The Lighthouse Family

Tunde, left, with keyboard player Paul Tucker
Tunde, left, with keyboard player Paul Tucker

From broken bones to new beginnings

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You might not like to admit it, but the chances are that you, or someone you live with has – at one time – owned a Lighthouse Family album.

The feel-good easy listening giants may never have been at the height of fashion, but they sold albums and tour tickets by the lorry-load.

Singer Tunde Baiyewu and keyboard player Paul Tucker made up one of the most successful acts of the 1990s because – although their sunny, melodic tunes may never have been cool – they sure were catchy.

‘Our music has always had a certain ethos, a philosophy. We’ve always written songs to make ourselves feel good,’ explains Tunde.

‘When something bad happens, we write a song to make ourselves feel better or get through it.

‘Our songs are about the light at the end of the tunnel. And that’s what people listen to music for.

‘It’s the perfect form of escapism from a break-up of a relationship of the loss of a job,’ continues the 42-year-old singer who formed the Lighthouse family in 1993 after responding to Paul’s advert for a singer.

Just two years after they got together at university in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the Lighthouse Family released their debut album, Ocean Drive.

It sold more than 1.8 million copies (that’s six times platinum) in the UK alone and was followed by Postcards From Heaven and Whatever Gets You Through The Day.

They sold more than 10 million records in total and had numerous top 10 singles including Lifted, Ocean Drive and High.

Their last tour was one of the highest-selling of that year, surpassed only by the Spice Girls.

And the band were not just big in the UK.

They built a following across the globe, including in Nigeria, where Tunde’s roots lie.

Tunde was born and raised in London. But, when his father died when he was five, the family returned home to Nigeria.

Tunde became the stepson of the president, after his mother married the military leader and soon-to-be Nigerian head of state Olusegun Obasanjo.

He remembers his natural apprehension about someone replacing his father and that it was even more daunting because his stepfather’s visits came with security and fanfare.

But the pair developed a strong bond and Tunde was distraught when his new father was imprisoned by a political rival in 1995, just as Tunde hit the charts.

After three years, Olusegun was freed and then elected democratic president.

Tunde says: ‘Being the stepson of the president was an unusual experience. It still is.

‘What makes the situation even more amazing is that the Lighthouse Family is huge in Nigeria. It’s like a double whammy.

‘When someone comes up to you and says how much they like your music and then they find out you’re the ex-president’s son, it’s amazing.’

Tunde still regularly visits his stepfather in Nigeria, though his mother died nearly 11 years ago.

Tunde’s mother’s death caused him to stop and re-evaluate his life, realising he didn’t want to be part of the Lighthouse Family any more.

He remembers: ‘We’d been living in each other’s pockets for 10 years.

‘When you spend that much time together, it’s natural to want to take a bit of a break from it.

‘You lose touch with reality. You lose your connection with your family and your mates.

‘So it’s natural to want to go off and take it easy for a bit,’ he continues.

During his eight-year hiatus, Tunde did ‘a lot of travelling back and forth to Nigeria’ where, in 2007, he married model Tope Adeshina.

The couple now live in north London with their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter.

‘I’m just starting,’ laughs Tunde about his young family. ‘But Paul’s got three. He’s got lads.

‘I was best man at his wedding and he was dealing with the family stuff when we first started out.

‘I’ve done it in the interim.

‘I’ve spent the last eight years just getting used to family life – normal life.

He adds: ‘When you’re in a band and on the road it’s fun. Don’t get me wrong – I love it. But it is not a normal life staying in hotels and living on tour buses.

‘So I’ve been getting back to terra firma. It takes a bit of getting used to because it’s totally different.’

The duo didn’t give up music entirely when they went their separate ways.

‘Music has still always been a part of our lives, but we’ve been doing it the way we wanted to, without any pressure,’ explains Tunde.

‘I went and made a solo record [the self-titled Tunde] and Paul has his rock band, The Orange Lights.

‘We’ve been talking about working on the Lighthouse Family again for about three years,’ he reveals.

‘I remember deciding we wanted to do it about a year ago at my house on my birthday.’

Tunde admits that idleness is the reason it has taken the pair such a long time to get out on the road again.

‘We were dragging our feet being lazy, to be honest. But also we had a very clear picture of what we wanted to do,’ he explains.

‘What really acted as a catalyst was the new record deal with Sony.

‘Sony signed us because they were fans.

‘They said “we’ve always followed your career. We loved what you guys have been about and what you’ve done”. They had even come to watch a few of our gigs.

‘Anyway, you can’t really say no to the opportunity to put out records again. That’s what we do. That’s what we love doing.

‘It’s one thing making records and writing songs, but what you really want is the opportunity to put them out and play them live.’

In an unusual move, the Lighthouse Family decided to go on tour without a record to promote.

They will make their album for Sony after the tour.

‘We’ve not lived in the Lighthouse Family world for eight years,’ explains Tunde.

‘So we thought we’d get back into the Lighthouse mode by touring and playing all the hits again. And then go into the studio.

‘Between us, we already have the stuff for the album.

‘We’ve written individually and together.

‘It’s just a matter of getting back into character.

‘But it’s always been about the tunes.

‘We’ve always written from the same perspective and our songs always have the Lighthouse Family philosophy.

‘The new songs are still going to have that approach, but I really couldn’t tell you what they will sound like because we haven’t gone into the studio yet.

‘We want to make a record that we are proud of – a classic sounding record.

‘If you listen to Ocean Drive today it still sounds like it could have been made yesterday.

‘That is one of the advantages we’ve always had and that’s what we want to continue.’

Tunde’s hopes for the future are simply to continue making music.

He says: ‘We want to make more Lighthouse Family albums. We’ve got loads of songs.

‘Nothing gives you a greater thrill than seeing a song come to life.

‘But right now I’m just looking forward to seeing all those faces again and getting the whole thing back on the road.’