John Dawson – Professional Photographer

I’m John

Hello, my name is John Dawson. I am 52 (I think), scrub that, I am now! 

I am a professional photographer.

I am the youngest of three, the eldest being my sister Vivienne and my brother, Steven.

And I love music.

Born in September 1962 at Oldchurch Hospital (now apartments), Romford, Essex.

I grew up in an era of “old school ” traditions like riding a bike with no brakes without a crash helmet, drinking copious amounts of Coca Cola and eating Mars bars before telling my mum at tea time,  ” I’m not very hungry”  and ” oh no, not fillet steak again!” (my dad was a butcher).

My dad’s parents came from the East End of London, and under my Grandfather’s wisdom, decided to move to Essex during World War Two. Now this sounds like a sensible move until you realise that they relocated to the bottom of Hacton Drive, Hornchurch, which was directly connected to Hornchurch Airfield, one of the most bombed airfields by the Nazis of the Second World War!

World War II - Spitfire

I naturally grew up with an interest in modern history, as my dad would show me around the airfield and go into graphic detail about events unfolding during the Battle of Britain. My love for aircraft has stayed with me all my life and I am particularly proud of my Mum’s dad, as he was on the ground crew, working on Spitfires in the Royal Air Force (RAF).

My dad was a terrific artist, he loved to do pen and ink drawings, and always encouraged the artist in me. He had the biggest hands, gnarled by years of being in the Butchery trade, yet he always appreciated music and art. Later on in life he took to playing the organ and I would be transfixed, looking at these big sausages creating “Wedding of the Painted Doll” whilst stomping wildly with his size 11 butchers boot and the odd (but frequent) “sod it!”, as he did not quite complete the movement he was anticipating on the keyboard. This was, however, always passed off to my inexperienced ears as “Jazz improvisation”.

He was overjoyed when my brother started playing guitar and so when I saw this encouragement, I’d thought I would get in on some of this action, especially when my dad would throw the odd pound at my brother for playing a tune he had learnt earlier that day. So it was praise and cash that started my interest in playing the guitar, art would have to wait.

When I was about thirteen that I got together with some classmates and we formed a band. Michael Casswell was on guitar, I was on guitar and my friend Paul Underwood was on bass. Paul, bless him, we soon found out, was one of the most tone deaf people you could ever get, so we sacked him! (Well it is very cut throat in the music business, better to learn early I say).

Paul now lives in Sydney, Australia and we still laugh about his “Pete Best” experience.

Soon after I took the natural progression to go onto bass guitar as my brother was already a bass player in a band (The Bearded Clam Band, don’t ask). We then signed up Matthew Irvin on a contract of weekly Mars bars and highballs from Fred’s ice cream van outside The Royal Liberty School (yes it was my school). All we had to find now was a drummer.

John Dawson - guitar

Our guitar tutor, Terry Hayes, had a good friend and professional drum tutor, Bob Armstrong. Bob recommended one of his pupils called Steve Flame, yes that is his real name!

By this time Mike, Matthew and I had turned 14, but Steve was 13 and came from another school. This was an alien us back then in the 70s, but we were willing to overcome the divide of our conflicting schools, and give him an audition. He turned up on a Saturday and set up in my parent’s garage. I never forget the look that Mike, Matthew and I shared when he started playing, he was brilliant!

“Split Grass” was born!

Michael Casswell is still a professional guitarist playing with people like Brian May (lead guitarist from Queen), Billy Gibbons (guitarist from ZZ Top), Steve Lukather (best known for his work with rock band Toto), Joe Bonamassa, Tommy Emmanuel etc.

I have just finished doing the photography for Mike’s album ‘Complaints about the noise’ , which is a whole new story in itself, more about that later.

Complaints about the noise - cd cover

So, that brings me on to the Romford song!

The Romford Song

There were about 15 of us in the flat I was renting at the time in Romford.

In the corner of the room was my Apple Mac set up with a music program called Logic. Mike Baker, a good friend and fantastic musician, was playing guitar and putting down a riff on my computer on my acoustic guitar. This is the opening music to the Romford Song that then ensued.

I suggested that we wrote a song about Romford, as most of the people in the room were from Romford. A light hearted, nostalgic song and certainly NO SWEARING… I wanted to play this to my mum!

We only had the one guitar riff at this point but ideas started to come thick and fast. I came up with the first line “from Liverpool Street, to Chadwell Heath, I keep gnashing my teeth, can’t wait to get on the streets of Romford” and that set the tone for the rest of the song.

I then put a bass track down (on my 1976 Fretless Fender Precision for all you guitar geeks), and

Mike put on some lovely little Stratocaster (that’s another guitar) tremolo bendy, ‘soundy’ bits.

A line I am particularly proud of is the fact I got to rhyme ‘Ludwigshafen’.

Ludwigshafen is a town in Germany that is twinned with Romford; how lucky do they feel living there?!

“You are always laughing in Ludwigshafen, it’s twinned with Romford, now, that’s a bargain, Ludwigshafen!”

I could go on (‘really John?’) with a break down on all the lyrics, as they do make sense in a ‘Romfordian’ way, but I thought that I would save that for another day.

So, I set about the arrangement of the song and throughout the next couple of weeks, remember I do have a day job at Imagethirst, I put on other instruments. Unfortunately I don’t have a full orchestra, they wouldn’t fit in my flat and it would be very hard to keep making cups of tea for them all day. Incidentally, Pete Wingfield, 1980’s record producer, once said that I made the best cup of tea he has ever had….. Box ticked!

So I used the software strings on the computer as well as a basic drum track and then I just needed a couple more touches to finish the song.

Fast-forwarding, it took about two years of my friends nagging me about the song for me to finally relent to put something on YouTube. It was a complete surprise to me how many people liked my song. “How can people relate to a ‘Romfordian’ song” I thought. They can’t know about the Dolphin Centre?”

I was confused, but very happy that someone outside the London Borough of Havering, could relate…

The Romford song has almost 70 000 hits on YouTube now and I’m in talks with Freddie Stevenson on doing an all bells and whistles video for charity. More on that later. For now, just enjoy the Romford Song.