Billy Lockett has a cheeky charm that it’s hard not to warm towards. He might be one step away from super-stardom or he might have already peaked, safe in the knowledge that his latest EP has touched the I-tunes top 40. Either way, the audience on this Sunday night at Nottingham’s Bodega are caught up in the infectious wide-eyed enthusiasm with which he goes about his craft. Interspersed throughout the set, he plays three new songs, all of which he has a good feeling about. “I think this is going to be the big one but then I say that about every song I’ve written”, he repeats until funny.
For much of this set, Billy is content to sit behind a white electric piano and allow us to relax into this. A roaming, orange spotlight threatens to give us all migraines in the initial parts but this is quickly faded to a more Sunday appropriate and less frantic blue. Support act, Karima Francis, has already observed in one of her chatty, smiley diversions in between songs that “Sunday gigs are for people coming down from drugs.” Billy briefly leaves the comfort of his piano to show off his impressive guitar skills but it’s the keyboard, backing tape and his soulful, clean voice that take most prominence.
He’s at his best when he’s dealing with raw and tender emotional stuff. Songs and stories about and for his Dad who passed away earlier this year loom large. ‘Your Love Hurts’ was Dad’s favourite Billy song and you can tell that it means a lot to Billy when he sings it. Plenty of reverb and echo on the voice add to the emotional effect. He saves the single from the top 40, Radio 1 backed EP to last but the quirky, jaunty tune about his relationship with his ‘Old Man’ is lapped up by the audience.
As popular as Coldplay might be (they’re not in these quarters), I wish that Billy’s one cover of the night (Magic by Codplay) was left out of the set for an extra one of his own. Billy tells us all a story of how he was involved in a marriage proposal set-up whilst busking in London and then ponders what it must be like to be married whilst falling in love with a serving soldier. Mostly, the sentiment within the set stays on the right side of a heartstring tug but there are moments that are a bit too much for this cynical, cold, hack.
“Nottingham, that’s the best it’s gone on this tour,” beams Billy as ‘Winning Team’, his audience participation, clapping and singing ode to his manager draws to a close. As a song, it charts the progress made and friendship built on his career to date. The audience seem to appreciate the honest focus that Billy brings to songs such as this and ‘Pathways’, comments on how tough and how persistent you have to be as an unsigned artist in these days of Instant yet fleeting fame from TV talent contests.
Billy tells us that he won’t be playing live for some time now that this tour is coming to an end. He’s clearly a very talented, hard-working performer and few in the audience would deny him the chance to grace stages larger than this in future years. Those who take a stance against the popular and the derivative might disagree. It remains to be seen if his 15 minutes of fame have already passed or if in 2015, one of his ‘new songs’ propels him further forward. I think, on balance, I’m hoping for the latter.