Former URIAH HEEP/LUCIFER'S FRIEND Singer JOHN LAWTON - All Aboard The DIANA EXPRESS
December 10, 2012, 5 years ago
By Martin Popoff
URIAH HEEP and LUCIFER'S FRIEND singer JOHN LAWTON continues to confound with configurations, returning to the scene with what is essentially a three-way think tank. The conference of talents has gathered around The Power Of Mind, a lyrical and philosophical concept regarding positive thinking, cooked up by Dr. Milen Vrabevski, and then at the musical end, Lawton provides all manner of thespian vocal contribution, with the music handled by skilled veteran prog unit DIANA EXPRESS."Actually it came by a friend of mine, a musician friend of mine in Bulgaria," explains Lawton. "I've been doing a lot of work over there, concerts and filming travel documentaries and stuff. A friend of mine said to me, 'Listen, some guys have recorded some material in Bulgarian and they would like you to listen to it and see what you thought about it, and if you fancy singing it in English.' And I said, 'OK, I'll have a listen.' They sent me a CD, the Bulgarian version of it, and I thought to myself, this is really well-played! It's very well-played, very well-produced, recorded, etc., etc., but I need to see the English lyrics of course before I do anything, which I got within a couple of weeks. To be quite honest with you, I really loved it! I thought, I have to do this; this is terrific! We should do this."
The English lyrics... did they need any tweaking? Or were they perfect English and perfect for singing?"Oh, no, no, no, no (laughs). The lyrics, when they're translated into English... normally you'd get a Google translate, which is rubbish really, but these were very well translated, I have to say. But they needed some tweaking. There are words in there... any other singer will tell you, you don't actually sing it like it's written. You know, you tend to sing a bit of slang. I looked at the lyrics and I tweaked certain things a little bit, not a lot, I have to say, and it worked. You find that out when you go in the studio and start to sing it. What line works and what line doesn't work. I just cut out a few words, twisted it around a bit and it worked in the end. I thought it was really good."
Asked about the album conceptually, John explains that, "If you listen to the songs, there is a theme that kind of runs through there... and it's a positive theme, you know? It's not a case of doom and gloom. There's nothing to do with anything these days lyric-wise, with gangsta-rap and all this kind of thing... there's no doom and gloom or anything like that. It's purely a kind of positive way of thinking. The storyline really refers from song to song. It's like reading a novel or something like that, you know? You pick up in a chapter and it kind of flows into the next chapter, which is the way that the music has gone. Each piece of music kind of flows into the next piece. Lyric-wise, the same as well. So, it worked out very well, I have to say. I was quite surprised when I heard it."
The scope of the music on The Power Of Mind is impressive, impressive enough to confuse the listener as to just how big this band is."Well, Diana Express... they had a big name in the East European countries during the early '70s and then it kind of faded away for a while but they'd still been playing. Then all of a sudden the guy who actually produced them/wrote most of the stuff, he came along, took the band under his wing, brought down these songs... they played them and they're actually very, very good musicians, I have to say. They are terrific musicians, no getting away from that. But you know, it's just one of them things. If it clicks, it clicks, and if it doesn't, it doesn't. In this instance, it actually did click. Recording-wise, it clicked very well."
But yeah, there's classical, piano passages, rock, prog... will all this range, I wondered what inspired John simply from a vocal point if view here. What did he get to do that he can't do within the realm of his many other projects?"Well, to be quite honest with you, a lot of it relates back to the Uriah Heep days. The actual vocal harmonies, because of the translation into English, I had to redo a lot of the harmonies. Well, 99% of the harmonies into English language, which I did all myself, on my own. All the backing vocals that you hear on the album are all me. But apart from a few 'oohs' and 'aahs' (laughs) which you don't have to translate, the English song words are all me on the backing vocals. That was a bit of a challenge. But relating back to the Uriah Heep days, it worked for us then. I learned a lot from doing that with Heep, how to do the three-parts, you know, layer it like a cake, like you would make a cake. So, that was a challenge, but I really enjoy that kind of challenge. Studio work is good because, you can stop it, and say, 'Let's do that again. Let's try this variation, let's try that variation.' So, a lot of the harmonies were, you know... they happened on the spot, so-to-speak."
But this is not just a studio entity. "No, well we have done some concerts already to promote the album. And rather than take an orchestra with you to do the orchestral arrangements, we had everything on tape, so we can actually physically play it live and feature the strings as well. And it works because all the harmonies are there, the vocals and stuff like that; the rest of the guys in the band sing terrifically. That's not a problem. It's just that when you're in the studio recording, it's easier for me to do the backing vocals just to make everything sound more together. It's easier to do it like that. But physically there's no problem with playing this stuff live at all, absolutely none. The guys are terrific musicians, you know?"
John continues to keep busy, remarkable testimony to the fact that not every, ahem, vocal veteran, has to have a blown-out voice."There are always people offering and saying, 'Oh, will you come and sing on this?', 'Will you come and sing on that?'," muses Lawton. "I'm at the stage right now, Martin, where I'm in the middle of doing... like I said, I work a lot in Bulgaria and I've been doing a series of travel documentaries for Bulgarian TV. I've just finished #17 in that series. So, that's kind of taking my time up. And between doing concerts and promoting The Power Of Mind, next we're talking about a follow-up to Power Of Mind, which hopefully we'll be doing next spring, with some guest artists. A few artists have cropped up there as guest spots on this album. So, that's the way the situation is going. We're concentrating on promoting The Power Of Mind. Playing this stuff live is not a problem at all. It can be done. We've done it a few times already."
"I'm just very happy that I'm still around and still singing," laughs Lawton, in closing. "Power Of Mind is where it's at right now and hopefully the follow-up will be just as good. Power Of Mind, I think it takes two or three listens to get the actual feel of the songs on there. But once you get into the whole album, it just... you know, I've given it to some friends of mine, and they said, 'Oh, it's not rock 'n' roll; it's not what we expect from you.' And I said, 'Well listen, every album I've ever made, I've always tried to do something a little bit different.' One of my best albums of course was Still Payin' My Dues... To The Blues. Again which was slightly different. And this is the way it goes. I don't want to keep doing the same thing, over time. People come up and say, 'OK, we didn't expect this from you, but it really is good!' So, I'm very happy that Power Of Mind, from the critique we've had up until now, the reviews have been very, very positive. So for me, that's terrific."