Hard-to-find

Sole Music

Who Knows by The La‘s is the track that time forgot. Their one perfectly imperfect album, famously overcooked by a succession of well-intentioned producers, prodders and preservatists, and, despite John Leckie rounding up an actual Abbey Road mixing desk that had channelled yer actual Beatles and a Lennon solo session, devoid of the requisite amount of authentic 60s dust to sate Lee Maver’s unsatisfied and unsatisfiable mind nonetheless contains a dozen short ‘n snappy, frantically scrubbed belters; Way Out, Doledrum, I.O.U, I Can’t Sleep, There She Goes – I really should just list them all – clatter, clang and chime like the best of the band’s undeniable influences.

Mavers, and therefore by default, the band, hated the finished album so much they immediately disowned it. Everyone else though was enthralled by its lo-fi urgency and keening need to drag ‘indie’ music, at the time populated by greasy-fringed posh boys from the Home Counties who played their tunes through banks of overcooked effects pedals, back to a classic songwriting mentality. Too late for the golden era of 60s pop and too early for what would become (gads) Britpop, The La’s ploughed a lone, stubborn furrow for roughly the length of time it took their visionary leader to smoke a six foot spliff to the roach before vanishing in a fragrant puff of smoke.

With each passing year their legend grows. Aborted sessions with young Liverpool musicians too young to have appreciated The La’s first time around, sporadic, erratic live appearances including a short, unpublicised tour 7 or 8 years ago (drums played by the fella who cut Lee’s grass) and a rare spotting of Lee in a Liverpool local banging the bongos at an open-mic acoustic night have all gone a way to helping maintain the myth with a much-resigned and decreasing fanbase.

That sketch above appeared online a couple of weeks ago. Purportedly scribbled by Mavers himself, it’s another reason to hang in there. What else lies in drawers, in cupboards, in studios, long-forgotten?

Will we ever hear new La’s material again? Don’t be daft. Of course not. Thanks to the world wide web, there are a multitude of La’s demos, sessions and alternate versions to gorge yourself upon. Despite this though, two things remain tantalisingly conspicuous by their absence;

1. Lee Mavers has absolutely no online presence at all. He is a 21st century hermit. A recluse happy to live off the not insubstantial royalties that pour monthly through his letter box on the back of There She Goes‘ enduring appeal.

2. You can search and search. You can ask Siri. You might even still be able to Ask Jeeves, but you’ll never find more than one version of Who Knows, The La’s track that time forgot.

The La’sWho Knows

Who Knows is fantastic. Going by its non-appearance on any of the La’s demos or live shows that circulate, it was seemingly recorded once and once only, commited to tape and preserved forever as a one-off recording. Featuring a simple, cyclical acoustic riff and a fragile, voice in the dark vocal, it floats across the ether on a vapour trail of morse-code guitar transmissions, radio static and a heavy reverb that swallows the whole track up at the end. Someone should see that it soundtracks the shipping forecast and it would be the best thing ever.

Who knows what tomorrow knows? Who knows what the future holds? Who knows?

That’s it in a nutshell. Lee. In a room. Playing for no-one but himself. Thank goodness someone (Bob Andrews, since you’re here) magnetised it all to tape. It made its only appearance on the b-side of the original There She Goes single. The cosmic, slightlydelic yin to the shiny, radio-friendly yang. Those in the know should’ve put it on the album at the expense of Liberty Ship. It would’ve made the perfect Side 1 closer. Why didn’t they? Who knows indeed.

Mavers. 2017.

Alternative Version, demo, Hard-to-find

EverLa’s-ing Love

There’s a scene in Roddy Doyle’s Commitments when Joey ‘The Lips’ Fagan is talking to band manager Jimmy Rabbitte’s dad about his time spent working with Elvis. A picture of Mr Rabbitte’s favourite singer hangs above the mantlepiece, noticeably just above a picture of the Pope.

Tell me Joey,” Jimmy’s dad asks with pleading eyes. “Did ye ever see him take drugs?

