An article written back in 2008 for Rattle ‘n’ Soul Magazine.
Ok, most of you have heard of them. You’re not quite sure why but you have. Well they’re the ones that did ‘There She Goes’. Now you’re with us are you? The cult single, originally released in 1988 by the Scouse band, went on to feature in three major films (including Fever Pitch) and still to this day makes a reported £4,000 a month for Lee Mavers, the song-writer, in Royalties.
The story of The La’s is far from simple, with so many line-up changes that Rafa Benitez would be jealous, and so many different versions by different producers that those not involved in Liverpool should feel a little left out. Lee Mavers was certainly an individual too. Mavers was said to have refused a mixing desk with Steve Lillywhite because it had no “60’s dust on it” whilst other random rumours in the life of Mavers included him vowing to never play guitar again unless he could de-tune a guitar by ear, telling journalists upon the release of the album that it was shit and playing solo’s vocally over the top of his acoustic when playing live on TV.
Formed way back in 1983 The La’s were the creation of a Mike Badger, an unemployed musician from Liverpool who, after introducing Lee Mavers to his band, gradually lost leadership of the band and left in late 1986.
Long serving bass player John Power joined shortly after Badgers departure despite their friendship forming in 1987 and very quickly interest began to follow The La’s wherever they roamed. Playing an endless list of dates in the autumn of 87, Mavers song writing was causing much excitement around Liverpool and eventually, the band agreed to sign a deal with Go! Discs. Songs such as ‘Timeless Melody’ and ‘There She Goes’ were seemingly pouring out of Mavers acoustic guitar whilst their energetic performances were getting everyone talking about the next big thing. They were surely set to take over the world?
In October 87, ‘Way Out’ was released as the bands debut single and just broke into the top 100 despite high praise in Melody Maker from The Smiths front man Morrisey.
After that, 88 saw ‘There She Goes’ released for the first time and perform poorly despite the bands growing reputation as a live act and a band drawing obvious Scouse comparisons to The Beatles. But this growing reputation came at a cost with Mavers regularly replacing members and making line-up alterations as quick as he found displeasure in his recordings.
Never happy, Mavers refused to release ‘Timeless Melody’ in May 89 despite the NME writing it up as Single Of The Week before its intended release. Dissatisfied with the sound of the recording and the production methods used by Jeremy Allom, Mavers and Co’ would spend the next two years fruitlessly recording and re-recording the album, with well known producers such as John Porter (The Smiths), John Leckie and Mike Hedges all being ditched after failed attempts to please the perfectionist.
Eventually recording with the most settled and strongest line-up the band ever had in December 89, the group entered Eden Studios in London with pressure on the band from Go! Discs to give an end product to the thousands of pounds the label had thrown at them. The pressure, however, was not appreciated and despite the best efforts of producer Steve Lillywhite, the band was not happy
Eventually giving up on the sessions altogether, The La’s were angered further more when it emerged that Go! Discs had set Lillywhite the task of mixing an album from the abandoned sessions with the ever increasing frustrations of the label at the end of their tether.
Mavers would later admit that the bands performance was deliberately poor due to the fact they could not gel with Lillywhite and were amazed when the eventual release of the album that featured some vocal guides from original run-throughs.
In 1990, The La’s finally gained recognition when the album was released by Go! Discs. ‘There She Goes’ reached no’ 13 in the UK charts and praise was flying at the band from all angles. However, following performances on a promotional tour and Top Of The Pops, Mavers became confusing to the public, putting down the album in all interviews and insisting it was not worth buying.
‘Feeling’ and ‘Timeless Melody’ were both released from the Lillywhite sessions and charted respectably around the 40 mark in the charts. The band would fulfil a UK, European a well received US tour in 1991 but come 92, John Power had had enough. His frustrations at essentially playing the same set of songs for 6 years had come to a head and he left the band to form successful Britpop band Cast.
When such turmoil hits a band, they can be forgiven for fading out of the spotlight somewhat. However, Mavers took this to the extreme and vowed to fans and critics alike that he’d not even attempt any new material until he had re-recorded, perfected and found himself totally satisfied with the original album.
