…Spring is upon us, follow my only song. The clocks change this weekend, and the opening line from the Fleet Foxes ‘Ragged Wood’ has been ringing in my head since yesterday, when I logged onto The La’s forums to discover that Lee Mavers, my generation’s Syd Barrett, Arthur Lee and Howard Hughes rolled into one (Eccentric behaviour? Check. Reclusive lifestyle? Check. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? Check) has come out of hibernation for a one-off (or maybe more) guest spot on Pete Doherty’s tour.
He’s alive! And playing guitar! Picture copied from Las.org
Believe me, this has sent ripples of excitement towards anyone who still faithfully checks out what the La’s have been up to since 1990. For any uninitiated amongst you, here’s a quick summary…
Yep. Ignoring the ironic attempt at humour, or the eagerly anticpiated yet ultimately unfulfilling 2005 ‘comeback”; Maver’s toothache problems meant he couldnae sing very well. Drummer problems of Spinal Tap proportions meant that Lee’s gardener (he has a gardener?!?) played the smallest drum kit imagineable whilst standing up, The La’s have been pretty much gone, dead and split up. So yeah, ripples of excitement have splashed their way across the ether towards anyone still holding a 20 year old torch in anticipation of the mythical second album. Even a new song would be nice. Or a new chord. Or a new anything. Until then, we’ll have to make do with this…
The internet is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?
They did ‘Son Of A Gun’ as well, which is easy enough to find on yer YouTube. I don’t want to clog this page up with videos when what I really wanted to give you was this……………….the Holy Grail of La’s recordings. Whispered in hushed tones from every corner of the Merseyssippi and beyond, rumoured to be an urban myth, a recording that wasn’t actually in existence, until 2005 when me, myself and I stupidly opened my metaphorical big mouth with one typed line on the La’s website. “The Kitchen tapes? I’ve got them.” Cue mass pandemonium. “No you don’t.” “Yes I do.” And my ego got the better of me. I won’t say how I got a hold of the original tape, but I feel I betrayed that person’s trust in a way. Sorry Mr L, if you’re reading. I know you browse here on occassion. As soon as I had copied the tape for one person it had spread like the River Irvine bursting its banks across the Low Green. It was everywhere. Every bloody file sharing site and half-arsed second rate blog posted it. And took the credit for it. Anyone could hear the session. I was pissed off. You had to earn your La’s stripes first. You couldn’t just turn up to the party as a newcomer in 2005 and just be given it. But that’s what happened. The emails never stopped coming. “‘Eh a’right fella/la/mate etc. Eh, about dem Kitchen tapes. Any chance of eh, y’know. I’ll send you me addy and a stamp.” I still get the emails to this day, even though if they looked hard enough, any dim wit could find it on most file sharing sites. All my fault. I let it out the bag and I hate myself for it. But you might as well get it from me as poke about on those dodgy file sharing sites full of adverts for swingers in your area.
But the Kitchen Session itself. What is it? If you’ve never heard of it before now, here’s the facts. Sometime in 1989, the La’s were staying at a cottage in Devon, ostensibly to write songs for their second album. The cottage was owned by Andy MacDonald, label boss of Go! Discs. In preparation for him visiting, the band recorded themselves in the kitchen (good acoustics apparently) doing a half hour or so session on video camera. MacDonald later took the tape back to London where an audio copy of it made it’s way into my lucky bastard hands. The songs are almost complete but not quite. Apart from ‘I Am The Key’ none of the songs had ever been heard before. The session is a masterclass in songwriting. Mavers is clearly in charge, shouting instructions and changes to the assembled band – John Power (bass), Chris Sharrock (bongos, percussion, banging noises, now in Oasis) and Barry Sutton (guitar). “The song’s just started…….Bongos man! Nah, You should come in second….2, 3, 4!” “ZZ Top! chaka-boom, chaka boom!“
He sings guitar riffs where they would appear in a studio recording. He scats, riffs and sings in that high falsetto that sounds so magical on The Hit Single the band are known for. Where the lyrics are incomplete, he makes up the words to fit the melody. He even sends himself up, him and Power singing Bryan Adams’ ‘Run To You’ at one point when they realise where they got the bassline from. But the songs. The songs! Pure gold! ‘Our Time’ features one of the best lines in any songs, ever.
“But the reasons unravel through the seasons I travel.”
Good, eh? I must’ve played my 17 year old tape about 300 times. As soon as I had the technology I converted it to a digital file, but for maximum effect I still like playing that old tape. It’s just about the best piece of music I own. Well. Apart from (insert obvious choice here) and so and so, but you know what I mean. The tape has reached such mythological status that it even has it’s own Wikipedia page (!) In fact, it’s so good only last week Mavers declared it “fucking rubbish“. Yes. It is that good. There is an inferior quality version in circulation which includes a daft R’n’B tune at the end. But if you want the original hi-fi/lo-fi master tape to wav file, the full unedited 34 minute Kitchen Session is here. I hope you enjoy every minute of it as much as I have. I’ve listened to it twice as I’ve written this article and it still knocks my socks off.
The official unofficial tracklisting is:
A plea. My recording is taken straight from the video tape and converted to audio. If anyone out there has the video, well, I’m your best pal. Drop me a line. I can send you me addy and a stamp if you like, la.
*If you like The La’s, and in particular studio outtakes, demos and the likes, you might want to click here. I put the music back up recently for a polite reader from Sweden.