Birthday Giveaway!

Hello you!

It’s my birthday this week. One more year avoiding calamity, one more step towards the grave and the sweet release of death.

So let’s celebrate!

I’m feeling pretty chipper at the mo as I’ve been making progress on the next release. This will be an ep with a couple of what are sounding like the best songs I’ve written so far.

However, that’s not ready for you to hear yet, so instead I’ve set all my music on bandcamp to ‘pay what you want*’ so if you don’t have a copy of any of my stuff, especially the latest album Three Rows of Teeth, now’s the time to get yourself a copy. Click here for the bandcamp page.

If you already have a copy, why not send someone else the link?

*Pay what you want= put in any price. You are welcome, in fact invited, to put 0 and get the music for free.

New Bio

What would it sound like if Nick Cave started writing songs with Genesis after watching too many episodes of Dr Who? How many songs about replacing your body parts with mechanical alternatives is too many? Does the world need a steampunk/scifi inspired prog rock act? Tom Slatter set out to answer none of these questions, but accidentally did.

Yup, I’ve written a new biography thing for the about page. It is here.

Warden’s Song – 3 new pieces

Warden’s Song was commissioned by Andrew Fletcher as a theme song for his steampunk character Fitch Warden. Here it is at a pay-what-you-want fee. Feel free to share it with all and sundry.

Men of the World

This will be on the next album. Yes there will be a next album. I haven’t been discouraged yet.

At some point there’ll be a proper version of this with instruments playing those ‘ooh oh oh’ melodies and an extended middle section with a solo or two. This is the acoustic version.

Went to sea in a sieve or say they say
Where the devil fish roll in the boiling waves
Coming home is such sweet joy
Coming home a man, the boys that went to sea stayed away

Went to sea,
Sharpening a blade
There were serpents to hunt, there were monsters there
And the black waves rolling in
Come to drown and come to sink
Oily graves for us all

We’re men of the world,
But is this the world that we were men of?
Oh how it’s changed
has nothing stayed the same?
We’re men of the world,
But is this the world that we were men of?
Oh how it’s changed
how it’s changed

Islands in the dark
Islands in the blue sea
Islands in the dark
Islands in the blue sea

We’re men of the world,
But is this the world that we were men of?
Oh how it’s changed
has nothing stayed the same?
We’re men of the world,
But is this the world that we were men of?
Oh how it’s changed
how it’s changed

Narrative in Song

Oliver Arditi wrote a very thorough review of Three Rows of Teeth at the end of last month.

I am hugely flattered that anyone might write something so in depth based on my stuff, and tickled by the use of the word ‘habitué’ to describe you, dear listener.

I wouldn’t call you ‘habitués’ of my music. I’d call you listeners. Music monkeys. Eared scum.

No I wouldn’t really, but I do like the phrase ‘eared scum’.

Anyway, I digest…

Oliver, being a speculative fiction writer himself, talks about the narrative elements of my songs and rightly identifies a hint of musical theatre in them.

Tis true, tis true. I like a song with a story and have enjoyed several musicals. I know many of them are lightweight, but Phantom of the Opera, Jekyll and Hyde, Les Mis, Sweeney Todd – all of these I know and love. I know admitting so will wipe away whatever vestiges of street cred I might have had left, but a guilty pleasure wouldn’t be a guilty pleasure if you didn’t admit to it.

I also love Meatloaf, a few bits of folk and a hell of a lot of metal and prog rock that also has a narrative focus. I’ve never been keen on opera, mostly because of the singing style, but that aside, narrative music appeals to me.

That said, here are three works of narrative popular music that I have enjoyed and would recommend.

Operation Mindcrime by Queensryche

You have to be able to cope with 80s metal hairstyles and cheesy metal to full enjoy this one, so if those aren’t your thing best to stay clear. Operation Mindcrime however, is bloody fantastic. Musically it’s all singalong choruses and duelling guitar solos. The story is a relatively well-developed one about hypnosis, revolutionaries, madness and the evil, manipulative ‘Dr x’. It’s very comic book in tone – melodramatic and emo – which isn’t a criticism as far as I’m concerned.

