Abington Grove is a symbol of me – Billy LocketPosted 1st March 2023
Since we last caught up with him, Northampton’s piano man Billy Lockett has inked a new record deal and has America in his sights. With a debut album fresh to the shelves, he spoke with Pulse’s Sammy Jones.
So far, Billy’s songs have clocked up well in excess of 110 million streams. That’s a monstrous number of listens. Billy might well be the most successful secret in music, I suggest.
“Yeah, and I kind of want to keep it that way to be honest,” he says with no hesitation, “My goal is to be the biggest small artist forever, basically,” he reasons, “My music and my fans and the whole thing, it’s modest, and that’s how I like it – it’s just me and a piano on stage, it’s kind of like there is no ego and it’s just us having a good time together, there is no divide,” he explains.
“I want it to be like a little independent business for as long as I can…while secretly building the numbers up!
“There’s nothing bigger than that. I don’t think there needs to be any more complication over it…”
The last time we spoke, Billy told us, ‘I don’t care about showbiz things,’ and that is clearly still so – he says he just wants to have fun and enjoy the ride. If, or rather when, things do blow up and Billy has a big hit on his hands?
“I’m absolutely terrified of that happening if I’m honest, because I really like my life,” he laughs, “At the same time, a hit is always nice isn’t it?
“You can’t force the radio to play it, you can’t force Spotify to playlist you, but you can try and make something really good and something that’s believed in. Dean Lewis (singer-songwriter) said to me last week, ‘good art will always find a way.’ Really it is just down to trying to better yourself – make that the fun bit, make that the whole point. It is kinda like you are at the gym and just trying to be your personal best.
“If you focus on just bettering yourself, all the other stuff will come without you even noticing it, and I think that’s the right way to do it.
“If you just sit and wait for it, or if you are just trying to do it to get there, your art will suffer and you’ll end up making terrible music.”
There is no doubt about it – things are getting bigger, but Billy is clear about retaining that sense of intimacy – and having tried working with a band (‘It didn’t feel right’) he is now happily back working on his own.
“We all agree, me and my whole team, this is just right. My fans don’t really want big sounds, they want to have a little sing along and I want it to always feel like it’s in my living room.”
In the past, Billy was part of the Warner Records family, but that ended a long time ago. He is now bedded in with the American label Photo Finish, and there is harmony between artist and label.
“They are an indie label firstly, so that’s instantly better,” Billy says, “It’s not that Warners were terrible, they were, but it’s more the fact that it was the people and the team; it wasn’t the right team and I didn’t know who I was either, so I was trying things out with a label who weren’t really helping.
“It takes time to work out what the hell you are. I’ve come to Photo Finish as kind of a finished product really – I know what it is, I know what it sounds like, and the album was already done.”
“We shipped it out to loads of labels in the UK and people weren’t really biting, and then we went over to America and it was a totally different story and we had quite a lot of labels bidding over it…”
Photo Finish lucked out because of its ‘small team and family vibe.’
“They have only got seven or eight artists and it’s about the long game for them,” Billy explained.
And the label is quids in too – aside from Billy’s brilliant ability as a music man, he won’t cost them a pretty penny either: “I’m relatively cheap as an artist – it’s just me and a piano,” he laughs, “There’s not a lot of outgoings!”
When Billy went stateside for a meeting with his new team in New York, he wowed industry ears with a showcase. There is an expectation that he’ll be spending more time on the other side of the pond in 2023.
“I am assuming that I am going to be touring there a lot, that’s what everyone keeps telling me. When it comes to touring, you sit in your pants for four months and then you get a call to say you are going to be away for four months…but the label have just got me a visa and I’ve got a big booking agent now so it would be crazy if I wasn’t there for the next four or five months.”
The fella has already been labelled ‘the English Lewis Capaldi’, a man he had the pleasure of touring with a while ago. Are you happy with that reference?
“I don’t mind. I’ll take the sound, yeah. I loved touring with him and he gave me a big chance last year, and got me a lot of new fans. He is brilliant, and genuinely the most talented person I have ever known.
