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  • The Wicker Man, Edge of Darkness and Village of the Damned – The “Tricky” Cult Remake: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 29/52

    Village of the Damned-John Carpenter-1995-film still 5

    Remaking a much-loved and cult classic seems like a tricky path to choose in cinema and to a degree television drama: the film/programme you are making will often have a certain pre-existing recognition factor but that is also a double-edged sword as you are essentially pitting yourself against, well, the love of and for a cult classic.

    Along which lines it is also a potentially odd and tricky thing for a director to do to attempt to make a semi “in the spirit of” sequel to his own much-loved cult classic (see The Wicker Tree).

    Along which lines, three such films and programmes which have been remade that I have previously written about at A Year In The Country are The Wicker Man, The Village of the Damned and Edge of Darkness.

    Now, although I thought it was an odd thing to do, to attempt to remake The Wicker Man, I tried to go into watching the 2006 version with an open mind and without being overly prejudiced against it – as a cultural behemoth the original version of The Wicker Man casts a long and imposing shadow.

    It’s a fair while ago since I watched the remake and despite my trepidation in watching it, one of the main things that struck me was rather than thinking it was inherently bad, that it was essentially just another film, almost workmanlike, in contrast to the fantastical/fantasia like multi-layered cultural and aesthetic aspects of the original.

    (The original film version of The Wicker Man’s troubled and intriguing production and release history has also come to be fairly inherently intertwined with those cultural aspects – adding a further layering which makes it shadow all the longer and more imposing on any remake.)

    All of which brings me to the 2010 film adaptation/remake of Edge of Darkness.

    It seems like both a tricky and odd path for a director to remake his own much-loved, not so much cult but widely and critically acclaimed classic but that is what Martin Campbell did (he also directed the 1985 television original).

    For myself the original of Edge of Darkness is so rooted in my psyche and also the time, place and historical context of when it was made that I think I am too wary to watch the remake removed from that context and to possibly dispel my appreciation of the original, even out of curiousity about what the remake is like.

    Village of the Damned-John Carpenter-1995-film still

    Which brings me to John Carpenter’s 1995 adaptation of The Village of the Damned (originally adapted from John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos), here remade as Village of the Damned.

    (There was also a British made sequel to The Village of the Damned made in 1964 called Children of the Damned.)

    John Carpenter is known for holding British science fiction/fantasy writer Nigel Kneale in high regard (as I have mentioned before, in homage to Nigel Kneales’s Work, his Prince of Darkness film is credited to Martin Quatermass and he commissioned Kneale to work on the script for Halloween III which John Carpenter co-produced and co-scored) and it’s not much of a jump from Nigel Kneale’s intelligent take on British science fiction etc to John Wyndham’s.

    Halloween III-John Carpenter-Tommy Lee Wallace-Alan Howarth-Nigel Kneale-1982-5
    (Although not directed by the same person, the above still from Village of the Damned shares something of a similarity or two with the below still from Halloween III and both have a somewhat classic John Carpenter-esque “empty/isolated streets” dread.)

    The 1995 remake of Village of the Damned is an odd film texturally: it has the look and feel of a made-for-television movie, although it had a budget of $22 million (approximately $36 million today allowing for inflation), which is hardly small change.

    That look and feel may be in part due to the period aesthetics of when it was made, related film stock and/or the DVD transfer process.

    It could also possibly be a side effect of the way in which when viewed now 1990s and turn of the millennium film and television can have a sense of not yet being old enough to have gained a retro fetishistic aspect, more just still rooted to the period of its production and a little out of step with modern tastes and expectations.

    In this remake the story is moved from the English countryside to a smallish Northern Californian American town.

    While the village in the 1960 version is peopled largely by the middle classes with terrribly good diction, alongside working class and labourer types, in John Carpenter’s version at the start the town seems to be largely populated by male hunks and styled female blondes.

    The film also features a number of lead actors who previously starred in various well-known and market-leading science fiction/fantasy franchises (Mark Hamill – Star Wars, Christopher Reeves – Superman, Kirstie Alley – Star Trek).

    Village of the Damned-John Carpenter-1995-film still 2

    The government/authorities’ response to essentially the town’s women being impregnated by a possibly alien race seems curiously unofficial/ramshackle – particularly viewed today in an era of heightened security measures.

    Here the problem seems to be tackled by say the kind of grungey, underfunded, self-directed groups or organisations that would perhaps be found in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome.

    As I have mentioned before sections of John Carpenter’s work, particularly his earlier films in the 1970s and during parts of the 1980s, contained a kind of ragged, tight, almost street energy to them, a possibly more fun, less arthouse parallel to David Cronenberg’s earlier films.

    There is still some kind of left-of-centre cinema feel to this version of Village of the Damned and elements of that tighness or energy but it feels less focused or to not have quite the same energy of some of his other work:

    “I’m really not passionate about Village of the Damned. I was getting rid of a contractual assignment, although I will say that it has a very good performance from Christopher Reeve, so there’s some value in it.” (John Carpenter in an interview at Vulture website.)

    Possibly that lack of a sense of lean example of cinema could also be a result of the translation and remaking of an earlier piece of work and the way in which during that process some of the original energy or “magic”, that indefinable something can sometimes be lost along the way.

    However, as I say, it’s a tricky proposition attempting to remake a much loved cult classic and the creators of the new version may well find themselves treading on what some may consider culturally hallowed ground. Taking on such a task could be considered something of a double edged sword in many ways; you have the pre-existing recognition factor and possibly proven appeal of the story etc of the earlier version but then there are also a whole host of expectations and comparing with its forebear to contend with.

    Village of the Damned-John Carpenter-1995-film still 4

    Elsewhere:
    The Wicker Man 1973 / The Wicker Man 2006
    Edge of Darkness 1985Edge of Darkness 2010
    The Village of the Damned 1960 / Village of the Damned 1995
    John Carpenter at the Vulture website

    Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
    1) Day #173/365: “Douglas I’m scared”; celluloid cuckoos and the village as anything but idyll…
    2) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 4/52a: Halloween III: Season of the Witch – A Curious Slice of Culture and Collisions with the Past
    3) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 22/52: John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness Part 1 – The Sleeper Awakens
    4) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 23/52: John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness Part 2 – “This is not a dream”
    5) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 24/52: John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness Part 3 – Quatermass-esque Non Bebop Filmmaking
    6) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 8/52: In The Morning I’ll Be Gone, Orkney Twilight, GB84 and Edge of Darkness – Hinterland Tales Of Myths, Dark Forces and Hidden Histories Part 2
    7) The Wicker Man: well, that would be in a fair few “Elsewhere at A Year In The Country”

     

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  • The Wicker Man – Notes on a Cultural Behemoth: Chapter 10 Book Images

     The Wickerman-rating

    “The Wicker Man… has become something of a towering cult celluloid behemoth. This is particularly the case amongst all things on the flipside of folkloric, as well as within areas of culture that have come to be known as folk horror…

    At its heart, The Wicker Man could be viewed as a mystery thriller, although in actuality it is a film which defies categorisation, mixing elements of fantasy, horror and musical.

    Within its enclosed rural setting it intertwines folkloric practices, pagan rituals, reimagined and reinterpreted traditional and folk music, unfettered sexuality and an older religious faith in conflict with a more contemporary Christian belief system.

    These elements, along with a background of its at-times troubled production and distribution, have come to create a heady mixture, which includes imagery and a soundtrack that have gained iconic status and the creation of an almost myth-like set of stories and reference points which surround it and that have reverberated throughout wider culture.” 

    The Wicker Man-Dan Mumford poster-A Year In The Country 

    “In 2013 a ’40th Anniversary’ – possibly misleadingly named – Final Cut of the film, running at 91 minutes, was released cinematically as well as on DVD and Blu-ray.

    This was not a complete, cinematic quality version of the film but rather an intermediate director-approved version which, as with earlier restored versions, featured segments which had varying levels of reproduction due to original source materials not being available.

    In one sense, the sections where the quality varies are appealing; the shift in quality can give these scenes a slightly surreal, almost parallel plains of 3D or cutout look, similar to the effect that viewing a faded set of images through a Viewmaster children’s toy might do.

    It would be interesting to see the entire film represented in this manner, to step away from the ongoing quest for a picture perfect representation of the tales of The Wicker Man and to embrace its otherworldliness more overtly with regards to its visual presentation.”

     The Wicker Man Collage-A Year In The Country-1080 

    Day 16-Willows Songs b-Finders Keepers-A Year In The Country Day 16-Willows Songs back-Finders Keepers-A Year In The Country

    The Wickerman-Trading cards-A Year In The Country-9The Wickerman-Unstoppable Trading Cards-Binder-A Year In The Country

    The Wickerman-trading card collection 1-A Year In The Country

    The Wickerman-RBeckettWickerman-A Year In The Countrynuada-wicker-man-journal-issues

    The Wicker Man book collection

    “While waiting for an actual final complete version there have been an ever-proliferating number of re-releases of the film and its soundtrack that have been released on video tape, DVD, Blu-ray, CD and vinyl, alongside period and modern associated posters, trading cards, books, zines, magazine articles and so forth.

    The resulting releases have become part of a whole not-so-mini industry that could keep industrious collectors busy but there are a few related items of particular interest.

