Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The great Guthrie controversy

As we inch closer to a finished fanzine (just this week we got splendid contributions from John Mohan, Sybille Lacroix, Anh Do and Matt Fishbeck), we have been receiving support from some kindred spirits - Simon Goddard, for example, just wrote a lovely post mentioning the zine and recounting his own encounter with Lawrence at, incongruously, the Groucho Club.

In the meantime, however, I have been digressing slightly and delving into a long-dead controversy: Robin Guthrie's production of Ignite The Seven Cannons. While everyone from Alan McGee to Pitchfork seems to agree that Forever Breathes The Lonely Word is the best Felt LP, Ignite often gets cast as the runt of the litter. The reason, as Alistair Fitchett succinctly summarises it, is that the record "made too many concessions to 4AD style for comfort. Guthrie's production seemed to compress the sound, and made on the whole for a muddy, messy Felt." "Muddy" is a word that seems to come up a lot. Other commentators, such as a poster on Adrian Denning's page, are even less sanguine: "Robin Guthrie has caused a complete disaster! A catastrophe!"

I am a fully paid-up partisan for mid-period, just pre-Creation Felt. Let's set aside Primitive Painters, which is a shibboleth even for the devotees; I would still pin my colours to the mast of the Black Ship in the Harbour, I Don't Know Which Way To Turn, Southern State Tapestry et al. I am too much of a dilettante though and so I have been searching for a true Guthrie/Cocteau Twins devotee to make a more spirited, production-minded defence of the album. I've asked around on the Cocteau Twins Forum, but if anyone fancies writing a guest blog entry please get in touch...


  1. Not everyone rates Forever as Felt's best! The lyrics of September Lady, the only time Lawrence wrote a Felt song about having sex, don't sit comfortably, for example. Hmm. Their fifth best lp, maybe.

  2. I've never really been able to understand September's Lady lyrics perfectly... They're about sex?
    Ignite... has a bad, 80's production, but the songs are very good.
    Forever has great tunes, just like the strange idol pattern...

  3. Oh,are you the actual Watoo Watoo?
    I guess the main flaw with the production could be an imaginary one. It sounds as if
    the music has been dragged into a reality/room wich wasn't there in the first place.
    The intention probably was to simulate being marble and grand (successful),
    also by adopting the sound of the underground mainstream of that time.
    A bit like playing someone else's church rather than the Locus Amoenus one has in mind.
    I would say their collaboration was far more successful on The Final Resting Of The Ark. but then it wasn't, was it.
    Listening back, the sound on Ignite... is more Memphis than Art Deco,
    obviously so very much of its time, whilst the songs may be not.
    The relative victory of Primitive Painters suggests that
    it was the very opposite of the emperor's clothes.
    If this makes sense.

  4. If anything I think the production of The Strange Idols Pattern was more of a let down. Lawrence agreed with me in our interview that the drums were far too heavy. Technically, the best production was probably the last album, but "Forever....." still wins it for me on an emotional level.

  5. Hi,
    I'm Michaël from the band Watoo Watoo, yes!
    You know our band?
    I read in in the magazine Magic that R Guthrie called Lawrence & told him that he had a new home studio; he invited him to come & record a few songs. That's why, I guess, the final resting... sounds good: it's not overproduced.
    The very bad thing about Ignite is the very 80's overproduced drums sound*. It makes a big difference.
    Lee, I agree about your comment about the monkey as being the best produced album.
    But it's also Felt's most rock album (I love it anyway, but my faves are the strange idol, forever & the a-side of the pictorial....).

    * on The strange pattern, the drums sounds lack brightness, which is a shame.

  6. I am a guthrie/cocteaux devotee but i can't defend the production on this. Yes they are great songs but you have to work round the production a lot of the time. It seems to work on Primitive Painters but too often it is dominated by sounds that seem too familiar to cocteaux fans. As others have said the drums are a problem, they have been treated in such a way to sound like guthrie's own and not really very much like felt. Perhaps this is the problem? At this stage in his production career he only knew how to make things sound like the cocteaux. As he later showed with songs like ballad of the band, he certainly developed the ability to show a more sympathetic and varied touch.
    And I love all the felt albums but I would have to agree if I had to have one it would be Forever.

  7. Hi winterlight, I think you speak for the many! Even ardent fans like Simon Allum (www.incendiarymag.com/node/788) seem to make a rather perverse case for Ignite somehow surviving that Guthrie soundwash ("It's hard to make out who is doing what. It's a work of genius"). I wonder if I am deluded by my affection for other things like garage act The Dovers, whose What Am I Going To Do I always thought got some of its yearning, keening quality from the struggle to be heard at all through its nickel-and-dime production...

  8. Never mind the Guthrie controv - u seen the D-E-E-B-A-N-K/Stanley contov cooking up on Rui's forum? Got any Maurice in yer fanzine?

  9. Ignite the Seven Cannons is my favourite Felt album.

    My thoughts on the production came from a wilfully 'obscure' stance, which was intended to be confusing, or at least disorientating. (Much like the sound of the album). You're absolutely correct in saying I made a 'peverse case' for it. It wouldn't have been enough for me to just say "It's great".

  10. Hi Simon, I think we are at one! Felt do require a certain obliqueness, which has been my struggle in writing something for the zine too. 'Perverse' was meant descriptively rather than derogatively! And by the time you get to Demim and GKM, you are confronted with a whole other order of perversity (again, in the best possible sense).

  11. And I wish we had more Deebank in the zine than we do at this point - would you like to suggest any last minute correctives, Anonymous? And what is the Stanley controversy over at Rui's, couldn't find it on a quick browse...

  12. Started with Old Felt Feature post, which is an article from The Times by Bob Stanley, written around the release of Stains On A Decade. Reading it has spured one Nigel Silver into action. Mr Silver seems to have a connection with D-E-E-B-A-N-K, and he resents the myths that Lawrence presents as facts about Felt. He has started a series of posts presenting the ballad of the band from a D-E-E-B-A-N-K perspective. And very entertaining it is too! You could do worse than contacting Silver to provide some gold for your publication - it would need some heavy subbing, mind!

  13. How incredible - can't believe I hadn't seen all that stuff... thanks loads for pointing it out! Nigel Silver seems extraordinarily well-informed. We are on the final straight with the zine, laying it out as we speak, but it seems imperative to find a way to plug the Deebank-shaped hole. We have written to Mr Silver, so fingers crossed...

  14. Hi Mike, don't mention it. All that stuff about spooking out the bass player is just great. Good to hear you are close to hard copy. Really looking forward to this!

  15. We will be having a launch event for it too - just confirming details, will announce shortly!

  16. Hi, really looking forward to this fanzine, and the launch party. Just please don't make the date in last week of May or first week of June as I'll be on holiday; And I'm literally Felt's biggest fan and HAVE to be there:)