart @ Wounded Knee. Forget The Stone Roses, Happy Modays or Oasis - the true sons of the north had risen & fallen on the outrageous surf of popular acclaim long before & sailed away on an ocean wave.
(Postscript; Should Lee or anyone who knows him read this & want to talk to us, then please e-mail the usual adress. There is a record to be put straight, after all.)
Nick Kuntz - Jan 2002