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Portrait: Dave Lawson

David Clive Lawson was born in 1945 in Alton, Hampshire.

I was very lucky, my father was the manager of a very busy grocery shop in Yateley, his customers were mainly the families of US Navy servicemen and women stationed at the nearby Blackbushe airport. I think I was nine or ten when I experienced my first serious kiss, her name was Mary Lou Williams and I was madly in love! Although we were so-called middle class my father sent me and my sister to a private school, Lyndhurst in Camberley, that too was attended by the children of US Navy personnel. I remember that in 1953 my parents bought a television, a nine-inch Bush I seem to recall, mainly to watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second and suddenly I had many more friends. Because television was in its infancy, there were a few technical issues and a “test card” was shown along with some incidental music. I soon realised that I liked the sound of the harp and the piano. I took my “Eleven Plus” exam and failed it, but at the same time my father was offered a managerial position in Tonbridge Kent, the town he had been brought up in. So we packed up our worldly goods, I said goodbye to my sweetheart and moved to Tonbridge. The music teacher at the new school gave piano lessons and I was so keen that I quickly progressed through the various grades and decided that Debussy and Ravel, at that time, did it for me.

When I was sixteen I was offered a job playing at a 'Working Men's Club' in Tonbridge, £2.00 a night and a pint of stout, which I happily accepted and often staggered home a little the worse for wear. It was at that time I took lessons in harmony and orchestration with another piano teacher and was introduced to 'Modern' Jazz, the first piece I ever herd was Django, played by The MJQ, I was hooked. I then bought a book of compositions written by Dave Brubeck, started to collect records, Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan, Cannonball Adderley, Ray Charles, (Live at Newport), The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Miles Davis, (Someday My Prince Will Come), which then introduced me to my all-time favourite saxophonist, John Coltrane. I couldn't say that this experience convinced me that music was going to be my life but it was as though I had 'met' a group of musicians where I felt comfortable, I'd 'landed'. Radio wise I used to listen to 'Voice of America' on a little transistor radio, they ended their transmission with 'Put Your Dreams Away' recoded by Frank Sinatra, it still gives me goose bumps!

Dave’s career as a musician took a different path when he joined the Royal Air Force.
My piano teacher at the time had a colleague who was in the Royal Air Force Central Band, he suggested that I might audition for a place as at that time, the early 60's, there were still National Service personnel serving in the Forces. I duly attended the audition and was accepted as a pianist, for entertaining duties but obviously had to play an instrument in the military band. I was asked what I would prefer to play and after careful consideration I opted for the flute or trumpet, as it turned out I was given a clarinet, which I loathed and spent a year at the school of music at RAF Uxbridge, trying not to sound like a wounded seagull. It was whilst I was at Uxbridge and checking out Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club on several wonderful occasions that I contacted Stan Tracey, the then house pianist. I studied with Stan for several years, luckily my next posting was only an hour or so from his home in Streatham. I used to have a lesson and then Stan would take me to 'Ronnie's' and I could see the first set of the visiting artiste before returning to base. I was then posted to Singapore for two and a half years and during my 'stay' I met many superb Philippino musicians, formed my own jazz trio, played in the official dance band as well as joining 'The Misfits', a covers band that supported many of the bands of the day, The Rolling Stones, Hermans Hermits, The Walker Brothers etc. The experience was invaluable and it was during my tour of duty that I started playing the electric organ after hearing Jimmy Smith's 'Walk On The Wildside' with Oliver Nelson's Big Band. Wow!

Dave’s start with progressive rock
On leaving the RAF I did a summer season in Jersey, backing a crooner by the name of Dennis Lotis, a singer with the Ted Heath Big Band, I then returned to the UK and played in various clubs, including 'Miranda's' a high-end strip club. Not long after that I joined Episode Six, Ian Gillan and Roger Glover had left the band to join 'Deep Purple' and I then moved on to The Alan Bown Set, a fusion band of many styles but with Alan's liking of Miles Davis we did 'get out there', musically, on a few occasions. I met the The Web guys at a university gig in the west country and loved the two drummer line up and Tom Harris's Sax sound. We agreed to meet up for a jam and I went back to my awful bedsit and wonderful B3 and Fender Rhodes and wrote and orchestrated the album.

It is true that the first advance that we received from Warner Bros enabled my wife and I to put down a deposit on a flat in North London but my so called 'wardrobe' consisted of a well worn 'trendy' flying jacket a few t shirts, the rest of the vast fortune was spent on equipment. You are correct about Tony Reeves, Tony was a director of the then newly formed 'Greenwich Gramophone Company' that Samurai were signed to, when the company folded and Tony hooked up with his old friend Dave Greenslade my name came up as a possible co collaborator for the band, which at that time had no name. We met up at Dave Greenslade's flat in Stanmore Middlesex and jammed for several hours. There was an immediate empathy even though Dave G's style was totally different to mine and perhaps that's why we complimented each other so well.

Thinking back to the days when Bill Haley and The Comets first graced our screens and the look on my father's face when Cliff Richard and The Shadows appeared on television with 'Move It', there was definitely a massive culture shock. The music scene at the time had been greatly improved by the influx of American Big Bands, courtesy of Glen Miller entertaining the resident troops 'over here' and the Rock 'n Roll invasion was about to begin. The population of Great Britain was coming out of extreme austerity, rationing etc and the new freedoms, including speech and a free press without the constraints of war censorship and propaganda started an interest in freedom of expression, fashion, hair styles, new words and an attitude which rebelled against anything that stank of authority. The so-called drug scene didn't really get under way until the Beatles and the Stones made it hip and at that time and unless one had a lot of disposable income, the availability and price put it beyond most punters.

Dave tells the story of XYZ, a band that sought to combine ex-Yes and ex-Led Zeppelin members.
“Greg Jackman was our engineer on the Greenslade albums, a wonderful engineer with a lovely wife, Lola. Greg and Lola lived fairly nearby and we met them socially quite often. I'd left Greenslade and had started doing sessions, Greg had started recording Chris Squire's solo album and my wife and I were invited over to Chris and Nikki's house, we became good friends. After the demise of yet another version of Yes I still used to visit Chris and thought he might be interested in my new acquisition, the Synclavier. We recorded his Christmas single, “Run with the Fox” together with Alan White, I still have the demo where I used the, now defunct, Variofon, a sample based wind controller, quite ahead of its time. We then started writing various bits and pieces and Alan joined us to lay down four tracks, very basic of course with little or no overdubbing. Chris and I co-wrote a piece called “Stab In The Dark”, a working title, where I take the lead vocal and Chris sings the verse. I then worked as a session musician on Death Wish 2 and recorded the score with Jimmy Paige. I mentioned to Jimmy that we were working on these tracks and the XYZ grew out of that. The existing demos are really bad quality as the cassette was stolen from Yes's roadie, and that version doesn't have keyboards on it. Chris got quite excited by the prospect of a really different Yes, but the respective managers didn't see eye to eye and the idea was shelved. I still have the tracks on my Synclavier PostPro SD, I may well work on them in due course. Are you up for it Jimmy? It would be a great tribute to Chris, sadly missed.

After XYZ, Dave turned to sound design and built his own private studio, with one of largest privately-owned Synclavier systems.
I can say that writing what you feel had and has its rewards, financially not for me anyway, but I was able to use my knowledge to some effect in the session music business which followed my stint with the bands. When you're born with a creative brain, it never shuts down, a tune is always present, an idea springs to mind, sometimes when one is going to sleep. To this day I have a catalogue of prog music that will probably never see the light of day but I've no regrets whatsoever.