Gig diary – Masquerade II and Nice ‘n’ Sleazy

The winter period contained two relatively last minute gigs for Gareth and I.

Masquerade II

On the 3rd of December 2017 we played a set at Masquerade II, a one day festival organised by The Gift’s chief luvvie, head crooner, and good egg, Mike Morton.

It was a bit last minute. We were stand ins for a band called Preacher who had had to pull out at short notice. David Elephant, my label boss, vehemently denied that there was any foul play involved in getting us onto the bill, although it was him who suggested us to Mike (David, is that vague enough to keep you in the clear while maintaining your air of menace? Don’t worry, I’ll take this comment out in the edit).

Graham, the indefatigable stage manager told us to get there at 10am. Being an ex-teacher, I took that to mean we should get there at 10am. What a fool I was. In the end, by the time doors opened in the early afternoon only one act had sound checked and it wasn’t us.

I Am The Manic Whale played a blinding set, and then we were on with just a line check that didn’t identify the slightly dodgy guitar lead I had picked up.

Our set, while generally good and well received, did involve some slight technical issues which I find slightly annoying.

But thankfully there was a very appreciative audience who could forgive a few crackles and we got away with it in the end.

Here’s a review of our set, which is very nice given the reviewer admits to my stuff not necessarily being his cup of tea:

“Self Made Man stands out and particularly shows Gareth Cole’s skill on guitar. Tom Slatter also displays a surprisingly soulful voice … and they deservedly received a very positive response…” Read more.

Here’s the penultimate episode of my silly podcast, which is all about what happened after the gig. It also contains a recording from the gig which includes Tony Colvill’s rather interesting intro, and a track from our set. Every word I say is true.

Nice ‘n’ Sleazy

Also at Masquerade were the quite awesomely awesome Big Hogg. Big Hogg can groove, which isn’t the sort of thing you expect at a prog event to be honest. They played a great set and turned out to be lovely people as well. A few days after the gig, Justin, Big Hogg’s head honcho (actually I have no idea if he’s the head honcho in that band. He’s one of the honchos certainly. Why do you only ever hear about head honchos? Why not Second Honcho? Minor Honcho? Co-Honcho?) asked us to come and play a set in Glasgow on Jan 6th.

Travelling most of the length of the UK to play a gig with people we barely knew, in a city we’d never played, on the off-chance of possibly breaking even? Of course we said yes.

Turns out Glasgow is still one of my favourite cities in the UK. We watched the rather fabulous singer-songwriter Marcus Doo perform a set of confessional, honest songs of the sort that I never could, and then we played our own set.

I’m rather annoyed that I forgot to change the batteries in my trusty old zoom recorder because I have no evidence of the fact that this was our best gig yet. We played well, but that was surely down to the energy of an engaged and receptive crowd.

The best gigs aren’t the ones where you get all the notes right and remember the words. That bit of it is a given really. The best gigs are ones where you act and the audience responds. You make a joke and they laugh, you play the quiet song and they shut up and listen, you finish a song and they burst into applause, rather than just clapping politely.

This was like that. It was good.

Orion’s Belt were the headliner. They’re a bit folk-rock, a bit psychedelic, and a lot good. They played a set that was a mixture of songs and improv. It went down well with the crowd and I really loved it.

The Glasgow trip was great fun and we’re already thinking about how we can get up there again. Justin and Julia’s cats were great hosts (the humans were really cool too) and Gareth not only played a blinder, but did a ton of driving for which I am very grateful.

So, so far this acoustic rock duo thing has been a great success. We’ve got to the point where we can play some songs without messing up too badly and played some great gigs.

Next step is to get some more in the diary and have more live-music-related fun.

Erm…. do you want us to play a gig? We will. Almost anywhere.

The Sunday Bootleg is nearly over!

What began in late 2015 as an attempt to put out something out a bit of audio silliness once a week for a year, turned into an off-and-on mess of lies, interviews and dodgy live performances that no-one made me stop.

But now I’m making myself stop. Here’s the penultimate episode of the Sunday bootleg. It includes a snippet from the Masquerade 2 gig Gareth and I played last week, as well as the entirely true story of what happened after the gig.

In that first podcast I told you about Tarquin and the City-egg I saw him and some of his cronies pushing through the deserted London streets. Now we come to the culmination of the war they have been fighting with the metal-music-insects.

It is all true. Every word.

