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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How did Liz Fraser come to be on the record?
Liz came with Robin to work on her own lyrics and songs and that, so she’d be upstairs in the bedroom, in their room, working on her lyrics. She had a bed full of books that she was poring though, reading and writing. Anyway, when we’d recorded “Primitive Painters” and we listened back, Robin said “I’ve got a good idea.” He ran upstairs and he said to Liz, “I want you to sing this song.” He just played her the end section. I wrote the lyrics out for her on a piece of paper, she went in, listened to it once on headphones, and then just improvised around it. It was as real as that. It was a remarkable moment. When you listen back to something like that, we knew we’d got it.

It was on the cusp between the 7-inch culture of the late ‘70’s and the 12-inch culture of the Eighties.
Yeah, I wanted it to be a stand alone release like Wild Swans’ “Revolutionary Spirit” and Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” which were 12-inches. “Atmosphere” was on 7-inch, but that was that French label so it didn’t count. Songs that were too big to hold on 7-inch, they were big. Cherry Red wanted to do a 7-inch edit of “Primitive Painters”, but I wouldn’t let them.

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Talking of Cherry Red, what was your relationship like with them at that point?
Michael Alway was the A&R guy who signed us to Cherry Red. He formed a new label with Geoff Travis and they went to Warners and they started Blanco Y Negro. He always promised that he’d take us with him. He took most of the Cherry Red rock stuff, and he left us behind, because Warners just wouldn’t entertain the idea of having Felt. So we were on a label that we didn’t want to be on. But we all made friends and we had two albums left to deliver so we did Strange Idols Pattern, and then Ignite the Seven Cannons. I’d been speaking to Alan McGee at this point so I knew we were going to Creation after this last album. There was no animosity there, we were all friends and I’ve never fallen out with them, we’d been friends for years and it was just business.

You made a video with Phil King a couple of years later. How did that come about?
We were on Creation when we did it. What happened was, I don’t know why but it was mooted that we should do a video for “Primitive Painters”. It got half made. Cherry Red and Creation were meant to pay for it together, pay half each. Cherry Red came up with their half because they initiated the project, and McGee didn’t pay his half. So we did half a video with Phil’s friend Danny. What you see on YouTube is half a video. We were meant to do another half and join it together, have stuff superimposed over the top, have extra scenes. But all you can see really is me and Phil in Phil’s house in Hammersmith, just standing around. It’s ridiculous. I was so embarrassed when it leaked out. So we put it to bed, and it lay there until somebody scooped it up and put it on YouTube or leaked it on a VHS probably first, it was probably a leaked VHS first.

Yeah, it’s got that slight tracking wobble you get every now and again on VHS…
I should’ve been more attentive and got hold of it and cut it up or something. I was very meticulous about ‘there’s no extra tracks’ and things like that, no demos or extra tracks hanging around. But with this for some reason it went wrong. I can’t remember why it was resurrected I’d say about a year and a half later. Maybe together McGee and Cherry Red were going to do something.

Where do you think now the song fits into your body of work? Is it a song you still feel proud of?
Oh yeah, oh wow. It was great that we went back – at that time you never went back and revisited anything – and we spent an extra afternoon getting it right and perfecting it. It was this great big statement, Felt were going to be massive. I was prone to short pop songs. My thing was, I’m going to break in to the mainstream by doing a short pop song. I was totally off the mark. We nearly had a hit single with a six-minute track that was not a traditional pop song, let’s put it that way. I reckon that if it would’ve been in the ’90s, it would’ve been a Top 10 song – because the independent movement was ready to promote songs like that. In 1985, there was no apparatus for a song like that, to take it to the mainstream. Even The Smiths would only get to 23, and the Cocteaus would only get to 38. I’m really proud of the song, I’m really proud that Maurice got his moment. I’m proud of the fact the Cocteaus are on it. I suppose it was the high point of the first days of Felt wasn’t it?

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