Posted by & filed under opinion.

What makes a performance authentic? Is it important for the performer to connect with the audience? Is that even possible? Is there something more honest about the authentic, jeans and t-shirt -just-playing-my-songs performer compared to the costumes and theatrics of your Gabriels and Bowies?

I’ve seen some performances recently that are apparently far less considered and theatrical. Mannheim, beautifully noisy instrumental rock with a saxophone, Matt Stevens, half improvised, beer fuelled looping guitar nonsense, and the Barts Chamber choir.

Hang on, what are a classical choir doing on that list?

The rock acts, being the composers as well as performers are perhaps closer to the idea of heart-on-sleeve expression. With the composers mostly dead, there is an extra layer of ‘distance’ with the choir. I saw them sing a mixture of secular and sacred music, unaccompanied in a church. A different style of music, but similarly devoid of theatre. Just the music, none of your nonsense.

I could compare these to my own performances. My songs are narrative, lyrically I don’t claim to be expressing my own feelings and there is perhaps a bit of an arch, knowing attitude to them. It’s just comic-book stories, perhaps it doesn’t matter so much.

The same criticism could be levelled at more theatrical acts. David Bowie and Peter Gabriel’s performances with Genesis spring to mind. All those costumes and characters disguise the true performer. It’s all artifice, and therefore less honest, less real, less true.

The problem with that analysis of course is that it’s nonsense.

The classical performance would have seemed a little stagey to anyone not used to the conventions. You clap for the performers coming out – okay we get that. But then you wait and clap again for the conductor? And you don’t clap in between movements of the longer works? Why?

But those audience conventions are no weirder than what you get at rock concerts. Clapping and cheering after solos? Dancing, swaying, doing what the lead singer tells you? Any performance has a level of artifice. The simple notion of having a separation between musicians and audience, or of having music as a separate art form in it’s own right that you stand and listen to is artificial.

And those rock performers who were apparently heart-on-sleeve ‘authentic’ performers do all sorts of stagey things. Mannheim had a song where the front line walked down into the audience – it was great, but clearly preplanned. Matt does all sorts of movements that have nothing to do with creating the sound and are all to do with creating a visual excitement – including downing a pint of beer at the end of his performance. Get him talking and he’ll happily tell you about the thought processes behind what he’s doing. Stewart Lee and Derek Bailey will be mentioned.

So what about my own stuff? Should I worry that the narrative songs might get in the way of the audience engaging with the music?

I don’t think so. For a start, I’m making this kind of music because I love it. It moves me and given the success of other narrative musical endeavours I can safely assume that there’s a section of the music-loving population who also like this kind of thing. Otherwise how have all those musicals, bands like Coheed and Cambria or albums like Operation Mindcrime been a success?

A useful tool might be the ‘authenticity spectrum’. Imagine a spectrum that ranges from ‘heart-on-sleeve-and-totally-spontaneous’ at one end to ‘contrived-theatrical-and-not-about-the-performer-in-a-directly-personal-sense’ (There may by a more succinct way of expressing that). Different acts might exist at different points on that spectrum, but always this will be a choice. Authentic or not, it’s all artifice.

Because music is not communication, it is evocation. You might like to feel as if you are connected directly to the performer. You might prefer connecting with the protagonist of a story told through song or you might like music that exists in the abstract, the composer long dead, the words a standard religious text that has been set to music a thousand times. Either way, the job of the musician is not to take their emotion and communicate it to you. Their job is to take the music and use it to evoke an emotion in you.

In which case, surely there’s nothing more dishonest than the musician in his jeans and t-shirt claiming to be communicating authentic emotion? No artifice, no theatre? Yeah right. Live performance is all theatre.

Posted by & filed under Gigs, Music, prog, steampunk.

On the 28th and 29th of September I played two gigs: the Summer’s End Prog rock festival and the inaugural Steampunk Convivial at the Crossness sewage works.

I’m very glad there is no obligation to choose a favourite because both were great gigs.

The weekend also got me thinking about the tension between being an artist and having to afford boring but necessary things like food and a home. I travelled to Summer’s End with amiable man-mountain and certified good-egg Matt Stevens. We talked about the difficulties of being a musician, chiefly the economic realities. I have never attempted to make a living from my music and don’t particularly see why any artist should expect to – this is culture not commerce- but it was interesting to consider as we travelled on far too many trains to Chepstow.

Summer’s End consisted of two sets: one ‘busking’ in the middle of Chepstow, the other on the ‘acoustic stage’ (actually a section of Chepstow school dinner hall) between the full band sets.

Here’s a vid:

And here’s a review.

I enjoyed playing, but more than that it was great to catch up with friends and meet in the flesh several people who I’d previously only known on facebook. There was a very genial atmosphere and lots of lovely people – much like at the Crossness Convivial.

Here I performed as part of almost a cabaret that included steampunk morris dancing, umbrella fencing and of course the ubiquitous tea-duelling.

