Wanna play a psych festival?

HRH are doing a psych festival. Do you wanna play?

Yeah, sure, I’d love to. 

*googles* What is psych?

“relating to or denoting drugs (especially LSD) that produce hallucinations and apparent expansion of consciousness.”

Over the Easter weekend the Tom Slatter band (it’s not called that) played a gig at HRH Psych, a festival of psychedelic rock at the Arts Club in Liverpool. It was our first gig since the before-times, and it was lots of fun. 

But regarding the central question of the weekend – what is ‘psych’? – I still am none the wiser. I’d googled the definition (see above) but that didn’t seem particularly to refer to any style of music. At first I thought 60s style pop, maybe the Beatles in their more experimental moments. Perhaps The Doors in their wig-out solo sections. Maybe even Pink Floyd. But none of the bands I heard sounded anything like that. 

I’d contracted a cold earlier in the week (multiple tests said it was not covid) nothing too serious, but enough to stop me sleeping well. After a rehearsal on Friday night at Michael’s Amersham Music Studios, I headed home for a night of almost no sleep. I then woke up and jumped on a train to meet Keith in Richmond for the drive up to Liverpool. At this point I was fine. A bit coldy, but full of painkillers and caffeine and doing just dandy. The lack of sleep really han’t affected me.

The drive up to the venue took a while of course, partly because of the 40 minutes spent in a queue behind an accident on the M40. Keith was driving and had put Radio 3 on. They were playing music made up mostly of bird noises and as we passed the two mangled cars that had crashed, a looping starling ostinato seemed to sync up with the winking blue lights of the emergency vehicles. Their reflections bounced around behind my eyes and for a moment the world was all blue ambulance starling chirping. Then I blinked and we were two hours further up the motorway.

We arrived at the venue pretty much at the same time as Michael and made our way inside to discover our dressing room was right behind the upstairs stage. On the way up I asked the stage manager what she thought psych was but I couldn’t hear her answer. She had feathers in her hair. Or maybe it was the lights or something. She gave us the code to get through the door into the backstage area, then left us to it. 

Our dressing room, as I said, was behind the stage. While the previous band were soundchecking this didn’t seem an issue. But then they started playing. 

Now, this isn’t a comment on the quality of their music, just on the physics of the situation. It was looooooooud in the dressing room. Significantly louder than out in front of the band and with none of the high frequencies coming through, so all we really got was bass and noise. Michael took out a practice pad and started doing drum warm-ups, sticks clicking out syncopations against the drone of the band on the other side of the wall. I hadn’t slept for a long time by this point. I considered whether I could take a nap in the noise and whether I should tell the guys about the starling that had followed me from the motorway and was now flying in and out of the mirror. 

Instead, I decided to go and see some of the bands.

The band we could hear from our dressing room, Amon Acid, were playing what I’d call stoner rock – mid paced BIG RIFFS in D. Downstairs on the larger stage, a duo whose name I didn’t catch were playing sort of new age stuff with synth backing tracks, distorted guitar, the occasional flute and a lot of twirling. The women in the duo twirled round and round, holding her dress out and apparently twirling in a spiral. At certain points there were three of her, sometimes one, and once or twice seven, twirling in black and green spirals. The starling, now seven feet tall, stood beside me and bopped to the music. 

Did the two acts I had seen have anything in common, musically? Relatively static harmonic rhythm maybe – the same chords hanging around awhile – but that was it. In the scheme of popular music they were quite far apart. 

We got onstage at 6pm and proceeded to pretty much get the songs right. I know, who’da thought it? The rehearsals were worth it! All right, the lyrics were a bit all over the place and there was the occasional fluffed note. But, despite the cold and lack of sleep, my voice pretty much behaved itself and Michael and Keith played a blinder. 

Was there a big audience? Not for the room, but considering I’ve never gigged anywhere near Liverpool before and this was only the third ever Tom Slatter band gig, I was pretty pleased. I’d say there were between twenty or thirty people there, and a few who were really into it and who came and said as much after our set. 

Particular highlights for me included having enough stage that I could prance about a bit, feeling the practice pay off as I got most of the more difficult guitar parts right, and most importantly actually playing these songs live, many of them for the first time ever. Too Many Secrets, Rats, and Collateral from the most recent album all got their first public outing, as did Three Rows Of Teeth which is 9 years old this year, so about time it was performed. 

After the gig Michael had to dash, so I didn’t get to tell him how much the seven starlings had enjoyed his drumming, but Keith and I hung around. We heard another band, this one mostly playing Black Sabbath style riffs in E. They were good, though they did seem to create a green aura at the edge of my eyesight that shuddered every time the kick drum hit. This did not help pin down whatever psych might be. 

In search of a cheaper hotel, we headed down to Warrington for the night. By this point I’d not really slept for about 48 hours. Keith and I went out for a curry and on the way back it seemed sensible to take the picture above, which as you can see clearly shows the moment when the starling got onto its mothership and left our planet for the purple clouds 

I didn’t really sleep in the hotel either, or at least not enough. Keith’s car is half electric, powered by love and fairy dust and cushions of sibelius carried us wafting breezily gently marigold gloves over the mersey flying silently majestically southward inward outward mouthward downward aunty loves tea scone gone groan grind grand landing us right outside my house in the blink of an eye. 

Three days without sleep, but at least we played well and no-one threw things. 

By the time I collapsed on my sofa my eyes had seen the deep pools in a starling’s feather expanding my mind beyond craters on the moon and into the universe. And I had a nice cup of tea. 

But I never figured out what psych meant.