KEN LAWS – OBITUARY BY LINDSAY SORRELL
Kenneth Clifford Laws was born on 30th March 1951, just outside the City of London, where he was initially raised by his mother and father together with his older sister Val. His great fascination for music began at a very young age, when he would drive the family crazy by drumming on everything in sight with knitting needles. He drew on many influences, some as a result of his parents' musical tastes, including classical music, Hollywood musicals, The Shadows and The Peddlers; a single by Lonnie Donegan being the first recording he ever purchased.
Eventually the family moved out of London to live in the leafier suburb of Cheam, Surrey, and Ken joined his first band, named "Prism" around 1964, which his father eventually managed. Having set his heart on a career in music, after leaving school he landed a job in the trade department at Southern Music Publishers in Denmark Street, at the hub of London's "Tin Pan Alley". Events later lead to Ken obtaining a break as assistant sound engineer working with Paul Holland at Southern Studios at 8 Denmark Street, London, where recordings including "Catch the Wind" and "San Francisco" were made. It was there that Ken first worked with many fascinating and diverse artistes, including Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera, Elaine Paige and Keith Mitchell (making a recording of Shakespearean sonnets!) to name but a few. Ken also struck up friendships with sound engineers at many other London studios, where he was a frequent visitor.
The well-known Giaconda Café close by was, at the time, a hive of musical energy and it was there that Ken first met Richard Hudson, John Ford and Mickey Keen. He was drumming with a band on stage in the London production of the musical "Hair" when he was asked to join Hudson Ford as drummer, a period of his life which he enjoyed immensely. He played on several Hudson Ford albums, including "Free Spirit", "Worlds Collide" and "Daylight", and on hit singles including "Burn Baby Burn" and "Floating in the Wind". Ken appeared on a wide diversity of television shows including "The Old Grey Whistle Test", "Top of the Pops", "Geordie Scene", "Crackerjack" and the German tv show "Musiklaaden", and toured extensively whilst a member of Hudson Ford. He remained friendly with other members of the band, for all of whom he had great respect, and frequently expressed his gratitude for the help and kindness given to him over the years, particularly by Hud, whom he said "took him under his wing". Another great friend of whom Ken frequently spoke is Terry Cooke (aka Cassidy), formerly a member of the Monks and a current member of High Society, along with Hud. It was a great wish of Ken's that Hudson Ford's albums may one day be released on CD, as was once planned; hopefully that may soon come to fruition.
Following the demise of Hudson Ford, Ken joined a band called Ginger, at the suggestion of his good friend and musical colleague Mickey Keen (Hudson Ford's guitarist) who was then managing the Eagle Records label with whom Ginger had a deal. The band had chart success with a single entitled "Blind Date" but folded soon after.
In 1973 my Strawbs fan friend Christine and I got to know Ken whilst he was playing with Hudson Ford; we were invited to Southern Studios where we had great fun whilst Ken attempted to mix several songs, including a track he and a friend (Rod Hanreck) had recorded called "Stormy Weather". Many years later, following Strawbs' 30 year reunion in Chiswick Park in August 1998, he and Mickey Keen were in the Hogarth pub following the concert, together with Hud, John Ford and the majority of those who had performed at the concert in various Strawbs' line-ups; shortly after that Ken at last sent me a recording of "Stormy Weather" as had been promised over 24 years earlier!
In recent years Ken put together various recordings, including songs he had both written and sung. He also recorded a pilot radio show featuring music specifically from film scores, with the intention of one day approaching radio stations to ascertain whether such a programme would be likely to generate interest. Ken always maintained a strong desire to make music, and during late 2006 he was delighted to do some recording at a studio close to his home in Atlanta. Unfortunately, ill health thwarted many of his ambitions throughout his life, but his love for music, particularly film scores, always remained intense. Ken greatly admired works of many composers including Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith and David Raksin; however he cited the Hungarian Niklos Rozsa as his favourite composer.
In 2003 he was delighted to be married to his wife Maryanne, and together they have been living in Atlanta. In July 2005 Ken became very ill, shortly after returning to the USA following a trip to Singapore with Maryanne. Soon afterwards Ken was diagnosed with having a very serious form of malignant brain tumour. I mentioned to him that it might be a good idea to put some of his memories down on paper, as he was constantly recounting fascinating tales of his musical career. He said he'd often thought of writing a book but needed a "prod"; and so we began chatting via Skype a couple of times a week during the summer of 2006, which made it easy for me to type as we talked, "hands free". Ken really enjoyed discussing experiences he'd had during his life, including the many ups and downs, and our intention was to resume working on completing the book following my final year of studies, at the beginning of June 2007. Sadly that will now not be possible, though I have a collection of Ken's memories which I shall attempt to put into order, as best I am able, and pass on to Maryanne in due course. Hopefully Ken's memories will eventually reach a wider audience too, for it was a great wish of his that events he considered the most memorable of his life be recorded for others one day to read.
Maryanne, Ken's wife writes:
From myself and Sarah (Ken's mom), I wish to thank all of you who emailed, called and made expressions of concern. It's hard to think of what to say at a time like this, but I have found strength that there are many people grieving along with me. Hud, John, Chris and Mickey have all contacted me and I can assure you, they are just as shocked and in grief as we all are at this sad news.
