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Interview with: WAX

Interview by: Phil Meadley

Behind any great album or any great artist there are always a multitude of truly talented individuals who largely go unnoticed, aside from the obligatory sleeve credit. But it is the session musicians, engineers and producers who pad out the original concepts, that help create the essential atmospherics that go to create a classic album. Many session musicians are highly talented in their respective fields, but outside the 'scene' they are not names that trip off the tongue. They could go through life not really getting the wider recognition that they so aptly deserve. For many years Pete Lockett was one such musician, but now he is looking to set the record straight.

Think Björk, Kula Shaker, Nitin Sawhney, Pet Shop Boys, Trans-Global Underground, The Aloof, Joji Hirota, David Arnold, Craig Armstrong and Natasha Atlas. Then put their names alongside Pete Lockett. He's worked with all of them, plus a great many others, and his CV tends to read like a Who's Who of today's movers and shakers. Not only that, but he has also contributed to the last two Bond films (Tomorrow Never Dies and the latest The World Is Not Enough); the Meg Ryan film City of Angels and the superb highwayman romp Plunkett and Maclean. He's in demand because he's a master in his field - something you will quickly discover if you listen to his excellent new album 'One'.

Pete Lockett is a master percussionist in every sense of the word. He spent his formative years in Portsmouth and, at nineteen, passing by a drum shop ended up with him taking up a career in drumming and percussion. The drum lessons had ignited a spark and before long he found himself moving to London to play in various bands. However, his gigging experiences led him to reevaluate his career. He didn't feel he wanted to be a one-band musician and instead turned to learning about different forms of percussion. The wealth of talented musicians from all four corners of the globe, centred in our beloved capital, meant that Pete didn't have to go far to find teachers. Tabla was studied under the expert tutelage of Yousef Ali-Khan, and South Indian drums were studied intensively under Karaikudi Krishnamurthy. This is how it continued to present day, and nowadays his list of percussive capabilities is impressive, to say the least. Amongst the instruments mastered by Lockett are the Tabla, Mridangam, Kanjira, Ghatam, vocal percussion, Dholak, Nall and Dhol from Northern and Southern India; Egyptian Tabla, Frame Drums and Req from the Middle East and, from elsewhere, Bongo's, Conga's, Timbales, Berimbu, Bodhran, Udu, West African Djembe, Japanese Taiko and Brazilian Surdu.

The new album 'One' is an amalgamation of five highly individual expert percussive talents assembled by Lockett. They go under the name Pete Lockett's Network Of Sparks, featuring Bill Bruford. For any fan of prog-rock or jazz Bill Bruford is perhaps the best known of the five. Having worked with Yes, King Crimson and Genesis his rock credentials are well known. More recently, his jazz project Earthworks, with Django Bates and Iain Ballamy, has received many plaudits from the jazz fraternity. Nowadays, he is also heavily involved with many world artists including Kazumi Watanabee, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and Akira Inoue. The other members of the group are Simon Limbrick on marimba and midi mallets, Nana Tsiboe on African drums and the inimitable Johnny Kalsi on North Indian folk drums. All three come from quite different backgrounds, both physically and culturally. Limbrick is known as one of the foremost contemporary classical percussionists in the country and was also a founder member of cult systems orchestra The Lost Jocky. Nana Tsiboe is a Ghanaian multi-instrumentalist who has worked with the likes of Oumou Sangare, Ali Farka Toure and the great Fela Kuti. And the hugely charismatic Johnny Kalsi has his own group, the Dhol Foundation, and has worked with the likes of the Afro-Celt Soundsystem, Trans-Global Underground, Fun'Da'Mental, Asian Dub Foundation and Kula Shaker. It's a line up that most drumming fans could only dream of and, although the prog-rock credentials may tend to attract an audience of thirty or forty somethings, the true depth and exuberance of the album should be a welcome addition to anybody with a true passion for music.

When I meet up with Pete Lockett on a cold Saturday evening in St George's, Brandon Hill in Bristol, he is preparing for the penultimate gig of his latest UK tour. St George's is an imposing building just off the ever fashionable Park Street. It's a de-consecrated church that now provides an impressive venue for all manner of music and arts. The acoustics are excellent and although the seating is rather formal, once the Network of Spark's vast percussion and drumming equipment appears on stage, the whole place takes on a different character. Maybe, unlike some of the less formal and distinctly more club-orientated venues, St George's won't provide the kind of rapturous reaction that the band have been generating to date, but Pete reckons it should be a great venue for getting totally immersed in the percussive sounds that they will be generating.

I start by asking how the idea of Network of Sparks came about.

"Really it's an eclectic mix of percussion from all over the world." explains Pete. "We've got an African drummer Nana Tsiboe, we've got Johnny Kalsi from the Dhol Foundation, we've got a contemporary classical player Simon Limbrick and Bill Bruford on the rock/jazz drumset. Myself, I do everything from the Arabic, Indian and Japanese... loads of different stuff. It's not really that we've just got someone doing a bit of African drums, or Indian etc., it's really more about everybody compromising and finding the area in-between us all. That's where the music's made, I think."

With Pete being able to play virtually any form of drumming and percussion, it does beg the question, 'why bring in more drummers, when you could do it all yourself?' However, as he explains, it's all about interaction: "I could've done the album on my own, and no doubt there will be totally solo albums in the future. But I think when you're bringing in lots of different people, people from different backgrounds, they've all got their own thing to say and I think that makes it a really diverse thing. I think it's really important, in the same way that you get the diversity in dance music. It's the one area of music where people are completely unpretentious about what they put in a track. I mean, you could get a Ghanaian percussionist with an Outer Mongolian nose flute player, and there's no pretention about it. It's what sounds right together." Interaction also plays a major part in a live setting, as Pete describes: "I think the thing that people really want to see at a live concert is the interaction between people, y'know, changing the direction of what could happen. It's a network of sparks you see? Igniting the potential."

