Brian Locking, musician

Born: December 22, 1938

Died: October 8, 2020.

BRIAN ‘Licorice’ Locking was bass guitarist with the Shadows, the influential British instrumental rock group, for eighteen months, replacing founder member Jet Harris.

As well as contributing steady and economical bass lines to Shadows recordings and stage performances, Locking was also featured on harmonica on several numbers. Though never recorded by the group, his version of Acker Bilk’s Stranger on the Shore was regularly featured on live performances.

On one occasion, an overzealous stagehand started to wind down the central stage microphone, forcing Brian to go lower and lower until he was finally stretched out flat on the stage, still playing.

He played bass on numerous hit singles including Guitar Tango, Dance On!, Foot Tapper (these two both topped the charts) and Atlantis as well as LP and EP tracks, and Cliff Richard recordings. He also appeared in the film Summer Holiday.

However, his influence on the group went beyond musical matters. As a devout Jehovah’s Witness, he was credited by Richard as the person who started him on the journey to publicly professing his Christian faith. Fellow Shadow Hank Marvin became a Jehovah’s Witness as a result of contact with Locking.

Locking, who was born in Bedworth and grew up in Grantham, Lincolnshire, formed, in the 1950s, the Harmonica Vagabonds, with Roy Clark and Roy Taylor. The skiffle boom prompted a change of direction and they became the Vagabonds Skiffle Group with Brian on tea-chest bass. Inevitably, they headed to London and Soho’s 2i’s coffee bar, and Brian, first on double bass then on bass, found himself part of the burgeoning rock ‘n’ roll scene. Larry Parnes offered Taylor a solo contract as Vince Eager, and the Vagabonds split.

By then, Brian had acquired the nickname of ‘Licorice’ after passing time on a journey annoying his bandmates by playing a toy clarinet, or ‘licorice stick’. He was about to return home when he was offered a job with Terry Dene’s Dene Aces, alongside drummer Clem Cattini (later of the Tornados and hundreds of studio sessions)

Another drummer, Brian Bennett, joined Licorice in the Tony Sheridan Trio, which morphed into Vince Taylor’s Playboys, who also recorded one 45 with Janice Peters. Sheridan left and was replaced by Scottish guitarist Joe Moretti.

The two Brians moved on to join Marty Wilde’s Wildcats – ‘Licorice’ was the bass on classics such as Teenager in Love. While a member of the Wildcats, he accompanied the touring American stars, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. When Marty accepted a part in the West End production of Bye Bye Birdie the Wildcats became the Krew Kats, releasing two singles before going their separate ways. Locking and Bennett did a summer season at Great Yarmouth with Frankie Howerd and Tommy Steele.

An eight-week UK tour with Steele followed, then panto at Liverpool Empire. By then, Bennett had joined the Shadows, replacing Tony Meehan in October 1961. The following April, Jet Harris made his final appearance with the Shadows at the NME Poll Winners Concert. Although his previous working relationship with Bennett was obviously a plus point, ‘Licorice’ was not, as he revealed years later, an automatic choice, . The other candidate was John Rogers, bassist with The Hunters, a band which had backed Cliff Richard on a few occasions when the Shadows were unavailable.

‘Licorice’ went to Bennett’s house to meet Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch for an informal audition. They ran through a few numbers, as he told Lawrence Canty: “A bit of Apache, then Wonderful Land, which I didn’t know…” It was Bruce Welch who gave the verdict: “Lic, you’re in.”

It would be no surprise to those who knew him, that Brian’s first act after securing the job was to call John Rogers. Then it was off to the group’s office in Savile Row for a suit fitting. After a week’s rehearsal, the new lineup made its debut at Queen’s Theatre in Blackpool. Of course, it wasn’t just the numbers to be learned, there was the ‘Shadows walk’. “I wasn’t sure of all the numbers – just stood there like a lemon. Gradually, I got into it and got the movements going,” Locking would recall.

When he left the group in 1963, it was to further his religious work, something which was almost impossible while touring with a world-famous act. His last appearance with the Shadows was on November 3, before spending a week recording the soundtrack for the film Wonderful Life, though it was his successor, John Rostill, who travelled to the Canary Islands for the filming.

Brian returned briefly to the lineup when Rostill became ill during a 1968 season at London’s Talk of the Town. In the interim, he played sessions including recordings by Donovan, and ran a London-based band, playing pubs and clubs, supplementing his income with jobs in retail and window cleaning. Eventually, he moved to Wales and retired from full-time music-making.

In the late 90s, he became a regular at Bruce Welch’s Shadowmania fan gatherings at the Lakeside Country Club, Surrey, and was a popular guest at Shadows-related fan meetings throughout Europe, where his willingness to sit in with bands, play bass and harmonica and chat about his career made him a popular and much-loved guest.

He released several CDs featuring his harmonica playing, and collaborated with Dutch and Spanish musicians. He always seemed slightly surprised that his brief tenure with the Shadows, in between the pioneering Jet Harris and the more adventurous John Rostill, was remembered with such affection by Shadows fans everywhere.

George Geddes