Shaun Lawton

Shaun Lawton

Early Days

Shaun Lawton (born Sydney Shaun Lawton, 1941) an English playwright, poet, actor and singer/songwriter born in the iron-ore mining village of New Marske in North Yorkshire. In 1944 his mother took him and his sick baby sister down to friends in Brighton. On the way they were caught in V1 and V2 raids in London, which was being evacuated, and had to take shelter. When the war was over they returned home to the north. From age 10 one of his chores was to gather seacoal from the beach with his father during the hard winter months. This was a fine black coal-grit dumped on the beach by the turning tide. This generally meant very early mornings in the dark as the tide was going out, often in blizzards and bitter north-easters, before others got there first and took it all away to sell on the streets.
His college football team was coached by Brian Clough and he was impressive enough to be offered a tryout for Middlesbrough Juniors as goalkeeper. He didn't take up the offer and because his parents were unable to finance his further education which meant he had to leave college prematurely, he instead took up a job in the petrochemical industry at Wilton ICI where he stayed for the next eleven years.
During this period, particularly the long night shifts, he began to write poetry and short stories. He also made several attempts at running the notorious Lyke Wake Walk - 41 miles across the hostile terrain of the North York Moors, finally getting his time down to an acceptable 8 1/2 hours. The long miles across barren moor helped to stimulate his fantasy. He was also responsible for starting a flying saucer scare, arousing a lot of interest. He then assumed the role of amateur astronomer and contacted the local press, expounding his theories on the possibility of life on other planets. Suitably convinced they printed his explanations in the evening editions.

New Beginnings

In 1970 he moved to London and took a job as a laboratory technician at the Polytechnic of Central London (now University of Westminster). It was while he was there that he began writing song lyrics as well as poetry but it was his single-handed construction of an oversized model of one-and-a-half turns of the DNA helix out of pieces of plastic for an Open-Day exhibition that caused the most comment and lined him up as a research assistant. From 1971 on he began performing his poetry spontaneously at folk clubs, bars and colleges, sometimes warming up audiences for star performers such as Noel Murphy of the Dubliners. He occasionally "gigged" with fellow poets Pete Brown and Liverpool Poet Brian Patton. Even then he resisted suggestions he get his poetry published, maintaining that he only wrote for his own performances and not to be read. It was the performance and not the reading that for him took the poetry off the page and brought it to life. But, in 1973, at the behest of local talent scout Andy Gould who at the time worked for Radio Luxembourg, he wrote an English lyric for a French song which went on to win the Eurovision Song Contest for Luxembourg! He wasn't expecting it as it was intended to be a joke but the song Wonderful Dream, sung by Anne-Marie David, which for him didn't match up to his other lyrics, entered the UK charts and enabled him to leave his steady employment for good and become part of the underground music scene as a rock-poet. Embarrassed at the song's success he changed his name to Gabe Rainbow in time for the US release - it got a "rave" review in Billboard. So, to distance himself even further he went through several name changes, including Abbey Swine and Arfur Sparkle. In 1973, together with rock musicians Steve Waller, Dave Clague, Tom Compton and Matt Irving he turned a desolate pub, The Two Brewers at Clapham North, into one of the hottest rock pubs south of the river. Many "names" came along for a "blow". It was a hang-out for Rory Gallagher and Kevin Coyne while Lawton provided the comedy and over-the-top rock 'n' roll, exploiting the flaws in his singing to the full.

His first complete One-Man-Show of performance poetry was set up for him by Kevin Coyne in May 1975 at the Oval House Theatre, Kennington Oval in south London. It was better attended than anticipated and extra seats had to be put in. A Royal Court Theatre director who attended the show suggested a career in acting which eventually led Lawton to enrol in a course in drama at East 15. He followed this by joining Peter Gill's 1977 production of "The Cherry Orchard" at London's Riverside Studios.

In 1976, after three years in the writing, he completed his semi-autobiographical play for the stage: Desperado Corner.
Ned Chaillet wrote in The Times on 17th Jan 1981:

"...Mr. Lawton's special achievement is to signal the deeper feelings through the obscenity and the joking."

On Jan 19th. 1981 Cordelia Oliver wrote in The Guardian: "
...those passages which are genuinely moving are those in which Lawton has found expression for the bitterness, the anger or the bewilderment which together drive the play along."

And Trevor Griffiths writing in The Scotsman on 19th Jan 1981 summed up:
"Savagely funny, but not for the squeamish"


In 1978, he moved to West Berlin where, after six months at Peter Stein's Schaubühne Theater with Robert Wilson, he decided to stay.

