This is the unedited version of an interview published on Liverpool etc discussing the album April Moon.
Shadow Captain is the alias of Liverpool singer-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.
Let's start with the title track. Did that one 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. It had been knocking around for a while but it didn't really take shape until I went into the studio. I wanted to create a dreamlike sound that was haunting and atmospheric. After laying down the acoustic guitar, I brought in two other guitarists Paul Carroll and Rae Clark to add some colour. Lyrically, April Moon is a personal song about lost love. It was about someone I knew a long time ago, who I met up with again many years later. I decided to name the album April Moon, because of the positive response I was getting when playing the song live.
For the album sleeve, I used an image by Charlie Jordan called Earthshine.
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. 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. 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.
The playing and singing on the album is so crisp and mixed so beautifully up-front. What are you most proud of on 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. We started recording the tracks at Crash Studios but we ended up finishing it at 3rd Planet after Crash closed down. I wrote the bulk of the material during 2016/2017. 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) with 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.
There's nostalgia, regret, nous and whimsy here... 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. I suppose that's because the track is inspired by classic 1960s bands that I've always enjoyed listening to like 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 have been such a huge influence.
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 was the first one recorded for the album. I worked on the track with my good friend Mark Pountney at his home studio. I sang the song in a lower register in the style of Johnny Cash. 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. 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. 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 and 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.
Tell us about the track Going Solo...
The theme of friendship is prevalent throughout most of the album. Going Solo is about when you lose touch with all of your friends; because they've moved on, got married and started a family. It's a statement about remaining single and not being tied down. It's probably the sharpest lyric on the album. The line "The loneliness of being free" is the price you pay for being unattached. I came up with the Yoko Ono line in the chorus as a joke but it fits the subject matter. I think the saying "the grass is greener on the other side" can be a doubled-edged sword. My old college friend, Wayne Dineley plays the lead guitar solo. He's a professional music composer for films, games and television.
What's your favourite on the album?
The Pan Piper. The song 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.
Tell us about the song you're currently writing...
I've written a handful of songs during lockdown. The most recent one is about bereavement called Stand By You. It's an acoustic ballad in a similar vein to After Dark, which closes the album. I wrote After Dark for the Liverpool Acoustic Songwriting Challenge in 2018. The song is based on a painting by artist and friend Gareth Kemp. The Goodbye section at the end is taken from another song, which I used to wrap up the album.