Dave Lawson - Greenslade sung and played by (1972-75)

Quite a long time I wanted to post this compilation. As I did for Danny Kirwan (here), Al Wilson (here) or John Locke (here), I extracted from the 4 Greenslade albums all the tracks composed and sung by Dave Lawson. I even omitted the ones he's co-credited since usually he only composed the lyrics and what's so stunning in his work is his weird and singular sense of sound and themas articulations. Lawsons's songs are always instantly recognisable and so he thus belongs to the small circle of great composers. Note that from the 3rd album, it was specified on the cover sleeve that Dave Greenslade, the leader and name-giver of the band, did not play on Lawson's songs. Quite strange but finally good since Lawson's universe is far from the one of the bearded leader. Much more complex, melodic, dynamic, it's on much higher grounds for sure. Dave Lawson was not a newcomer in 1972 since he was the leader of Web (here) and Samourai. Each band had only released one album and the Web's one was and remains today a lost classic. In Greenslade, Dave Lawson was initially reduced to a second-role but in third LP (the best one, Spyglass Guest) he became the main musical force of the band. Sad that the quatuor will vanish soon afterwards and that there was no more trace of Dave Lawson in the rock scene (except as arranger of Kate Bush albums). With his so idiosyncrasic style and with his Barry Ryanesque voice, he could have done a great solo career (maybe, but 1977 would have surely wash him away with all the other ones). Meanwhile, I post again a mail interview I did and published at the beginning of this blog (for Spyglass Guest then unissued on CD). Hope he's well today. I have a project for a book about all these forgotten heroes but not sure I'll have the motivation and courage to write it. Sorry for the low quality of the MP3 but I got some trouble to rip my CDs so I had to use a commercially available one that is quitte shamely highly compressed. I'll try a better one later if I have again time and courage. I'm quite proud of my cover sleeve. Hope you like it. Catch this gem here.