    One is Willow’s Songs: an album released in 2009 by unearthers of rare and sometimes previously lost recordings Finders Keepers Records and which aims to showcase the British folk songs that inspired the soundtrack to The Wicker Man…

    Its lyrics tell a tale of agricultural dispossession and intriguingly it is not credited to a performer on the album, which in these times of instant knowledge about almost everything via online searches adds a certain appealing mystique that this author is loath to puncture.”

     The Wicker Man OST soundtrack-Jonny Trunk-Trunk Records-A Year In The CountryThe Wickerman Willows Songs Gently Johnny 7 vinyl Record Store Day-Silva Screen International-A Year In The Country 2

    “One of the curious things with The Wicker Man soundtrack (and indeed the film itself ) is that this is a case of where something authentic has been created from an inauthentic or commercially-orientated premise.

    The soundtrack has come to feel as though it features songs which have belonged to these isles for centuries: ones which are deeply rooted in the land, its folklore and history, when in fact a number of them were written and all were recorded especially for the film.”

     Ritual-David Pinner-First Edition-Finders Keepers Edition

    “Finders Keepers Records also reissued Ritual in 2011, which is the 1967 book by David Pinner, the basic idea and structure of which was in part the inspiration for what became The Wicker Man after David Pinner sold the film rights of the book to future Wicker Man cast member Christopher Lee in 1971.

    In both, a police officer attempts to investigate reports of a missing child in an enclosed rural area and has to deal with psychological trickery, seduction, ancient religious and ritualistic practices.

    The Finders Keepers reissue contains an introduction by writer and musician Bob Stanley called “A Note On Ritual”, which serves as an overview of and background to this very particular slice of literature which deals with pastoral otherlyness, the flipside and undercurrents of bucolia and folklore:

    ‘…be warned, like The Wicker Man, it is quite likely to test your dreams of leaving the city for a shady nook by a babbling brook.’ (Bob Stanley on Ritual from the introduction.)” 

    Inside The Wicker Man-Allan Brown-1st edition and revised edition The Wicker Man book-Allan Brown-A Year In The Country 2Your Face Here-Ali Catterall-Simon Wells-The Wicker Man

    The Wicker Man has been extensively written about over the years, both online and in print, including Allan Brown’s entertaining and extensive unearthing and researching of the background and myths that surround the film in his book Inside The Wicker Man: How Not to Make a Cult Classic…

    A concise and revealing look at the film is also included in the 2002 book Your Face Here by Ali Catterall and Simon Wells…

    There is a rigour to the research in the book without it stepping into the sometimes drier grounds of academia and the text reflects a genuine love for and appreciation of these films…

    …the chapter now reflects a sense of the ongoing and growing story of this now quite well harvested in one form or another film, albeit one which through its ongoing appreciation and cultural inspirations/reverberations still occupies apparently quite fertile and not yet completely unearthed or unburied ground.” 

    Sight & Sound-2013-The Wickerman-2010-The Films Of Old Weird Britain

    Sight & Sound-2013-The Wickerman-2010-The Films Of Old Weird Britain-2

    “Of the reams of writing on The Wicker Man, Vic Pratt’s article “Long Arm of the Lore” from the October 2013 issue of the BFI’s Sight & Sound magazine is well worth seeking out…

    The article intertwines the cultural and historical context of the film, the romance of analogue recording techniques and the inner and wider myth and folkloric aspects of it…

    In it Vic Pratt places The Wicker Man in its period cultural context of changing times and mores, considering how the children of the 1960s had grown up and taken their place in respectable society and sometimes the media, bringing or infiltrating their countercultural interests with them, possibly having lost some of their political fervour while also looking for the more authentic or spiritually fulfilling but not via traditional avenues.

    The article describes how accompanying this was a sense of folk custom, witchcraft and the occult no longer being quite such marginalised or extreme interests; they had become the stuff of relatively mainstream film, television, music and publishing and a reflection of this can be seen in the themes of The Wicker Man…

    In many ways, both this and the issue of the magazine could be seen as a companion to the August 2010 Sight & Sound issue, which has as its cover strapline “The Films of Old, Weird Britain”, accompanied by a Wicker Man-like, landscape myths and folk horror-esque illustration and features “The Pattern Under the Plough” article by Rob Young as its main feature.

    That article delves beneath the topsoil of British cinema to find a rich seam of films and television which take the landscape, rural ways, folklore (of the traditional and reimagined varieties) or ‘the matter of Britain’ as their starting point…”

    Winstanley-1975-Kevin Brownlow-Andrew Mollo-A Year In The Country 10Akenfield film 1974sleep furiously-Gideon Koppel-Aphex Twin-A Year In The Country

    Derek Jarman-Journey to Avebury-still Patrick Keiller-Robinson in Space-film still Chris Petit-London Orbital-film still

    Quatermass and the Pit-Nigel Kneale-bluray cover artPendas Fen-David Rudkin-A Year In The Country 3

    “(Rob Young’s The Pattern Under the Plough article) further contextualises The Wicker Man, placing it alongside other such folk horror films as Witchfinder General. It then goes on to consider an interrelated loose grouping of films and television which in part explore those flipside Albionic cracks in the landscape.

    These include Winstanley (1975) and its dramatising of historical English Civil War era searching for an earthly paradise, the journey through a rural year of Akenfield (1974), the almost straight documentary that also seems to quietly explore the undercurrents of the land Sleep Furiously (2008)…

    It also includes considerations of and connects the above with the art film experiments and psychogeography (a form of explorative wandering) of Derek Jarman’s Journey to Avesbury (1971), Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Space (1997) and Chris Petit’s London Orbital (2002), the atavistic memories of Quatermass and the Pit (1967) and the layered spectral rural history tales of Penda’s Fen (1974).

     The Sneaker Pimps-How Do-Willows Song-Becoming X-Spin Spin Sugar-Kelli Ali-The Wicker Man 

    “The Wicker Man has also acted as a wider source of musical inspiration and influence, branching out into more mainstream and even chart music. The band Sneaker Pimps recorded a song called “How Do”, which is a version of “Willow’s Song” from The Wicker Man soundtrack and includes samples from the film…

    It was a curious thing for a quite pop orientated band, even if a more left-of-centre one, back then to include a song from The Wicker Man soundtrack. At the time of How Do’s release The Wicker Man was a known film but its extended and ever growing cultdom had not really started to gather pace yet and Trunk Records’ release of the soundtrack was still a couple of years away, so information about the film was probably still relatively thin on the ground.”

     Kelli Ali-Rocking Horse and Butterfly

    “In a possible further example of the ongoing influence of the film, in 2008 Kelli Ali, who was the singer with Sneaker Pimps at the time of Becoming X, released a pastoral folk inflected album called Rocking Horse on record label One Little Indian, which was produced by Max Richter…

    (On her album) Butterfly there is also another version of Willow’s Song, which takes it back nearer to its purely imagined folkloric roots and although being her own interpretation it is closer to how the song was performed for The Wicker Man’s soundtrack than the Sneaker Pimps version and indeed would not seem all that out of place if heard amongst the other music in the film.”

    Pulp-We Love Life-CD-back of cover-2001 Pulp-The Trees-Sunrise-CD singleForge Dam-Sheffield-Pulp-The Wicker Man-1Kill List-Ben Wheatley-A Year In The Country-4

    “In a further Wicker Man connection with one time chartbound bands, Pulp included a song called “Wickerman” on their 2001 album, We Love Life.

    The song is a multi-layered piece of culture, one that interweaves samples from the original The Wicker Man film soundtrack recording and hence otherly folkloric concerns, alongside a sense of urban exploration, the true life history of the band, spoken word, a certain grandiosity in its production (possibly courtesy of producer Scott Walker), the social history of Sheffield and surrounding areas and a yearning, wistful love story…

    …members of Pulp went on an expedition through tunnels beneath Sheffield that were used for sluicing industrial run off… that journey became increasingly dangerous feeling and… it inspired the Pulp song Wickerman…

    …what the real life story of the band wandering through those tunnels also brings to mind is the underground tunnel sequence in Ben Wheatley’s 2011 film Kill List, and its related occult vision of folkloric machinations; lines from which could be connected backwards to The Wicker Man and its flipside views, expressions and interpretations of folklore and an unsettled take on pastoralism.”

     The Wicker Man-construction-production photograph The Wicker Man-1973-Production notes The Wickerman-lost scene in hairdressersWillow Umbrella-Christopher Lee-The Wicker Man-1973

    “Along with the above books, articles and records which explore and/or draw inspiration from The Wicker Man there are an extensive number of websites and documentaries which focus on the film.

    One of the most in depth of such websites is The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia site which on a recent visit had 138 different pages related to the film…

    Of particular note are the images of the construction of The Wicker Man structure used in the film and also the numbered on-set and press photographs taken from contact sheets.

    Even though they are on a public site these seem to offer a semi-hidden view or a glance behind the curtain of the film.

    However, despite this they do not diminish the mystique or myths of the film, which can sometimes be the case with such photographs or “How We Made the Film” documentaries and DVD extras.

    This is possibly because The Wicker Man has such a multi-layered set of myths around it, some of which are intrinsically connected and interwoven with the production of the film itself and related backstories, all of which have become part and parcel of its intriguing nature.”