Making a purely percussive album would seem a bit of a risk taker in terms of commercial accessibility. However with 'One' it works because there is so much depth there. The question of how the album manages to get away from the muso tag is something that Pete ponders on: "I like an album being somewhat akin to an idea of a journey. People often equate percussion with a loud drum solo or some kind of circus trick. But I'd like to think of this album as being a journey through lots of different textures and flavours, where sometimes it's virtuoso and sometimes it's free. The fact that it's a journey, and you're not exactly sure what's going to happen next, is exciting. It's not predictable, and that's really the essence of it."

Perhaps it takes some time to really appreciate how integral percussion is to many forms of music, but the beat or break is such an important part of today's dance scene that most DJs and punters should be all too aware of it's vital significance. However, it will probably take a little while to really truly appreciate the craftsmanship that is on offer in 'One'. It's an album that should be listened to quite a few times before it starts to creep into your psyche - and creep it most assuredly will. For Pete, percussion is his passion, so I try to delve a little deeper into why it's such an integral part of his life now: "I think it's capable of so much," he enthuses. "It can move people in an immediate way, like the thud of a really powerful drum. There's a Japanese guy I work with called Joji Hirota and there's a piece I play with him that just starts off with these really slow beats, but on these huge drums. He's basically hitting it as hard as he can, and you think that it's just one note, but after that one note, however much noise there is in the audience before, this silences everyone.

But I'd put my fascination with playing so many instruments down to curiosity, as much as anything. You hear something being played and you think 'wow'. First of all you're touched or moved by it, then you begin to inquire, thinking 'how do they do that? How do they get that sound? I really wanna do that', and it goes from there."

The project featuring Pete and Joji Hirota is called 'Taiko to Tabla'. Last year alone the duo did around seventy gigs, which culminated in a live album recorded at the annual Bruges festival in Belgium. The album appeared in conjunction with V.R.T., Radio One and the world Zoku label. It's well worth getting hold of if you want to truly appreciate two percussive masters at some serious play. Pete also worked in July of this year with David Arnold, in a live setting at the Rhythm Sticks festival on the South Bank. The hugely successful pairing saw Arnold on stage with pro-tools, a forty channel mixer, and "bucket loads of effects", whilst Lockett played some improvised percussion, Arnold looped it all through the computer. This friendship has seen Pete working on the last two Bond films, as well as Arnold's successful Bond inspired album, 'Shaken and Stirred'.

With the new Bond film, 'The World Is Not Enough' making some serious headlines at the moment, I asked Pete to describe the process of recording music for a film: "It usually works in short cues," he confides, "The longest cue was on the last Bond film, which was about seven minutes long. Obviously the music's already written to a click, anyway. Usually it happens before the orchestra put their bits down. Some sketches have been put on already, and you basically do it to the picture. It works differently to say recording an album in as much as you don't record from the point of view of verse chorus, verse chorus. Suddenly there will be a change cos he's jumped over the balcony, or whatever. In the last film there was quite a bit of Japanese drumming, and some Indian stuff. This time there are some scenes in Azerbaijan, so I had to use Middle Eastern Frame drums, and stuff like that."

With David (Arnold) you see someone with a lot of clear ideas. He comes up with the skeleton but lets you improvise over it. He's just a very nice guy, very down to earth, not a bullshitter."

Getting back to the new album (incidentally recorded for MELT2000), in terms of production and recording (and in today's climate) the album was recorded with undue haste. This could be partly down to the fact that the album had to be booked two years in advance to fit in with everybody's hectic scheduling demands. "I did a lot of pre-production before." explains Pete. "I've got a little studio where I prepared all the tracks. A lot of it was overdubbed and some of the tracks had to be done live."

You could really portion it in days: I had about a week's pre-production in the MELT2000 studio; then we had three days in Livingstone Studio; then we had three days mixing and I had three days pre-production myself. It was without rehearsal as well!" The overall result gives the album that live jam feel but with the added bonus of well crafted compositions. "That's part of the thing, to get the flavour across without it being so loose that people think that you've just done it really quickly and sloppily. To keep that flavour but arrange it enough to have structure - that's the life in it, that's the buoyancy."

That night in St George's, Pete and his assembled crew put on a spellbinding show of serious intensity and immense skill. As we had thought, the venue perhaps didn't help with the dynamism of the show, but as soon as the effervescent Johnny Kalsi joined the team in the last segment, the whole performance stepped up a gear.

Johnny, with his huge Dhol drum slung around his neck, let forth with some huge beats whilst he urged the rest of the band to follow in his fervour. It reminded me of a performance that I saw at the Realworld party in the summer, when the Afro-Celt Soundsystem (with whom he is a member), put on one of the best live shows I've ever seen. This guy, with his front-man charm and charisma, is a star in the making, believe me. Pete's performance, especially on the Tabla, rammed firmly home why he is such a respected percussionist. At times his virtuoso performances were just a blur of incredible hand dexterity and impossible timing. Genius is the only word that comes to mind, as the whole audience shot up at the end to give a standing ovation and stamp their feet (more or less in time) for more.

My advice, should you take heed, is to open your ears and expand your mind to the possibility of percussion. I can't think of a better guide than Pete Lockett who, after many years of hard but enjoyable graft, deserves the attention that this album should bring him. Give him a little bit of your time, and hail one of the UK's foremost unsung heroes. Phil Meadley








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