We didn’t have any records. My dad would listen to Radio 2 a bit but that was the extent of it. And this was back in the days before the station got really good. There was nothing in what I heard that spoke directly to me.” Then the elder of his two brothers hit adolescence and things began to change: “He got me into The Smiths, The Housemartins, the Jackson 5 ...” A disparate trio of early influences, you might think, but Jamie says not really.
“They’re all very big on melody. And Morrissey and the young Michael Jackson both have a real passion to the way they sing.” Aged eight, he asked for and received his first guitar. Early on in secondary school, he was invited to join his first band. “We were quite a dedicated little bunch, rehearsing every lunchtime when the rest of the class was out playing football.
It was pretty much all covers, of course ... R.E.M., the Chilli Peppers, some Hendrix. By the time I was 15 we had quite a wide repertoire of other people’s badly-done songs.” He was writing material of his own too, “all of it terrible to start with, of course. I’d be 17 at least before I came up with anything good.” And he was singing, though mainly in unconscious impersonation of Michael Stipe.
“My own voice took a while to find. I had to stop trying to replicate someone else’s tricks.” When he did properly uncover it, that voice proved to be something very special indeed. No one who has heard him sing live would disagree (and in addition to his own regular schedule of gigging, he has played with artists including The Frames, Martha Wainwright and Damien Rice, as well as having been chosen as opening act for outdoor gigs by both Van Morrison and Katie Melua). Even-keeled, even undemonstrative offstage, he comes alive in front of an audience and in the service of his songs.
“American Music Club’s Mark Eitzel has been a big influence, in the sense that he sings with his whole body and puts so much into his performance. The difference is that my voice is sweeter and more pure.” There was a brief and half-hearted attempt at following a different career path. But unhappy and unfulfilled in his earliest weeks at Art College, Lawson sought the advice of a counsellor who then asked him, ‘So what do you want to do with your life?’ “And when I said that I wanted to be a singer she told me, ‘Then go and do it!’ which totally surprised me but which was absolutely the right thing to say. I met that woman just once and for five minutes.
I don’t even know her name. But she showed me what I had to do.” And via a geographically circuitous route that has taken in Dublin, Cornwall and now London and during which both his song writing skills and stagecraft have increased by leaps and bounds, he has done it. Lawson is not just a singer but also an exceptionally blessed and affecting one. His voice and songs have proven to work equally beautifully and well whether in a tiny indoor venue like London’s 12 Bar Club or outdoors before 10,000 people. “And the simple fact is that I love to sing,” he says.
“I love the intimacy of live performance. I love drawing people into my mood. I love bringing them to where I am.” Alan Jackson. The Times London. Read more on Last.fm.
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