Captain Blue is the second solo album by keyboard player and vocalist Rob Cottingham, best known as a member of Touchstone. Rob has described that album as “a cross-genre-ational album covering the themes of time, self-realisation, death – and not taking yourself too seriously“. It’s a concept album, telling the tale of the mysterious Captain Blue.
The album also features the delightfully named Dr Goatius Foot on bass, Touchstone’s Adam Hodgson on guitars, Gary O’Toole on drums, Heather Findlay on vocals, and on one track, the guitar legend Steve Hackett. While all of these make great contributions, the emphasis is on Rob’s own vocals and keys.
It begins with the dramatic voice of Shane Rimmer, the voice of Thunderbirds’ Scott Tracey, on the epic spoken word “Condemnation“, which reinforces the Gerry Anderson feel of the whole album.
Parts of the album sound far lighter version of Touchstone, whether it’s rockier up-tempo numbers or lush ballads, with the dual male-female harmony lead vocals recalling that band’s early years when Rob handled a greater proportion of the vocals. In a couple of places it veers into dance-pop territory, and I can easily imagine a club remix of “The Drowning Man“. At times it strips right down delicate to piano and vocals. It’s all very song-orientated and highly melodic throughout, made up of of shorter numbers rather than sprawling epics, with the occasional instrumental bridge piece, and the instrumentation is more about atmospherics and colour rather than pyrotechnics. Although Rob does indulge in a keytar solo at one point. The production is immaculate, with a clear and crisp yet rich sound.
Rob Cottingham has taken a supporting role as a vocalist in Touchstone of late, but here he sings the majority of the lead vocals, with a voice that’s been compared with the clean vocals of Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt. Heather Findlay takes more of a supporting role here, adding harmonies as well as duets with Rob, only taking sole lead on one or two songs. Her contributions are sublime, with some ethereal yet sensual performances that are as good as anything she’s ever done.
It’s a consistently strong record with little in the way of filler despite a 70 minute running time. High points include “Only Time Will Tell” with so many multi-tracked harmony vocals it sounds like the Mellotron of early King Crimson. It almost makes me wonder if Heather took a trip back in time in Captain Blue’s timeship to lay down the original “choir” settings for the first Mellotron. The album closes with the big wall of sound epic “Soaring to the Sun” with Steve Hackett on guitar, before The Magic Roundabout’s Zeberdee tells us it’s “time for bed”.
This is an impressive piece of work that grows on repeated listens. Any fan of either Touchstone’s music or of Heather Findlay’s vocals ought to love this. But so should anyone that likes atmospheric and melodic rock, written and performed by real musicians and real singers.