IronBark song by song – The Beast of the Air

The Beast of the Air


What’s it about?

The Beast of the Air is about hunting Sky Kraken from an airship. It’s about the difficulties of defending one’s livestock from such creatures, particularly in light of their bewitching tentacles and hallucinatory scent.

Yes, like all the songs on IronBark, The Beast of the Air is a narrative affair. I can’t help it – I grew up listening to heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth all of whom wrote narrative songs about various sci-fi and fantasy topics which has led me to writing my own story-based songs.

Musically the album is a mixture of my folk, prog and indie influences, with a bit of metal here and there but lyrically it’s all narrative, and all set in a steampunk world.

The Writing Process:

Here’s the first recording of Beast of the Air. It’s an acoustic version, but as you can hear it didn’t change very much between the intial idea and the recording:

Here’s something I wrote about on my songwriting blog in 2011, back when I used to have a songwriting blog. I think it gives a fair account of the songwriting process:


Here’s a little story of how I wrote a song about hunting Sky-kraken

Sitting down with my acoustic guitar, I just started playing. I didn’t know what I was going to play except that I wanted to write something new.

Lately my fingers have been finding E lydian rather too easily, so I started with an E major 7 chord and a few twiddlings with the scale – not enough to be called a melody, just a bit of noodling.

I carried on playing, entirely aimlessly…

Alun Vaughun a fantastic solo bass player had recently turned me onto the music of Mike Kineally. His songs use lots of complicated chords, I decided I wanted something harmonically lush – so some 9th chords worked their way into my guitar part. Nothing like Kineally really, but that memory triggered the chords.

A few more moments noodling…

The last big gig I went to was Opeth at the Royal Albert hall – some Opeth-like chords appeared under my fingers – but I remembered Kineally and for some reason that meant I had to play a little melodic run that didn’t sound like Opeth at all.

I had been reading PZ Myers’s blog – he’s a biologist who likes Cephalopods. This combined with my recent obsession with Steampunk and suddenly the song was about hunting Sky-kraken in an Airship.

Steampunk led to memories of Radiohead’s video for There There, which led to a chorus ripping that off – and now the Kraken was winning because the chorus melody was about the bewitching power of it’s ink and tentacles.

All of this occurred at a far less conscious level than I’m making it appear, and it resulted in this song

The structure of this is pretty standard: intro, a couple of verses, a chorus, a middle bit, back to the chorus. What makes it stand out I think is the instrumental arpeggios and the slightly dreamy atmosphere. I think the chord choices I made help create a slightly sweet, slightly odd mood. Also of note is the structure of the melody in the intro. You get the first part of a line, then the line again a little bit longer, then a third time with the full melodic line. That’s something i do quite often, for example in the intro to Watermen’s Square, or the title track from Spinning the Compass.

The Recording Process:

The album was recorded in my spare room with two cheap mics, a cheap and simple version of Cubase and a few free plug-ins. At the time I considered myself a novice when it came to recording – I still do!- but I was certainly getting better at it with Ironbark, and this album was a step up from the original version of Spinning the Compass, my first album. I know it doesn’t sound pro yet, but I’m proud of it.

Of particular note in the Beast of the Air is the wailing ‘Kraken’ sounds – these were recorded with my guitar by playing through a Sonuus G2M midi converter – something I used to play a lot of the synth sounds on the album.

Inspired by/Blatantly steals from:
As well as ripping off Radiohead (a little), some of the arpeggios are very similar to a couple of Opeth tunes. Sssssh, don’t tell anyone

This song got a live airing at the Asylum, one of the biggest steampunk events – here’s a blog post about that – but I haven’t played it that often. Maybe that’s something Gareth and I should get around to doing.

As I enjoyed writing about the creation of my most recent album Happy People I thought I’d go back and write about some of my earlier songs. It turns out I started a blog series about Ironbark. This post is an updated version of one that appeared back in 2011

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You can download a free ep here.

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Metallica and the limitations of classical theory

Here’s a video – admittedly one with a sense of humour – that analyses a Metallica song and claims it has a bar of 21/32.

Being a nerd, I wrote an analysis of this song for my university dissertation which was all about genre distinctions in heavy metal.

Even then I was a little uncomfortable with the idea of using classical notation to transcribe this kind of music simply because heavy metal musicians don’t use it. It’s the wrong language, though before recording technology became so readily available maybe it was the only option.

