When you’ve been a band’s founding member for over a decade before calling it quits, there are usually two ways that things can pan out. You either sleek away into obscurity, or you rebound by ploughing headfirst into new projects.
Thankfully for the prog scene, former Touchstone dynamo Rob Cottingham plumped for the latter. The keyboard player decided to part ways with the group last year after vocalist Kim Saviour left due to ill health, but the musician is back – and perhaps better than ever.
“Someone listened to the Cairo demos, and they said it sounded like Touchstone, but also Daft Punk and Porcupine Tree,” Cottingham says, almost proudly, about his new group. “I quite like that description. I’ve tried to make it punchier with the guitars, but also more ambient and electronic.”
The Milton Keynes quintet’s debut album Say shares a lot of Touchstone’s melodic-yet-heavy prog nods – perhaps anticipated, as Cottingham essentially coined most of Cairo’s material. It takes one step back to the past but also two steps forward, with touches of Genesis lobbed in with elements of Porcupine Tree and Spock’s Beard.
“I wanted to doff a cap towards bands that I love, like Genesis and Pink Floyd, but I think it’s important to point it towards the future,” he says. “I downloaded some of the most up-to-date sound software, which is more in the house and garage styles. I’ve tried to respect our elders and peers, but at the same time also take it forward, trying to get new sounds in there.”
Cairo formed last year when Cottingham, armed with an arsenal of pre-written tunes, went out on the recruitment hunt. He managed to land Rachel Hill on vocals, guitarist James Hards, Paul Stocker on bass and Graham Brown, who sits behind the drumkit.
“In February last year I started what was originally going to be a side project, so what I needed to do was to go out and find some musicians,” the keyboard player, who also provides vocals, says. “To do that, I think you need a vision where you will take it. I have my own recording studio at home, so I can prepare everything. I wrote the bulk of them, and then went out to market with a rucksack of songs.”
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All five members merge together to concoct a harmonious aura that pulls at the heartstrings. Streaming through the rock chops is an emotional edge which pervades most of the 13 songs – something which was a conscious turn from Cottingham.
“I’ve kind of swung the creative pendulum more away from the abstract,” he says. “This is towards the more human side of things.”
The reflective Dancing On The Gossamer Thread for instance – one of many tracks on Say which twists and turns in engrossing style – was penned in tribute to a close friend who died of cancer.
“To have someone who was roughly my age, with two young kids, going through that…” says Cottingham. “I think that influenced me as well, in terms of the tone of the album, and why there is more heart and soul in this album.”
Rob Cottingham (keyboard/vocals), Rachel Hill (vocals), James Hards (guitar), Paul Stocker (bass), Graham Brown (drums)
Touchstone flirting with Porcupine Tree before boogying the night away with old school prog rock
Say is out now on Heavy Right Foot Records