I’ve never been to Durham

In 2016 I was nominated for a prog award. I was in the ‘limelight’ category for new comers. I didn’t have a chance of winning of course, but I was very, very happy to be nominated.

The Beast of the Air – I have to admit, this is here because I love the song and video. Not sure what it has to do with the rest of the blog post…

By this point I was working with prog-related independent record label Bad Elephant Music and they had released my album Fit the Fourth. So here I was, a signed artist, nominated for an award, heading to the awards ceremony with my label boss. I was the big I am.

My record label boss might have had opinions on my album being late.

There were 43 tables in the venue, and we were on table 43. And then things got worse. The programme claimed I was from Durham.

I’ve never been to Durham. I can only assume the researcher at Prog Mag took a wrong turn on google somewhere. But it was a fun evening nonetheless, as you can hear in this entirely true story (by which I mean largely made up, very silly story) below.

The main serious point in amongst all the lies in that video is this: I was nominated in the same category as an act produced by Paul Draper from Mansun. I loved Mansun when I was younger, especially their album Six which I regard as a modern prog masterpiece. So I was well chuffed at being nominated and regard this as a highlight of my career so far.

Hello you! My latest release ‘Spirit Box’, a ‘concept EP’ about ghost hunting and murder, is out now. Evil Clowns, murderous butchers, failed attempts at ghost hunting, what more could you want from an EP? Here’s a link.

Four words to chill the soul – ‘But is it prog?’

When did you first get into prog?

If you’d asked 15 year old me what my musical goals were they probably wouldn’t have included playing at prog rock festivals, being nominated for a prog award or receiving positive reviews from Classic Rock and Prog magazines. I was a 90s kid, and liked 90s rock and to be honest Prog wasn’t often mentioned on the pages of Kerrang.

Some of the Creatures have Broken the Locks on the Door to Lab 558 is probably my ‘signature’ song. It’s a little bit prog. 

I like rock music that surprises you. That doesn’t stick with the expected 4/4 beats or the usual chords. But I didn’t know that kind of music sometimes gets called ‘progressive’ until I’d been writing it for several years.

Now I don’t think of my music as ‘pure’ prog. If you just want a copy of the 70s classics, I’m not your guy. But about fifteen years ago when I was teaching guitar, one of my pupils bought in a CD and said ‘I want to learn this’ and everything changed.

He’d bought in a Dream Theater CD. Now, I’m not going to claim to be the world’s biggest Dream Theater fan, but my student called it ‘prog metal’ – a term I hadn’t heard before. And that woke me up to the fact that prog hadn’t stopped in the 70s. In fact it had gone from strength to creative strength, even as the mainstream became less interested.

I got into prog metal, and then went back and discovered the classics, especially King Crimson, but also the amazing wealth of current acts – Knifeworld, The Fierce and the Dead – who are keeping the weird-rock flag flying. I also saw the connections with the prog-tinged acts I loved when I was younger like Radiohead and Mansun.

All the while I was writing my own music, so it seemed sensible to start getting in touch with prog radio and podcast producers.

Flash forward a year or two and I played my first prog gig supporting Alan Reed (ex of Pallas) at the now defunct Peel in south London. I played my 5 song cycle ‘The Miser’s Will’ and instead of people looking at me like I was mad, I sold out of the last copies of that album before I’d got off stage.

I’d found my audience. People who loved music that surprises, who like lyrics that tell a story, that want their musicians to explore a wider pallet.

Not long after I travelled with guitar player extraordinaire Matt Stevens (The Fierce and The Dead) to Summers End festival to play on their acoustic stage. That nailed it for me – the audience were really supportive and seemed to get what I was doing. I had found a place I fit.

Here’s a rough ‘bootleg’ recording of my acoustic set at Summers End festival in 2014. 

Is my music prog? I’m not really interested in boxes, and I’m not trying to sound like anyone else. But do I love prog, and has that influenced my songs? Yes, absolutely.

What about you? When did you first get into prog rock? Let me know in the comments!

Tom Slatter’s Tournament Of Perfectly Adequate Demo Songs

I have written quite a lot of songs. There are plenty already recorded and released, but lots more just exist as rough demos.

Lots of those just aren’t good enough to bother recording properly, but plenty are actually pretty good songs that just haven’t found a place on an album.

I want to record some as singles, but there are lots to choose from. Therefore it seems sensible to have a demo song tournament to decide which I will record ‘properly’ and release as a single.