     The Wicker Man BBC Scotland On Screen 2009 

    The Wicker Man-Cast And Crew-BBC 4-2005-b2

    The Wicker Man-Cast And Crew-BBC 4-2005

    The Wicker Man-Cast And Crew-BBC 4-2005-2

    “Further behind the scenes views and discussion can be found in a now quite considerable number of The Wicker Man documentaries, including those on the various DVD/Blu-ray releases of the film and also in documentaries which were originally broadcast on television.

    These include:

    1) The Wicker Man/BBC Scotland on Screen (2009), in which actor Alan Cumming wanders around the film’s locations, with how they are today segueing into scenes from the film…

    This features… 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).

    2) The Wicker Man episode of the BBC 4 series Cast and Crew (2005), which hosts a round table discussion of the film.

    (Which includes) cast members 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 this)…

    Sing Cuckoo- The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack-Gothic-The Dark Heart Of Film-BFIPlayer-BFI

    Sing Cuckoo- The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack-Gothic-The Dark Heart Of Film-BFIPlayer-BFI-Jonny Trunk

    (Another Wicker Man related documentary is) Sing Cuckoo: The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Sound track… 

    (Which features) the musicians Stephen Cracknell of The Memory Band and Mike Lindsay of Tuung (who have both created and released The Wicker Man-related work) and Jonny Trunk who is variously an archival record researcher, collector, writer and was responsible for the release of the first commercial edition of The Wicker Man’s soundtrack via his label Trunk Records…

    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…”

     Sing Cuckoo- The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack-Gothic-The Dark Heart Of Film-BFIPlayer-BFI-Stephen Cracknell-Mike Lindsay 

    “In terms of some of the reasons for the ongoing and expanding appeal of the film and its soundtrack, Stephen Cracknell makes an incisive point 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.”

     

    Online images to accompany Chapter 10 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:

    Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields 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.

     

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  • Sing Cuckoo: The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack and Other Partly-Archived Summerisle Discussions: Audio Visual Transmission Guide #51/52a

    The Wicker Man-Cast And Crew-BBC 4-2005-2

    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 Wicker Man BBC Scotland On Screen 2009

    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.

    The Wicker Man-Cast And Crew-BBC 4-2005-b2

    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).

    The Wicker Man-Cast And Crew-BBC 4-2005

    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.

    Sing Cuckoo- The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack-Gothic-The Dark Heart Of Film-BFIPlayer-BFI

    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.

    Sing Cuckoo- The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack-Gothic-The Dark Heart Of Film-BFIPlayer-BFI-Jonny Trunk

    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.”

    Sing Cuckoo- The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack-Gothic-The Dark Heart Of Film-BFIPlayer-BFI-Stephen Cracknell-Mike Lindsay

    (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

    More samizdat transmissions:
    The Wicker Man BBC Scotland On Screen 2009
    Cast And Crew – The Wicker Man

    Local Broadcasts:
    Well, that would be a fair few but here’s a starter or two – The Wicker Man Around These Parts

     

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  • The Wicker Man – Summer Isle Books, Bindings, Pounds, Shillings And Pence: Ether Signposts #46/52a

    The Wicker Man book collection

    A fair old while ago, back in the first year of A Year In The Country one of the posts included a consideration of various DVD etc editions of The Wicker Man.

    In a similar spirit, I thought I would bring together a gathering of some of the various Wicker Man related books that have been published…

    …there have now been enough to warrant their own section within a library.

    There are other related books and editions out in the world as well as the ones below but that library section could well include:

    The Quest For The Wicker Man-Benjamin Franks-bookFirst off there is The Quest For The Wicker Man: History, Folklore And Pagan Perspectives by Benjamin Franks, Stephen Harper, Jonathan Murray and Lesley Stevenson, which is a more academic take on the film.

    There is a somewhat rarer book that accompanies this called Constructing The Wickerman, which includes work by some of the same authors and which was published to coincide with the first academic conference on the film in Glasgow in 2003.

    Studying The Wicker Man-Andy Murray Lorraine RolstonThen there is Studying The Wicker Man from 2017, which is a shorter academic book by Andy Murray and Lorraine Rolston…
    Inside The Wicker Man-Allan Brown-1st edition and revised editionHow Not To Make A Cult Classic – Inside The Wicker Man by Allan Brown, which if memory serves correctly is a good factual and also behind the scenes intrigues view of the film. It was originally published in 2000 (the first book on The Wicker Man?) and reissued in 2010 as a newer revised edition post the US remake.
    Ritual-David Pinner-First Edition-Finders Keepers Edition

    Ritual by David Pinner, which is seen as a forebear and possible influence on The Wicker Man. Originally published in 1967 as a hardback, in paperback in 1968 by Arrow Books with a more overtly possibly exploitation cover image and text and it was republished in 2011 by Finders Keepers Records.

    First editions of the 1967 version now fetch upwards of £400 (blimey etc)… and I like the background info at Finders Keepers site on their new edition and before they republished it how Andy Votel was about to pay a fair few pounds for an original copy and then he thought “I’ll just check the local library catalogue”… and there it was.

    Ah, the good old library system.

    The Finders Keepers edition also features an interesting introduction by Bob Stanley which in an earlier post at A Year In The Country I said this:

    “The introduction opens with a sense of how nature can come to almost dwarf you, how our sense of urban/modern security can easily be dismissed by the ways and whiles of nature.”

    (As an aside, although it was released in conjunction with David Pinner and reproduced from his copy, I like the way the Finders Keepers edition is listed by them as being “Finders Keepers Forgery Number One”.)

    The Wicker Man-The Complete Piano Songbook-with sheet music

    For the 40th anniversary of the film in 2013, alongside the various Bluray/DVD and soundtrack reissues, there was also The Wicker Man – The Complete Piano Songbook published by Summer Isle Songs, with arrangements by Christopher Hussey.

    Alongside the sheet music, it also includes an introduction by film’s Associate Musical Directory Gary Carpenter and various stills from the film.

    The Wicker Man-1st edition and new edition book-Robin Hardy-Anthony Shaffer-foreword Allan BrownThe Wicker Man novel, which curiously was originally published in 1978, five years after the release of the film (and also slightly curiously was released in the US first).

    The novel was written by Robin Hardy, the director of The Wicker Man but is credited as being co-authored by Anthony Shaffer, the writer of the film’s screenplay, as it re-uses much of the screenplay’s dialogue.

    It was republished in 2000, the same year as Allan Brown’s Inside The Wicker Man, with this new edition also  featuring a foreword by him.

    The Wicker Man-Conversations with Robin Hardy, Anthony Shaffer & Edward Woodward-Stephen ApplebaumAlthough only available as an eBook, The Wicker Man: Conversations with Robin Hardy, Anthony Shaffer & Edward Woodward, published in 2012 collects 46 pages of interviews by Stephen Applebaum…

    I’m hoping that at some point it will appear as a physically printed book.

    Also of note…
    Your Face Here-Ali Catterall-Simon Wells-The Wicker ManYour Face Here: British Cult Movies Since the Sixties by Ali Caterall and Simon Wells from 2001, which is a fine and very readable collection that focuses on various cult films, with one chapter being specifically about The Wicker Man.

    I’ve written about this book before at A Year In The Country and said:

    “…there is a rigour to the research… the text reflects a genuine love for and appreciation of these films… This isn’t something that is written by rote or which just trots out well visited stories in a cut and paste manner. The authors have put the footwork in, visiting locations, interviewing all kinds of associated folk and bringing forth something of a wealth of new information and connections.”

    nuada-wicker-man-journal-issues…and finally there is Nuada, which was a journal/zine about The Wicker Man which had three editions published in 1999-2000 (a busy period for such things it seems).

    …so, all in all, there have been a fair few Summer Isle related books and bindings (and as mentioned earlier, the above is not a complete list of books and editions)… something of a measure of just how it’s influence and inspiration has grown over the years…

    …and somewhat impressive for a film that took $58,341 in US box office receipts on it’s first release.

    Adjusting that for inflation, it would today mean it had taken $321,575.85 or using the exchange rates back in 1973, £137,185.79.

    So, no small potatoes (or other appropriate harvest crops).

    However as a point of reference, the Top 10 US ranking films back then (The Sting, The Exorcist, American Graffiti, Papilion, The Way We Were, Magnum Force, Last Tango In Paris, Live and Let Die, Robin Hood and Paper Moon) took between $156,000,000 and $30,933,473.

    Which, again, adjusted for inflation today would be $859,872,702.70 to $170,505,442.52.

    Or £366,825,785.39 to £72,738,432.87 in modern day Blighty pounds, shillings and pence.

    Blimey.

    The Wicker Man Collage-A Year In The Country-1080

    (File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)

    Directions and Destinations:
    The Quest For The Wicker Man
    Studying The Wicker Man
    Inside The Wicker Man
    Ritual at Finders Keepers
    The Wicker Man Song Book
    The Wicker Man novel
    The Wicker Man: Conversations with Robin Hardy, Anthony Shaffer & Edward Woodward
    Your Face Here
    Nuada journal

    Local Places Of Interest:
    Day #237/365: Your Face Here; peering down into the landfill – a now historical perspective on the stories of The Wicker Man
    Day #90/365: The Wickerman – the future lost vessels and artifacts of modern folklore
    Day #101/365: Gently Johnny, Sproatly Smith, The Woodbine & Ivy band and lilting intentions…
    Week #25/52: Fractures Signals #4; A Behemoth Comes Once More A Knocking…
    Ether Signposts #24/52a: The Wicker Man / Don’t Look Now Double Bill And Media Disseminations From What Now Seem A Long Long Time Ago
    Ether Signposts #25/52a: 138 Layers And Gatherings Of The Wicker Man

     

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  • The Wicker Man Revisited / Refreshed – The Long Arm Of The Lore: Wanderings #36/52a

    Sight & Sound-2013-The Wickerman-2010-The Films Of Old Weird Britain

    Now, there has been an ever increasing amount written about The Wicker Man and it could be possible to be a tad oversaturated with more considerations of the film…

    …but I recently(ish) read Vic Pratt’s article Long Arm Of The Lore about the film in a 2013 edition of Sight & Sound, at the time of one of the DVD/Bluray brush’n’scrub ups of The Wicker Man…

    And actually, it was a refreshingly calm, considered, reflective, contextual piece that made me pause for thought, consider and re-appreciate the film and its own stories and myths once again.

