Derek Lawrence

Derek Lawrence, Deep Purple’s first producer, deal maker, guiding light and without whom… died last week, May 13th 2020.

Derek Lawrence Shades of Deep Purple

It’s taken me a few days to get to grips with the news and put a few words together for this site. It is sometimes easy to overlook Mk 1’s contributions to the band’s catalogue but as AllMusic says of their debut; “at various points the electricity and the beat just surge forth in ways that were startlingly new in the summer of 1968…” And much of that was down to the man behind the control desk doing his best with a stingy budget.

Like many of us who got into Deep Purple through the early Seventies, the discovery of the band’s early history and career was something of a gradual voyage of discovery, given the limited resources at hand in those days.  One of the few places to glean information were album sleeve notes and it would certainly be here that I and others first spotted Derek Lawrence production credits decorating the back and labels of the early albums (or “A Derek Lawrence Production” as it rather proudly proclaimed on the Book Of Taliesyn sleeve) and singles.  His name then cropped up again as we delved further back into the earlier careers of the musicians (I can still remember the shop where I managed to pick up the almost mythical Blackmore solo single in London and again saw the Derek Lawrence credit). And even though Derek’s name had gone from the Deep Purple sleeves by the time I first got into them, his name appeared on strange projects like the Green Bullfrog album and, as we were well into the group, on Wishbone Ash recordings. Though this isn’t the place for a long listing of his production work, Discogs has over 150 listed and even a quick glance shows that’s not complete.
I’d say it was in the early Eighties working for labels like Connoisseur that our paths actually crossed.  There was a reason; while Derek himself was rarely sentimental about his work, even somewhat (or very!) self-deprecating at times, he did like to see it treated properly. He had also been shrewd enough to negotiate a producer royalty as well, so always liked a new Mk 1 release coming out.

Deep Purple Hush Derek Lawrence

I guess we must have passed muster (not everyone did) as when RPM began Derek was quick to lend a hand on the first CD reissues of some of his early productions and had sensibly kept ownership of a lot of the sessions.  Though I doubt whether he ever expected to be quizzed at long length years later over some of the more obscure ones, or see some unknown soul recording quickly become a sought after collector’s piece once he let slip Ritchie Blackmore had done the guitar work.  My RPM partner Roger even decided to help broker a four CD series of Derek’s early work, which appeared via Line Records in Germany (it being a little too borderline even for RPM!), full of amazing obscurities (including this fascinating  alternate take on Mk 2’s first single!).

Derke Lawrence Statement

Derek was equally hands on for projects like the pioneering Rock Profile CDs on Connoisseur and the Blackmore Sessions CD Take It for RPM.  But it was only when I got to work on the anniversary reissues of the first three Deep Purple albums for EMI that we got to chat in more detail about his working methods, and the difficulties in turning out an album in a weekend.  More importantly perhaps, it reinforced the clear feeling that without Derek in place in late 1967, while Deep Purple would probably still have happened, it seems very unlikely that they would have made much headway during 1968 and seen the manager’s investment money run out quite soon.  It was Derek’s connections and contacts, built up over four years with EMI, publishers here and industry big-wigs in America (where he had been licensing productions already) which actually got things moving big time. And while Mk 1 struggled internally after a year or so, and the American side hit the rails due to record label issues, it showed both the band and managers that this was clearly a project worth sticking with. And Derek was there as Mk 2 made their first secretive foray into the studio.  He also kept in contact with some of the band, and was indeed invited down the last time Purple played London as a guest.

Derek Lawrence-Ainsworth

Needless to say I was always keen to quiz Derek at any opportunity and he was kind enough to answer questions from fans when I rounded these up for him once (the results are on the web site archive). I think he was quite surprised at the level of interest still, and it certainly gave us an opportunity to show how much his early contributions to the band meant to some people.  He invited me to drop by when we were using studios in St. Ives as he lived not so far away, which we did on a number of occasions.  Derek had kept very little in the way of memorabilia and pictures, indeed he was often calling me up to see if I had a picture of him in the studio with Deep Purple or the musicians for some journalist or other. Sadly not, he simply didn’t bother having such things taken at the time, not being much into the whole star thing. I was reduced once trying to freeze frame something off a bit of old footage shot at Apple studios when he and Jon Lord were in there to chat about a project. It was unusable but he did find me the shot above which shows Derek on the left and Barry Ainsworth, in the studio just prior to working of the Shades album (a little tribute to which is on the site here).
In more recent times we kept in touch by phone, often once a month or so, to natter and catch up on music industry gossip (he was a bit old-school, a text message or email to him would more often than not see him call instead).  Derek would do this with any number of people and so was extraordinarily well informed about goings on.  Nor did he ever really leave the business, always seeming to have some project on the go, either a new singer he’d heard, or being sought out by young bands keen to get his advice and perhaps technical help.  I’ve got three copies of a CD on my desk now left from a box he had sent up so I could punt them out to a few metal labels in Japan where we had contacts.  And his interests covered all types of music; not long before John Coletta died he and Derek had been working on a dance music project for the Spanish club market of all things (though he spared me a CD of that!).
Another of Derek’s pet subjects when talking Purple was a legendary take of Hard Road which he said was one of his career highlights, listening as Blackmore ripped through it doing each guitar solo at a time in the style of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, etc.  Sadly I doubt it has survived as we’ve investigated every surviving Mk 1 studio reel out there, but never say never.
I did eventually get him to start thinking about an autobiography some years ago and Derek make some progress, though still sort of doubted anyone would be that interested.  After I’d doubled up reading about him encountering a pyjama-clad Joe Meek running down Holloway Road one morning in the rush-hour shouting that aliens were after him, he did suggest I set to work editing it for him and would then write some more. I got to work only to find he suddenly got sidetracked instead into starting a police procedural novel set in the Seventies which he thought would have more commercial appeal (and based apparently on mates he’d had who worked in the force).

With Derek’s passing the last real link with the support network of industry insiders and managers which helped bring Deep Purple into being is broken, a link without which I doubt it would have lasted very long. And on a personal level myself (and Ann) will really miss those phone calls.  Let’s hope that where ever he goes next, they’ve got 8-track installed.

2 Responses to “Derek Lawrence”

  1. Chloe Lewis Says:

    I would like to send my deepest condolences to Derek’s family and friends. A great loss to the industry, a legend and a gentleman. I was lucky enough to meet Derek when I was starting out as a recording artist. I was only 16 at the time and had a bad experience with a producer in North London who was only interested in monetary gain. Derek pointed this out to me and sent me his tracks. Unfortunately I didn’t take up Derek’s offer as I had little confidence left in the industry and went to university instead. Thank you Derek for believing in me. Rest in peace. Chloe Lewis, South Wales

    • simon robinson Says:

      Thanks Chloe, Derek was always talking to young musicians and encouraging them, and in some cases doing demos and things. He never really lost that enthusiasm for finding new talent. I’ve still got a pile of CDs here from bits he would send up to get my feedback (mostly in my case rockier music), or trying to push for deals.

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