‘I’d rather be a tramp than fix my old band’: Lawrence on life as Britain’s greatest band | indie

THe has the most uncompromising character in British pop music has an urgent question: “Do you need a bathroom?” This is Lawrence (no nicknames, please), the mastermind responsible for Felt’s resplendent beauty, sparkling denim rock, and elaborate earworms. Go-Kart Mozart, which is now renamed the Mozart Estate. As we walk to his high-rise City Council apartment in east London, I promise him my bladder is empty. “Are you sure?” Continue to the Midlands. “Do you want to try going to a coffee shop?” No one is allowed near his toilet. “There was a worker the other day, and he used it without asking. Oh my God, it was ‘awesome!'”

Lawrence wears his trademark baseball cap with a blue plastic visor and a blue vintage adidas sweatshirt. His skin is pale and papery, and his eyes are small but bright. He is 60 years old now and has been dreaming of pop stars since he was a kid. “I was sitting in the bathroom and pretending to be interviewed: ‘So how do you feel when you have a third on the trot?’” “

Only one of his songs has ever been drawn: Denim Songs Fell from the back of a truck, live at No. 79 in 1996. Summer Smash, BBC Radio 1’s single of the week, would probably be good in its words (“I think I’d come / I’d go live #1”) if released in September 1997 not canceled after a Paris car accident a certain. As Lawrence was showing me around his dilapidated apartment, which he had been decorating for the past 12 or so years, I noticed a very bad picture of Diana, Princess of Wales hidden in one corner. “My story is forever fixed in her story,” he says bluntly.

We sit on wooden benches in the crowded, dimly lit living room. Stacks of books and vinyls, assorted bags (feather duster, magnifying glass) and a mustard-colored Togo chair—a rare extravagance—still in its plastic wrap around us. The white curtains are pulled. The leak caused it to stain yellow in the urine like a baby bed. “I don’t think anyone has had as bad luck as me,” he says. “It goes from one disaster to the next.”

Lawrence with bandmate Gary Inge (left) at Welt in 1982.
“If you were an indie band in the ’80s, you couldn’t have made it without the support of John Bell”… Photography: David Curio/Redferns

and after Lawrence Belgravia, the 2011 documentary about him that is now released on Blu-ray, remains stubbornly inspiring. It is the story of a born maverick who refuses to either give up on his dreams of success or lower his standards to make them a reality. “You see a lot of musicians fixing their old bands,” he says. “I can’t do that. You have to move on.” He knows what it means to be disappointed with your idols – “I couldn’t beat it back in the ’80s when Lou Reed had a mullet” – and he is determined to never tarnish his legacy, no matter how much money he is offered. “I’d rather be a vagabond than fix a felt or play my old songs,” he says.

He put his money where his mouth is. “There was a point where I learned to live on nothing. I had two pennies in my pocket, finding a seat in the King’s Road in the hope that someone would sit next to me so I could order a cigarette. Nobody ever did it because I looked so tough.”

Lawrence: It's a shame it didn't happen to me.  I like to try fame for size, see how it looks.
Lawrence: It’s a shame it didn’t happen to me. I like to try fame for size, see how it looks. Photography: Terry Bingley/The Guardian

Lawrence Belgravia alludes to addiction issues and legal problems: We glimpse bottles of methadone and stacks of court letters. At the beginning of the movie, he was kicked out of his previous apartment. But it’s still a heartwarming and hopeful study of someone whose fame – as symbolized by limousines, helicopters and Kate Moss – hasn’t lost its appeal. “It’s a shame it didn’t happen to me,” he says. “I like to try fame for size, see what it looks like.” How close is it? “There was a period in the ’90s where I could get a cab. It was as good as it got. There’s a ladder of fame and I’m near the bottom. I’ve always been, and I accept that.”

The documentary helped a little. “It’s a proper movie, and that took me two notches,” he says. “You initiated me.” He rarely wanted respect: he counts Jarvis Coker, Stuart Murdoch from Bale and Sebastian among his fans. Choose Charlie Brooker denim clothes new potatoes, with Pinky & Perky vocals, as one of his Desert Island discs. He also began to recognize him on the street – “which indicates that you are getting somewhere.” But he does grumble: “The people who come to me are all listening to my stuff on Spotify. I tell them, ‘Buy a blood log!’ Some of them don’t have a turntable, so I say put it on the wall.”

