Chapter 3 Book Images: Hauntology – Places Where Society Goes to Dream, the Defining and Deletion of Spectres and the Making of an Ungenre
Online images to accompany Chapter 3 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
“Although it is hard to precisely define what hauntology is, it has become a way of identifying particular strands of music and cultural tendencies. As a cultural form it is fluid, loose and not strictly delineated but below are some of the recurring themes and characteristics of hauntological work:
1) Music and culture that draws from and examines a sense of loss of a post war utopian, progressive, modernist future that was never quite reached.
2) A tendency to see some kind of unsettledness and hidden layers of meaning in public information films, TV idents and “a bit too scary and odd for children though that is who they were aimed at” television programmes from the late 1960s to about 1980, which include the likes of The Owl Service (1968), Children of the Stones (1977) and The Changes (1975).
3) Graphic design and a particular kind of often analogue synthesised music that references and reinterprets some forms of older library music, educational materials and the work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, often focusing on the period from around 1969 to 1979 and related culture which is generally of British origin.
4) A re-imagining and misremembering of the above and other sources into forms of music and culture that seem familiar, comforting and also often unsettling and not a little eerie, creating a sense of work that is haunted by spectres of its and our cultural past, to loosely paraphrase philosopher Jacques Derrida.
5) The drawing together and utilising of the above elements to conjure a sense of a parallel, imagined, often strange or Midwich-ian Britain.”
“For a while the phrase hauntology when used to refer to a genre of music had been deleted on Wikipedia.
As author Simon Reynolds – who as just mentioned was, along with Mark Fisher, one of the first people to use the phrase hauntology in relation to such culture – points out, those doing the deleting have taken a fair few steps to make sure their own comments on Wikipedia are not deleted or modified. “Do as I say and not as I do” as it were.
Just as with deletion via consensus, a larger mass of consensus does not necessarily mean something is correct, but typing the word “hauntology” alongside “music” into a search engine at the time of writing brought up 170,000 pages to look at, while “hauntology music genre” returned over 50,000 results.
That would tend to imply that there is not a “consensus to delete” in the wider world, or at the very least there is a “consensus to discuss, explore, consider, create and debate”.
So, maybe rather than deleting the whole notion, making the debate around whether hauntology exists part of its page would have been a more reasonable or culturally democratic thing to do.”
“The creation of work which conjures a parallel world via a misremembered past need not necessarily draw purely from one particular period or set of cultural reference points, as has often been the case with hauntological work but rather that concept and process could be used as a general framework to also explore other eras and cultural areas.
To a certain degree this has been the case in the earlier mentioned hypnagogic pop, which draws more from the 1980s period and related culture and Italian Occult Psychedelia which focuses on non-British culture and Pye Corner Audio, who Ghost Box Records have released recordings by, appears to also extend the hauntological palette to incorporate a more 1980s VHS-esque aspect…
…while a film such as Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) could be seen as a form of hauntological work in its creation of a parallel world that creates a “Reagan era fever dream”.”
Details of the book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.
Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 3/52: Barbara Bosworth & Margot Anne Kelley’s The Meadow – Recordings and Reflections of an Unhurried Space
The two authors have been wandering, studying and photographing the same single meadow in Carlisle, Massachusets for more than a decade and the book is a collection of the resulting work.
There is a reflective, thoughtful calm to the photographs of the meadow, with them seeming to reflect the unhurried character of this space and the sense of the book being the result of the authors both (to quote the publishers) “meandering” and studying this one place over an extended period of time.
Accompanying Barbara Bosworth’s photographs are a number of text pieces by Margot Anne Kelly, many of which provide a fascinating insight into the meadow and the nature that has made its home there.
This includes explaining how different species of fireflies co-exist relatively peacefully in the same areas by dividing time and space, which they do by flying at different heights, times of the day etc and also that the lichens which you may find on stones are actually a symbiotic co-operation of fungus and algae rather than being just one plant – and even through millions of years of evolution they have remained separate but connected species.
One of the things that struck me on perusing the book was just how few animals there are in the photographs – a bird appears just once and there are some photographs with glowing specks that are actually those just mentioned fireflies, although you would not necessarily realise that without reading the accompanying text.
That may well reflect the reality of wandering through such fields – apart from if they contain livestock, animals are generally hidden from view, with possibly (in the fields I’m used to wandering through) just the occasional flash of say a hare or rabbit off in the distance and even the noises that you may hear will generally largely only be those of birds.
A fascinating aspect of the book are the Bird Doors, which date from the 1930s onwards and which document the details of birds visiting the meadow etc.
The book is somewhat sumptuously and beautifully produced with inserts, a de-embossed inner cover, foldouts, separately printed and bound sections and so forth. A labour of love in a number of ways I expect.
The Meadow is well worth a perusal, particularly for the way in which it interlinks and interweaves an expressive exploration of one particular meadow with the rigour of scientific study, albeit a form of study which in keeping with the character of the project still retains a literary, creative character.
File under: A Year In The Country ocular explorations
Chapter 2 Book Images: Gather in the Mushrooms – Early Signposts and Underground Acid Folk Explorations
Text extracts from and online images to accompany Chapter 2 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book:
“While Wandering down the A Year In The Country pathways, there have been an awful lot of cultural reference points that have inspired, in uenced and intrigued (the three I’s as it were).
The Gather in the Mushrooms album is one of the first. It is a 2004 compilation curated by Bob Stanley who is a member of the band Saint Etienne, subtitled “The British Acid Folk Underground 1968-1974” and it does what it says on the can.
The period of time that the album focuses on was a point in music/culture when the likes of Fairport Convention were reinterpreting traditional folk music, combining it with the more contemporary elements of rock to produce what has come to be known as folk rock.
Acid or psych folk was an extension or offshoot of such work, which often tended to wander down more overtly exploratory or experimental avenues and at times intermingled aspects of psychedelia with folk and rock elements.”
