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Interview in DRUM USA 2008


Crossing The Great Divide;

Interview by: Ian Croft

Hybrid styles come easy to the former UK docker whose musical credentials cover a dazzling array of genres

The all-encompassing view from Pete Lockett’s North London top floor flat is as cinematic and epic as his musical CV, with the climb up the curving flights of stairs to his flat bearing testimony to his hectic scheduling, with the many scuff marks along the walls from numerous trips up and down with his vast array of percussion instruments demonstrating the constant demand for his musical expertise.
Lockett’s CV stretches to many, many pages and involves a cross section of artists that reads like a ‘who’s who’ of popular music.
Whether he is at Ronnie Scott’s with Steve Smith’s Vital Information, or performing with Shakti’s U Shrinivas, or producing and recording with Zawinul’s Amit Chatterjee, Pete Lockett is a musical chameleon of enormous proportions. Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant and Jeff Beck have all called upon Lockett’s unique percussive ways as has The Verve, Amy Winehouse and even the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – and we’re just scratching the surface here of the broad array of artists expressing a desire to have Lockett’s percussive imprint grace their work.
Drums and percussion came quite late in life for the former Portsmouth docker, who at the age of 19 and on his lunch-break took a walk along the streets of Fratton only to notice an ad in the window of the local drum store. ‘Drum Lessons’ is all it said. Lockett ventured inside, had a chat with drum teacher John Hammond and the following week his life changed – dramatically. “It turned out to the first thing that made sense to me” says the philosophical Lockett in his quiet friendly tone. “John was pleasantly surprised too, as everything that he showed to me, I could do instantly. It was the first time that anything like that had happened to me. At school, nothing interested me at all, not even music lessons.”
Since that encounter with Hammond, Lockett has recorded percussion on the last four Bond movies, currently working on the fifth, performed around the globe with a dazzling array of musicians and established himself as one of the ‘first-call’ players in the UK. Lockett has just released his tuition book on Hudson Music, Indian Rhythms For The Drumset, a unique approach to playing Indian rhythms – well, on the drums.

Immersed In Study

Lockett had never shown any interest in music before encountering that advert and his family household was without music, although “We did have a radio, but there were no records or musical instruments in the house. But, as soon as I discovered drum lessons, that was it - big time! Two weeks later I joined a punk band. I went from a couple of £5 drum lessons to playing local pubs and clubs overnight.”
Lockett’s first gig was just the start of his unusual musical journey. “I replaced a drummer who would get tired halfway through a song and just stop playing. He’d never learnt to use the bass drum pedal and only ever played with his hands, so it was an easy gig to step into”. Lockett smiles at the memory. “I used to smash my drums up at the end of every gig. I even ended up in hospital once to get stitches. I was inspired by Keith Moon and I loved the drums, the excitement and the energy. It also taught me a lot about drum building as I couldn’t afford to get mine repaired and had to rebuild them myself.” Lockett’s diverse instrument store is testimony to his broad collection of percussive items, some home made, with many resembling nothing that you would have seen before.
Lockett immersed himself in total study claiming; “At that time everything stopped for me and I practiced constantly.”
After two years of continual practice, Lockett took the decision to move to London, despite not knowing a soul there. Times were bleak.
“I rented an old concrete store in Finsbury Park in North London, that doubled as a bed-sit and the place was just full of dust and was very cold. It was very depressing.” He recalls with a chill.

In Search of the Music

The London move found Lockett playing kit in Punk and Rock bands. The Punk era had given way to New Wave and mid 80s London was awash with bands and gigs. By chance, a friend invited him to his apartment situated near Alexander Palace, a venue that hosted the Festival of India where the venue took on the look and sounds of that country. "I could hear this incredible music and wondered what is that?" The two took off in search of the music that filtered through the window following it to its source. "It was a free concert that featured Zakir Hussain and I'd never seen, or heard anything like it! I was deeply analytical about drummers and would sit and watch their every move and watch what they'd do. Even though I couldn't see what they were doing, I could conceptualize what was going on. One might not be able to do it, but you could imagine a practice regime that would take you towards developing that kind of playing. Whereas, with tablas, there is this massive sound coming out of these tiny little drums and I had no idea how they were played. Listening to a conga or djembe player, you get an idea as to what they are doing. With tabla you can't even see what is happening yet they have this massive sound, this whole tonal spectrum coming from these small drums. Again, it was this and the lyricism that attracted me to them.”
Lockett then noticed an advert for tabla lessons and again, that was it! “Yousuf Ali Khan” was teaching the course and he gave me free lessons and that was the start of my interest in Indian music. Originally, I thought that it would compliment my drum-set playing, but I got totally obsessed by it. I stopped playing in bands and just studied solidly for six years, firstly with Yousuf and then South Indian music with “Karakudi Krishnamurthy”.