There was a sequel, which has some okay songs on it and continues the story, but I wouldn’t call it essential. The original however is well worth a listen.

Sweeney Todd

No, not the movie. That’s okay, but actors aren’t singers and you want to hear this with proper singers. Again, this is pure, macabre melodrama – gore and murder and lust and innocence-destroyed. And lots of dark humour. The recent London cast is very good, as is the original recording (although the accents are a little interesting on that as the American singers understandably don’t get every cockney vowel sounding perfect).

Musically this is complicated stuff for the West End – Sondheim has a deft hand with lyrics and a very pleasing attitude to discord. He has a way of mixing simple melody with off-colour harmony that perfectly complements the subject matter.

Outside – The Diaries of Nathan Adler, or The Murder of Baby Grace Blue, a gothic drama hyper-cycle

More melodrama and dark humour here (I know what I like) in the fourth album that Bowie and Eno made together. It may be heresy to say it, but for me this is a far stronger work than the original Berlin albums they made together.

Of course it is not nearly as influential as them, but it’s a more accomplished work and a more satisfying listen on the whole. However, it suffers somewhat from the superfluous addition of ‘Strangers when we meet’ at the end – which apparently was added at the record company’s behest when they realised what an uncommercial record Bowie had made. A perfectlygood song, but out of place on this album.

Outside’s story, told in the liner notes, details PI Nathan Adler’s investigation of the murder of Baby Grace, who’s death appears to be connected to some rather unlikely works of modern art.

Modern Art was clearly an influence – At the time Bowie and the artist Damien Hirst were apparently concocting plans to attach the head and genitals of a bull to the corpse of a man who had left his body to art – or so the story goes. A similar image can be seen in the liner notes for the album.

Lyrically Outside is a masterpiece. The album was written via improvisations, with Bowie running his story through randomisation software to create some truly unhinged nonsense – The Voyeur of Utterdestruction as Beauty – which nevertheless hints at meaning because of it’s origin as a coherent story.

Musically it achieves amazing things too – neon gothic layers of synth and guitar, samples and percussion. Even an update on Major Tom in the form of ‘Hello Spaceboy’.

Outside does what I think the best narrative songs do – asks questions, gives hints to the story, but doesn’t spell everything out.

Of course you can’t do that with musicals like Sweeney Todd where the point is to tell a story. Outside is primarily an album of music that uses narrative and one of its ingredients – something that I tend to do with my own music.

So far my musical narratives have been steampunk. I think I have maybe one more thing to say that fits into that genre, before I try my hand at another. I may be wrong, we’ll see what the muses say, but whatever I do next, narrative is sure to play a big part in it.

I don’t get Record Store day, but here are 3 Indie Records you should buy

I don’t get record store day.

First there are the words in the title. To my English ears the word ‘shop’ is more appropriate than ‘store’, and I have no love of vinyl and no desire to own a record when good quality audio files are an option.

What? You think those are shallow points, hardly worth making? Well it’s my blog and I shall say what I want.

I am all for supporting independent artists. I’m currently getting ready to move house, and in doing so I’ve got rid of a lot of CDs. The ones I’ve kept are, by and large, independent albums. I’ve kept these not because I ever listen to the physical CD – they were all ripped to hard drive once I bought them – but because I value the transaction and the opportunity to support an artist I like.

But shops? Bricks and mortar shops? I can’t stand the things. I have no desire to go out to a special place just to buy things, I have no desire to have to queue up with others, to take the risk that what I want isn’t in stock, to be inconvenienced by those who take up space ‘browsing’ rather than having a definite idea of what they’re going to purchase so they can get in and out very quickly. In short, shops bemuse and annoy me, and just because some of them sell music doesn’t suddenly make them worthwhile.

If you like them, go ahead, no problem, I’m not suggesting we get rid of shops, but I don’t want to bother with them.

