Pinchbeck drummer turned artist

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Pinchbeck man Gilson Lavis has drummed with Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra for 25 years.

Gilson tried to retire some time ago when the toll of performing all over the world became too much.

The idea was, Gilson says, to retire and move to a derelict cottage in Lincolnshire where he would give drum lessons to locals.

The derelict cottage of that scenario came about, and is something he renovated himself to create his family home.

But retirement didn’t happen because Jools – Julian to Gilson – was soon on the telephone talking him into doing some shows, and here he is 25 year later, performing 80 or 90 gigs a year, despite being 65.

“I think it will be taken out of my hands,” says Gilson about retirement. “It’s a two-hour show and it’s hard work physically and mentally, so I think what will happen is that though I might be willing, my body will say, ‘That’s enough now’.

“There are occasions when I am playing with Jools and the orchestra that it reaches a point where everything is working really well. The brass are in the groove and right on the money and Julian’s playing really well and maybe we have a guest artist out there who’s a joy to work with, and I can relax and be in the moment.

“That does happen and it is fantastic when it happens, but a lot of the time I am working quite hard.”

Drumming may not be effortless, but Gilson has another creative outlet that more often than not does work for him.

It was eight or nine years ago, on a solitary trip to Hungary to fix some dental problems caused by the years of hard-living, that Gilson picked up a pen and started to sketch for the first time since his school days.

It was a pen and ink portrait of his tour manager whose reaction when presented with it was so enthusiastic it encouraged Gilson to do more portrait sketches. Over time that evolved into black and white acrylic paintings, and now combines both sketching and painting, always black and white portraits.

Gilson finds the process meditative, and says: “All the stuff goes, the ego, the fears and worries, it all disappears and you just completely focus on what you are doing.” Gilson’s work sells well, but now everyone has a chance to buy some – and celebrate drumming heroes – in Gilson’s new book, Drummers, a collection of his paintings of favourite percussionists. The book sells for £20 and is available from gilson@gilsonlavis.co.uk

Gilson will also be doing a book signing at Uptown Vinyl Records, Spalding Lifestyle Centre, next to Johnson Community Hospital, on Saturday, September 17 (1-3pm).