When I first heard The Lake Poets, otherwise known as the solo project of multi-instrumentalist Martin Longstaff, he was playing his guitar onstage at one of Newcastle’s best venues (in my humble opinion), the Cluny. The demo of ‘Windowsill’, which appears as a bonus track on his first LP, nearly five years later, remains on my iPod.
Longstaff’s first album also features another couple of early songs, ‘Edinburgh’ and ‘Friends’, here gently supported by touches of piano and keyboard, but otherwise remaining familiar. The structure of the album positions these tracks early on, before launching us into uncynical love song ‘Your Face’, beautifully punctuated by plucked strings, and ‘See You Tonight’, where Longstaff promises ‘to do all things that I know you like’ in such a sweet voice it sounds like a lovely night in (as opposed to something overtly saucy). Both sound like they’d be perfectly at home on the specialist shows on Radio 2 (a great thing), with their poppier, full band backing.
Finally, Longstaff rounds off the album with a series of songs about his Northern heritage and his ancestors, ‘Northview’ being a eulogy to a late grandparent; on this record, his family become folk heroes. Longstaff’s pure voice and deft acoustic guitar forms the core of each song, whilst piano, strings, and a clean-sounding electric guitar drift in and out as required. Also ever-present is lashings of reverb, complimenting on the more heavily orchestrated numbers, but perhaps distilling the levels of intimacy on the more stripped back numbers.
By the end of the record, I know who Martin Longstaff is and what he sounds like – acoustic, more than capable of writing a folk pop hook and I know who he is – Northerner and family man, but I don’t know who he’s going to become, although opening song, ‘Black and Blue’, which tells the story of a witness to an abusive relationship, hints that future records hold the promise of deeper and darker outings in the future – and I’m really looking forward to hearing them. Until then, this collection will join those early demos where it belongs; on my rarely-updated iPod.
Words: Frankie Ward