Members include Gary Ainge (group member c. 1981-89), drums;Maurcie Deebank (group member 1980-85), lead guitar; Nick Gilbert (group member 1980-82), bass guitar, drums; Lawrence Hayward (group member 1979-89), guitar, keyboards, vocals; Mick Lloyd (group member 1982-83), bass guitar;John Mohan (group member 1989), lead guitar; Tony Race (group member c. 1981), drums.
Originally an experimental pop music project headed by Lawrence Hayward, Felt became a group in 1980 with the addition of Maurice Deebank on guitar and Nick Gilbert on drums. Felt's initial success was achieved though Hayward's efforts alone with the release of "Index," a noisy, guitar-driven track, in 1979. The single earned favorable critical reviews, and with his band now in place, Hayward set the goal of releasing ten singles and ten albums in ten years, then pulling the plug on the group. During the 1980s, Felt was on the top of indie charts and college radio play lists. However, the group's success never translated into true commercial success.
When Hayward decided he needed to form a band, he enlisted friends Deebank and Gilbert. They knew each other from having practiced together in the village of Water Orton outside of Birmingham, England. A classically trained guitarist, Deebank was a seemingly odd addition to the band. Hayward was just beginning to grasp the song writing craft, but what he lacked in experience he more than made up for in lyrical skill and creative talent. Hayward and Deebank made a few tapes of instrumental songs they wrote together in 1978, which eventually lead to a four-song demo tape they shopped to record companies after Hayward released "Index." The demo contained the songs "Something Sends Me to Sleep," "Cathedral," and "Birdmen."
Hayward wrote, played, recorded, and produced "Index" alone in his bedroom on a bulky cassette recorder. Atypical of the group's later sound, "Index" was rooted in a cacophony of guitar noise. To get the single released on vinyl, Hayward responded to an advertisement from a self-starter record production company in Melody Maker which offered to do everything from mastering to pressing. Hayward self-financed the production of the first 500 copies of "Index" for distribution. The tiny independent label Shanghai agreed to distribute the album in September 1979, though it provided very little support. Hayward and Gilbert enlisted their friends in the group Scritti Politti to help promote the album to Rough Trade. With the extra push, Rough Trade agreed to purchase an initial 100 copies.
The band's second big break came when Mark E. Smith of The Fall invited Felt to support them at a show in Manchester, England. Smith had become a fan of Gilbert after hearing Newtrition in 1980. Newtrition was a project Gilbert had completed just prior to Felt's formation as a multi-member band. Felt played their first concert with The Fall at the Cyprus Tavern in Manchester. Smith was pleased enough to invite them to open for The Fall at the Marquee in London. It was the London show that help land Felt's first recording contract with Cherry Red. Mike Always of the Cherry Red label had already read the review of "Index" in Soundsand signed the band shortly after the London show.
"Something Sends Me to Sleep" from the original four-track demo was Felt's first release on the Cherry Red label in 1981. The A-side version of the song was recorded in Rochdale, England, at a recording studio called Cargo. The second version was pulled from the original which featured Hayward, Deebank, and Tony Race on drums. Hayward decided to provide both versions because he thought the original demo version of the song was better than the Cargo session.
In March of 1982, Cherry Red released Felt's debut full-length album Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty. While the album received little notice commercially, it received high marks from the independent music press. Despite the critical success, the band underwent personnel changes. Tony Race, who had joined the group after it signed with Cherry Red, left Felt and was replaced by Gary Ainge. Also, Gilbert walked out during the recording sessions for Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty and was replaced by bassist Mick Lloyd. Gilbert's departure was caused by a row with Hayward about his control over songwriting.
Felt kept busy for the next year releasing two singles, "My Face Is On Fire" followed by "Penelope Tree" in June of 1983. "Penelope Tree," the name borrowed from a 1960s fashion model, climbed the indie charts and helped get the band more exposure. Hayward had always been fascinated by the New York of the 1960s and 1970s, including figures and groups like Andy Warhol, The New York Dolls, The Velvet Underground, and Television's Tom Verlaine. Hayward wanted to create pop art and become a rock star. "Penelope Tree" became the formula for later Felt songs which combined a clean guitar sound with Hayward's odd vocal rhythm. Hayward described some of his influences to A. J. Norman in a May 1993 interview with Record Collector: "Bob Dylan hit me in 1983 when I heard a song called "I Threw It All Away" off Nashville Skyline. I changed the way I wrote after that. It said to me you can use poetic images in a direct way--they don't have to be abstract--and within a pop tune as well, which set me off on a different road."
