ROB COTTINGHAM
Captain Blue
(Rob Cottingham LTD.)

 

It isn’t easy arriving with a new and fresh direction in progressive rock music but U.K. based Rob Cottingham gives it a good shot on his 2013 album entitled Captain Blue. The keyboardist / vocalist in the progressive rock band Touchstone, and a solo artist in his own right, Rob expertly combines an impressive mixture of pop, rock and progressive sounds on the 18 track Captain Blue CD, which clocks in just over 70 minutes. Throughout the Captain Blue CD, Rob receives solid assistance from his band mate in Touchstone, guitarist Adam J. Hodgson along with singer Heather Findlay, plus the expert rhythm section of Dr. Goat Foot (bass) and Gary O’Toole (drums). Guitarist Steve Hackett goes all Hackett-esque on a track here and clearly there is a nod to Genesis and, as such with its soaring majestic prog soundscapes, Captain Blue will appeal to fans of Genesis, Hackett and YES. With 18 tracks brimming with appealing musical ideas, Captain Blue is clearly an album to pick and choose as to which tracks will appeal to the individual listener. As a keyboardist, singer and songwriter / arranger, Rob Cottingham has all the bases covered on Captain Blue and Ms. Findlay's vocals enhances the song harmonies where it’s called for. But foremost, these songs hold up as individual melodic statements. It’s hard to keep a 70+ minute album humming along yet, filled with progressive rock songs that blend in catchy pop-rock, Captain Blue is a challenging and positive album of 21st century rock excellence. Listeners will want to keep an ear open for Rob Cottingham’s Fall 2013 album with Touchstone. www.RobCottingham.co.uk

mwe3.com presents an interview with
ROB COTTINGHAM



mwe3: Can you tell us where and when you were born and grew up and where you live now and what you like best about it?


ROB COTTINGHAM: I was born in Peterborough, England, the youngest of three children, now part of Cambridgeshire...in 1964.

I actually grew up, though, and had a very happy childhood, in the county town of Bedfordshire, Bedford, which has the River Ouse flowing through it. The town name is actually derived from the Anglo-Saxon "Beda's Ford". A Saxon chief dude called Beda used a ford to get across the river, thus...

Despite several moves around Blightey, I now live not far from Bedford in Milton Keynes.

Milton Keynes is great. It is a 'new town' where they started building in 1973. And it is still growing. It is in the heart of UK and it's roads are like in the good ol' USofA, with a grid system of horizontal and vertical roads.

What I like best about the town is that you can get from one end to the other in ten minutes. It is great for travel being so central in the UK. London is only half an hour away on a fast train, and it is actually very attractive now that the greenery planted many years ago has matured. Although it does have this humorous image of 'concrete cows', yes, there are some, and roundabouts, yes, there are loads, and that is fine.


mwe3: What was your early musical training like and when did you start studying music and what instruments did you primarily focus on? What era did you grow up in musically and how did it impact you?

ROB COTTINGHAM: Early music training started like many in the UK. On the recorder, at infants school.

I remember being entranced as a tiny little kid by my mum, though. She used to sit and play the piano and sing Fiddler On The Roof or West Side Story etc.

I looked up and saw her pressing these white and black things, with her wonderful singing and these beautiful sounds coming out of the piano... and that was it. I was hooked.

I started playing piano in junior school, and I had lessons, but frankly, I was lazy, and did not like sight reading. I just wanted to play not learn! I stopped lessons at grade five standard when I was 16, but I never stopped playing, and it actually gave me a good grounding in music theory. I much preferred playing by ear to modern pop or rock tunes, though, and seemed to have a knack even at a young age, to 'pick up' a tune, work it out and play it back.

Funny, because I envied my older sister, Eve. She trained up to grade 8, and you could put written music in front of her, and off she would go... but I would be lost in space; come up with a 'neanderthal' version. On the other hand, she envied me. I could hear some music; start humming it and start to 'get it' on the piano. She could not even attempt that without it being written out properly.

I do remember in 1973... there was this single out, by then an unknown artist, called Barry Manilow. It was "Could It Be Magic", and it ends with an excerpt of Frédéric Chopin's Prelude in C Minor, Opus 28, Number 20. I learnt that note for note, as a lad, as I loved that classical piece at the end especially, but if you put the music in front of me... I would have been scratching my head!

The era I grew up in was dominated I guess by great song-writing, Abba, Elton John, plus ska music... early eighties The Beat were awesome, which I loved when I was a teen, and of course Genesis, YES, Pink Floyd... introduced to me by my older brother and sister.

