We caught up with John Wilkinson to find out about the new Moonshot album release and how the band is getting on….
MW: Hi John and a happy new year to you. So tell us all about Moonshot then.
JW: Happy new year to you and all the folk that read this. Moonshot is going to take some explaining to fully grasp the concept so here goes…. Many years ago Mama’s bass player Dave Jones was in a band called Plenty with Tim Bowness of No Man and solo album fame. Tim wanted to get that band back together and make an album (which they did in fact). In the course of that reconnection Tim heard about Mama. Tim had just released his album called Lost In The Ghostlight, which is all about an imaginary band called Moonshot. Tim had the idea to ask Mama to become Moonshot.
MW: Really? So how does that work then?
JW: Well as far as I remember Tim’s original idea was for Mama to accompany him on a short tour of Europe playing some of the songs from the album, but it soon morphed into Mama recording Tim’s songs in a certain style which Tim would suggest. For example he wanted Stupid Things That Mean The World to sound like Genesis in 1981. The ‘Abacab era’, you get the idea?
MW: Yes, so Tim suggested styles for his songs and Mama or Moonshot as we should say, put them into effect?
JW: Yes sort of.
MW: Did Tim give you any stipulations with his music?
JW: The only one was not to change the lyrics. I quickly learned that my voice and Tim’s voice are a million miles apart. Tim has a very soft ethereal voice, which almost floats over the melodies and I knew I couldn’t hope to replicate that. That is also not what Tim wanted. He wanted our songs to sound like the ‘originals’ and his to be the cover versions. Brilliant idea in my view. I was free to change any melody lines I wanted and indeed Tim encouraged me to come up with my own. We also changed chords and drum parts etc.
MW: So Tim picks the songs and says something like, “make that sound like a Genesis song in 1975.”
JW: Yes for the most part. We did choose some styles ourselves, an example being The Great Electric Teenage Dream, which I believe I suggested we try and make it sound like Genesis in 1976.
MW: You certainly succeeded in that.
JW: Thanks. That was a great example because our version sounds nothing like Tim’s original song. By the way I would encourage you all to listen to Tim’s versions of the songs on the Lost In The Ghostlight Moonshot album and you can see hear for yourself just how different we made them.
MW: So Tim was closely involved with the making of the album?
JW: Of course. Every demo we did, Dave sent it to Tim and he gave us feedback. What surprised me was that none of it was negative [laughs].
MW: Where was the album recorded?
JW: Mainly in Dave Jones sitting room [laughs again]. With the technology available today you can do that. Steve Hackett records in his living room as I understand. James was recorded in his house and at Jamm Studios. We were very fortunate to have Colin McKay producing the album and in fact 80% of it was written and arranged by Dave and Colin.
MW: Colin who wrote and produced the album by The Swan Chorus?
JW: Yes that’s the chap. Genius songwriter, arranger and programmer in my opinion. He is the sixth member of the band for sure. Colin can take a simple idea and run with it until it becomes a prog epic [laughs]. For example there is a song on the CD version called Moonshot Shadows which is a sort of homage to Los Endos by Genesis in that it takes themes from the album and welds them into a piece of music. I had an idea on how I wanted it to sound and between putting forward my ideas by singing and very bad guitar playing we arrived at the almost finished piece. There was something missing in our view so John Comish added the wonderful opening and closing keyboard sections and away you go.
MW: I see that there is a song written by Dave Jones and yourself on the album. Before That Before?
JW: Yes. That was great fun to do. Tim has this whole backstory about Moonshot which you can find on the album insert and CD sleeve. As part of that backstory Tim imaged them having a minor hit single with that title. Tim thought it would be fun if we could write the song to fit that title.
MW: Wow! So you and Dave did that?
JW: Yes. A true collaboration. I had the opening guitar section up to the chorus and Dave and I wrote the chorus together. The guitar always reminds me of something Mike Rutherford could have written in truth.
MW: A very haunting song.
JW: Yes people really seem to like it.
MW: Now it seems you got our old friend Darren Dean to play guitar on it.
JW: Yes. That was lovely. Dave asked Darren if he would be interested, sent him the demo’s over and he loved them. Brilliant guitar player and on Before That Before his guitar make makes the song so complete. Unfortunately Darren is unable to join us for live shows so Jon Vatikiotis will be playing guitar when we perform the album launch show on the 1st February 2020.
MW: So give us a run down of the songs then?
JW: Okay. So the first song is called Moonshot Manchild which Tim and Dave suggested as an early Pete Banks era Yes as an example, but with me trying not to strain myself and sound like Jon Anderson (as if I could). It is a fairly accurate reproduction of that era.
Stupid Things That Mean The World is next and this is the song Tim wanted to sound like Abacab by Genesis. The influences are very obvious here, but listen to the great keyboard lines by John Comish.
Worlds of Yesterday was in fact the very first song that we all worked on. I have to say that this is the one that sounds the most like Tim’s original. We extended the chorus and did our own instrumental section at the half way point. The ending was designed by Colin and works really well. Great guitar solo by Darren too.
Lost In The Ghostlight is where James gets to shine for me. Very much inspired by Peter Gabriel in the early 80’s. We tried to make this a brooding atmospheric song and I hope we succeeded. John Comish gives a great piano solo in this one.
Nowhere Good To Go is supposed to sound like In The Air Tonight. It starts with a drum machine, menacing chords and low bass. It builds to a climax. You get the idea.
The Great Electric Teenage Dream is actually my favourite song on the album. Think Entangled at the start but then it gets a lot heavier. Dave’s bass is awesome on this song. You can hear that Rickenbacker growl. I tried to do some vocal gymnastics on this one. Channeling my inner Jon Anderson [laughs].
Before That Before is the song Dave and I wrote and we have talked about that. Colin takes credit for some great arranging, especially the ending.
The Sweetest Bitter Pill is Tim’s idea to do a song which could have been done by King Crimson in 1971. Very, very ‘proggy’ indeed. Lovely Mellotron in this one with lots of tricky time changes.
The last track on the album is Distant Summers which is our Afterglow. We tried to get that as close as we could really, using Mellotrons again and a superb guitar solo from Darren once again closes the album.
The extra songs on the CD are You’ll Be The Silence which again harks back to early Yes and Moonshot Shadows, which again we have spoken about.
MW: Why were the CD songs left off the album?
JW: Interestingly and this is something I didn’t know, you can only put around forty five minutes of music on an a vinyl album. Tim chose the running order and we decided that the songs that didn’t make it we would put on the CD.
MW: So what is the plan now?
JW: Well the album is now out on Plane Groovy Records and the vinyl & CD are is available through Burning Shed. We are hoping we can get enough interest to be able to make a second album as we all have song ideas for that. This album has been so much fun to make and such a learning curve for me personally. The fourteen year old me has just had one of the things on his bucket list lists fulfilled.
MW: Thanks for talking to us John and good luck to the band with the album.
JW: My pleasure.
Buy the album here: www.burningshed.com