AT SOME POINT IN THE late ’70s, a morose Brummie called Lawrence Hayward decided to form a band influenced by the poetic rock of Dylan, Verlaine et al. He created Felt as a project that would last a decade, release 10 albums, then proudly disappear.
It wasn’t long before Lawrence became a bona fide indie rock myth. He sacked his first drummer, or so they said, for having curly hair. He was rumoured to have turned up at the Glastonbury Festival expecting on-site bungalows to be provided for the performers. He conducted his career like a legend, and was rewarded with piffling sales but the solace of cult heroism. And now his original home, Cherry Red, are initiating the reissue of those 10 albums at the rate of two a month?you’ll have to wait until September for his 1986 masterpiece, Forever Breathes The Lonely Word.
In the meantime, Stains On A Decade, a new 15-track compilation, is a good primer. It’s often easy with Felt?as with Lawrence’s later bands, Denim and Go-Kart Mozart?to focus on Lawrence and neglect the actual music. Stains On A Decade reiterates the case for Felt as a kind of West Midlands correlative to The Smiths. Lawrence and original guitarist Maurice Deebank stumbled on a similar formula to Morrissey and Marr, mixing self-pity, self-aggrandisement and provincial melancholy with an aesthete’s reinterpretation of indie-rock manners.
There’s nothing from 1988’s Train Above The City, an album of piano instrumentals to which Lawrence only contributed titles. Instead, there are Felt’s approximations of hits, like the mythologising jangle of “Ballad Of The Band”. This is pop music sustained by an abiding faith in the way the beautiful and the mundane can interact, and by a vision that’s at once camply tragic and unfeasibly ambitious. A band built for posterity.