Men of the World

This song was originally supposed to be a collaboration with Paul ‘Hoopshank’ Turrell, a wonderful songwriter who I knew from FAWM. We never got round to finishing it together, and he died relatively recently so now we don’t get to work together at all.

I said, Hoops, wanna collaborate?

He said, yeah, shall we do something a bit Genesis? Maybe a bit like Can-UtilityAnd the Coastliners?

I hadn’t heard that, so I listened once then over the next few weeks this song turned up. I lost lyrics wrote it in my head whilst commuting, which is a bit unusual.

Hoops heard it and liked it, but never found time to do the keys and drums that he was going to add.

I finished it for the album.

It’s about sailing ships!

Rehearsals tomorrow!

Tomorrow is the first rehearsal for what the thing I am not going to be calling, but actually is the Tom Slatter duo.

Does that sentence make sense?

Gareth Cole is going to come play guitar and do some backing vocals I haven’t finished doing tabs for him (Sorry, ran out of time). The studio is a new one to me and I have no idea of it has air conditioning. I haven’t had time to practice my parts much and we don’t actually know if the songs we’re planning to do will work in a duo format.

Nonetheless, I reckon it’s gonna be great. What could go wrong?

My first proper photoshoot

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On Thursday last week I did my first photo shoot with an actual photographer – a chap named Ash who works as ‘The Chaos Engineers’.I’ve done lots of video stuff with my brother Joe of course so I this isn’t he first time I’ve pranced about like a tit in front of a camera. We’ve done some still photos as well, for example for the cover of my ep Through These Veins – which is currently not available as the recording wasn’t good enough and I want to redo it – but even those still photos were very effects heavy, as were most of the videos we’ve done. This was the first time I’ve just been me in front of a still camera, trying to look like me.

It was a pretty hot day, exactly the wrong sort of weather to be donning the full steampunk in front of hot lights, but that’s exactly what I did, tie, waistcoat, massive coat and goggles in front of Ash’s massive collection of lights. It was a bit hot.

It was also surprisingly tiring. Ash is a great photographer, especially at giving direction. I’ve been putting myself  into situations where I need to take direction a bit more than I normally would of late. This was the case with recording Happy People, especially with the songwriting and singing, and as with that I found the photoshoot lots of fun. It’s funny, I find myself thinking beforehand that I won’t enjoy that collaborative aspect, that my ego won’t allow it, but in practice it always seems to turn out well.

So when told to ‘give it more eyebrow.’ or appear more like a ‘baffled man’ I was more than happy to oblige and I think once they’re done the pictures are going to come out really well.

Why do I want new pictures? Because I intend to use them for getting more gigs and coverage. My plans for th next 12 months include getting my music in front of lots of new people.

Ash suggested there as something akin to a scam in this. It”s not quite the skills of the photographer at work, there’s also a high level of chance involved. I don’t see anything scammy in that though. Whether it’s visual or auditory, recording art means you will capture happy accidents that might become the main thing rather than whatever it was you intended.

In fact if I think of my own songwriting, that tends to be the case more often then not. I rarely set out with a clear vision of what the song is going to be. Instead I”ll just start improvising and make use of what turns up. You discard the dull and uninspiring stuff and keep the good material.

I think maybe being a good artist is mostly about developing the ability to sift the wheat from the chaff at a quicker rate.

The photos should be ready soon, and I shall begin the task of reaching out for gigs and then, gradually, conquering the world.

Waha! Wahaha! Wahahahahahaaaa!

Ahem. I mean, playing those gigs. I would like to make it clear that the pictures will definitely not be used as part of an evil plot.

‘Run’ – rough version of a new song

Every year for about the last 9 I have written songs for February Album Writing Month (FAWM). February is when I do most of my songwriting and the majority of the songs I have released as a solo artist first came to life in one of the last 9 Februaries. FAWM is also a fantastic online community where I have met some wonderful people who have helped me find my voice as a songwriter.

Every year there is a FAWM over party, or FOP. I love this because it is an excuse to meet up with some lovely people and share some of that year’s songs. More importantly for an introvert, socially …. I was going to say awkward but that’s not quite true as I’ve learned how to interact with people quite well. I just don’t really like it much – let’s say socially-uninterested person – it’s a social situation that is mediated by the whole playing songs thing. I am not fond of meeting up with people just to spend time with them and have only ever enjoyed social things that have a purpose, usually an artistic one.

Anyway, that’s by the by and a bit too sharey. I am typing this late at night about two hours after I should have gone to bed and am aware it has turned into a ramble.

