I make no secret of the fact that The La’s are the best band there’s ever been. It wasn’t always that way though – my first listen to the eponymous debut album saw it shelved for six months as it didn’t tickle my fancy. I was 17-18 at the time, and this was a long time before I considered myself an audiophile and even rated things (deeply) like mixing, mastering, the natural sound of the acoustic guitar, or whether there was audible dust on the amps. I was too busy having a breakdown and too deeply into Portishead’s debut, Leonard Cohen’s Greatest Hits/Best Of, and Jeff Buckley’s debut, Grace. When I went back to the album though, I cursed myself aloud for having not ‘got it’ beforehand. Since then, it’s been the only album that mattered consistently throughout my days. Sure, Modern Life Is Rubbish comes close, and Worst Case Scenario by dEUS also runs the race well. The La’s, however, are mythic. The La’s are mysterious. The La’s matter more than just the music. The La’s are the Merseysippi and they bring life to what music should be about – intrigue, rumour, suspense of new material and brotherhood.
Wymondham College and The La’s
I remember the first time I heard The La’s. or The L.A.’s, as the radio DJ announced them before playing There She Goes. It sparkled. All around me were nissan huts, kids with curtain haircuts and flares, Fruit of the Loom t-shirts and trainers with f*ck-off big tongues on them. I’d recently picked up The Stone Roses album on cassette from a kid called Daniel, and The Beloved’s second album, Happiness, was getting a lot of rotation too. Madchester was shouting at me weekly from N.M.E., Melody Maker, Sounds, Vox, Select and the likes. My true passion was Mega City Four and The Cure, with Carter USM and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin t-shirts filling my wardrobe (floor).
Nigel, a drummer, whose path I crossed – probably due to our mutual love of loud guitar music – had invited me around his place to play me some records, show off some drum skills and to watch Thunderbirds. His room was plastered in The La’s cuttings from the music rags, and he raved about recent Norwich UEA gigs. He would’ve played me Feelin’ and Timeless Melody, as I recall him showing off some 7″ singles from them. It passed over me – I was too busy thinking about Ride and My Bloody Valentine no doubt.
No-one, apart from Nigel, spoke about The La’s, so my school/college days were all about other guitar bands of the day. I wish I had listened more to Nigel’s record collection and grasped the passion he had for Lee Mavers’ songs.
The Loneliness of the Long Distance La’s Fan
When I moved to York and let the anchor sink deep into the murky depths, Liverpool became a pipe-dream. Forget The Beatles, it was all about The La’s and seeing Lee on the street.
Liverpool came to York in the shape of The Bandits, The Basement, cancelled The Coral gigs, The Dead 60s, amongst other guitar bands – and it wasn’t until a few years later when John Power strode into town.
I collected my Seven Degrees of Lee Mavers connections and tried to pin them down to direct links to the man.
Some years later I received a text from Nick Tudor, saying that a mate of his had seen Lee in McDonalds, in York’s city centre. I apologised to the missus and legged it into town. I walked around for an hour of so – bumping into Gatt and seeing his eyes light up, but his girlfriend’s not, at the news.. the journey would continue as a solo treasure hunt. Sat at the train station for another hour or more, in case he had travelled by rail. Alas, I don’t think he did. I went home, dejected, disappointed and a little embarrassed at going In Search of The La’s.
There’s a lot of love for The La’s in York. An awful lot. I really wish Lee would come to town with a guitar and delight us all, even with TV theme tune covers.
Then there was a chance to see The La’s, as they played Sheffield. I purchased a ticket – but I knew I’d never be able to beat my travel phobia and anxieties to make it to the show.
Perhaps it’s never meant to be?
Supporting John Power
Supporting John Power at Fibbers was a dream come true, and I owe Mr H two kidneys for putting me on the bill – a total of three times over the next couple of years. John is the most down-to-earth and genuine musician I think I’ve ever met. Don’t meet your heroes? Well, if John Power is one of them, please do seek him out – he’s the boss, la!
At The Duchess, a kid stood outside the dressing room with a free Cast CD he had picked up with a Sunday newspaper. He was trembling. The chance to meet John was clearly important to him, and I invited him backstage to ‘hang’. As soon as he walked in, still trembling (possibly even more by now), John looked up, stopped talking to his friends, grabbed his acoustic and started singling Working Class Hero – the lad had it emblazoned on his t-shirt. Not just a verse – John sang the whole song to him. It was an incredible moment.
I did press John about unreleased La’s material when I supported him – every time in fact! What were the name of some demos that might’ve been recorded. What chances were there of Lee performing again. What did he (John) think of The La’s Callin’ All 4 disc (box)set – he said he was glad to see he got a credit for Over, which was originally a song by John called Old Man. He wouldn’t spill the beans on anything else – the mystery remains.
The La’s Come to York!
Well, I’d met John, and next up was Gary Bandit – when he gigged with Southern. I couldn’t believe it was him, and chatted a bit about his time in the band.
When Johnny Marr played The Duchess, I waited outside for ages, simply to ask him what it was like working with Lee! He told me the story (which later appeared in his autobiography, Set The Boy Free) about introducing his son, Niles, to Lee and telling him that his son’s favourite song was There She Goes. Lee then grabbed a guitar and sang the song to him, inches from his face – Niles couldn’t remember this was Johnny shouted over to him about it. Things didn’t work out between the two as Lee simply didn’t want to work on new material, apparently – intent on capturing the first album as he wanted it, before (ever) moving on.
Next up was Ian Brodie – who had ex-La’s in Lightning Seeds with him – but he had nothing to add about Lee. Then Nick from The Coral – who proclaimed Lee as mad, and wouldn’t even answer the phone if anyone offered him the deal of a lifetime.
Barry Sutton is next for me, coming to York in support to The Real People at Fibbers. I’m sure I’ll chew his ear off with questions – poor guy, like he’s not sick enough of being asked about a band he was in 25 years ago.
The Crescent Tape and The Kitchen Tape
The La’s forum has been a life-line to me. Such like-minded and opinionated guys chatting mutually about an obsession that tends to take over their lives. When The Crescent Tape leaked, and The Kitchen Tape, we’d hit gold. Due to the forum, this post isn’t the place to discuss songs in detail, or demos, live sessions and the album’s release – but just my own feelings as I try to edge closer to touch the untouchables.
If there is anything else out there, and it’s looking less likely as the years go on, I still wait like an enthusiastic teenager, queuing to buy N.M.E., Melody Maker and Sounds and looking for an advert in print proclaiming a new release. I bore anyone who’ll listen about the band. I always ask promoters if there’s any whispers down the wire of Lee or The La’s booking shows. I need the band both to and not to release new material. I want to hear new songs – but I also don’t want to ruin the pedestal I have the released (and demo) material on.
What would I say to Lee if I ever met him? What’s his favourite Jean-Jacques Burnel bassline?