I used to love The Police, Blondie, and The Jam, too. My musical tastes were quite eclectic really in hindsight. I just liked what I thought was 'good music'... was not concerned about 'genre' as such. Although, my dad liked Country & Western a tad. I think he fancied Crystal Gayle, which I never really 'got' and still don't to this day... sorry.

mwe3: Can you tell us how the Captain Blue CD took shape? What was the inspiration for the album and where and when was the album written and recorded? How would you compare it with your first solo album from ten years ago already?

ROB COTTINGHAM: It took shape from building up a repertoire of material which was either "too close" to me at a personal level, or which I felt was not 'right' for Touchstone.

I also unexpectedly had time between Touchstone albums to do this project, which gave me the 'push'.

I had not done a solo album since Behind The Orchard Tree, in 2001, from which Touchstone was born, and welcomed the challenge ten years on to do a side project, with different music, musos and studio.

The album was half-written from material garnered over the decade, and the other half was written 'fresh' after we, Touchstone, had released The City Sleeps, so very much between October 2011 and December 2011.

It was all written, with keys recorded, in my own home studio in Milton Keynes, then uploaded with tempo maps and click tracks etc. into Sinewave Studio in Tamworth.

This is part run by Chris Lynch, Touchstone's sound engineer, and top banana, so I wanted to return a few favors and support his new business venture, with his mum and Al Caves... the main man behind the business, and the man behind UB40’s success in the 1980s.

In terms of comparing it to solo album number one... I would say chalk and cheese. The style, studio and synths are very different ten years on, but the thread is... I hope, good song writing.

A good song is a good song, irrespective of production values, but they, for sure, do help get across the song's interpretation.

Album number one was in an analogue studio and recorded and produced in one week. Album number two was in a digital studio and produced in about six weeks, so the quality is way up there compared, plus of course the musos used for Captain Blue are of pro standard.

mwe3: How is Captain Blue different from your work in Touchstone? And can you say something about the upcoming Touchstone CD coming in October? Is there a new singer in Touchstone now?

ROB COTTINGHAM: Some of Captain Blue is a bit 'Touchstone-y' but I would answer simply; sounds, studio and style. I 'broke in' my Korg Kronos on this album and it dominates the keys soundscape, having never been used before on a Touchstone album, which gives it a different sonic "flavor". The studio was different too, and the styles are more eclectic, ranging from indie rock, prog rock, melodic rock and even a track with a dance vibe... or 'prog trance' if you like, to truly progress, you have to take risks.

Regarding Touchstone's new album due out 7th October, 2013 Oceans Of Time, we decided to make this album more 'guitar-y', and it is a belter. Yes, I know I am biased, but I think this album shows everyone at their best, and yet again that "magic" of getting the five of us together, has created a masterpiece.

On the singer front - no, there is no new singer in Touchstone now. Not unless you know something I don't... (lol)

I used to sing lead in the first half of Touchstone's career, but Ad and I took a decision to get in a female lead vocalist in, and Kim joined in 2006. She has grown and grown in talent and confidence, and just wait until you hear her vox on the new album. In my opinion, her best vocals to date... absolutely stunning.

Also, check out Moo on bass, and Hen on drums. I honestly think this is the best I have heard them play on any of our albums. This album seriously kicks butt.

mwe3: Can you tell us who plays with you on the Captain Blue CD and what was the chemistry like between the players on the CD? Also can you say something about the musical friendship between you and Steve Hackett, especially as Steve’s drummer Gary O’Toole plays so well on the Captain Blue CD.

ROB COTTINGHAM: Sure - on female lead vocals we have Heather Findlay, of Mostly Autumn fame; guitars Adam J Hodgson from Touchstone; bass Goatious Foot and on drums Gary O'Toole, who as you rightly say, has been drumming for Steve for many, many years.

So let's start with Gary. He was the first muso I approached with the idea back in January 2012. I approached Gary because I have always admired his talent, especially moving fluidly from intimate to epic, when watching the Steve Hackett shows. He had listened to the demo stuff I had sent him and really liked it, so off it went from there. Gary has been a brilliant support throughout the whole process.

He recommended bassist Goatious, an unknown talent on the prog scene, and, if you like, he was my 'wild card'. Sometimes it’s good to throw something unexpected into the mix... especially as he has a real talent for 'slap ‘n’ tap'. Goatie was great and again bought in to the music.

Also, in hindsight, some of the music has an eighties feel, so his style worked well with it all.

He also produced the YouTube vid for "Chasing Storms", by the way.