    In many ways it and the issue of the magazine could be a companion to the 2010 Sight & Sound with The Films Of Old, Weird Britain cover and The Pattern Under The Plough article Rob Young (and leading on from that, that article could also be seen as a companion to his Electric Eden book).

    Both articles explore a sense of an otherly Albion, of the undercurrents and layers of folk tales, customs and histories and their reflections within film, television, culture and music at various points in time.

    Sight & Sound-2013-The Wickerman-2010-The Films Of Old Weird Britain-2

    Vic Pratt’s article is particularly good at placing The Wicker Man in the context of the early 1970s, the what-happened-next of 1960s utopianism and a yearning to return to more authentic, rooted ways – the interest in variations on folk culture being an aspect of such things.

    I particularly liked this sequence, its analogies and the way it intertwines folk, the romance of analogue recording techniques and the myths of The Wicker Man itself:

    “The archivists among us surely long to see a fully restored version of the film derived from 35mm elements, and the new Final Cut should almost provide that, bar a few mainland minutes. Yet folklorists must surely enjoy the flawed long version; that old variation in quality, the sudden grainy sequences, are textural scars that remind us of a checkered past. The multigenerational flaws of decades-old transfer technologies are embedded in the images. Forever incomplete, with something added, something removed, like an old folk ditty with lyrics honed and melodies reshaped by time, The Wicker Man remains splendidly imperfect, the perfect folk film artefact.”

    The article is available to read online but I must admit I enjoyed being able to stop a moment and read it in its original printed form (although it seems to be one of the more hard to find back issues of Sight & Sound, not unsuprisingly considering the cult status of The Wicker Man).

    (File under: Trails and Influences / Year 3 Wanderings)

     

    Intertwined wanderings around these parts:
    Day #4/365: Electric Eden; a researching, unearthing and drawing of lines between the stories of Britain’s visionary music

    Day #80/365: The Films Of Old Weird Britain… celluloid flickerings from an otherly Albion…

    Day #90/365: The Wicker Man – the future lost vessels and artifacts of modern folklore

    Week #25/52: Fractures Signals #4; A Behemoth Comes Once More A Knocking…

    Elsewhere in the ether:
    Read the article here (which also includes an interview with director Robin Hardy).

     

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  • Constructing The Wicker Man: Ether Signposts #26/52a

    The Wicker Man-construction-production photograph

    I was recently wandering around the  The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia website and posted about its multi-layered archiving of The Wicker Man related material…

    The Wicker Man-cherry picker-under construction-2

    Some of the images I was particularly struck by were those that showed the literal construction of the film’s Wickerman structure/s.

    The Wicker Man-under construction

    The Wicker Man-1973-production notes-sketchAnd quite simply I wanted to post some of them online as well, it gives me a chance to peruse them again myself.

    Also because as I mentioned in my previous post about the related Wikia site, I don’t find seeing such “behind the scenes” images takes away from the myth and mystique of the film, rather that they more seem like part of the layered myths and stories that surround The Wickerman – of which the production of the film, its intrigues and tales are an intrinsic part.

    (File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)

    Directions and Destinations:
    The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia (introduction page)
    Behind The Scenes (still pictures)

     

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  • 138 Layers And Gatherings Of The Wicker Man: Ether Signposts #25/52a

    The Wicker Man 1973-US press book

    I recently went a-wandering to have a look-see if I could fine the original press book for The Wickerman – as I’ve mentioned around these parts before I have something of a softspot for press booklets from back.

    As far as I can see there were two main ones back in 1973; one for the US and one for the UK.

    Despite the cult and collectible nature of the film you can still occasionally find them, although they’re not necessarily cheap; the two I found were priced at/sold for around £26.00 and £325 (ahem!).

    Anyways, as I was having a potter around online I found a site called The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia…

    …and just when you think you know a fair bit about the film, have read a related book or two and seen a documentary or few etc…

    …well, you realise you’re just scratching the surface.

    The Wickerman-rating

    The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia site has 138 different pages on the film, which may not sound like all that many but some of those have literally dozens of photographs, hundreds of pieces of information etc: maps, autographs, scripts, newspaper articles, behind the scenes photographs by the dozen, location photographs then and now, scripts, production notes, floor plans, reunion photographs, memoirs from cast and crew, images from missing scenes, fanzines, construction plans…

    …and that’s to mention just a few of the things that can be found there.

    The Wickerman-lost scene in hairdressers

    Some of my favourite parts of the site are the Behind The Scenes page, in particular the images of the construction of The Wicker Man itself and also the numbered on-set and press photographs taken from contact sheets.

    The Wicker Man-1973-UK press bookThose two parts of the site seem, even though they are on a public site, to offer a semi-hidden view or a glance behind the curtain at it were.

    And interestingly, I don’t find that they ruin the mystique or myths of the film for me, which I can do sometimes with such photographs or “How We Made The Film” documentaries and DVD extras.

    That’s possibly because The Wicker Man has such a multi-layered set of myths around it, some of which are intrinsically connected and interwoven with the production of the film itself and related backstories.

    The Wicker Man-1973-Production notesWillow Umbrella-Christopher Lee-The Wicker Man-1973

    The site is a real labour of love that put me in mind of the Kate Bush Clippings site that I wrote about a while ago, on which there are hundreds or more scans of related magazine etc articles.

    The two sites may well also be interconnected in that both Kate Bush and The Wickerman seem to have come to represent, have spun or exist within some kind of world and myths all of their own; ones that connect with some kind of sense of arcane, layered stories, history and fantasia from this part of the world.

    Because of the vast nature of the site and the way that it is built (and possibly because of my initial sense of “must try and read and see it all”) it can be a bit overwhelming, so I thought a few initial pointers towards starting points and pages that caught my eye might be helpful…

    Directions and Destinations:
    The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia (introduction page)
    All Pages (you may be there a while…)
    Behind The Scenes (still pictures)
    Negative numbers (for on-set and press photographs)
    Images (all images on the site)
    Missing Scenes

    Kate Bush Clippings Site (and around these parts)

     

    (File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)

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  • The Wicker Man / Don’t Look Now Double Bill And Media Disseminations From What Now Seem A Long Long Time Ago: Ether Signposts #24/52a

    The Wicker Man-Dont Look Now-double bill-The Guardian and The Observer DVDs

    Fairly recently I was in a charity shop and on the counter they had a box full of the DVDs and CDs that used to come free with newspapers…

    That time now seems long, long ago, before the advent and popularity of online streaming services for films.

    The Wicker Man-Dont Look Now-double bill-The Guardian and The Observer DVDs-2

    Anyways, a while after I got home I realised that two of the DVDs I had gotten from the shop were effectively the original double bill cinema release of The Wicker Man and Don’t Look Now.

    The version of The Wickerman on the DVD is one of the shorter ones with a runtime of 84 minutes but nonetheless I suppose for Wickerman collectors and completists this would still be something to look out for.

    Finding them also made me curious if there had ever been one of those double bill cinema posters for the two films.

    They were once quite popular and now seem to often capture previous era’s styles and aesthetics.

    The Wicker Man and Dont Look Now-double bill adverts

    However, despite quite a search for one of those double bill posters I couldn’t find one, only a couple of newspaper/magazine adverts.

    So in lieu of an actual double-bill poster I thought I would repost a double page spread from a copy of Film Review magazine back in 1974, showing The Wicker Man side-by-side with its cinematic partner:

    The Wicker Man-Dont Look Now-Film Review Magazine-A Year In The Country-1200

    Directions and Destinations:
    Day #90/365: The Wickerman – the future lost vessels and artifacts of modern folklore
    For Summer Isle completists: The Wickerman and Don’t Look Now

     

    (File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)

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  • Day #237/365: Your Face Here; peering down into the landfill – a now historical perspective on the stories of The Wicker Man

    The Wicker Man-Your Face Here-Ali Catterall-Simon Wells-A Year In The CountryFile under: Trails and Influences.
    Other Pathways. Case #39/52.

    And while we’re talking about semi-lost celluloid (see Day #235/365)…

    Although there has been much written about The Wicker Man over the years and across the ether, I tend to be quietly pleased when I come across writing about it on the printed page and in particular in the bound sheafs of books…

    Your Face Here is one of my favourite film books. It was published just after the turn of the millennium. I read it a reasonable number of years ago now but it has stuck in my mind and stayed with me since.

