Review: Gareth Lockrane Big Band




Gareth Lockrane brought his 19-piece big band to the Pizza Express and Leon Nock heard them blowing up a storm on the flautist's original tunes

It was SRO at the Pizza Express in Dean Street, London on the last day of April when Gareth Lockrane (pictured right by Brian Payne) brought his big (19-piece) band to town and blew up the kind of storm that four trumpets, four trombones, five saxes (plus Gareth himself on the flute family: regular flute, alto flute, bass flute, piccolo) are wont to generate.

Throw in a five-handed rhythm section – piano, bass, drums, guitar, percussion – and T.S. Eliot’s celebrated opening line of The Waste Land (April is the cruellest month) becomes April is the coolest month before you can say “after four”.

If you want to catch this outfit live, and you will, trust me, chances are you’ll have to do so on a Sunday because most of these cats have day jobs in the pits of West End theatres hosting musicals and there’s only so much Phantom/Les Miz you can phone in before needing to let your chops loose on some exhilarating charts.

The compositions – a dozen give or take – were all the work of Gareth himself, as were the charts, and if there was nothing like the material Duke Ellington wrote for his band (Sophisticated Lady, I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart, It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing) neither was it chopped liver and it’s early days yet. Given the restricted rehearsal time the outfit was exceptionally well drilled and the closest thing to a clinker was when tenor Alex Garnett stood up to take a solo just as trumpeter Steve Fishwick – who had been given the nod by Gareth – did the same thing. Split-second timing stepped in and if you hadn’t actually seen it you would have been none the wiser. Although, perhaps not unnaturally, he gave himself the lion’s share of the solos which showcased the entire flute family Gareth did sprinkle stand-up moments for the majority of the crew; all five members of the reed section got at least 16 bars to strut their stuff as did Steve Fishwick on trumpet and Nichol Thompson on trombone. Each of the five-piece rhythm section had one solo with Ross Stanley, piano, and Ian Thompson, drums, weighing in with bonus bars as befitting the flashier instruments.

The bulk, if not all, of the programme was a live performance of the band’s 2017 album Fistfight At The Barndance and only the fact that I am unfamiliar with the album prevents me being unequivocal. The largely uptempo and double-time fodder – Do It, On The Fly, Mel’s Spell, Abyssinia – was leavened by a couple of ballads – We’ll Never Meet Again, Forever Now – that provided respite from the wailing at precisely the right moments.

One minor cavil: almost inevitably a band of this size will be prone to changes in personnel. Gareth himself referred to the percussionist Steve Avery as the newest member (making his debut with that very gig) yet Google the gig, time and place, day and date, and Hugh Wilkinson is cited as percussionist. Similarly on bass was a young and accomplished female yet again Google swears on a stack of bibles that the bass chair is occupied by Ryan Trebilcock who is definitely male. As I said, minor.

However, for my out-chorus let me reiterate that as big bands go (UK big bands, that is) the only one I have heard personally that eclipses this one is John Ruddick’s Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra and it’s probably no coincidence that Mark Nightingale who graces Gareth’s trombone section is an alumnus of the MYJO. In sum: Gareth is good for you, catch him if you can.


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