Adam, of course, I have known, and worked in partnership with, for some ten years and I was pleasantly surprised when he accepted. He is such a busy guy, but was happy to be told 'what to do'. I think for Ad, it made a pleasant change to only have to worry about guitar parts, and nothing else, as he is so deeply involved with so many different parts of Touchstone. It was a 'light' responsibility if that makes sense, and as ever, Ad tuned in fantastically to the musical ideas on my album.

I had met Heather when she and Chris Johnson were doing acoustic supports for our “City Sleeps” tour. I just remember one sound check they were doing where she was singing and her voice just 'drew me in' if that makes sense, and I knew who would be the first girl to ask. Heather was well up for it, and threw herself in, brilliantly. We really had a lot of fun in the studio. She is a true pro, and a great chum, now.

As for Steve Hackett... I had met him a few times at different festivals where he and Touchstone were playing.

His involvement though came about via Gary. Steve and I met at a gig when Gary was playing in Goatie's band, and Steve was very happy to become involved on laying down a guitar solo for me. He knew exactly what I was after and was a true gentleman, and scholar.

And yes, Gary does play superbly on the album - gawd luv 'im.

mwe3: Can you tell us about the gear you play on the Captain Blue CD?

ROB COTTINGHAM: This won't take long... (lol)

Korg Kronos in the main for the bulk of keys, sequencers, subs and fx, with a soupçon of Kurzweil PC3 - my Touchstone 'mainstay' keyboard, and a hint of Access Virus, which has some wicked lead sounds.

mwe3: How about musical influences? Of course Steve Hackett plays guitar on the Captain Blue CD so of course Genesis must be an influence. What other bands and artists inspired you early in your life and perhaps you could explain why England is such a gold mine for progressive rock music. Someone once remarked that for a country the size of England, there’s an inordinate amount of musical genius there!

ROB COTTINGHAM: Well, early influences are the prog classics, I guess - Genesis, Floyd, YES... plus of course Asia.

I think England was, and is a gold mine because it wanted more than 4/4 straight rock. It wanted to explore, push boundaries, go on a musical journey, and see how palatable or not that would be to the public at large.

I think 'progressive' is a state of mind, more than a genre and it has been bubbling away above or below the surface for years.

Magazines in the UK like Fireworks and Classic Rock Presents Prog have recently helped it to resurface. It was always 'there' but not so much 'out there', as it is now.

mwe3: Which tracks on the Captain Blue album do you prefer? What’s the story behind the title song “Captain Blue” and why do they call him Captain Blue?

ROB COTTINGHAM: Ouch. Too difficult!

Well, I love them all equally... how can I favor one 'child' over another?! Having said that “Still Running” was in my head for years, and I personally mixed that one. It was not easy, but I am proud of the end result.

Also, “Drowning Man”... I thought it would be ripped to shreds, if I am honest, as it is pushing boundaries by mixing in a dance vibe, but I am delighted at the warmth of the reception received so far.

I guess, as my brother Phil states, “In The End” is classic 'me'. Voice, piano and an epic ending.

“Spinning The Wheel”, I wrote literally in one day, and has a special meaning to me, so that is another fave, I guess.

Shane Rimmer's (Bond movies; Batman movies, etc) voice over on “Condemnation” still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. What a piece, what a gentleman, and what a legend.

And of course, “Soaring To The Sun”. I love with Steve's solo, and a gentle fade after his floatey notes... lush...

“Captain Blue” goes back to my childhood in Bedford... See www.robcottingham.co.uk for more info on that one!

mwe3: The progressive rock scene seems to be thriving in England these days. What do you think about the scene really flourishing in general and also the Prog mag is great and in fact is quite crucial towards unifying the sheer amount of musicians and fans the world over, so great for that...

ROB COTTINGHAM: I think youth, band cooperation, prog community, and profile have helped prog to thrive.

We have noticed parents bring their teens to our gigs and the teens are 'getting it'. Young people are loving prog and setting up their own new bands which have a contemporary edge to them. Superb.

Also, look at Touchstone... singer and drummer only in their twenties? Heaven forfend. (lol)

Prog bands are also supporting each other more, now. These days punters quite rightly want value for money as it is still really tough out there financially, so double-headers like ours with Von Hertzen Bros in October means punters get a great gig experience, for a great price. Musically, we are not competing, because we are all so different, so... hey let's cooperate, as we did with our great mates last year, The Reasoning... win/win.

Prog community? What do I mean by that? Well, there are some fans out there who are like a prog family. Whenever you play there they are, and it is like performing to friends, which is absolutely brilliant. You know who you are and we cannot thank you enough for the fantastic support you give us bands.