    It is a book which takes a wander through British cult films since the 1960s and has a good old gander and consider of amongst others Blow Up, If…, Performance, Get Carter, Clockwork Orange, Quadrophenia, Withnail & I and The Wicker Man itself, dedicating a chapter to each.

    All fine and/or intriguing films in their own various ways and while that list may seem like a fairly obvious selection of cult films, an almost accepted canon of such things, there are other things at play that make this a thoroughly enjoyable, informative and engrossing read. I can’t quite put my finger on what those things might be but in part I expect it is that there is a rigour to the research without it stepping into the drier grounds of academia and the text reflects a genuine love for and appreciation of these films.

    The Wicker Man-Your Face Here-Ali Catterall-Simon Wells-A Year In The CountryThis isn’t something that is written by rote or which just trots out well visited stories in a cut and paste manner. The authors (Ali Caterall and Simon Wells) have put the footwork in, visiting locations, interviewing all kinds of associated folk and bringing forth something of a wealth of new information and connections.

    If you don’t feel like or haven’t the time to read a full book on The Wickerman, say one of the versions of Allan Brown’s Inside The Wicker Man, then the chapter here acts as a fine precis of the story of the themes, production, loss and part-refinding of The Wicker Man. That story is vastly entertaining in itself and as I type it brings forth images of a good narrative film romp that could well lend itself to being made…

    …plus when re-reading the chapter, it has gained an interesting historical perspective as it was written before the more recent longer versions of the film were made available on various shiny digital discs, the Hollywood remake or the sort of follow-up were sent out into the world. Also the book was published not all that long after Trunk Records made the soundtrack available for the first time and at a point when the films long march towards cultural rehabilitation and inspiration had just started to gather pace.

    In that sense, the chapter now reflects a sense of the ongoing and growing story of this still not completely yet unearthed or unburied film (literally so, if the stories of its negatives being used as motorway landfill are historical fact).

    The Wickerman-Your Face Here-Ali Catterall & Simon Wells-A Year In The Country

    In case you’re wandering the full title of the book in question is Your Face Here: British Cult Movies Since The Sixties. It was written by Ali Catterall and documenter of butterflies on wheels Simon Wells.

    The book is currently out of print but can be found for but a few pennies. Well worth a look-see and those few pennies.

    Future lost artifacts from said story here. Pathways that lead to the soundtrack here.

     

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  • Day #90/365: The Wicker Man – the future lost vessels and artifacts of modern folklore

    The Wicker Man Collage-A Year In The Country-1080File under:
    Trails and Influences: Other Pathways. Case #12/52.

    I suppose there was a certain inevitability that The Wicker Man would come knocking at the door of A Year In The Country one morning…

    Over the years it seems to have become such a touchstone and point of reference for people and there seems to be an exponentially increasing amount of text, articles, referencing and so on which shows no sign of dwindling even a touch.

    Via storage and dissemination through various mediums and artifacts, such celluloid and (once) cathode ray stories could now be considered to be our modern-day folklore or folktales, allowing for a common cultural language in days when people no longer live and share such things with their geographic neighbours to as large a degree as in the past.

    The Wicker Man-Hessian Bag Edition-Insert-A Year In The Country-2The title of the page mentions “future lost vessels”. Why you may ask? Well, one day in years to come it is quite likely that some of the physical artifacts, the digital discs and ferrous cassettes, that have been used to pass on our folk tales from the 1970s onwards may well still exist as objects but will the stories that they contain still be readable by all but a few? The current machines for such things will have more than likely returned once more to the ground from whence they originally came. The stories themselves may well have been re-recorded and transferred to other mediums but the original artifacts will quite possibly just have become symbols or ornaments that represent them…

    But who knows what may happen in the future and what the future story may be of a tale which is already possibly partly buried beneath passing cars (see here about half way down the page for more details).

    Hmmm.

    And so, this page is a document of some my favourite (or at least the ones I find the most interesting) of the vessels and artifacts of this particular slice of modern day folklore…

    (In memory of possible future lost vessels, only the casing that contains the discs and tapes are shown below, I’ve included a touch of actual vinyl as such things have proved a certain longevity).

    Here goes…

    I think one of my favourite of such things is the hessian bag release of the DVD… it just seems to fit…

    The Wicker Man-Hessian Bag Edition-A Year In The Country 2 The Wicker Man-Hessian Bag Edition-DVD-A Year In The Country

    One of the Dan Mumford poster designs for the 40th Anniversary re-issue of the film…
    The Wicker Man-Dan Mumford poster-A Year In The Country
    …and some variations on the poster via Dark City Gallery
    The Wicker Man-Dan Mumford poster detail-A Year In The Country
    Below on the left is what seems to be one of the rarer DVD issues of the film, featuring part of a still that seems to be something of a favourite out in the world (and which has been used by contemporary pastoral-psych-folk band Sproatly Smith, who also released a 7″ single of Gently Johnny)…

    Nice rarer paperback cover on the right below… well, when I saw nice, it’s in the context of somebody being thrown onto the altar so that people can grow some mildly exotic apples…
    The Wicker Man-The Cult Classic Film Series-A Year In The Country The Wicker Man-Pocker Fiction paperback-A Year In The Country

     

    Ah, the days of VHS (was this ever released on Betamax? Video 2000?)…
    The Wicker Man-1973 1972-VHS Thorn EMI-Pick Of The Flicks-A Year In The Country copy
    Now, I should really love the hinged wooden box edition of the film but there’s something just slightly off or maybe unloved about it…
    The Wicker Man-Wooden Box Edition-DVD-A Year In The Country
    Something which may well have been responsible for some of the increase in interest over the last decade or so… The Trunk Records vinyl release of the soundtrack album, the first time it had been commercially available…
    The Wicker Man OST soundtrack-Jonny Trunk-Trunk Records-A Year In The Country
    If you should wish to read about how film cults came about in part because of the siren call of ladies in metal bath tubs to the cigar chomping folk behind the scenes…
    The Wicker Man book-Allan Brown-A Year In The CountryThe Wicker Man book-Allan Brown-A Year In The Country 2
    …and a return to VHS, this time with a slightly more sober cover (and more giving away of the plot)…The Wicker Man-VHS video cover-A Year In The Country
    Now this seems to be one of the rarer artifacts out in the world… the 2012 Record Store Day 7″ single release of Willow’s Song/Gently Johnny…
    The Wickerman Willows Songs Gently Johnny 7 vinyl Record Store Day-Silva Screen International-A Year In The Country 2The Wickerman Willows Songs Gently Johnny 7 vinyl Record Store Day-Silva Screen International-A Year In The Country
    …and (almost) finally, Richard Beckett’s poster for the 40th Anniversary (as seen on t-shirts, the aforementioned posters and a new differently edited version of the soundtrack)…

    …plus one of the lesser seen DVD releases. I like the simplicity of this one.
    The Wicker Man-Richard Beckett poster-silver hair variant-A Year In The Country

    The Wicker Man-Studio Canal DVD-A Year In The Country

    So, 12 artifacts to accompany A Year In The Country seems quite an appropriate number.

    I know what, let’s make it a baker’s dozen as I quite like the story behind that phrase…

    A double page spread from a copy of Film Review magazine back in 1974, showing The Wicker Man side-by-side with its cinematic partner Don’t Look Now:

    The Wicker Man-Dont Look Now-Film Review Magazine-A Year In The Country-1200

    (In case you’re curious the cover of that issue featured Sid James, Babs Windsor, Margaret Nolan and Valerie Leon in Carry On Girls… something of a favourite in the Carry On cannon round these parts, a point when the films began to change and reflect a country “gone to the dogs” but before the films just became seedy shams. Anyway, I digress…).

    As an (actual) final note: don’t watch The Wicker Man with an older relative, suggesting a viewing as your mind seems to have momentarily selectively remembered it as a bit of a knockabout light-hearted folkloric musical…

    Ah, we live and learn.

    A few trails and pathways: The appeal for lost Wicker Man materials here and at The Art Shelf here. Corn(flake) rigs via Johnny Trunk at Feuilleton, at Fuel and at Mr Trunk’s home in the electronic ether. A whole slew of Wicker soundtracks here. Richey Beckett’s hand of glory here. An interesting “behind-the-scenes” on the creation of the artwork for the 2012 Record Store Day Willow’s Song/Gently Johnny 7″ here and here. Sproatly Smith and the Woodbine & Ivy band split version of Gently Johnny (something of a favourite) at purveyor of vinyl artifacts Picadilly Records and Static Caravan.

    A baker’s or devil’s dozen here.

     

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  • Summerisle In (Sort Of) Pop #1 – Pulp’s Wickerman: Audio Visual Transmission Guide #31/52a

    Forge Dam-Sheffield-Pulp-The Wicker Man-1

    A while ago I read Freak Out The Squares, which is former Pulp member Russel Senior’s autobiography of his time with the band.

    In it there is a section where he talks about a time where pre their fame he and former members of Pulp went on an expedition through underground tunnels beneath Sheffield that were used for sluicing industrial run off, how that journey became increasingly dangerous feeling and that it inspired the Pulp song Wickerman (which was recorded after he left).

    I most probably listened to the song when We Love Life, the album it was on, came out but hadn’t remembered it until then.

    Listening to it now it struck me as a curious piece of culture, one that interweaves samples from the original The Wicker Man film soundtrack recording and hence otherly folkloric concerns, alongside a sense of urban exploration, the true history of the band, spoken word, a certain grandiosity in its production (courtesy of producer Scott Walker?), the social history of Sheffield and surrounding areas and a yearning, wistful love story.