Here under, an interview I did via mail with Dave Lawson at the end of 2008. This was translated and published in French in the music mag called Xroads. Here the original version.
dk. For me I Spider from Web is one of the great underrated albums of the seventies. You joined the group for this album (their 3rd). It seems you were very involved in its making. Is it true?
DL. I wrote all the material for the album and because the members of WEB were all skilled musicians and readers I wrote the arrangements as well which cut down the amount of time required to rehearse the new pieces.
 dk. Do you remember what other progressive bands of the time you felt belonging to the same musical family?
 DL. I/We were not influenced by any other bands of that time but there were some interesting bands doing the same festivals and gigs.
 dk.To what elements do you attribute its failure to get the credit it deserved at the time?
 DL. We were not a band with instant appeal, unless of course you were a fellow musician Consequently the material required more than one play to appreciate the detail.
 dk.Is this failure was the reason you chose to change the name of the band? But why Samurai?
 DL. We decided to change the name because of the old image that WEB had, which was more soul-based. Samurai was chosen because we liked the name and the image that it suggested, none of us were into martial arts by the way.
 dk.Is the change of name was also an attempt to try some thing else? The music is quite different, maybe more based on a quiet climax than Web. Medodies are also less catchy.
 DL. There wasn’t a conscience decision to change musical direction, it was a natural evolvement as again I wrote and arranged the material. I suppose if there had been a third album then it might well have changed again.
 dk.Was your involvement similar in Samurai than in Web?
 DL. As I’ve said in the previous paragraph. I wrote the material but I was not leading the band, we were all equal in decision making.
 dk.The Samurai album has (for me) a really ugly cover, not at all appropriate to the music. Do you remember who was responsible for this choice?
DL. It’s one of those covers which you either like or loathe. The artist responsible for the cover had carte blanche to do whatever he liked. The result is a little bit tongue in cheek, the guy rolling a joint for example was thought to be me, it wasn’t.
 dk.Same question than for I Spider: how do you explain (if you can) the absence of public interest for the album?
 DL. The lack of any commercial success with the ‘I Spider’ album could be that it was hardly promoted, had very little air-play, had low-profile gigs etc but also was musically challenging for the music buying public of that time and it has been suggested that it was ahead of it’s time, maybe the public were behind their time.
 dk.Can you tell us in some words the period leading from the split of Samurai and the genesis of Greenslade?
 DL. Tony Reeves was a director at the Greenwich Gramaphone Company. Samurai were signed to them. As Samurai ground to a halt through lack of funds, gigs etc Tony mentioned that his colleague Dave Greenslade was putting a band together and it involved the use of two keyboard players. I had a blow with them and we hit it off socially as well as musically.
 dk.To have Roger Dean for the cover of the first album has surely been a good point for driving the interest of the press and the public. How did it happen? How a band could ask for a Roger Dean cover at that time (we are in 1972)?
 DL. Roger had been involved with ‘YES’ and we, (Greenslade), liked their music but also liked their art work and so Roger was asked if he would design our first album cover.
 dk.In Greenslade, your role in composing seems to grow album after album. Did you really work together with Dave Greenslade or did you compose separately?
 DL. A little of both. If Dave G. came up with a chord sequence I would put a top line and lyric on the piece but sometimes DaveG. Would have a melody in mind as well, so it was just a case of writing a suitable lyric. As the band grew there were times that we wrote independently because we felt that the live gigs should have ‘feature’ spots That would also give more light and shade to the set. dk.Now an important point for me: your voice. I think that it shares a lot with the voice of Barry Ryan (a singer I am really fond of). Even the melodies (in particular "Bedsides manners are extras") are often in a similar vein (and should have given birth to hits I think). Can you tell me frankly about this comparison? Were you aware of it at the time?
DL. I wasn’t aware of the similarity with Barry, to be honest he is a much better singer than I could ever be but thanks for the compliment.
 dk.Strangely, in the last album, Time And Tide, you changed your voice. There is more raucity in it. Was it voluntary?
 DL. I think as you do more live work the voice can get rougher but there was no deliberate effort made to change the timbre.
 dk.Melodically, you are for me the composer who approached to the nearest the musical genius of Brian Wilson musical world. Do you are a great fan of the Beach Boys?
 DL. Brian Wilson will be remembered as a true pioneer and I do admire his works tremendously, I suppose ‘Rainbow’ was a sub-conscious homage to Brian.
dk.My favorite Greenslade album is Spyglass Guest. Was there something special in this period that you were so inspired? Do you personnaly have one favorite Greenslade album?
DL. I suppose if I had to chose one ‘Spyglass’ would be a contender but I don’t have an outright winner.
dk.How was the commercial status of Greenslade during its 4 year of existence? In particular compared to bands like Gentle Giant or Van Der Graaf Generator second generation?
DL. The commercial status was nothing like the bands that you’ve mentioned but that again was down to the ‘suits’ who determined that we were not selling enough records to warrant a push
dk.Time and Tide was not so satisfying to my view. Was there some tension in the band, a tiredness maybe?
DL. As per my previous answer, the climate in the band had changed, there was a little unrest and a sense of “is there any point?”
 dk. After the split it seems quite stupefying that you did not record a solo album since you were the only singer-lyricist-music maker of the band? Can you tell us about your state of mind during the months and the years following the split?
DL. I still carried on writing and still do but I haven’t really finished anything. The solo album is still in the back of my mind but I’m a perfectionist and I wouldn’t make an album I wasn’t 100% happy with. As to the state of my mind after leaving Greenslade, I got into session work and became quite busy. I’m not a huge fan of live music, the sound is mostly awful and playing the same material every night can and does become boring. I like being at home and writing and recording there.
dk.You worked with Kate Bush on the Dreaming and Hounds of love albums (the two best for me) and your work on "Cloudbusting" is pure genius. How did this collaboration happened?
DL. I was working with a great engineer and friend Paul Hardiman and he recommended me to Kate as a possible player/arranger. Coincidently Kate used to live a few mile away from me and so we met up on numerous occasions to get the feel right for the material she was working on. She asked me to do an arrangement for ‘Houdini’ but instead I wrote a little interlude piece based on my feel of the situation between Harry and his wife, he believed in an afterlife.
dk.In the Kate Bush musicians, there was Stuart Elliott, ex-drummer of Steve Harley and for me one of the best on this planet. It would have been fabulous that you formed a band with him. Did you have some opportunities or envy to start a new band during the years following Greenslade (except Stackridge)?
DL. I had no ambition to start a new band after Greenslade but I did record some stuff with Chris Squire and Alan White and there was a possibility of Jimmy Page joining us but it never got passed the managers.
dk.You then became a famous and successful composer and sound designer for films or series. How did it happen and how do you feel in this role compared to the band work?
DL. I was doing some sound effects for a David Bowie film called ‘The Hunger’. Tony Scott, the director of the film, used to visit my London studio and I ended up doing some extra pieces for the film. I then did a few ads and it grew from there.
dk.You were not of the Greenslade reformation some years ago. Why? I thought maybe it was too difficult to imagine singing again the melodies you wrote at a time you were much younger.
DL. I would have liked to have joined the rest of the guys for the reformation but I had previous session work which was already booked and so I couldn’t let the composer down. Best regards to you, I’m sorry it’s taken me a while to reply. Dave.


