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DRUMMER UK Nov 2008

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The World In His Hands
Words; Owen Hopkin.  Photos; Eckie.

How exactly did Pete Lockett, punk enthusiast, become the UK's foremost percussive authority? Drummer pulls up a pew to hear his story.

Pete Lockett is sat in his cosy flat in North London. A top floor apartment, it has a stunning view of the city. It's an expanse he's gazed over many a time while pondering the next move in what's been a staggeringly successful career. Inside, a Portsmouth football strip is pinned to the living room wall, a few percussion instruments are dotted about handily and a small laptop set-up rests in one of the corners. The flat has served as a rehearsal room and recording studio for many of his film and music projects, and as a result it's a wonderfully comfortable place to conduct Drummer's first interview with one of the UK's greatest percussionists.

Pete, unsurprisingly, is in his element. Seemingly content with his lot and particularly looking forward to a forthcoming trip to India, he's eminently friendly and incredibly chatty. It's fortunate, because we have a lot to catch up on. A cursory glance over his CV sees some enormous names leap off the page. Peter Gabriel, The Verve and Bjork immediately draw attention, but the many heavyweight international (and particularly Indian) artists he's worked with signal a player that's as famed for his work here as he is in the many countries' who's rhythmic traditions he's diligently studied. Pete, then, is a true musician. He's been fusing different rhythmic traditions successfully for over twenty years and the props he's received, as well as the work he's bagged, speak volumes. What's remarkable about his story is that it all could have been so, so different. How exactly did a punk-rocker with very little kit experience become one of Britain's foremost authorities on world percussion? Well, the tale goes a little like this...

You could say that Pete's route into Eastern rhythmic traditions was guided by fate. A move to London to seek fame as a punk rock drummer soon gave way to a life-changing experience. As a result, the career path of a hard'n'heavy drummer was fundamentally altered...

"I totally got into it by chance. There was a big festival in Alexandra Palace at the time, a free concert, and the music came in through the window on a summer breeze. We were like the Bisto kids! Zakir Hussein, this monster Tabla player, just happened to be playing and I went to check it out. It was the early 80s and I'd just moved to London as a punk and rock drummer, but I couldn't help but be amazed by this mind-blowing sound coming from these tiny drums. I thought I'd quite like to know a little more about that to complement my drum set playing".

Pete's focus, initially at least, was still very much on the kit. Things, however, were soon about to change. "At the time I was a pretty blinkered drum set player, to be honest. I hadn't been playing all that long -- I didn't start until I was about 19. A couple of years later I moved to London so I was still in my infancy as a drummer. In a sense, it was good that it came along at that time because it was like 'Wow! There's a whole load more stuff to learn here'. I didn't act on it immediately though. If I ever see anything in a concert, I'll chalk it up and make a mental note of it. Lo and behold, three or four months later I saw an ad for adult education courses that were offering Tabla lessons. That was it from there".

Learning an entirely new rhythmic language clearly wasn't without its challenges. With the Indian tradition so different to that of the West, Pete found very little common ground with his new discipline. "Part of the problem in learning such a complicated system as a Westerner is that you're not brought up with it. You haven't had the 20-odd years of blind learning, of seeing people playing it, of knowing a lot about the instruments' culture and the way the sounds are made. You're really starting from zero.

"I think 'developed' is the word for the Eastern rhythmic culture rather than 'complicated'. Technically, it's commonplace in India for everyone to play to the same level as someone like David Weckl. The postman, say, plays like Dave Weckl and there are gradients up from there. A lot of the rhythmic repertoire and techniques that are involved have been developed over many centuries. It's almost like looking at the Western drum set in 200 years time -- there'll be such a greater volume of material to learn that it may also become daunting to someone starting out. Look at the independence stuff that Thomas Lang's currently developing or a player like Steve Smith! That could be seen as intimidating to someone who just wants to learn how to play the kit. That's a little what it was like learning some of the Indian styles of percussion. At least a lot of the Western musical repertoire is accessible!"

