Best known for their much-loved indie classic “There She Goes,” English rock band The La’s had enough of a pedigree — hailing from The Beatles home city of Liverpool and composed of musicians well respected to this day — to go on to big things. But that single, originally released in 1988 before finally becoming a hit in 1990, remains their only major success. Why didn’t they take off?
Time and Place: The Background
Despite sporadic reunion attempts, The La’s were mainly active from 1984 to 1992. Although mega sales and sold out stadiums were common in the 1970s and 80s, the underground indie scene still very much held onto an idea that punk had first introduced: it was noble to not participate in music’s commercialism. Given these circumstances, and the fact that the band was composed of working class lads from the north of England with zero showbiz knowledge to go with their raw musical talent, the La’s didn’t have a strong recipe for enduring commercial success.
Lee Mavers: Eccentric Perfectionist
The La’s might not have been professionally streamlined, but they were diligently committed to the actual making of music. In fact, being overly diligent was one of the main reasons for their lack of major success. Frontman Lee Mavers was, and by all accounts still is, a perfectionist. According to The Guardian, The La’s one and only album (eponymously titled) was “endlessly re-recorded with a variety of producers at Mavers’ nit-picking behest.” He would have producers place equipment up in trees, and claimed amplifiers had lost their magic sound because they had been cleaned of their 1960s dust (although rumours that he carried his own 60s dust around to re-sprinkle them are generally questioned). In the end, their album was only released through the drive of producer Steve Lillywhite, who cobbled it together from recordings the band, and particularly Mavers, wanted to abandon. They always claimed that it never captured their sound, and that they would re-record it.
Instead of focusing on that re-recording, though, Mavers would frequently go AWOL amidst talk of his virtual insanity. During the years after “There She Goes,” Mavers gave “a handful of chaotic live performances, including one supporting Paul Weller that ended with the plugs being pulled. There were a couple of equally peculiar interviews in the music press, during which Mavers talked in an impenetrable Scouse psychobabble.”
Leaving a Sinking Ship
In sport, and especially in Liverpool’s much-adored sport of soccer, they say a settled team is a successful team, while one that is chopped and changed all the time suffers. This was The La’s problem. No doubt a consequence of Mavers’ character, the band went through an astonishing number of lineup changes. Musicians suffered the same fate as producers. Including all sporadic reunions, The La’s have had more than 20 members.
“My favorite band”
A fatal paradox of chaotic perfectionism limited The La’s commercial success, but they were always critically acclaimed and loved by die-hard fans, and in those ways, were considered a success. Mavers’ main sidekick in The La’s was guitarist John Power, who left in 1991 and went onto form the reasonably successful band Cast. Power made his decision at that time because he was tired of a lack of progress, but he recently told the Liverpool Echo “The La’s are my favourite band. Lee is a genius.”
Chris Maitland writes on musical instruments, music history, music technology, entertainment, pop culture and other issues; music fanatics are encouraged to check out http://www.imagempm.com/UK/ to learn more.