“I remember watching him at soundcheck on the first night of the tour, and just thinking ‘this guy is going to be the biggest thing in the world,’ I just knew it.
“You don’t hear voices like that, ever. It literally blew my mind, and I am quite hard to please because I do this all the time, but he was something else, and all the success that he’s got, he fully deserves. He is the best, he is the king of our genre.”
Aside from being an undisputed talent as a songwriter himself, Billy’s success lies in an open rapport with his fans – he connects with them on his social media channels in a real and direct way – it’s every bit as honest as his music is.
Those fans are invested, and accompany him on his journey, through the good times and the bad. And what a journey it has proven to be so far.
Right now, all ears are on the debut album, Abington Grove, named after the street where it was recorded, and which Billy called home until recently.
“It’s my dad’s old house, so I wrote and recorded the whole album in it, and pretty much spent my whole life there. It’s been my family home since I was born, so it’s an important house.”
Important not only because it has offered Billy a space to hone his craft, but also because it was a place where his late father, acclaimed fine artist John Luce Lockett, worked from, and where he hosted exhibitions.
“He was really good, one of the best,” Billy says of his father and his creativity.
This creatively rich family unit both utilised the space for their own needs; while one painted on canvas, the other ‘painted’ in sound.
Billy lost his father in 2014, but he clearly left his mark on his son, and gave him great advice, which clearly Billy has heeded.
“He taught me that you don’t have to do the normal job/life thing, that there is a way of making art your job…”
Abington Grove is a 12-track disc of all new music, including the recent single, the emotive Last Thing On Your Mind. Billy says the album has been a decade in the making, and will deliver some surprises too.
“It’s a totally new sound, it’s a pop album, really,” he shares, “There are a lot of pop songs on it. I’ve done ballads for so long and I think my next album could be ballads, but for this one I wanted to show myself that I can do more, basically.”
The tracks might be new to your ears, but some have been living among Billy’s private repertoire for a long time.
“I write a song every day, I am constantly writing. You write and write and write and then you look back at them all and go, ‘that one keeps standing out’. This album is basically all the songs that have always stood out and have never made it to an EP.
“Subconsciously, I think I’ve been saving for my first album, holding back the ones that really, really were good. Now I’m at the point where this is literally 12 of the best songs that I could ever possibly do in my opinion. If it doesn’t work, I’ve got nothing left,” he laughs.
When you’ve lived with material for such a long time, can it be difficult to cut it loose and set those songs free?
“I really struggled with that at the beginning,” he admits, “When we first started releasing singles it was really horrible actually. It felt like I was giving away something that I had relied on for a long time. Now I am used to it and everything is fine.”
Everything here is personal, and real, right down to the artwork which cleverly crams his history into the cover. It’s a smart collaboration between photographer Gavin Wallace and designer and artist Cameron West.
“It’s got my mum and dad’s wedding picture in, Barney, my cat, my dog, bits and pieces from my cellar, just my whole life. It sums up the whole record really, because the record is my life for the last 10 years. It’s a symbol of me.”
Billy’s year looks set to be one spent hopping from one stage and hotel room to another, but home is where the heart is – and that is staying put in Northampton.
He loves the town and the town loves him. Tickets to see him at the Picturedrome in December sold-out on the day of release, and he was invited to switch the town’s Christmas lights on, too.
“There is something happening in Northampton that is really exciting, I feel like there is a real buzz here that we are creating,” he realises.
“It’s really organic and I feel like the town is behind me. It feels nice. You see it in Manchester and you see it in Newcastle, and you’ve got all these big cities where artists are really championed…it’s nice that people feel proud to live here again. I really feel like the town is getting a better rep.”
The ‘fampton tourist board should snap him up. What an asset.
“There is a real scene and a real buzz in this town at the moment and it’s just nice that I am a part of it. Northampton is a great place – I really like being here.”
At the start of this interview, Billy said ‘you can’t force radio’ into playing certain tunes. That much is true. But while puttting this piece together, he’s been playlisted on Radio 2, and on every regional BBC station in the UK. And Love Island even pick up a track.
Tha man might be modest, but the reaction to his music is anything but.