Rock: To the Lighthouse Family, via the middle of the road

An Interesting fact about the Lighthouse Family is that they've never had any alternative, artistic credibility, they've never starred in London's Burning or Soldier, Soldier, and they've never been in a manufactured teen band. According to my calculations, this makes them the only act of the Nineties to decide to make smart-but-casual, middle-of-the-road music at the very start of their career. They play this sort of wholesome pop because they love it - and somebody has to.

Another interesting fact about the Lighthouse Family is that every single one of their songs finishes with two minutes of Tunde Baiyewu repeating the refrain over and over again. Another interesting fact about the Lighthouse Family is that ... well, no. I watched them for 90 minutes at the Albert Hall on Tuesday, and two interesting facts is just about my limit. The men in suits did their stuff - Baiyewu, with a few drops of Seal-like charisma, and Paul Tucker, with a few drops of Rodney Trotter-like charisma - as did the usual selection of backing musicians (never trust a band with a percussionist, as I always say). Together, they played songs that anyone can buy at a motorway service station and enjoy: the mild, New Labour soul-funk of a less ambitious Simply Red.

When Phil Collins's last album bombed, and it was Oasis and Alanis Morissette who produced the albums that made the whole family sing, it looked as if this kind of deliberately inoffensive wallpaper music was on its last legs, but the Lighthouse Family prove that it's alive and shuffling. Ocean Drive, their first album, has sold 1.5 million copies, and its follow- up, Postcards from Heaven, has sold 600,000 since its release last month.

It would be easy to sneer at the audience responsible for these incredible figures, but I don't believe in hitting a man who wears glasses, a jersey and a suit jacket. Instead, some constructive criticism. For all the Family's indisputable skill and sincerity, many of their tracks are so similar that the band themselves probably couldn't tell them apart in a blindfold test. If only all their songs were as distinctive as the best ones - ie, the ones used in TV commercials - then the Lighthouse Family would be the clear leaders of their genre - and somebody has to be.

In an interview with Q Magazine this month, Noel Gallagher reports that his manager thought Be Here Now was a flop because it had sold only six million copies. Noel, the living embodiment of the phrase "harsh but fair", replied: "Go and tell that to Echobelly." Indeed. Echobelly and Oasis were two of the first inhabitants of the Britpop ghetto in 1994, but while Oasis grew so enormous it couldn't contain them, and the rest of the original tenants moved elsewhere, Echobelly signed a 10-year lease.

It's starting to look like negative equity. Glenn Johansson is never going to be thought of as a great guitarist as long as Graham Coxon and Bernard Butler are making records, and while Lustra (Epic) would have been a sparkling Britpop debut a couple of years ago, it's over-familiar stuff now. The six million mark is a long way off.

Still, if the show at the London Astoria on Thursday was anything to go by, Oasis's manager misinterpreted Noel's instruction, and he told Echobelly that they are outselling the Gallaghers. I'm not sure how else you could explain this celebratory performance. Onstage, Echobelly turn themselves into stomping punk-pop heroes, with Sonya Aurora Madan's prim, flutey voice only just making itself heard above the curling guitar riffs.

It's her all-singing, all-dancing stage presence that turned this into such a charmer of a concert. In a black vest and army trousers, GI Sonya gave the impression that she'd really been looking forward to entertaining an audience, whereas so many other lead singers give the impression they're really looking forward to getting home in time for Babylon 5. Even the stroppiness that usually lets her down was sublimated into infectiously happy enthusiasm. Mind you, turning three choruses of "Great Things" into audience singalongs was probably overdoing it.

It was hard to know which was more frightening to see at the Shepherd's Bush Empire on Monday: the banners which announced that the evening was sponsored by Country Music Television, or the members of the band themselves. Steve Earle looks like Meat Loaf's drop-out younger brother, and his bassist and co-guitarist look like men Thelma and Louise would shoot on sight: they'd be naked without denim and baseball caps. No wonder Earle has never been as successful as Bruce Springsteen.

Of course, his commercial ups and downs could have something to do with his problems with excess drink and drugs and marriages (five different wives, although my rock reference books are a few months out of date, so it's possibly six or seven by now). Currently, he has solved the first two problems, at least, and he was able to deliver a show which, although basic, reaffirmed his title as the king of hillbilly rock. His melancholy smalltown tales are stained with sweat and engine oil, and have a rough layer of scar-tissue courtesy of Buddy Miller's buzzing guitar. Earle is the patron saint of country rock, the man whom Son Volt, Wilco, the Jayhawks and the other youngsters must measure themselves against - just as long as they get their wardrobe ideas elsewhere.

Lighthouse Family: Brighton Ctr, 01273 202881, tonight; Cardiff International Arena, 01222 224488, Mon; Birmingham NIA, 0121 780 4133, Tues; Dublin Olympia, 00 3531 677 7744, Thurs & Fri; Belfast Ulster Hall, 01232 323900, Sat; Midland '97, 0870 9080 888, 15 Dec. Echobelly: Manchester MDH, 0161 832 1111, tonight; Glasgow Plaza, 0141 423 3077, Mon; Newcastle Univ, 0191 261 2606, Tues; Hull Univ, 01482 445361, Wed; Northampton Roadmenders, 01604 604603, Fri; Liverpool L2, 0151 707 0925, Sat; then touring.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Manchester United's kit for the 2014/15 season
football
News
Nadine Gordimer died peacefully at home yesterday
peopleNobel laureate was a powerful anti-Apartheid voice
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Marketing Comms / Digital Marketing Specialist

    Not Specified: Recruitment Genius: An exciting and rewarding role exists for a...

    Search Engine Optimisation/ SEO Executive

    £25000 - £28000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Excellent opportun...

    Programme Planner

    £30000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

    Project Manager

    £400 - £500 per day + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: The opportunity: P...

    Day In a Page

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor