"..Then he fell foul of drugs.."


Picture caption - Young sound rebel... 
Lee Mavers fronting the La's
  • PUBLICATION - The Guardian (UK mainland daily newspaper)
  • SUBJECT - Lee Mavers
  • TITLE - The Lost Boy
  • AUTHOR - Dave Simpson
  • CONTENT - Lee Mavers troubled past, Mavers future..
  • PHOTO - Derek Ridgers/London Features

The word genius is often abused but it definitely applies to Lee Mavers. You've probably heard of his Liverpool band, the La's; possibly their classic 1990 eponymous album, and almost certainly their seminal pop song, There She Goes. This magical, melodic single has been a hit three times, and has achieved near mythical status, featuring in everything from a car advert to the film, Fever Pitch. Noel Gallagher once described Oasis's primary motivation as being."to finish what the La's started"; and a powerful chunk of the legend also revolves around the unexplained fate of their gifted creator.

Lee Mavers has been a virtual recluse for years. After his eccentric behaviour split the band in 1992, bassist John Power rose to new success with Cast, but Mavers has followed a lonely path into public invisibility. Rumours of heroin addiction and alcoholism are countered by suggestions that he's recorded more than 40 songs for what will eventually be the album of the decade. Talk to most people in Liverpool about Mavers and they'll mutter a few words and then scurry away, as if you were asking about a vampire in the local castle. Most people close to him say, "I'd love to talk, but really can't".

But any of the stories could be true. When Mavers appeared onstage in 1995, he was an incoherent shadow of his former self. It's now eight years since he announced he would be spending the next eight years producing the perfect (second) album. He's now 36 and no album is in sight, so what has happened to the dark horse of modem pop?

The story of the La's begins in 1983, but Mavers - a former punk into sixties music - hit the scene three years later when he ousted singer/songwriter Mike Badger from the group. Although Badger had coined the name the La's (a Liverpudlian abbreviation of "lad", with obvious musical overtones), the effect of Mavers' leadership was immediate. As the eighties floundered in a sea of synthetic, over-produced pap, Lee updated the classic lineage of the Beatles, Kinks, Beefheart and the Who squarely in the heroin and unemployment racked ruins of Liverpool. It was a masterstroke. His songs had a surreal rock 'n' roll feel but his subject matter was starkly postmodern. "Don't go down to Doledrum,"he urged. More eerily, Son Of A Gun spoke of a "boy of life, who lived upon a knife. He was burned by the twentieth century, now he's doing time in the back of his mind"

Within months of signing to Go! Discs, the La's' exuberant Way Out single troubled the charts as the determined, obsessive, vaguely druggy Mavers expounded his philosophy to a delighted music press. "It's not about being a musician," he insisted. "It's not about being a 'face'. It's just passing on a feeling!" He talked excitedly about the band's forthcoming album. "These songs are gonna go to the people and the people are gonna go Wow!"

But even then there were signs that all was not well with Mavers. His first problem was capturing the sounds in his head. After years on the dole and recording quickly in council-funded studios, he was obsessed with retaining the "purity" of his music. Desperate to capture the "vibe" of their own rehearsal rooms, the La's tried eight-track studios, primitive four- track studios of the kind used by the Beatles 25 years before, and, at one point, a Walkman. Mavers was on a bizarre creative roll. He smoked "waccy baccy" continually and was increasingly alienated from the music business.

"The La's had an unquantifiable magic about them," says Hull Adelphi's Paul Jackson, who booked them throughout this period. "But I think Lee found all the attention difficult."

Sent to Liverpool to coax out a rare interview, one journalist was instead treated to a private, 20 - minute unravelling of the heart breaking Looking Glass. When Mavers talked seriously of finding a mixing desk with "original sixties dust', people were convinced he was going mad.

Four years, seven studios, two producers and several abandoned sessions later, an exasperated Go! Discs employed Steve Lillywhite to piece together an album from hordes of scrapped recordings.