Jon Silence said...

I have been an avid fan of Dave Lawson's work since the early 70s upon discovering The Web's 'I Spider' and the follow-up album by Samurai. Even though I live in Los Angeles word reached me that The Web's 'I Spider', very rare and hard to find as a UK import even shortly after it was released, was a must-have and worth tracking down. When I finally got a copy I was not disappointed; from the surreal and slightly unnerving cover art to the predominantly moody and dark tone of both the music and lyrics, all reminiscent of an Alfred Hitchcock film, I found 'I Spider' to be a hypnotic and compelling 'instant classic' that was an indispensable keeper. The follow-up released under the name of Samurai made me even more of a Lawson fan; if 'I Spider' was a dark psychological thriller, Samurai was a kinder & gentler outing offering the intimate musings of a man who still found himself bewitched & bewildered by the many aspects of romantic love, and ruminated upon it all with a poetic ambiguity ranging from erotic anticipation to angst & reluctance, longing & regret. As a friend and fellow Web/Samurai fan put it, "I Spider" is about sexual frustration & getting laid, while "Samurai" is about love. Given that these themes were being played out in my own life as a young teenager, the plaintive and highly expressive voice of Dave Lawson combined with lyrics that spoke to me deeply on a personal level had a profound emotional impact on me. Musically, both albums are precursors to the angular, idiosyncratic & jazz-influenced stylings of Steely Dan, absent the pop sensibilities. When Lawson subsequently turned up in the distinctly progressive and Yes-influenced Greenslade I was thrilled. I too found myself favouring the band's Lawson-penned compositions, which, while sonically very different from both The Web & Samurai, retained Lawson's singular charms melodically, lyrically and vocally. With Greenslade, Lawson revisits psychosexual and 'love gone bad' territory in 'Sunkissed You're Not', 'Red Light', 'Rainbow', and 'Doldrums', with his voice edging seemingly just slightly out of his range at times, making for an even more emotionally expressive delivery. As with both The Web's 'I Spider' and 'Samurai', Lawson's best Greenslade offerings occupy a very special place among my all-time favourites, and I am among the fortunate few who saw Greenslade's swansong appearance at the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles in 1975. I wholeheartedly concur that Dave Lawson is indeed one of the period’s great composers.

Mark said...

Dave Lawsons voice is a benchmark in the realm of music that small segment set apart from the cacaphony of that wonderful thing we call rock. Very satisfying blog I was begining to wonder if anyone was ever going to champion those 4 legendery Greenslade albums. Personally the pathos is felt in 'the flattery stakes' but thats just me.

great blog, Mark.

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