The Gum's Rush - Melody Maker, 17November, 1990.

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The Gum's Rush - Melody Maker, 17November, 1990.

Postby Syl » Sun Nov 30, 2003 7:40 am

Title: The La's - The Gum's Rush
Publication: Melody Maker
Date Of Publication: November 17, 1990
Origin: UK
Interviewer: Paul Mathur
Photographer: Paul Rider


L. to R. - Neil Mavers, Lee Mavers, Peter ' Cammy Camell, John Power.


Photo ' Splash Text '.

THE LA’s may have slagged off their own debut album and their record company, but with the group’s single, ‘There She Goes’, bouncing into the Top 20 and an appearance on ‘Top Of The Pops’, the Liverpool band should be uncorking the champagne, not crying over spilt milk. PAUL MATHUR tries to see them live in Amsterdam, ends up at the BBC in London, and discovers how their success has caused such misery, why good pop is organically grown, and why being on ‘Top Of The Pops’ is a fraud.



THE La’s are winding up a European tour in Amsterdam and leaving a little synchronicity in their wake. As the train from the airport to the city centre carves through a concrete jungle that makes Liverpool’s outlying estates look like a lush definition of beauty, four Dutch homeboys whip out a ghettoblaster. Tuning to a local radio station they jiggle and swoop to a roster of hippety hoppety House workouts. They even manage to shake a limb to a bit of Neil Young. All at once a familiar guitar chime skates across the airwaves — The La’s super smash hit single “There She Goes”. Within five seconds the homeboys have whirled the dial elsewhere and while their mumbled assessment in Dutch — a language lying somewhere between gargling and advanced dyslexia — remains impenetrable, their dismissive tone suggests a rough translation. “Bob Stanley from the Melody Maker music paper,” they say, “may well have labelled that song one of the classic singles of all time, but in our modest opinion it’s about as appealing as having a clog inserted into one’s bottom.” Something along those lines anyway.

THE La’s lead singer, Lee Mavers would have loved to have been there, to have witnessed such disdain, convinced as he is that in the great card game of life, the rest of the world is playing with a marked deck. The last time he mentioned his band and any concept of pleasure in the same sentence is widely believed to be sometime back in the 18th century. If he were to ring up the Samaritans they’d end up topping themselves.

Tonight, in Amsterdam, The La’s are supporting World Party, the latter with their retro hippy posturing an apparently dead cert Amsterdam hit. The La’s, however, are not about to be outdone. Bassist John slashed his hand with a string the previous night, thus ruling him out of any roar-of-the-crowd proceedings, and a flu bug is rapidly decimating what’s left of the line-up. Lee himself has fallen victim, ensconced in his hotel room with a bag of waccy baccy and a medicinal draught that I’m told smells like a cross between Night Nurse and laudanum.

In 10 minutes time he’s due on stage and the odds of him actually doing so are lengthening by the second. I retire to my room where I learn from Dutch TV that dog food is advertised by a curious chap called MrTopfokker and from MTV that the global network is under the impression that The La’s are called The L.A.’s. MTV are also tipping the band for international success. I write them a lengthy letter pointing out that they’d have to find a cure for flu first.

EVENTUALLY, a mere 20 minutes late, two of the band and a few of the crew members mosey along to the venue with an ambitious plan for a “stripped down” set involving acoustic instruments and “backing vocals”. They resolutely refuse to acknowledge the fact that backing vocals don’t sit that well in a musical combination that doesn’t have any fronting ones, but plough on regardless, trying to convince the promoter otherwise.

Having some experience of rock’s rich tapestry, albeit the rarely coherent Amsterdam segment, the promoter’s having none of their concessions and a sombre notice is rapidly pasted to the front door.

“The La’s spelen,” it reads, “helaas niet vanwege ziegte.” The same still, silent, bilingual voice in my head suggests that a translation approximates as “The La’s singer is having a sleep, but we never liked them anyway.” If Amsterdammers could ever drag themselves out of a stupor long enough to instigate inter-sociaI violence, The La’s would be first for the tar and feathers.

IN the sanctuary of the makeshift dressing room, the mood is, unsurprisingly, less than ecstatic. All except Lee (who by now has attained almost mythical Howard Hughes reclusive status) are present, keen to inform me that the rest of the tour has been something approaching good fun.

“Belgium was good,”says John, unwisely choosing to reinforce the comment by showing me his still disturbingly angry looking hand wound. “We’ve had a lot of experiences that have really P**ed us off recently, but Belgium was good. We played to people who liked us and had a good time. For the first time in ages I thought, ‘Yeah, this is what it should be’.”

Ah yes, the bad experiences. Many column inches of late have been devoted to The La's incessant assertions that they're not terribly pleased with their eponymous, recently released album. They don't like the cover, they don't like the way the songs were mixed or indeed the final selection. Then there's the video, the album title, the state of the contemporary music industry, the price of fish... they're bitter.

Some of their complaints are justified. The reason that "There She Goes" is a hit in 1990 on the back of an advertising campaign that rightly labels it "The Classic Single", is because, in 1988, when it was originally released, people who wanted copies found them difficult to actually buy in the shops. It bruised the lower 50s, but sunk quickly. The re-release is 20 and climbing, the efficient distribution appearing to bear out the boys' complaints.

THERE is, however, another element. The La’s find themselves these days in a musical environment far more responsive to their melodic style. Scallies, Sixties echoes and songs you can hum have never stood a better chance of commercial success. Like their hometown peers The Farm, The La’s construct neat, disciplined pop that isn’t afraid of wearing its heart on its sleeve.