This guy, nice as he seems, mistakes skill at the music for being able to think about it from a western classical perspective. Being able to think ‘let’s make this bar 21/32’ is not in any way more advanced than thinking ‘let’s make this bit go ‘ba dum dum’ ‘.

A rhythmic grid is one way of feeling music, but it’s not a rule, just an option. Western classical methods are definitely fine, and very useful tools that I use myself, but they are not the only way to think of music and I find myself mildly annoyed at musicians who only see through this lens. In fact it’s one of the reasons I don’t regret not being a music teacher anymore – all the qualifications saw things via that lens even when they were pretending not to be about classical music.

So, yeah, music theory. Raaaw.

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If you enjoyed this post, why not support an independent artist by grabbing some music here

You can download a free ep here.

You can also join the mailing list for instant access to a free song and a to get regular updates about releases and gigs. Click here for the mailing list!

 

Gig report: Surrey Steampunk Convivial

On Saturday 5th August Gareth and I played at the Surrey Steampunk Convivial.

This is always a great gig. I’ve played at something like eight or nine of them over the years and it’s always fun. Sometimes I’ve played to a nice full room, sometimes to a small but lovely audience. This gig was more the latter, but the audience certainly built up over the set.

Before our set there was the small matter of the tea duelling competition. The aim of the game is a simple one: hold your tea-dunked biscuit aloft the longest without dropping it, and get it into your mouth to win! It is a series sport, arranged in tournament style and held at steampunk events the world over.

Tea Duelling at the Surrey Steampunk Convivial

And then, late because we were on Surrey time, not clock time, we had a bash through some songs.

As a solo performer I’m quite used to juggling the setlist, deciding on different songs to play depending on the mood and energy in the room. So it seemed natural to do that on this gig too, which is arguably not fair on Gareth. But I did it anyway, and he managed to keep up despite me not explaining myself and just introducing songs out of order.

Halfway through a song that Gareth probably wasn’t expecting!

In particular, with the smaller audience some of whom were really paying attention and listening to every note, it seemed necessary to have Self Made Man earlier in the set rather than Flow my Tears. Self Made Man is a little bit more immediate, and has a funny intro whereas Flow my Tears is a bit more serious and it seemed appropriate to put it in and save Flow my Tears for later. I reckon this was the right call.

Anyway, a fun gig and a good way to round off the initial trio of gigs with Gareth. Things are sounding pretty good.

Here’s some video:

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If you enjoyed this post, why not support an independent artist by grabbing some music here

You can download a free ep here.

You can also join the mailing list for instant access to a free song and a to get regular updates about releases and gigs. Click here for the mailing list!

Mastering the ‘Secret’ album

As I write I’m listening to the first draft master of my ‘secret’ instrumental album. This has been a labour of love, put together over two years, five years or if we go back to when the first tracks on it were initially composed, 15 years.

Here’s a picture of me burning a CD so I could listen to it on various speakers, including the ancient CD player in our kitchen. My wife reckons she got this particular CD player when she was 16, so it’s the better part of two decades old. it even has a tape deck. If we can make a recording sound good through this, we can make it sound good on anything.

If everything goes according to plan the album will be out in the autumn. Fingers crossed!

Gig report: The Horns Watford supporting The Far Meadow

Tuesday 1st August Gareth and I played our second gig as the Tom Slatter Duo (no, that really isn’t what we’re called). We were at The Horns in Watford, supporting The Far Meadow, a proper prog band with keyboards and everything.

This was the last week at work for me before a well deserved two weeks off. Working in an education related charity as I do, the period after school exams is incredibly busy and I was at the end of a month of total madness. Before the gig I was therefore mildly dreading it. I assumed I wouldn’t have the energy to perform even slightly well.

Thankfully that’s not what happened. By the time we were on stage adrenaline had kicked in and I had all the energy I needed.

This was also a better gig than the previous one in Darlington. We missed out So Far From The Shore, for time reasons (and cos it’s a bloody difficult song. Why on earth did I write it?) so the set included:

  • Happy People
  • Satellites
  • Some of the creatures…
  • Flow my tears…
  • Self Made Man
  • Black Water
  • Wizards of this Town
  • Set light to the Sky

It being a hot night, my guitar went slightly out of tune on Satellites which was annoying, and I think Gareth wasn’t 100% happy with the solo on Flow my Tears. Nevertheless the rest of the set went swimmingly.

It was a pub gig, with lots of the crowd (a very healthy 40-50 people, pretty good for a Tuesday in August) there for The Far Meadow. Therefore there was plenty of chat and we didn’t have the whole room paying attention for the whole set. I don’t mind this at all, that’s part of how pub gigs work. I regard it as a bit of a challenge to get them all.

