Is there anyone in your life who has gone weird after watching too much Youtube? Been taken in by conspiracies, decided that science and facts are the enemy? That’s who this song is about.
I can’t say there’s a specific person close to me who has been taken in by things like that, to be fair, but it’s something you see a lot in the world. There was a time when we all basically agreed on what the truth was. It started somewhere in the 20th century, and carried on all the way through til maybe the late 90s. There were a small handful of TV channels and radio stations, there was a mass media culture and whether it was correct or not, we basically all shared an understanding of the facts.
We’d disagree how to react to those facts, but the facts were the facts.
At some point that began to break down. Rather than mass media, we now have fragmented media with a thousand channels selling us a thousand different versions of the truth. There still is an objective truth, but far too many people don’t understand that a talking head on a social media channel isn’t a reasonable way to discover it.
Coincidentally, shortly after I released this song as a single in 2022, the author Naomi Klein published a book called Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirrorworld which uses exactly the same metaphor to explore exactly the same subject matter. I guess it’s not that unique a metaphor, huh?
So this song is about the sense of loss the main character feels, watching a family member succumb to internet craziness, losing themselves in a parallel world of alternative facts, stuck in a mirror world where they can’t be reached.
Its soundworld is centred on an open D major tuning – a tuning used on a few songs on Worldbuilding – with the guitar part often equal to the vocal rather than just an accompaniment. The backing is sparse synths and some guitar countermelodies.
It’s one of the most difficult to play on the album and when I’ve tried it live a few times I haven’t quite got it right. In particular I keep getting the move from the final verse to the final chorus wrong. Not sure why, except the timing of it always seems to elude me.
For a while Mirrorworld was going to be the first song on the album. I only changed it because I thought Nothing You Can’t Buy was a better opener because the vocal starts right at the beginning of the song, whereas Mirrorworld has an instrumental intro. But it was the first song I wrote for Worldbuilding and remains the blueprint for the album’s sound.
Everything I’ve ever written has been about fictional worlds. I love fantasy, scifi, speculative fiction and my songs tend to tell those kind of stories.
Sometimes it’s very obvious, sometimes it’s kinda oblique, but all my songs are from the point of view of a character, telling you about their world.
So that’s what this first Ashfeathers album is about – 9 songs about characters in their fictional worlds.
But there’s also the idea of a ‘sound world’. The instruments, voices, textures and gestures you choose to create your music. So as well as building worlds with the lyrics, I’m building worlds with sound. World building.
I’ve released 8 albums prior to this one, almost all under my own name – Tom Slatter. Ashfeathers has such a different sound world to those songs that I decided a new name was needed, and here we are.
But the lyrics of the first song – Nothing You Can’t Buy – could absolutely have been on a Tom Slatter album.
This song is about a city in the desert where you can buy anything – physical things, maps and knives, cages, cars, diamonds, hot dogs, but also abstract ideas like broken hearts, broken promises.
The character singing revealed themselves to me gradually, pretty much as happens when you listen to the song. First he’s walking through this bizarre market, looking at all the weird stuff you can buy, but then the chorus comes he tells you he bought a map, a knife, someone else’s name and revenge.
Cos you can buy revenge in this place.
And despite the kinda sweet sound world – acoustic guitars and chimes and stuff, there’s something sinister going here. By the bridge he’s talking about accusations dogging your every move, and an old man in the market in the city you can pay to make your past sins disappear. And by that point you know this guy ain’t in a happy place.
And it means you’ve got a juxtaposition I always enjoy – a singable melodic chorus with dark sinister lyrics.
Cos by the end our character is talking about how he could have bought happiness, but to do that would mean raising someone he loves from the dead, and thats a pandora’s box, cos if one person can get raised from the dead, others can too and he can’t afford that.
I assume cos he’s put some many people there and he doesn’t want to have to face them after what he did.
Or something like that. Lots of writers will tell you, sometimes it feels lik the song or the story kinda takes over and you’re acting as a conduit for the words rather than creating them yourself. You are of course, except maybe with a bit of help from your subconscious brain – but that’s what it felt like when i got into writing this song. It wrote itself very quickly. Like he felt he wanted to confess to me.
So that’s that first song ‘Nothing You Can’t Buy’. Next time I’ll talk about the second song, MirrorWorld.
