“I’m living on a tenner a day, goodness gracious, a tenner a day,” sings Lawrence in the opening couplet of Mozart Estate’s Relative Poverty – a bleak bop about life on the financial precipice and truly a song for our times.
Cited as a major influence by indie’s finest, from Jarvis Cocker to The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess and Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, the Birmingham-born cult hero singer and songwriter – no surname necessary, just Lawrence – is far from the first down-on-his-uppers pop star to have found himself living off benefits, nor to sing about the experience. But never before has anyone done it with such an intoxicating and unlikely blend of brutal frankness and tongue-in-cheek cheer.
Sounding like a cross between a Chas & Dave song and the theme tune from Grange Hill, Relative
Poverty is a retro rock’n’roll cry-laugh into the void which can’t help but resonate when the cost-of-living
crisis is pushing more and more people into the red. Every word of its lyrics – about seeing ex-soldiers sleeping in shop doorways, about a British top brass which “won’t do bugger all” – is rooted in things which really happened to him.
“I wrote it at a time when I really was living in poverty, and I really was living on that kind of money,”
Lawrence tells The Big Issue. “The weird thing is, I had a letter from the government telling me that I was in relative poverty.
I thought ‘wow, what an incredible phrase’. You get, I think, £69 a week. So, you are living on
a tenner a day.”
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As the enigmatic frontman of Felt, who between 1981 and 1989 released a perfect 10 albums and 10 singles on the iconic independent labels Cherry Red and Creation, Lawrence was responsible for some of the most supernaturally beautiful music from the dawn of indie, including crystalline janglers such as Sunlight Bathed the Golden Glow and Primitive Painters (the latter a duet with Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser). With his 1990s bubblegum rock project Denim, he signed to a major label and enjoyed his one-and-only sniff of chart success (#79 in April 1996, for the single It Fell Off the Back of a Lorry).