Artist Spotlight:

John Dawson Read

 


 

A search for the man. A search for the songs ...
 


PLUS: The scratch-free, digital audio stream.


It was an era of what was referred to as ‘the days of the singer-songwriter’. James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Carly Simon, and Don McLean … along with Janis Ian and Joni Mitchell, representative of an additional flurry of those who had successfully maintained prominence from the worldview, social consciousness of the 1960s into the more introspective – some maintain, self-absorbed, 1970s.

It was an age when words were poetic – not depraved. Music was performed, rather than processed. And songs were crafted, not manufactured. Collectively, it was a period when one’s imagery and melodic sensibilities were allowed to be ‘pretty’ – beautiful, even – without apology or fear of ridicule.

It was also a time when I, to a greater extent, would still be driven around town – rather than driving myself … at least, legally. And it was in this chauffeured luxury of one’s youth that my ears would perk up as a solo, finger-picked acoustic guitar would emanate, afresh, from the door-mounted loudspeakers …

Following the opening bars of the guitar intro, a new and distinctive voice – readily identifiable as being English in origin – would sing the first passage of the lyrics that would unfold and, in some sense, compound over the next four minutes ...

But it would, indeed, be the very first vocal line and its attendant words that instantly revealed that this song would be … very different, relative to the endless stream of ‘oh, baby’ angst that still continued to historically dominate the playlists of most popular music stations. In fact, much of Pop music had successfully managed to make ‘love’, itself – as a theme said to be one all could identify with, universally – the cheapest and most disposable emotion of all.

But then there would be the relief of, say, Randy Newman and Tom Waits – having little or no radio airplay – who could musically chronicle subject matter few others would ever contemplate. Alas, aside from words thought of as being either sardonic or dark, neither Newman or Waits were judged to have voices that the industry – or the listening public – would regard as ‘pop-accessible’. Dylan, it was thought, was an errant fluke – even as the record labels still remained on aural alert, in search for ‘the next Dylan’ ….

But with a vocal timbre more palatable to more people, this new song – filling the cabin of a Volkswagen – was decidedly unique. And the words – somewhat allegorical relative to the song’s actual ‘back story’ – conjured a sense of both sadness and, at once … celebration of one’s life. A life … of a friend.

And despite the music’s modest and minimalist commencement, it would soon be accompanied with a string score that became increasingly lush, layered, and detailed as one of the day's most lavish, string-based orchestrations this side of arranger, Paul Buckmaster (scoring for the earlier works of Elton John). But in this instance, the orchestral arranger would be Christopher Gunning who already had a notably impressive – and diverse – resume, from Mel Torme to Shirley Bassey … to The Hollies … to a long list of television and motion picture scores.

This song – I shall refer to, for the moment, as simply, ‘Friend’ – would be the work of English singer and songwriter, John Dawson Read …

And while ‘Friend’ – along with John, himself – didn’t have an extensive airplay that lingered for months, their relatively brief radio-life was enough for those of us privileged or lucky enough to have heard the piece … to remember it, still, years later …

For, at the time – and for those in ‘the know’, ‘Friend’ would walk by our side from high school, into our college years. It would be played on a turntable and introduced to our friends who had missed it’s brief radio stint in the days since passed.

I, myself, had already been writing music by this time – much of it ‘overly artistic’ and self-indulgent, as the typical and standard fare of one’s earlier ‘works’ ... for so many of us had raced to the art … without first having a better grasp of the craft. But John Dawson Read’s, ‘Friend’, would be carried in my pocket for several years, ultimately entertaining the college girls who had requested it – principally those I had introduced the song to. With that, I would dutifully pick up the guitar and accommodate the undergraduate lasses …

And with my own, previous introduction to John’s work some time before, I had also purchased his second album, ‘Read On’, less than a year after ‘Friend’s initial release … It was here that John continued with what could be considered as a readily identifiable sound, inclusive of some near symphonic-like orchestrations – now further supplemented with a velvety-smooth choral arrangement highlighting the song, ‘Til Tomorrow’. Among other favorites, there would additionally be ‘Days of Sweet Remembrance’ – to be reprised in short-form at the album’s close. And that which would be reprised, yet again … some 30 years later …

For, with the string section’s final sustain – closing the ‘Read On’ album, the music … would now be gone. And so, too – seemingly – was John …

‘Friend’, among the other works of John Dawson Read, were now left to linger somewhere between a vivid, polychromatic memory and the black LP vinyl, since etched to a muted grey by multiple, rotational passes of a diamond stylus.