“Subcultural/countercultural movements tend to be thought of as having sprung from the cracks beneath the city’s walkways, whereas acid/psych folk seems to have been created by participants who were either physically located out in the cottages and meadows or who used a form of imaginative geographical travel to create a culture which, in contrast to urban influenced and inflected cultural movements, was hazily narcotically pastoral.”
Details of the book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.
Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 2/52: Penda’s Fen and The Edge Is Where The Centre Is – Explorations of the Occult, Otherly and Hidden Landscape
The Edge Is Where The Centre Is is a book that focuses on Alan Clarke and David Rudkin’s 1974 British television play Penda’s Fen.
Aside from the intriguing and multi-layered nature of Penda’s Fen, the book is a fascinating and rather lovely cultural artifact in itself – and a good example of the way in which a relatively small core of television and film work from previous decades which focuses on for example the flipside and undercurrents of the landscape and folklore continues to inspire contemporary work and projects, which draw inspiration from that core but which can also be appreciated, exploratory and inspirational in their own right.
The book has been released in two editions, both prior to the play’s official DVD/Bluray restoration and release by the BFI in 2016, at a time when it was generally only viewable as a not-officially sanctioned multi-generational blurred digital copy online or at one of the rare public screenings.
At the core of the book is a conversation between Gareth Evans, William Fowler and David Rudkin where Penda’s Fen is discussed – hence the subtitle of the first edition of the book: David Rudkin and Penda’s Fen: A Conversation.
In the first edition of the book this was accompanied by several articles, a short biography of David Rudkin, a synopsis of the film and a screening history.
The second edition has been considerably expanded, redesigned and at times rewritten to include the core conversation, articles, the synopsis etc but with the sections now numbering fourteen, the addition of a flexi-disc by Mordant Music and the subtitle changing to be: David Rudkin and Penda’s Fen: An Archaeology.
Both books were designed by Rob Carmichael of SEEN and are collages that seem to reflect a sense of a multi-layered, spectral or hidden/occult exploration of the landscape.
This is enhanced by them having been printed using the Risograph process, which utilises copying machines which produces print output that seem to exist in its own hinterland somewhere between digital photocopying and hand screenprinting and has a particularly appealing tactile, matt quality.
That spectral/hidden sense of the landscape is one of the core themes of the book, with it taking Penda’s Fen as something of a starting point or wellspring for what a number of year/decades later has grown to be a loosely defined cultural exploration of “weird”, “wyrd” or “eerie” Britain – an otherly, at times hauntological unearthing of rural pastures and interests.
(A number of reasons for such cultural phenomena and interest could be put forward, one of which – as referred to in a quote by Robert Macfarlane in the book – is that it is an attempt to make sense, explain, account for and possibly act as a respite/allow refuge from/act as a bulwark against the current dominant capitalist system: in part a utilising or reconfiguring of the spectral or preternatural as a form of expression, exploration and escape from related turbulence and pressures.)
The books were published by Texte und Töne in collaboration with the Colloquium for Unpopular Culture: the first edition coincided with/marked the screening of the film/play at The Horse Hospital on the anniversary of King Penda’s death in AD 655 and the second edition coincided with/marked a screening at the Whitechapel Gallery.
They seem to form a continuum of the unearthing of the weird, wyrd, eerie, occult, otherly, hauntological landscape of Britain by Texte und Töne and the Colloquium for Unpopular Culture which has taken in public events and Risograph printed publications.
These include the book The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale, which was released to mark the event A Cathode Ray Séance: The Haunted Worlds of Nigel Kneale and The Stink Still Here book which is a conversation between Paul Myerscough and David Peace which centres around his novel GB84 and The Stink Still Here: The Miner’s Strike on Film event, both of which focus around the 1984-1985 British Miner’s Strike.
The Edge Is Where The Centre Is books are edited by Gareth Evans, Will Fowler and Sukhev Sandhu, who aside from taking part in the core conversation, all also have articles in the book/s.
Sukhev Sandhu’s “You’re Like The English, You Have Foreign Parents” article positions the film in amongst an interior English countryside that is often unknown or unexplored territory:
“If cities are in the ascendant, it’s the countryside that is increasingly terra incognita in the public imagination. British people, weaned over twenty years on cheap international travel delivered by budget airlines, are as likely to be familiar with Spanish and Greek pastures as they are with their own national interiorities.”
William Fowler’s Deep Dreaming article considers the countryside as a focus for exploration within film in the 1970s, placing Penda’s Fen within a background of the likes of Psychomania, Children of the Stones, The Ballad of Tam Lin, Winstanley, The Wicker Man and the work of Derek Jarman:
“The green space became a place to resist authority, explore sexualty, open-up portals between different time zones and expose the soul…”
As an article it explores not dissimilar territory to that which he, alongside Rob Young, wrote about in the The Films of Old Weird Britain issue of Sight & Sound magazine in 2010 and indeed could well be a companion piece to their articles in that issue.
Indeed “open-up portals between different time zones” implies a not too dissimilar sense of cultural exploration as Rob Young has referred to as a form of “imaginative time travel”.
If you have never seen Penda’s Fen or are not likely to watch it, the two editions of The Edge Is Where The Centre Is are able to stand alone as fascinating explorations and documents of the underlying patterns, myths and stories of the landscape and rural areas – books which, as Sukhev Sandhu says of Penda’s Fen, are:
“…a deconstruction of the pieties of the English landscape tradition at the same time as a loving wassail to the occult potential of that very cartography…”
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
Day #4/365: Electric Eden; a researching, unearthing and drawing of lines between the stories of Britain’s visionary music
Day #15/365. The Twilight Language Of Nigel Kneale
Day #80/365: The Films Of Old Weird Britain… celluloid flickerings from an otherly Albion…
Day #143/365: Central Office Of Information + Mordant Music = MisinforMation
Day #191/365: Penda’s Fen; “Cherish our flame, our dawn will come.”
