isnt 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 OToole (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
its called for. But foremost, these songs hold up as individual
melodic statements. Its 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 Cottinghams Fall 2013 album with Touchstone. www.RobCottingham.co.uk
mwe3.com presents an interview
you tell us where and when you were born and grew up and where you
live now and what you like best about it?
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.
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
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?
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
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
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 UB40s 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?
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 Steves drummer Gary OToole
plays so well on the Captain Blue CD.
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 its 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
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.
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
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, theres an inordinate amount of musical
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.
tracks on the Captain Blue album do you prefer? Whats
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
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
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...
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?
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.
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 wouldnt 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, whats 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?
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
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