And profile is down to the press.... a lot more mags and publications out there talking about prog. Got to be good...

mwe3: “Reach Out” is a pretty amazing song that is sort of a two part affair with you and Heather sharing the vocals leading to a cinematic climax! What was the sentiment behind that song?

ROB COTTINGHAM: Thanks, Steven. We are leading such virtual lives, through social media like Facebook, Twitter etc, which is fine in moderation, but just to say, don't forget to put aside your iPads, smartphones and laptops and actually look into someone's eyes... talk... give someone your full attention and time. There is no greater gift than your own time.

mwe3: “The Drowning Man” is a central showcase on the Captain Blue CD. How did that one come about? Is that song about the duality of life?

ROB COTTINGHAM: This came about from an acid reflux attack a couple of years ago.

I had never had one before, and I literally could not breathe in or out and I almost passed out. Very scary at the time... until you find out what it was. But it got me thinking...

It was really about the fact that our lives are so hectic, and that sometimes we need to stop and 'breathe', otherwise we get too pulled under by the pressures. It's all about balance, and I know that I am a fine one to talk... (lol)

mwe3: There are a couple instrumental tracks on the Captain Blue CD. How about instrumental prog? What are you feelings about writing more symphonic progressive instrumental music in the future?

ROB COTTINGHAM: I still think there is merit in instrumental tracks, as they allow your mind to wander into an open field, as it were, and for the music to take your mind wherever it wants to go.

Yes, I would love to write more symphonic progressive instrumental music in the future...but time is the enemy, and, as ever, one has to prioritize... Maybe if I win the lottery... (lol)

mwe3: The song “In The End” is really great. It sort of builds up to a real soaring climax but the lyrics are quite sad. Is it about John Lennon? Anyway, the song hits the spot! “Would there have been a different end...” Also, one of the great guitar solos of the year!

ROB COTTINGHAM: No, this is about a guy one of Touchtone's ex-drummers, Steve Barfoot, knew, who regrettably took his own life.

I wrote it years ago. Steve loved it, so I gave it a wash and brush up and put it on the album, and yes, Ad does a stonking solo.

mwe3: How about “When The Walls Came Down”? Nice guitar work on that track too. It has a kind of Squackett type bounce to it wouldn’t you think? Maybe you can get Steve and Chris to cut a version on the next Squackett CD!

ROB COTTINGHAM: Hmmm... not sure Chris & Steve would be up for that... I can always ask, though. (lol)

Yes, some of the tracks are more bouncy, and that one has something of a China Crisis vibe, in hindsight.

mwe3: Can you say something about recording the last track on the album “Soaring To The Sun” as the song features none other than prog legend Steve Hackett on guitar. The CD sets a nice tone for the two of them.

ROB COTTINGHAM: This was originally a keytar solo, but then after we had laid drums down, I could 'hear' a Hackett solo, and literally asked Gary what he thought.

Gary got where I was coming from, and one thing led to another, as they say. Steve's solo is very much about 'feel' which is perfect for the ending of this song, as it is a reflective moment in the album. The way he floats the notes is superb.

mwe3: How was your recent trip to the Maldives, what’s it like there? Also how do relax and wind down after heavy recording and touring schedules?

ROB COTTINGHAM: The Maldives was great, thanks for asking. Apart from a few days bad weather, wall-to-wall sunshine, beautiful beaches and far too much good food and drink. It had - like my solo album - also been ten years, as my wife and I went to the Maldives for our honeymoon, so we thought we would treat ourselves for our tenth wedding anniversary.

Like most musos I know, I have a day job, so relaxing and winding down is really family holiday times, and that is it.

Touchstone as a band, though, do like to get out when we can for a few (read: a lot) drinks and a bite to eat.

mwe3: What musical projects are you currently working on and can you say something about your upcoming plans for 2013 and 2014?

ROB COTTINGHAM: Well, Captain Blue was always planned to be released between the Touchstone albums, so my focus is now Touchstone's new album, Oceans Of Time, due out in October. I am then looking forward to touring the UK with the band, and doing what I can to help promote the album.

The next task I have is to knock together a thirty second comp of the album as something of a teaser.

We are also looking at single releases, and doing a vid soon, so watch this space.

As for next year? Good question... playing to massive arenas would be nice. And I am always writing... like an itch that always needs scratching, so my mind is totally open to the opportunities 2014 will bring.

Maybe some of 'the Blue' in Florida? (lol)

Thanks for the interview R. Steven, and all the very best to you and all at mwe3.com

Thanks to Rob Cottingham @ www.robcottingham.co.uk

 

 
   
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