No, Mr Rabbitte. Never.” As he fixes him in the eye, Joey replies with a genuine plausibility, but given that most of his stories are taller than the quiff atop The King’s head, even Mr Rabbitte must’ve taken it with more than a little pinch of salt.

Likewise The La’s. To clarify, Lee Mavers grinning, gurning, mop-topped Mersey head doesn’t take pride of place on my living room wall, nor do any leaders of world religion, but in this house he holds God-like status. A nutty, 60’s dust-covered, guitar-tuned-to-the-humming-of-the-fridge God-like status, up there with all the greats. One album in and then nothing. The odd low-key comeback where he was hellbent on sabotaging affairs should be quietly forgotten about. But not the tunes. They live on, immortal. The one bona fide rhyming, chiming hit on his hands allows him to live in relative luxury forever. If you want to hear Lee singing live, these days you’re more likely to do so on the terraces of Goodison Park.

  

See that song There She Goes? It’s about mainlining heroin, so it is….

That’s a common concensus and it fair pisses me off.

Now, I once spent a week on Minorca with Lee Mavers and AT NO TIME did I see him mainline heroin. No, Mr Rabbitte. Never. This is a true story – I was on holiday with my missus, so was he. We were holiday pals. One night in his company chatting about The Who and The Kinks and The Beatles – favourite Beatles song? “She Loves You, man!“, said as if it was the most obvious answer in the world, was good enough for me. ‘I’ll leave him in peace,’ I told the future Mrs Pan. ‘I can’t be pestering him for the next week.’ Unbelievably, thrillingly, it was he who pestered me for the next week. ‘Don’t look now,’ said the missus over a midday breakfast the following day, ‘but your pal’s coming over.’ With an ‘Alright kiddo?!?‘ and a punch on the arm, he sat down to join us and we were new best friends.

Over the next few nights he’d beat me at pool, introduce me to gin pommades and sing, SING! La’s songs across the table to me.

I love ‘Man, I’m Only Human’ I told him one night. “D’you know all the words?” he asked, and before I could reply that I didn’t, he sang them to me, right there at the table, with the same high, floaty voice he’d used a few months before in the Mayfair in Glasgow. Putting extra emphasis on the ‘Man, I’m only wo-man‘ line, he sat back, arms folded as if to say, ‘What d’you make of that, then la?‘ The bar was full of folk oblivious to who was in their presence and it was magic.

He told me about the 2nd La’s album, due for release in “one nine nine four“. It’d be called Cocktail and would be the defining album of the era. It would knock ‘the Stoned Poses‘ off their perch and restore The La’s in their rightful position at the top of the musical tree. Lee envisaged a mountain with the sides littered with all the bands of the day climbing to the top (but not quite getting all the way there), drawn by a flashing blue light. “Callin’ All, la. Callin’ All. And who’s at the top, above them all?” he asked rhetorically.

Now, at no time did I see my new best pal mainline heroin. No, Mr Rabbitte. Never. But he did have a fondness for disappearing into the trees and returning a short while later with a certain sparkle. If Jimmy ‘The Lips’ Fagan told tall stories, Lee’s stories were perhaps taller. Higher, even.

The La’s.

A band with more line ups than Lulu roon’ the back o’ the Barras

Here’s The La’s when they were a skiffly, Beatlish, band from the Merseyssippi, full of promise, mysticism and tunes to die for. April 1987 – 3 whole decades ago! – found them working with Mick Moss on one (just one) of the sessions for their ill-fated, beatifully flawed one and only LP.

The La’sCallin’ All

The La’s were seemingly never happy with any recordings of Callin All’, ever. It’s one of the few La’s tracks not to have seen an official studio release. La’s trainspotters have multiple versions, of course, from the rootsy, acoustic version above to full on sultry Stones We Love You-era inspired takes. Each one a classic, every one a lost gem in the small but perfect La’s back catalogue.