    Here are a selection of the lyrics:

    Just behind the station, before you reach the traffic island, a river runs through a concrete channel. 
    I took you there once; I think it was after the Leadmill. 
    The water was dirty & smelt of industrialisation
    Little mesters coughing their lungs up & globules the colour of tomato ketchup. 
    But it flows…
    Underneath the city through dirty brickwork conduits
    Connecting white witches on the Moor with pre-Raphaelites down in Broomhall. 
    Beneath the old Trebor factory that burnt down in the early seventies…
    And the river flows on…
    And it finally comes above ground again at Forge Dam: the place where we first met.

    DIGITAL IMAGE

    Jarvis Cocker, who I assume wrote the lyrics, said that he used to live on The Wicker which is a street in Sheffield and so I guess that’s where the title in part comes from.

    In a further connection with otherly folklore, what the real life story of the band wandering through these tunnels also put me in mind of was the underground tunnel sequence in Ben Wheatley’s The Kill List.

    But I won’t talk too much of that as I want to sleep tonight.

    Pulp-The Trees-Sunrise-CD singleThe album We Love Life seems to have been a mixture of classic Pulp-like kitchen sink-esque observation and an interest/attempt to connect with the basics of a more natural life, particularly so in related artwork and on songs such as Trees and Sunrise, alongside which the band played a series of concerts in forests to support its release.

    (File Post Under: Cathode Ray & Cinematic Explorations, Radiowave Resonations & Audiological Investigations)

    Audio Visual Transmission Guide: Pulp’s Wickerman

     

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  • Day #69/365: Charles Fréger’s Wilder Mann and rituals away from the shores of albion

    Charles Freger-Wilder Mann-Dewi Lewis Publishing-A Year In The CountryFile under:
    Trails and Influences: Other Pathways. Case #8/52.

    Well, as I seem to say here and there, while we’re talking about Charles Frégers Wilder Mann (see Day #65/365), here is his document of folk rituals and costume from other shores.

    And well, if you want to look for an underlying unsettledness to a bucolic pastoralism, look no further.

    Although it’s probably not all that underlying.

    I’m curious as to whether it’s just the exoticness of not having seen them before; that their tropes, designs and roots are not deeply buried in my subconscious which makes these seem so much more dramatic, odd, film like and possibly accomplished or even professional in appearance compared to those found in English folk rites…

    Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country…and why sometimes do I think of the march and advancement of the simians upon homo sapien in The Planet Of The Apes / The Monkey Planet (circa 1960s and 70s, not later mind)? Or even strangely surreal Stan Lee superheroes and villains?

    With these photographs there is often something unsettling and genuinely scary to some part of me that still feels ten; they strike a chord with that younger me and can genuinely give me the heebie jeebies… these images could well have tumbled from distant lands into high fever childhood Wicker nightmares.

    In one photograph somebody is having a ciggie, which should break the spell but it doesn’t; there’s something about that, his costume, stance and the way he’s staring at the camera that makes it wander off into some very odd almost slasher film territory and more childhood nightmares. These are Sesame Street monsters which have crawled from under the bed and out of the cupboards…

    Hmmm.

    I think this is one of those posts or days where I shall stop now and let the images speak for themselves.

    Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country

    Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The CountryWilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country

    Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The CountryWilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country

    Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The CountryWilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country

    Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The CountryWilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country

    Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The CountryWilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country

    Peruse the Wilder Mann here. Marvel at the price of the now sold out English text edition here. Fortunately you can still find German and other language editions here. Dewi Lewis, the original publishers of the UK edition here.

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  • The Seasons, Jonny Trunk, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Howlround – A Yearning for Library Music, Experiments in Educational Music and Tape Loop Tributes: Chapter 38 Book Images

    The-BBC-Radiophonic-Workshop-Delia DerbyshireTHE_BBC_RADIOPHONIC_WORKSHOP-album-BBC records and tapesSeasons-David Cain-Jonny Trunk-BBC-A Year In The CountryThe-Music-Library-Jonny-Trunk-2005-original edition-library-music-books-Fuel

    “One of the defining elements of hauntology is considered to be an interest in, and taking inspiration from, educational and library music from previous times, particularly the 1960s and 70s, alongside a similar interest in the work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

    Educational music is generally that which was created to be used as a classroom aid and/or music created by children in an educational setting under the guidance of adults.

    In the 1960s and 1970s it produced some remarkable recordings that if placed in a different context may well have been considered experimental or avant-garde work.

    Library music, sometimes otherwise known as production music, is music which is available ready and licensable off the shelf in a similar manner to stock photography and is music that has generally been created quite specifically for that purpose and made available for use in adverts, films, television, radio etc.

    Daphne Oram-Radiophonic Workshop

    The BBC Radiophonic Workshop was established in 1958 to produce sound effects and new music for BBC radio and later television, and was closed in 1998.

    During the late 1950s through to the 1970s in particular it was responsible for creating a body of renowned and technically innovative work, with this often being considered the “classic” period and the one that hauntological interest generally revolves around.

    Often the sounds required for the atmosphere that programme makers wished to create were unavailable or non-existent through traditional sources.

    This lead to some of those working at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to explore new techniques to produce effects and music for their pieces utilising tape manipulation, experimenting with electronic music equipment etc.

    Doctor Who-original introduction visuals-Delia Derbyshire-Ron Grainer

    “Using such methods allowed them to create often unique soundscapes and music, notably the iconic theme tune to Doctor Who which was created electronically by Delia Derbyshire in 1963 utilising Ron Grainer’s score.

    Simon-Reynolds-Haunted-Audio-The-Wire-Magazine-Retromania-Ghost-Box-Records-article-3 pages in a row-1px stroke

    One of the reasons for the connection between educational music and that of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and hauntological areas of work is that it connects with a hauntological sense of a yearning for lost progressive futures associated with the 1960s and 70s.

    Simon Reynolds describes this aspect of hauntology in the November 2006 issue of Wire magazine in his article “Haunted Audio”, which focuses on Ghost Box Records and other hauntological-related work, as being:

    ‘A wistful harking back to the optimistic, forward-looking, benignly bureaucratic Britain of new towns and garden cities, comprehensive schools and polytechnics.‘”

    Glo Spot Music Recorded Library-Electrosonic-Delia Derbyshire-album artwork-sleeve

    John Cavanagh who runs the Glo Spot label, which has reissued library music originally released by the company KPM has commented:

    ‘There’s a striking originality to library records from that time because they were all about the search for new sounds. Back then, musicians weren’t told what to do. Big companies also weren’t so obsessed with focus groups and demographics, so musicians were allowed to have more open-ended adventures.’

    KPM-New York Trouble-The Big Beat-Tummy Touch reissues-library music albums

    Tim Lee, MD of Tummy Touch Records which has reissued a number of recordings also from the KPM music library, has commented about this and the sometimes-associated snobbery around such music, saying that:

    ‘Library music was never supposed to be expensive. By its nature, it was utilitarian and designed to be used as cheaply as possible. People forget that these records were made to be used and heard often, rather than being treated like fetishistic objects. So by distributing these sounds to more and more people, labels like ours treat the music in a similar way to its initial intentions.’

    Sing Cuckoo- The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Soundtrack-Gothic-The Dark Heart Of Film-BFIPlayer-BFI-Jonny Trunk

    Jonny Trunk has for a number of years been championing, compiling and reissuing library music via his Trunk Records label, journalism and broadcasting.

    He seems drawn to, and expresses an appreciation for, such music for a number of reasons including its at times musically innovative and intriguing qualities, alongside the significance that its scarcity lends it and the investigative work required to find such music, while also wishing to extend its reach into the world by reissuing it.”

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    Dawn of the Dead-Stand By For Adverts-Barry Gray-Trunk Records-Jonny Trunk-library music

    “The Trunk Records library music-related releases have included compilations of the work by different performers originally released by a particular company such as The Super Sounds of Bosworth (1996) which brings together work from The Bosworth Music Archive and G-Spots (2009) which is subtitled “The spacey folk electro-horror sounds of the Studio G Library”.

    They also take in related releases in an album such as Dawn of the Dead (2004), the soundtrack of which used library music in part from the Music De Wolfe label, alongside albums that focus on the work of one particular musician in this field such as Stand by for Adverts (2011), subtitled “Rare Jingles, Jazz and Advertising Electronics” and which features work by Barry Gray.

    The Music Library-Jonny Trunk-2005 and 2016-library music books-Fuel

    “In a further appreciation, exploring and archiving of such work Jonny Trunk has also authored two editions of The Music Library, published by FUEL in 2005 and revised in 2016, a book which collects the cover art of library music.”

    Seasons-David Cain-Jonny Trunk-BBC-A Year In The Country David Cain-Seasons-Trunk Records-A Year In The Country

    Another strand of the Trunk Records reissues focuses on educational music. One such record is The Seasons, which features music by David Cain of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and poetry by Ronald Duncan. Originally released in 1969 by BBC Radio Enterprises, it was reissued by Trunk Records in 2012…

    Listening to it is one of those “shake your head and be pleasantly slightly stunned” moments in culture.

    The album was “designed to stimulate dramatic dance, movement, mime and speech” and was part of a series of radio broadcasts by BBC Radio For Schools called Drama Workshop, a creative drama programme for children in their first and second years of secondary school.

