domingo, 5 de novembro de 2017

Interview - John Lawton: A Life Dedicated to Music

John Cooper Lawton, born July 11, 1946 in Halifax, England, and for more than half a century in the world of music. A remarkable voice and a different charisma and feeling, having in his career a few dozen recorded albums, highlighting some classics recorded with Lucifer's Friend and Uriah Heep. But John Lawton has never stopped making good music, and recently, in addition to prominent participation in projects such as the Intelligent Music Project, he reactivated Lucifer's Friend, which in addition brings two more original members, and last year released the album "Too Late to Hate", successor of the collection "Awakening"(2015), which also brought new compositions.   (versão em português)

We had the opportunity to interview John Lawton and talk a little about his career, highlighting this return of Lucifer's Friend, and of course, a brief history of the band and also of their passage in Uriah Heep, band with which maintains excellent relationship. Check it out!

RtM: Hello John, Here is Carlos Garcia, from Site Road to Metal (Brazil), it is always a pleasure to follow your work.
To start, let's talk about how Lucifer's friend got together again, and bringing you Peter and Dieter?
John Lawton: Hi Carlos…hope you are well…..
Well the early years are well documented, but the recent get together was quite emotional I think. We have always remained friends over the years, but the opportunity to reform came about after an enquiry from an American agent as to Lucifer's reforming. Unfortunately nothing ever came of that, but it did give us the idea to try a reformation. Which we did with “AWAKENING” album. After that release we received offers to play live and that’s really what made it happen.

"The big name bands like PURPLE an HEEP will always have a following, maybe not in album sales but in live concerts."

RtM: The group was characterized by the change of style for each album, and this new Lucifer's Friend has some experimentation and several elements, but it sounded a lot more Hard Rock/ Classic Rock. I think this is the best side of the band, and the vast majority of the band's fans also prefer this side. Do you feel it the same too? Talk a little bit more about the concept of "Too Late to Hate".
JL: Really it was a bunch of songs that Peter had written which he sent to me to check out and I liked each one. It was never suggested that we should write a specific style its just the way it turned out. I did some new melodies and all the lyrics quite quickly and we were off and running….

RtM: Well, I'd like you to comment on some of the tracks, let's go?
First, I would like you to comment on two of my favorites, which are "Sea of ​​Promises" and "When Children Cry", which remind me more of this Hard Rock 70's side, and have strong and emotional vocals and great instrumental work. Those keyboards and melodies in "When Children .." are great.
JL: Thanks for the comments…like most people around the world I was horrified with what was going on in Syria and the Middle East and that influenced a lot of the lyrics on the album. Sea Of Promises is about the refugees trying to cross to Europe and "When Children Cry" what got to me the most after seeing TV news and the suffering….and of course it made me want to put my feelings down on paper…

RtM: "Jokers & Fools" and "Tell Me Why" is also among my favorites, it reminds me a lot of this Hard 70's sound too. Surely fans of that sound, and of bands like early Whitesnake, Rainbow and Uriah Heep have approved and will approve it.
JL: Again some great ideas from Peter. Musically and like most songs on the album were recorded as we felt right. Never any thought of “lets get this sounding 70’style!".

RtM: Two great ballads, but of different styles, are "This Time", which follows a more Heavy Blues line and "Tears", which is more 80's, has something of AOR, and show that even with a more Hard Rock/Classic Rock  orientation, the band brought a diversity of elements.
JL: Ah yes “This Time”…I loved the feel of this track when I first heard it even without a vocal line, its Peter at his best and the Bluesy style is part of my back ground, and yes, I enjoyed doing vocals on this one…."Tears” is a good track with really nice elements to it, I like this track a lot..   
RtM: Speaking of diversity, we have "Straight to Heart" and "Don’t Talk Strangers", which bring some more progressive and experimental elements.
JL: These are my 2 favourite tracks on the album, I love the groove laid down by our drummer Stephan and Dieter’s bass line. These are definitely songs that will appear in our live set.

"After that release of "Awakening" (2015) we received offers to play live, and that’s really what made it happen."

RtM: We talked a little about the album and some of the songs, and about the shows? How are your feelings about the acceptance and how is the demand for the band's live concerts?
JL: It takes a while to get into playing live again together, I mean its been a lot of years and even with lots of rehearsal, getting up in front of an audience as Lucifers Friend is totally different but the acceptance has been really good. We have played mostly festivals until now which has been the biggest thrill and a run of clubs later this year should prove that we can “comeback”.

RtM: Songs that are always on your set list are "Ride in the Sky" and "Burning Ships" by Lucifer's Friend classic albums. I would like you to tell us a little bit about them, and what songs from the first albums do the fans ask for more at the solo shows, and sure, with Lucifer’ Friend?
JL: At the beginning we asked around which songs the fans would like to hear most and of course "Ride in the Sky" was the one at the top of the list. "Burning Ships" has always been a favourite of mine so that had to be in…Songs from the first album are always being requested and we do try and include as many as possible, but we do have a back catalogue and so we hopefully put in tracks from other albums as well, to make it as varied as possible.