The story of his hard luck began when he felt Failed to win DJ John Peel’s endorsement. “If you were an indie band in the ’80s, you wouldn’t be able to make it without Bill’s support,” he says. When Lawrence formed denim in the early ’90s, he seemed to be perfectly positioned to ride the initial Britpop wave. “I only made one super mistake,” he points out. “I thought the live music was over, so we didn’t play live at first.” He thought it would add mystery if fans couldn’t see the denim in the flesh. “I wanted to be an animated band. But it turned out to be the beginning of the live boom. Indie suddenly became mainstream. I didn’t notice it coming.”

Denim at Lawrence's home in 1992.
Denim at Lawrence’s home in 1992. Photo: Dave Tong/Getty Images

If the die-hard likes of Blur stole a march on Lawrence, it was another Damon Albarn team that got him involved with the idea for “Animation Squad.” “I couldn’t believe what happened when Gorillas happened,” he charged. “I was like, ‘This is what I wanted to do! “

Shortly after the Summer Smash disaster, denim was dropped by EMI. “We had to go into making records for nothing, getting favors from friends.” Go-Kart Mozart was intended as a stopping point, but the songs, many of which were musically optimistic and lyrically tough (when you’re depressed, relatively poor, and we’re selfish, lazy, and greedy), have continued to come out for more than two decades. The name change to Mozart Estate reflects, as Lawrence says, “the tough times we’re in.”

He was even surprised while checking the lyrics sheet for Mozart Estate’s new album Pop-Up, Ker-Ching and the Possuable of Modern Shopping, which is due to be released in January. “Every song has something bad,” he says. One track features the line, “London is a trash full of human trash.” Another is called I Wanna Murder You. “I will never get any money from Palestinian refugees from Syria for that,” he says. “Still, he is very attractive. He breaks into a beautiful chorus.”

Lawrence: “Indy has gone mainstream. I didn’t notice it coming. Photography: Terry Bingley/The Guardian

All this is too much for some people. When Mozart’s first Go-Kart album was released, he received a call from Alan McGee, boss in creation since the days of felt. Alan said, ‘What is this Sailor Boy song, then? Jane Gene come down on you? I don’t understand, Lawrence. I don’t understand what you’re doing! “

Paul Kelly, director of Lawrence Belgravia, believes that the singer is healthier and more optimistic now than he was during the making of the film. Production took eight years, in large part because Lawrence continued to be missing for several months in a row. “I’ll be frustrated first, then I’ll worry,” Kelly says. “When he finally showed up, he acted like nothing had happened. He has that disarming personality so you always forgive him. I think he was afraid that when we were done, there wouldn’t be anything else. He didn’t want to let the movie go.”

These days, Lawrence has fingers in a myriad of pies (he reissues Felt, a limited-edition volume of hit pieces and collectibles and a 10-inch EP, all before the new album). He’s full of ideas: he wants to write a play for the royal court, in collaboration with Charli XCX, directed by Andrea Arnold. “do you know her?” Amal asks. “I want to be in one of her films and write a song for him.”

Screenshot from the documentary
“He didn’t want to let the movie go”… Still from Lawrence Belgravia’s documentary. Photo: BFI

His greatest enthusiasm was devoted to the life-size pink marble bust that sculptor Corin Johnson is making of him: “He came to me at a party and said, ‘I’d like to make a statue for you after a month of sessions—including one in which he spent straw in his nose while His head was covered with plaster of Paris – almost ready. Nick Cave, one of Lawrence’s heroes, was working in the same arena on a ceramic project about the Devil. He continues to say, ‘When are you going to finish that with blood? “

Even on Lawrence’s old cellphone, no bigger than a matchbox car, the images of the statue look charming. Wearing a hood over his baseball cap, sunglasses affixed to his face, his expression is stark and defiant: it’s a literal monument to his artistic purity. “This should propel me a few steps up the ladder of fame,” he says, marveling at his marble likeness. I think he is in love.

This article was modified on July 27, 2022 to correct the spelling of the Charli XCX name.

Lawrence of Belgravia is now available on Blu-ray and BFI Player.