Lanterns on the Lake: ‘The Mercury Prize nomination which was a dream come true’

Indie record label Bella Union might have recently been hanging out the flags to mark a decade since the release of Lanterns on the Lake’s debut album Gracious Tide, Take Me Home, but the milestone seems to have caught the band slightly by surprise.

Lanterns On The Lake
Lanterns On The Lake

“To be honest with you, I hadn’t realised that it has been ten years,” says singer, songwriter and guitarist Hazel Wilde. “Somebody said it’s the anniversary so that’s why we decided to put out [the 10th anniversary vinyl reissue] but it’s been such a long journey as a band.”

Following several personnel changes, Wilde says today’s five-piece line-up “feels almost like a different band”. Nonetheless, she adds: “Of course it feels like an achievement to still be putting records out now and, ten years on, to still have a few people interested in what we’re doing and be interested in that first album as well.”

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Looking back on the making of Gracious Tide, Take Me Home, the singer, from North Shields, says: “It was a bit of a mixed bag. We were very excited to be making our first album. When you get signed and make your debut record it’s a really big deal, and it was for us. It was kind of a dream for a long time to get to that point, so we were really excited, and then also that was mixed with a bit of nerves – could we actually do this and pull it off, would people like that we did?

“We recorded it ourselves and produced it ourselves, we didn’t have great equipment or really anywhere to record it, we were just kind of making it up as we went along and learning the ropes, but we got a lot out of it because of doing it that way. We really felt we’d been involved in the album from the start to the end of it.

“We didn’t really have anywhere to record it other than our houses. Somebody let us use the basement of their shop at Heaton in Newcastle. We’d have to wait until people had gone home that day and then we’d go in in the evenings and record. It was a really dingy basement, it was quite horrible, it was amazing that we managed to get things to sound half decent.”

Wilde and partner Paul Gregory’s previous band, Greenspace, had never progressed beyond a mini album. “I think it had five songs on it but we hadn’t got to the point of making a proper record; we didn’t have a proper record label either,” she remembers. “This was the first proper thing we’d done.”

Lanterns on the Lake are looking forward to returning to the stage at the end of this month – at Kate Rusby’s Underneath The Stars music and arts festival near Barnsley.

With plans for a UK tour last year having gone awry, they were denied the chance to even perform a socially distanced show at the Sage in Gateshead in November as the country went back into lockdown. “We ended up doing it as a livestream, which was weird,” says Wilde. “It’s not the same really as that energy you get in a room when you play to people live, it felt slightly disconnected from the audience, to say the least, but at the same time it felt quite emotional to be able to be playing music for other people in that bizarre circumstance, knowing that people were watching from their own homes. What we’ve all been through in the past year, we were just glad to be playing music.”

Wilde admits to some self-doubts about performing again: “It’s been so long, can I actually do this? It feels alien to us now.” But come the time, she hopes that “it will come together and feel natural again”.

Last year’s tour was timed to coincide the release of the band’s fourth studio album, Spook The Herd. Despite the lack of live gigs, the record was well reviewed and nominated for the Hyundai Mercury Prize.

“We’d taken a break as a band for a while,” says Wilde. “We were just so looking forward to getting out and playing live for people and being a band again. We’d made this album and put it out in the February [2020] and we went down to London to play a couple of stripped-down, intimate launch shows to a select audience and within a couple of weeks everything had just turned on its head in the world. The tour got cancelled and we weren’t able to play the album or promote it in a way that we would have liked to. I guess we thought it could be forgotten about, but at the same time with everything that was going on in the world, we were relatively lucky. Then it got the Mercury nomination which was a total dream come true and we were just so thankful that happened.

“As a result of it, more people heard the album and then it didn’t just fizzle out and die away.”

This week it was confirmed that Wilde will be one of the 12 judges for this year’s Mercury Prize.

As regards the hiatus, Wilde feels the band needed to recalibrate after an intense period of recording and touring. “We didn’t have a conversation about it, we just slipped into a bit of a break from each other and trying to work on new music,” she says. “There was no real pressure to be rushing into anything, I think we were in quite a happy, good place.

“Taking a break from it meant that I had a bit of time to myself and I ended up writing a lot of the songs that went on to be on Spook The Herd. Although it was a break, it was a productive break.”

Wilde and Gregory may have become parents in the last year, but in the last few months they have managed to find time to start writing new songs. “To be honest with you, it’s been one of the most exciting times in terms of writing that we’ve had,” she enthuses. “We’ve been coming up with ideas and developing them really quickly. We’re really excited about what we’re working on at the minute. Hopefully there will be another album in not too long, it all depends on how things go with future lockdowns and that kind of thing.”

Underneath The Stars festival runs from July 30-August 1.