Gareth Lockrane: Doing That Grooveyard Thing

Duncan Heining By

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"He played a really kind of mean blues flute in 'G,'" he says laughing. "So, I was used to having this bluesy flute sound in the house. The first things I heard as a baby were James Clay, Frank Wess and Roland Kirk—just these sounds around the house from my dad. I got my first instrument when I was ten and got into jazz off my own back when I was about 14 by joining the school jazz group with some brilliant, supportive characters like my teacher at school and people on the Midlands jazz scene like Chris Gumbley, who ran a jazz club in Stafford. He was a huge influence when I was a teenager. He ran a jazz evening class in Stoke-on-Trent, where I lived back then. For a teenager's first jazz club, he ran the perfect place in Stafford, this smoke-filled room where Chris would often do this solo saxophone spot between the main sets and I'd see all these London guys come up to play. I used to have this 20-mile cycle ride to see the gigs at his club when I was a kid."

"Memories In Widescreen," from The Strut, is, in a sense, a tribute to his father, who died a few years ago. "That was about being a kid, going to the cinema with my dad," he says, "and just that feeling of the curtains opening on this huge widescreen and the whole scope of that. I just used to love that feeling. I guess I was trying to get into those internal memories of that and my dad passed away a few years ago and he really got me into music in the first place. So, it's memories of my dad and going to the movies. I think I wrote that tune round about the time I went to film school. The melody is fairly minimal and, as I said, that was the huge influence of film school because we were all encouraged to write less using minimal melodies and slowly moving harmonies. It was all these things coming together at once."

Lockrane studied for his first degree at the Royal Academy of Music in London with British jazz stalwarts such as saxophonists Stan Sulzmann and Mark Lockheart, flautist/keyboardist Eddie Parker and trombonist Hugh Fraser. It was there also that he struck up musical relationships with fellow students, trumpeter Steve and drummer Matt Fishwick, bassist Orlando le Fleming and saxophonist The Osian Roberts/Steve Fishwick Quintet. In 1997, his band The Jazz System, formed with Roberts, was a finalist in the Vienna Jazz Festival Grande Concours de Jazz. In 1998, he studied on the Lake Placid Jazz Course in New York with saxophonists Joe Lovano and Dick Oatts, and composer/arranger Jim McNeely and in 2000 he was a finalist in the BBC's Young Jazz Musician of the Year competition. Flautist Eddie Parker has proved an enduring influence and connects Lockrane with another important figure in the young man's life—the late and much-loved South African musician and composer Bheki Mseleku. Parker, of course, played on Mseleku's feted, first album Celebration (WCD, 1992). Lockrane was into Mseleku's music even before he went to the Royal Academy but only met him in 2006, two years before the South African's death from an illness related to his diabetes. Following a duo rehearsal together, Lockrane began working with Mseleku

"Basically from then on," Lockrane explains, "we did endless amounts of duo blows and quartet and trio and quintet gigs. He couldn't write down his own tunes, so we'd do these long rehearsals where I'd video his fingers to get the voicings just right and transcribe and learn all these epic tunes of his. There were loads of new things that haven't been recorded. So, it was an incredible relationship and that was running parallel to film school. It was a really exciting time with all these things colliding at once and getting a whole wave of new influences coming in at the same time and just playing with Bheki and trying to get into the mind of one of your heroes. We had some fantastic gigs together with a few little tours. Steve Rubie at the 606 Club in Chelsea was a massive support. We used to play there every month."

"Bheki was this larger than life personality," he adds. "The sheer projection and whole compositional scope of his music—for me, he is one of those great writers. His compositions have this inevitable flow about them. Once you've heard the whole thing, it's like that was the only way it could have gone, no matter how many surprising twists there are in the tunes. It just feels that it could only have gone that way. These are the only gigs I've done where the whole audience was singing along to these great hooks and all the musicians are sweating it out on stage with their eyes fixed on the charts. It was a great time for me."

In fact, the times seem to get better for Lockrane. His reputation is growing and The Strutwill take that to a higher level still. Whether it's playing in Grooveyard or his septet, leading his own big band or playing with Phil Robson's quintet, Lockrane is becoming a key figure in a very healthy UK jazz scene. Playing opposite figures like Mark Turner or with giants like Jack DeJohnette inspires him but it doesn't faze him. He also seems like a really nice guy. He laughs easily in a way that suggests that he takes his music more seriously than he does himself. Growing up in the British Midlands in a strong and supportive family environment has given him roots which give his writing—and his playing—a depth and a quality unusual in one still so young. Like the man, like the music, in every sense.

Selected Discography

Gareth Lockrane's Grooveyard, The Strut (Whirlwind, 2012)
Phil Robson, The Immeasurable Code (Whirlwind, 2011)
Gareth Lockrane Septet, No Messin' (Gailforce, 2008)
Tom Richards Orchestra, Smoke and Mirrors (Candid, 2007)
Grooveyard, Put The Cat Out (Gailforce, 2003)
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