Lawrence Of Belgravia is a documentary about a sensational pop star Lawrence who never was. For over four decades now, Lawrence has tried to make it as a pop star with his groups Felt, Denim and more recently Mozart Estate (formally known as Go-Kart Mozart). Lawrence goes by the singular Lawrence and has never used his last name Hayward on any press or records—it puts him in the company of Madonna or Prince, just without the sales.
Paul Kelly, who directs the film, has been in the realm of the indie pop world for decades with his band East Village, his marriage to Debsey Wykes of Dolly Mixture (one of the first “indie pop” groups) and his long-standing working relationship with Saint Etienne. He decides to go against the grain of the usual music documentary and let Lawrence basically tell his own story through a handful of interviews with journalists and friends like Douglas Hart (The Jesus & Mary Chain) and Pete Astor (The Loft / The Weather Prophets) instead of going down the talking-heads interview route. It also uses no archival footage of any kind, just using some flyers and record covers to tell about Lawrence’s past along with his own testimony.
Lawrence has always been his own worst enemy, and always had lofty ideas of being a pop superstar. He seems to genuinely not understand why he is on the dole, and why he is living on a council estate and facing eviction at the start of the film. There is a hilarious moment where he complains that his pal Bobby Gillespie won’t invite him to the big rockstar parties with Kate Moss—”I could’ve met her years ago, She would’ve loved me!”—and fantasies about her giving him £250,000 to make a record.
The fact of the matter is that Felt really should’ve been huge. They were a much better band than The Smiths, for instance, but Lawrence always sabotaged it, or just had bad luck. Denim also seemed to get some traction early on as one of the first “Britpop” bands, but had absolute contempt for the label–Lawrence did an attack on it with the song “The Great Pub Rock Revival.”. Never mind trying to get EMI to release a song called “Summer Smash” weeks after Princess Diana’s death and failing, as they said it would be in “poor taste”.
Lawrence also bought into the destructive rock ‘n’ roll myth and ended up becoming a junkie for many years, this is shown through his scans of NHS medical reports. His idol is Lou Reed and his favourite film is Christiane F., which kind of says it all. But at the end of the day, Lawrence is one of the last true eccentrics in British pop. He has never made it, but he still sets his sights on the possibility of being the first pensioner pop star! I hope he does it, that would be kind of wonderful. And anybody who pens a song titled “All the People I Like Are Those That Are Dead” is alright in my book. I actually met Lawrence once at a screening of Lawrence of Belgravia, and like all true pop stars he had postcards of himself when he was younger to sign and give away to anybody who bought a record.
The Blu-Ray release from BFI was a welcome surprise due to the fact the long out of print DVD from Heavenly Films was going for an average price of £60 on Discogs. The release also has some nice extras, including a commentary track from Paul Kelly, some deleted scenes, a London Film Festival intro from Kelly, and a short Q&A with Kelly and Lawrence, original trailer, some poetry readings from Lawrence and alternative opening credits. The booklet features new essays and interviews from various writers, more of Lawrence’s poetry, and some song lyrics.