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.

Updates updates updates

I’ve updated my live page and my bio.

‘An imaginative blend of English whimsy, proper prog and not-prog metal,’ is how prog magazine described Tom Slatter’s latest album Escape. Not having been around in prog rock’s heyday, Tom Slatter came to the genre via his first loves of heavy metal and folky singer-songwriters, tracing their influences back and developing a love of the 70s masters as well as more recent prog bands.
His seven solo albums to date throw together those influences alongside a penchant for science fiction and surreal storytelling…

Click here to read the whole thing.

One week left!

Live In Balham, the ‘bootleg’ of my first post-lockdown gig will only be available until 16 January. So have a stream before then or grab a free download to keep.

I really enjoyed this gig and Prog magazine said my set was ‘powerfully performed’.

Mind you, the same review said the new songs suggest I might be moving away from my normal ‘dark, absurdist surrealism’. Actually, it’s more of a blip. The new album is a bit less absurd, but I’m pretty sure the next will be proper mad to balance everything out. On average, I will always be absurd.

Anyway, it was lots of fun. Here’s a couple of little snippets, but you need to head over to my bandcamp page to hear the set and grab a free download if you want one.

After 16 January this will be a subscribers only release.

Podcast ep 6 – Fuzztail

This is episode 6 of my podcast. This episode is called ‘Fuzztail’. It features the wonderful Keith Buckman, chatting about music, playing on my album and escapism (cos that’s the theme of my new album, I may have mentioned it). 

Also, I went on a bit of a mission to figure out where my missing CDs are. It didn’t end well. 

(Bonus blurry Gareth in the background in the photo there. He isn’t in the episode. Which might count as a lucky escape).

Keith plays for The Far Meadow: https://thefarmeadow.bandcamp.com/album/foreign-land

Marshpoem: https://soundcloud.com/marshpoem

Kindred Spirit: http://elainesamuels.co.uk/home.htm

Podcast episode 5 – Time Stands Still

I played a gig! I played a gig! Also my new album is nearly out. This episode has a bit of that gig, including an acoustic version of the song Time Stands Still from the new album.

The Voice of Doubt makes an appearance too. I’m sorry. I should deal with him.

My new album Escape will be out on Friday 1 October.

Well. What with the UK being insane at present, CDs are held up (because we live in a normal country, oh yes). But you’ll be able to hear it over on the bandcamps. It is well good. I am very proud of it. It has tunes and big loud guitars (I my be biased).

I hope you enjoy the podcast and, when it comes, the album too.

Escape – My new album

I am very happy to announce my seventh solo album, Escape, is available to pre-order now. 

As the title suggests, this album is all about escapism which for me means being a scifi/fantasy fan. Reading books, playing computer games, and generally being an indoors kid. And of course listening to lots of loud rock music at the same time. So I’ve turned up the guitars and written a load of songs about spaceships and soldiers and stuff.

You can listen to the song ‘Rats’ right now, and pre-order the album which comes out on 1st October.

It’s available as a download, as a CD, and also in a lovely bundle with an extras CD and a big long booklet full of lyrics and commentary about the album and so on. You can pre-order here.

Over the coming weeks I will share some fun stuff ahead of the album. Behind the scenes stuff, episodes of the silly podcast I’ve ben recording, maybe a sneak peak of a song or two. So keep your eyes peeled!

How many sheds must a man build?

This and other questions were answered, or at least pondered and discussed in the second of my podcast interviews with the people who helped with my new album.

Ben Bell, keyboard player extraordinaire, was the second person to help out. Here he is, enjoying the discussion.

We talked about his keyboard playing and general creative approach. Along the way I discovered he has built at least three sheds.

When will this new podcast be inflicted upon you? What will it be called? Will each interview be presented as it is, or will I cut them up and combine them to present the discussions thematically?

I have literally no idea what the answer to any those questions is. I doubt I will until the first episode is out. Or until the last is out.

I’ll figure it out.

What else has been going on? I’ve only signed off the bloody front cover art, that’s what. Brian Mitchell, who also did the artwork for Demon, Murder and Parliament, and Spirit Box, has been helping out with this one too. It looks ace.

In addition, I’m 90% finished with text for the extended booklet thing that will be one of the optional extras for the album, and I’m making good progress on one of the other extras too.