University of Life
Adamant that he was going to make a career out of music and that he wasn't going to work a daytime gig Lockett adds "I didn't go to university, so studying with these great Indian players was my university”.
Pete also began teaching drums saying; “The first thing that teaching taught me was that if someone showed me something, it was embedded for life, but I noticed with some of my students, they'd either forget what I'd shown them, or they weren't interested. I found this strange, as I was always so hungry to learn. I realized that not everybody wants to learn and there are very few people that have the commitment to get it down - I was shocked.”
Lockett showed one student a straight eighth groove, then the same groove as a shuffle. “He'd come back and would have learnt the shuffle, but had forgotten the straight eighth version. In the end I told him that he might have to think that this wasn't going to work out. I'd save him from quintuplets!” Lockett chuckles.

Eclectic iPod

By now, Lockett was listening to music across the board and took an interest in players like Stewart Copeland and Mark Brzezicki, both being big favorites, as was Steve Gadd. “Chick Corea’s Leprechaun's Dream was a big influence for me and I'd go and buy a Leo Sayer album just because it had Gadd on it and you didn't get too many of my friends buy Leo Sayer albums! I also liked Joni Mitchell and her drummers. I'd listen to The Who, or Ravi Shankar and to some extent that has reflected in the player that I am now, as I don't put barriers between things. My iPod is highly eclectic.”
Back at that time musical education was dramatically different to today. "Now you can get five-camera angle DVD's, but back then, starting out playing bongos, I'd never seen anyone play bongos nor could you find a video that showed you how to do it, so I sat at home and listened to tracks that featured bongos to try and work out what they were doing and what was going on. I knew a basic martillo pattern and I was lucky in a way, as now I have this weird hybrid bongo style due to trying to discover how it was done.”
Lockett’s study continued. “Even when I first started I always and still do have this practice routine where I'll have a 30 minute or one hour session of just playing one thing continually on whatever instrument I'm working on and every five minutes I move it up by 5bpm. I found that concentrating upon one thing for that space of time to begin a longer practice session really brings results.” Continuing, “One problem is that I'll tour playing tablas for a month and then when I get back I have a session that requires I play another instrument and I have to quickly reestablish those techniques on that instrument. But, playing something really slowly without putting any strain upon yourself for 30 minutes will bring results.” Pete will also cross-fertilize styles, adding; “Everything has become hybrid and influenced by everything else so a lot of the techniques have become interspersed onto different drums, so I might use some of the Indian techniques on the cajon, or Darabuka.”

A Musical Flow

At a time when the term 'World Music' was in its infancy in the UK it was not an easy task for Lockett to gain access to the wealth of material that he so desperately sought.
"I was fascinated with the technique of how it was done and how the drums produced such an amazing array of sounds.” Lockett concentrated on learning the many compositional styles and syllables that apply to the sounds of the strokes and notes making his study all encompassing. “It was a great way of learning as there was this whole cycle of things that you go through and memorize. I got deeply into the South Indian musical culture and learnt the Mridangam and was about to learn the Thavil and thought, actually, I can either learn that drum or get a career.” And with that thought Lockett started contacting people, sending them his CV. Lockett’s first session was for the rock band Thunder. “I got a call out of the blue to record with them and played tabla, bongos and lots of various percussion. I went into the studio and it was all rigged out with skull and cross bones and all other manner of 'rock' trappings, but as I had long hair, I think I fitted in alright.” he adds. Considering that this was the late 80s, it was fairly adventurous of Thunder to consider adding such eclectic instruments as Tablas. "I was shocked as I got paid decent money to do the things that I really wanted to do!”
The recording experience taught Lockett a valuable lesson. “I always try and approach everything with an open mind and make everything musical rather than trying to impress with a dazzling solo. I make music so that it has some flow to it, rather than a barrage of noise or sounds that are inappropriate”. Lockett states emphatically.

Organic Beats

The Thunder sessions brought further visibility to Lockett’s adventurous percussive outings.
“I started to get different things and worked on Bjork's Post record which was a more Latin flavored session, but I wouldn't call myself a Latin player, I can play outside of the idiom with that kind of music. I felt I had put a lot of effort in and I always say that if you send out a hundred things, expect one phone call, or two at most back. Even with a big CV it can be two years before you hear anything. Although I mostly get calls to play percussion my first instrument was the drum set so I do have to remind people that I can cover that area too”. It’s not just his inventive playing that Lockett gets called for either. “I'm currently programming all the percussion for the new Bond movie and I do what I call organic beat programming, it's not total hardcore electronics, but there's a lot of electronics and sound design going on. Craig Armstrong asked me to do the programming for the Incredible Hulk movie and he's known for a couple of years that I can programme. You have to be patient. I never hassle people for work because people don't like being hassled. You make your case, say this is what I can do, you can listen to it on my site or on the disc that I sent to you and that's it, leave it to lie and see what comes back.” Lockett genuinely advises.

Cowbell Anyone?

