An interview with Brendan Staunton
“Have you ever visited an abandoned city? It’s tragic, obviously, but also very bizarre to see dusty shop windows full of outdated fashion shoes – a snapshot from another time. After seeing it, I thought of my own abandoned music career and all these half-finished songs, chord ideas and writing pads full of lyrics that were just ditched. No great tragedy, obviously, but still playing on my mind.”
So says Brendan Staunton whose new album LAST OF THE LIGHT is finally released. But the initial impetus came from an unlikely source…
“Then, a few years later, as a birthday gift, my wife bought me some accordion lessons at this folk centre in Camden. Accordions look so cool. Anyway, the tutor was really passionate and knowledgeable and that funny feeling started fluttering in my gut again. Before long, there was music software on my Mac and a big journey was just beginning.
So, what did you find among the wreckage?
“Well, in the end, melodies don’t age half as much as production techniques. So, stripped of their context, they could be reimagined any way I wanted. Pure electronic music didn’t appeal, so when I saw this lovely Takamine guitar in Crouch End, I decided to make it the centre of the sound.
“The plan was to do all kinds of different songs in different styles and let the guitar and voice unify it. There was no point in imposing any genre on it because that just wouldn’t be any fun. However, eventually a kind of neo-seventies groove took hold.
It’s an interesting way of working.
“Yes, the plan was to do all kinds of different songs in different styles and let the elements that apppay some kind of tribute to my favourite music and lay some ghosts to rest but also to make an album that spoke to today, not just some 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. Did you really avoid singing since 1992?
“Pretty much, yes until the Cross & Quinn album which came out in 2016. That sounded okay, but singing one song was about the limit at any one time. My singing teacher Nanna (former Danish opera singer Nanna Brincker) helped me rebuild the voice, which was interesting because the sound had changed a lot, much heavier, less dexterous. It took quite an adjustment.
Is it true you played and sang everything on the album?
“Not quite. Ruth (Staunton) sang backing vocal on ‘A Moment’ and Simon Haggis, who engineered the album, helped out with the drum programming – and 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, growing up in a big Irish family in Bradford, there was no escaping music. One day, this dansette record player appeared in the front room, along with a big pile of singles. Nothing was said at the time but apparently the next-door neighbours were broke and sold it all to my dad.
“So, suddenly we had all these sixties hits: Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones… but also loads of lesser-known stuff that captured the zeitgeist of the time. There was this mini-vogue for delicate Euro-pop using Bach chord progressions and harpsichord. I tried to capture it 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 hint of classical thrown in.”
How did you get from listening to playing?
“The usual story. Dad bought me a guitar for Christmas at age eleven, but it wasn’t a success right away. Music was just too mysterious. 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 another folky strummer.”
And the first band?
“Some older kids at school got me into their band. And then I formed my own band with my brother, Dez, on bass. Eventually, we went down to London and went through various drummers before adding Sean Quinn on guitar and getting a record deal as Dubh Chapter.”
He still feels their album ‘Silence, Cunning & Exile’ was a musical success.
“It hasn’t really dated so badly because it was basically a pop album with some good tunes. A lot of people thought we were U3… and, yes, 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 it 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, there were auditions. 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’ve since seen a picture of him with them. The track sounded good so they were pleased. £50 in my pocket!”
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, we worked as a duo. 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 decades 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 liked how it sounds. Guess it represents what’s left of my young songwriting. Instead of old tunes by a young guy like Dylan used to do, these are young songs by an older guy. Kind of poetic, isn’t it?”
‘Last Of The Light’ is available for download now.