    The album’s songs (that word is used fairly loosely in this instance) are divided into twelve months and four seasons and to a minimal Radiophonic-esque musical backing it features poetry along these lines:

    ‘Like severed hands, the wet leaves lie flat on the deserted avenue. Houses like skulls stare through uncurtained windows. A woman dressed like a furled umbrella, with a zip fastener on her mouth steps out of number 53 to post a letter. Her gloved hand hesitates at the box. Then, knowing there will be no reply, she tears it up and throws it in the gutter. And autumn with its pheasants tail consoles her with chrysanthemums.’

    Which could be regarded as being a touch odd for a later 1960s psychedelic album or performance piece, let alone something aimed at schools.“…

    When the album was reissued by Trunk Records, Ghost Box co-founder Jim Jupp said at his Belbury Parish magazine website:

    ‘It’s an album that’s very much part of the DNA of Ghost Box: the perfect example of the spooked educational media we reverence and reference so often.’

    MusicForChildren-Carl Orff-Gunild Keetman-A Year In The CountryClassroom-Projects-CD-Trunk Records-A Year In The Country

    The Seasons is part of a mini-genre of educational music-related oddness which as mentioned earlier also includes work performed by children themselves under adult guidance, examples of which have been issued on two other Trunk Records releases: Carl Orff & Gunild Keetman’s Music for Children/Schulwerk and the compilation of work by different groups of schoolchildren Classroom Projects, both released in 2013.

     The-Langley-Schools-Music-Project_Innocence and Despair-A Year In The Country-wide

    “One of the best-known of all such recordings and albums is The Langley Schools Music Project Innocence & Despair, containing recordings from 1976-77 by Canadian schoolchildren reinterpreting the likes of David Bowie, The Carpenters and The Beach Boys in a somewhat unique and inimitable style and which was first released commercially in 2001.

    It was a project undertaken by Canadian music teacher Hans Ferger, who said about it:

    ‘I knew virtually nothing about conventional music education and didn’t know how to teach singing. Above all, I knew nothing of what children’s music was supposed to be. But the kids had a grasp of what they liked: emotion, drama, and making music as a group. Whether the results were good, bad, in tune or out was no big deal – they had élan. This was not the way music was traditionally taught. But then I never liked conventional ‘children’s music’, which is condescending and ignores the reality of children’s lives, which can be dark and scary. These children hated ‘cute.’ They cherished songs that evoked loneliness and sadness.’

    john-paynter-toys-and-techniques-the-school-is-full-of-music-a-year-in-the-country-4

    The School Is Full of Noises, a documentary on the BBC’s Radio 4 first broadcast in 2015. In it, poet, journalist, playwright, and broadcaster Ian McMillan considered:

    ‘How did tape loops, recycled everyday sounds and countless other weapons of the avant-garde find their way into school music lessons during the 1960s?’

    To quote one of the documentary’s participants, this was music education which:

    “‘…wasn’t about privilege, it wasn’t about instrumental lessons outside school, it was about something that everybody could engage with, understanding music from the inside… knowing what it takes to make a piece of music, that it’s not something fully formed that exists in the world, it’s something that you make.’

    Jonny-Trunk-The-OST-Show-Broadcast-trunk records logo

    …Jonny Trunk is also a broadcaster, in particular being known for his long-running The OST Show on Resonance FM.

    It is one of the avenues by which he explores his appreciation of and penchant for the often-overlooked nuggets of gold and sometimes tarnished with neglect areas of music, with this programme concentrating on films and television soundtracks, library music and other related work.”

    max-bygraves-with-the-grimethorpe-colliery-band-do-it-the-safety-way-ncb-Andrew weatherall-from the bunker-Pete Fowler-Monsterism illustationThe Advisory Circle-Jon Brooks-Ghost Box RecordsGhost Box Records logoThe Changes-1975-BBC-A Year In The Country-8Moon Wiring Club-A Year In The Countrybroadcast-wire-magazine-a-year-in-the-country-4

    “Over the years these guests have included Jon Brooks of The Advisory Circle and sometimes Ghost Box Records, whose appearance was accompanied by a good deal of knitting and “doing” the actions to a mining safety song by once highly popular light entertainer and singer Max Bygraves.

    They have also included the DJ and musician Andrew Weatherall, Monsterist illustrator Pete Fowler, Jim Jupp and Julian House of Ghost Box Records, Radiophonic Workshop explorer Paddy “The Changes” Kingsland, more Radiophonic exploring courtesy of David “The Seasons” Cain, Ian Hodgson of whimsical hauntological music and visual project Blank Workshop who releases records as Moon Wiring Club and some excellent delving and wandering through the undercurrents of music courtesy of Trish Keenan and James Cargill of Broadcast.

    Howlround-Robin The Fog-the-ghosts-of-bush-A Year In The CountryRobin The Fog-Howlround-The Ghosts Of Bush-A Year In The CountryHowlround-Robin The Fog-the-ghosts-of-bush-alt-press-release-Ghost Box-Scanner-Simon Reynolds-A Year In The Country

    The OST Show has at times been hosted by the aforementioned Robin The Fog who releases records as one half of Howlround, working in collaboration with Chris Weaver.

    Howlround came to prominence with their first album, 2012’s The Ghosts of Bush.

    This is a recording which documents the last days of Bush House, the once home to broadcasting stalwart the BBC World Service. It takes as its initial source material indoors field recordings which were captured late at night in the empty rooms and corridors of the building towards the end of the BBC’s tenure of it and the resulting album is a culturally and musically fascinating and intriguing piece of work.

    The album is a tribute to its subject from whence it sprang, one which is made up of many layers; whether literally in terms of the sounds it contains and how they were made, the history of where it was made or the Robin The Fog’s own connection to the work (at the time he was a studio manager at Bush House).

    Part of that layering process and how the recording was made comes about by a literal layering of sound. The record was created using only tape loop manipulation which utilised some of the last remaining of such machines in Bush House…

    When I listen to The Ghosts of Bush I often think of the distant howls of long-lost and departed creatures, huge as dinosaurs. Which in these days of almost ubiquitous free market culture, may well be somewhat appropriate as Bush House was responsible for transmissions from that possibly endangered philosophical idea, publicly owned broadcasting in the free market-orientated West.

     

    Online images to accompany Chapter 38 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:

    Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields 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.

     

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  • Recording Our Own Ghosts – A Review of A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields at Folk Horror Revival (and Other Intertwinings)

    There is a piece on the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book by Grey Malkin at the Folk Horror Revival site:

    A Year In The Country embrace a wide range of avenues to bring together not only a sense of how far reaching and varied the origins, mainstays and current players of genres such as folk horror or hauntology can be, but crucially also how they intertwine and cross pollinate.

    Each chapter expertly charts its chosen subject’s impact upon the public consciousness as well as indicating that these artefacts are now part of a greater cultural cobweb that may well have threads and components that are radically different in genre or style but that equally have a strong commonality in their sense of unease and their haunted content; of similar ghosts in the machine (or spooks in the television and bookshelves).

    The article is a layered exploration of both the book and the cultural background it explores, taking in the likes of The Wicker Man, The Midwich Cuckoos, No Blade of Grass, 70’s acid folk, hauntology etc.

    Alongside Grey Malkin’s own writing on the book, the piece also contains extracts from a conversation between him and the book’s author Stephen Prince:

    I think, to a certain degree, the way in which it isn’t easily definable how the different and loosely gathered areas of culture that are discussed in ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ appear to connect, influence one another, have become part of a lineage etc is an aspect of what is appealing about them and that gathering; it is part of what creates a certain mystique around it. Possibly in an age where every area of culture, no matter how niche, can be investigated and explained by for example a brief online search, it is the sense of a hidden history and stories, of an at least partly unexplained aspect to such work that is one of the things which may draw people to it.

     

    Intertwinings:

    Harvest Hymns II – Sweet Fruits, was published in 2018 by Folk Horror Revival and as with a number of their other book releases explores otherly folkloric and hauntological orientated work. It includes Cuckoos in the Same Nest, which is an alternate version of the Cuckoos in the Same Nest: Hauntological and Otherly Folk Confluences and Intertwinings chapter from the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book.

    Grey Malkin is one of the instigators of/collaborators with The Hare And The Moon, Embertides and Widow’s Weeds.

    Embertide’s Ash, Oak & Sulphur is included on the upcoming A Year In The Country released album The Quietened Mechanisms:

    An exploration of abandoned and derelict industry, infrastructure, technology and equipment that once upon a time helped to create, connect and sustain society… and their echoes and remains.

    The Hare And The Moon’s work has also been featured on a number of A Year In The Country released albums, including A Whisper In The Woods on The Forest / The Wald, which is a:

    …study and collection of work that reflects on fragments and echoes of tales from the woodland and its folklore; greenwood rituals performed in the modern day, fantastical childhood rhymes, sylvan siren calls that tremble through tangles of branches, electronics pressed into the summoning of otherworldly arboreal creations unearthed amidst the creeping thickets and elegies to woodland intrustions, solitudes and seasons.

    The Hare And The Moon “existed between 200 and early 2017 and are now as ghosts”. You can visit the spectral echoes of their explorations of the further furrows of folk/folklore at their Bandcamp page.

