Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1099

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Tunde Baiyewu: The Lighthouse Effect

Tunde Baiyewu
Tunde Baiyewu Tunde Baiyewu Tunde Baiyewu Tunde Baiyewu

Having sold over 20 million records worldwide as frontman of British pop/soul duo Lighthouse Family, London-born, Nigerian-raised singer/songwriter Tunde Baiyewu this month returns with the release of his second solo album âDiamond In A Rockâ, pioneered by its surging, brass-and-string-enhanced offshoot single âMoveâ.

Indeed, recorded in Portland, Oregon (rapidly becoming known as âthe new Nashvilleâ) and featuring an array of local artists including acclaimed vocalist Catherine Feeny and guitarist Jon Neufeld, âDiamond In A Rockâ sees Tundeâs instantly-recognisable, effortlessly soulful vocals fronting the predominantly-live instrumentation of a 10-track set of well-crafted songs. Whose musical moods range from its gently-driving, celebratory title-track and acoustic-piano-accompanied, sensitively-delivered âAwakeâ; to the upbeat singalong vibe of the vibrant âWords In My Mouthâ and moodily-atmospheric closer âWeâre All In This Togetherâ.

Born Babatunde Emanuel Baiyewu in London in November 1968, at four years old (following the death of his father) Tunde moved to his parentsâ native Nigeria, where he grew up attending a starkly rural school at Etiki before, at 19, returning to the UK. Following which, while studying Accountancy at The University of Northumbria in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, he would go on to meet fellow musically-inclined undergraduate Paul Tucker whilst the two then-students were working at the same bar.

Instantly bonding due to their mutual love of classic soul music, with Paul on keyboards and Tunde on lead-vocals the two newly-acquainted friends would soon find themselves writing and recording demos together locally. A move which would eventually see the duo - by now calling themselves âLighthouse Familyâ - in 1993 signing to Polydor Records and in turn ultimately going on to become one of the biggest-selling British recording acts of the Nineties following the multi-Platinum sales of their Top Three first two albums - 1995âs âOcean Driveâ and 1997âs âPostcards From Heavenâ. Whose irresistibly melodic, easy-listening blend of pop and soul would also spawn a string of Top 10 singles, including such enduring airplay smashes as âLiftedâ (1996), âOcean Driveâ (1996), âRaincloudâ (1997) and âHighâ (1998).

Nevertheless, with their across-the-board international success eventually leading to internal tensions and resentment, the 2001 release of the duoâs Top 10 third album âWhatever Gets You Through The Dayâ would sadly also prove to be their last. Following which Baiyewu would, in 2004, release his debut solo set âTundeâ (which disappointingly peaked at a lowly UK Number 32) before in November 2010 deciding to get back with former bandmate Paul for a full Lighthouse Family UK reunion tour - whose unqualified success led to the duo in turn signing a new record-deal with Sony Music. However, with relationships between the two once-best-mates breaking down once more, the deal would ultimately prove fruitless - resulting in a disillusioned Tunde walking away from both the band and Sony⦠Which in turn ultimately - and conveniently! - brings us back to this monthâs release of his new, second solo albumâ¦

⦠Cue an ever-affable and talkative Tunde (who also interestingly happens to be the stepson of once-wrongfully-imprisoned, internationally-respected former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo) re-acquainting himself with âBlues & Soulâ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis over Monday-lunchtime drinks in Central London to discuss his aforementioned new LP plus the mixed feelings he still has regarding his time as Lighthouse Family lead-vocalist during their 20-million-selling 1996-to-2001 chart heyday.

Titling his new LP âDiamond In A Rockâ

âWell, I wrote the actual SONG âDiamond In A Rockâ with a very good friend of mine - Ben Cullum, whoâs Jamie Cullumâs brother. Basically we were in the studio discussing writing a song about life when that phrase just popped out of my mouth and he was like âThatâs IT!â... Which I was happy about, because for me âdiamond in a rockâ is my metaphor for LIFE. In that though - especially in this day-and-age with the way things are with the economy - it seems as if life is always throwing another little piece of rock right in front of you that youâve got to kinda skirt around, what Iâve also found is that - when you look closely at it - something of value does usually come OUT of that thing which your mind had initially seen as an insurmountable PROBLEM. You know, itâs a bit like saying âGod gives you those situations for a REASON, to help you become STRONGERâ⦠So yeah, when weâd finished the album and we were wondering what to name it, when we looked at all the songs weâd done âDiamond In A Rockâ just seemed to be the title that stood out and seemed to make perfect SENSE. Because not only has it got this spiritual/soulful connotation, but itâs also very SPECIFIC. You know, itâs a title you can immediately VISUALISE.â

What Tunde wanted to bring that was musically different this time round

âWhile being in Lighthouse Family overall was great and we did some really cool things, creatively I still always kinda felt that I was not expressing myself fully to the degree Iâd have LIKED to. Especially somebody like me who was born in London, then at four moved to Nigeria where I grew up, learnt one of the languages⦠You know, thereâs this whole eclectic aspect - in terms of a different cultural background apart from my English heritage - thatâs always been there but which in a band situation wasnât that easy to bring OUT. Which is why artistically I always thought there was a lot more for me to kind of exploit - especially in terms of my soulful African influences - to make my music more unique and more truly ME... So yeah, one of the things I definitely wanted to do on this album was to be able to EXPRESS that. And I do genuinely feel very satisfied with how itâs actually turned OUT, in terms of going back to my roots and making it more ORGANIC-sounding. You know, I genuinely am very HAPPY with this record. Because itâs a labour of love, plus itâs also the first time Iâve made an album that I feel comes from the heart and truly represents me and my BACKGROUND.â

How he now looks back on Lighthouse Familyâs 20-million-selling 1996-to-2001 chart heyday

âWell, there were lots of positives, lots of great things, we did a lot of travelling... Like I remember the first photo-shoot we did for âOcean Driveâ was AMAZING! Because Iâd never been to Cuba before, and we spent a whole week there taking PICTURES!... But while yes there are lots of fond memories, at the same time there was this other side in terms of some of the tensions and CONFLICTS - which I guess stemmed a lot from the personalities INVOLVED. Like while Iâve always been quite a laid-back person, Paul has always been a much more upfront, AGGRESSIVE-type person. Which in itself is fine, because I think in any band situation you NEED that - especially when youâre working within the music industry and having to deal with RECORD companies. But then having said that, when I do look back now I can see how sometimes some of those differences coupled with a lot of success can end up being a very tricky MIX, a really strange CAULDRON. Especially when you donât have any means of sort of putting things in CHECK, like having a third person on board to say âHey, calm it DOWN - youâre getting out of CONTROL!â. Because from MY point of view what I could see going on was that, when youâre very successful and youâre making record companies lots and lots of money, thereâs always a tendency for the record company to indulge certain behaviour when really under normal circumstances theyâd probably just say âGet LOST!â! And with us it got so bad to where writing-wise on the last album we made - âWhatever Gets You Through The Dayâ - apart from one song, I had literally NO CONTRIBUTION!... You know, I guess what Iâm basically saying is that egos can be allowed to kinda go beyond the boundaries of TOLERANCE - and when that happens itâs always the beginning of the END really. Which with us is exactly what HAPPENED!... So yeah, while I do still look back on Lighthouse Family with a lot of very fond memories, I also now see where things probably could have been a lot BETTER.â

The album âDiamond In A Rockâ and single âMoveâ are both out now on the Waking Dreams label.

You can read more from our interview with ex-Lighthouse Family frontman, turned solo artist, Tunde Baiyewu in our spring print issue out now - available at all good retailers or click below to get it delivered straight to your door.

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