When The La's was finally released in November1990 the reviews were among the most ecstatic received by a debut album, but it was clear the prolonged creative process and acute sense of betrayal had sucked something out of Mavers. He professed to hate the finished record. Within two years, following a run of hit singles, two blistering tours and with the La's star at its brightest, he simply disappeared.

Maybe the trigger was the departure of cornerstone bassist John Power, who had become frustrated at the inactivity that now surrounded the band's career. Or maybe it was linked to hard drugs.
In 1995 I asked Power whether even the tantalising lyrics of There She Goes were a secret paean to heroin. "I don't know. Truth is, I don't wanna know. Drugs and madness go hand in hand. People who you've known all your life... they're steady, then they're not. But you can't ponder, cos it kills you, la'."

Soon after Cast released the biggest selling debut album in Polydor's history, All Change, Mavers appeared with a line-up of the La's at Hull's Adelphi. It wasn't a pretty sight. "I love Lee but he had loads of problems," says the Adelphi's Paul Jackson. "He wasn't used to playing live. He was very pissed if he wasn't on the smack. It was a bit sad. I think he played There She Goes three times without realising he'd done it." 

Watching in Hull were the promoters of Oasis, who were planning a La's comeback. Underwhelmed, they allowed Mavers one gig with Oasis in Brighton.

Mavers went away, but his songs didn't. Oasis took the stage for last year's triumphant Earl's Court appearances to the strains of There She Goes. In the audience was former La's manager Rob Swerdlow. "I just felt like shaking Lee and telling him, 'The whole of Earl's Court are celebrating your song because they've gone to see a band that are really what you're about.' But he wouldn't talk about it."

Mavers was making plans. In the summer of 1996, possibly following rehab, he had slipped into The Arch at Kew, a recording studio owned by former Damned drummer Rat Scabies. He loaned Mavers the keys when he went on holiday, and when he came back Mavers was still there. "He was just gushing music," says Scabies. "He was really astute about what he was doing. I was surprised how experimental he wanted to be."

Mavers initially worked alone but was later joined by musicians including his brother Neil - once the La's drummer - and a Liverpudlian bassist called Edgar Summertyme, formerly of the Stairs. Mavers would kick a football around in the street before picking up his guitar. According to Scabies, he looked lean and was in wonderful form: "As far as I was aware his drug problems were no more." And the music? "Absolutely brilliant."

The sessions ended because damp in the studio was affecting Mavers' voice, but back in Liverpool he and Summertyme continued to chase the perfect, raw, sound at rehearsal rooms in Pawnall Square. "I'd say there was at least three LPs' worth of songs, and they were unbelievable," Summertyme says. "We got a great Beefheart-y sound, but it was raw, riddled with feedback. It couldn't go out on a modern label."

After more than a year, Mavers stopped working with Summertyme and the sessions collapsed. Now Mavers lives quietly in Huyton, near Liverpool, with his wife and four children. He's occasionally sighted around town. Sometimes he watches bands at the Picket, where the La's often played, even joining in onstage. Following the collapse of Go! Discs, Mavers' record contract has passed to John Kennedy of Polygram, who has visited him to no avail. Mavers will play his music in front of anybody, but refuses to record it. The Picket's Phil Hayes says, tantalisingly: "He's got this song called The Human Race, and it's the best thing he's ever written. Better than There She Goes."

As Mavers is no doubt painfully aware, to commit something new to vinyl risks damaging the myth, and equally, would return him to the predicament that nearly destroyed him. But if the music is that good, Mavers could topple his spiritual offspring, Oasis, from the pinnacle of pop. "I'd book him here tomorrow because I always found him a smashing guy," sighs Jackson at Hull Adelphi. "He is a genius."

"Lee's happy now," insists Hayes. "It's like Van Gogh in his studio. He's not at all concerned with 
commerciality, or sales. He's just there making this wonderful music that no one ever hears."

As printed at the end of the article.
The La's is available on CD through Polygram. The bootleg, Callin' All features many of Mavers' original demos

Dave Simpson.