While artistry was still to be found, Disco music would now dominate radio playlists as the era of the ‘singer-songwriter’, while not pushed fully to the back, would be placed to the side – save a few top names, such as James Taylor and Paul Simon …

But in an Internet age that would come into its own some 20 years later, a new opportunity would be afforded that would allow us to ask lingering questions … and – sometimes – get answers. These inquiries would often include, “What ever happened to …?”  And John – along with his ‘Friend Song’ – would haunt many of us, still. But over the years, despite several sporadic attempts, John Dawson Read just wouldn’t be found ...

And, despite the recording industry’s often admirable job of reissuing ‘old catalogs’, Chrysalis Records would seemingly not bring either of John’s albums to digital, CD life. This state of affairs both surprised and disappointed me. I mean, come on … if Canadian duo, Ian & Sylvia’s most obscure LP release of ‘Great Speckled Bird’, on the short-lived AMPEX label, saw the laser light of binary presentation, why not John Dawson Read?

Another year, another stab in the dark – where the input of the song’s title into Google would return the result of ‘Michael Johnson’ – another singer-songwriter and exemplary guitarist who had also previously graced my own record collection, back to the vinyl LP days. And, in visiting his website, I saw that Johnson had served up his own, unreleased home demo of John’s original song in MP3 form …

With this, Michael Johnson’s own message board would light up with those who had remembered the original as people both celebrated – and ‘cross-commiserated’, while reflecting upon John’s ‘Friend Song’ …

Certainly, while meaning no dismissal – whatsoever – of the Michael Johnson demo, it still made me hanker all the more for the original performance – without the snap, crackle, and pop of my own worn LP, vinyl edition ...

And, indeed, I would ultimately acquire a pristine, digitally remastered presentation of the original song by way of … John, himself.  He would simply … give it away, as there was no official CD re-release as of that day, still.

He was living in his hometown of Wokingham, just about an hour to the west and a little south of London – while also hanging his hat in France with a beautifully appointed music room. For in the passing years, the music had never left John. More to the point, despite what some of you may have been predicting in your mind, he didn’t become a back-page obituary notice, passing of a ‘musician-related’ drug overdose …

Wife. Children. A dog. And a long career in marketing, partnered with friend, Keith Goodfellow. A somewhat ironic venture, it would seem to me, as John – himself – perhaps hadn’t really been marketed in a way he had deserved.

 
But, as indicated, the music was still within. He would continue to occasionally play at Music Festivals and, indeed, would be awarded ‘Composer of the Year’ at the Cavan Song Festival by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA). But moreover, he had additionally brought the original studio tapes of his first two albums to Andrew Rose of Pristine Audio in the UK. It was here that John’s original works would be digitally remastered – even while not yet having official sanction from Chrysalis Records to re-release the material on his own. That would come …

However, there would now be a third John Dawson Read album openly available, after a nearly 30 year absence, entitled, ‘Now … Where Were We?”  While much of the work would be derived from excellent studio demos, the new CD would open – appropriately enough – with a reprise of the reprise, ‘Days of Sweet Remembrance’ that closed his 1976 album, ‘Read On’ ... Nice touch.

And surely touched by all of those who had remembered him, he would – finally – have a personal Internet presence: www.johndawsonread.com … With this, all works – the first two albums, now inclusive – would be available from John, as other outlets would be worked out. For many of us, we can only welcome him … back home.

When I told John I intended to feature him in an ‘Artist Spotlight’, he was enthused and, upon one of my inquiries regarding orchestration, he hastened to cite Chris Gunning as “still one of the UK’s finest arrangers”. Moreover, John most graciously agreed to me streaming the full-length digital audio of ‘Friend’ on my own website for your listenership.

It is with this generosity that I can now fully reveal and present ‘The Song’, below …

Welcome back, John.  Whether or not you ever knew it, you’ve long been a ‘A Friend’ to many of our own … sweet remembrances.

... simply click the 'Play' icon on your transport to listen ...

... PLUS ...

BONUS: A 1976 Television Appearance of John Dawson Read ...

... and remember John's website ...
www.johndawsonread.com
 

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