I’ve also received Michael Cairn’s contribution to the play through video we’re making for the first ‘single’.

In short, progress is being made with this album thing and we’re making good progress towards a release.

Soon, soon you will hear new music!

Album Update

Last Friday I had a chat with Mike Cairns, who played drums on my upcoming album. We were recording a little interview ahead of the podcast I intend to inflict on you to accompany the album release.

We had a chat about how he approached recording his drum parts, getting out of music teaching, and we also touched on escapism, the main theme of the album.

As you can see, we both had a great time.

And what does that mean? It means the new album will soon be out!

Last week I signed off the final masters, so the music is finally finished. Mastering – ie. getting all the different tracks to sit together in terms of loudness and so on – has once again been done by David Elliott/Elephant, the Evil Record Label Boss.

This inevitably means that I have now heard all the songs far, far too many times and am slightly sick of them. That’s how the album process works. The point at which you finally get to hear them is the point at which I really don’t need to hear them any more.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share more things as they get sorted – artwork, release date, how you can get a copy, all that sort of stuff. There’ll even be a single with a video to accompany it.

What does the album sound like?

This one’s the most rocky yet, with guitars at least as loud as on Happy People if not more so. There’s a bit of metal, a lot of rock, and quite a lot of prog. How much prog? Well, the first song is 12 minutes long and the last track is 20 minutes long. So quite a lot of prog.

As I said, the theme is escapism. The idea was to have a load of songs that were just fun, up tempo stuff about spaceships and stuff. And that’s pretty much what I came up with.

I am very much looking forward to everyone else being able to hear it.

The thing about Radiohead fans…

I saw a funny clip from the BBC over on the twitter:

It’s light-hearted, obviously, but it made me laugh cos I’m a Radiohead fan who could talk forever about how much I like them and I am also a Stewart Lee fan and could talk forever about how much I enjoy his stand-up.

Am I as blinkered as the stereotype they’re talking about in the video? Maybe not. I mean, Radiohead genuinely do interesting and different things with timbre and rhythm compared to other rock bands, and the way they’ve woven ideas from outside rock – bits of jazz, classical and EDM – is really creative. They’re progressive in a way a lot of ‘prog rock’ bands can barely comprehend let alone emulate.

But I also had a long period of not listening to their stuff, particularly around the Hail to the Thief era, and I can absolutely see why, for example, some people can’t get on with Yorke’s voice or find them a bit too miserable.

Anyway, this got me thinking about snobbery, particularly because the idea turned up in relation to sports the other day. I am not a sports fan. I find it confusing in general, and in the case of football actively unpleasant. Why? Because I associate it with a kind of masculinity that just is not me.

I was a kid in the 90s, which in the UK meant the height of ‘lad culture’. This meant football, Oasis and Loaded magazine. Loaded was a ‘lads mag’ that, according to it’s founder, was founded in part as a reaction against the feminising nature of dance music and rave culture (according to this podcast).

Yes, I know, can you imagine such a thing?

It was blokey, masculine, and as anyone who has ever heard Oasis can confirm, offensively incurious.

That wasn’t me. I was listening to Radiohead, and all the things that got put under ‘alternative’ which ranged from proper metal, to metal adjacent things like Placebo. Some of that is pretty masculine of course, but it was the kind of masculinity that was accepting of make-up on men, and singing about your feelings, and in the case of Radiohead of actually doing new things and thinking about the music.

Liking football went hand in hand with listening to Oasis, reading Loaded and wearing your football shirt with the collar up for reasons that were never clear to me.

So, when I amused myself be pretending to not understand what football is it was really interesting when a friend or two objected. I got the impression that to some people, football is not ‘established, high culture’. They seemed to think football was still the solely working class pursuit it once was.

And it ain’t. It is a working class thing, but it isn’t just that any longer. Football is all encompassing, established culture. Not liking football doesn’t make you a snob, it makes you the underdog. It makes you unusual.

Whereas, yeah, declaring Radiohead the best thing ever, and not really listening to anything else is definitely snobbery.

Is there a point to this rambling blog post? Erm… ‘snobbery’ implies looking down on something. Hard to do that when that something is being put on a pedestal by almost everybody.

Also, Radiohead is quite good, but not the be all. And football’s rubbish.