John Lawton (Former Uriah Heep Vocalist)
In a world that is becoming increasingly dark with events like the tragedy in Connecticut, it's becoming more important to focus on positive messages. Music has always led the way in times like this and that's what makes The Power of Mind, the new record by John Lawton and Diana Express, so relevant.
John Lawton is best known in North America as the vocalist for Uriah Heep for a good number of years. He has been involved with many more projects but I first became acquainted with him during his time as singer for the German band Lucifer's Friend. Their 1974 record Banquet is one of my favorite records of all time. Lawton is known as a singer's singer and a primo front man so it's no surprise that he is also in demand as a contributor to many projects.
One such recent project started with a Bulgarian doctor, Milen Vrabevski who conceived of a record that would be "an exploration into the science of positive thinking and its applications to the subconscious mind." A record was originally recorded with the Bulgarian band Diana Express and earlier this year John was approached to redo the record with English lyrics.
The cynic in me was sort of skeptical to the lyrical content at first, thinking that it was a hippie-dippie affair. But I was won over by Lawton's exceptional voice that has not diminished one iota in the few years since I last heard him. I liked some songs on this record instantly and others not so much. The answer, of course, was to keep playing it. After several spins, the record works tremendously well as an entire unit and Diana Express are a supremely talented band with lots of great instrumental highlights (in particular, guitarist Maxim Goranov). The fact is, the more you play this record, the more you will like it and in fact, now I can't stop playing it. And John Lawton has never sounded better!!!
Seeing as how John spends his time in Spain these days, a phoner was out of the question but it was a genuine thrill to do an email interview with him recently. Here's what he had to say about The Power of Mind .
antiMusic: Congratulations on The Power of Mind. I understand that it's a self-contained piece of work based around a philosophy. Could you please summarize it for us?
John: When I first read the translated lyrics, I didn't get it straight away, but after trying them out a few times I did get it and I felt while I was recording the vocals, it was like reading a book to a friend…each song a different chapter. I hope the listener feels the same way….
antiMusic: How did you come to be involved with the project?
John: Through a mutual friend of myself and the producer Milen Vrabevski. He gave me a copy of the CD but sung in Bulgarian. I have to say I loved the melodies and arrangements and the playing, so I said yes I would love to try and bring something to the table and I think it worked….
antiMusic: Is this your first collaboration with Diana Express or have you crossed paths with them previously?
John: I had heard of them, they were a very well known band back in the early 70's but had split up and reformed with new personnel, but yes this was my first personal contact with them….
antiMusic: With the lyrics being originally in Bulgarian, did the translation into English fit the music without much doctoring?
John: I was very surprised with the translation, I was so hoping that it wouldn't be a
Google translation and it wasn't. Of course there was some doctoring, there
always is, even with straight-forward English lyrics but not as much as you
antiMusic: Presumably the lyrics resonated with you, since this is a rare project in which you didn't write them. What was it that appealed to you about the subject matter?
John: I just felt that the whole concept of this album was right for me. Milen told me about his idea of positive thinking and to be quite honest at first glance at the lyrics I didn't get it. It wasn't until I started to record the vocals, that I actually felt like I was reading a book to a friend…every song a different chapter in the book…I hope the listener feels the same way.
antiMusic: Did you just record your vocals on top of the original instrumental tracks or did the guys re-record everything with you…..
John: I sang over the original tracks…they were so good why change?
antiMusic: Did you copy the original vocal imprints or did you make the new tracks your own?
John: Well the original melody lines in the vocals is what had appealed to me in the first place. Of course every singer wants to put their own stamp on things, but I didn't change that much. I had to redo all the backing vocal lines as they were all in Bulgarian, but that was fun, doing harmony vocals is a real joy to me…
antiMusic: How long did the recording process take?
John: I personally spent 10 days doing all the vocal lines including backing vocals…
antiMusic: The songs take a bit of a journey. They're not all in one vein. There's heart-tugging moments like "Love's Light Shining" and they make way for rockers like "Rock and Roll is My Thing" or "In Rhythm With You" (which doesn't sound too far off of "Our World is a Rock and Roll Band" to these ears). At this point in your career, you've proven yourself undoubtedly as one of the finest hard rock singers of all time (although you've done more than that in smaller doses on a variety of songs). Was it fun to sort of break out of the mould?
John: One of the finest hard rock singers !!! hmm some would argue with that, but I will take that as a fine compliment….. I have always tried to do something different with every new recording that I do. I know the Lawton fans were expecting another blues / rock album, but they seem to have taken to THE POWER OF MIND in a really nice way. They have reserved their criticism until after a few listens to the album…
antiMusic: This opportunity came up at a time when you have been busy doing non-music activities. Can you bring us up to speed on what you've been up to the last few years since OTR?
John: Over the last few years in between doing concerts mostly over in the Eastern block countries, I have been filming a series of Travel Documentary's for Bulgarian TV
and having a small role in a Bulgarian cinema movie called LOVE. NET which gave me the chance to work with Mick Box (Uriah Heep) again…So I have been very busy and its been fun and different and I was able to include some of my music as background music to the documentaries….
antiMusic: One would believe that the recording studio would soon be calling you back home if this project had not come up. Were there any initial plans for anything concrete prior to The Power of Mind?
John: I have been working with some very good musicians over in Bulgaria, so much so that we had and still are talking about recording together, but we will see what the future brings…watch this space…
antiMusic: Will this record by presented live?
John: We have done a few presentation gigs in Bulgaria just to test the reaction of the fans and I have to say it went very well so… Of course a lot depends on how well the album is received in the rest of the world but of course I would like to take the album out on the road….
antiMusic: What's next for John Lawton?
John: First of all Christmas and then have a listen to some new material that is being planned for a follow-up to The Power of Mind and then see what 2013 brings…..
antiMusic: Thank you so much for doing this interview Mr. Lawton. I wish you all the best success with The Power of Mind. Hopefully we'll see you on North American shores touring for it
John: Morley, thank you my friend…take care, who knows maybe we get a chance to meet one of these days….
Morley and antiMusic thank John for taking the time to do this interview.