RtM: Going back a bit in time, in 1969 you went to Germany, and then met your future companions, who then formed the Lucifer's Friend, and a curiosity is that the band was first called Asterix, including releasing an album with you on vocals already . I would like you to talk about the name change and what you initially thought about how the band would sound, influences, etc.
JL: I was introduced to the guys via a mutual friend and at that time they were calling themselves Lucifer's Friend because of the track of the same name. In the meantime they had also recorded another album under the name Asterix with a guy called Tony Cavanagh. They asked me to check out the English lyrics and then asked me if I would also sing on it with Tony. It was after that they asked me to sing the tracks they had written for their other album, which turned out to be the first Lucifer's album. I had no influence over the way that album was going to go as they had recorded most of the backing tracks, but the rest is history!

RtM: Lucifer’s Friend’s first album is much adored by Heavy Metal fans, including the band as one of the precursors of Doom Metal. I think the group's name, which is quite shocking, the darker lyrics and sound that followed a line similar to contemporary groups of yours, such as Purple, Heep and Zeppelin, attracted the attention of the fans. I would like you to comment on that, and tell us a little about this album.
JL: I think I have covered most about this album…Doom Metal na’.. never.  Yes there was always going to be influences from the fore mentioned bands, but never tried to copy, we had our own style……

RtM: But in the next album, and in the others, the sonority was changing and always receiving new elements, one of the characteristics of Lucifer's Friend were this changes in  your sonority. I would like you to tell us more about this characteristic, was it something that came naturally? Did you like to experiment? In these changes I believe that you gained new fans, but maybe had a risk to loose some others.
JL: We never set out to be different on each album, it was just the way the tracks written by the guys came across. The only album that we went slightly experimental was Banquet. The horn section came from the James Last Orchestra of which Peter Hesslein was part of at that time and the string section was something the tracks were missing. I don’t think we ever thought “oh we are going to loose fans with this album” I secretly think that the fans of the band quite liked the idea of not knowing what was coming next .

RtM: "Where Groupies Killed the Blues" (72) was quite experimental and progressive, while "I'm Just a Rock and Roll Singer" (73) was more straight and Rock oriented. I'd like you to comment a bit about these two albums.
JL: “Groupies” was an album where I think we were going through a phase of “lets see how far we can push the music” and we certainly did here. I personally like this album a lot, it takes a lot of listening to first time around, but the musicianship  of the guys on this album is way out there with the best of them…Rock n Roll Singer was the best received album in the USA and indeed got into the Billboard chart which was very unusual for a German Band…not my favourite album, but had many good sides to it.

"We never set out to be different on each album, it was just the way the tracks written by the guys came across."
RtM: In "Banquet" (74) you bring experimentations with Jazz-Fusion and had support musicians on several instruments, and  "Mind Exploding" (76), it was an album that you tried to combine this experience with Jazz with a more Rocker side, but It was not a well understood album, i think, even that year you left the group and went to Uriah Heep. Tell us a little about these two.
JL: "Banquet" is my favourite album from all that we have recorded. It was a pleasure to write and an even bigger pleasure to sing. As I mentioned before, we incorporated brass and strings into this album and its an album that I would love to have sung live, but the production would be too much to put together….Mind Exploding is a good album and one I’m very proud of, it has some really good tracks on there, 2 in particular “Moonshine Rider” and “Fugitive” which are also an important part of the live set….but it had nothing to do with me leaving the band.

RtM: About the time on Uriah Heep, I would like you to tell us how the years were with the band, tell us how you felt in the band, what was the group's internal relationship like at the time? Did you feel free to compose and give your opinion about musical directions?
JL: Hey, the time in Uriah Heep was a great time and I really learned a lot from this band. The tracks on Firefly were already recorded so there was nothing I could contribute apart from my vocals. But it's a great album in my opinion, especially the song “Wise Man” really good song writing from Ken Hensley…..

RtM: In my opinion, the line-up changes at that time was very good for the band, and you recorded great albums with them. My favorite is “Fallen Angel”, and “I’m Alive” is a great song!
JL: Well thank you, my song writing contributions were being better received which helps a lot when you are new in a band.

"The time in Uriah Heep was a great time and I really learned a lot from this band."
RtM: Did you end up no longer in the band because of divergences with Ken Hensley? And later Hensley left the band too.
JL: Unfortunately Ken and I didn’t agree on many things, and musical differences started to come up, I thought the band was heading away from what had made them great musically in the first place. Ken and I did get back together as the Hensley/Lawton Band briefly in 2001, but that was never meant to last.

