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Interview with: Making Music

Interview by: Geoff Nicholls

From Portsmouth dock worker to Indian percussion star, Pete Lockett talks to Geoff Nicholls about depression, luck, determination, and a bit of praxis...

Pete Lockett is one of Britain's most versatile percussionists. His sessions include Kula Shaker, Björk, Mel C, and the most recent Bond films. He's a specialist in Indian percussion, and has recently toured with his own Network Of Sparks - a multi-cultural percussion group featuring Bill Bruford, the Ghanaian Nana Tsiboe, classical percussionist Simon Limbrick and Johnny Kalsi from Dhol Foundation.

Pete grew up in Portsmouth, in "a house with no music". By the age of 19 he was working in the docks with no particular aim. Then one day he passed a drum shop and something made him book a lesson. "It was the first thing that clicked in my life. Spatially and intellectually it made total sense. All my energy went into getting it together."

"Two years later I moved to London - it was all or nothing. I was on my own for nine months in a hideous basement flat in Finsbury Park which had been used as a concrete store. I don't know how I survived. Mega-depression."

But Pete's second turning point soon arrived. At a friend's place one summer evening the sounds from a Festival of India concert at Alexandra Palace floated through the open window. Soon after Pete began tabla lessons via Haringey Adult Education.

"You don't really get a sound for about a year - it bears no resemblance to what you hear on records. It's very strenuous on the psyche... Then after three years I got into the South Indian double-ended Mridangam."

"The Indian system is certainly the most intricate in the drumming world. In some ways it's backwards: we talk about 1-2-3-4 but they direct everything conceptually towards that first beat, the tihai. It's taken me a long time to get the information and I want to share it. There's a lot of demystifying which needs to be done."

"Indian drumming is a specialist thing - you don't get many non-Indian people turning up. My idea is to mix it with lots of things, bring people from different cultures and play music in the space between. Create a situation where people are slightly out of their territory and can't just sit and do their African or Western thing, etc. Everyone's got to compromise and then they're trying to find new ways of making music."

This desire inspired Network Of Sparks. Pete says, "You often see contemporary classical percussion groups adding a bit of world music and there's no beef behind it. I thought, 'What about coming from the other angle - having the beef and adding the classical element and then the African and ndian thing as well." This is just the latest of Pete's spirited collaborations - there's been a Rhythm Sticks Festival duo with James Bond composer David Arnold, and another, ongoing, duo - Taiko To Tabla - with Joji Hirota.

"It's interesting to go from heavy Japanese 'biceps exploder' drumming into tabla playing. They're almost completely antithetical approaches. With Joji there's two eight minute pieces, and that position [sitting bolt upright with your arms in the air]... It nearly kills your body doing the Japanese stuff, and it kills your mind doing the Indian stuff."

Pete's obviously devoted years of sweat to practising. But his third turning point came when he saw there was more to music. "I heard an album called 'Spirits' by [pianist] Keith Jarrett. He'd played everything on it like tablas with mallets, and I threw it away. A year later I heard it again and loved it. I realised he was making great music on drums without any traditional technique. That made me think about the importance put on playing technically, trying to prove to others you can play something, maybe from feeling inadequate.

"I love technique, but it's not the key ingredient. A lot of clinics drummers play against the audience - they try to be untouchable. People judge you that way: oh it's not technical enough, he didn't scare me. I think that's a mistake. At the end of the day I think it's about developing philosophically - praxis and poesis [after philosopher Emmanuel Kant]. Poesis is an action that contains a goal outside of itself - playing music to be rich or pull birds, etc. It's almost a negative state of bad faith with yourself. Whereas praxis is an action which contains its own goal. To relate it to the people, which is fundamentally what music is about - community and sharing." Geoff Nicholls








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