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Juliet Lawson - Interview

  by Owen Peters

published: 14 / 11 / 2014

Juliet Lawson - Interview


Owen Peters speaks to lost 70's singer-songwriter Juliet Lawson about her comeback EP, 'Never Went Away'

When I meet Juliet Lawson at a hotel in London just outside Marylebone Station, she is a tad stressed. Something about roadworks, a faulty satnav and a lorry refusing to let her into the correct lane. “Sorry for being late [forty minutes]. Can we grab a drink?” she asks taking a seat. “I’m sorry. I must look a mess,” she complains pushing her hands from side to side through her brown auburn hair. The drink, a green tea arrives, and with several sips she begins to settle. I check if the table I’ve chosen is okay. “Absolutely, I love this open air design. I am not a fan of closed spaces,” she says with a slight smile as she scans her surroundings. The reason we are here is because she is about to release her latest EP 'Never Went Away' early November 2014, with a showcase gig at the Abbey Theatre in St. Albans early December 2014. I decide to start at the logical point, with her first album. Back in the early seventies Juliet Lawson was about to hit the big time. A bohemian twenty year old singer-songwriter signed by EMI releasing her first album 'Boo' in 1972. From 'The NME', 'Guardian', 'Record Mirror' as one voice they agreed, she was the UK’s answer to Joni Mitchell. I read a quote to her from a 1973 edition of 'Record Mirror' predicting…”She will be one of the Superstars of ‘74, alongside Cockney Rebel, Linda Ronstadt, and Bachman Turner Overdrive”...“Ah those early days, happy days. Yes I was going to be…,” she laughs when struggling for the sentences ending. Any two word description will suffice from the various press cuttings. A hit, a star, a success. But it wasn’t to be. If she was twenty when 'Boo' was released in the early seventies, she must be aged mid sixties. Clearly the years have been kind or the diet plan works. Dressed in a crew cut Shetland sweater with a matching scarf and plain black trousers, she easily passes for ten years younger than her birth certificate would suggest. “Even now it’s hard to say why it didn’t work out the way it was planned. I’ve no excuse and certainly no bitterness. My music is what it is. It stands the test of time,” she says defiantly. When talking of music she takes on a chameleon-like persona. This is territory she knows. Her speech is slower, thoughtful, more considered. "Careful as you go," I’m thinking. I saw Juliet and her trio play at one of my speculative nights out via Ronnie Scott’s some weeks ago. I subsequently listened to her material online, which is a task in itself. It’s difficult to place her musical style to any given genre. From the tracks I’ve heard she moves effortlessly from blues, jazz, to folk. Lyrics inspired by personal events. “ I’ve never lost faith in my music. First and foremost I’m a singer-songwriter. Lyrics are important to me. The songs I write are about my life. There’s no question my writing has become better, and my voice...well” We have a pause, a long pause. “Sorry, your voice?" I ask, not really knowing the answer I’m looking for. “My voice, it’s, it’s a hundred times better than back then” - Explained with a sweep of her hand. Back then. After 'Boo' (1972) she wrote songs for 'Chips Comic' which was actually the first children's programme commissioned for Channel 4 back in 1982. The creative juices flowed again when writing a short musical play, 'Flowers from Detroit', in 1988. It wasn’t until 1992 when her follow-up album would be released, 'The One That Got Away', affectionately known as 'The Pink Album'. Clearly this woman completes creative release at her own pace. Staying with musical theatre, she wrote and produced her one woman show, 'Throw It On the Water', in 1999. Her last studio album, 'Where I’m Coming From', was produced and released in 2002. I re-check my notes. “Think I may have taken this down incorrectly. “'The One That Got Away' was 1992, then 'Where I’m Coming From' was 2002. That’s a ten year gap,” I ask unsure on my note taking and maths. “Yes,” she says. “I was busy getting on with life”. Game set and match to Juliet. When I rang Juliet requesting an interview, she asked, “Why?” She has a way of sending you down dark cul-de-sacs. Not the usual response from musicians. But we ain’t talking the norm here. As part of the telephone chat, she asks me what I’ve heard from her back catalogue. I tell her yes to the three albums, scratching around on the internet, but think I’ve heard all the songs she’s released over the years. “Have you heard 'Songs from a Suitcase'?” she asks. “No who’s that by,” I reply. There is a pause, not for effect but from my ignorance. “Me, it’s by me. It’s an EP, I’ll send it to you.” She doesn’t say it, but idiot is transmitted and received. 'Songs from a Suitcase', released 2009, produced and arranged by John Hamilton. Four songs which capture an up-to-date and diverse Juliet Lawson. 'The Skin You're In' is a jaunty, jazzy toe-tapper of a production built on a wonderful virtuoso fiddle accompaniment throughout. Her timing is bang on the beat, with each and every note change. It’s a collision of Cleo Laine meeting Stephane Grappelli. 