Wanderings #36/52a: The Wicker Man Revisited / Refreshed – The Long Arm Of The Lore
Chapter 1 Book Images: Electric Eden – Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music – Folk Vs Pop, Less Harvested Cultural Landscapes and Acts of Enclosure, Old and New
As mentioned at the start of this year, later in the year (probably around March/April time, more details to come) I am going to publish a text based book called A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields which across 52 chapters collects, revises, revisits and interweaves the writing from the first three years of A Year In The Country.
Each week of this year I will be posting a gathering of images, alongside text extracts from the book, which are intended to become an online “cut out and keep” set of visual accompaniments to the chapters of the book.
So, without further ado…
Chapter 1: Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music: Folk Vs Pop, Less Harvested Cultural Landscapes and Acts of Enclosure, Old and New
Extracts from the text of the book and accompanying online images:
“(Electric Eden) the 2010 book by Rob Young, served as an ongoing reference for much of the earlier years of A Year In The Country.
It is an epic tome of a book which, in simple terms, is a journey through British folk and pastoral music and related culture from its roots to the modern day, but instead of serving as a straightforward documenting of such things, is more an exploration of its undercurrents, of at times semi-hidden or overlooked cultural history and its interconnected strands.
The book travels with folk revivalist collectors such as Cecil Sharp, the social idealism of William Morris and Ewan MacColl, the late 1960s/early 1970s folk rock of the likes of Fairport Convention and Pentangle, the acid or more experimental folk of Comus and Forest, The Wicker Man film from 1973 and related occult folklore, contemporary esoterically interconnected hauntological practitioners such as Ghost Box Records, the pastoral tinged work of pop music explorers Kate Bush, David Sylvian and Talk Talk and pastoral speculative/science fiction.
There is a sense within the book of folk and related culture seeming to point towards an otherly Britain: an imagined Albion of hidden histories and sometimes arcane knowledge, wherein there is still the space or possibility to sidestep some of the more ubiquitous, dominant and monotheistic tendencies of modern day culture and systems.”
“Which brings things round to to The Wombles and what happens when folk meets or tries to become pop. What appeared to happen in the mid-1970s is that music arrived at a point where one of folk rock’s more popular bands Steeleye Span have a hit single with their version of the traditional folk song “All Around My Hat”, which reached number five in the UK singles charts in 1975.
The single was produced by Mike Batt, who also oversaw records for the novelty pop band The Wombles: these were a musical offshoot of an animated children’s television series originally broadcast from 1973-1975 where furry, pointy-nosed creatures who live in burrows on Wimbledon Common spend their time recycling rubbish in creative ways.
All Around My Hat is folk that has wandered quite a way from its roots and seems intrinsically to be nearer to pop, a kind of glam romp with folk trappings.
Which is not to dismiss this version as it is a rather catchy and full of life interpretation, with the video and the song capturing a certain point in time and period nuances of British cultural history: of pop music and culture not yet overly-styled, honed and marketed, which in its own particular way is still from a less tamed cultural landscape.
This is one of the themes of Electric Eden; a sense of a taming of the cultural and at points literal landscape, of what Rob Young presents as music and culture of a utopian or visionary nature that draws from the land and folk culture.”
“He has discussed the connection between such areas of work and culture and how there is a connection to historic acts of land enclosure and clearance; the way in which from around 1760 onwards common land was put into private ownership by government Inclosure Acts, forcing agricultural workers towards the newly expanding cities and factories and how this displacement could be one of the roots of the British empathy with the countryside, with relics such as songs or texts from the world before this change having come to be revered as they seem to represent or connect to a pre-industrial “Fall” golden age.”
Details of the book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.
Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 1/52: Hazel’s Kaboodles Corn Husk Doll Kit – Opening a Time Capsule from Back When and Faceless Folkloric Precedents
For the first cultural wandering of this still new year I thought I would post about something that I stumbled on online a while ago and which I’m rather fond of…
The Hazel’s Kaboodles “Corn Husk” Doll Kit.
This is boxed kit that comes with all that you need to make various different sized corn husk dolls and accessories and I think it is American in origin and was made or originally released around 1976.
If you should not know, corn husk dolls are, well, dolls made from the husks of corn.
A connected phrase and form of traditional craft is corn dollies, although that is more often associated with the decorative, symbolic shaped harvest orientated designs that originated in pre-Christian, pagan European culture.
In those times it was thought that the spirit of the corn lived amongst the crop and that the harvest made it effectively homeless. Hollow shapes were made from the last sheaf of wheat or other cereal crops and the spirit of the corn would live there until this “corn dolly” was plough into the first furrow of the new season.
There a were number of traditions based around corn dollies, including one where the person who cuts the last ears of corn makes them into a doll, which is called the Corn mother or the Old Woman and is brought home on the last wagon.
Or alternatively, there were beliefs that the Corn Spirit lived or was reborn in a plaited straw ornament or corn doll made from the last sheaf of corn cut, which was kept until the following spring to ensure a good harvest, with the corn dolly often having a place of honour at the harvest banquet table.
(As an aside “dolly” is thought to be a corruption of “idol” or possibly the Greek word “eidolon” which means apparition or that which represents something else, which read about today and with a certain cultural mindset invokes a sense of it having a hauntological folklore aspect.)
However, the Kaboodle kit is for the creation of actual dolls or rather corn husk dolls, although sometimes such dolls are also referred to as corn dolls or dollies.
Before the availability of the mass production of dolls for childrens and ornaments, leftover husks from corn were an accessible and I suppose probably cheap material with which to make dolls, with it thought to be a traditional form of crafting that was probably carried out in America since harvesting began around a thousand years ago.
The kit is a lovely thing, designed to make 22 dolls and accessories and comes with all the required husks, twine (Hazel’s Ribbon Straw), dried flowers, balls for the dolls’ heads, paper based gingham and patchwork fabric, instructions etc.
