The story so far
An interview with Brendan Staunton
“I visited an abandoned city once and it’s a terribly sad experience seeing all those dusty shop windows full of outdated merchandise – like a snapshot from another time. It also made me think about how my music career was abandoned very suddenly and there were all these half-finished songs and chord ideas and writing pads full of lyrics that were just ditched and no one had heard them. Hey, it’s no great tragedy but it had always bothered me and I kept wondering what they would sound like today.”
So says Brendan Staunton whose new album LAST OF THE LIGHT is finally released. But the initial impetus came from an unlikely source…
“A few years back, for my birthday, Ruth bought me a set of accordion lessons at this folk centre in Camden. I’ve always liked accordions and the guy that taught us was really passionate and knowledgeable about music and I just got that feeling in my gut again. Before long, I’d bought music software for my Mac.
“So, I started programming the basic tracks to hear what they sounded like and they were all over the map – all kinds of different ideas so I had this thought about exploring all the music that had influenced me… but instead of creating a pure sixties sound or a pure indie 80s sound, I thought I’d mix it all up and juxtapose the influences to make it more interesting.”
It’s an interesting way of looking at it.
“Yes, I wanted to pay some kind of tribute to the music I’ve loved and lay some ghosts to rest but I also wanted to make an album that spoke to today, not just a nostalgia-fest.
Indeed, a striking thing about LAST OF THE LIGHT is the sheer variety of approaches. There’s the folky, almost Dylanesque melody atop the electronic wizardry of ‘We Don’t Talk About It,’ the retro-sixties acoustic pop of “Nine Day Wonder” and the haunting guitar chords on “Back From The River” which faintly recall early eighties bands like The Comsat Angels.
However, what pulls it all together is the voice. Have you really avoided singing since 1992?
“Pretty much, yes. I recorded some singing for the Cross & Quinn album and, while it sounded okay, I could only just get through about one song and then I’d barely be able to talk. So, I contacted a singing teacher (former Danish opera singer Nanna Brincker) and she helped me rebuild it. The sound of my voice had actually changed a lot, become a lot heavier, less smooth, and I guess I had to adjust to that.”
Is it true you played and sang everything on the album?
“Not quite. Ruth sings backing vocal on ‘A Moment’ and Simon Haggis, who engineered the album, helped out with the drum programming – and he also arranged, or re-arranged, a lot of what I did a bit differently.”
So, since you’re taking us on this musical trip, where did it all start for you?
“Well, I grew up in a big Irish family in Bradford. One day, when I was still very young, this old dansette record player and appeared in the front room, along with a big pile of singles. I didn’t know at the time but the next-door neighbours were broke and sold it all to my dad.
“So, suddenly we had all this sixties music: Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones… but also loads of lesser-known stuff that captured the zeitgeist of the time – there was this vogue for a delicate kind of Euro-pop with harpsichords. Anyway, I tried to capture that mood on ‘Nine Day Wonder’… the sort of ‘naïve sophistication’ of pop music that was stretching out a bit – still moon and June but with a bit of Bach thrown in.”
How did you get from listening to playing?
“Well, my story is extremely conventional. My dad bought me a guitar for Christmas at age eleven, but it wasn’t a success right away. What changed everything for me was doing music ‘o’ level at school. It seemed to work better for me to understand how music works and apply it to the guitar, rather than just be a folky strummer. I was never a strummer.”
And the first band?
“I was invited to join a rock band formed by some older kids at my school and that got me started. And then I formed my own band with my brother, Dez, on bass. Eventually we went down to London and went through various drummers and added Sean Quinn on guitar and got a record deal as Dubh Chapter.”
He still feels it’s a strong album.
“It hasn’t really dated so badly because it was basically a pop album and it had some good tunes. A lot of people thought we were U3, and we did try and use the Irish connection a bit, but if you listened to the entire album (as opposed to the first few tracks, you’d see there was more to us than that.”
But they couldn’t keep it together.
“Well, the drummer let everyone down by suddenly leaving. He was basically a bolter, but it was a bad blow. We’d just made this album together and suddenly it seemed like we were broken… and before long we were.”
So what happened then?
“Well, I did some auditions, I remember one was for the guys at Talk Talk but it didn’t work out; they were looking at doing some kind of world music thing and my voice was a bit out of shape and, to be honest, I was being a bit of an arse, though a lot of it was down to personal problems.”
There was also the song with Ultramarine.
“Yes, they wanted to use a sample of Kevin Ayers on their song “Weird Gear” and they brought me in to sing it just in case they didn’t get permission. I think Kevin Ayers turned them down which is a bit weird because I’m sure I saw a picture of him with them. Anyway, there you are.”
Were you still making your own music?
“Yes, the last of Dubh Chapter’s replacement drummers was an American guy called Barry Kinder and when the band finally called it a day, he asked me if I wanted to be in a duo with him. We wrote some new tunes together and added a few that I’d written myself. It was an interesting musical project but we ended up blowing our big gig at the Half Moon in Herne Hill. It was a shame because we did a really fabulous gig in Kensington which nobody saw. Such is life.”
And then the decision to quit.
“Yes, and twenty years went by and then this.”
Any particular reason for the title, ‘Last Of The Light?’
“I came up with the phrase spontaneously in conversation one time and like how it sounds. I guess it represents what’s left of my young songwriting. Instead of old songs by a young guy, I’m going to switch to young songs by an older guy. Kind of poetic that, isn’t it?”
‘Last Of The Light’ is available for download now.