Genealogy: Bob Allan of Lanterns on the Lake on His Ancestors - Herman Melville and the Fishermen’s Choir | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Sunday, August 9th, 2020  

Genealogy: Bob Allan of Lanterns on the Lake on His Ancestors

Herman Melville and the Fishermen’s Choir

Apr 06, 2020 By Bob Allan Web Exclusive
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For our recurring Genealogy series we ask a musician to tell us about their family history. What do they know about their ancestors, their grandparents, great grandparents, and earlier? The people who had to survive and thrive in order for them to be alive today. This Genealogy post was written by Bon Allen, bassist for Lanterns on the Lake. 

The British dream-pop five-piece released a new album, Spook the Herd, in February via Bella Union. It’s the band’s fourth album and was released around four and half years after their last album, 2015’s Beings. The nine songs on Spook the Herd find frontwoman Hazel Wilde putting a personal spin on such contemporary issues as climate change, social media, addiction, and this fractured political scene we are enduring on both sides of the Atlantic. Musically, the album found the band recording outside of their native Newcastle for the first time, recording at Distant City studios in Yorkshire, where Joss Worthington engineered the album and the band recorded live as much as possible, with the band’s guitarist Paul Gregory producing. “There was a sense of release in terms of what kind of music we felt we could make,” said Gregory in a press release announcing the album. “The idea of what kind of band you’re supposed to be really disappeared. It was great; you felt you could do whatever you like.” The band also features Oliver Ketteringham (drums, piano) and Angela Chan (violin, cello, viola).

Read on as Allan writes about his fisherman heritage in North East England.


I was born in North Shields, a small coastal town on the North bank of the River Tyne in North East England, about eight miles east from the city of Newcastle upon Tyne where Lanterns on the Lake formed in 2007.

I knew little about my ancestry until my mother, Joan Allan, started researching our family tree, uncovering some interesting tales from the North East coastline to across the world’s oceans, and our ancestors crossing paths with an American revolutionary and Herman Melville.

We discovered that my great grandfather times five, Robert Taylor (also known as Bob), was an under agent for the Duke of Northumberland in the small fishing village of Cullercoats, a couple of miles from North Shields. Defending the village he lost an eye and an arm in an engagement with American Revolutionary War naval marauder John Paul Jones, who attacked the North East coastline in the 1770s. I later found out that Bob Taylor was in a painting called The Cullercoats Party that is in Newcastle’s Great North Museum.

We also unearthed the amazing tales of my great uncle time four, Captain William Lisle, who was born in the small town of Newbiggin-by-the-Sea (30 miles north of Newcastle) in 1792. He went on to become one of Britain’s most successful whalers and was made captain of the Samuel Enderby which is described in a chapter of Moby Dick after Herman Melville had boarded the ship prior to writing his famous novel. Captain Lisle spent the 1830s and 1840s on several three-year trips around the world, bringing back whale oil to light lamps across the country and a 9 foot whale jaw bone which is apparently also kept in Newcastle’s Great North Museum. William Lisle travelled to Hawaii, Guam, Timor, New Zealand, Mauritius, and the volcanic isle of St. Helena, still considered one the most remote parts of the planet, which was one of his regular stop overs.

My great, great granddad John Lisle was born in 1847 in Cullercoats and the following year tragedy struck when his father, uncle, grandfather, and two great uncles all died at sea along with two others. The Lisle’s were a prominent Cullercoats family and the event profoundly affected the community. When John was older he founded a Methodist church for the village called the Fishermen’s Mission, built as a place of salvation, sanctuary, and support for families of the sea. John also formed the famous Fisher Choir which his son Albert Lisle (my great grandfather) became the leader of, with a strong tenor voice he held services on the bank top accompanied by his accordion and took the choir on tour across the region, playing in chapels all over Northumberland and Durham presenting a message of hope and optimism in dark times. Albert also took over as the leader of the Fishermen’s Mission, building a new church that is still standing today and hosted the choir which was made up of my whole family and other folk would perform there every Sunday.

My granddad John Harrison (born 1918) grew up in the same village and was sent to serve in WWII in 1940. He ended up in a German prisoner of war camp at Blechhammer (now in Poland) and incredibly he kept a diary detailing his time there. John was a builder by trade and he helped rebuild the prison blocks after the camp was bombed, as the Russian troops started to move in from the east he and the prisoners were eventually marched west towards Czechoslovakia, in severe weather with temperatures reaching -26 degrees. On the 9th February 1945 he wrote in his diary that he “Heard wireless tonight. First song ‘There’s no place like home.’’ I’ve always wondered what this song was and how it made him feel. I think it could be “Home! Sweet! Home!” which contains this lyric and was recorded by different artists around the time of the war. John and the men in his company marched for months with many of them collapsing of hunger and exhaustion, they eventually reached Bayreuth, the home of Wagner, where my granddad writes in his diary that the village was bombed by allied forces only 500 yards from his billet. On the 18th February he notes that the camp band performed an outdoor concert in the town as the sound of distant artillery got closer, by the end of April he describes planes wagging their wings in salute as German forces surrendered, American and French flags were hoisted, and my granddad was freed! Returning home following VE Day the first thing he did was head straight to the beach at Cullercoats. My granddad sadly passed away before I was born, I can only imagine what he went through and how he felt that day he got back to the coast.

My grandma Violet Harrison played the organ at church and once at Newcastle’s City Hall, and my mother also played and sang in choirs. I was lucky enough to have piano lessons when I was younger but sadly I didn’t inherit the vocal talents from my family’s famous choir. It wasn’t until my mid-teens when I found my parents’ record collection including The Beatles, Stones, Bowie, and The Beach Boys that I started getting into music and eventually played in some bands at high school. In 2008 one of my first bands ended up touring Poland where we played some shows not far from Blechhammer, it was a strange feeling to be in the same place my grandfather had been captured. 

Just as my family’s fishermen’s choir departed England’s North East coast to perform their songs all those years ago, we are looking forward to setting off from that same coastline to tour our new album Spook the Herd. The record is all about the turbulent times we’re living in and I like to think we set out with a similar purpose as my ancestor’s choir did.

[Editor's Note: This was written and submitted before the COVID-19 pandemic put all touring on hold.]

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