There are differences between prog crowds and steampunks – the clothing being an obvious one: band t-shirts versus the full retro-futuristic, neo-victorian be-goggled glory of the steampunk. More than that, steampunk is a cultural wosame that clearly appeals to a wider demographic: there were far more young people and women in attendance at Crossness than Summer’s End.

However there are also real and joyful similarities. Both are sub-cultures that are fuelled by enthusiasts. Steampunk has its costumes, model makers, tesla coils and tea-duellers but prog is equally as vibrant. Instead of silly costumes, prog has podcasters, collectors and of course musicians (all right, and a few silly costumes).

In both there are products for sale – cds, records, tickets and endless things with cogs on but make no mistake there is no-one making money from any of this (in the sense of cold-hard capitalism. There are very various lovely little niche businesses). This is culture not commerce. And it’s bloody marvellous.

Posted by & filed under video.

Joe and I started filming for a new video. Here’s a break down of one of the shots.

I have no idea when we will finish this. I still have the pesky, quibbling need to earn a living so projects like this happen in the gaps between obligatory nonsense like going to work.

Stupid work.

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

TomI may have been a little quieter than usual for the last three or four weeks. That’s cos I got married.

Can you say ‘aaaaaaaah’?

Yup, after 9 years my better half and I decided to tie the knot and make public what had long been a private commitment.

Here are the readings we had:

[Inspired by] Carl Sagan: 

“The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. Our little planet floats like a mote of dust in the morning sky. All that you see, all that we can see, exploded out of a star billions of years ago, and the particles slowly arranged themselves into living things, including all of us. We are made of star stuff. We are the mechanism by which the universe can comprehend itself.  The sum of all our evolution, our thinking and our accomplishments is love. A marriage makes two fractional lives a whole. It gives to two questioning natures a renewed reason for living. It brings a new gladness to the sunshine, a new fragrance to the flowers, a new beauty to the earth, and a new mystery to life.”


Scientific Romance by Tim Pratt [We cut some of this in the ceremony - I bet you can guess which bit - but here's the whole thing]:
If starship travel from our
Earth to some far
star and back again
at velocities approaching the speed
of light made you younger than me
due to the relativistic effects
of time dilation,
I’d show up on your doorstep hoping
you’d developed a thing for older men,
and I’d ask you to show me everything you
learned to pass the time
out there in the endless void
of night.

If we were the sole survivors
of a zombie apocalypse
and you were bitten and transformed
into a walking corpse
I wouldn’t even pick up my
assault shotgun,
I’d just let you take a bite
out of me, because I’d rather be
undead forever
with you
than alive alone
without you.

If I had a time machine, I’d go back
to the days of your youth
to see how you became the someone
I love so much today, and then
I’d return to the moment we first met
just so I could see my own face
when I saw your face
for the first time,
and okay,
I’d probably travel to the time
when we were a young couple
and try to get a three-way
going. I never understood
why more time travelers don’t do
that sort of thing.

If the alien invaders come
and hover in stern judgment
over our cities, trying to decide
whether to invite us to the Galactic
Federation of Confederated
Galaxies or if instead
a little genocide is called for,
I think our love could be a powerful
argument for the continued preservation
of humanity in general, or at least,
of you and me
in particular.

If we were captives together
in an alien zoo, I’d try to make
the best of it, cultivate a streak
of xeno-exhibitionism,
waggle my eyebrows, and make jokes
about breeding in captivity.

If I became lost in
the multiverse, exploring
infinite parallel dimensions, my
only criterion for settling
down somewhere would be
whether or not I could find you:
and once I did, I’d stay there even
if it was a world ruled by giant spider-
priests, or one where killer
robots won the Civil War, or even
a world where sandwiches
were never invented, because
you’d make it the best
of all possible worlds anyway,
and plus
we could get rich
off inventing sandwiches.

If the Singularity comes
and we upload our minds into a vast
computer simulation of near-infinite
complexity and perfect resolution,
and become capable of experiencing any
fantasy, exploring worlds bound only
by our enhanced imaginations,
I’d still spend at least 1021 processing
cycles a month just sitting
on a virtual couch with you,
watching virtual TV,
eating virtual fajitas,
holding virtual hands,
and wishing
for the real thing.




Posted by & filed under Black Water, review, Seven Bells John.

Another review of Black Water

Tom Slatter’s music can be hard to get into, but he knows his influences of stories and influential backgrounds very well. As I’ve mentioned on the final composition, I can imagine Rod Serling has given the torch to Tom Slatter and for him by writing his own stories to capture and staying true to the late 1950s TV series of The Twilight Zone. What I hope that Slatter does, maybe in the future, is to make a Graphic Novel of the complete story and along with the music telling everything from start to finish.

I would love to make a graphic novel of the Seven Bells John story! Anyone know any comic book artists who work for free.

What I love about this review is that it mentions lots of ‘influences’ I didn’t know I had. I better get listening to them right away…