History Centre Heroes: Jamie Lawson

Jamie Lawson was born in St Budeaux in 1975. He went to school in Plymouth and continued to be based here for much of the time afterwards, but shot to the heights of pop celebrity in 2015 with the single ‘Wasn’t Expecting That’. This was an appropriate title given that he was already in his late thirties and though an established singer songwriter, had not necessarily seemed destined for stardom.

The song was a very much in the tradition of English folk ballads, telling of a romance ending shockingly in death by cancer, so his success can be seen as a testament to the value of genuinely meaningful content in pop music. His is a dream realised through sincerity as much as ambition, and is all the more deserving of respect for that.

By the time of his first great hit Lawson had performed at local venues for more than twenty years, including the B-Bar in the Barbican Theatre and The Hub; so close to the Pavilions, known for its gigs by nationally renowned bands. He had already completed two albums of his songs: Last Night Stars (2006) and Pull of the Moon (2010), the second achieving some success in New Zealand.

A photograph of Plymouth-born singer Jamie Lawson

His third album came out in Ireland in 2011 where his music’s simple-hearted directness met with widespread appreciation. It reached eleventh position in the Irish charts. The song that was to become so famous was its title track: its hard-hitting lyrics, starting out as a cloyingly perfect tale of romance, marriage and parenthood twisting sharply near the end when the idyll is interrupted.

Its potential mass appeal was noticed by Ed Sheeran while they were both performing on London’s folk circuit. Sheeran, a now internationally established singer in his own right, was moving into production and on the lookout for music compatible with his own work to release under his new label – The Gingerbread Man.

A photograph of Ed Sheeran and Jamie Lawson

Sheeran’s folk rock deals with the life cycle and serious social issues (for example prostitution in ‘The A Team’, 2011), and he has said Lawson’s hit inspired his song about the death of a relative (‘Affire Love’, 2014). Never was a friend so well repaid. Their success perhaps shows a growing need for authenticity in UK culture.

Lawson’s third album became The Gingerbread Man’s first release on 3 April 2015. It rose through the charts. ‘Wasn’t Expecting That’ eventually reaching sixth place in the singles charts, third in Australia and taking the album to the top of the UK charts by the end of October the same year. He is the first musician Plymouth born and bred ever to achieve this.

His name now appears alongside such international stars as Elton John – in Hyde Park, summer 2016, and at a festival also featuring Paul McCartney in the Netherlands. He is a role model for children at his former schools, Barn Barton Primary and Tamarside Community College, and for all struggling musicians, writing out their lives in music, and singing to small gatherings of faithful fans in pubs and clubs of the South West. His song has turned a neutral phrase into a cultural meme, and even spawned a game of improvised rhyming on Radio 1, just showing you never know what fortune awaits you.

Watch a clip of Jamie performing at the Museum’s 2010 ‘Gig in the Gallery’ event.

Written by Rosemary Babichev.

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