Having seen The Lake Poets (aka Martin Longstaff) live last year, and being pretty much blown away, I know to expect some wonderfully charming offerings upon entering XOYO. However, all expectations are exceeded. With a simple “Hello, I’m Martin and I’m from a band called The Lake Poets. And I’m here to play you a few songs”, the magic begins. Beginning the set with the rather appropriately entitled ‘Rain’ – filled with Longstaff’s characteristic soulfully heartfelt vocals and earnest lyrics – the room instantly holds its breath as each and every one of us are cast under a spell of beautiful melancholy.
Continuing to tug at the heart strings, next up is – perhaps my favourite Lake Poets song – ‘Edinburgh’. With the twinkling of guitar strings being sweetly strummed, this is another genuinely emotive offering; a monumentally moving and touchingly reflective track that anyone who’s ever had their heart broken will be able to relate to. Martin then welcomes his friend Tom to the stage (who stays there for the duration) to join him for ‘April’: as Tom skillfully twangs away at the ‘pedal steel’, creating an ethereal aura with the resounding reverb of his instrument, Longstaff’s spine-tinglingly heartfelt falsetto exudes from the stage as he delivers another poignant tale of loss and longing.
Lightening the mood slightly by introducing the next song as “a song about someone who can’t look you in the eye…Or is just a bit of dick”, the gentle lilt of Longstaff’s soothing North-Eastern drawl accompanied by pristine folky melodies continues, and I am still very much under his spell. Changing the mood once more, there is an interlude in the music in which Martin speculates: “I don’t know how youse feel about politics down in London, but hopefully you all hate UKIP… load of dicks” – a sentiment that is greeted with a mellow cheer from the crowd. “And”, he continues, “I don’t know how you feel about Margaret Thatcher but she isn’t – wasn’t – too popular up North where I’m from” (another timid cheer) “and this is song about that, and my dad… and keeping your chin up”. What follows is lyrical storytelling at its best: a powerful tale of the hardships of growing up in the industrial North East and the inspiring hope that those enduring that grim period tried to instil in the next generation. And rest assured, Martin, Thatcher isn’t too popular down here either…
Finishing the set is a track that strikes a particular chord for me. ‘North View’ is a tender, nostalgic reflection about “my grandma who died of Alzeimer’s”, her life as an orphan, consequent fear of loneliness, and the hope she is no longer alone “wherever she is now”; and, as the first few earnest lyrics are uttered, I find myself welling up, as I too have experienced something very similar.
Having just witnessed such impressively rousing and thought provoking content for an artist so young, the set comes to an untimely end and – as Longstaff endearingly and graciously thanks the crowd – I am left totally immersed in The Lake Poets’ utterly beguiling tales of love, loss and hardship (and ‘dicks’). A truly magical set that would tug at even the tightest of heart strings.
I can only hope The Lake Poets will be getting the stage time he deserves very soon and headlining a venue near you. And, in the mean time, you too should immerse yourself in the beauty of his debut EP, ‘Honest Hearts’, released 15th June via Generator Records.