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Felt was the project of Britain's enigmatic Lawrence, a singer/songwriter who transformed his long-standing obsession with the music of Tom Verlaine and Television into an impressive catalog of minimalist pop gems and, ultimately, cult stardom. The first Felt single, "Index," was produced by Lawrence alone in his bedroom on a portable cassette player. Released in 1979, its primitive, impressionistic sound stood in stark contrast to the sleek solemnity of the new wave (as did his much-discussed "new puritan" stance, a rejection of alcohol, smoking, and drugs), and as a result the record became the subject of lavish critical praise, leading to a contract with the Cherry Red label. Lawrence then set about assembling a band, although Felt was clearly his project and his alone; in fact, his control was so absolute that according to legend, original drummer Tony Race was fired primarily because he had curly hair. After a series of roster shuffles, a steady group including guitarist Maurice Deebank and drummer Gary Ainge began to take shape in time to record 1981's Crumbling the Antiseptic Beauty EP. The addition of the classically trained Deebank allowed Lawrence to realize a level of guitar interplay similar to the twin attack of Television's Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. Lawrence's understated vocals brought comparison to another downtown New York icon, however -- Lou Reed. After one more EP, 1984's The Splendour of Fear, Felt issued their long-awaited full-length LP The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories in 1984. The group's ranks swelled to include keyboardist Martin Duffy prior to recording 1985's Ignite the Seven Cannons with producer Robin Guthrie, whose fellow Cocteau Twin Liz Fraser guested on the single "Primitive Painters," a major British indie chart hit. Despite their success, internal friction plagued the group -- Lawrence and Ainge were once forced to mount an infamously disastrous two-man improvisational festival performance after Deebank and Duffy abruptly walked out -- and finally Deebank left for good prior to the release of 1986's Ballad of the Band EP, Felt's first effort for the Creation label. In the wake of the guitarist's exit, the group's next album, 1986's Let the Snakes Crinkle Their Heads, became a brief instrumental outing, but its follow-up, Forever Breathes the Lonely Word, was acclaimed as Felt's masterpiece. Mayo Thompson produced 1987's Poem of the River EP, while Guthrie returned to man the spartan mini-album The Final Resting of the Ark. Two dramatically different LPs, The Pictorial Jackson Review and Train Above the City -- the latter of which did not even include Lawrence -- followed in 1988, and upon issuing 1989's Me and a Monkey on the Moon, Felt announced their break-up. Lawrence soon resurfaced in the 1970s glam rock project Denim, then moved to novelty pop with Go Kart Mozart. Keyboard player Martin Duffy died on December 18, 2022 after suffering brain injuries during a fall at his home; he was 55 years old.
© Jason Ankeny /TiVo
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