What matters is, here’s a song from this year’s FOP. It is a rough unrehearsed version of a song about love at the end of the world called ‘Run’. I may record a ‘proper’ version at some point.

Happy People song by song 7: Tracking Signals

Part 1: Happy People
Part 2: Name in a File
Part 3: Satellites
Part 4: Flow my tears, the policeman said
Part 5: Even then we’re Scared
Part 6: Fire Flower Heart
Part 7: Tracking Signals

Tracking Signals is the only instrumental track on the album. The concept behind the piece, such as it is, is that our protagonist is dialling between different radio stations, trying to isolate the government signals hidden in the static between the real stations. Hence the moving between muical ideas via beeps, whirrs and fizz.

Composition and recording

I think I originally started off trying to compose the sort of riff that Matt Stevens might write. I didn’t quite achieve that. I then threw a drum loop underneath and repeated it until it sounded boring. Adding some silly effects made it sound less boring again so I could repeat it more, but eventually I had to do something else so I threw down some different chords and did a quieter bit. And then I wasn’t sure what to do next so I left the piece alone for a year or two.

By that point I’d written All of the Dark, so it seemed sensible to foreshadow that with a keyboard version of the chorus melody.

And that was the demo completed:

Notes from pre-production:

Jordan: Great great stuff. The structure and main sounds are all there and need nothing. I can see this is a case of getting creative during production and add some textural augmentation. Distorted spoken word, stuff from the Conet Project, etc. Maybe an interpolation with a melody from another tune on the album? Seriously it’s good stuff I’ve listened to it twice just because.

I don’t think we actually did that, but what I love about this track is how much of it isn’t me. In Michael’s studio we recorded a load of different drum loops, and then Dan and Jordan just piled a lot of different ideas together. Where do composition and production begin and end? I don’t know, I think there’s a lot of overlap and it would be perfectly accurate to say Dan and Jordan had a hand in composing this piece, rather than just recording my creation.

Happy People song by song 6: Fire Flower Heart

Part 1: Happy People
Part 2: Name in a File
Part 3: Satellites
Part 4: Flow my tears, the policeman said
Part 5: Even then we’re Scared
Part 6: Fire Flower Heart
Part 7: Tracking Signals

Fire Flower Heart takes us back to the main story of Happy People. The protagonist has fled the clutches of the oppressive government, found the woman he loves and escaped. But now she is dead, killed by government and the frightened public we heard from in Even then we’re scared.

What do you do if your one true love, the centre of your universe, your compass and guide is killed? Well our protagonist is of the opinion that with her gone, there’s nothing to lose and the gloves are off.

But now I’m here with this button beneath my hands
And none of you seem red
None of you seem real

My Fire Flower Heart
Would still my hand
If only she was here

Composition and recording

This was another FAWM song, written as a solo acoustic ballad. I was trying, as I have with several other songs, to get a balance between sweet, ballady chords and melody and dark subject matter. It even has a key change at the end, cos what says ‘pop’ more than a key change? I love the idea of a listener thinking ‘oh that’s a nice song,’ and then listening closer and thinking ‘hang on, what is he singing about?’.

Here’s the original demo, which has quite a different arrangement:

The email conversation about this track went something like this:

Jordan: Love each and every second of this track! Just needs more mellotron 🙂

Tom: Mellotron is banned from this album. Sorry, did I not say? Other pad sounds are allowed, mellotron is not.

Dan: I can understand the mellotron – it can be polarising – but flutey mellotron would actually sound nice on this. Pull back the guitar and some sort of organic, paddy, keyboardy sound. Maybe vox organ. Not sure about the bells. Might be a bit festive? Glock may work better. Not convinced about the choir falsettos during the latter stages either. Unless we can get an actual gothic-sounding choir to do it!

There are three things I’d like to point out about the final track that came about in the recording stage:

  • The slidey gutiar parts, particularly at the end. Dan’s contribution, and one of my favourite bits of the track
  • The piano. That’s all Jordan. Good innit?
  • My voice hitting the high notes. Never would have happened without Dan’s coaching and encouragement in the studio.

This is the ballad, the quiet moment before the storm of the final three tracks.
The title, which I thought I’d come up with is actually the name of a thing in some novels by Tad Williams which I had read years before and forgotten about until I reread them more recently. There’s not much connection between the two except the name is similar. Weird how the subconscious works, eh?