We walked from the cold harsh rain, into the warm, slightly damp-smelling surroundings of The Duchess. Down the stairs we were greeted by an array of tables, all candlelit. So, this gig wasn’t going to be a lively one, we assumed. We were then approached by his manager, and were led into the back room where he kindly shook our hands next to the bread rolls and salami. “I’ve only ever been to York twice”, he admitted. Indeed, the last time Billy Lockett played in York was at the Barbican, whilst supporting KT Tunstall. “The experience was incredible. The shows were a lot bigger than I’ve ever done before.”
Born in Northampton, Billy was a natural-born musician, teaching himself piano and guitar at a young age, whilst also developing a powerful singing voice. He had all the traits of a talented artist. It was only when Billy transferred his talents from the home (where he used to play with his dad and his dad’s friends) to the pub, that he realised where his path lay. His father, as you might have deduced, played a huge role in his music, as well as his upbringing. “He was a big influence, pretty much everything to be honest. Constant songs in the set are about him.” He continued: “It was literally just me and him growing up. So yeah, he was pretty much everything.” A notable song about his dad, and a personal favourite of mine, is ‘Old Man’, the title track to his EP. With an upbeat melody provided by Billy on the piano, it tells the tale of his search for advice from his father. BBC Radio 1 presenter Greg James even described the hit as “absolutely beautiful”.
Billy began his career by posting covers onto the YouTube series Cellar Sessions of popular songs, such as ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ by Foster The People. He then debuted his first EP White Noise in 2011. Since then, he has had 2 more , multiple singles, and has toured with Nina Nesbitt, KT Tunstall, Lana del Rey, Lauren Aquilina, and Birdy. With an array of well-established artists as touring partners, it’s no surprise that he was also featured on BBC’s Introducing show in November 2011, with his single ‘Balance’ on regular rotation on BBC Radio 1 in that week. He is now planning his first full-length record. “There’s a lot of talk about the big debut album. I’m not sure I’m going to do many more EPs, if any”, he says. “I’m just going to focus, at some point, on doing the album.” Billy’s debut album will definitely be one to look forward to.
Billys new EP Old Man is self-described as “atmospheric”, and this comes across in his live performance. There is a pleasant mix of almost ambient backing tracks supporting the impressive piano playing, guitar and singing combination.
Resonances of Radiohead slip in every now and then, as Billy himself admits “recently I’ve been pushing more towards the sounds of Coldplay and Radiohead, the sort of Arcade Fire kind of feel, which I’m a lot happier about”. This sound aided the romantic setting of The Duchess, as Billy already anticipated: “I think this show will be a lot more intimate [than previous shows]”. These are not the only bands that have influenced him. He says, “I’m listening to Coldplay pretty much non-stop at the moment.” He also mentions he’s really into Rae Morris, and thinks that George Ezra is doing really well. Indeed, there are echoes of George Ezra, and perhaps even Ben Howard, in his music. The best way to describe the effect of his music might be ‘calming’ and ‘quaint’.
Over the summer, Billy played two festivals: T in the Park and the Isle of Wight Festival. “They were amazing, honestly. Incredible. It’s amazing to play on some big festival stages. The crowds were really great.” He added “Scotland is always a really good gig for me.” However, he admits, “I’m not really a festival kind of man” – he prefers playing the smaller, more intimate gigs. He did acknowledge that his dream festival would be Glastonbury though. “I’ve always told myself that the first time I go to Glastonbury is when I play there”, adding, “Also, I can’t get tickets” – a feeling the majority of those who have attempted to obtain Glastonbury tickets can understand. It’s not too difficult imagining Billy on an acoustic stage at festivals, or perhaps the quiet tents; he’s a diverse character, and you don’t necessarily have to enjoy the Coldplay-sounding vibes to enjoy watching him.
Having heard a fair amount of Billy’s work before the gig, I was hopeful that his live performance would mirror his talent on record, and on YouTube video. I was not disappointed. The performance was incredibly soulful and passionate. Billy’s voice was well complimented by his choice of instrument, and how it was played. He rarely missed a note, and kept the crowd engaged throughout. The songs themselves were great, and they were well ordered to create a romantic set. Also, the atmosphere was right, and the candles were a nice touch by The Duchess.
One slight let down of Billy’s performance was the actual syncing of the backing track to his live performance. The ambient background undertones were there to support his powerful piano playing, however at times, he did find himself out of sync. This, unfortunately, led to the set sounding sloppy in places. I did also notice he once forgot the words, however it wasn’t a major downfall by any stretch of the imagination. He was nervous; it was clear to see. We’re all human. One final remark however: the lighting was absolutely terrible. Billy was overshadowed by an array of flashing bright green and red lights, out of sync with the music, and generally giving the impression that it was meant for a heavy metal gig, not a calm romantic acoustic gig. The lighting was fairly irritating at times, as it distracted from his voice.
The performance, along with the interview, showed me that Billy is a humble man. He doesn’t have a big head whatsoever, and is intensely passionate about his music. He enjoys seeing the faces of his fans, and took the time to see every one of them after the performance. Granted, there weren’t many people there, but it’s not difficult to see him doing the same with bigger crowds; or, at least attempting to. I have high hopes for his debut album, whenever that will come. It really isn’t difficult seeing it place in the Top 40 UK Charts, and his singles being played on regular rotation on Radio.
Billy Lockett will be one to watch this year. His mixture of acoustic and ambient sounds have a lasting impression. His voice is powerful and rarely fails to impress, and his lyrics are touching and relatable. He grabs the attention of the crowd, and keeps hold of it until the very end. As it was a very interactive gig, it wasn’t difficult to enjoy his personality. He even came back with an encore, at the crowds request. A highlight of the interview was how human Billy was. He told the story of how he once helped a fan propose to his girlfriend, and even wrote a song about it! Also, not only does he want “a cure for every illness in the world” and “world peace”, but when asked what his favourite meal was, his choice of “stilton, olives, with a side of pork crackling” echoed his humble, pub-oriented upbringing. His dad’s influence is not just echoed in his music, but also in his food taste.