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?

Live, Discomfiting and Overly Whimsical

I have just released a 10 track live ‘bootleg’ made over the last 12 months at various gigs. As well as the music it has a pdf tour diary attached with some absolutely true stories in it.

It contains an acoustic version of a song that will be on the new album. Can you guess which one?

They’re not perfect pro recordings, they’re rough and ready and a good document of what these acoustic gigs were like.

They also show what my singing voice is like live. Like every singer under the sun, I am self-conscious about my voice and I never feel I get the real thing over in studio recordings. This is me, and I think I give a fair showing. In fact some of it I think I’m actually very proud of.

It’s up for any price you want – 0 is definitely fine. If you do want to pay that would be appreciated. If it helps motivate you, I can let you know that any funds will go towards the £200 we need to hire a film studio for the music vid that will accompany the title track of the new album early next year.

We want it to look good. It would be great if we can do that.

The fact that the film studio we’re going to use is genuinely also a leading London fetish dungeon is coincidence. We need the money for art, honest.

Ironbark extended 2016 version released today!

Today we released a new version of Ironbark.

Here’s a thing I wrote:

“Ironbark was the first album that I planned as a whole. Not that it’s a concept album as such, but it was written to be a single work of art with all the songs fitting together in terms of tone, subject matter, harmonic approach and so on. My first solo album, Spinning the Compass sort of happened by accident when I realised some of the songs might work together. Ironbark was intentional.

The title comes from an Australian poem about a gullible yokel from the town Ironbark who is fooled into believing his throat was cut by a mischievous barber:

‘He raised his hand, his brow grew black, he paused awhile to gloat,
Then slashed the red-hot razor-back across his victim’s throat:
Upon the newly-shaven skin it made a livid mark –
No doubt it fairly took him in – the man from Ironbark.’ – Ironbark Banjo Paterson 1892

I stumbled across it while reading up on the Sweeney Todd story, and thought it sounded like a splendid place. Except rather than being inhabited by yokels who are afraid to visit barbers, my Ironbark is inhabited by murderous scientists, evil townsfolk and at least two people who think it a good idea to live beyond death in steam-powered machines.

The bonus tracks here include ‘They Tried To Turn The Lights On’ which i wrote at the time but recorded more recently and ‘Three’ the sequel to ‘Two’ from Spinning the Compass. At some point I will record ‘One’ as well, which does exist.

The live tracks are the whole of the Miser’s Will, recorded at a lovely house concert in North London. This gig ties as one of my three favourite ever gigs. The audience were really into it, but behaved like a classical audience rather than a rock audience. They were entirely silent, listening to every single note. For a performer this is slightly terrifying but all the more exhilarating for it.

Having recently listened back to Ironbark after a few years not having heard it, I am genuinely proud of it. It pushes what I could do with the level of expertise and equipment I had at the time. While I think it is still clearly a home studio recording, it sounds good. It is also where I think I really found my voice as a songwriter after several years of floundering about trying out different styles.

I like it, I hope you do.”