Pete, as he'll explain a little later, frequently tours and works in India, but his percussive schooling was done mainly in the UK. The reason for this, he says, was purely practical. "A lot of the great teachers come to the UK anyway and it's probably easier to learn over here because in India the route is slightly slower and less direct than Western teaching methods. Obviously, I always learn when I'm out there -- you can't not learn when you're working with people -- but when I finally made it out to India I went there as a player so the emphasis was on gigging".

Unsurprisingly, with the wealth of experience and knowledge he's gathered, there was plenty to distil and pass on in his new book ĎIndian Rhythms For The Drum Setí. It sets out to give Western kit players an insight and a route into Eastern rhythmic traditions and inevitably highlights the mental shifts required to take on such a task.
"That's right, it looks at the building blocks of the Indian tradition which, in a sense, is different to what we're used to. We may see a piece of music as a collection of bars of 3/4, 2/4 etc. Basically speaking, they would divide that up so that two bars of 4/4 would be seen as a pattern of 5+5+3+3. Obviously, that can be extended out so you could have a few bars looking like 5+5+5+3+3+3+5+3 etc. That, essentially, is how they begin to structure the time flow and the framework within which they'll shape their phrasing.
ďI really wanted the book to be like a bridge. Yes, the Indian percussive cultures are developed, but anything thatís developed can be boiled back down to the building blocks and thatís what Iíve got in the book Ė the building blocks of rhythm. People can take little chunks of that and apply it to the drum setĒ.  This hybrid spirit has characterised Peteís career from day one. For him, itís been all about taking different ideas and working it into his own cultural idiom.

ďAs a musician, itís all about being true to yourself. I don't want to go off and become an ĎIndian musicianí or a pseudo-Indian. It's about doing your own thing in that environment and creating new hybrid soundsĒ. Cross-fertilisation, then, is the name of the game. Itís an attitude thatís hasnít just paid dividends with the broadening of his own style, itís also helped him gain a mastery of a staggeringly wide range of instruments.

ďA lot of the instruments are done to differing degrees. The speciality stuff is really the hand drumming, Tabla, Darabuka, Bongos and stuff like that. Some techniques are a lot easier than others to learn. I donít want to be condescending to any particular instrument, but some are easier than others. Itís as simple as thatĒ. His musical vocabulary and skill across a wide range of instruments has seen his CV rack up a severely impressive list of heavyweight names. Perhaps more impressive is the name of international artists that feature. Projects like Taalisman and Repercussion Zone have seen him lock horns musically with Amit Chatterjee and Bickram Gosh, while Vikky Vinayakram, Selva Ganesh and Ustad Zakir Hussain also feature.

ďBecause I did all my studying in England, it took a while to finally get out to India. I think it was 2000 when I did my first tour out there. To a certain extent, itís a little like it is over here Ė you are who you play with and you make your name through that. Think of a musician like Miles Davis and all the incredible players heís brought through Ė itís a bit like that.
ďThe reaction has been really good when Iíve been out there. I get a lot of good press, Iíve done a couple of TV specials, so it's going really well -- I've got 4 albums coming out there this year alone so there's a lot of stuff happening. I think people are more interested if they see youíre doing your own projects and albums. They see you in a slightly different way rather than just a session guy who just turns up. They see someone whoís trying to create and put together tours as a positive thing, which is how it should beĒ.

The many rhythmic traditions heís experienced and techniques heís studied has re-enforced one common message. Knowledge is one thing, says Pete, but it doesnít count for much if it isnít used musically.
ďWhatever genre or cultural idiom youíve got there are people who play musically and people who donít. You could have a Tabla player who isnít musical at all and could be all over it like a rash making it sound really horrible. I think knowledge of different traditions is essential, but it has to be used musically Ė thatís what we do at the end of the dayĒ

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