Shadow Captain is the alias of popular Scouse songwriter Stuart Todd. The former Three Minute Hero and Campbell Todd musician had a new record ready to go, when 2020 and all that got in the way. The rub? He’s made an even better one for 2021. By Alan O’Hare.
“The situation over the past year has made me re-evaluate certain aspects of my life and to not take things for granted, such as friends and family.” The Shadow Captain is discussing the circumstances of the last year and taking stock of the impact the delay of his new album had on him and his music. “It’s been a long process putting it all together, but it’s been worth the effort. I’m more detached from the contents of the album now, from when I wrote and recorded it. In a sense that’s been a good thing, because I’ve revisited the music recently with fresh ears and appreciated it more.”
We can tell. Lucky enough to get an early listen to the first ever Shadow Captain long player, we liked what we heard. But when the new album finally arrived for real, with all the tweaks and twists Todd and long-time collaborator and producer Andy Fernihough had teased out of it since lockdowns hit, we heard a set of songs stood under a post-pandemic light and the delicate sound of their thunder had changed. Context is always king, but ‘April Moon’ now sounds like a reckoning with life, love, loss and the light at the end of the tunnel we all presently crave.
Did that title track come early or late into the process and how did the writing and recording of the songs shape the album?
‘April Moon’ was written as an acoustic ballad. I wanted to create a dreamlike sound that was haunting and atmospheric. It’s a personal song about first love… someone I knew a long time ago who I met up with again many years later.
There’s nostalgia, regret, nous and whimsy, but always through a prism of truth and beauty…
I try to be as honest as I can as a songwriter without giving too much away. Songs like ‘Lavender Way’ seem to conjure up a feeling of whimsy and nostalgia, yeah… I suppose that’s because the track is inspired by classic 1960s bands that I’ve always enjoyed listening to: The Kinks, Small Faces and The Move…
… The Beatles are certainly in there, too!
Strangely, I’ve found that several people from outside the city have commented on how Liverpool sounding my music is! That’s not intentional, but I suppose it’s because my roots in the city seem to subconsciously come out that way. The Beatles are such a huge influencee.
Tell us about the impact the lockdown and 2020/2021 trials has had on the album…
The album was originally scheduled to come out in April 2020, but I delayed the release due to the pandemic. If it hadn’t had been for lockdown, it would’ve already been released.
What’s changed with the sound of the album?
My co-producer and long-time friend Andy Fernihough should take most of the credit for how well it sounds. He did a fantastic job on it. Andy and I worked hard on the way the songs were recorded – I tried to play as many instruments as possible: vocals, guitars, bass, keys and melodica. Andy playing drums and percussion. Without blowing my own trumpet too much, I knew we were making a good record and that’s because from the outset I was determined to raise my game as a songwriter. For instance, I remember Andy being blown away when I first played him ‘Jenny And Oliver’. I wanted to make a personal statement and to make an album that would work from start to finish… the sequencing of the record has also played a crucial role and it’s the first time that we’ve worked on a project where everything has come together.
That’s lovely. Tell us more about the songs…
There’s a feeling of regret in the song ‘Clandestine Lover’, which is a reflection on failed relationships. It was an attempt at writing a country song and I worked on the track with my good friend Mark Pountney. I sang the song in a lower register in the style of Johnny Cash and Mark did a great job playing pedal steel, which helps to give the song a relaxed feel. ‘Death Of A Friend’ was the easiest song to write, but the hardest one to record. I wrote it in memory of Stan Ambrose, who had a deep impact on my life. I wanted to pay tribute to him. He was a remarkable man, who touched the lives of many people and Stan’s harp playing at the beginning of the song sets an ethereal tone. Despite the serious nature of some of the material, I wanted to make the record an enjoyable listening experience and I remember the fun Andy and I had recording the handclaps on ‘Hey Django’. It’s one of the more uplifting moments on the record, which is why I decided to release it as the first single. Jez Wing from Echo & The Bunnymen plays Fender Rhodes on that number and ‘Song For Gideon’, which I wrote as a thank you to artist and friend Gideon Conn from Manchester.
It’s an album full of different moods, isn’t it?
I wanted the mood to change from each track and to make it sound as varied as possible. I’m influenced a lot by the music of the 1960s/1970s, particularly classic singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Simon & Garfunkel and James Taylor. I wrote all of the songs on acoustic guitar, so the challenge was to make each track sound distinct from one another yet still make it cohesive. Although I wanted to have a full sound with drums, bass and electric guitar; I also wanted to scale things back on a couple of the tracks.
What’s your favourite song on the album?
‘The Pan Piper’ is an amusing fictional tale about an eccentric street musician who drives a pub landlord to distraction. It’s the most folk-oriented song I’ve recorded and I’m pleased with the way that it’s turned out. Amy Chalmers from Two Black Sheep plays violin on the track and captures the mood perfectly. I came up with the melody for the violin in the bridge, but left some room for Amy to improvise. She did a terrific job playing on it and is a highlight of the record for me.
Image courtesy Stuart Todd.