Spiral Scratch.

 

Spiral Scratch magazine stopped in the early 90's, it tended to lean towards New Wave, Punk.. and seemingly, an obligatory article on the Sex Pistols in every issue! ...
  • PUBLICATION - SPIRAL SCRATCH
  • ORIGIN - UK
  • DATE OF PUBLICATION - April 1991
  • SUBJECT - The La's
  • TITLE - ' Scallies '
  • AUTHOR - Mike Richmond
  • INPUT - Phil Smith, David Evans, Go! Discs
  • CONTENT - Band history ( up to April 1991.. ) UK discography.

  • One of a series of postcards given away with the following releases.
    There She Goes 7" GO! DISCS GOLAB 5 & Feelin' 7" GO! DISCS GOLAB 6
    used here as the opening page for the article.

    Pictures - (or lack of.. ) The Spiral Scratch piece had photos, nothing original though, just the 
    ' postcard ' pictures used widely for any article or interview mentioning The La's, the quality of the paper means that the pictures are rather muddy, so, I've decided not to use them.

    The La's are a rare breed. In an age of techno bleeps and fringes, dance raves and flares, The La's stand alone. Like their fellow Liverpudlians, The Farm, they've recently had chart success after being around for five or six years. Unlike The Farm they've kept their own style intact without adapting to the current Indie/Dance cross-over scene.

    The La's were originally formed way back in '84 by a chap named Mike Badger, a singer and a guitarist, was a James Dean look-a-like from Liverpool who was engrossed by the R'n'B sounds of the fifties and sixties. The name he chose for the group came from the scouse expression "La", short for "lad". It was also an obvious musical term.

    Before he could find any regular La's, a chance to appear on a local compilation album cropped up. Badger employed session musicians to record I Don't Like Hanging Around at The Chemist Studio in Liverpool. The Subsequent album was entitled A Secret Liverpool and is now virtually impossible to find in its original format. Released by local entrepreneur Carl Davies,500 one sided albums were pressed up and sold with brown cardboard sleeves, the idea was that the listener would like the record and then would pay for a second pressing, consisting of side 2 and the proper sleeve. The second pressing later became a proper 2-sided album with gatefold sleeve and inserts. 1000 of which were pressed.

    Lee Mavers joined the group soon after, He had previously played bass in Neuklon, a rock-a-billy outfit, complete with quiffs! A drummer, Tony Russell and a bassist were recruited and they soon started playing parties and local pubs.

    Another compilation album soon followed, Elegance, Charm & Deadly Danger, was released on the St Helens' Arts-funded Push Label. 1500 copies were pressed, each including a free booklet with contributions from the various groups . Two tracks came from The La's, the slow bluesy Sweet 35 and the more raucous My Girl (Sits Like A Reindeer), which owed more to the later La's sound. This was Lee Mavers' first appearance on vynil, although Mike Badger alone appears on the sleeve photo. Also My Girl has an uncanny similarity to the recent La's single, Feelin'.

    The group were getting more popular locally after securing a residency at the Why Not? club in Liverpool and really started gaining a following after playing Monroe's, a pub in Liverpool where many small acts were to start out, which also employed extremely liberal licensing hours. The group drew a so called 'scally' crowd, mainly due to their own down-to-earth attitude and casual dress sense.

    Sack The Boss

    More line-up changes occured. David Evans briefly joined on Bass. He had played in another local outfit, The Riotous Hues. The biggest change came in '86 when Mavers and Co sacked Mike Badgers. Mavers had begun writing his own material and obviously wanted a bigger share of the action. John Power joined on bass, he and Mavers being the only remaining La's from this period.

    With a line-up completed by ex-Twangum Banjo Paul Hemmings on lead guitar and John Timson on drums, the group set about securing a record deal. A seven track demo tape was sent out in early '87 and in no time at all the band had signed to Andy McDonald's recently formed GO! DISCS label, then home of Billy Bragg and The Housemartins.

    From their earliest interviews Mavers was keen to express what The La's meant to him: "Our philosophy is simple, if you want it, you can get it! And we really believe in our music- really. It's not about being a musician- and it's not about being a face. It's just passing a feeling." His influences included the Who, James Brown, the more obvious Beatles,and the Stones. He also cites the band's ability to convey their "feeling" through the rhythm in their playing.

    In October '87 their first single, Way Out, was released. A mid-tempo waltz, it wasn't their
    best song but was a good start nonetheless. Backed by the more sixties influenced Endless
    complete with sitar-sounding guitar, it recieved rave reviews from the music press. A limited 12" featuring two exclusive demo tracks is proving scarce although 5000 were pressed.

    Way Out sets the scene for The La's sound. Mavers sings and plays rhythm guitar while the lead guitar fleshes out the melody. They always record a track how they would play it live, with little or no overdubs, and Mavers as sole songwriter writes excellent ballads as well as the more obvious pop songs.

    Going Back To Liverpool

    The group moved down to Hammersmith in London to be near to the GO! DISCS HQ but this didn't work out. After complaints from their neighbours and the police who wereseemingly around all the time, they returned to Liverpool after just three months.