‘What are your influences? I’ve never heard anything like it.’ a guitarist called Andy said to me on Thursday night. I took this as a compliment. There was definitely not a look of fear in his eyes.
In the last seven days I’ve played two gigs.
Two? Two in seven days? I hardly ever play gigs, what’s going on?
It just so happened I was asked. Ever now and then I put a few feelers out to find gigs, but my main policy on gigging is that if someone asks I say yes, and apart from that I don’t really gig.
Why is that? Don’t musicians want to perform?
Yes, I love performing I would happily do it a lot more. But music is not my full time gig and I am committed to only doing musical things that bring me joy, given I don’t have bags of time to commit to it. At the start of 2022 I put a lot of effort into trying to find gigs. The result of that was I ended up with about 15 gigs in the diary for the first 6 months of the year, all but two of which never actually happened.
All right, it was bad timing. We were only just coming out of Covid, things were in flux, ticket sales were hard to predict. But that was an awful lot of time and effort spent on admin that could have been spent on new music.
So, for the moment we are back to my main gig policy. Do ’em if someone asks!
And that’s how I ended up playing the two gigs I did this week. Chris Parkins off’f London Prog Gigs asked if I wanted to support IT at the Camden Club, and Steve Jones (who I had contacted back in early 2022 during that rare bout of gig admin) who promotes Corn on the Cob, a acousticy, Americana ish night at The Hertford Corn Exchange.
The Camden Club is a new venue in an old building, having opened about 6 months ago. It is, it might shock you to know, in Camden, in that London.
The gig was a very civilised Sunday afternoon affair, with me opening followed by instrumental prog outfit Pandamoanium and the aforementioned prog ROCKers IT. I like IT, particularly because unlike a great many prog rock outfits, they don’t ignore the second half of that genre name and are happy to actually rock every now and then.
Pandamoanium were also lots of fun, great players with to my ear a bit of an Iron Maiden influence in chord and mode choices. Although that double-neck guitar had far too many strings. You don’t need that many.
My set was a mix of new and old – two songs off this year’s subscribers EP The Beast and Mr Knock plus a couple of brand new songs from the acoustic project I’m currently working on, including There’s Nothing You Can’t Buy. Here’s a video of that:
This was a great gig and being a prog crowd my weird stuff kinda fit in. No-one thinks you’re weird for playing songs in odd metres at a prog gig.
Corn on the Cob was also a great gig, but I was definitely more of a fish out of water there. I was part of the first act, which was a songwriters round – three acts on stage, playing one song each. I hadn’t done that before and I really enjoyed it. I was on stage with Pete Crossley, and Kate Ellis and playing right next to two other completely different songwriters was a nice contrast.
Now you may know, I like to get a bit of laughter from the audience between songs. I regard laughter as an appropriate reaction to the world cos let’s face it nothing really makes sense and being all serious about stuff is, well, unrealistic and a bit adolescent. So I introduced my silly songs in the way I usually do – this one’s about a brain in a jar, this one’s about evil clowns. And a few people laughed, a few people smiled. I think I got the right reaction.
Hard to tell isn’t it? I mean people laugh cos they think something’s funny. but they also laugh when they’re nervous or scared.
It was probably fine.
But then Andy, Kate Ellis’s guitar player did ask what my influences were as he hadn’t heard anything like it before, and there might have been a bit of fear in his eye. Hard to tell.
We’ve all read the lists ‘best guitarist of all time’, ‘best bass player of all time,’ ‘Best Prog rock band of all time’. What do they all forget? ‘All time’ includes the future. But they never mention the best acts from the future.
This brief article will hopefully redress the balance a little. Let’s dive into The Best Prog Bands of All Time (that were formed after 2025).
5. Jellyhoop Express
Formed after the original Jellyhoop/Blamp Collective disbanded due to bass player Felicity Argentine’s mysterious disappearance, Jellyhoop Express took the original band’s prog-funk soul to new heights. Fronted by Jellyhoop Lennon (no relation) and with the inimitable Ned Bladger on kit, and Gareth Cole on guitar, the band released many notable albums.
