Amid the good-natured chaos of last weekend’s Camden Crawl, there was one surprise line-up addition nobody could have predicted: The La’s’ Lee Mavers.
The 47-year-old – who is rarely seen in public – played two gigs, both alongside Babyshambles bassist Drew McConnell, and both unannounced.
If you saw last week’s issue of NME, you’ll know that Mavers is contemplating recording new La’s material – 19 years after the band’s only album came out – with Pete Doherty’s crew as his backing band.
However, when I managed to speak to Mavers after his 2am gig at Dingwalls, he seemed totally into the idea, commenting that Babyshambles were among the best musicians he’s heard in years (“They blew me away,” he stated proudly). He also praised Pete Doherty’s often-derided guitar playing, explaining that “the chords he uses are really out there”.
Sidestepping Carl Barat (“Lee’s a genius!”, he declared to me) to walk into the tiny Dingwalls dressing room, I initially missed Mavers completely. Rather than the burly presence he has on his records, in person he’s got quite a quiet demeanour. Perched on a sofa, he could have passed for any mid-40s bloke (though he still looks deceptively youthful).
On why he keeps popping up playing these one-off gigs with various Babyshambles members, he was also surprisingly blasé. “They just keep saying, ‘See you next Wednesday then, Lee??’ And that’s it, la!”
This coming from a man supposedly so precious he wouldn’t record new material until his amplifiers were furnished with ’60s dust.
What really got him going, though, was chatting about his music. Despite being a little worse for wear, when I mentioned his brilliant unreleased La’s anthem ‘Was It Something I Said?’ (written around the late ’80s), Mavers’ craggy eyes lit up, and he launched into one of the most passionate responses I’ve ever been given from a musician.
“It goes in threes!” he beamed, talking about the song’s structure. “It goes round and round, that tune! It’s two different things happening at once – all on the same guitar. I always wanted a calypso vibe for it. Not typical calypso, though… bouncing, skipping!”
The man’s enthusiasm was totally infectious. This is the track we were talking about:
The La’s, ‘Was It Something I Said?’
Later on, when we were outside the venue, I spied a drunken Rev struggling to hold his bag, guitar and a lit spliff, so I offered to take care of the six-string for him.
Seeing my chance, I took the guitar up to Mavers, tapped him on the shoulder and gave him a quick burst of ‘Was It Something I Said?’. Again, a massive smile spread across his face as he stood – arms folded – and assessed what was essentially a complete stranger playing one of his rarest songs on Camden High Street at 3am. After I stopped, he was again utterly enthusiastic.
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“You’ve got it, man! That’s it! You know what it’s about la, you’re on the track. Just keep on the path, stay on the path mate!!”
And that was it. Mavers and McConnell got a taxi home, and I went to a pizza vendor with Rev and some friends.
Is the La’s/Babyshambles collaboration a good idea? Well, contrary to my colleague’s dismissiveness, I think there’s something intriguing about Lee recording new material.
The thing that struck me about these recent gigs was the get-up-and-go mentality of them. On Saturday, the sound was atrocious. Yet he just got up and played, and was still totally charismatic. His singing voice is still in superb form too. So will it mess up his cult status if he releases some new material now? Fuck no! Do it, Lee! Did I mention I play guitar..?