There’s nothing a good cup of tea cannot fix. An 18-year ‘tea break’ calls for more tea, as we sit down with the Lighthouse Family to talk college years, Newcastle’s nightlife and that sunshine music we all know and love.
The pair met back in the early 90s while studying in Newcastle. And what a journey it has been. A journey that has led them back to the place where it all began. Somewhere that will forever have a place in the hearts of the people that ‘Lifted’ us way back when.
“It’s mad,” says Paul, as he sits back on the couch, ready to talk up the Toon.
“It’s kind of strange because for the last ten years it’s been on and off,” he adds.
“We’ve been talking about doing it, trying to do it, not doing it…
“This time, we actually got approached by our record company. There was a really cool guy called Craig Shardlow – a real music head – he signed Sam Fender and works with The 1975.
“His dad was a massive Lighthouse Family fan and he loved it as well because he heard it as a kid. He approached our management and said, ‘Can you get the guys together again? Do you think they can make a new record?’
“And that’s where it started.”
It’s all about timing in the music industry. Things may have been tried and tested ten times over, they may have flourished and failed over the years, but it doesn’t mean to say the record is broken. Time will tell. It’s a path that is already written, waiting in the wings for the right moment to send out its signals.
This is when the ‘lighthouse’ really comes into its own. A flickering signal, a navigation through strong waters. A leading light, guiding the pair back to Newcastle.
“We’d made several attempts to bring it back,” says Tunde.
“We’d been up here in Newcastle, working to make new music – and it just kind of faded away and didn’t happen.
“So to a certain degree, a lot of the groundwork for what we’ve done was already in place, but it’s still taken us about two years of work to make the record, ensuring it fits the brief of what the Lighthouse Family is all about.”
There’s something incredibly special about meeting Paul and Tunde in Newcastle. It’s like catching up with a friend who left home a long time ago. Reminiscing about their favourite hangouts, getting to grips with what’s new in the city, and generally just jumping back into the Newcastle headspace.
“The way it’s all happening is really weird. It feels like something else is driving it,” says Paul.
“It’s really strange,” adds Tunde.
“We’ve been walking around town this afternoon and I walked past where I used to live by the Quayside – just taking it all
“There’s something about what is happening now – the record we’ve made and how we’ve made it – that is representative of exactly how it was when we first started.
“There’s a lot of attention back on Newcastle at the moment. The place looks and feels so different, but at the same time, it feels just like it did when we formed.
“Isn’t it strange that, while all of this is happening and Newcastle is back on the map in the music world, we’ve got a new record?”
If Paul and Tunde were ever to reform, it was always going to be in Newcastle. It’s the city where they signed their first deal, it’s the city they played their first demos, and it’s the city that quite simply, lit up the Lighthouse Family.
“From a musical point of view, if something works up here, it kind of works anywhere.
“Some stuff that works in London doesn’t always work elsewhere. But music that works in Newcastle tends to travel – I don’t know why that is. That seems to have worked for a lot of people. People like Sting and classics like Knopfler, but even now, with people like Sam Fender – it’s quite hot again. There’s a lot of good stuff happening up here.
“It was important for us to come back here to do the groundwork for this record.”
“Look at it like this – wherever something is conceived or born, somehow in its DNA, it takes on the main characteristics of that place,” Tunde jumps in.
“And you can’t shake that off. It’s important not to lose that connection.
“Newcastle has its own pull for us,” he adds.
“There’s a golden thread that kind of weaves its way through the different aspects of what we do. And that sense of place is so important.”
“Well put mate,” Paul cuts in.
“I like that – beautifully summed up.”
So how was their soulful sound born? Paul had Ocean Drive in the bag and was casting around, looking for a singer to record it with. Through mutual friends, the pair met, worked their magic and it was a very quick journey from there. A journey that they’ve brought back to life with new music.
“Wayne’s flat, where we first met, was on Waterloo Street – there’s a track on the new record name after that road,” says Paul.
“We based the song on that street because there was a great club called Rockshots. They played really uplifting, feel-good house music that kind of coloured what we were doing at the time. Tommy Caulker was the DJ – he now runs World Headquarters. It’s great to come back and see that he’s still doing his thing in the city – he’s like the Peter Pan of Newcastle’s nightlife scene.
“I met my wife at Rockshots too, so Waterloo Street is a bit special for us,” Paul adds.
Bringing the Lighthouse Family back is something that has taken a lot of thought. And it was important to get it right – finding the perfect balance between giving the people what they want, while pulling in new fans.
A Lighthouse Family song is instantly recognisable. It is wind-the-windows-down, driving-along-the-coast, put-a-smile-on-your-face, sunshine music. It’s memorable and it’s mood-lifting. Whatever the weather, it puts a ‘Blue Sky In Your Head’, which brings us on to the new album…
“High, Lifted, Ocean Drive – people know what to expect from a Lighthouse Family song. Tunde’s voice. Feel-good tunes. You know the score,” says Paul.
“Matching that for the second time is quite difficult.
“The album is called ‘Blue Sky In Your Head’, and the reasoning behind it fits the brief of the original Lighthouse Family songs. Something that puts a bit of bit of sunshine in your head. Ocean Drive does just that.
“I think if somebody loves Lighthouse Family, they’re not going to be disappointed.”
Just like the band’s title – a nod to Whitley Bay’s St Mary’s Lighthouse – the new album found its name in the North East.
