The last time I saw Lanterns on the Lake in concert was September 2021. The occasion was that of the Long Division Festival. The country was just beginning to emerge from lockdown. And live music was also slowly starting to resume after having been severely impacted by Covid restrictions. Much has changed since then. Long Division, an annual event held in the neighbouring West Yorkshire city of Wakefield, is now sadly no more. On the other hand, Lanterns on the Lake – who formed in Newcastle Upon Tyne in 2007 – are thankfully still very much with us. But their having reached this point in time has not been without its difficulties.
Following the release of their Mercury Music Prize-nominated fourth album Spook the Herd in February 2020, and as the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold, Lanterns on the Lake started work on their next record. Approaching the final stages of its recording they then realised that “things didn’t feel right” so bravely chose to scrap what was a year’s worth of sessions for the new album. To compound matters, drummer Ol Ketteringham and one of Lanterns on the Lake’s founding members decided it was time for him to move on from the group.
But despite this turmoil the remaining band members all agreed to carry on. First, they enlisted the help of Radiohead’s drummer Philip Selway. And having then approached the album’s original songs from an entirely different perspective were able to record them again in the space of just a few weeks. The definitive iteration of Versions of Us was finally released at the beginning of June.
And last week Lanterns on the Lake began their UK tour in support of Versions of Us. As if to underline that fact they open tonight with an emotionally charged double-salvo from the album, first ‘The Likes Of Us’ and then ‘Real Life’ which also happen to be the opening two tracks on the record. And what strikes you immediately is the passion and energy that are present in these songs, characteristics you suspect that are born of the trials and tribulations experienced by the band over the last couple of years. It feels as if Lanterns on the Lake have suddenly been galvanised, transformed into this supreme new musical being.
By the time that the final strains of ‘Last Transmission’ – their third and final encore and, quite fittingly, the closing track on Versions of Us – Lanterns on the Lake have played the new album in its entirety. Older songs, though, are skilfully woven into the fabric of the newer material. ‘Lungs Quicken’ and ‘Ships In The Rain’ from their 2011 debut album, Gracious Tide, Take Me Home are beautifully nostalgic highlights, but the entire complexion of the setlist is so perfectly weighted it reflects the careful balance that the band have achieved between the past and the present.
Much of this evening’s power is driven by Lanterns in the Lake playing with two drummers. Philip Selway is joined here by Tom Hardy, though his tenure with the band may be short-lived if he continues to suggest that singer and songwriter Hazel Wilde’s appearance resembles that of an evil headmistress “in that dress.” For her part, Wilde is at her most relaxed, most playful, and has surely never sounded in better voice.
As the set draws to a close, a clearly moved Hazel Wilde says “this feels like a very special gig to me.” And she is absolutely right in this assertion. It is special, something that is achieved not only by such an incredibly powerful performance from Lanterns on the Lake but also their connection with the environment in which it takes place. Tonight the Howard Assembly Room has dispensed with their customary seating in the stalls area and in so doing has attracted the biggest sell-out crowd ever to be seen in the venue. And with everyone standing downstairs the atmosphere certainly changes within the building and makes for a more immersive, integrative experience.
Photos: Simon Godley
More photos of Lanterns on the Lake at Howard Assembly Room