'The pressure was almost immobilising... we had to take a break'
After nearly 20 years away from the music world, Paul Tucker and Tunde Baiyewu of Lighthouse Family are back with a new album. The music stars, who formed one of the biggest UK groups of the 1990s, talk about their decision to come back after such a long time
It goes without saying Lighthouse Family are feeling a tad anxious about releasing music after nearly two decades away. Known for their string of easy-listening yet anthemic hits that defined the late 1990s and early 2000s, the pop and soul group are back with their first album of new music in 18 years.
Singer Tunde Baiyewu and keyboardist and record producer Paul Tucker are confident it stands up to their previous efforts.
But of course, there are nerves. It would be weird if there wasn't, right?
"I'm a bit apprehensive, to be honest," Tucker admits.
"It's amazing it's been such a long time really," he says, reflecting on the lengthy hiatus between their last record, 2001's Whatever Gets You Through The Day, and their new one, Blue Sky In Your Head.
"I don't think there's any precedent for this. I don't know if anyone has done this before?"
Tucker feels like they have "been to Mars and now we've come back and it's all changed", but is buoyed by early feedback from industry types who have had a listen already and the fan reaction to lead single My Salvation.
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"When we announced this, we were talking to a few people who had heard the album already," he explains.
"One person said the title track Blue Sky In Your Head was their favourite tune and somebody else said it was My Salvation. Somebody else said theirs was Live Again, and I liked that," he smiles.
Baiyewu agrees, pitching in: "We wanted to make a record that stood up, especially to our first two records.
"They set a really high bar, so part of the goal of this record was to try to at least match that bar."
Baiyewu, whose deep, honeyed vocals on the group's hit singles inject the warmest feeling of nostalgia in anybody who was around in their hey-day, puts emphasis on the quality of their work.
"We did feel a bit apprehensive, because you're not sure, but once we started, things just started happening in terms of the songs we were writing, very quickly," he says.
"You tick one off, work on the next one, then tick it off.
"And we continued that over about a year and a half until we felt we had it, but that's just our opinion.
"The next step is the feedback. Do people resonate with it? Do they click with it?
"We felt we achieved what we set out to do - to make a Lighthouse Family record that has all the DNA strands of what we've done that defines us, but at the same time makes it a 2019 record."
He shrugs, adding: "Whatever happens after that is out of our hands, but it's critical to get the nod that we have made a contemporary record that still says Lighthouse Family.
"And hopefully it will win over some people who weren't fans in the past."
Tucker chuckles over the idea of appealing to a new, younger market. Or as he jokes, "kids who were subjected to our music in the back of their mum's and dad's car".
"My son sent me a video of his mate's sister, hungover with her mates all singing High in the morning," he muses.
"It's got that weird kind of status, that song. It's at people's weddings and I've heard it a lot lately."
The songs that defined the group back then were memorable hits Lifted, High, Ocean Drive and Raincloud, among others.
Remarkably though, for songs with such clout, Lighthouse Family failed to top the charts, instead scoring a handful of top 10 hits.
Their three albums charted between number two and number seven, with Ocean Drive - their 1995 debut album - spending more than 170 weeks on the chart and selling nearly two million copies.
The duo, who met at university in Newcastle and formed the group more than 25 years ago, were riding high in those heady first few years with Ocean Drive and their 1997 follow-up Postcards From Heaven.
But with the weight of expectation, along with a number of personal situations, they had to call it a day sooner than could have been expected.
Tucker explains: "It just got gradually more and more difficult to achieve what it was they wanted us to do.
"High was a difficult song to write. When I wrote Ocean Drive or Lifted, there wasn't any of that pressure, but with High the pressure almost immobilised me.
"And it was hard for us - we were virtually living in each others' pockets for 10 years, spending an unnatural amount of time together."
There was also the death of Tucker's dad and both of them went on to focus on solo projects, causing things to fizzle out after Whatever Gets You Through The Day.
However, the reunion and new music was not for lack of trying. Tucker and Baiyewu did make several attempts over the years to get back together, but it was never quite right.
They tried in 2007, in 2010, 2011 and 2013, sometimes returning to perform live but never recapturing the musical magic, so to speak.
Tucker describes a "sort of friction" between them whenever they got back in the studio, despite their other interactions being fine.
"We tried loads of different things. We would get in a room and sing other people's songs, and then I'd try to ease a new one in and boom! Straight away, it was back to the friction," he reveals.
"Both of us were like, we don't have to do this and if it's going to be grief, I'm not doing it.
"We've got close to it and then gone, 'No, that looks like it's going to be grief, I can't be a**** with it'.
On what changed when they finally decided to start working on this new album in 2016 - at the request of their original record label and former manager - Tucker says they were both different, although he is unable to say how.
"I suppose there's a natural cycle to things, you have to stop and rest," Baiyewu offers.
"You see other bands going through a cycle of activity for years, then naturally something happens and they take a breather."
Somewhat spiritually, he adds: "You could point out all those things we said, but when the Universe is running its own thing, it doesn't matter how these rest points happen, what the reasons are.
"You just have to take a break and that's what happened with us.
"This time around, without us even making a conscious effort, it was almost like something was saying, 'The break is enough now, it's fine'."
Blue Sky In Your Head by Lighthouse Family is out on July 5