Together At Home
Adopt, adapt, improve. As a motto it has been a prevalent motivator during the lockdown era. An artist suddenly, without choice, has the space and freedom to get thy head down and explore thyself. In the case of Northampton resident Billy Lockett that has been to rediscover old desires centring around the grand piano. The result is Together At Home.
An incongruous instrument in rock and pop at the best of times, Lockett has transformed the rarefied grand piano into a weapon for big emotive, yet uniquely personal gestures. Usually “the big music” is achieved via discordant synth lines [Nick Cave] or reverbed guitars [Bon Iver]. But his biggest hitters to date are the “quiet anguish” songs like of ‘Hard Act To Follow’ and ‘Empty House’, delivered almost as recitals. Kudos to him for taking this man-and-piano, nowhere-to-hide approach and making it work in chapels, theatres, and even the BBC Music Introducing stage at Glastonbury.
So faced with time alone he has come up with this debut-but-not-really-my-debut album that is entirely instrumental. He refers to it as his ‘classical’ album. Is one instrument enough to make something classical? Regardless, this is him alone, surrounded by his late father’s artwork, making good on an old promise. The results are worthy of your time, but undoubtedly this is a frustrating work. Let’s get the opprobrium out the way quickly. Seven tracks here that are reworkings of already-released songs, and there’s the nagging feeling that they are slightly superfluous. They will surely have you rushing back to hear the ‘real things’. It would be hard to expect him to write a whole new album in the last three months, and there is no doubt some curiosity factor with hearing these salon-style reinterpretations. The die-hard fans will appreciate them too.
It is the four completely new compositions, though, that give this album it’s heart. The quartet are arranged as ‘true’ instrumental pieces, with clear ebb and flow, plus many classical flourishes. Each are exquisite in their own way. The influence of Ludovico Einaudi on ‘One World’ is obvious. It leisurely builds into something rhythmic, and by halfway through the melody has delivered enough tension to have you hooked. The title track goes a step further, and on 45 seconds double-times into an accomplished, cinematic drama, before falling away again with a wholly new spin of its main motif. Then it gallops off again; you may be breathless by the time it’s over.
‘The Big Wheel’ is a breezy up-and-downer that never reveals where it will go next, and is sadly over too soon. Album closer ‘Patterns’, meanwhile, adds a synth-line undertow to give it a little more welly; and no doubt in another era it could easily have been a show theme on ITV.
As a “one-off” project Lockett can take much pride that he’s brought the fans some considerable beauty into the world in these troubled times. It’s patently clear that there’s much scope for a full album of Lockett originals, mixing up his affecting heartbreak balladry with a few modern touches to create a truly exceptional monument to his AOR/pop talent. For now this is a diverting stop-gap; and there’s much reason to have this mood-setter in your life.
Words: Phil Moore. Feature photo: David Jackson.
Together At Home is out now via the usual digital platforms. Some of the profits made from the album are to be donated to the National Emergencies Trust charity.