Opening the box feels like stepping into a small time warp or capsule from back when…
…and I particularly liked that the kit I bought came with an unexpected surprise as it contained its own little piece of repurposing from back when, as one of the doll heads had been used by a former owner to create a traditional Halloween-esque witch on broomstick hanging ornament, complete with black cat riding on the tail of the broomstick.
There can be something slightly sinister or subtly unsettling at times about faceless corn dollies but generally this kit has a quite friendly, welcoming air to it.
Although possibly the illustrations on the side of the box that shows how many dolls can be made from the kit wanders a bit more towards having a quietly worrying aspect or possibly even 1970s British science fiction and fantasy television scary monsters along the lines of something that had come to life in say Doctor Who or it’s like in that era.
Although I expect if they had been featured in that era’s television fantasy then they may well have had featureless faces, as the more eerie creatures and characters from then seemed to, such as the one above from Sapphire & Steel.
It turns out that tales of such faceless characters have a folkloric precedent…
Delving further into the history of corn husk dolls, I discovered that there is a reason that they often don’t have faces or features, which can be found in a traditional Native American legend called The Story Of The Corn Husk Doll, which tells of how the Spirit of Corn, one of the Three Sisters (the sustainers of life – the three main agricultural cops of various Native American groups in North America), made a doll or dolls from corn husks.
As is often the way with folkoric tales, there are a number of variations on the story and why the Spirit of Corn made the doll/s: these include because after making moccasins, salt boxes, mats etc from corn husks she wanted to make something different or because she was so thrilled at being one of the sustainers of life that she asked the Great Spirit or Creator what more she could do for the people and was told that she could make a doll from her husks that could entertain children.
One of the dolls the Spirit of Corn made and which was given life to was very beautiful and when she want into the woods and saw herself in a pool she saw how beautiful she was and became very vain and badly behaved (or in different tellings she began to spend less time with children and more time merely contemplating her own loveliness or when travelling from village to village to entertain the children she was repeatedly told she was beautiful, which resulted in her becoming vain).
The Great Spirit spoke to her and warned her that her vanity was not the right kind of behaviour but she ignored his warning and was given a punishment where she would have no face and not be able to converse with the birds, animals or people: she would be left to roam the earth forever, looking for something that would enable her to regain her face.
(An alternative telling says that when she walked by a creek she glanced into the water and as she admired herself couldn’t help thinking how beautiful she was, because indeed she was beautiful. Worried about her vanity, the Great Spirit sent a giant screech owl out of the sky and it snatched her reflection from the water. When she looked again, she had no reflection, which was her punishment in this telling of the tale.)
Well, that started out as a cheery consideration of a 1970s corn husk doll kit and seemed to wander somewhere a little darker – and as a plot the above would not seem out of place in a more contemporary television or cinematic fantasy and indeed does not seem all that far removed from say the twists in the tales of for example The Twilight Zone, a 1970s horror/fantasy anthology film or their television series equivalent.
I have wandered towards the sometimes darker, at times faceless and/or otherly folkloric intertwinings of such things before, such as the images above from a 1970s book on corn husk dolls.
Links to related posts can be found below…
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
Day #87/365: Faded foundlings and Tender Vessels…
Week #47/52: Shirley Collins voyages anew…
Wanderings #17/52a: Not So Abounding Faceless Automatons And Not-Quite-So-Mainstream Crafting
File under: A Year In The Country ocular explorations
For a fair old while I’ve been fascinated by traditional cathode ray images, broadcasts and related analogue video recordings – their visual characteristics, the way that they connect with or imply a particular now rapidly vanishing into the distance period of history and technology.
Just as traditional chemical film based photography has its own distinctive grain, cathode ray images have their own “grain” or loss of quality – the scan lines, the glitches and wobble of analogue video tape and their degradation over time and multiple generation copies, the snow, noise and ghosting that results from a poor quality broadcast signal etc.
At times there can be something accidentally beautiful about such characteristics – close up or enlarged they can become abstract patterns.
Within visual work, as with sections of music/audio, the above characteristics and related technology have come to have a form of romance or even nostalgia attached to them, accompanied by an at times hankering after an era before the loss of loss that digital replication may be thought to have brought about.
(Although it could be argued that through the compression techniques of digital storage and replication that the contemporary era has its own form of loss, we just have not necessarily overly recognised it at as such yet. Just as modern digital technologies, restoration, audio, photography, video etc all have their own distinctive character and transformation processes.)
Within visual art there has been the use and application of some of these “lossy” previous era characteristics, alongside the likes of exploring earlier data limited imagery: essentially using modern technology to say create the sense of an image being stored on a degraded multi-generational video tape recording, captured via the ghosts of faded analogue transmissions, having been replicated over and over again on an uncalibrated early photocopier or created via early digital computer technology, resulting in 8-bit art, glitch art and so forth.
Generally such aesthetics and styles are used in connection with imagery of an urban nature and I thought it could be intereresting to see what would happen if I took such styles and applied them to those of a more rural or pastoral origin.
The plan is to take the “classic” A Year In The Country style and effectively transmit and broadcast it through a contemporary portal that in some ways connects it back to the aesthetics and visual fingerprints of earlier eras: a re-interpretation and interweaving rather than a replication, allowing the signals to at times fade and be scrambled as they tumble backwards and forwards through time…
That “classic” and the “transmitted” styles may well become intertwined and/or sit next to one another as the weeks and months pass by. We shall see where the year takes us (!)…
So, the start of a New Year…
…and behind the scenes of A Year In The Country I have been working away on something (and at times burning the midnight oil)…
The result of that beavering away is the now completed book A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields, subtitled Journeys in Otherly Pastoralism, the Further Reaches of Folk and the Parallel Worlds of Hauntology.
