You’re on to a winner when you state: “Manchester is my favourite place to play”. But unlike most this is a foreseeable reality for Northampton’s freshest artist Billy Lockett as he prepares himself for another cavort in our city; only this time he’s taking on the beatnik basement of The Ruby Lounge. Glass Animals, Foxes and Rixton all launched themselves from this platform to become staunch figures in their respective fields. So it could be Lockett himself on to an actual winner.
By his own admission Lockett steers clear of the ‘singer-songwriter’ label. “When I started off I was a poor man’s Ed Sheeran but my sound has moved toward that of a tamer Royal Blood. Now I don’t want it to feel like a fancy open mic night. Bastille is mainly one guy and I’ve kind of followed a similar route.” The music that supports his entrancing, distinctive voice is often as detached to his audience as it is binding. For all the carefree hooks that litter his crushed, piano driven sound, there are sparks of sincere, raw passions that to the unconnected ear could go missing. But these concealed images are probably best hidden. “I am a songwriter but I don’t see myself in a bracket with people like George Ezra or Ben Howard. I’m more pop, but it’s a bigger sound; more upbeat. I don’t think I’m that anymore.”
Considering the escalating backing musicians that now trek across the country with him, it’s wise to follow Lockett’s concession. Moving solely to the piano, he now pads his once acoustic led, soulful compositions with brash drums and quaking synths. And although a heavier body to his music is now found, the metaphors remain as secluded. “Every song on the new album is about my dad,” Lockett continued. “It could be seen as an album of love songs, but there’s something a lot more meaningful to them. I haven’t written them as love songs about a girl, they’re about my dad – obviously not in a weird way – and that’s why it feels for some reason more important. Everyone can relate to having a relationship.”
Lockett’s progression from city street vocalist to headline making troubadour has been long in the making. Growing out of the meek surroundings of a once unassuming Northampton – “my first show there was down at The Labour Club when the music scene was a bit quiet, it’s picked up a lot though now we have Temples and Coves” – his early days within Manchester’s fabled city was spent encapsulating the likes of Northern Quarter’s The Castle Hotel. “Since those days I have had to change all the songs; my set-list has had to change quite a lot. The Castle was great and I loved the intimacy, but as you get bigger, so does your sound so I am happy to be playing on the bigger stages now.”
They didn’t come much bigger for Lockett when asked to support the enchanting diva Lana Del Rey. Considering he was thrown into the firing line at last minute, you would have thought a chance encounter would have spawned something. Cue tales of intoxicated mishaps? Insane courgette humus related tour riders? Conversations about Pepsi? “Didn’t even get close. I don’t think she knew I was playing to be honest”.
Alas. At least we know if Lockett was to finally receive a Grammy Award for Album of the Year and was faced with the spectre of Kanye West looming over him, something would happen. “For press reasons I would punch him. I think there’s a reason he does it, but it would be a good chance to get in the papers. I don’t know why that guy does it,” Lockett finished.
We also know that given his rising status within many circles as Britain’s best new songwriter, Lockett’s showcase at The Ruby Lounge will probably be a last chance to see him in such close quarters.
Words by Clive K Hammond