John Lawton: “I think my time in Lucifer’s Friend was the most rewarding from a musical point of view.”
by Daniel Pavlica
John Lawton was the singer with Lucifer’s Friend, Les Humphries Singers and of course the legendary Uriah Heep, which he propelled through more blues oriented mainstream rock with 1977’s “Firefly” album. Years following the Heep adventure were spent building a vibrant CV that included the release of a solo album in 1980, stints with Rebel, Zar and old compatriot Ken Hensley. Fast forward to 2012, he is excited about the release of “Power of Mind”, a concept album he made with Bulgarian hard rock act Diana Express.
You teamed up with Milen Vrabevski and Bulgarian band Diana Express. Can you tell us more about how this came up?
John: I have been going to Bulgaria for the last few years, filming travel documentaries for Bulgarian TV. And doing concerts. A musician friend of mine put me in touch with Milen who had recorded and produced the album POWER OF MIND with the Bulgarian band Diana Express in that language….Milen asked me to sing the album in English. I had a look at the English translation of the lyrics….and yeah I loved it. The next thing I know, I’m in the studio recording it.
What’s behind the idea of “The Power of Mind”?
John: This is a kind of concept album, in that the songs interlink with each other in melody and lyrics. I found it was like reading a book to a friend while I was recording it. Of course everybody hears a song differently, but I think every listener will connect to this album….
Does the album hold any surprises for John Lawton fans?
John: I guess it will! People who know me will expect rock, but I have always tried to do something different with every album I do, but I’m sure the fans will love this album because of the songs….
Are there any plans for bringing this project on the road?
John: We have played some gigs featuring songs from Power Of Mind and they went down really well. The plan is to take to the road after Christmas and bring the album to the fans…..
Another of your southeast musical experiences involved Slovenian hard rock act Mary Rose. It seems that you enjoy spending your time in the Balkans. Is the lure of coffee and ratluk so strong?
John: (laughs) I really enjoyed my time in Slovenia and singing with Mary Rose was great, they are a terrific band and I love them they are great guys. I do hope to go back there again….
Where there any plans to record an album with Mary Rose?
John: We never talked about it, but it would have been nice to record something with them….
You’ve played with a number of bands, Uriah Heep and Lucifer’s Friend being just two of the lot. Where does Diana Express rank as a band?
John: Hey, they are great musicians in their own right as were Lucifers Friend and Heep…some people seem to think musicians are only good if they come from the USA or Great Britain or any country west of Berlin (laughs)….well that’s not the case, there are some really good rock musicians from the Balkan countries and I have worked with many of them….
What is the main driving force behind making music at 65?
John: Thanks for reminding me (laughs)….I still get an adrenalin rush stepping on stage and I still love what I do..As long as the fans still want to see and hear my music, then I shall still continue…
Do you still get excited about releasing a record?
John: Yes I do….I suppose I’m like every singer or guitarist or drummer etc. to hear the final product after spending time putting ideas together and coming out with something you love is a great feeling…It never ceases to amaze me…
This one is a little on the odd side. What’s the biggest misconception people have about John Lawton?
John: (laughs)…this is so hard to answer….probably fans think I’m a 24/7 musician…well that’s not the case. I like to cook, long walks, meeting people who are not in the music business, I think I am a family man at heart….maybe this is the misconception…I don’t know… you tell me (laughs).
Looking back at the time when you joined Uriah Heep, and the release of “Firefly”. How did you deal with that level of success? Was that extra pressure for you?
John: I guess looking back it was. It was of course difficult to follow in the footsteps of David Byron but I tried to sing the songs on Firefly my way. The change of image was one way of getting away from what the fans were expecting, eye make up and leather but it some ways it worked and I think the Heep fans came to accept me, but it took a while…
With your voice carrying a more straight forward, bluesy edge, did you find it hard connecting with the long standing fans?
John: Maybe at the time it was and I did try on occasions to keep it straight, but I had to be true to myself and in the end the other guys in Heep encouraged me to sing the material my way…
How do you view the Lawton era Heep now?
John: Hey, with great affection, we had some great times and we had some hard times, but in the end its the music that counts. Although its been a long time since I was full time in Heep but we have kept contact down the years and we are still friends today. I have stood in with Heep on their tour of South Africa in 1995 when Bernie had some throat problem and done a couple of Magicians Birthday gigs with them….so once you join Uriah Heep, you never really leave.
Which part of your career would you call attention to for being the most prolific? For instance, when speaking to Micky Moody, he marked his time in Whitesnake as a hindrance from the artistic point of view.
John: I think my time in Lucifers Friend was the most rewarding from a musical point of view. It was a very progressive time in terms of studio work and bringing the ideas to the record company, who at that time were very willing to let us experiment. I Think you will find that most musicians from that time will tell you the same…artistic freedom is what they used to call it.
What’s a typical day for you nowadays?
John: Depends where I am, and most times I’m on the road on way or another…I present and direct travel films for a Bulgarian TV company and that takes a lot of my time, not only the filming side of it, but the “after filming” part. Narration, English text correction etc…but its fun and I love it. I have met so many interesting people. Then there are the gigs, so my time is pretty much taken up…but I wouldn’t have it any other way….
John Lawton, thank you very much for your time.
John: It’s a pleasure, I hope you and your readers will find it interesting to read and look out for THE POWER OF MIND CD….you won’t regret it and I do hope to get back to Slovenia one day, it’s a great country……
“The Power of Mind” is out now on Cherry Red Records.