Across 52 chapters and 340 pages the book gathers, revisits and revises writing from the first three years of A Year In The Country, alongside some new wanderings and is intended to draw together and connect layered, at times semi-hidden cultural pathways and signposts; wandering from acid folk to edgelands via electronic music innovators and pioneers, folkloric film and photography, dreams of lost futures and misremembered televisual tales and transmissions.
The book will be published most probably around the start of Spring 2018 (i.e. March or April). I will post more details around these parts soon.
In the meantime, here’s to the New Year and I trust this finds you good, well and full of (post) festive cheer…
PS Details of the book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.
One of the albums/cultural items that quite possibly first set me on the path towards A Year In The Country and/or was an early touchstone was the Bob Stanley curated Gather n the Mushrooms: The British Acid Folk Underground 1968-1974.
On listening to it I thought “Ah, so folk can be this then? This isn’t what I expected.” (More of such things in a mo’).
There was playfulness, experimentation, darkness, psychedelia, intimate tales and more to be found in the album… a world away from some of my more traditional ideas of folk music.
It was one of those points when it’s almost as if new pathways (and future pathways) have opened up in your mind, as though the world has changed in some way once you have experienced it.
It was actually the first album/cultural item that I wrote about as part of A Year In The Country – way back in Year 1, Day #3/365.
Back then I said:
“A few years ago for a while I had quite a few of one of my friends records and CDs stored at my house.
In amongst his platters and shiny digital discs he had quite a few folk albums. Now, to be honest I think I had tended to write folk off as all being a bit fiddle-di-di, knit your own jumper, earnest kinds of things.
I was drawn to this album, Gather in the Mushrooms and I’m glad I was. I knew next to nothing about the music, hadn’t read the sleevenotes but for some reason it had ended up on my iPod.
The first time I can really remember it grabbing me was on a late night walk through the mostly deserted backstreets of a slightly industrial city. A curious place to discover an interest in oddball folk music maybe…
I think it was Forest’s Graveyard or maybe Trader Horne’s Morning Way that first grabbed my attention and made me realise that something other than my preconceptions about folk music was going on here. The first lines on Morning Way are “Dreaming strands of nightmare are sticking to my feet…”, followed close after by a somewhat angelic female voice in counterpart and well, I thought “This is odd, I like this…””
And so, in those darkened semi-industrial backstreets, some kind of journey started…”
Anyways, over the years since, every now and again I’ll find myself having a wander and browse to see if anything similar has slipped/escape into the world, any new foraging and collecting of semi-lost tracks.There are a few similar albums that delve amongst the undercurrents of folk from back when but they appear only very occasionally and I suspect that much of the seams of such things have been thoroughly mined, gems discovered and so forth.
Anyways, I thought as it is the end of the year, it would be good to round the circle, to revisit Gather in the Mushrooms and its fellow companions.
I thank you all for wandering this way, visiting, perusing, contributing. It has been much appreciated.
A tip of the hat to all.
Artifact Report #52/52a: From The Marks Upon The Land to All The Merry Year Round… An (Almost) End of Year Gathering
So, with the year and this year of A Year In The Country almost at an end, (almost) all that remains is to gather together the audio work and releases from the year…
Artifact #1a: The Marks Upon The Land / Wild Hope Flowers / The Dark Chamber EP
A 60 page book that collected the artwork from the first year of A Year In The Country, accompanied by Wild Hope Flowers, a four track song cycle by David Colohan and Richard Moult (accompanied by Sophie Cooper) and The Dark Chamber EP by A Year In The Country…
Oh and a free cassette copy of Airwaves: Songs From The Sentinels by A Year In The Country.
The images in the book are part of A Year In The Country’s explorations of an otherly pastoralism, a wandering amongst subculture that draws from the undergrowth of the land – the patterns beneath the plough, pylons and amongst the edgelands…
“The Marks Upon The Land… converts the bucolically familiar into something more eerie or even sinister, a series of widescreen mutations that create pareidolia spectres through symmetry and layering. Seen in isolation, these images are arresting enough but they gain power by being collected together, fashioning a statement of intent.”
John Coulthart at his Feuilleton site
“Two EPs and one full album offer up three very different explorations of, indeed, the marks that man has made on the land… United Bible Studies David Colohan and Richard Moult’s… Wild Hope Flowers is the gentle, mystic face, a self-described “elegy for layered histories” that is both sparse and fulfilling…”
Dave Thompson at Spincycle / Goldmine Magazine
Artifact #2a: The Restless Field
The Restless Field is a study of the land as a place of conflict and protest as well as beauty and escape; an exploration and acknowledgment of the history and possibility of protest, resistance and struggle in the landscape/rural areas, in contrast with sometimes more often referred to urban events.
It takes inspiration from flashpoints in history while also interweaving personal and societal myth, memory, the lost and hidden tales of the land.
Featuring Field Lines Cartographer, Vic Mars, Bare Bones, Assembled Minds, Grey Frequency, Endurance, Listening Center, Pulselovers, Sproatly Smith, Polypores, Depatterning, Time Attendant, A Year In The Country and David Colohan.
“…murky and ominous as befits the guiding thematic: places that are spectrally imprinted with past conflicts and struggles…”
Simon Reynolds Hauntology Parish Newsletter at Blissblog
Artifact #3a: From The Furthest Signals
From The Furthest Signals takes as its initial reference points films, television and radio programs that have been in part or completely lost or wiped during a period in history before archiving and replication of such work had gained today’s technological and practical ease… soundtracks imagined and filtered through the white noise of space and time…
Featuring Circle/Temple, David Colohan, Sharron Kraus, A Year In The Country, Time Attendant, Depatterning, Field Lines Cartographer, Grey Frequency, Keith Seatman, Polypores, The Hare And The Moon, Pulselovers and Listening Center.
“This music creates a world of its own which could be viewed either as defiantly anachronistic or as an example of cutting edge experimentalism… Either way, any attempt to quantify it in terms of modernity or tradition seems redundant or to miss the point. Better to think of as chronologically challenged and revel in its strangeness.”
