Fans of The La’s have a great deal to be excited about this year with the 30-year anniversary of a very important period in the band’s career. Although their now legendary self-titled album was not released until 1990, 1987 found them at their creative peak in terms of writing and producing the songs that would eventually make the cut.
The songs at this early stage may lack the polish of the finished album, but fans and band members alike agree that this raw sound is perhaps closer to the band’s intentions than Steve Lillywhite’s version.
The Viper Label, the majestic Liverpool label, co-owned by ex-La’s members Paul Hemmings and Mike Badger, are releasing The La’s 1987 on vinyl and extended CD on September 22. The release will include tracks recorded at The Picket and The Stables, an extensive session recorded by the late Pete De Freitas, (Echo and The Bunnymen), and two live sessions from The Royal Court and the much-missed Café Berlin on Bold st.
To coincide with the album, an exhibition of photographs by Jake Summerton will be held at The Florrie in Liverpool before moving to Redhouse Originals Gallery in Harrogate. The exhibition will show rarely seen images of the band during this crucial point in their careers, including their performance at The Marquee.
I caught up with Paul Hemmings to discuss how this celebration came to fruition, and to re-consider the legacy of one of Liverpool’s most crucial and enigmatic bands.
Paul makes it clear that the idea for the exhibition came first after chatting with Jake Summerton who had travelled with The La’s on their first tour, and Martyn Campbell from The Lightning Seeds, and it soon became clear that this 30 year time period was important to mark in some way. “It just seems the right time for all of this to come out, altogether… also the places that some of those tracks were recorded are no more, The Stables (next to Strawberry Fields) have been converted into a house.”
Martyn had pointed out “You do realise this is thirty years, and you know” Paul admits “I was too close to it all.”
Paul’s working relationship with the band ended before they became famous, Mike Badger also left before that point. Mike went on to become a solo artist and form The Onset, whilst Paul joined The Lightning Seeds and continues to perform with various collaborators including Tommy Scott from Space and Top’s Paul Cavanagh.
This gives him an interesting standpoint to view the development of the band, “A lot of those songs were developed in the stables, and there weren’t many new songs written after that time. I’d not really thought about it to be honest, but Mike Badger had left and our set was only about 20 minutes long and we had to write more stuff”
This is apparent in the fact that the 1987 sessions are pretty much made up of the tracks that eventually made up The La’s 1990 album.
Viper have already released a fair amount of La’s rarities and demos, I ask Paul how this new release differs, “Some of this stuff is already available on the net, I had all this stuff on cassettes, I just wanted to get this stuff out there as an album, for completists, it sounds a lot better than the stuff on the net”
We talk about the importance now with music collectors and the presence of completists, Paul adds, “Being in The La’s, it’s a lot like being in Captain Beefheart’s band you know, you’re never going to escape from it. I tried for years to distance myself from it but there’s no point, but you don’t want to overdose on it though.”
Paul does not appear to regret leaving the band when he did and rejoices in the time he spent there, “1986, ‘87 was a great time to be in the band, we were moving in the right direction, the band were on the way up, playing bigger venues, the audiences were increasing and the songs sounded great. Lee was coming up with an idea and musically John would lead there every day, We’d fathom out arrangements and we’d be trying out our new songs in the Pen and Wig every Tuesday.”
“Things only got difficult when the band were signed. It was the wrong time to sign a band like The La’s” Paul continues “The whole production style then was like gated drums, and everything was recorded separately, there was no organic thing of putting up one mic and having the band record it live in one room. Now loads of people are doing that, it was just the wrong time for us in the 80s.”
I ask Paul if he was happy with the actual album when that came out, “Any band who plays the same set of songs with different members continually for four years, it’s not really going to sound as fresh as when you first recorded it, no matter who was in the band.”
Paul explores further, why the final cut doesn’t sit right, “I think Steve Lillywhite did the best job possible and was the right man for the job, under the circumstances. I heard those early demos before I joined the band, they got passed round, and they were fantastic, they contained something. Any band, who plays new songs for the first time, achieve something magical I think. You definitely lose it four or five years later.”
I ask how Lee and John feel about the reissues. Paul isn’t in touch with Lee, he hopes he will come to the exhibition but is not holding his breath. “John is really excited in hearing the stuff, a lot of it is on the net anyway like I said, but he hasn’t seen the pictures. They are fantastic and they have come on a long journey as well, it’s great that Jake has this exhibition. I saw these photos back in the 90s and they were only on slides, you had to hold them to the light, and I’m thinking are they as good as we think they are? Seeing them now, the clarity! These are classic shots. Looking at those shots in The Marquee, I can’t really believe it now, when you think of that place you think of The Rolling Stones, you know, and it’s gone now, it’s a moment in history”
The album is available on Viper’s website to pre-order and the exhibition will run from September 15 – October 7 at The Florrie, and from Oct 14 -28 at Redhouse Originals Gallery in Harrogate.