Framlingham songwriter Simon Law goes from rehearsing in the college loos to storming the charts
- Credit: Archant
It’s been a long road to success for Suffolk songwriter Simon Law, whose debut album Look To The Sky just went to number one in the UK soul charts.
Growing up in Framlingham, Simon used to lie in the caravan that doubled as his bedroom daydreaming of making records. A Grammy winner with Soul II Soul and now with a number one solo album to his name, he feels blessed and grateful many of his dreams came true.
Music had been his saving grace while boarding at Hereford Cathedral School, where he’d been head chorister; performing in four Three Choirs festivals.
“It was a fairly brutal and cold place otherwise and the glorious music we did in the beautiful cathedral there really transported me out of the hardships of boarding school life.
“I hadn’t been happy boarding at Hereford; homesick much of the time in a very old-fashioned school - although I learnt much about music there which would serve me so well,” he recalls.
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Studying at Framlingham College, where his father was the chaplain while his mother ran the parish church choir, was a more content, carefree time.
“To be reunited with my family and living in beautiful Suffolk in such a lovely town was bucolic,” says Simon, who now lives in Toronto, Canada.
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One of four children, he spent the summer working on farms and vineyards. Struggling at school academically he got by, teaching himself how to play drums.
“My earliest memories are of mum running a steel band in Trinidad where my dad served as an Anglican minister for St Thomas Chaguanas through to my Hereford days to forming my own band at Framlingham College with the headmaster’s son Shane Rimmer.
“Him and a friend called Mark Wyatt is where it all began, rehearsing in any room we could find. Even the gents on occasion. The first song I wrote was something with Shane. We were a bit prog rock then so it was probably in a weird time signature and rather abstract.
“It would have had a groove though, I was always drawn to the funk even back then; to the rhythm, that was what fired me up. It still does.”
Simon became a primary school teacher but deep down he knew he wasn’t happy so quit teaching after three years and went to work in a clothes shop on Kings Road.
“You know how they say water is life? Well for me music is life. I remember some concerns early on when I wanted to give up teaching from my parents, ‘can’t you just do music in the evenings or weekends’, that kind of thing. Mum had been a professional singer with the BBC singers in the 1950s so she knew the highs and lows of life as a professional musician.”
Those early days were tough. Without the support of his brother Christopher, who was his manager, Simon doesn’t believe he’d have made headway.
“I was fortunate to meet Ross Anderson too, a masterful musician and generous soul who taught me so much in the early days. He has played on many of the songs on my album and it was some of the last recordings he made. He sadly died of asbestos related cancer last October. I dedicate the album to him, my mum and dad and to Maurice White.
“Ross He owned a studio in Kingly Street in London. I started recording my own stuff there with my sister Joanna. That music got us signed to Chrysalis Records by Peter Robinson who owns the label, Dome Records, where my album is released - definitely circle of life stuff.”
Simon’s song City Heat was liked by Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B. They started making music together and the rest is history.
Writing songs and bringing something to life that never existed before is his passion. He finds the process of crafting and shaping a song - from conception, through arranging to final production - endlessly fascinating.
He has been a key member of Soul II Soul from the very beginning, co-writing their two Grammy-winning songs Back To Life (However Do You Want Me) and African Dance. He’s worked on all their albums except one, producing and co-writing many of their hit singles. He still performs regularly with the band at festivals and on major TV appearances.
“It’s a joy, a creative hub; a beautiful, talented fluid bunch of souls who come and go. But Jazzie B, Caron Wheeler and I are the constants. Being number one in the UK and USA with Back to Life was a highlight. We’d like to make a new Soul II Soul record. We’re getting ideas together right now. Perhaps 2018.”
Simon’s enjoyed success as a writer, producer and remixer with the likes of Chante Moore, for whom he produced the Top 10 RnB hit Love’s Taken Over; Brenda Russell, Maxi Priest, George Michael, Robert Palmer, Johnny Gill, Masters At Work and Shabba Ranks.
“I feel so much gratitude to the amazing people I’ve collaborated and created with over the years, who I all now call friends.”
Look To The Sky sees him reunited with Soul II Soul’s Caron Wheeler on lead single Morning Love as well as with Jazzie B and Moore. Priest guests on two tracks - Sunshine Girl and When You Love Someone which features contributions from legendary Jamaican rhythm section Sly and Robbie. Jamaican singer Nadine Sutherland, a Bob Marley discovery who was the first signing to his Tuff Gong label at the age of 11, performs on Love Comes Back To You.
Why release it now?
“I’ve always been fulfilled and content being a songwriter and producer but I felt I had some great songs that may not ever see the light of day so it was time to step out from behind the curtain,” says Simon.
“It’s very diverse. Maurice of Earth Wind and Fire was my mentor, I was blessed to work with him in the early 1990s and he talked about ‘spectrum music’. I’ve tried to adopt that approach - there’s soul, funk, pop, reggae, jazzfunk, house, disco, spiritual. It’s a coat of many colours. The album’s vibe is uplifting and reflective. Maurice talked about EWF’s music being medicine, I tried to do the same.”
His main writing collaborator, who sings lead vocals on Rocket Ship, Fire On Fire and a number of other tracks is Lain Gray who was originally a member of UK vocal group Nu Colours.
“I co-wrote or wrote all the tracks except When You Love Someone, one of two Maxi Priest songs on there. Lain sings lead on five songs. He’s a powerhouse singer and writer - also guitarist and bassist.”
The album was mixed by Sting’s longtime sound engineer Donal Hodgson and mastered at London’s Abbey Road studios.
“Donal is a master craftsman and a diamond geeza to boot, no surprise that Sting loves his work. Mastering at Abbey Road with Miles Showell was the final cherry. Miles gave the record that overall vintage warm fatness that I wanted.”
As an experienced songwriter, any advice for aspiring artists?
“I usually start with bass lines and the groove. The house must be built on rock not shifting sands. Then comes melody. As Quincy Jones once said, melody is the voice of God.”