Artifact #4a: Undercurrents
By A Year In The Country… a wandering amongst nature, electronic soundscapes, field recordings, the flow of water through and across the land and the flipside of bucolic dreams.
“…the chimes of a music box, the creak of a gate, the rush of the wind, the crackle of static, the turning of pages. Cathode hiss and transistor hum from the bottom of the lake.”
Dave Thompson at Spin Cycle / Goldmine magazine
Artifact #5a: The Quietened Cosmologists
…a reflection on space exploration projects that have been abandoned and/or that were never realised, of connected lost or imagined futures and dreams, the intrigue and sometimes melancholia of related derelict sites and technological remnants that lie scattered and forgotten.
Featuring Field Lines Cartographer, Pulselovers, Magpahi, Howlround, Vic Mars, Unit One, A Year In The Country, Keith Seatman, Grey Frequency, Time Attendant, Listening Center, Polypores and David Colohan.
“(Pulselovers’ Lonely Puck)… a wonderfully serene and affectionate love note mailed out from across the outer edges of the cosmos, a transmission from a long lost and forgotten outpost if you like, twinkle toned and radiantly awash in what sounds like shimmering cosmic church bell celebrations…”
Mark Barton at The Sunday Experience (here and here)
Artifact #6a: All The Merry Year Round
…an exploration of an alternative or otherly calendar that considers how traditional folklore and its tales now sit alongside and sometimes intertwine with cultural or media based folklore… travelling alongside straw bear and cathode ray summonings alike.
Featuring United Bible Studies, Circle/Temple, Magpahi, Cosmic Neighbourhood, Field Lines Cartographer, Polypores, A Year In The Country, Sproatly Smith, Pulselovers, The Hare And The Moon & Jo Lepine, Time Attendant and The Séance.
“A Year In The Country… operating like some sinister rustic arts and crafts movement manifesting online via a Wi-Fi connected scrying mirror… an almanac of unearthly sonics to tide you through the winter nights.”
Ben Graham at Shindig! magazine
Which leaves me to make just one (almost) final tip of the hat to all concerned… those who created the music, those who listened to and bought the work, those who wrote about and broadcasted it and all at Norman Records.
Thanks and cheers!
Well, the year is nearing to its close and so in a rounding the circle manner I thought I would return to The Ninth Wave, the themed collection of tracks on the B-side or second half of Kate Bush’s 1985 album The Hounds of Love album.
I was thinking, for myself what would I consider to be some of the earliest roots of the flipside of bucolia or otherly pastoralism that A Year In The Country has explored?
Well, I expect it would be something of a multiple-sided coin that took in possibly Bagpuss, other Smallfilm work and interconnected television from my younger years…
…but probably more likely the work of Kate Bush and in particular The Hounds of Love.
And even more in particular The Ninth Wave.
I’m listening to it as I type and I still find it a captivating, transportative listen… and it makes me wander what it is about some cultural work that can cause it to still resonate so thoroughly all these years and listenings later.
Kate Bush seems to have tapped into something very deeply rooted within the nation or land’s consciousness or soul with this collection of songs.
Or to quote myself quoting Mike Scott:
“Mike Scott of The Waterboys recently said that when Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights went straight to number one in the charts that it “was like an old British soul got returned to us”.”
The Ninth Wave contains dreamlike beauty, a sense of bucolic bliss, unsettling folk-horror like passages, references to traditional folk music, cosmic sunrise optimism, nature, story telling, experimental elements, very accessible song structures and an underlying narrative all interwoven into one coherent whole.
I shall leave this post on this note:
“Let me sleep and dream of sheep…”
(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)
Directions And Destinations:
The Ninth Wave
Well, the end of the year is almost here, as is another seasonal cycle of A Year In The Country.
And so, in a rounding of the circle manner (I expect there are a few of such roundings going on around these parts of late), I thought I would return to one of the early touchstones and quite possibly inspirations from way, way back of A Year In The Country…
Bagpuss and in particular the intro sequence:
There it is
It was rather an unusual shop because it didn’t sell anything
You see, everything in that shop window was a thing that somebody had once lost
And Emily had found
And brought home to Bagpuss
Emily’s cat Bagpuss
The most Important
The most Beautiful
The most Magical
Saggy old cloth cat in the whole wide world
Well now, one day Emily found a thing
And she brought it back to the shop
And put it down in front of Bagpuss
Who was in the shop window fast asleep as usual
But then Emily said some magic words:
Bagpuss, dear Bagpuss
Old fat furry cat-puss
Wake up and look at this thing that I bring
Wake up, be bright
Be golden and light
Bagpuss, Oh hear what I sing
And Bagpuss was wide awake
And when Bagpuss wakes up all his friends wake up too
The mice on the mouse-organ woke up and stretched
Madeleine, the rag doll
Gabriel, the toad
And last of all, Professor Yaffle, who was a very distinguished old woodpecker
He climbed down off his bookend and went to see what it was that Emily had brought…
In terms of capturing a sense of a lost almost Edenic way of life, I’m not sure if it has ever been bettered.
It’s interesting as I don’t find it twee or chocolate box-ish, its more just sweetly evocative and contains a certain yearning and even melancholia.
Anyways, it wouldn’t feel right without letting the old chap go to sleep:
Bagpuss gave a big yawn, and settled down to sleep
And of course when Bagpuss goes to sleep, all his friends go to sleep too
The mice were ornaments on the mouse-organ
Gabriel and Madeleine were just dolls
And Professor Yaffle was a carved wooden bookend in the shape of a woodpecker
Even Bagpuss himself once he was asleep was just an old, saggy cloth cat
Baggy, and a bit loose at the seams
But Emily loved him
Misters Oliver Postage, Peter Firmin, John Faulkner and Ms Sandra Kerr (and Emily of course), a tip of the hat to you all.