Ken was the kindest and most generous man I have ever met. He made me laugh, and comforted me in the dark days of his illness. Right before he died, he assured me that he would always be watching over me and that I didn't have anything to worry about. He was there to dry my tears, listen to me when I would vent, and when it was all said and done at the end of the day, hold me and tell me things were going to be OK.
It is likely there will memorial service in London later on in the year - a celebration of the life and of the kind of man Ken was: talented musician, great friend to many and to me, a man that gave me the best 3 1/2 years of my entire life and who brought me great joy and happiness.
Thank you so much to everyone and when you go home tonight, tell that special person you love them!
Pictures from Ken and Maryanne's wedding by Dick Greener
I first met Ken Laws in Denmark Street where he was working For Southern Music Publishing and I was recording an album with Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera. Ken would probably have been able to tell you the exact date and time of that meeting. His memory for such detail was amazing, as was his ability both as drummer and engineer.
During my early years with the Strawbs Ken became a very successful engineer and when John and I started out as Hudson Ford he not only produced some of our songs but became our drummer as well. He was phenomenal at doing both. Hudson Ford toured extensively and Ken was a pleasure to travel with and an inspiration to play alongside. His dedication to his music was total and his professionalism never wavered.
But Ken was far more than a talented musician to Elaine and me. He was a loyal friend for over thirty five years, a friend whose great company and sense of humour we enjoyed immensely. He was a man of great scope and varied interests. He was a real film buff and loved the old Ealing comedies, especially those starring Alistair Sim. There was very little he didn't know about early film scores and he was passionate and extremely knowledgeable about classical music. He was also a great correspondent and never failed to keep in touch wherever he was in the world.
Ken was refreshingly enthusiastic and followed his interests keenly. He would instigate visits to various drum clinics and on one occasion many years ago he took me along to a lecture by a certain Richard Dawkins whom he admired greatly, well before Dawkins' meteoric rise to fame. But perhaps my fondest memories are of the trips we regularly made together in recent years to 'Friday Night Is Music Night' at the Golders Green Hippodrome. Only Ken could have come up with that idea!
Ken truly was a gentle giant. He was kind and funny, thoughtful and courteous – and he loved to talk!
It's good to think that our friendship lasted so many years. I hope it meant as much to him as it did to me.
You were a great guy, Ken. Elaine and I will miss you.
Dick Greener writes:
I met Ken many times, often with Hud and Terry Cassidy, when he lived in North London (in a house which I pass most days as I drive home). He was always a charming and amusing fellow to be around, with a dry sense of humour and ever-present sense of fun.
He was a consummate musician, with what I think the recording industry often refer to as "golden ears" – interested to the highest degree in the sound quality of what he was listening to and producing – a legacy from his days in the recording studios. The sound system in his flat was excellent quality and carefully adjusted to provide the best sound imaginable.
I was privileged to be present at his wedding to Maryanne, a splendid day out in Blackpool, where Ken was living at the time. Ken and Maryanne had known each other in the 70s but lost touch, and I'd been able to put them back in contact with each other through the magic of the internet. A whirlwind romance, but a happy one, nonetheless. They were only married for a few years, but I'm so glad that they had that time together.
All those who knew him were deeply fond of Ken, one of the gentlest people I have ever known. I know Hudson Ford/Strawbs fans will want to send their sympathy and condolences to his wife Maryanne and mother Sarah. Please feel free to send those messages to and I will pass them on.
Comments from Rod Hanreck
I was stunned and deeply saddened to find out by chance that Ken Laws has passed away.
I first met Ken in 1972. I had just signed with Southern Music and he was engineering in the bowels of their Denmark Street offices.
We recorded several demos of my songs for Barry Kingston, amongst them a simple rendition of Stormy Weather. Somehow, Ken heard something in it and dedicated his, and the studios, spare time to giving it the 'Ken Laws production treatment'. He called in Mickey Keene for the guitar solo and Graham Prescott to arrange and play the violin and acoustic guitar (both voluntarily), with Ken playing drums.
What he turned out was as close to the Spector "wall of Sound" that I've ever heard and a friendship that lasted many years. The master tape was damaged and we tried to reproduce the feel several years later for Blue Inc records but could never match the spontaneity and ingenious sounds that he had produced from the Studer 8 track and Southern's echo plate.
There was no such thing as a 'demo' for Ken. Any sound he produced held production values that were good enough to release in their own right, however simple.
Ken's favourite sound tweak was the "Nurdlegrunge", his code for patience and ingenuity.
"How did we get that sound, Ken?", I'd say.
"Just applied the Nurdlegrunger", he'd reply.
"How was the vocal?"
"Average!" - (which meant, 'it's a wrap').
He was a consumate drummer. His talent not only carried the beat, but the entire feel and heart of a song.
In 1978 I sang and hummed my song, Stay, to him (I couldn't play the chords on the guitar). We recorded it at Vineyard studios, Ken producing. The flowing drum rythmns made that production. Mick Dyche's guitar solo came straight out of Ken's head. Chris Parrens, John Ford and Graham Prescott came to play on it. They were friends and all respected him. It was our best work together. I played it to Deke Arlon who said, "That is the best production I've heard this year".
We saw each other during the 80's. Ken passed on his enthusiasm for film scores to me. We worked on a 'Eurovision hopeful' together. We lost touch in 2001.
I always thought we'd meet up again but we did not.
If there is a Heaven then Ken will be there, applying a little Nurdlegrunge to the harps.
My deepest sympathies to his widow and his family. He will be missed.