The La’sCome In, Come Out

Come In, Come Out exists in better form, on the b-side of There She Goes and on ‘Lost Tapes‘, a long-forgotten download-only release from the embryonic days of the first legal downloads. The Mick Moss version is missing the percussive back beat on those two versions, but skips along with frantically scrubbed acoustics and a full-on ‘n funky bassline. Not for nothing did The La’s tag ‘Rattle ‘n Roll’ onto their record label. I know someone who knows someone who knows John Leckie quite well and he told me (so it must be true) that Mavers often strapped a box of Swan Vestas round his strumming hand for this one in order to achieve a more rhythmical effect. Can’t hear it on this version, but I believe it to be fact, Mr Rabbitte. Fact.

The La’sWay Out

The debut single. A brilliant lilting, waltzing introduction to the band. Some weak vocals on this take, possibly as the band run through it for the first (or hundred and first) time. Who knows? Lee’s vocals provide the blueprint from which all future versions are hatched, John Power listening with a keen ear to appropriate the backing vocals.

The La’sDoledrum

Unlike the previous track, here’s a fully-formed take; skiffly guitars, walking bass, harmonising backing vocals, the whole shebang. Really great rhythm playing. It swings with a certain confidence, knowing it’s a great song.

Mavers can fair pluck the melodies and the tunes out of the air with ease. If only he’d done so a bit more regularly.

 

*all pictures used are in black & white for authentic analogue retro appeal

Cover Versions, demo, Stinky

Weller Weller Weller oops

elo 72

10538 Overture was the debut single by the Electric Light Orchestra. It was written by Jeff Lynne and produced by Roy Wood when he was still in The Move, pretentiously given the ‘Overture‘ title and prompted the split of the band. Released in 1972, it was the love child of I Am The Walrus and The Who’s more bombastic moments; a Heinz 57 variety pack of swooshing synths, see-sawing cellos, minor key breakdowns, ELO’s trademark multi-tracked vocals….and a terrifically cod-psychedelic, eastern-tinged descending guitar riff.

10538 Overture

10538 Overture would eventually appear on ELO’s self -titled debut LP, with it’s big, ambitious sound a portent of things to come. In America, the same album was released as ‘No Answer‘, after the man from the US record company phoned the band to get the name of the LP. No one picked up, the under-assistant west coast promo man wrote ‘no answer‘ on his paper, left his desk, and someone picked up his note and ran off to the printers where the sleeve was being assembled. True story, that.

Perhaps drawn in by the backwards Beatlish bits and the windmilling Townshend chords and Moonisms on the drums as 10538 Overture drags itself to a bloated end, Paul Weller‘s magpie-like antennae pricked up. “That descending guitar riff,” he thought. “I’m having that.”…..

Weller demo:

weller 95A shame-faced Paul hides his head

Welding it on to a mid-life crisis of a lyric, Weller gave birth to The Changingman, lead single from the epoch-defining Stanley Road LP. Named after a picture his son had drawn – “Who’s that?” “It’s the changingman, daddy,” the single reached number 7 in the charts, at the time a career best for the solo Paul.

This is where it gets a wee bit muddled. On the LP, the track is credited solely to Weller, but if you consult that last bastion of credibility Wikipedia, you’ll see that Weller shares the writing credits with 3 others – Brendan Lynch, his producer of choice at the time who added the ambient textures and wonky noises (his remixes from this time are terrific) that lift the track above bog standard r’nb fare, a certain R. Wood who we now know all about, and, most interestingly of all, forgotten cult hero and Syd Barrett for the Brit-Pop genearation, Lee Mavers.

