Steve Lawson: Just bass?

Thursday 1st February 2001

It's not every day that you run across a solo bass album but then STEVE LAWSON is no ordinary muso, as Andrew Long found out.

Steve Lawson
Steve Lawson

When Steve Lawson was a child his mother declared him to be "the least musical member of the family". Anyone who listens to his solo debut, 'And Nothing But The Bass, Live @ The Troubadour', or indeed to any of the session work he has recorded with artists like Johnny Markin, Chris Bowater or Trish Morgan will be forced to ask the question, "What on earth is that woman talking about?' Steve has developed into a gifted and imaginative bassist, whose melodic ideas and encyclopaedic chord knowledge are at least equal to many (currently) more well known artists.

Despite the early failed attempts at guitar, trumpet, piano and viola, Steve eventually bought a cheap second hand bass, joined a local band and found the instrument he had been looking for. A few years late Steve managed to get into music college and it was there that he discovered bass players like Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius and Stu Hamm and it was also there that he first heard Nick Beggs play in lona.

'That was quite a radical point for me to hear him and what could be done. I got interested in the Chapman Stick but then transferred that onto bass because I couldn't afford one. I began to see that it was possible to play solo on bass and that the ideas I was having were better than some of the people I was listening to."

Whilst at college Steve met up with Canadian singer/songwriter Johnny Markin and soon agreed to spend some time touring and recording with him, partnered with Youth For Christ. It was during this time that he began to develop the chord and melodic ideas he had been playing with into the material and they began to have a purpose. It was also during this time in Lincoln that Steve recorded a few albums with Chris Bowater and Trish Morgan, as well as with Johnny.

A while later Steve became very disillusioned with the church scene in Lincoln and decided to move to London. He was soon asked to replace Nick Beggs in Jason Carter's band Ragatal, because Nick was busy playing with Howard Jones. Ragatal went on to cut an album and this was another step towards Steve's solo set.

"Having got the JamMan, which is the 32-second loop device that I use, I started to think about ways of playing these tunes on my own, so at the second Ragatal gig at St Lukes, which is the church I go to in London, I played a solo tune using the JamMan and the reaction was fabulous. So I then started to think about doing a solo set."

Steve writes for Bassist magazine, now incorporated into Guitarist magazine and has been dubbed as the "Gadget Guru", a bit of a sad title but nonetheless accurate. Steve loves toys and uses all manner of effects to enhance his compositions. One of his current favourites is the E-Bow, a tiny gadget that electronically simulates a bowing sound. Steve was introduced to the E-Bow through the music of Michael Manring and it can be heard to great effect on the ambient piece "Drifting", which brings me on to the subject of the album, how and why was it recorded?

"I bought a mini disc player and I record all my gigs, just for reference...and narcissism," Steve grinned. "I archived a few of the pieces on my website and well over 100 people emailed me to ask where they could buy it. I've got a friend who's got ProTools and I went and mixed some of it and recorded some other gigs. I did one duet in the studio, or actually a trio for two basses and a pianist and the rest of it is completely live, exactly as it went into the mic."

I asked Steve to explain the inspiration behind some of the pieces on the album, beginning with the opening track 'The Inner Game". "I was reading a book called The Inner Game Of Music which is all about the psychology of playing and writing and improvising music and, having read most of the book, I found I was doing most of it already so it was a great encouragement. But there's a lot in there about relaxing before gigs and the fact that the tune is actually fairly simple to play means that I stick it at the front of the set and I don't have to worry about it instead of sticking something really twiddly at the beginning, messing it up and feeling terrible about myself.

"'Bittersweet', was a chord arrangement I'd had kicking around for ages and I found myself playing it one afternoon whilst thinking about two recent bereavements close to me. I can't think about death too long without thinking about my own future, so the whole thing took on a different shape and I actually wrote a tune that creates the right kind of feeling in me. I'm never too sure what it means to name an instrumental, it's a strange thing to do, but I think that's the first time I've had a specific event inspire or encapsulate what was going on."

Steve is obviously a man whose faith is very important to him and who has very positive ideas about the place of faith in his life, so I asked him how this spills over into his writing and performance. "I think that the whole intersection of faith and music suddenly gets much more complex when it's instrumental. With vocal music it's fairly easy to tell, at least on the surface. If you listen to a Chris Bowater album you don't go, 'I'm not quite sure where he's coming from.' It's clear. With instrumental music, there are levels at which you can suggest that faith inspires music, but it's a completely nebulous thing, there's no benchmark. However, working on the assumption that God has made us creative, I think to exercise that in as free a way as I can, uninhibited by the constraints that normally guide what musicians do, for me is as close to a genuine worship experience as I will ever get."

"I love being a session musician, I love doing a good job, for myself, for God, for the people I'm working for, I like the feeling of being good at what I do. I'm also constantly teaching because I love it. I've been doing some workshops with churches, church music groups who want to do something creative and so I've been called in, not to talk about spiritual stuff but to talk about the philosophy of music, arranging, interesting things you can do with different arrangements and hopefully encourage people and that's something I really enjoy."

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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