Their 1995 debut album, Ocean Drive, fizzled out on release, skimming off the outer rim of the charts at number 62 and selling only 10,000 units, despite some encouraging airplay. But things began to change, prompted by the re-release in January of the emotive, beatific single Lifted which went top five. The album, meanwhile, having been deleted, charted in the Top 10 in March, to where it has recently returned, and has now gone double platinum. "It's a great lesson to all of us that, if you really believe in something, perseverance does pay off," says Colin Barlow, head of A&R at Polydor.
Songwriter Paul Tucker, too, is on a high from the avalanche of success but maintains he never really felt downcast when things failed to take off initially. "We didn't look at 1995 as a bad year at all," he says. "The first single may not have registered very highly, but we got a strong response from people, especially radio, so we knew we had something. And we honestly didn't want overnight success either, we wanted to grow a bit first and build slowly and that has worked."
Tucker, together with vocalist Tunde, is the Lighthouse Family. London-born, but Newcastle-based for the past 12 years, he began writing songs in the late Eighties while working in bars in the city centre but, when no one picked up on the demos he had circulated, he became disillusioned and sold his musical instruments.
However, one song he'd written kept nagging away at him. What it needed most was a singer and several people recommended the same one, Tunde, who also worked in bars around town. The two met and instantly realised they shared the same taste in music. "The songs needed a warm voice, natural, intimate - I always think of them as like talking with a mate," says Tucker. "When I was introduced to Tunde, I realised he had all those qualities."
The pair sent out a handful of demos, one of which was played down the phone to Barlow who signed them on the strength of the song they had recorded, Ocean Drive. "People say that kind of thing doesn't happen, but it did to me," says Barlow. "That song sounded so good that I took a flyer and drove up there to meet them. As soon as I met Tunde, I knew he was a star."
One of the main factors contributing to the success of Lighthouse Family is the way radio has championed the duo. They became the most played act in the first quarter of 1996 and their singles have been consistently aired since. "The support we've had from radio definitely broke the act," says Barlow. "Their music is accessible to so many different types of people. You can hear them on Radio One, GLR or Kiss FM. They make feelgood records and people love that. They like to escape into music sometimes."
BBC head of music entertainment and former head of Radio One Trevor Dann agrees. "Lighthouse Family make perfect radio records, deeply melodic but never bland and in a way that appeals to many different sorts of tastes," he says.
Tucker always intended his songs to encapsulate a warm vibe. "There's something very strong and spiritual about what we do. We get thrown in with the likes of M People, but we're closer in spirit to the sort of thing you find in U2's I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For or Oasis's Champagne Supernova."
Of late, the album has been pushed to new heights in the charts by the use of Lifted in commercials for Nissan cars, increasing sales against stiffening competition and keeping it inside the Top 10.
Tucker also praises the efforts of his management team, Kitchenware's Phil Mitchell and Keith Armstrong, who also look after Prefab Sprout. "They've been a very important element in the success we've had this year, they've had a lot of experience going back to the Eighties and we feel we can really trust them, which is important."
With a British tour completed at the end of October and one final single, Loving Every Minute, released last week, this Christmas closes the first chapter in Lighthouse Family's career. In January, they go back into the studio to record the second album, having already demoed half-a-dozen songs and written many more. Mike Peden will again produce, although there will be fewer writing collaborations - Ocean Drive featured co-credits for former Kane Gang member Martin Brammer, ex-Simply Red keyboardist Tim Kellett and Gabrielle writer Tim Laws. "I feel really good about the next album. I think they've had enough time to develop where they want to go next, so I believe they can take it to another level," says Barlow.
For Tucker, though, the ultimate aim is to take his music to America. "I think we've got a great future in the US. The approach we take to music is probably very close to the hearts of Americans, so we're going to go over there and do it properly, put on a show and take six months doing it probably some time next summer," he says.
The band are negotiating a US deal with a view to releasing Ocean Drive in the New Year. "We're going through the beauty parade at the moment," says Tucker. "We want to make sure we get it right." With the right campaign behind them, Lighthouse Family look set to shine bright in the often rough American waters.
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