The Splendour Of Fear followed in November of 1983. The album featured beautifully simple melodic pop songs with Hayward's new direction in pop music poetry. The album helped put Felt into the indie spotlight again by reaching number six on the indie charts in 1984. The tracks "Red Indians," "The World is as Soft as Lace," and "Mexican Bandits" made the frequent play lists on college radio.
In 1984, Maurice Deebank released a full-length solo album titled Inner Thought Zone also released on the Cherry Red label. Deebank, like Gilbert, did not like to be directed by Hayward. Their relationship as Felt group members had always been difficult because of their musical differences. Deebank decided to produce the solo effort to allow an outlet for some of the music he was forced to hold back while with Felt. Hayward had developed a formula which spawned beautiful pop pieces seemingly with ease, but Deebank sought a more singular musical voice.
For the next release, Hayward broke his previous single and LP formula of two singles followed by a six-song LP. Hayward intended the LP to be reflective interludes between singles. The idea was similar to Warhol's mass production pop art pieces. With the LP The Strange Idols Pattern And Other Short Storiesreleased in October of 1984 by Cherry Records, the formula had forever changed. Along with a full-length LP of ten tracks, the music between the tracks had evolved from simple two-chord songs with a depressed mood to a slightly more open and complex pop sound.
In 1984, Felt toured with The Cocteau Twins, then stars of the ultra hip 4AD label. While touring, Felt was approached by Robin Guthrie who wanted to produce their next record. Deebank had two songs he wanted Felt to release. Hayward added rhythm guitar and lyrics over Deebank's songs and Guthrie handled production. The result was Felt's biggest single success of their career. Elizabeth Fraser also joined in the effort and sang on both of the singles tracks. "Primitive Painters" was released in August of 1985 with "Cathedral" as the B-side track. Much of the success of "Primitive Painters" was due to Fraser's powerful vocals.
Ignite the Seven Cannons was the follow-up LP to "Primitive Painters." The full-length LP was released in September of 1985. Guthrie produced the album with the 4AD formula, and The Cocteau Twins were at the controls. Hardcore Felt fans were not at all pleased with the album. The pop trash sound of the band's previous work was now replaced by an album that reached the number one spot on the indie charts with a pretentious 4AD star at the controls. "Primitive Painters" was a brilliant pop song that might have crossed over into commercial success, but Cherry Red seemed to lack the marketing strength necessary to give the single or the album the support it needed to be heard.
After Ignite the Seven Cannons, Deebank left the group, but Hayward found another skilled musician to replace him. Martin Duffy had filled in on keyboards for the album and joined Felt full time in 1985. While Felt played a few shows in support of Ignite the Seven Cannons, Cherry Red was busy releasing a compilation album. Felt's next album, Let the Snakes Crinkle Their Heads to Death, was issued in September of 1986 on the Creation label. Duffy's organ added a '60s sound that worked well with Hayward's songs. Hayward's decision to follow Ignite the Seven Cannons with a ten-song instrumental album was certainly not inspired by any drive of commercial success. With the fans Felt may have gained when Guthrie served as the group's producer, they were certainly off with the release of Let the Snakes Crinkle Their Heads. The album features ten short instrumentals that are under two minutes each.
For as odd a stop Let The Snakes Crinkle Their Heads was for most Felt fans, the group's LP Forever Breathes The Lonely Wordfound Hayward back at writing lyrics and crafting some of his best Felt songs. The albumwas released in October 1986 on the Creation label. The song "All the People I Like Are Those That Are Dead" became a favorite on college radio and is now considered a classic to Felt fans. Felt followed with two more LPs in 1998 on the Creation label: The Pictorial Jackson Review released in March, and Train Above The City in July. "Don't Die On My Doorstep" and "Until The Fools Get Wise" were released as a single to support the album.
Felt's swan song was the full length LP Me and a Monkey on the Moon released in November of 1989 on the El label. Hayward had to move to Mike Always' El label because Creation was not able to release the album before Hayward's self-imposed deadline of ten years, ten albums, and ten singles. While the record companies spoiled his plans for the perfect ten singles by issuing additional singles, he did manage to keep it to ten albums in ten years of existence, excluding compilations. John Mohan of the Servants joined Felt on lead guitar for the final Felt album. The combination of Mohan on lead guitar, Duffy, Ainge, and Hayward provided the perfect blend lacking in previous lineups. The first half of Felt's existence had been directed by Deebank's lead guitar, but it was Duffy's solid organ playing the propelled the group's sound in later years. With both Mohan and Duffy, Felt created their final and most musically-balanced album.
by Tiger Cosmos