RtM: The Uriah Heep seems to have only found stability with a singer after the entry of Bernie Shaw. I believe that you would be a very good choice for the band as well. Did you ever talk about a return?
JL: No….we have always remained good friends and I have stood in for Bernie on a couple of occasions when he has been ill, but rejoining is not an option, Bernie is the singer and a fine one to and also happens to be a good friend, and I do enjoy duetting together with him.

RtM: About your work with Jan Dumeé (Focus), with the band Mamonama, who even had 3 Brazilian musicians involved, would you also like to tell us about this project and how was the work with the Brazilians?
JL: You mean the band OTR …Mamonama was a track on the album.

RtM: oh, right! Betrayed by my memory!
JL: Well,  Jan asked me to write some lyrics and melodies for an album that was recording. It was supposed to be an instrumental album but the idea of vocals on it was a good idea. I recorded the vocals in Holland and Jan took the tapes over to Rio to record the other guys. Unfortunately, we never got a chance to play together but I did meet up with Xande and Marvio when I was over in 2009. Some terrific playing from the brazilian guys, gave the songs a very different feel….

RtM: I also really enjoyed the CD and DVD that you released with Steve Dunning, I think the atmosphere of that show fantastic.
JL: Yeah Steve is a really great musician, both bass guitar ans solo guitar. It was a great evening and even now the sound is excellent….

RtM: What about your coming to Brazil in 2009? From what I remember there were 3 shows. I remember reading great comments. I'd like you to tell me a little bit about how was your passage here.
JL: Well it was different! I had never been to Brasil before and was not quite sure what to expect, but I have to say the fans were really good and I had a good time travelling around.The Brasilian musicians I sang with were great and we had a really good time. I would love to do it again.

RtM: We had a time when I think the music lost a little feeling, with overproductions, but lacking soul. But now I see again a return to the origins, artists making music inspired in the 60s and 70s, even up to the bands looking for more organic recordings, using analog systems, in order to sound truer, and of course, many bands of the 70s Launching new works. What is your opinion about the current scenario and the future of music?
I think the current crop of rock musicians are really good especially MUSE and ROYAL BLOOD (I’m a big fan of both). Yes there are some 70’s bands releasing new material which I think is a good thing…anything to have less “rap music”. The big name bands like PURPLE an HEEP will always have a following, maybe not in album sales but in live concerts. I see at our live gigs the younger generation wanting to see what all the fuss is about.

RtM: John, to conclude, I would like you to tell us a bit of your beginning in music, what bands and artists did you start listening when you was a boy? How did you get started in music, who were your motivators and inspirations to start a musician's career?
JL: I stared when I was 15 with some school friends of mine who decided we should form a band, which we did and called ourselves “The Denes”. At that time is was all Elvis/rock n roll, but later on I moved on to Blues music and then on to rock music. Because we were all young and were not allowed to play clubs in the evening because we were under age, we had to play lunchtime gigs, which was a good fun anyway….

"I stared when I was 15 with some school friends of mine who decided we should form a band...we were under age, we had to play lunchtime gigs."
RtM: What was your first experience as a professional musician? Tell us how was the feeling to face the stage for the first time.
JL: Nervous of course, but I had been playing clubs around the North East of England in Newcastle for a few years before I hit the bigger stages, so it was not so bad when I was suddenly performing to larger audiences…

RtM: John, thank you, is great that Lucifer's Friend album is coming out here in Brazil, I hope it opens opportunity for your solo concerts or with the band here again. I let this final space for your message to the fans.
Carlos, thank you for the opportunity to put this down in writing. I do hope Lucifer's Friend can get over to Brazil and indeed South America in the near future to show that we can still play..A big thank you to all our fans for keeping the flag flying…
Many thanks and take care!

Interview: Carlos Garcia
Thanks to: Thiago R. Mauro & TRM Press

John Lawton Selected Discography (A little of John Lawton's music)

Lucifer's Friend
Lucifer's Friend - 1970
Where the Groupies Killed the Blues - 1972
I'm Just a Rock & Roll Singer - 1973
Banquet - 1974
Mind Exploding - 1975
Awakening - 2015
Too Late To Hate - 2016


Uriah Heep
Firefly - 1977
Innocent Victim - 1977
Fallen Angel - 1978

Hensley Lawton Band
The Return (Live at Heepvention 2000) - 2000


Lawton Dunning Project
Steppin' It Up - 2002
One More Night (Live) - 2002

John Lawton Band
Sting in the Tale - 2003
Shakin' the Tale (Live) - 2004


Intelligent Music Project
My Kind of Lovin' ( Simon Phillips- drums, Joseph Williams (Toto) guest vocals - 4 tracks) - 2014

Still Payin' My Dues... - 2000


One Over the Eight - 1995
Night Heat - 1997

Les Humphries Singers
Live in Europe - 1973
Rock 'n Roll Party - 1974




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