Very special thanks to Larry for agreeing to do this – once a gent, always a gent.
Larry, since leaving James in 1995, your activities have been subject to various rumours and speculation such as that you’d retired to Ireland to become a carpenter, that you were still writing material for the band and were simply taking a break, that you were teaching guitar in Manchester – what have you been doing?
All of these have a basis in truth but none of them tell the true story. I worked on the Whiplash album up until the final mixes, both writing and playing. The last track I worked on was ‘She’s a Star’, which was a nice note to end on because its such a cracking track and because I’m particularly proud of the slide intro.
Both during and after this time I spent a lot of time in my Irish house. It’s fairly remote, no TV, no phone. I used to go there to get away from the madness of James after endless touring. I thought of moving there, but, whilst good for relaxing, it couldn’t have sustained my new life fully. The carpenter thing was a reference to my desire to design and make furniture, which is what I intended to do either here or eventually in Ireland.
To achieve this desire I decided I needed to study Art and Design in a formal context. This was something I had never done as I had left school at 14 and was self-taught on the guitar. This turned out to be the right path; the course and tutors were a great inspiration to me. They challenged my rather romantic idea of furniture making and made me look at the wider issue of design as an intellectual, creative, practical and philosophical discipline. It’s as a direct result of this that I have met with such success as a designer.
I had considered the possibility of teaching as a supplement to my songwriting income if times got hard. Thanks to the success of the ‘Best Of’ album and remix of Sit Down that necessity never arose.
How much of a culture shock was there going from touring and playing to four-figure crowds to going back into education?
There were a couple of years between my last gig at Woodstock 2 (damn site more than 4 figures!) and entering education so the shock wasn’t that great. Education is diverse and stimulating, I kept my own timetable and pretty much pleased myself so it wasn’t like work in that respect.
Were your fellow students aware of your past – there must have been one of two James fans on your course? Do you still get recognised when you are out and about in Manchester?
It was important to me that people got to know me as just another student first so I kept my past hidden as best I could. When people know about the “ex pop star” bit they tend to prejudge you and you have to work hard to fit in. This was hard enough anyway, being 20 years older than most.
Slowly the students became aware of it, some heard rumours, some recognised me or heard from friends. On the whole they were all pretty cool about it I’m glad to say. Surprisingly some didn’t find out until the very end.
The James fans on the course respected my wish for this casual anonymity for which I am grateful. One, I have discovered, even defended me in a discussion on a James bulletin board, thanks Si.
You use your first name James rather than Larry now in your design work. Was this a conscious decision in order to distance yourself from being known as “Larry Gott, ex-James”?
Yes it was, I suppose it goes back to what I said earlier about peoples pre-conceptions. When I first exhibited my designs in London I wanted the work to stand alone, to be judged entirely on its own merits and that is exactly what happened. The design awards that I have won have been for the work, not because of my past.
However when the press etc got to know of my past success as a result of the present success, then things got really interesting. The emphasis had changed from ‘pop star becomes designer’ to ‘award winning designer was a pop star’ the tense is important here. I realised that this was a newsworthy story that could help me promote my designs and myself as a designer.
Has the band connection helped, been a hindrance or had no effect at all?
The band connection obviously has an effect on how people view me and my work whether it has a positive or negative effect, who knows?
As someone whose knowledge of furniture extends to assembling IKEA prepacks, could you describe your furniture designs to the uninitiated?
It’s interesting that you should use IKEA as the benchmark for your knowledge of design and your making skills, it’s a good one to use. (Most people think that design is lawrence swelling bowel and his pals changing rooms). The fact that virtually anyone with a little patience and a few simple tools can build a piece of furniture is a testament to the designer’s skill within IKEA’s philosophy.
Design is not simply a matter of producing a nice looking piece of furniture. It is more akin to a three-dimensional chess game where one small move or change affects the whole outcome.