It has ‘happened’ for Pete organically and he has worked hard to get where he is. “People like to see that your active and I currently have eight albums out and four more coming out in India this year. Of course you’ve got to be able to play or no one will call you. You have to get on with people or the work will quickly dry up. Sometimes, I get asked for something that I might think might not suit the tabla, but you have to get to their ideas and I always remain open to what the producer might be asking for as they obviously want something a little different that can’t be found on a drum sample CD. I got a call from Roxy Music’s Phil Manzarena and most of the session was standard stuff and it was going well and then he wanted me to build a another percussion track on junk sounds. We took the light down from the ceiling, the bin from the street came in, the grill from the fire got used and it was great. Originally, I was thinking that I wasn’t so sure, but it turned out brilliantly. It opens your mind up for the drums because if you consider the history of the drum set, there were a lot of percussion instruments included in the set. Now, it’s just become hardcore drums and a lot of people wouldn’t even think as far as a cowbell or wood block and how they could incorporate those sounds.” Lockett states almost despairingly.
Having an open mind is what has set Lockett on his course of discovery. “It certainly makes you think how you can use different sounds. Think about instruments such as congas and bongos, they are commonplace in popular music now, whereas thirty years ago they were considered exotic and it’s the same with tabla. Though, that is a harder instrument to learn, you do hear it incorporated more into popular music.”

Think Musically

It’s not just calls to add some exotic spice to recordings that employs Lockett’s time. It seems that as fast as he works on one project, artists involved within that project result in another project being born.
“Again, that’s something that came to me. I accompanied some artists in Sardinia for a promoter and it went well and the promoter then advised on artists for the Rhythm Sticks Festival in London. He asked if I wanted to play the festival and I genuinely did not know what to say and said I’d think about it. I had not performed solo before so it was a big deal at the time. Right before that call I had been working with Joji Hirota and I thought that we could do a project together that incorporated Tabla and Taiko drums. I called Joji, we got together and that was my first sold-out show. The promoter loved it and suddenly we were doing 30-40 date tours around Europe. Bill Bruford had come to one of our gigs and I got talking to him and it began the Network of Sparks project with him.”
It was during these ‘duo’ tours that Lockett had to perform solo spots that again, made him think musically about what he was doing.
“I know that sitting – respectfully, through a drum clinic, can become a little boring if people aren’t playing musically. Whether the audience is all drummers, or simply ‘Bob’ from up the road, you have to give them something musical to latch onto.”
Tours and sessions continued to introduce musicians to Lockett’s various projects. “I’ve been working with beat boxer Shlomo and we played the Glastonbury festival and it was great. There are great talents in all genres and I try not to pre-conceptualize or be snobbish or judgmental about different styles and players. It helps keep my ears open to different influences which helps develop my broader eclectic approach which in turn makes it difficult to categorize what I do. I like that”

Breaking Down The Barriers

Lockett’s genuine love, respect and dedication for so many different influences opened many doors for him over recent years, saying; “Barriers are being broken down and I’ve now found that I am welcomed and accepted in India at the highest level. In India to collaborate successfully you do have to know their musical formalities and the particular ways they work. You are often thrown into gigs without any rehearsal or sound check and everything is a manic bpm, so that’s the first thing that you have to get used to and it’s not unusual to play a two or three hour gig. Even with minimal sound checks, you really need to think about getting your monitoring correct so that you can hear everything clearly as they often play on the front edge of the beat. Technically you have to have real control over what you are doing and keep it buoyant but without speeding up. It’s like fast be-bop and very hard to control.”

The Book

I like to give things back. It would be nice if more players did that. The free lessons on my site are my answer to this. They cover everything from the basics of bongos to cajon lessons to drum set playing and of course a lot of the Indian rhythmic systems. The book came about over a long period of time as I’d been trying to apply the Indian knowledge to the drum set and it took me many years to do that, to find ways of articulating those rhythms onto the drum set. Slowly it came about through other percussion instruments as everything become ‘one’ and stopped being separate instruments in my mind and I began to think of them as a family of instruments which is why I call myself a multi-percussionist. I was teaching the South Indian rhythmic system and that became the core of the book. Once I had my approach to the system in place I was able to approach the system in a slightly more abstract way so that the building blocks could be utilized by all musicians. I give people the building blocks and would then move on to whole compositions. I got a lot of positive feedback from students using this method. They could understand and perceive the building blocks and then see how they were built into the larger compositions and themes.

The next logical step was to articulate it onto the drums. Really, the book gives you two things, there is the system that can be for everyone and then there is the application for the drum set. The book contains the South Indian syllables / building blocks and the rhythmic structures and then the applications for anybody to use. I wanted to model the book on the book that covered African drumming on the drum set where the first big chunk is the history, the drums, the idiomatic setting and then the extrapolations on the drum set. I believe it is a book that will last a long time and is not a moment of fashion that won’t be of interest in five years. The whole development of the book came from the education method so it is kind of organic in that way. It never started out to be a book, but it ended up being one!




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