INTERVIEW: The Lake Poets | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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“We’re all gonna die, we’re all shitmonkeys, trying to figure out what’s going on, and this is how I try and figure it out.” Martin Longstaff’s debut album as The Lake Poets is a genuinely moving record, very much born out of a cold wet town in the North East of England. More than just a set of songs, it’s a set of stories, carefully arranged to music in order to express feelings and thoughts that words alone can’t quite manage. It’s an intensely personal listen, at times almost excruciatingly so, and it’s Martin’s ability over the past few years to mould and weave these tales into quite beautifully crafted songs which has led to his current successes. What I’ve always wanted to know however, is why bother? Why sing about such things, about lost relatives, desperate times, and in the case of album opener Black & Blue, a beaten child?

Martin offered to explain the history of that song: “I was teaching in a primary school doing work with the lower sets who mostly had behavioural problems, and I got quite close to the kids. One little girl however would never engage and I felt a bit bummed out by this, but one day she came up and gave us a big hug, and I started crying – it was really something. Then she lifted her top around her stomach, and she had a huge purple welt on her, must’ve been hit with the belt or something, and it wiped us out. All this shit I’m whining on about and she has to struggle with all that? I couldn’t comprehend it, it wouldn’t go away, and the only way I could deal with that was to put pen to paper, and it’s the way that helps me come to terms with that, and the song just came out of us. Northview is the same, it freaked me out when me Nana died, at the end she was confused and crying, it was awful. Writing that song though, it helped me realise that was just one small part of her life, there’s all this other life that was great, she gave us a wonderful childhood, I’d rather remember her for that.”

Martin’s songs are what gets him through the darkness. “As cheeesy as it sounds, all the rest of the bollocks is secondary to me, I just need to write stuff down.” So why then choose to share it? Instead of keeping those songs locked away in a diary, Martin tours relentlessly and has already recorded enough to make two more albums. If the songwriting comes from a need to understand such intimate feelings, is it not daunting to then throw them out into the world, perhaps even narcissistic?

“I get this feeling doing big gigs, I never look forward to them, I just want to do them so I can see people’s reactions.” Martin tells me. “My favourite bit is talking to people afterwards; not for praise, what I want is the connection, then the world becomes a little bit smaller and it’s not so scary. I love making people cry at gigs, the only other time you can do that normally is in a negative sense, so doing it in a positive way is really powerful. I’m regularly moved to tears by music, or a good book or poem. It’s an amazing feeling, weird, happy, sad. So what I want is a two way process; I feel better singing and writing, and hopefully people find those songs help them too. You cannot buy that, no money compares, and I’d rather have that connection than be a pop star.”

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“You’re not really alive if you’re happy all the time, how can you be?”

It’s this connection that makes Martin’s music so important, not only to him, but others. Life is hard, at some point everyone will struggle, and everyone will have their heart broken by events outside their control. What Martin does with The Lake Poets is reach a hand into the darkness, letting people know you don’t need to face these things alone. Hearing an artist so passionately describe those moments, those knowing connections forged between them and their audience is a refreshing, revitalising experience that goes a long way to explaining how a miserable little lad from Sunderland ended up recording an album in one of Nashville’s most revered studios with the bloke from Eurythmics. I have to wonder though if the melancholic nature of these connections prey on Martin’s mind, how can you be happy if your songs are so sad?

“I don’t really understand happiness,” muses Martin. “You’re not really alive if you’re happy all the time, how can you be? Everyone struggles, there’s all these crises in the world, people voting UKIP, little kids washing up on beaches. Happiness is a distraction from what’s really going on, so I’m not bothered about being ‘happy’, I want to be satisfied. If I can look back and go ‘I’ve made use of what time I’ve had’ not just sitting in me room feeling sorry for myself – which I could do, I did for years as a stroppy teen – I wanna look back and think I did something, I met people, I made friends.”

Hearing Martin talk about his music is akin to hearing an addict lusting after their vice, with his insatiable need to form these bonds through music, what’s the next step? “I want to get better at it, I don’t think I’m the best around here even, people like Nev Clay absolutely blows ya out the water. Without singing these songs I wouldn’t have met lots of interesting different people who became good friends, that’s of more value to me than any awards or money. It’s what keeps us going.”

At the start of our conversation, I’d asked Martin why he bothered writing his songs. By the time we’d finished our tap waters in a leaky old pub in Sunderland, and he offered me a lift to the station, I was left thinking ‘how can he not?’

The Lake Poets play Surf Café, Tynemouth on Friday 23rd, Olde Young Tea Shop, Middlesbrough on Sunday 25th and Holy Trinity Church, Sunderland on Thursday 29th October. The self-titled album is available now.

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