Introducing Tom Slatter’s Tournament Of Perfectly Adequate Demo Songs.

Here are the rules:

  • There are 8 songs. Loser in each bout will be eliminated. Most votes wins.
  • Anyone can vote and you do so by commenting under this post, or the facebook post, or the bandcamp post.
  • Votes from the members of the Immoral Supporters Club on bandcamp are worth twice anyone elses. I know who they are.
  • I can’t be bothered setting up a proper poll – I’ll just count the comments manually. Any mistakes I make are irrelevant – this is my competition. I am the referee. I reserve the right to make arbitrary and unfair decisions.

The eventual winner will become a properly recorded single, rather than a rough demo.

Want a double vote? You need to be an immoral subscriber then. Here’s a link for that.

First up: ‘Mysteries and Monsters’, a very old song lamenting the death of magic, and ‘Anything to Make you Mine’, an extremely creepy ‘love’ song.

Of course they are demos, not the finished article, so don’t expect perfect recordings or performances.

Have a listen to the video and let me know which you prefer.

Songwriting – Run

There’s a fictional band in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy called Disaster Area. Douglas Adams wrote that ‘Their songs are on the whole very simple and mostly follow the familiar theme of boy-being meets girl-being beneath silvery moon, which then explodes for no adequately explored reason.’

I obviously took that idea to heart, at least subconsciously because I’ve got several songs that follow a similar story. Set Light to the Sky is one of them, so is Satellites – Love songs set to a backdrop of apocalyptic goings on.

My new song Run is similar.

It’s a love song about two people holding each other’s hands and running from the end of the world.

It is also a pretty straight ahead rock song – verse chorus verse chorus, singalong bits, nothing complicated and nerdy.

Or is it?

Run was written in about twenty minutes when I was attempting to complete February Album Writing Month in 2017. I started at 9 o’ clock with the intention of having an entirely new song. Some time before ten I had recorded this:

The verses are in 7/8, the verses 4/4 and the verse has an augmented chord in it: F#minor D Bb Augmented, C#minor – so there are enough unusual elements in there to keep the nerdy muso side of me happy.

Did I decide at the start to use funny time signatures? No, not at all. These things are just part my palette now, I find them as natural as more common rhythms.

The song was pretty much an improvisation and it hasn’t changed a whole lot between demo and the finished version, except that it is now well played and has the guitars turned up.

It is part of a ‘double a-side’ because I don’t have an album for it to go on. You can have the two songs for whatever price you want, including free.

Thanks for listening!

My part in Dial by Shineback

Dial by Shineback is now out.

This track, Here I Am, features some of my guitar playing:

Simon Godfrey, the madman behind Shineback, asked me to play something ‘disturbing’ to fill the gaps in between The Wizard Ramsay’s spoken word performance.

Most of the backing track was already there and there’s not much that’s rhythmic in it. It’s all big ominous chords and drones. So it made sense for me to play something with a bit of rhythm to it.

I read ‘disturbing’ as an instruction to play odd notes. They’re not random though, I’m playing with a whole tone scale centred on D – taking advantage of the symmetrical nature of that scale to slide up four frets and play the same pattern again a few times. It’s only right at the end that I return to a nicer, more ‘in tune’ scale for the last few notes.

My original performance was rough around the edges – as I’ve said elsewhere I can’t compete with proper lead guitar players on technique, what I have is funny note choice.

I spent several hours trying to record a version that had the same idea as the original but was better played. None of them sounded right so I sent Simon the original rough version instead.

Thankfully his inspired processing and choice of effects disguises how badly played the part was.

Thanks for letting me join in, Mr Godfrey. Its a great album.

New music – Rubble and Dust / Run

Today I’m releasing Rubble and Dust / Run.

This double A side digital single thingie contains two songs connected by theme and by the fact that they’re the nearest I get to straight-ahead rock songs.

“Rubble and Dust” probably has the most prominent heavy metal influence of any of my songs so far, thought it isn’t full on metal. It’s a big singalong song about mad world-leaders bringing us all to ruin. Yes, I’ve accidentally made a political comment again. I didn’t mean to, honest!

“Run” is about love at the end of the world. It’s a rocky pop song hiding 7/8 verses and at least one funny chord to keep the nerdy muso side of me happy.

