What the hell, let’s cut to the chase: Jamie Lawson wasn’t expecting that.
An international hit single. A Number One album. An Ivor Novello Award. Spotify streams: 110 million. YouTube views: 24 million. Social Followers: 180,000. An awful lot of love from the ardent fans of the biggest boy band in the galaxy. A marriage (his own). And then, in 2017, a chance to make an album in one of Los Angeles’ most legendary recording studios, with an equally legendary producer. All of that followed the 2015 release of his self-titled album. To recap the serendipitous tale of how then-unknown Jamie Lawson ended up being the first signing to Ed Sheeran’s label Gingerbread Man Records...
At Christmas 2010, Lawson and Sheeran shared a bill at The Bedford pub in Balham, south London. “I sang Wasn’t Expecting That – I’d written it that October so it was one of the first times I’d performed it,” recalls Lawson. “It got this great reaction from the audience and I remember Ed saying he really liked it too.” At the time Sheeran was in the process of signing to Atlantic.
“And that was about it. Then four years later, when Ed was promoting the X record, I got a call from his management out of the blue – would I support Ed at a secret show in Dublin? I was living in Manchester by then and it would mean flying over. I remember thinking, ‘this flight is gonna cost a lot...’ Wasn’t Expecting That had been a hit in Ireland, where I’d been living previously, but I still didn’t really have any money coming in at the time. But then I thought: ‘I should probably do it anyway...’”
In Dublin, a friendship and a kinship were rekindled. Lawson came to see Sheeran at V Festival, and at a show in Leeds. During that time, Sheeran began talking about starting a label. “I kind of assumed he wouldn’t have time. He’s the busiest person I’ve ever met. But he made it work.”
Sure, Sheeran made it work, but so did his first signing. The songs on ‘Jamie Lawson’ showcased his skilled, attuned way with an irresistible melody and an empathetic lyric. Given a full international release via Gingerbread Man Records, lead single Wasn’t Expecting That became a hit around the world, selling over a million copies worldwide. That success was further accelerated by a support slot with One Direction. “I was quite anxious as to how that would work and how it would go down,” admits an artist who, frankly, is old enough (just) to be Harry Styles’ dad. “But their people were very clever – they said, ‘you should do this One Direction song - the boys won’t be singing it, but you should do it in your set.
“And my initial thought was: ‘That’s really cheeky.’ But my manager was like, ‘well, if they’re asking you to do it...’ So I did it. I sang More Than This, early on in my set, but did it really slowly, broke it down and did it as simply as I could. Everyone sang along ’cause obviously they knew it, and I think that really helped get them onside and engage them in what I was doing. And I came out of it with a Number One album – it went to the top while I was on the tour. It got me Radio 1 play as well. The 1D boys were very positive – Harry and Niall would come and say hello, and they’d tweet about it. I still get mentions of retweets every day, two years later. It’s crazy.”
Jamie Lawson better get ready for more crazy. His new album, Happy Accidents, is brimful with killer songs. It was produced by Joe Chiccarelli, who’s previously worked with Rufus Wainwright, The Killers, The Strokes and American Music Club (“I’m a huge fan of them”). Lawson recorded in LA’s Sunset Sounds in two bursts, in November 2016 and February 2017, working with musicians handpicked by Chiccarelli, including keyboard player Roger Manning Jr (Jellyfish and Beck) and drummer Matt Chamberlain (Fiona Apple, Tori Amos), who were joined by Jamie’s long standing bass player Henrik Irgens.
And he wrote with a handful of different writers: co-writing helped this ambitious artist meet both self-imposed demands. After all, Lawson will admit with a sanguine shrug, he’d spent long enough trying to have people hear his music...
Lead single Can’t See Straight was created with Ed Sheeran and Johnny McDaid (Snow Patrol) at Sheeran’s Suffolk home. It has easy, breezy, feel good summer hit written all over it. Still, the personal favourite of Sheeran – who had an enthusiastic, hands-on A&R role on the album – is Time On My Hands, written by Lawson with Dave Bassett (co-writer of Rachel Platten’s Fight Song). “We wrote at Dave's house in the Malibu hills – it’s the first place I ever saw hummingbirds. You can relax, it’s sunny, optimistic...and I like to think you can hear the sunshine in the song.”
Piano ballad A Little Mercy was co-written with Simon Aldred aka Cherry Ghost (who’s been covered, beautifully, by Birdy and has also co-written on Rag’n’ Bone Man’s blockbuster Human album). It has a warm, hymnal feel. “The backing vocals are by The Arnold Singers – they’re legendary vocalists who sing with James Taylor, and they just help make it big and push that gospelly feel.”
Then there’s the more uptempo Fall Into Me. “We recorded 15 songs in November, and listening to the rough mixes, I realised the record missed something that was a bit more driving,” he continues. “So I wrote Fall Into Me specifically, with a self-imposed brief, something I’d never done before. And it’s made the album have more of a dynamic shape. I’m still of the album generations – I want to put a record on and leave it. I want it to work as a whole piece.”
The Last Spark is another written with Johnny McDaid and also Gary Go, “It’s delicate and gentle and heartbreaking,” suggests Lawson, accurately. “It’s an incredibly sad song about the last moments of your life. But a lot of the other songs are about the early stages of flirtation and love. I recently got married – we’ve been together five years, but it stills feels to me a young relationship.”
Indeed, that relationship gave the album its title. Lawson’s future wife went to a pub to see some stand-up comedy, but accidentally caught Lawson’s act in the process. She messaged him the next day: “I went to see a comedy gig last night but ended up in thewrong room. Needless to say you weren’t very funny. But I did think you were very good. So hooray for happy accidents.” It was the start of something beautiful. And, incidentally, the pub in question? The Bedford, the same one where Lawson met Sheeran. Talk about happy accidents.
Perhaps the most powerful song on Happy Accidents is Sing To The River. It’s a delicate, piano-and-strings ballad about Lawson’s father, who died when the musician was 19. He’s never previously written about his dad, nor about the grief that overwhelmed him afterwards.
“I grew up by the River Tamar in Plymouth,” he begins, quietly – he’s never previously discussed this, either. “When I couldn’t sleep after my dad died, I’d walk there at two or three in the morning and sing to the river – anything that came into my head. It was a place I went for solace. And in many ways, me sticking at this as long as I have is partly due to my father – he knew me as a singer. I was a really quiet kid, so my parents were surprised when I said I wanted to be a singer, and get up on stage.
“But that’s how my dad knew me. So I think I kept at it, kept plugging away, because that’s my connection to him. And, you know,” he shrugs with a faint smile, “we eventually got through...”
It’s a lovely sentiment, and a lovely tribute, and they speak volumes of the kind of man – the kind of writer – that Jamie Lawson is. No wonder Happy Accidents is such a warming, uplifting, complete record. His boss at his record label should be pleased – if not a little envious? After all, his first signing to Gingerbread Man Records did beat him to the Ivor Novello for Best Song Musically and Lyrically...
“Nah!” laughs Jamie Lawson. “In many ways Wasn’t Expecting That beating Bloodstream was a better result for Ed. It proved he knows what he’s on about. He knew the song, he had faith in it, he had faith in me. He was almost out to prove people wrong and we did that. And I think Happy Accidents is a real step up from the last record – production-wise, musically and in the songs I’ve written. So I guess in that sense it’s no accident at all that I’m very happy with it.”