INTERVIEW: Why The Lake Poets are riding the crest of a Wearside wave

Martin Longstaff
Martin Longstaff
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As musicians go they don’t get much more Mackem than Martin Longstaff.

His love for his home city, its loss of industry and its tales of human endeavour, has sparked his burgeoning career in the music industry. It’s a beautifully haunting sound that caught the ear of Sunderland-born Dave Stewart who swiftly signed him to his management label.

Cue an eponymous debut album, which was, of course, launched at Sunderland Minster and Martin is currently riding the crest of a Wearside wave.

But such is the soul of his thought-provoking sound, that tracks such as Vane Tempest and Shipyards are resonating beyond the city which inspired their being.

A fortnight after its release and Martin’s debut album is already winning national plaudits.

“It got four out of five stars in Mojo magazine and 8 /10 in Uncut. It’s mad, these are magazines I read,” explained the 26-year-old from East Herrington.

Martin's just released his debut album

Martin's just released his debut album

The record is the result of six weeks spent in Nashville, USA, earlier this year. Five weeks of that was spent writing and meeting musicians, followed by a fervent three days in which the album was recorded.

In doing so he’s followed in the footsteps of Roy Orbison and Hank Williams, who’ve also recorded at the renowned Blackbird Studios. At the helm of the studio is John McBride, who has recorded everyone from Bruce Springsteen and The White Stripes to Taylor Swift and The Black Keys in his studio.

Martin definitely wasn’t in Sunderland anymore.

“I’ve always wanted to make an album. I was desperate to do it, but I wanted to take my time and get it right,” said the former Farringdon School pupil.

Haunting sound

Haunting sound

While he drew on a small handful of tracks from his back catalogue, such as Windowsill, the majority of the tracks were penned over the pond.

“When I was over there they asked me to write a single. I’m not really a single writer, I prefer writing albums, full pieces,” he said. “I was working on this riff in the style of John Martyn. I was missing Laura (his girlfriend) so I wrote about that. It came out at just over three minutes and was poppy and catchy and that became the single Your Face.”

Martin, who trained as a teacher, says recording the album, with musicians who’ve worked with the likes of Bob Dylan and Neil Young, is an experience he will never forget.

“It was unbelievable to work with musicians of that calibre,” he said. “Everything was done in one or two takes, it’s not overly-produced, re-dubbed and sat there for ages. I was buzzing with that.”

Martin and Dave Stewart at the Minster. Photo by Gabriel Petre

Martin and Dave Stewart at the Minster. Photo by Gabriel Petre

While Martin brought his ideas and lyrical talents to the table, the ears of the operation was Dave Stewart, of Eurythmics fame, who produced the record.

The Grammy, Brit and Ivor Novello awards-winner, who now lives in LA, returned to his home city for two sold-out gigs at the Minster late last month to launch the album.

“We planned the Minster gigs so that he could be there,” said Martin. “He’s taken a big leap of faith in me and I was buzzing that he could be there. He hadn’t seen me perform live with the full Lake Poets band before (Martin performs solo and with a band), so it was great that he could experience that. Then he came on stage and jammed with us on the Saturday night, which was totally unexpected and amazing.

“During the day we went to the beach and to the Cat and Dog Steps. He’s still a Sunderland lad and he likes to keep his hand in with what’s going on. I’ve given him a long list of other bands to check out.”

Although Martin’s music is already well-known on the North East music scene, and he’s racked up appearances at festivals including Glastonbury, Kendal Calling and T In The Park in the past few years, the clout of Dave Stewart’s management team, who he chats to daily on Skype, is helping to propel his career forward.

His hard work’s not gone unnoticed, especially at home.

Dave Stewart at the Minster. Photo by Gabriel Petre

Dave Stewart at the Minster. Photo by Gabriel Petre

“The groundswell of support from people has completely blown my mind, “ he said. “My twitter mentions were unreal from the Minster gigs, I still haven’t had a chance to go through them all. I’ve had letters from people who say that my music has become part of their lives, that they’ve used the songs as their wedding song. That’s what I want from my music. You can be a pop star and sell 200,000 copies of a song, like Psy with Gangnam Style, but to have your music be part of people’s lives and relationships is something else. I want those connections.”

Speaking about the inspiration for his music, he said: “I find people really interesting, I always like to listen, rather than talk, I always ask the questions. Sunderland has such history, not just industrial, but family history, like how people reacted after the mines closed. There’s a lot of pride here.”

So what next for The Lake Poets?

The next few weeks will see more gigs, at home and abroad, as well as the screening of a documentary, directed by Paul Boyd, which follows the band from Sunderland to Nashville, and the journey of recording an album in one week.

Meanwhile, Martin will keep hitting those emotional notes.

“I’ve played all the venues I wanted to in the North East so next on my list would be the Royal Albert Hall and Jools Holland,” he said. “I’d love to do Shipyards on that show and make Southerners cry.”

•Album The Lake Poets is out now. For more information visit http://thelakepoets.com.