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Wasn’t Expecting That

Jamie Lawson told David Hennessy about Ireland appreciating his music long before anywhere else, being signed by and touring with Ed Sheeran and achieving major success when he was almost 40.

Although he has no Irish blood, Ireland has played a massive part in the success of Plymouth singer-songwriter Jamie Lawson.

After years of gigging around the UK, Jamie moved to Dublin where he found his music received with an enthusiasm that had up to then eluded him in the UK.

It was in Ireland and thanks to the radio station Today FM that Jamie scored a number three hit with Wasn’t Expecting That in 2011.

It was also in Ireland that Jamie was reunited with Ed Sheeran, someone he had crossed paths with on the gig circuit prior to his massive success.

Jamie became the first artist signed to Sheeran’s own label in 2015 with his album then going to number one in the UK as well as many other countries.

Jamie told The Irish World: “I do have a great fondness for Ireland.

“I always like to come back, haven’t been for a while. But I do look forward to the time that I do get back.

“Before anything took off, I moved over and was trying to do venues and get around the country which I managed to do actually.

“It was at the time when David Gray had had success out of Ireland, Damien Rice was kind of blowing up out of Ireland as well.

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“And it seemed like maybe my songs weren’t too far away from theirs and maybe there would be space for them as well.

“So that was the whole thinking of moving over.

“I had been there a fair few times and enjoyed my time there.

“That’s why I moved there.

“I always felt very welcome, people very kind.

“I played a few different shows with Mundy, The Frames, The Four of Us, did some with Paddy (Casey) if I remember correctly.

“Glen specifically was always very nice to me. I got to reconnect with him when Ed played Croke Park. It was great to see him again because he’s an inspirational writer really: The things he’s done, he’s always very true to his art, to his songs and plugs away constantly, is brilliant to see so he’s always someone I’ve kind of looked up to.

“I’ve definitely been welcomed in Ireland from everyone.

“People are just kind and they like their music so it’s a good place to be and to play and I miss playing there to be honest.

“I did shows with Mic Christopher back in the day, bless him.

“I shared a stage a few times with him, and he was always a nice guy, very inclusive.

“And you always had these kind of sessions afterwards, that I was never sure about because I’d never been in them.

“These were completely new to me, I felt very out of my depth with an after hours session, something I absolutely adore now.

“We did it a few times on the Ed tour.

“He was quite happy to sing songs after his show, even though he had played two hours.

“That was pretty special.

“That was a great introduction to that sort of thing.

“I’d say it (my music) definitely had a bigger response there than anywhere else.

“It was as if people got it a bit and maybe that’s just because you guys have such a history of singers and songwriters and storytelling because that’s just more your scene than anywhere else.

“So I can understand why it worked there, and the fact that Wasn’t Expecting That took off in Ireland way before anywhere else says a lot really.

“Certainly says you have good taste,” Jamie laughs. “That’s what I like to think.

“And I did okay in terms of getting gigs and getting around but in the end, I had to get a job.

“So I got a job at Tower Records and then in the end that job was kind of taking over.

“I had bad nightmares about spreadsheets and things like that.

“I decided maybe that job wasn’t for me and I should get back to playing again.

“So that’s what happened and I moved back to Cornwall after that.”

It all started for Jamie in 2011 when Today FM played his track Wasn’t Expecting That. Before he knew it he was playing in studio and on The Late Late.

Was it all a whirlwind for Jamie? “Yeah, it was. Absolutely.

“I mean, it’s a weird story in a way.

“How it happened was I posted a clip to YouTube of me singing it from a studio I had in Cornwall.

“And I think a couple of weeks later, I was going to move to London.

“I had absolutely no money and no idea how I was going to make a living.

“But I realised that maybe Cornwall wasn’t the place for me and I needed to get back out and up to London.

“I was literally in my car with the car packed to drive up when I got a message saying, ‘Today FM just played it on the radio’.

“It was just very odd.

“I think the next day I got a call saying, ‘We’ve played the song again and we’re getting a lot of responses to it. Do you want to come over and do a session?’

