We spoke to flautist / bandleader Gareth Lockrane ahead of his gig at Xantoné Blacq's Breaking The Sound Barrier live music (which aims to bring established artists to North London for a ticket under £10) series at Karamel, Wood Green on 21st May (more details below).
LondonJazz News: Gareth, what inspired you to create a big band?
Gareth Lockrane: When I formed my big band in 2008, it was the culmination of a few years of trying other things out with my writing and playing. It seemed right to go for a really expansive, larger-than-life approach with a configuration of some of my favourite musicians on the UK music scene. The big band combines my love of orchestration and film music (I'd recently completed an MA in film composition in 2008), the soul, funk and gospel influences from my band Grooveyard, the more straight-ahead contemporary hard bop direction of my septet, the influence of writers like Jaco Pastorius, Herbie Hancock, Lalo Schifrin, Maria Schneider, Gil Evans, Kenny Wheeler, Thad Jones, Don Sebesky, Oliver Nelson; that list is endless! It also contains the influence of my peers; everything I'd done as a sideman would filter down into my writing a little. The result is not so much a fusion of all the above but more of a collision! In a good way hopefully.
LJN: What differences do you feel there are between your role as an individual performer and as the leader of a big band?
GL: I always wanted this band to be a vehicle to develop my composing and arranging skills, and to craft it around the many formidable personalities and talents in the band; it's not completely megalomaniacal. I like to deliberately keep it loose in between the more composed sections in the music; I'm always trying to find new ways to present my stuff in the big band context.
LJN: New ways?
Things can fall into a routine very easily if you're not careful and it's important to me that the musicians and audience are involved in the spontaneity and freshness of a performance, no matter how many times we've played the tunes. So, often I'll extend sections, do some strange segueing between tunes, open things out a bit - often the guys don't know until we start the tune who's going to solo, which makes it a lot of fun - for me anyway! I do love a good vamp and often some of the more insane and inspired moments on the gig occur in those moments.
LJN: It's about believing in the band, right?
It's an endlessly inspiring thing to see what the guys in the band add to the music from gig to gig. Mike Outram in particular is a real guitar hero and one of my favourite musicians. He seems to continually expand and add new layers to his playing; it's quite something. He has a very loose role in the band and I really enjoy his personal and often bizarre take on the tunes. With a unique figure like him it's best not to direct him too much and just turn him loose and let him just enjoy finding new things in there. Every big band needs a demon on guitar!
LJN: In your opinion, what are the key ingredients that add up to make a great big band?
GL: My band is an 18 piece with 5 saxes and 8 brass players. It’s crucial that the section leaders are on a wavelength together -Tom Walsh, Sam Mayne, Graeme Blevins and Nichol Thomson would make an incredible sound as a 4-piece horn section so immediately there's something strong to build from. And crucial to the band is Matt Skelton on drums, a brilliant musician who loves fuelling a large group with all the drive and precision that that requires, but is equally comfortable in a looser trio or quartet setting.
LJN: There must have been influences?
Two major influences on me are seeing the Mike Gibbs UK/US band with John Scofield in Leicester when I was about 16. I didn't know what the hell was going on musically at that age but I vividly remember the visceral impact it had on me. Also seeing the legendary Village Vanguard jazz orchestra in New York a number of times - the huge horn section were just so happy to be sat there listening when it was just an extended trio or quartet moment in the music. They weren't just counting bars; and that hopefully taught me to be patient in my writing and let the small group within the big band really come through, and let the large ensemble passages naturally flow out of that.
LJN: In closing, what do you have lined up for audiences at your gig in Wood Green in May?
Gareth Lockrane: I’m pleased to say the lineup for the May gig in Wood Green is absolutely “killing” as we say in the Jazz world. They're all astounding musicians - some world class soloists and equally importantly, great team players who are comfortable in a multitude of different styles; first call guys in anyone's book. As well as myself on flutes, the band features Sam Mayne, James Gardiner-Bateman, Graeme Blevins, Nadim Teimoori, Richard Shepherd (saxes), Nichol Thomson, Barnaby Dickinson, Adrian Fry, Barry Clements (trombones) Percy Pursglove, Tom Walsh, Robbie Robson, Henry Collins (trumpets) Mike Outram (guitar) Ross Stanley (keyboards) Ryan Trebilcock (bass) Matt Skelton (drums).
Above all, it’s great to be able to play our gig at a fantastic venue, Karamel who have chosen to make seeing a big band really affordable. £8 to see a big band is genius!
Xantoné Blacq Presents: Gareth Lockrane Big Band
Weds 21st May, 8pm.
Venue: Karamel, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London. N22 6UJ. (5 mins walk from Wood Green Underground. Piccadilly Line)
Tickets: 0208 829 8962 or HERE
Subsequent dates in the series:
18th June Manuela Panizzo.
23rd July Joy Rose.