James Lawrence

Guitarist with the up-and-coming band Hope of the States

James Lawrence, guitarist: born Chichester, West Sussex 25 January 1977; died Box, Wiltshire 15 January 2004.

Hope of the States, for whom James Lawrence played guitar, was one of a new generation of British bands rekindling a sort of musical ambition reminiscent of the previously discredited prog-rock of the early 1970s, combined with the political, passionate commitment of punk.

Inspired by a series of late 1990s sonic adventurers - the doomy grandeur of Radiohead and Spiritualised, the neo-psychedelia of America's Mercury Rev and the Flaming Lips, and the haunting, post-rock political diatribes of Canada's Godspeed You Black Emperor! - the band joined young compatriots like Elbow and Muse in trying to throw off Britpop's musically retrograde legacy. As their singer Sam Herlihy noted:

At the tail-end of Britpop . . . there was a weird atmosphere of people grasping at straws without having anything to believe. I'd like to think that maybe [our records] will be the start of something else. A kickstart.

Jimmi Lawrence was born in Chichester in 1977 and attended Chichester High School for Boys, where he met Herlihy and Ant Theaker. The three of them went on to form the early core of Hope of the States, with the current line-up established in 2002. The bands's promise was apparent when they self-released the slow-building, eight-minute single "Black Dollar Bills". Sony signed them on the strength of it in 2003, after a fierce bidding war. The major-label reissue of "Black Dollar Bills" gained minor notoriety when its video was banned by MTV2 during the second Gulf War, for "politically inappropriate", animated images of B52 bombers.

Military uniforms and apocalyptic footage of devastated wastelands also featured in their intense live shows, in which Lawrence's guitar interweaved with organs and violin.

When their second single, "Enemies; Friends" entered the Top Thirty last October, leading to a Top of the Pops appearance, their momentum was quietly maintained. Ken Thomas, producer of the atmospheric Icelanders Sigur Ros, collaborated on their début album, which was recorded in locations typically chosen to avoid, in Herlihy's words, the "ghosts" of earlier groups: a freezing Russian bunker, an isolated Irish farmhouse, and Peter Gabriel's Real World studios, near Bath. The album was due to be completed next week, and released in the spring, with a single and gig both scheduled for February. In a feature in last week's NME, which anticipated "one of the albums of 2004", Herlihy talked buoyantly of the band's prospects:

The isolation is really good . . . This might be the only record we'll ever make, so we wanted to put a bit of romance into it, some Napoleonic folly.

Lawrence apparently committed suicide at Real World studios early on Thursday morning.

Nick Hasted

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