“I think people want something organic, something real,” Lee will tell me later, avoiding lapsing into a daftly misguided celebration of authenticity-over-all by adding, “the best Acid records are those made in people’s bedrooms for a 100 quid or whatever. The worst records are the ones that sample everything just because those people have no talent. They’re only just beginning to play.”

The La’s have that real organic nature that they love so much and while it is admittedly subdued on the album, there are moments that make you think the band are being overly modest in their condemnation of their recorded work. Songs like “Lookin’ Glass”, “Son Of A Gun” and the re- recorded version of the debut single, “Way Out” demonstrate a talent that shouldn’t waste time wingeing. The La’s on record are much better than they think.

THE next day, Lee Mavers finally surfaces, telling the ever considerate Paul Rider that although he might look much better, he feels a lot worse. The chances of this being the upbeat, isn't-life-great La's piece are looking increasingly slim. Back in London, The La's are going through the motions of hitting the big time. Straight off the plane they're whisked off to "Top Of The Pops", their debut appearance on that hallowed show. At the run through they mime to the song with a surliness that would be appealing were it not born outof drenching misery. Afterwards Lee and John agree to a quick chat, but warn that they fully intend going off to do some shopping as soon as there's a pause in the conversation.

The question that needs to be asked is why they’ve got a superfluous apostrophe in their name? The La’s what, exactly? Or maybe even a suggestion that subliminally they’ve called themselves The La’s because a lot of their songs go “La La La”. Deciding that they’ll think me a speccy intellectual @#%$ for even thinking such a thing, I go for a more obvious tack. Why the long faces?

Lee knows exactly why. “As soon as you talk about the album,” he admits, “you’ll get us being bitter. We’re pissed off at how it’s come out (see above, and most of the times they’ve opened their mouths to journalists in the past year). It’s not the album we had in our heads, it’s an album of parodies of our songs. If I had to say anything about the album, I’d say don’t buy it.”

“No, people should buy it if they want,” interjects John, realising that such reckless perfectionism is all very well when you’re on your 20th album, but doesn’t make a whole heap of sense with a debut. “Listeners can make up their own mind,” he adds, “but they should know that we don’t like it.”

THE dark and doomy world of contractual obligations, overfussy studio technicians and the band’s determinedly single-minded vision has led to this rather sorry state of affairs. Lee admits that they’ve got at least a couple of albums’ worth of “great songs”, but is loathe to specify when, or even if, they’ll be committed to vinyl. But surely, I proffer, they must be feeling at least a frisson of excitement playing “Top Of The Pops”, treading the very stage that Pan’s People, Marc Bolan and The St Winifred’s School Choir made their own? - “No,” spits Lee, enormously surprisingly. “These days ‘Top Of The Pops’ is dishonest. Maybe it was good once, but not now. You just have to do these things. It’s like everything in the music industry, you have to be chaperoned everywhere and you have to wait around for a ges. If they treat you like a child you’re going to behave like one.”

So what’s the ideal, the untainted vision that makes someone want to be a popstar in the first place?

“It’s to write songs, to record them the way you want to and to let people hear them,” says Lee. “When I decided I wanted to be a musician that was how I thought it would be, that simple. And really there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do that. Then you find out how many things are going to get in your way.

“When I began writing songs I was really hard on myself and I did my best stuff. That was when I was doing demos, trying to get a deal. Now all this has happened, I’ve let myself get slack and I don’t like that. You don’t actually get any time to do anything creative. Yeah, I’m bitter.”

“There are times when I’m happy,” confesses John, obviously more inclined to acknowledgement of joy than Mavers. Indeed one senses that he’s a healthy foil for his gloomy mate. And, considering the personnel changes preceding this line-up, a stabilising force for the band’s future.

“This line-up is pretty solid, as solid as it can be with everything going on around us,” Lee concludes. “Because, I tell you, if we find ourselves in a position where there seems no way we can do what we want, the way we want, then I’ll just stop. I’ll get out. I don’t need all this.”

“The best thing about this song being a hit is that it puts us in a stronger position to be able to get our own way about things,” John adds. “I’m not interested in the money. If I was, I wouldn’t care about what the records came out sounding like. I mean, like, the album’s out now and we’ve said how we feel. It’s just raking up old ground to go on and on about it.”

THERE are glimmers of hope for a tangible future for the band. They’ve almost finished building and equipping a studio in their hometown Liverpool. It’s there that they hope to be able to make the rest of their records, particularly since it will isolate them from what they see as the stultifying influence of an excess of technology. “You only need a four-track or an eight-track, that’s all,” says Lee. “We have to find some way of making the sound more organic.”

Organic. That word again. Perhaps the closest they get to demonstrating it is in live performance. Notoriously prolific when it comes to playing live, it’s there that one can appreciate their true appeal. They’re a great pop group, in the purest sense, the lapses into over-indulgence intruding far less than was the case a couple of years back.

They have a sizeable fan following, scattered as far afield as America and Japan, a groundswell that would quite rightly demand the band’s continuing existence. As an outsider it’s irritating to see talent musicians doing themselves as much harm with their infectious misery as the real and imagined foes around them. Unfortunately right now the seeds of potential brilliance are having very real problems germinating. Time perhaps, to shape up or ship out. For The La’s, the next year is going to be even harder than for most.

“It’s not as bad as you might think, honest la’,” John replies.

Now try telling the world.

The La’s eponymous debut album and the single, “There She Goes”, are out now on Go! Discs.

Paul Mathur.


Melody Maker was published in the UK for 73 years and closed its offices (ceased publication) on December 14th, 2000.

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