Album review: ROB COTTINGHAM – Back Behind The Orchard Tree

ROB COTTINGHAM - Back Behind The Orchard Tree

[Release date 03.04.19]

You have to hand it to Rob Cottingham.  He doesn’t like to sit idle, and this re-working of the Touchstone/Cairo founder’s debut solo album has been on his bucket list for some time.

Having learnt a shed load about programming, engineering and music production since recording Behind The Orchard Tree with a group of friends back in 2001, revisiting the album was an itch Rob felt compelled to scratch.

Now it’s probably not unfair to say the original album hasn’t exactly left an indelible mark on many record collections, but you can still find it (in full) on Youtube – which was my starting point before ‘dropping the needle’ on Back Behind …

And I have to say, with glimmerings of early Touchstone, it definitely qualifies as ‘one that got away’ and a work deserving of wider exposure with its Floydian / Genesis (when there were ‘three’) imbued melodies.

This time around, and a first for Rob – with no band, the re-working was aided just by John Mitchell (who co-produced) on electric and acoustic guitars, and with Rob’s daughter, Kerry taking lead vocals on an orchestral version of ‘Hero’, and the guitarist on the original album Andy Wildman’s daughter, Esther, contributing backing vocals on ‘Find Me’ (which also features Anatoliy Vyacheslavov on sax), ‘Phoenix’, and ‘Out Of Tim’e – the one new song here.

The nice thing about ‘Back’ is that it doesn’t so much look to re-invent the Behind The Orchard Tree, it’s more like giving a cherished old set of wheels a damn good T-cut and under bonnet overhaul – making it look and feel like a new motor – Cottingham’s vocals are richer, the production cleaner, and John Mitchell’s guitar the equivalent of a ‘tune up’ that adds significant extra ‘brake horsepower’.

Listening to the two versions ‘side by side’ there can be little argument that Back is by far the superior rendition, not only giving the original a shot in the arm and a new lease of life, but taking it to an entirely different level.  And if you need proof – just take a listen to the two versions of ‘Find Me’ – while the original is ‘good’, the new version is ‘great’ with  some magnificently intertwined sax and lead guitar work.

It’s rare that a re-working improves on the original, but Cottingham hasn’t sought to ring the changes, merely bring the album sonically ‘up to date’ and in the process making it sound like he probably always envisaged it.

And as for the excellent new song, ‘Out Of Time’, it works just as well here as it would within the confines of Cairo.  So, while fans await the next chapter of that band – with new vocalist Sarah Bayley – give Back Behind The Orchard Tree a listen – you’ll be very pleasantly surprised.  ****

Review by Pete Whalley

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