    More line-up changes occured, Paul Hemmings later going on to play with Mike Badger  in his current group, The Onset. Eventually, a more stable line-up was achieved with Barry Sutton, formerly Marshmallow Overcoat and Walking Seeds, on lead guitar and Chris Shamrock on drums.

    In October '88, The La's best single to date, There She Goes was released. "Classic" is a word that is used far too often in the music world, but this track is worthy of greater praise. An immediately catchy riff leads into an even greater chorus, one listen and you're still humming it a week later! Although given a great response by the reviewers, it failed somehow to become the smash hit it deserved to be, something the band put down to poor distribution. Another limited edition was released - this time a four track 7" EP featuring different versions from those previously released.

    For the last time there is a change of personnel. Both Sutton and Shamrock are replaced by Peter Camell ("Cammy") and Neil Mavers (Lee's brother). Both were ex-La's roadies who replaced their counterparts when they jumped onstage at a soundcheck, proving they were better than the unfortunate pair who had just nipped to the loo! Shamrock now plays drums in World Party.

    Next, the band wanted to record an album. They decided to take a small advance and record it as quickly and as cheaply as possible. But they soon found out it wasn't that simple. They had a problem capturing the sound they were looking for. Producers were hired and fired, before, finally, Mike Hedges was employed to produce the album. The first attempt was rejected and then retried at Hedges own studio in Devon. After further problems the band even tried to reconstruct some of Abbey Road's old recording gear, to no avail.

    Unreleased Melody

    A new single was scheduled for release in February '89. Timeless Melody, another powerful piece of pop concerning Mavers' own love of music was never released. Although around 500 12" promos and ten 7" test pressings exist it was withdrawn at the last minute without explanation. This is now a highly sought after rarity.

    Things looked more positive when Mike Hedges was replaced by Steve Lillywhite as the new producer. Although a strange pairing, (Lillywhite being more associated with the stadium rock sound of U2 and Simple Minds) both parties hit it off and sessions resumed for the album with a provisional release date set for early '89. Then it became early '90. Then things got a little confusing...

    According to GO! DISCS, the band walked out on the album, but were nevertheless still confident that they could finish it all off. Andy McDonald invited Mavers to the lenghty mixing and production process, but Mavers refused. And so Lillywhite again remixed and produced the final album. GO! DISCS also maintain that they tried every studio technique the band requested: 4-track, 8-track, etc, that seven studios were used, umpteen producers, all of which cost a lot of money. They felt it was finally time to bring the songs to life.

    According to The La's, they walked out on the album for good. GO! DISCS and Lillywhite produced a duff album using the wrong vocal tracks , changed the title, (originally to be called Callin' All), the cover art and the track-listing. The bands own qualm was their continuing inability to capture their "organic" sound in the recording studio. This "sound" can actually be heard on Over, on the 12" of the resurrected Timeless Melody. Recorded on a normal tape recorder in a barn in Liverpool, it's a raw and honest sound, but of a quality that no major company would want to release as an album.

    When the eponymously titled album finally hit the shops in November '90, it received wildly ecstatic reviews. For all the talk of bad production , I found it both raw yet uncluttered, but also sounding as if it had been recorded in a matter of hours. It sounds remarkably faithful to their live sound. The only thing not in its favour is its lenght, clocking in at only 35 minutes. The songs sparkle with variety from the obvious tracks to the military -style Freedom Song and to the epic album closer, Looking Glass, a spaced out jam session. What is noticeable is Mavers' voice, much rougher than before, especially when comparing the original and new version of Way Out. The album has since gone Silver in the UK, selling over 60,000 copies.

    As mentioned before, Timeless Melody was reissued as a single before the album's release, Although not a major hit, it featured the first of the distinctive Ryan Art "eye" sleeve designs. There was no limited edition released but it's worth noting that each format came in a different coloured sleeve.
     

    The Ryan Art "eye" sleeve designs that graced several La's covers.
    Above the 3 different sleeves for the August 1990 release of Timeless Melody.
    Left to right, 7" inch, 12" inch, and finally.. compact disc.

    A remixed There She Goes changed the band's fortunes in October '90 with a Top 20 chart hit and an appearance on Top of The Pops. A limited edition box set with free stickers and a badge was issued and is already proving scarce. 12" promos are worth noting, coming with the prefix LASDJ, and with their own unique labels. Usually only a thousand of each is pressed. Similarly there is The La's Sound Sampler*, a CD promo-only featuring five tracks from the album, also with a unique sleeve and a thousand pressing.

     *Said to have slightly different mixes, 'slight' being the correct word..

    The La's toured Europe with World Party in October, cut short when John Power injured his hand, and played their own UK tour in November.

    Feelin', the most recent single was issued in January this year. Again a box set was available, featuring an alternate version of the song, exclusive to this format. More touring followed, supported by the Milltown Brothers. By now, The La's should have finished building their own 8-track studio in their hometown of Liverpool. It is here that they hope to record their future releases.

    While most bands knock out their debut album in a matter of months and then have a problem with the follow-up, I hope The La's can do the reverse and give us some new material. Besides, if Lee Mavers thinks it's a bad album I'd love to hear a good one.

    Or else, The La's could become one of Lee Mavers favourite bands: the who???

    Callin' All

    Thanks to Phil Smith, David Evans and GO! DISCS for their help.

    Author - Mike Richmond.

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