Both of these are my first attempt at mixing something rocky in my new project studio. Not perfect of course, but I’m very happy with how both tracks sound.

I didn’t write a review – Dial by Shineback.

I didn’t write a review for an album that I played a small part in:

With ‘Dial’ Godfrey at the height of his powers – a mature songwriter who really knows how to put together a good record. If you want rocky guitars, it’s here. If you want extended prog rock structures, you get them too. If you want synths and electronic drums you get those. Above all you get songs that really pay you back for multiple close listens. I’ve heard the album about five times and am still discovering new details.

Is it good? I’m biased of course, but yes I think it’s fantastic.

Read the whole thing here.

I wouldn’t write political songs. Or would I?

Mike Morton, chief jacket wearer of the band The Gift, said on twitbook the other day that he gets loads of reaction when he talks about politics online, but relatively little when he posts about music. This led to a discussion about politics in music, how political people like their music, the sense some have that political music seems to have gone the way of the dodo. A lively discussion was had.

More than one person made the well known argument that everything is political and if you try not to be you’re simply saying the status quo is fine.

My initial reaction to that was to disagree. I write songs that tell silly, horrific, or horrifically silly sci-fi stories. There’s nothing political in them, I’m not writing them to make any kind of point.

Which isn’t to say I’m not political, I am very interested in politics. I’m on holiday this week and one of the things I did was visit the houses of parliament for a guided tour. I listen to relatively nerdy political podcasts, read an awful lot of non fiction and am pretty much addicted to my list of political journalists on twitter. Politics is fascinating and I really, sincerely wish our politicians could be persuaded to get involved in it.

There are two things I don’t do. I don’t talk about politics on twitbook (doing so is pointless and just feeds the online rage farm that they sell to advertisers) and I don’t write about politics in my songs. Politics is complicated and hard to communicate and I am not certain about my opinions on any of it. An eight minute monologue of my political ideas wouldn’t entertain anyone (though Akala’s would).

But if everything is political, then there must be politics in my music, right?

Happy People, my last album, could definitely be said to be political. It’s about a near future dystopia in which individuality is destroyed by the state, where love is regulated and where the population are kept in the dark through propaganda. My intention when writing it was just to tell a story and sketch out that world, but it would be totally reasonable to interpret it as a comment on today’s politics, or see my political views reflected in it. Certainly my attitude to issues of the individual versus the state are similar (I’m not a fan of the state getting in the way of the individual – but please don’t interpret that as a right wing ‘libertarian’ viewpoint).

What about the older steampunk stuff? Any politics there? My Seven Bells John songs are about a criminal who redeems himself after being freed from a prison cell by a policeman. You could definitely find similar anti-establishment sentiments in there, and probably shoe-horn it into a lefty critique of the role of the police if you wanted to.

As I’ve said many a time, meaning in pop music isn’t communicated primarily through the lyrics. So what else is being said with my music?

It’s influences are those you’d expect of a lower-middle class white Londoner born in the 80s: lots of rock, hints of folk, ideas nicked from classical. The business model is decidedly indie and the musical choices speak to that as well. You don’t write twenty minute songs if you’re hoping for commercial success. The steampunk thing elsewhere tends towards nostalgia for an era that was decidedly unpleasant for anyone bar the rich (but then, that’s most eras) but I think I’ve mostly gone for the horrific or weird end rather than the flag waving nostalgia. All of those things could be analysed through a political lens, regardless of whether I had political intentions.

Does intention matter? No. Stuff can be political, even if the person making it doesn’t mean it to be.

In short there are lots of ways you could interpret my music. Even the very fact that I’m suggesting my music exists within a political culture would be considered extreme left wing nonsense by some with a certain kind of right wing view that sees only individuals and discounts the notion of cultural analysis.

I don’t try to write political songs, I’m not going to try to communicate what I think about politics online – ask me in person if you want. But yeah, I guess my songs are political.

Everything is.


Murder songs continue…

…we’re up to four of them now. Here’s the second:

The fact is, I have written quite a few songs about murder. Quite a silly amount. Like loads.

So it seemed a good idea to record some performances of them and, as we go, count up the amount of dead people. So far we’ve had 5 murders in 4 songs.

I certainly didn’t plan that by the third video I would accidentally include a picture of ‘fan’ Tony, or mention him again in the fourth video. Look, I don’t bear a grudge and I am certainly not started a feud with Tony. Not at all. not even slightly.