“I think I flew over the next week, did that session on Today FM and then also, as I landed, I found out I got The Late Late.

“So it was bonkers really. Bonkers.

“It definitely meant an approval of sorts.”

Jamie would release the single as the lead single of his third studio album that would chart at number 11 in the Irish charts.

“From there, a tour went on sale straightaway.

“I was supposed to play Upstairs at Whelan’s and I think they moved it straight to downstairs and it sold out within a week.

“I was like, ‘That’s amazing’.

“I had opened for people at Whelan’s so many times and been there so many times watching shows. To actually sell it out meant a huge amount.”

Jamie was the first signing to Ed Sheeran’s label Gingerbread Man Records in 2015.

That same year he released his self-titled album, featuring Wasn’t Expecting That, which has now been streamed over 250 million times.

The album hit #1 in 26 countries. Since then, Jamie has won an Ivor Novello Award for ‘Best Song Musically and Lyrically’, gone on a stadium tour with Ed Sheeran playing 52 dates throughout Europe and continued to tour extensively, most recently as support on the critically acclaimed Deacon Blue UK Tour.

In 2016 Jamie Lawson won the prestigious Ivor Novello award for ‘Best Song Musically and Lyrically’, beating his mentor and friend Ed Sheeran to the highly prized Ivor Novello award.

Again, it was in Dublin that things happened for Jamie with Ed Sheeran reaching out to him once again while playing in Dublin.

“Yeah, that was pretty weird too.

“I had met Ed once and then lost touch with him immediately really because he took off.

“He got signed that January and started selling millions of records, so I lost touch with him pretty quick.

“He was doing the Ruby sessions in Dublin, he did a secret show there for the  album x and asked those guys if I could open up or him.

“So they called me and told me what was going on and I had to get on the plane the next day and go over and I met with Ed again.

“It was really nice. I just remember thinking he hadn’t changed a bit, still the same guy, very down to earth. Very kind and full of encouragement, which was really sweet. He didn’t have to do that. He didn’t have to reach back that far.

“I was very grateful. He took me on tour with him and he talked about having a record label and maybe I should be on it, Wasn’t Expecting That should be the first single.

“Yeah, he definitely kicked things off again, I suppose.”

Having first picked up a guitar when he was eight, Jamie was almost 40 when major success came his way.

His first two studio albums, Last Night Stars and The Pull of the Moon did not chart in the UK although the latter reached number 70 in Ireland.

After plugging away for so long, was it somewhat unexpected when it did come? “I guess it’s a tough one really.

“I must have expected something otherwise I wouldn’t have kept going.

“So what I was expecting I’m not overly sure of, certainly not playing stadiums which is what happened you know, where I were opening for Ed on stadium shows and playing Croke Park, Phoenix Park and all those spaces and Wembley over here, all sorts of amazing, amazing venues.

“That wasn’t on the plan.

“But it certainly took off in a major way and it was a whirlwind few years of not quite knowing where I was, getting caught up in the movement of it all and having to be here one day, somewhere ridiculous the next and then back again.

“All of those things that definitely happened: A lot of air miles accrued and a lot of jetlag and a lot of amazing experiences for sure.

“I would definitely have had dreams of a number one album as a kid, as a teenager but realistically, I don’t suppose as I got older that that was going to be on my cards.

“I still always had a strong belief in my songs and they always did connect when people listened.

“I still thought there was a chance. I wouldn’t have carried on if I didn’t think there would have been.”

The multi award-winning Gemma Hayes. Photo: Mike Prior

May will see Jamie tour with Tipperary songstress Gemma Hayes, Richard Walters and Laura Zocca.

The four performers will join forces for a special acoustic round show where each artist will perform a song in turn almost like a tag team of troubadours.

Jamie goes back a long way with Gemma Hayes as he met her right back when he first moved to Ireland.

I’d have known Gemma from pretty much the first EP she put out, I think.

“There was a guy called Mark Dignam. He was a songwriter on the scene at the time and he’d been doing shows in London and that’s why I went to Ireland.

