Music

Jamie Lawson: "It was a dream come true - and I thought I'd blown it"

Opening for Ed Sheeran and upstaging One Direction? Chart-topping singer Jamie Lawson wasn't expecting that!

One Direction’s farewell tour was the most anticipated music event of 2015. Thousands of screaming fans waited for hours to see their pop idols for possibly the final time – yet instead of the energetic boyband, the first person who ventured out on stage was the 39-year-old, slightly scruffy Jamie Lawson from Plymouth.

“I expected not to be overwhelmingly liked,” admits Lawson. “But they were fantastic and seemed to get it. It took me a while to work out why that was but having watched One Direction quite a few times over the time I was with them, their songs have a quality. You can break down any of them to acoustic guitar if you want to. There are a lot of music lovers in that crowd.”

I remember Ed Sheeran telling me on the night he was about to sign with Atlantic

It has been a long and winding road for Lawson. He’s spent years on the circuit, playing small gigs. In 2011, one of Lawson’s songs, Wasn’t Expecting That, became a hit in Ireland after a radio station came across a video Lawson posted on YouTube.

“I thought, this was my time,” he says. “I was going to break out, it would be a hit in Ireland then it would travel across to the UK and Europe and maybe even the US. I’m still not really sure why it didn’t happen.”

After this false start, Lawson contemplated a career as a wedding singer to pay the rent until a phone call 18 months ago changed his life. Ginger pop titan Ed Sheeran, whom Lawson had met a few years ago while they were both playing in the same pubs, asked him to open his concerts at Dublin’s 82,000 capacity Croke Park.

“I first met Ed five years ago. We were doing a Christmas show together at a place called The Bedford in Balham,” Lawson says. “This was just before he took off. I remember him telling me on the night he was about to sign with Atlantic. There were probably about 150 people, if that.”

Now Ed Sheeran regularly sells out stadiums – the first solo artist armed with little more than a guitar to do so. The story came full circle when Sheeran chose Lawson to be the first signing to his newly established Gingerbread Man record label.

Lawson’s eponymous album released last month topped the charts (pushing Sheeran to second place), propelled by repeated airplay of the resurrected Wasn’t Expecting That – about a couple who cannot believe their luck in finding each other. It is a happy song with a sad ending – or if you have seen the viral video, a sad song with a devastating ending. “It does seem to make people cry, which is not especially my intention!” Lawson laughs.

It is not just the UK in tears, the song is currently a hit in Australia and South Africa, and is starting to bother charts across Europe. The day before we speak, Lawson had paid a flying visit to LA to play the song on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

“It’s weird, when I wrote the song I thought if I could get this on Ellen’s show that would be it – audience-wise they’re perfect for a song like Wasn’t Expecting That, so in a way it was a dream come true.”

For what was the fulfilment of a long-term ambition, it is incredible Lawson did not show any nerves.

“Well, it’s good I didn’t seem nervous because I didn’t think it went so well,” Lawson says. “My hands were busy, so the shakes went elsewhere and my feet were going. That’s what was going through my head as I’m playing – why are my feet shaking? I’m also going, keep calm, keep calm.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igRm6PHcWwQ

“I remember getting towards the last few lines and thinking, I’m already at the end? Have I missed out a verse? I was freaking out, I thought I’d ruined it.”

But delivering a flawless performance while filled with doubts can only be expected after spending years on the road.

Jamie Lawson’s latest album is out now. He will tour the UK in January

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