Don’t you think that’s needlessly negative? Lots of people do value the chance to browse in a physical space. Lots of people want to support their friendly independent record shop and browse its shelves for interesting and obscure vinyl releases…

Fine, lovely, let them do it, I’m not interested, it seems needlessly out of date and a waste of time to me. Also this obsession with physical things seems a little weird, and there’s just a self-satisfied, pretentious feel to a lot of it. Like people who go to farmers’ markets or buy organic food because they think they’re making an ethical choice rather than trying to say something about their status and class.

Blimey, attacking organic food and farmers markets as well? As if you’re not pretty middle class yourself, with your Guardian and your fluffy liberal views

Shut up. You are essentially me, and I’m buggered if I’m going to spoil another blog post with a mock argument with myself in a lame attempt to be funny. It’s bad enough I just wrote that sentence to preempt any accusations of not being funny. Let’s just get on with something worthwhile…

Right, here are some good indie records:

Let’s Build An Airport – Matt Blick

This Ep, by Matt Blick, is really rather spiffing. He writes a blog on the Beatles and you can really hear the influence here. In a good way. Highlights: [Everything is] Broken with it’s 7/4 rhythm, interesting instrumentation and fantastic chorus and Let’s Build an Airport which is a perfect little pop song.

Ghost – Matt Stevens

This has just been reprinted, so you can go buy it and own it and hold it, which I assume will assuage your weird record fetish. Oddball that you are. I recently described it thus:

‘Ghost used to be my go to album for washing up and visiting the gym, now it’s more likely to accompany me as I fall asleep on trains in the morning. It’s that good (Sorry Matt, that was supposed to sound like an endorsement. It came out kinda mildy sarcastic). Look, buy the album, it’s good. I am being serious.’

Nick Tann – The Vinyl Project

Yeah he’s into vinyl, which as we’ve established, is weird. But 3am is a bloody good song with a chorus that will not leave your head, and the rest of the songs are great too. Well worth it, even if he does like vinyl.

So there are 3 indie records you could/should buy. But don’t go to shops. Shops are full of people, and we all know people are overrated.

Song of the Month – Lines Overheard at a Séance

I thought I’d start highlighting some of my old songs, just to highlight some of the stuff I’m proud of that you might not have heard.

Lines Overheard at a Séance is from my first solo album, Spinning the Compass. I composed it for FAWM 2009 and it was almost entirely improvised, pretty much as you hear it now.

The basic chords, melody and lyrics were written in perhaps twenty minutes. I sat down at the keyboard, chose a suitablyodd chord to begin with, then just started playing.

Lyrically what came to mind as I played – although I subsequently tidied things up for the final version.

Thankfully, when I realised what the title should be, it all made sense.   The words hint at murder and corpses buried in secret, but never spell out exactly what they mean.

I am rather fond of it. And you can download it for free, should you choose.

Weekend at the Asylum – Steampunk festival gig report

The Steampunk Asylum at Lincoln last weekend was the most enjoyable gig I’ve played for some time.

Here’s some video, courtesy of Mr Andrew Fletcher:

It had looked like I’d have a difficult journey as I needed to get from work in London to Lincoln in only three hours. As it turned out, I had a smooth straight forward journey, arriving at the Charlotte House Hotel at just after 6pm.

My brother Joe, my partner Rachel and our friend Julia left London three hours before me, but arrived only twenty minutes earlier than I did. They claimed the train ahd been delayed, but I suspect they were just getting things wrong.

The first act were Broadarrow Jack, playing their last gig before splitting up. Their set was lots of silly folky fun, including a quite marvellous song about zombie horses. Lots of fun, but sadly you’ll never be able to see them.

Keep an eye out for Crimson Clocks, however which some members of Broadarrow Jack have gone on to perform with.

My own gig was the first with another musician playing my solo songs, as Joe played bass and sang backing vocals.

The setlist included a couple of tracks from Spinning the Compass and the whole of the Miser’s Will from Ironbark.

I can honestly say I haven’t enjoyed a solo gig as much in years. There was an attentive, appreciative audience, no-one through anything and people said nice things afterwards.

The rest of the weekend was having our photos taken by strangers, possibly because of what we were wearing.

All in all, a lovely weekend. It’s also left me itching to play more. I’m sure Joe would be up for playing a few more gigs. Just need to find a drummer. Watch this space, and all that.