‘A latter-day Victorian street-theatre barker with a guitar promising tales of mystery, imagination, ‘orrible murders and bloody great waving tentacles’ is how Tom Slatter has been described. Since 2010 he has been scaring audiences with five albums and numerous EPs of storytelling songs. The most common subject of those stories is murder. Whether a simple acoustic ballad or a full-on, twenty-minute rock epic, Tom has written about death, madness and tentacles for the best part of a decade with no sign of slowing down or turning to more ‘normal’ subject matter.
‘An unorthodox songwriter whose songs push the boundaries of what can be expected from the solo acoustic guitar troubadour’, or possibly just ‘an experiment too far’, Tom’s new EP Spirit Box sees him returning to his acoustic folk-rock roots after a sojourn into more rock tinged waters.
That journey took him from the acoustic songwriting duo Comrade Robot, who used to terrorise the London acoustic circuit, to a solo career that began with 2010’s Spinning the Compass. That was the first of four steampunk-themed albums that saw Tom performing at various events across the country, from the Lincoln Asylum (Europe’s biggest steampunk festival) to the Phoenix Alternative Festival in Wales and Eppyfest in Gloucestershire. His live performances have been described as ‘discomfiting’ and ‘overly whimsical’.
Those four steampunk albums were haunted by the ghost of Seven Bells John, a murderous character that Tom finally exorcised with Seven Bells Redeemed, the twenty-minute rock epic from the album Fit the Fourth (Bad Elephant Music). The song was inspired by Tom’s love of musical theatre and heavy metal. Being twenty minutes long, it was (probably reasonably) mistaken for progressive rock and Tom was accidentally nominated for a Prog Award in 2016.
Determined not to take advantage of that hint of critical success, Tom followed Fit the Fourth with 2017’s Happy People, an album made up almost exclusively of short, verse-chorus pop rock songs. This was Tom’s first album not to have a steampunk theme, concentrating instead on a tale of dystopian near-future horror.
‘The world seemed to be descending into a dystopian hellhole. I thought we could do with a soundtrack’, Tom said about the album at the time.
Since then Tom has released an instrumental album Murder and Parliament, fought in vain to stop the members of his online ‘Immoral Supporters’ group from making awful puns, and tried to find time to work on new vocal music.
Spirit Box, released on 14th November, is his latest release. Given the last successful record was a full rock band affair, it is no surprise that Tom has decided not to repeat that. After all, we couldn’t have a consistent approach that builds on past successes, could we?