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Interview with John Lawton | Lucifer's Friend

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Dear John, we’d like to thank you very much for this interview on behalf of “Black Velvet Radio”. It’s a privilege and a great honor for us, to have the possibility to discuss with one of the living legends of the rock music scene.

John Lawton: Hi Chris and Stamatis, thank you for the kind words… living legend hmm!! Maybe ;-)

 

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Let’s get things from the beginning, back in 1969, when you decided to stay in Germany, after completing your gigs with “Stonewall” in Hamburg. What motivated you to this decision, in order to pursuit your music career there, instead of going back to UK? If you would like, please describe for us with a few words the “vibe” of the German rock scene at that time.

John Lawton: Well firstly I met my future wife and secondly I met a guy called Gibson Kemp who worked for CHAPELL Music Publishers and he said to me he thought that my future was in Germany. He also mentioned a band called ASTERIX who were looking for an English singer. The German Rock scene was very small at the time, most of the bands were into TECHNO Rock and very Progressive music…but it was evolving.

 


Your next “step” was to collaborate with ex-members of “The German Bonds” and create “Asterix”, with whom you had recorded one studio LP and then you decided to rename your band to the legendary “Lucifer’s Friend”. Why was that and how did you come up with this new name, which was a little bit provocative, one may say….

John Lawton: The guys in ASTERIX were excellent musicians and we got on straight away as friends.
Actually the rest of the guys already had already decided on the name LUCIFER FRIEND and that was okay with me and it seemed to fit to the style of music we were recording…..provocative !! na never :)))

 

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Upon the release of your first eponymous album in 1970, you made a tremendous impression in the rock scene worldwide, with a mixture of high speed hard rock music, implementing elements from krautrock up to proto metal!!! Just to make up our point and emphasize on your influence on the latter of rock ‘n’ roll music, let us quote here the statement of Tim Baker (lead singer of epic/doom metal band Cirith Ungol): “We really wanted to be like Lucifer’s Friend”….. What was the secret of your success and your influence on future bands?

John Lawton: We met up with the band CIRITH UNGOL a couple of years ago at a festival in Germany (nice guys) and they happened to mention our influence on them. We never set out to impress or influence other bands, we were just making music the way we felt at the time..

 

 

You have stayed in “Lucifer’s Friend” up to 1976, taking part as lead singer and co-composer in the first 5 studio albums. The most impressive and notable thing about the band, is that you have changed musical direction almost with each release, from experimental rock to jazz fusion, how have you managed to combine all these elements in your compositions, without losing the rock ‘n’ roll vibe of the time and your driving force?

John Lawton: A lot of that comes from the composers in the band…Peter Hesslein, Dieter Horns and Peter Hecht who were the driving force behind many of the albums. Peter Hecht (keyboards) was classically trained, but he never lost the rock feel to his playing and Peter Hesslein (guitar) had so many styles he could play we were able to change direction all the time.
We never set out to make each album different, it just kinda worked out that way and how the basic compositions were developing in the rehearsal room…

 


At the same period you participated in “Les Humphries Singers”, a band that was entirely different from whatever you had done so far, which led to your participation in the Eurovision Song Contest of 1976, representing Germany. How did you come up with this collaboration and what do you think of this contest nowadays?

John Lawton: Yeah Les Humphries Singers was entirely different to anything I had done before  they were a Gospel Choir but they were really big in Europe in the early 70’s and yeah we represented Germany in 1976. It was clear from the very beginning we were never going to win it , in those days you had to sing in the language of the country you represented.
Because LF was not a live band at that time, LHS was a way of making some money and paying the bills. I must admit, I do like to watch EUROVISION if I am around but its very political these days. Pity.

 


1976, was the turning point in your career, making you very famous, as you undertook lead vocals in the legendary “Uriah Heep”, after having auditioned other singers for the position, such as David Coverdale, Ian Hunter, Gary Holton and more. How do you feel about that? At this point we would like to ask you about your singing technique and your voice scale, as you are one the most charismatic lead singers of the rock scene and people really love your voice….

