An interview with Lawrence: “‘Primitive Painters’ was this great big statement, Felt were going to be massive.”

Lawrence on the making of a classic single...

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When did you start writing “Primitive Painters”?
When Maurice rejoined, he bought the music for “Primitive Painters”. It wasn’t like a fully formed song, it was like a cyclical riff. We arranged it together, and I put the verses in so it was a joint collaboration. But he wrote all the music to that and he brought his instrumental track, “Elegance of an Only Dream”. I wanted there to be lots of Maurice songs on that record. But he wasn’t interested, or he just found it too hard to work on his own, I think. When we wrote the songs together, we would sit opposite each other, parallel to each other, in my bedroom or flats that we subsequently got, and we’d just sit there and work on them. I’d play the chord sequence while he’d work out his guitar parts. I think he liked the camaraderie of that better than sitting on his own in a cold room trying to come up with songs, which I didn’t have a problem with. The poet in the garret was made for me. I was quite happy to be on my own composing and writing the words and writing the music, just waiting for fame. I was very prolific, but Maurice wasn’t. He wrote I think one on the first album, “I Worship The Sun”, and he wrote a song called “Spanish House” on the third album, and “Primitive Painters” and the “Elegance…” song. I was quite happy for him to present a whole album worth of stuff. We were partners and it didn’t matter who wrote what bits. We were songwriters’ together, joint songwriters. And of course, he came up with the best song, “Primitive Painters”.

Where did the lyrics come in, do you have books of lyrics?
I was sitting in my kitchen in Moseley doing it. The lyrics, I don’t know how they come about. That would’ve been the last song on Ignite the Seven Cannons, because I had all the others written. So that would’ve been the last lyric I wrote. I can’t say there was any special moment that made me come up with it.

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Can you explain the song?
Dragons blow fire, angels fly, Spirits wither in the air/It’s just me I can’t deny I’m neither here, there nor anywhere”. It’s about wanting to be in a select group. “Primitive painters are ships floating on an empty sea, gathering in galleries”. Imagine groups of really cool kids hanging out in galleries, not pubs. That was my sort of conception.

Was that you?
Yeah, that’s me. I’d always find myself in a gallery on my own, y’know.

Can you talk us through how you worked on the song in the studio?
We’d work them up in a practise room. There was no improvising going on, so we knew exactly what we were doing. Then we set up like a band in the studio. They were layered afterwards. They were very simple, very traditional big group concepts, just like everyone did. You’d set up live and you’d get the bass and the drums and the keyboards down, and the rhythm guitar, and you’d layer it from there, adding lead guitar and vocals afterwards. It’s quite boring, that aspect of it. But it was done really quickly because we didn’t have enough time to ponder, so we just did them all live.

What was Robin like in the studio as a producer?
While I was there, he was capturing it all with the engineer. He didn’t make any arrangement suggestions because it was all set in stone before we got there. I was very pedantic like that. But he put effects to tape, which is something you don’t do.

Could you explain what you mean?
You should record everything dry, and then you decide what effects to put on afterwards so you have the choice. That’s why that album sounds so impenetrable and dense because all the effects went down, so by the time of the mixing there was nothing to change. I suppose that was the way he recorded the Cocteau Twins. It was a massive mistake, and I’m sure he would never do that now. Over the years I’ve collected some of the master tapes and on the reissues that are coming out, I’ve tried to extract the Cocteau Twins from my record. You can’t really hear Maurice’s guitar leads. Okay, skip forward to the end of the mixing when I finally got my tape. I was horrified, I would never have made a record like that. I was like beside myself with anguish. The thing was in those days, you couldn’t remix an album. But Robin quite rightly said “Primitive Painters” has to be the single. He went on and on about it, and he went to Cherry Red and he told them, he persuaded everyone. I didn’t think it was a single, I thought it was too long. I went with him to a studio in London and we remixed it together. And that’s why that’s the best song, ‘cause I was there in that mixing. I went with him to Barry Blue’s studio in Camden. Remember that guy Barry Blue? He had some hits in the ‘70’s? He was like a teenybopper. His studio in Camden was by the Roundhouse. We spent an afternoon there and we remixed “Primitive Painters”. I think we should’ve done an EP with Robin; that would’ve been the best outcome. It would’ve been a different story. But, anyway, we were lumbered with a whole album. And it was 11 tracks as well. That’s something I could never get my head around because I like everything symmetrical. That hurt me a bit, straight away, before I’d even listened to it.

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