On Self Made Man I think we did get them. That song is a bit different, and with the second guitar part it really works. I felt a definite change in the audience once we got there. The same was true of Black Water, particularly the end section which is a proper singalong bit (not that anyone sang along this time). I think we kept them to the end for the most part too.

What helped, and what really made this a great gig for me, was the presence of a few of the denizens of The Tom Slatter Immoral Support Group. Andy, Andy, Spike, Mark, and Matthew (Oh god, I bet I’ve missed someone off. It’s inevitable isn’t it that if I write a list of people I want to thank I’ll miss people out cos I’m forgetful and rubbish with names. I’ll just throw a few random made up names at the end of the list to cover myself), Charlie, Nancy, Imhotep and Phil all came down to see the show.

I am genuinely rather chuffed that people seem to be liking my stuff. I might have been recording for a while but putting effort into live shows is something I’m only just starting and having people come along who like the music is a really lovely thing. Makes it all worthwhile.

Although there could have been more heckling. Come on guys.

Anyway, we headed home happy, although how happy Gareth was sleeping on my ancient second-hand sofa, beset by my cats who were rather miffed at being kicked out of the front room I’m not sure. He’s says it was fine, but he might just be being polite.

Anyway, here’s some video, and yay for gigs:


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If you enjoyed this post, why not support an independent artist by grabbing some music here

You can download a free ep here.

You can also join the mailing list for instant access to a free song and a to get regular updates about releases and gigs. Click here for the mailing list!

Half price tentacles!

Sale! Fit the Fourth cds now available for £5.

My fourth album, a collection of songs that I poured my heart and soul into; that concluded a musical journey for the character Seven Bells John that began on my first album 6 years previously; that contains some of my best ever songs, including what might be my signature song Some of the Creatures…. is now available for just a fiver.

I asked David Elephant, CEE (chief executive elephant) of my record label if the 20 pence I previously had received per £10 would now be 10 pence. He informed me that the 20 pence I had been receiving was part of the £5 that has been discounted. So I won’t be receiving that, but as he put it I should probably ‘shut up with my whinging’.

Still, it’s a great deal. If you don’t have a copy now’s the time to get one! Click here to do so.

Rehearsal videos!

Here are some videos – my first attempt at a multi-camera thing. Well, I say camera, my phone and my cheap zoom recorder. And yes, I could have framed the shot of me better, but meh, who cares right? It’s a scratch recording of a rehearsal.

Specifically it’s Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, and Black Water. We’ll be playing both at upcoming gigs – have a look at the sidebar for more gig info!

 


Midsummer Madness or How Tony Survived

Tony being warmly greeted by yours truly

Last Sunday I wasn’t too well. Overwork, a summer cold and a lack of sleep had laid me low. But Mothertongue were playing on Sunday in Balham, so I wasn’t staying in bed were I belonged. I was heading to south London.

The other motivation, along with supporting Mothertongue and fellow BEM acts Under a Banner and Verbal Delirium, was to find and punish a man named Tony.

Tony claims he’s a fan of my music. That might be the case, though if you can decipher this sub-Joycean melange of a review you’re more clever than I. He is however guilty of the most egregious, violent punning on the internet. He’s, let’s be frank, a twatbadger and one I was determined to deal with, despite my cold induced fug.

Mothertongue! Mothertongue! Mothertongue! Mothertongue! Mothertongue!

Mothertongue are everything I want in a band. The moment I heard the opening lyrics to Tyrant of the Lizard Kings – “I’ll work the pedals and the devil can steer, things are gonna change, gonna change round here” – I was hooked and the rest of their album Unsongs is an absolute delight.

What do they sound like? Well, at Midsummer Madness, the gig in Balham, they were sans drums, so this gig wasn’t exactly typical. On record, with the full electric set-up they’re all catchy choruses, hooky trumpet lines, catchy choruses, interesting guitar parts, catchy choruses, amazing lyrics, and songs you want to dance, jump and down and singalong with.

I like a singalong chorus and Mothertongue have got ’em by the bucketload.

Acoustic, obviously things were quieter which meant the melody writing was highlighted, both in the vocal harmony parts and the lead guitar and trumpet. Frontman Louis was a delight, thanking David Elephant of Bad Elephant Music was signing them, thereby taking them from obscurity into further obscurity.