John Lawton: Well I don’t know about “very famous”  I think I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I don’t have a technique, I mean I never rehearse or warm up my voice unless I have had a long lay off in which case I go down to the bottom of my garden and sing some blues with my guitar..My voice has changed over the years losing some of the high end and becoming a little more bluesy…which I like, I get a bit more feeling into the song.

 

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Your collaboration with “Uriah Heep” resulted in three studio LPs, “Firefly” and “Innocent Victim” in 1977 and “Fallen Angel” in 1978, including some of the major hits for the band and one live recording “Live In Europe” from the 1979 tour. How would you have described this period of your career and which is your best and worst memory of the “Uriah Heep era”?

John Lawton: A great part of my life and one that I am entirely grateful to the band for. It taught me so many things especially about the recording side of the business and of course the chance to tour the world and see places I would probably never have seen. There are so many highs with band especially meeting Trevor Bolder who joined HEEP at the same time as me and probably the worst time was not finding a way forward between myself and the band and the end  But I still get on stage with them whenever the request comes……

 


Since that time and up today you have you have kept very busy releasing solo albums and making too many collaborations with other famous musicians. Haven’t you ever felt tired of the rock ‘n’ roll way of living, constantly composing, being in the studio, hitting the road, living in various hotels etc.?

John Lawton: Yes of course there are times when you think “ I have had enough” but then when I hear the finished recording or get upon stage and hear the crowd singing along, it makes it all worthwhile….I think personally, the travelling is the worst part.

 


Your “official” come back to “Lucifer’s Friend” gave us the release of 8th studio album “Mean Machine” album in 1981, although your personal record “Heartbeat” in 1980 was actually recorded with band’s “Sneak In Me” line up. Why had you decided to break up in 1982, while everything seemed to get back in line again?

John Lawton: It wasn’t really a “break up” and we have never really broken up, I just think we had nothing more to say at that point. Peter Hesslein was busy with the JAMES LAST ORCHESTRA and the other guys had other musical things going on in their lives although Peter Hesslein and I got together again in 1994 to record SUMO GRIP with a couple of other musicians and called it LUCIFERS FRIEND 2…..very nice album I thought but a bit too”Americanised” in the production.

 


After almost 40 years since your last gig, you have returned with an appearance in “Sweden Rock Festival” on June 2015, what an excellent surprise for the rock fans worldwide!!! How did this happen? Your big comeback was accompanied by the release of a compilation in April 06th, titled “Awakening”, including four new songs, which received tremendous attention. Was this your awakening, which resulted in the release of two new albums, “Too Late To Hate” in 2016 and “Black Moon” in 2019, which showed to the rock community, that the band could still really “roar” and produce excellent music?

John Lawton: Actually, we had a request from an American promoter to do some concerts over there, unfortunately it didn’t work out but it gave us the idea that there were fans of the band out there who would like some new music. We were offered a spot at Sweden Rock and that moved us to write something new for this gig. We didn’t have time to record a new album so the idea was to put out a compilation with 4 new tracks as a bonus and “boom” we got a kick start  TOO LATE TO HATE followed on from that and BLACK MOON last year…both albums were well received and that’s great….

 


What else should we expect from “Lucifer’s Friend” and what would you like to say to your Greek fans? Would be possible to enjoy you live in our country someday?

John Lawton: We have a new album in the pipeline which had been written but I still have to do the vocals and hopefully it can be released at the end of the year….
I think it is well known by now that we have had some health problems in the band so we will have to see how things develop in the coming months…
I have never actually been to Greece and that would be nice, but thank you to all our Greek fans for keeping the music alive.

 

 

Facebook Page: Lucifer's Friend

 

 

Chris Mouskos, Stamatis Bourdos

 

Black Velvet Radio

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