1992 was indeed an end of an era. Whilst the story of The La’s casts (no pun intended) Lee Mavers as the leading role in this tale, the part played by Power is even more appreciated after the story develops post 92. For without his constant side kick and harmony partner, Lee Mavers has struggled ever since. Ok it is not as drastic as saying it is like Lennon without McCartney. But the Mavers needed Power more so than he’d have ever admitted or believed himself.
Mavers, with a new line-up in tow, completed support slots for Dodgy, Paul Weller and Oasis over during 1993 and 1994 but it was nothing more than a financial decision which was reportedly forced due to money owed out by the band following an ill-advised merchandise deal in the US a few years previous.
After this, Mavers went quiet for many years. He vowed that The La’s would return eventually and it was banded about that a second album would be released in 2007. But as time ticked on, hopeful fans would become doubtful, doubtful fans would become annoyed and annoyed fans would gradually give up.
Did Lee Mavers thrive on the myth that surrounding him? Whilst his old friend John Power was out and about leading one of the most successful bands of the 1990’s, Mavers was at home in Huyton, Liverpool doing nothing more than living the family life and taking his royalty cheques on a quarterly basis.
Rumours of unheard songs would spread amongst fans to such an extent that the bootleg catalogue of The La’s is extensive enough to try and rival their Liverpudlian predecessors The Beatles.
2001 would see a re-mastered version of the original album released with old B-sides added to the album although fan favourites such as ‘I Am The Key’ and ‘Something I Said’ didn’t make the cut. It was seen as nothing more than a way of cashing in on a loyal fan base desperate for more though.
However, come 2005, when all and sundry had lost hope, Lee Mavers and John Power took to the stage together in what was rumoured to be the start of a comeback. Joined by Jay Lewis on guitar and eventually Mavers school friend Jasper on drums, The La’s were as sharp as ever putting on six memorable and well reviewed gigs at The Leadmill in Sheffield, festivals in Ireland and Japan and topping their summer at Glastonbury.
Suddenly, the suggestions that were made many moons ago about a second album in 2007 were starting to create a buzz again with fans. Maybe it was going to happen. Mavers would keep to his word and deliver.
The story would gather even more pace in 2006 when The La’s BBC Sessions were released featuring the band from four different BBC Sessions ranging from the Janice Long sessions in 1987 to the Bob Harris session of 1990. A fresh sounding album, which was better balanced, mixed and performed than previous releases meant suddenly there was a reason for progress. The La’s were being put firmly back in the spotlight and with it, maybe Mavers could start work on The La’s new era.
However, 2007 came and went with not so much as a whisper from the Mavers camp. Power on the other hand ended 2007 with a UK tour to promote his latest Solo offering with his backing band including Jay Lewis on guitar and Steve Pilgrim, now with Paul Weller, on drums.
So what, if anything, does 2008 have to offer? Whilst there is still no word from Lee Mavers or indeed anyone close to him, there is a new release on the horizon for avid fans. But like you may have predicted by now, it’s a release of the same old songs done slightly differently.
April 2008 will see The La’s Deluxe Edition released. It will include the Lillywhite recordings. So for those of you that keep keeping the faith, you can have what will be at least your third version of some songs, if not more. But with it will be the Mike Hedges sessions. It’s been tweaked somewhat. Sped up, cleaned up, re-mastered and such. But it’s a new release none-the-less. And on top of that, you can finally get ‘I Am The Key’ released for the first time, plus ‘That’ll Be The Day’, a live version of a Buddy Holly classic.
The one thing about The La’s that is strange and different is the perception of the band. The fact that an artist can hate his product so much, yet it is praised so highly by so many is far from normal. Fans of The La’s must spend many a night out throughout a year explaining to some random people who The La’s are. Until you mention ‘There She Goes’ they probably get little response. But this band, and Mavers the song writer, had the potential to become one of the biggest bands of their time.
Did Mavers bottle it? Did he not have enough in his locker to beat the debut? These questions will undoubtedly never be answered. Regardless of this, The La’s were an inspiration and an influence on many. Noel Gallagher was once quoted as saying that Oasis just carried on where The La’s stopped. If only they hadn’t stopped, then who knows….?