(File Post Under: Cathode Ray & Cinematic Explorations, Radiowave Resonations & Audiological Investigations)
Day #164/365: A saggy old cloth cat and curious cultural connections…
I’m quite taken by the books published under the Shires imprint.
They are generally slim, almost pocket money priced reference books that focus on one particular subject and which apply the same level of importance to all their subjects, whether that be allotments, amusement park rides, beach huts and bathing machines, biscuit tins, British film studios, British tea and coffee cups, bungalows, buttonhooks and shoehorns, haunted houses, thatch and thatching, straw and straw craftsmen…
From the concerns, equipment and activities, of kings and queens to coalminers, these books are a great leveller…
…and also, whatever their subject, as a series they seem to quietly conjure up or hark back to some almost imagined, parallel, simpler, less troubled time; there’s a sort of cosy chocolate box-ness to the series of books, without them becoming twee.
Two of my favourites are Pillboxes and Tank Traps by Bernard Lowry and Prefabs by Elisabeth Blanchett.
In a way, prefabs could be seen as a form of brutalist, utilitarian architecture/building but there’s something very welcoming about them… when I was a younger chap and visited folk in them, they always felt quite magical, to have a certain character all of their own that I was drawn to and fascinated by.
And although pillboxes were built at a time of great national worry, conflict and alarm, there is something about how they are presented in the Shires book which seems to respect that but also to regard them with a certain fondness or affection, to acknowledge their history but also to incorporate them amongst the more bucolic aspects of the land.
Intertwined wanderings around these parts:
Day #228/365: Studys and documentation of the fading shadows from defences of the realm…
Audio Visual Transmission Guide #51/52a: Sing Cuckoo: The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack and Other Partly-Archived Summerisle Discussions
During this year of A Year In The Country I’ve visited the fictional world of Summerisle / The Wicker Man a number of times…
…and now that the year is drawing to a close, I thought I would visit it once more.
A while ago I came across a bevy of Wicker Man documentaries that I didn’t know about.
I had watched various ones previously, the ones included on the DVD releases etc but then one day I stumbled on more online (the magic of the ever-archiving internet and all that).
Now, I would’ve thought that I would be a bit overloaded with all things Wicker Man-esque but I actually thoroughly enjoyed watching the documentaries or sections of documentaries I found in various ways – it seems that this is the isle that just keeps giving it seems.
The ones in question were:
One titled online as The Wicker Man BBC Scotland On Screen 2009, in which actor Alan Cumming (with a somewhat artfully arranged fringe) wanders around the locations of The Wicker Man, with how they are today segueing into scenes from the film.
It features him meeting with the likes of the film’s director Robin Hardy, Britt Ekland’s body double, one of the public house musicians who played in the film and the woman who runs the gallery where the sweet shop scene was filmed (who says something along the lines of some visiting tourists thinking that those who live in the area actually are pagans).
Alongside which Allan Brown, author of Inside The Wicker Man, film critic/broadcaster Andrew Collins, novelist Christopher Brookmyre and Edward Woodward all appear and comment on the film and its surrounding myths and intrigues.
Then I watched The Wicker Man episode of the BBC 4 series Cast and Crew from 2005, which hosts a round table discussion of the film, featuring Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt being her delightfully eccentric and expressive self (slightly embarrassing/awkward for more reserved British sensibilities to know how to cope with that it has always seemed when I have watched such appearances), director Robin Hardy again, art director Seamus Flannery, associate music director Gary Carpenter and again Edward Woodward (who was filmed separately from the other participants).
One of the pieces of information that stuck in my mind from this documentary was Seamus Flannery saying how the actual Wicker Man sculpture in the film was built from pre-woven panels that were designed to be used as wind baffles in fields for sheep to shelter behind and which they bought very cheaply wholesale for just a few pounds each.
Robin Hardy also briefly mentions the successor to The Wicker Man that he was planning at the time called May Day (which Christopher Lee was set to appear in and is at baritone, strident pains to make clear that it was not a sequel) and which I assume eventually became The Wicker Tree which was released in 2011.
The one that really caught my eye and mind though was Sing Cuckoo: The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack, which is available to watch on the BFI Player (which I have mentioned a few times previously around these parts) and was recorded around the time of the BFI season Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film in 2014.
This does what it says on the can and again features Robin Hardy and Gary Carpenter, alongside the musicians Stephen Cracknell of The Memory Band and Mike Lindsay of Tuung (who have both created/released Wicker Man related work), all discussing the soundtrack of the film, its influences, inspirations etc.
There is something very evocative and moving about this particular documentary and it has a certain classiness to it, a sense of a deep respect for the film both by those shown in it and from behind the camera.
Part of that is the way it is divided into titled chapters that connect with the themes of the film and its influence; Creation, Isolation, Resurrection, Inspiration and Resolution.
I don’t know if it was a deliberate but those directly involved in the film – Robin Hardy and Gary Carpenter – are filmed against a featureless black background, whereas Jonny Trunk, Stephen Cracknell and Mike Lindsay are filmed set against tools of their trades (shelves of vinyl records and banks of modular synthesisers).
There is a touching moment when Jonny Trunk talks about how it is a shame that the soundtrack’s author Paul Giovanni passed away before he could see how it had gone on to gain such an extensive following and possibly even played it live.
Connected to that, there is a poignancy to all these documentaries; as the years have passed few of the principal participants featured are still alive, with Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt, Robin Hardy and Edward Woodward all since having passed away.
In terms of some of the reasons for the ongoing and expanding appeal of the film and its soundtrack, Stephen Cracknell makes some interesting points about how the songs have become like folk standards for young indie-folk musicians and says:
“I think it will go on influencing people by giving them this idea of “Wow, you can be playful and sexy and daring and scary, not just reverential with old music and make it new and vibrant”. It stands like a beacon for that really.”