You chose a piece from IKEA because you liked it and it was cheap. It was cheap because you assembled it, yes, but it was also cheap because it came in a flatpack which takes up no room at all in a warehouse or on a truck or on a boat so the transport costs are low. Less transport means less pollution and road congestion. It will probably be made from chipboard which is a recycled waste product saving trees. All these things enrich our lives not just the nice piece of furniture we buy at the end.
All of these elements are considered important to the designer who seeks out new ways, better ways of say, making a chair. By employing my skill,experience, improvisation, research, creativity and lateral thinking I hope to find interesting solutions to the problems of modern living. The pieces i have designed so far go some way to addressing this but I have a long way to go yet.
It’s been reported that you have won several awards for your design work to date. What awards have you won and where have you exhibited and sold your designs to date?
I have been given two major awards so far.
The first was at an exhibition held in june 2000 at the Business Design Centre in Islington. It was called ‘New Designers’ which basically is the pick of the design graduates from that year. The award given was the ‘Allermuir Furniture for Manufacture Award’
The second was the ‘100% Design/Blueprint judges special award for creativity’. This was at the 100% Design Show held at Earls Court in October 2000. This is a major international furniture show and so the award was all the more unexpected as the competition consisted of the world’s leading designers and manufacturers. My design was made by me in the college workshop, so you can imagine my surprise when it was announced.
Although I have exhibited my work around the country I haven’t really been concentrating on that or on selling my work to individuals. I prefer to sell my designs to manufacturers etc as I believe that good design should be available to all & not be the preserve of the rich.
What are your plans for the future of your work and are we likely to see your designs available in the shops?
At present I am working with a wire manufacturer who is producing some of my designs for sale in the Conran shops in London, Paris and New York, available in the next month or so. We are also trying to get the design into other stores worldwide and also into the cafe bar market. I want to see it on the streets of the world’s cities, but first Manchester.
One of my other designs is being prototyped in Poland for Habitat and should be in their autumn/winter range.
You were spotted handing a CDR to Saul at the Nynex gig aftershow in December 1999 – are you still writing material and playing locally around Manchester?
Ah yes the cd I gave to Saul!! I’ve seen references to this before and laughed. Sorry to disappoint you all but it was just a bootleg copy of one of our mutual faves that he had lost. Just a cheapskate xmas pressie I’m afraid.
With regard to playing locally I think that this is rather a loaded question. I am aware of the questions raised on the band website about this. I can’t fart without you lot getting to hear about it can I?
Yes I have sat in at a handful of gigs with a kind of anarchic scratch/jam band who already had a regular gig in a cellar bar in Manchester. My first gigs since leaving James. The band doesn’t have a strict line-up or set songs, very much like early James in that respect. They are a combination of bass/drums/scratch dj /dijeridoo/human beat-box/haunting blues vox and myself and another on guitars and effects, a very eclectic mix of styles & musical cultures that the audience loved and, I have to admit, so did I.
Are you still in regular contact with the other members of James?
No not really. On the whole they are an ignorant set of bastards who don’t even invite me to gigs. We haven’t fallen out or anything it’s just that James have always been like that. Just ask Andy.
You were acknowledged by Tim at the comeback gig at the Leadmill in January 1997. How did it feel that night watching the band you’d been at the heart of for 12 years playing songs that you’d written?
Awful!! Very nervous and anxious about everything. Couldn’t really concentrate, all I could do was pick holes in it. I really felt for Adrian, I wouldn’t have liked Paul to have been in the audience when I first replaced him. I nearly died when Tim invited me onstage for the encore, as if the situation wasn’t Spinal Tap enough without that old showbiz crap. Then he asked me again because Adrian didn’t know the chords to Johnny Yen, poor lad, how embarrassing for both of us.
And now? 2002 will be James 20th anniversary – if there are shows planned to celebrate this, would you consider rejoining the band on a one-off basis for these?
I think that all of the ex members should do a gig together, there’s enough of us now. That would be far more interesting.
When the history of rock music is being written in future, how would like the entry for James Lawrence Gott to read?
Your comment “a red in an ocean of blue” would be nice although I think Mark Ribot already has that entry.