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Progressive Rock Interviews

John Lawton

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with John Lawton from 2014
MSJ:

You’ve had an interesting career so far. Can you catch the readers up with a little synopsis of how you got here in terms of your career?

Hey it’s been long and varied… Started out in the North East of England around the age of 16. I formed a band with some school friends doing covers and it kind of snowballed from there. I eventually went with the guys from a later formation to Hamburg and played in the Top Ten Club…. I met my wife and decided to stay.

It was there that I met the guys from Lucifer's Friend and sang at the same time in a very successful German gospel choir (Les Humphries Singers) so I was kinda busy during the early years. In 1976 I got a call from Ken Hensley (Uriah Heep) asking if I would come to London to audition for the vocalist gig, as they had just fired David Byron. I got the job and the rest is history, as they say.

I left the band in 1979 and did various projects for other people, two solo albums (Heartbeat and Still Paying My Dues to the Blues). After that I put together another band here in London called “Gunhill” which in turn became the John Lawton Band and we played regularly in Europe and became quite successful in terms of fan following… 

In 2004 I went to Bulgaria at the request of the Mayor of Kavarna on the Black Sea coast to do a festival with Bulgarian musicians. I met the boss of a National TV company who asked me about doing a series of travel documentaries about Bulgaria… I have done 19 so far in the series.

In between doing that and many concerts, I met Milen Vrabevski the composer and producer. He asked about doing English vocals on a project he had recorded with Bulgarian musicians… I liked it immediately and Power of Mind was recorded. It was very successful in terms of opening people’s ears that Eastern European Countries could produce extremely good products.

We are now in the process of promoting album two in the Intelligent Music Project entitled “My Kind of Loving.” Even if I say so myself, it is extremely good, with guest musicians Simon Phillips and Joseph Williams (Toto) taking part and is a sign of International recognition and not before time…

MSJ: With all your experience are there any particular sessions, gigs or events that really stand out as particularly memorable?
Hey there have been so many throughout the years… early Heep gigs in the USA… playing some big stadiums. Something that really stands out, and a gig that I am still doing after six years, is the July Morning festival in Bulgaria. It takes place every July 1st at 5:30 in the morning in a place called “Kamen Briag” on a cliff overlooking the Black Sea. We have crowds of up to 10,000 people celebrating this day. It represents the freedom from previous political regimes and we always kick off with the song “July Morning” which has fast become the second Bulgarian national anthem… You have to be there to appreciate the atmosphere…

The biggest thrill was doing the Butterfly Ball concert back in 1973. Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover asked me to take part and to stand next to Glen Hughes, David Coverdale, Jon Lord and do a couple of songs as a virtual unknown. Well what can I say?

MSJ: You seem to participate in a lot of different collaborative projects. Is there something special in your mind about collaborating with different musicians rather than a consistent band type line-up?
Personally speaking, I enjoy this kind of work. It puts a whole new perspective on the songs that are being recorded or played live. I have worked with Japanese, Brazilian and many European musicians, and it is fun. The present musicians on My Kind of Loving are particularly talented and certainly deserve wider musical recognition…

Working with Milen Vrabevski the writer / producer and the brains  behind My Kind of Loving was also very stimulating. He is a very talented man and also a very successful businessman, voted European Citizen of the Year 2013…

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
I have no idea
MSJ:

Who would you see as your musical influences?

Very, very early influence was Mahalia Jackson, then Eric Burden, numerous blues singers and so many through the years from Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald through to present day artists, particularly Paul Rogers who is a big influence still today…
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
Right now, is getting My Kind of Loving across to as many people as possible. I really do believe in this project and its capabilities. At some point, I will carry on doing the travel documentaries and everything else life has to throw at me.
MSJ: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labelled, but how would you describe your music?
Probably a mixture of rock ‘n’ blues.
MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?
A duet with Paul Rogers would be good.  Jeff Beck… God, there are so many it could go on for ages, it would be a never ending stream of the best.
MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
Definitely a hindrance
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
How do you stop it? I know many shows of mine have been recorded, probably not the whole show but parts of them, whether they are traded or not, I have no idea… But again, how do you stop it?
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Justin Bieber and for all the right reasons.
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
Certainly Paul Rogers (vocals) John Bonham (drums) Jeff Beck (guitar) Joe Bonamassa (guitar) Jon Lord (keyboards) Tal Wilkenfield (bass) and the Memphis Horns… because it encapsulates everything I love to hear….
MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
ZZ Top, Jeff Beck, Paul Rogers, Little Feat, Little Richard / Jerry Lee Lewis / Chuck Berry, Stevie Wonder… too many, the stage would just crack under the strain of the encore.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
The last CD I bought was Chris Rea The Journey… I do listen to a lot of classical music for relaxation…
MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
I am an avid reader… particularly James Patterson, Dean Koontz and John Grisham, anything with a good story or plot…
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
I haven’t been to a gig for quite some time… I will check out live gigs on TV, but I do try to get away from music when I am not working.
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
Probably ABBA.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Too many to mention here.
MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
Definitely Sir David Attenborough (for his life stories), Elvis (for the sheer hell of it) and Michael Palin (Monty Python) for his travel stories…
MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Fish and chips for the Englishmen and maybe a burger or two for Elvis.
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Look out for My Kind of Loving, it really is good and let’s not let religion ruin the lives of so many millions.
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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