Richard Walters.

“He invited me over to Dublin to open for him at Whelan’s way, way back and he introduced me to Gemma on that trip, so I’ve known Gemma for years.

“I’m very much looking forward to getting on tour with her in May. I think it’ll be a lot of fun.

”It’s an in the round tour, the four of us on stage at the same time telling stories and singing songs one at a time.

“We might join in a little bit on each other’s songs but generally it’s like a late night session where you just pass the guitar around and sharing a story about that specific song, and talking about things.

“It’s a very intimate setting, a very relaxed setting.

“And it should hopefully be a lot of fun.

“I’m certainly looking forward to getting to see Gemma, Richard and Laura play every night.

“That sounds like Heaven to me.”

Will it have the feel of one of those after hours sessions that Jamie mentioned earlier? “Possibly. Yeah, quite possibly. I think so.

“I’m hoping it has that kind of relaxed feel to it and that it feels like you’re just hanging out with friends in a living room type thing.

“That’s my hope.

“I’m really looking forward to that and making another record as well.

“That’s kind of my plan at the minute.”

Laura Zocca.

Even Jamie’s tour with Deacon Blue was disrupted by Covid-19 when he actually caught the virus himself.

“It was a 30 date tour but then I got COVID. I tested positive for COVID on the second day of that tour and had to go straight home.

“Due to Covid, I missed 14 shows of that tour so that was very odd too.

“After two years of not doing a show at all, I do one show and then I have to stop again.

“I don’t know how to explain it, some bad luck for sure.

“You had to test every day to be on the tour and I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t tested.

“I was feeling relatively okay otherwise but it’s one of those things.

“It’s still around, still a bit of a fear.

“I think people are still a bit wary about coming back to live gigs again, but I’m hoping by May that fear will have alleviated somewhat.

“I guess it’s something we’re gonna have to learn to live with now.

“It’s not going anywhere, is it?”

How has Jamie got through the last two years with very little opportunity to play live shows? “It’s the longest I’ve gone without a show since I was 15, I think so I found it very difficult.

“On top of the pandemic itself, my wife and I had a boy who just turned two and he is terrible sleeper.

“It’s been two years of not really being able to see many other people, a lot of sleepless nights.

“It’s been hard to say the least but we’re also very, very lucky.

“But I certainly wasn’t able to write as much as I needed to.

“I didn’t realise how much I used writing as a kind of mental health protector.

“Writing is very cathartic. It’s not always that you’re just writing about your issues, just the act of singing, I think, is special, has a lot of good in it.

“And not being able to do that as much as I used to do, that was quite tough but things are kind of getting back to normality now, I think.”

Before we let him go, we ask Jamie about his song A Perfect Year that was initially meant to only be for his wife but would end up being on a recent EP.

“I’d written it as an anniversary present because it was the first anniversary actually.

“It was paper. That was the idea.

“It sounds a bit tight me writing something but basically the thing I had ordered didn’t arrive and wouldn’t arrive for another three months.

“I was stuck the day before without anything, so I did my best to write a song and it turned out okay, I thought.

“It was initially just for my wife and then I thought maybe I should actually put this out into the world so that’s what I did.”

Did his wife approve of that though if it was her song? “She did,” he laughs.

“She also did say it wasn’t her favourite song of mine.”

The present that didn’t arrive was the sheet music to True Love Waits.

Did his own song beat that gift at least? “Probably not, True Love Waits is a classic.”

Jamie tours the UK with Gemma Hayes, Richard Walters and Laura Zocca from 16 May.

They play Stoller Hall in Manchester on 16 May, The Mill in Birmingham on 17 May, The Stables in Milton Keynes on 18 May, Phoenix in Exeter on 19 May, Tivoli in Wimborne on 20 May, Tramshed in Cardiff on 22 May, Union Chapel in London on 23 May, De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on 24 May,  St George’s Hall in Bristol on 25 May, Apex in Bury St Edmonds on 26 May 

For more information, click here.

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