The Changingman LP/Single version:

Quite what Mavers’ involvement in the writing of the song was is unclear (if any), although around that time he was in a bit of a sorry state through drugs. It’s been suggested that Paul Weller took one of Lee’s unreleased tunes and built Changingman on top of it. Some of the lyrics (‘the more I see the more I know, the more I know the less I understand‘) are kinda La’s-ish as well. Weller, on Go! Discs, as was Mavers at the time (or was he still, in 1995?), also had Lee open a few shows for him. Maybe he was just trying to help him out, a support slot here, a writing credit there,  but as you’ll know already, Mavers is pretty comfortably well-off thanks to the regular royalties he receives for There She Goes (between £5000-£10000 a month, depending on where you read). Maybe Bo Diddley nut Lee contributed the percussive backbeat that gives the track it’s mid 60s swagger towards the end. Who knows? I need to investigate further…

The Changingman Radio1 Evening Session 8th May, 1995 (Exactly one week before the album release);

rod 90sRod Weller

Around the same time as Weller was releasing Stanley Road, an ill-advised Rod Stewart was assembling a catalogue of contemporary tracks of the day that would make up a covers LP. When I first heard about this album, I immediately thought of it as similar in spirit to Bowie’s Pin Ups LP. Primal Scream’s Rocks. Cigarettes And Alcohol. Skunk Anansie’s Weak. All would be filtered through the Rod voice and into the Mondeos and family saloons of 40-something Britain. There was even space for a (terrific) track by Scottish underachievers Superstar that would make writer Joe McAlinden very wealthy.  At the sessions, Rod tackled The Changingman with all the gusto of a prime time Faces, although the finished version comes across as a highly polished piece of session musician rawk and nothing like the raggedy arsed Faces it could’ve been. Consequently, it never made the final cut.

The Changingman Rod Stewart version;

Never has a singer betrayed his talent quite like Rod.

But that’s for another day.

Get This!, Hard-to-find, Yesterday's Papers

Kinks, Konkers and Kids in Kasualty (slight return)

Slightly recycled from Plain Or Pan’s back pages, this article is adapted from one that first appeared 5 years ago…

Autumn. The nights are drawing in and the curtains are drawing shut. The heating comes on a bit earlier than normal and stays on that wee bit longer. You can smell winter coming in the air. The leaves are turning red and yellow. Conkers are on the ground and in the playground. Kids are off to the medical room for a good dose of TCP and a telling off.

kinks rsg

It’s round about now that I like to dig out ‘Autumn Almanac’ by The Kinks, a song that so perfectly sums up this time of year. You don’t even have to be quintessentially English to appreciate lines such as, “I like my football on a Saturday, roast beef on Sundays, alright! I go to Blackpool for my holidays, sit in the open sunlight.”

No doubt about it, it’s one of my all-time top 5 favourite songs ever. Just ahead of ‘Ally’s Tartan Army’  by Scotland’s 1978 World Cup Squad, though just behind ‘There She Goes’  by The La’s.

Lee Mavers once lectured me on the brilliance of Autumn Almanac  for a good 10 minutes. “From the dew-soaked hedge creeps a crawly caterpill-ah!” he offered, in his sing-song Mersey twang. “How good a line is that, La!?! ‘Friday evening, people get together…hiding from the weather…’ The chords, the feel, the melancholy…….it’s not as good as Waterloo Sunset, though, is it?”

kinks autumn almanac ad

The single version of Autumn Almanac was recorded in September 67 and released 3 weeks later. No great strategic marketing campaign with focus groups, target audiences and avoidance of any other big act’s single being released at the same time. Get in the studio, cut the record, release the record. Times being simpler then, Autumn Almanac climbed to either number 3 or number 5 on the charts, depending on which music paper you were reading.

Recorded for Top Gear just a few weeks after, on October 25th 1967 at the BBC’s Maida Vale Studio 4 and broadcast 4 days later, the above track is taken from a well-known Kinks bootleg* called ‘The Songs We Sang For Auntie’, a 3 CD set that compiles most of (or all?) the unreleased BBC session stuff from 1964-1994. A must-have for any fan of a band who were matched surely only by The Beatles in terms of high quality output.

Ask anyone to name 3 Kinks singles and they’ll give you all the usual suspects, but I bet it’d be unlikely Autumn Almanac would feature in too many lists. It’s an under appreciated classic, that’s for certain. Just ask Lee Mavers.

*Since writing this article, there’s been an official Kinks BBC release. But you probably knew that already.

Yes, yes, yes! It’s my Autumn Almanyac!