“Newcastle is a fundamental part of what we do,” explains Paul.
“Our studio is in Newcastle. Our ideas are born in Newcastle. For us, it’s one of the best places in the country, but for some reason, everybody always wants to get out.
“Actually, the ‘Blue Sky In Your Head’ idea came about when we were looking out of the studio window, starring at a blank page for five days.
“I was sat there thinking, ‘I don’t want to be here, I want to be somewhere else’. But actually, this is the place where things happen. A creative space in which we can flourish.
“So I think the album title is a reflection of the need to escape, the want to get away – to chase the ‘blue sky in your head’. But I guess the real questions is, do you really need to escape to get that ‘blue sky’ feeling?
“For us, we escaped, returned, and that blue sky is bluer than it has ever been before.”
Lighthouse Family music means something different to everyone – whether it’s an overwhelming feeling of love, a piece of music that carries you through tough times, or a song that triggers that ‘let’s get out of here’ feeling.
“I think it’s exactly what we need right now,” says Paul.
“What a mess – you don’t even want to look at the television anymore. You don’t want to look at the news. Everyone is disconnecting.
“When we first started it was all about creating beautiful, uplifting, happy house music. The Cold War had finished and it just suddenly felt like everyone had come to their senses – millennium and all of that. It went bonkers!
“That’s what we’d like to bring. I think we all deserve it.”
For Paul and Tunde, now is the time in the music-making cycle for them to sit back, relax and take it all in. The creative side of the jigsaw is complete – next comes the promo, the live performances and most of all, enjoying their achievements.
It’s very much a similar cycle in the magazine-making industry. Blank pages become ideas, ideas become words, words become stories, and stories are then shared for enjoyment. Our worlds collide…
“When it comes to the creative side, there’s always the daunting aspect of facing the blank page,” explains Tunde.
“You probably get the exact same thing in writing. We know we can write songs. We can sit in front of the piano and come up with new music. But there’s more to it than that…
“You’ve done it in the past, but when you’re presented with the opportunity again, it’s almost like each time you start, you’ve never actually done it before. And so, when you get that breakthrough, it’s new – it’s a surprise.
“It’s a different thing when you’re playing live. I mean, it has got it’s own surprise elements because you’re meeting new people, but a certain part of it is already done. It’s a chance for us to enjoy it.”
“When we first started doing this, we didn’t anticipate that it would be as successful as it was,” adds Paul.
“We just wanted to make records and sell enough copies to carry on making music and doing this as a life.
“And then it just took off, before we had the chance to take it all in. There’s no road map for this stuff. So this time, now we’re here, we just want to ease the pressure and enjoy it.”
Whatever the Lighthouse Family means to you, whether it takes you on a musical journey, marks a special memory or just puts a smile on your face, there’s no escaping that sunshine feeling. Uplifting, road trip hits that will live on forever.
“I love hearing stories about what our songs mean to people,” says Paul.
“There’s a song called Live Again on this record and its message is very relevant today. It reminds us that ‘it’ll be alright – we will live again’.
“High has a similar message, a strong connection.”
A personal favourite of mine. And one that triggers that sunshine feeling time and time again. Pending wedding song…
“Oh really?” says Paul.
“That’s amazing. What a lovely thing to hear. It was such a difficult song to write,” he adds.
“I had it for such a long time. I’ve never told anyone this, but I remember I just wrote that line, ‘one day we’re gonna get so high’.
“I was struggling with it for the whole year. But that’s all I had – that line. It was total ‘blank sheet fever’ for about six months. I knew it had to be a big tune.
“Eventually, we’d recorded everything and it just had to be done – the night before we completed the album. So I just wrote down what I was thinking… ‘when you’re close to tears remember, one day it’ll all be over…’ It was just what I was feeling at the time.
“It’s a very spiritual thing,” Tunde adds.
“Sometimes our spiritual knowledge takes over our logical headspace. It’s not something concrete, but it’s something we know to be true. And the difficult thing is trying to materialise that in the form of words and music.
“Sometimes the idea is much bigger than the container you’re trying to put it in, and you’ve got to try and condense it – that’s the hardest part.
“You condense it and you’re just not happy with it – you chuck it out, empty the glass and start again. But you’ve just got to allow it to ring true – to say what it wants to say, and it’ll all come together in the end.”
What is so uplifting about the Lighthouse Family’s music is that it rings true for so many people. Whether it sparks happy memories or leaves you with a ‘Blue Sky In Your Head’, it’s no surprise to me to see big smiles, bubbly personalities and the best of friends behind the much-loved sunshine music.
“The thing about me and him,” Paul starts.
“At the beginning of it all, when we first met, Tunde really got into what Ocean Drive was all about and it was just effortless in the studio. But at the same time, we’ve both walked away, for a long, long time. There was no big bust up, we’re both just quite passive people.
“We look back now and we both think… we should’ve done this ages ago!”
Together they’ve navigated through those rough waters and the light is leading them back to where it all began. Back to Newcastle City Hall this November, where you can see the guys perform live, in the place they call ‘home’.
“And that is that,” says Tunde.
“When you’re passionate about things, things happen. You’ve just got to remember where it all came from and hold on to it. It’s in the DNA.”
“Wow, what a lovely tea break,” adds Paul.
But their 18-year ‘tea break’ is over. Time to hit the road again…
For tickets to see the Lighthouse Family live in Newcastle this November, visit: gigsandtours.com