Biggest hit:Can you funk in 5/4? A double album that dares you to dance in impossible time signatures
Deep cut: Napoleon gave me sugar lumps A 40-minute prog-funk retelling of the Napoleonic wars from the point of view of Napoleon’s horse.
The economic woes of the mid 2020s didn’t have many upsides, but the formation of economics themed Prog-metal masters Coinbastard is certainly one of them. Some bands write concept albums, but few have stuck to the same concept for quite so many albums. From Choked By The Invisible Hand, to Thatcher’s Corpse for Chancellor, the Wigan prog metal bands have been scaring and educating audiences for 23 years with no sign of slowing down. Expect tech-death riffs, blistering solos, brutal polyrhythms, and an album long screaming exposition of the macro-economic ignorance that led George Osborn to incompetently ruin an entire country.
Biggest hit: Cutting taxes, cutting throats A history of taxation in 21/8
Deep cut: Reigning Keynes Slayer riffs and the essays of John Maynard Keynes shouldn’t go well together and yet somehow they do.
Cut from a very different cloth to CoinBastard,Floatyhead are a throwback to the glory days of prog – the 1990s. Lead singer and main songwriter Jim Bradford’s floaty falsetto and lightly strummed guitar are the centre and heart of this indie-prog band, but it’s the creativity, exploration and drive of the rest of the ensemble that truly give them their edge. From Gareth Cole’s guitar to Timothy Pickering’s oscillating basssynth, the group weave bizarre rhythms and bewildering countermelodies around Bradford’s self-indulgent whiny songs. Miserable, but epic.
Biggest hit:Why do all the girls hate me? A tale of thwarted love in two simultaneous keys, with Pickering playing seven home made synth instruments at once.
Deep cut: I was happy once but then my dog died and was eaten by a bear. An off-cut from their seventh album, and only released for the 20th anniversary 70 disc re-release, this was always a fan favourite at live shows.
What can be said about Mellotronitis that hasn’t been said before? Pastoral mellotron soundscapes, slow, tuneful solos, lyrics about dragons and fairies.They would have been at home in any era of prog. Rapper and turntablist Jessica Longturk fronts the band, spitting bars at a hundred-miles-an-hour over the mellotron soundscapes the rest of the band conjure up, easily the most talented of the prog rappers since the genre finally embraced the hip-hop crossover it had been flirting with since 2027.
Biggest hit:Gangsta Gonna Get Dem Elves. The prog-hop anthem that needs no introduction.
Deep cut: Guns and Hos in the Court of King Alfred. Knightly quests, mellotron solos, break beats and a ten minute excursion on what would happen if you used an uzi in medieval battle. Classic.
1. Quantum Lariat
No surprises here. Quantum Lariat are the prog band’s prog band. Known for their commitment to the classic instruments of the genre, you can’t move on their stages for classic loop stations, guitar synths and drum machines. They’re not just about nostalgia though, Quantum Lariat are all about pushing boundaries. In 2032 they split into three different sub bands or ‘quantas’. One third of the nontet began playing their epic Three Marionettes One A Sea of Cheesewhile the other two quantas continued to compose the piece. There have been three band change overs so far and the piece is now into its fourth year. With the first batch of band clones currently in music school and the second batch currently gestating, their plan to still be performing the piece in 2000 year’s time seems to have got off to a great start. With seven births in the audience and only three deaths, the chances of there still being people in the concert hall to listen seem pretty good as well.
Biggest hits: Supper’s Tongues in Transatlantic Oceans Their tribute to the epics of yore
Deep Cuts: Fountainhead or Milkshake? The band’s first attempt at a multi-year epic. The first three years are really captivating, especially for bass player Felicity Argentine’s mysterious reappearance in the middle of the twenty eighth chorus, but years four to seven are an acquired taste. Whatever was planned for years 8 onwards we’ll never known, as the audience uprising put an end to the performance and to several original band members.
You want a high stakes gig? Got no plans for Sunday evening? Get yourself to the Black Heart Camden, where this week’s incarnation of The Tom Slatter Band will play together for the very first time ever.
By the first time, I mean including rehearsing. We won’t have played a note together until the set starts.
Anything could happen! Anything! Keith might have swapped his bass for beans, Mike (not that Mike) might be a figment of my imagination. I might even get the words right. Only one way to find out…
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.
‘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…