During the 1980's he not only appeared in a number of English language theatre productions in West Berlin, he also kept up his music performances with local Berlin musicians as well as his UK friends. As anti-glitter rocker "Arfur Sparkle" or "Shaun Lawton & The Flying Pigs" they toured around Berlin, Hamburg and wine festivals on the Mosel. In November 1989 they played the "Quasimodo Jazz Keller" as the Berlin Wall was falling down. Time in another fit of stage presence.

Currently he is on tour as the magician Merlin in the Purcell and Dryden semi-opera, King Arthur, with the Berlin based Lautten Compagney. The tour takes in historical baroque theatres in Germany, such as the Markgräflichestheater in Bayreuth as well as the Theatre Royal in Bury St. Edmunds.
Most recently he sang for Rita Kantimir-Thomä after the International Women's Day Awards in Berlin at which she received (Germany's) 'Woman of the Year Award' for her continued commitment to protecting refugees.

He continues to write poetry and songs and acts in theatre, television and films (in English as well as German) including the upcoming film John Rabe, alongside Ulrich Tukur, Steve Buscemi, Daniel Brühl, Anne Consigny, Dagmar Manzel and Gottfried John. He is also a busy voice artist.

He is together with trauma specialist Sibylle Rothkegel who set up treatment centres for torture and war victims in the Balkans in the 1990’s. She holds a post at the International Academy (INA) at the Free University of Berlin, and she evaluates UNHCR projects on Gender Specific Violence (GSV) in refugee camps in Africa and South America. She champions the fight against the practice of female genital mutilation.
In 1998 she was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz - the highest civilian order in Germany.

Musical Achievements

# 1972 Signed to Hazy Music. Several ballads recorded at the newly opend Pathway Studios, sung by Phil Chilton.
# 1973 Wonderful Dream (Lawton/Morgan) (Tu Te Reconnaitras) Eurovision Song Contest
# 1973 Wonderful Dream on first K-Tel Album
# 1973 Wonderful Dream reaches 13 in UK Top 20.
# 1973 Anne-Marie David's album Wonderful Dream was released.
# 1973 Abbey Swine & Los Domestos - (Pig Rock, Swine Fever, The Legend of Abbey Swine) together with Pete Barraclough, Mike King and Leon Anderson - later a drummer with The Cure.
# 1974 and another personality change, this time to anti-glitter star Arfur Sparkle - The Rock & Roll Shepherd. The Arfur Sparkle Story (ASS) recorded at Scorpio Studios b/w Watch The Old Man Trying To Get Around (Pete Smith). Bud Handlesman of Punch drew a comic strip of Arfur Sparkle.
# 1974 More songs recorded with Steve Waller who went on to tour as lead guitarist with Manfred Mann's Earthband.
# 1974 Released from Hazy Music. Album and tour offers from Simon Draper at Virgin - Steve turns down due to other commitments. Song catalogue signed to Virgin.
# 1975 One-Man Show Blue Suede Poetry at the Oval House Theatre, Kennington. Mercury Theatre, Notting Hill. Pete Kerr and Mike Finesilver of Pathway Studios offered to record the show.
# 1975 - 1979 Acting break.
# 1979 - 1992 Many gigs with The Flying Pigs: Berlin, Hamburg and wine festivals on the Mosel.
# 1989 Sweet 16 is Rocking Still for the film Es War Einmal.


# 2000 English voice on E Nomini's Lord's Prayer - (techno/Bible) with the choir of the Deutsche Opera. Also released on the album "Das Testament" as bonus track in English
# Annually: Announcer for UNICEF's Cinema For Peace Gala at Berlin's Konzerthaus during the Berlinale Film Festival.
# Lettre Ulysses Award: reads excerpts from the finalists.
# Museum Audio Guides.


# 2008 John Rabe
# 2007 I'd Like to Die a Thousand Times
# 2006 Auf ewig und einen Tag
# 2006 Elementary Particles
# 2006 Final Contract: Death on Delivery
# 2005 Æon Flux
# 2004 Beyond the Sea
# 2002 Clairvoyant
# 2001 Tunnel, Der )
# 1999 Doppeltes Spiel mit Anne
# 1999 Mordkommission "Kalte Liebe"
# 1995 Pan aka "Two Green Feathers"
# 1994 Im Namen des Gesetzes "Verraten und verkauft"
# 1990 Dr. M
# 1987 Helsinki Napoli All Night Long
# 1985 Wild Geese II (1985)
# 1983 White Star
# 1982 Blood Link (1982)
# 1981 Nach Mitternacht
# 1981 Possession
# 1981 Charlotte
# 1979 The Great Riviera Bank Robbery

External links

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