'A Woman Passer By on the Street' is 4 minutes and 49 seconds of sheer joy. This is by far the more expressive of her four songs - “When I’m gone I’ll be forgotten", a lonely woman with little to say or contribute to life it seems. She is just a woman passer by on the street, whilst everyone get on with their busy lives. To say it is challenging arrangement would be an understatement. An intermittent pitch perfect cornet solo matches the loneliness and heartache in these poignant lyrics. A control in her vocal emotion, whilst still keeping the story important makes this a stand out track on the EP. “So why now, why release new songs, a new EP now?” I venture. “Very simple. I played a venue earlier this year with Kelly Oliver (she of rising folk fame). We played in front of less than ten people. It was awful. This was my moment, my epiphany. I had stayed under the radar intentionally for years, played a handful of gigs each year, and that was my lot." "On the drive home I told my manager, 'Never again will I be put into that situation. Tomorrow we start work.' That is exactly what we did. We got people on board, worked on a business plan. Changed my website, my relationship with social media sites, set up more gigs. I got hold of Christian Marsac (new guitarist and producer) and said, "We are going back into the studio. I want an EP out and available this year, and an album ready by no later than March 2015.'" “Over the years, I’ve played high profile venues in London in front of appreciative audiences. Even now when I think about that night, it just motivates me to get my new songs out there.” The fire and hurt can be heard in her delivery. I’m in no doubt this is a serious proposition. “Why didn’t you start with your older material?" I ask. “As I said before, my writing, my voice, my on stage persona is better than ever. Don’t get me wrong, I love my older songs, but they were written a long time ago. If people want to hear and enjoy them great. But If this makes sense, I need to move forward before I can move back?” she muses. Yes it makes sense, perfect sense. I suggest to Juliet some may compare her plight and even singing style and lyrics to Vashti Bunyan and Judee Sill etc. “There was a terrific documentary on the life of Judee Sill broadcast some months ago. Yes,friends, people who had seen me live made that association with my music and albums. It is the same with Vashti. We both experienced major disappointment in our early careers, then vanished,” she laughs with a shake of the head. Composure regained, she continues, “They are excellent artistes in their own right. I want to be known as Juliet Lawson aligned to my own work. I write all my own songs, will release my new EP, and subsequent album on my own label (Ravishing Rhymes), stand or fall by my own material. Does that answer your question?” she checks with me. Well, the question is answered, but comparisons will undoubtedly be made. Go into any major music retailer and and ask for a Juliet Lawson album. It will be the same answer, I can guarantee. Not in stock. In fact, except for 'Boo', none of her albums have ever been put out for retail sale. All of them, three studio albums and EP of (2009), produced and sold only to those who attended her limited gigs. She puts it down to bad management,a certain level of naivety and trusting people who then let her down. “I take it all your past albums will be re-released soon?” I ask, “No,” she says without hesitation. “The new EP will be for sale online, digital download, CD option etc. My older songs aren’t in this or any other plan at present. I want to concentrate on getting the best material I can out on this new EP. My best work is my new work.” This is a bizarre story. Albums not released from one decade to another. Not made available to the general public or in shops or online by her recording label. I even doubt if you could have bought them at the gigs she played. Playing in front of ten people. Then deciding to get professional support and still not re-release the older albums. Epiphany moment. Even the EP’s title is defiant - 'Never Went Away'. You can listen to some of her music through music sites my Editor wouldn’t allow me to mention in this article. She won’t rock everyone's boat. Some songs sound dated, not surprisingly whilst others are exceptionally good. I can certainly see what all the was about. As her story unfolds, I am asking myself, “How many people have actually heard her albums over the years?” From the limited but varied reviews I’ve sourced, there isn’t a bad word to be said against her music. The 'Suitcase' EP probably embodies what a twenty-first century Juliet Lawson has to offer. You won’t, however, be able to hear all the tracks. Instead of them being in shops and online, they sit in boxes gathering dust at an unspecified address. “I take it you know the story of the Sugar Man, Sixto Rodriguez?” I ask somewhat tentatively. “Well I do know he’s far older than me”, she confirms with some jousting taking place here. “Well i’m not the first to say your the Sugar Woman, been somewhere, but now back. It does have a ring of truth to it, don’t you think?” I state, awaiting a reaction. “Owen, you can call me what you want, as long as you don’t forget, I’m Juliet Lawson,” she closes with a knowing smirk. And with that I toddle off down my well worn cul-de-sac. More information can be found at www.julietlawson.co.uk. The EP 'Never Went Away' was released and went on sale in early November 2014. Juliet Lawson will be at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans on December 4th, 2014.

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Juliet Lawson - Interview

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