Wednesday 2 May 2012

On the hot dog streets: "Lawrence of Belgravia"

It's possible that those walking blind into Paul Kelly's muso-doc Lawrence of Belgravia might wonder whether it isn't a put-on, a skit, a spoof, much as there were once viewers who assumed Spinal Tap were for real. A long-haired, somewhat ageless figure in sunglasses (late thirties? late forties?) shambles into view - placky bags in hand, his trousers held up with string - and begins dissing his own family in a mild Black Country accent because, like, those squares just don't dig his values, man. The individual in question goes on to wish he was famous enough not to have to travel on the Tube and suffer the "stupid faces" of his fellow commuters. But these are the lower levels of rock 'n' roll, where it's an especially fine line between infamy and parody, notoriety and not being known at all. 

The Lawrence in question knows this too, too well. The erstwhile frontman of sometime Britpop frontrunners Felt and Denim, he's ended up bobbing about the poverty line, trailing substantial debts, eviction letters and mental health issues, where his contemporaries have gone on to 6Music shows, running for government, accepting commissions from Chinese opera companies and writing about organic cheese in the pages of The Guardian. The crucial, even tragic thing: this penniless dishevelment isn't a matter of Mark E. Smith-style indie stubbornness. As Lawrence happily admits, he'd happily sell out; it's just the opportunity to take the money and run hasn't as yet presented itself. And he's getting on now.

Kelly finds Lawrence (and it is just "Lawrence", apparently: named after that Peter O'Toole movie by a mum who hadn't seen the film, and thus didn't realise it was the character's surname) down and out in Paris and London, making and touring the latest long-player from his new band Go Kart Mozart. (Inevitably, he has to lug those instruments he hasn't pawned around on his own shoulders.) He's prone to crackpot theorising: he claims the reason Felt didn't get their due was that John Peel, godfather of the alternative scene, dissed the title of the group's first LP ("Crumbling the Antiseptic Beauty": Peel may have had a point), and that, somewhere, Kate Moss must surely be waiting, open-mouthed, armed and legged, for him. (Which at least sounds like the kind of fantasy a thwarted rockstar should have: "I could have been Jamie from The Kills...") He's also not averse to lyrics you can't imagine Fearne Cotton quoting: a line like "I am still susceptible to vagina's allure" was never going to feature on the Radio 1 playlist, candidly true as it may be.

Yet he makes a better class of shambles than, say, Pete Doherty, and a more interesting personality than most popstars in the public eye today: a funny, self-aware presence ("legally, I'm bonkers"), with an eye for that long-abandoned conceptual region where pop meets art and design, and an ear for a hummable good tune. These latter could perhaps only benefit from beefier production values, but given the number of chart hits such luminaries as David Guetta and have inflicted upon us in the meantime, it remains painful to think that works of a such a rare pop sensibility as Go Kart Mozart's "Here Is A Song" and "Selfish and Lazy and Greedy" - the last of their songs to get serious radio airplay, and an anthem of sorts - got nowhere near the Top 40.

Kelly fosters a considered, conspicuous plainness befitting of his subject: the doc goes big on grabbed, from-the-back-row concert footage, scraps of interviews with music journos from which some context can usefully be cobbled together, encounters with shopkeepers that stray into the realms of constructed reality, and long stretches centred on nothing more immediately compelling than Lawrence painting the walls of his flat. If Lawrence of Belgravia doesn't have the inherent rollercoaster drama of Ondi Timoner's landmark DiG!, it displays a similar, cherishably sympathetic feel for life at the fringes of the music scene, padding alongside its subject round grimy, snowy, melancholy South London streets. If nothing else, it's a valuable alternative to the slightly preening and self-satisfied Marley: a weirdly touching film, suggesting what might happen to all those musicians - all those of us - who don't have the good fortune to hit number one, become millionaires and pass into legend. 

Lawrence of Belgravia tours cinemas nationwide throughout May - a full schedule can be found here.

No comments:

Post a Comment