Paul Kelly fashions a film which balances cool empathy with a brutal honesty about the various shortcomings of his tragic subject.
More than a simple, micro-scale documentary that functions as a tribute to and reminder of the various cornball talents of the mono-monikered Lawrence, creative lynchpin of the indie bands Felt, Denim and Go-Kart Mozart, Lawrence of Belgravia is a heart-melting essay on the harsh societal barometers for artistic success and failure.
Throughout his near-30-year career as a songwriter and performer, success – both critical and commercial – has casually alluded Lawrence at every turn. When one does finally arrive, the other instantly goes AWOL, usually the upshot of some random personal or professional catastrophe.
In terms of finite detail, very little is known of Lawrence. We see him scanning through various articles and profiles, constantly bemoaning that – as if part of some shady conspiracy – journalists haven't got their facts straight. He's a spindly, softly-spoken, cantankerous and nomadic Brummie whose musical style could, to the untrained ear, be likened to quirky sixth form poetry warbled over the top of extended local radio jingles. But the longer you listen, the more intricate and impressive these lo-fi pocket symphonies become.
Lawrence perpetually complains to the camera that he is desperate to be famous and to cruise around town in a stretch limo. Though his unstinting stubbornness would never allow him to adapt his style for the needs of the market place. He craves fame, but he wants it to come to him, not the other way around.
Saddled with debts and – it's suggested – recovering from a drug problem, Lawrence is given a new flat near London's Barbican centre. In one lovely, tragicomic moment, he's seen running a paint roller over the walls, a huge plaster comically adorning his chin. "I bet Lou Reed never had to paint his own house," he complains.
With his over-sized, low-brimmed baseball cap and aviator shades, Lawrence is a rock demigod out of time. He appears to despise the demands of the contemporary music scene, adopting a faintly positive tenor only when discussion turns to fanzines, vinyl and successes of the past.
He's a typewriter musician attempting to penetrate an iPad industry. And that's were the core tragedy of Paul Kelly's film derives: the notion that Lawrence's ideals fly in the face of his potential paymasters, and that it's uncertain whether he knows it.
And yet, there's a subtle silver lining to be found in Kelly's carefully constructed film. The way he arranges and assembles the mounds of colourful Lawrence paraphernalia in between the interviews and encounters reminds viewers – and even Lawrence himself – that whether publicly accepted or not, here is a man who has something to show for his life, a monument to his life's work.
At time of filming, Lawrence is putting the finishing touches to the latest Go-Kart Mozart album, saddled with the merrily uncommercial title of 'On the Hot Dog Streets'. Whether this will be his belated breakthrough is anyone's guess.
You may come away from this film finding Lawrence a somewhat distasteful gent, though there's no way you'd begrudge him a deserved bask in the celebrity limelight. So, fingers and toes crossed please.
A enigmatic figure within the UK music industry gets a film profile.
Director Paul Kelly fashions a film which balances cool empathy with a brutal honesty about the various shortcomings of his tragic subject.
You'll want to (re)visit the Lawrence back catalogue, even if his music doesn't sound like your cup of tea. Just to give the guy a break!