(File Post Under: Cathode Ray & Cinematic Explorations, Radiowave Resonations & Audiological Investigations)
Audio Visual Transmission Guide #1:
Sing Cuckoo: The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack at the BFIPlayer
Well, that would be a fair few but here’s a starter or two – The Wicker Man Around These Parts
Artifact Report #51/52a: A Year In The Country at Electronic Sound… Wanderings Amongst Escapee Phantoms and the Layers Under the Land…
Over this year and last, the A Year In The Country album releases have received a fair old bit of support from Electronic Sound magazine.
So, with the year coming to an end and this year’s final A Year In The Country release – All The Merry Year Round – having recently been written about in issue 36, the last of the year, I thought that about now would be a good time to gather together the reviews in the magazine…
On Fractures: “A skillfully weighted blend of dark folklore and synthesised experimentation…”
On The Restless Field: “…a wonderfully curated concept album that rips up the green grass of the idyllic countryside and forces you to consider the darker undergrowth. Beautifully unnerving stuff.”
On From The Furthest Signals: “The ghosts are out of the machines.”
On Undercurrents: “The countryside is often over romanticised, usually by those who don’t live there. A Year In The Country has dug a little deeper and hit on something much more profound to end up, if you’lll excuse the pun, in a field of his own.”
On The Quietened Cosmologists: “Another issue, another release from the ever excellent A Year In The Country…”
(Why thankyou, good sirs !)
On All The Merry Year Round: “And my, what a way to end 2017… Albion’s hauntology has never sounded so bewitching.”
Which seems like something of a good note to end this post on.
Thanks and a tip of the hat to all at and who have written the pieces for Electronic Sound, in particular Push, Neil Mason, Finlay Milligan and Ben Willmott.
Also to everybody who created the music: Circle/Temple, Sproatly Smith, Keith Seatman, Listening Center, The British Space Group, The Hare And The Moon, Alaska, Michael Begg, Time Attendant, The Rowan Amber Mill, Polypores, David Colohan, Howlround, Field Lines Cartographer, Vic Mars, Bare Bones, Assembled Minds, Grey Frequency, Endurance, Pulselovers, Depatterning, Sharron Kraus, Magpahi, Unit One, Cosmic Neighbourhood, Jo Lepine and United Bible Studies and The Séance.
Visit Electronic Sound here.
I’ve been reading Mary Webb’s Gone to Earth novel, which Powel and Pressburger’s 1950 film was based on.
The book was originally published in 1917 and is described on its back cover as being:
“A fine story of the Welsh Borderland, of a beautiful girl, a veritable child of Nature, who is loved by one man but seduced by another.”
It seems to be a forebear of more contemporary explorations of the land as being a place which is layered with stories, history, echoes and undercurrents, of a spectral or hauntological landscape – the patterns beneath the plough, the pylons and amongst the edgelands.
Or to quote Simon Reynolds when discussing the A Year In The Country released album The Restless Field:
“…places that are spectrally imprinted with past conflicts and struggles.”
Although it is possibly more a consideration in part of religious concerns, for myself the section below in particular seemed to highlight a sense of the undercurrents of the land and quite frankly stopped me in my tracks:
(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)
Local Places Of Interest:
Day #326/365: Harp In Heaven, curious exoticisms, pathways and flickerings back through the days and years…
Week #36/52: Gone To Earth – “What A Queen Of Fools You Be”, Something Of A Return Wandering And A Landscape Set Free
Previous considerations of the patterns beneath the plough, forebears and echoes amongst the land:
Day #26/365. Christopher Priest – A Dream of Wessex and dreams of the twentieth century
Day #316/365: The Detectorists; a gentle roaming in search of the troves left by men who can never sing again
Wanderings #19/52a: The Folk Roots Of Peak Time Comedians From Back When / Wandering The Layers
Artifact Report #50/52a: All The Merry Year Round – Further Broadcasts and Reviews (Wanderings Amongst the Moss, Golden Apples and Elsewhere)
Further reviews, transmissions etc of the All The Merry Year Round album…
First up is something of a gathering from the album by Golden Apples of the Sun radio show, including Circle/Temple, Field Lines Cartographer, United Bible Studies and The Séance:
“Claude Mono presents Golden Apples Mix Number 46 where the Doctor’s assistant from 1973 to 1976 Sarah Jane Smith enjoys listening to music from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Pram, United Bible Studies and others…”
Was Ist Das? included Magpahi’s track on their radio show… from out in Arizona by way of the Pyrenees…
Sunrise Ocean Bender included Pulselovers track on the Bedsheet, Moss / Altered Circuitry episode of their radio show (which is something of a fine episode title)…
Mind De-Coder included The Séance’s Chetwynd Haze in amongst the lysergic (of the rock and folk variety), Radiophonic and hauntological wanderings of their show.
John Coulthart writes about the album at his feuilleton site:
“…extended drones and atmospherics by regular contributors Polypores and Time Attendant alternate with contemporary takes on the folk idiom by Magpahi, Sproatly Smith, and The Hare And The Moon… this is another potent collection which doesn’t ignore the sinister potential of winter time…”
Visit that here.
Raffaello Russo has written about the album from over the seas at his Music Won’t Save You site:
““All The Merry Year Round” appare senz’altro la raccolta più varia e, in fondo, leggera nel catalogo recente dell’etichetta inglese, che sotto le insegne del mistero e della magia unisce declinazioni antiche e moderne della cultura popolare del periodo più buio dell’anno.”
Previous All The Merry Year Round reviews and broadcast:
Artifact Report #47/52a: All The Merry Year Round Reviews and Broadcasts
All The Merry Year Round is a wandering through an otherly calendar, which travels alongside straw bear and cathode ray summonings alike…
The album features United Bible Studies, Circle/Temple, Magpahi, Cosmic Neighbourhood, Field Lines Cartographer, Polypores, A Year In The Country, Sproatly Smith, Pulselovers, The Hare And The Moon & Jo Lepine, Time Attendant and The Séance.
More details can be found here.
As always, a tip of the hat to all involved.