As a teenager, as well as my metal, I loved Britrock stuff like Mansun and Gomez and so on. Having got older, I also like clever muso things, and I’ve always liked a singalong bit. Mothertongue do all of that and this gig was the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Before them I caught the end of Under a Banner’s set and was surprised by the cover of Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, which they performed with gusto and skill. Broken down trains had kept me from the venue for the start of their set, but I really enjoyed what I heard.

Verbal Delirium from Greece were clearly the audience’s favourite of the three and I can see why. There’s was a performance of real class and skill, and much closer to a traditional prog act – albeit with goth and metal ingredients as well – which explains the enthusiasm given the prog bent of the rest of the bill.

By this point however, I was flagging and had gone deaf in one ear – a hindrance more related to illness then loud music. Tony by this point had already heckled me from the stage, which I’m sure is not the right way round for heckling, but other than giving him a warm friendly greeting (see the picture above) I decided that it was time to head home and find my bed.

Next time, Tony. Next time.

The first gig of the Tom Slatter Duo (not that we’re calling it that)

Live in Darlington, Photo courtesy of David Stook

Blimey, I ain’t ‘alf tired.

What with a summer cold that has gone straight to my ears (I am currently deaf on one side), the day job being madly busy, one or two things going on in my personal life and rehearsing for gigs with another human being for the first time in years, I’ve not had much chance to stop and breath. Add to that the fact that I really don’t get on with the humid weather we’ve been having recently and I’m generally feeling a little tired.

So this blog post is a bit late.

But…

On 7th July I played a lovely little gig in Darlington. What’s more, it was the first gig of what will probably not come to be known as the Tom Slatter duo as Gareth Cole joined me on guitar.

I first worked with Gareth when we both played on a track called Wounds from Mike Kershaw’s last album. When I mentioned online that I was gearing up to get gigging again, Gareth offered his services, which I thought sounded grand. I have a lot of songs, particularly on Happy People, that just can’t work as a solo song. With an extra player we had the option of including all the melodic lead guitar stuff that I can’t play when it’s just me.

Gareth Cole, live in Darlington, photo Courtesy of David Stook.

We managed to find time for two rehearsals before the gig, a total of about 6 hours playing together which isn’t a huge amount considering the complexity of some of my songs. We even had a stab at So Far From The Shore, which was stupidly ambitious, though we kinda pulled it off.

I was originally booked to play at an event called Airship Northstar, a steampunk festival in Berwick Upon Tweed, on 8th July. It seemed sensible to book another gig up in that corner of the world, so I got in touch with Jack Arthurs who suggested have a word with Emma Roebuck of Progzilla fame. A few facebook messages between friends and a gig was organised. Isn’t the modern world great?

In the end, Airship Northstar was cancelled due to poor weather making the site unsafe – one of the hazards of outdoor events, and a real shame as Dan who was organising the event is genuinely one of the nicest blokes in the world.

So it was just the one gig, but a bloody good one as far as I’m concerned. Jack Arthurs was great, as I wrote on this blog already and so was Andy Tillison. Andy, of The Tangent fame, is a bit of a prog legend and was rightly the headliner, but as an injured hand meant he had to play a slightly truncated set Gareth and I ended up with the closing spot.

Andy is a great singer songwriter, and a great keyboard player too. To my ear his songs have hints of jazz and American songbook mixed in with the prog. He also writes about the real world, something I’ve never been able to do.

Of course the audience is the main thing at any gig, and this was a great one. Not full – about 30 odd people, which isn’t bad at all – but enthusiastic and very proggish. Prog audiences share characteristics with classical audiences in that they really listen and pay attention. This is good, though it does mean you have to get things sort of right. Which we kinda did.

Live in Darlington. Photo courtesy of David Stook.

Our set went well, considering the limited rehearsal time, and Gareth played a blinder. Emma had contrived an encore for the two previous acts, so we lied to the audience and claimed ‘Wizards of this Town’ was the last song we had ‘Set Light To The Sky’ was left for the final song. It was very gratifying to get that song to stage for the first time.

And then it was back to the hotel for the heady rock n roll antics of having a quiet couple of beers and a chat before bed.

Lots of fun and we’re doing it all again in Watford on August 1st and New Malden August 4th. Come and heckle!

PS. There’s a nice write-up of the gig over on The Progressive Aspect.

“Tom is a bit of character, and his warm smile and quirky delivery certainly resonated with me and the gathered masses. Catchy songs, with enough charm and whimsy to have you singing along – despite the underlying darker nature of much of his material.”

That’s pretty nice, eh?