    Also Widow’s Weeds’ track The Unquiet Grave was included on the A Year In The Country released album Audio Albion, which is a:

    …music and field recording map of Britain, which focuses on rural and edgeland areas… the history, myths and beliefs of the places, their atmospheres and undercurrents, personal and cultural connections – the layered stories that lie amongst, alongside and beneath the earth, plants and wildlife.

     

    Elsewhere:

     

    Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

     

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  • The Owl Service, Anne Briggs, The Watersons, Lutine and Audrey Copard – Folk Revisiters, Revivalists and Re-interpreters: Chapter 37 Book Images

    Jane Weaver Fallen By Watchbird bw-A Year In The Country0001-A Year In The Country-Gather In The MushroomsThe Owl Service-The View From A Hill-album

    On the Way Towards starting A Year In The Country the three albums I probably listened to the most were Jane Weaver Septième Soeur’s conceptual cosmic folkloric Fallen by Watch Bird (2010), the acid folk compilation Gather in the Mushrooms (2004) and The Owl Service’s The View from a Hill (2010).

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    The View from a Hill could be categorised as folk but it has its own take or edge to it.

    Many of the songs on it are folk or traditional music mainstays and both musically and visually it uses what could be considered standard tropes of folk music, folklore and culture but this is anything but a mainstream folk album.

    The reasons for that are hard to fully define but there are other layers and intelligence to the album, a pattern beneath the plough as it were; it feels subtly experimental but still maintains its listenability.

    Mellow Candle-A Year In The Country-2Nancy Wallace-Old Stories--Dom Cooper-A Year In The CountryVexed Soul-Hobby Horse Recordings-The Straw Bear Band-Dom Cooper-A Year In The Country

    The songs wander from the Archie Fisher-esque widescreen but intimate take on “Polly on the Shore”, through to the “quite pretty but if you listen to the lyrics you realise that this is actually quite an odd story of attraction and paternalism” “Willie O’Winsbury” (and a reprise by way of 1973 film The Wicker Man’s “Procession” as if played by a New Orleans marching band), through to the spectral “The Lover’s Ghost” (featuring vocals by former 1970s acid/psych folk band Mellow Candle member Alison O’Donnell) and the album also draws on the talents of amongst others The Memory Band’s Nancy Wallace and The Straw Bear Band’s Dom Cooper.

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    The band were formed by Steven Collins in 2006 and were active until 2016, with the band name being drawn from Alan Garner’s The Owl Service novel from 1967 and its subsequent television adaptation from 1969.

    According to an interview with him in Jeanette Leech’s Seasons They Change (her 2010 book on the story of acid and psychedelic folk that is discussed in Chapter 47: “…Lost Focal Points and Privately Pressed Folk”), originally The Owl Service did not physically exist as a band but was more created by him as an imagined idea for his ideal folk band, one which drew its influences from a certain section of 1960s and 1970s British film and television and the sound of the English folk revival.

    Anne Briggs-A Year In The Country-8

    I would not necessarily consider The Owl Service as overtly acid or psych folk: it is more a revisiting and reinterpreting of traditional folk and folk rock in a quietly left field or exploratory, respectful to but not hide bound by tradition manner.

    In that sense of revisiting and reinterpreting, they could be seen to be carrying on another tradition that can be traced back to the likes of folk singer Anne Briggs in the 1960s and early 1970s.

    As mentioned in Chapter 39: “…The Worlds and Interweavings of Kate Bush”, Mike Scott of The Waterboys said that when Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” went straight to number one in the 1978 singles chart that it “was like an old British soul got returned to us”.

    Which puts me somewhat in mind of Anne Briggs and her music…

    There is a beauty, purity and transcendence to her music and her voice that quite simply stops the listener in their tracks.

    Anne Briggs-The Time Has Come-A Year In The Country Anne Briggs-A Year In The Country-10

    Aside from a handful of collaborative and compilation appearances there are only three recorded solo albums and two EPs that document her music, with the third of those albums Sing a Song for You being her final album, which she recorded in 1973 but that was not released until 1997 after which she seemed to wish to largely step back from public view and performance.”

    Derrick Knight-Travelling For A Living-The Watersons-1966-BFIPlayer-1

    Travelling for a Living, a 1966 documentary by Derrick Knight that focuses on folk band The Watersons, in which Anne Briggs briefly appears…

    The film follows The Watersons throughout their life on the road, playing their interpretations of traditional folk songs at folk clubs, recording in studios and at home in Hull as friends and other performers visit.

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    Although it was released in 1966, it seems to belong to an earlier much more kitchen sink, almost post-war period.

    Often representations of British life and social history from that time focus on a swirling, colourful, pop-mod about-to-be-psych Swinging London metropolitan view of things.

    Travelling for a Living presents a more gritty Northern contrast to that (although no less vital), an almost alternative history view of culture at that time which seems to have been semi-written out of popular cultural history.

    However, quite possibly, the locations and music shown in Travelling for a Living were nearer to the day-to-day life of more of the nation than that of Swinging London; more backroom of a local pub than Kings Road high life club and boutique orientated.

    Travelling-For-A-Living-Derek-Knight-The-Watersons-A-Year-In-The-Country-8b-in a rowEugene Doyen-Medway-Billy ChildishEugene Doyen-Medway-The Milkshakes

    This is a much more grassroots, kitchen sink, gritty culture and makes the viewer think more of the 1950s than the 1960s; all monochrome Northern living and black-wearing beat style.

    In a way it is reminiscent of images of the 1980s Medway garage punk scene, such as photographs taken by Eugene Doyen; it shares a similar sense of a culture that is occurring separately to the mainstream stories and histories of the time and as with his photographs contains a similar kitchen sink, no frills and fripperies aesthetic.

    Cecil Sharp House-The English Folk Dance and Song Society

    This music doesn’t exist today as a living form but only in odd corners of memory; selected, hidden in the early recordings, notes and jottings treasured in the collections of Cecil Sharp House. From these still warm ashes The Watersons created music which is then seen to be very much alive.” (On The Watersons work, from the narration to the film).

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    Which brings us to Lutine, whose work is rooted in folk music but which also exists within its own landscape, creating work which draws from folk and other music but is not a recreation or homage…

    His Name Is Alive-Livonia-Vaughan Oliver-v23-4AD-A Year In The CountryHarold Budd-Cocteau Twins-Moon And The Melody

    Lutine’s 2014 debut album White Flowers, released by Front & Follow, is reminiscent of a peak point of the label 4AD in the 1980s until around the turn of the decade, a time when it was a home for fragile, textured beauty and explorations, with its releases often being packaged, enhanced and accompanied by the equally textured and intriguing visual work of Vaughan Oliver and Nigel Grierson working as 23 Envelope. 

    A particular point of reference in terms of Lutine and that period of 4AD is His Name Is Alive and the ethereal beauty of their 1990 album Livonia. If you take one of the literal definitions of ethereal as being “something which is extremely delicate and light, in a way not of this world” then you may be heading towards the atmosphere and work Lutine create…

    Lutine’s is chamber music from a time neither then, today or tomorrow. Thoroughly modern and yet steeped in waters from previous eras, gently experimental but particularly accessible.

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    Which brings me to the just mentioned Audrey Copard and her 1956 folk revival album titled simply English Folk Songs.

    There is a playful, sometimes cheerful, sometimes wistfully sad delivery to the songs on this album, with its 14 traditional folk songs being presented simply and in an unadorned manner, featuring just Audrey Copard’s voice and sometimes guitar accompaniment.

    It features the first recorded and commercially released version of traditional song “Scarborough Fair” which used the melody that was later used on the commercially successful version of the song released by Simon & Garfunkel in 1965.

    English Folk Songs enabled this author to hear some of these songs’ earlier incarnations and caused me to wonder how these versions may have somewhere along the line come to influence their future versions existences, revisitings and reinterpretations of folk music.

     

    Online images to accompany Chapter 37 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:

    Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields 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.

     

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  • Flipside Noir Part 2 – Folkloric Transgressions: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 37/52

    Aberystwyth Mon Amour-Malcolm Pryce-book front and back cover

    In Part 1 of this post I discussed the surreal, magic and druid imbued Welsh noir novel Aberystwyth Mon Amour by Malcom Pryce.

    I ended Part 1 by saying:

    “…as a cultural form isn’t necessarily something that could be obviously linked to much of the other culture and wanderings at A Year In The Country but with a little delving a connection or two could be made…”

    Part 2 involves in part some such delving (and to a degree is also a revisiting of previous writing both online and in the  A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book).

    In 2016 Justin Hopper, the author of The Old Weird Albion, curated an exhibition In Pittsburgh, USA called Pastoral Noir.

    Ghost Box Records-Wood St Galleries-Pittsburgh-Justin Hopper-A Year In The Country

    The work shown in the exhibition by the likes of Tessa Farmer, Jem Finer, Ghost Box Records, Tony Heywood & Alison Condie, Autumn Richardson and Richard Skelton explored the undercurrents, flipside and sometimes darker or eerie corners of pastoral culture and where they intertwine with the spectres of hauntology:

    “The use of the phrase pastoral noir may be part of a seemingly wider, ongoing process of experimenting with and searching for names that could possibly serve to encompass and define such intertwined cultural explorations.”
    (From the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book.)

    Noir as a phrase tends to refer to fiction, film, culture and aesthetic which takes in both the knight-in-shining-armour like private detective of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and a sometimes intertwined almost nihilistic depictions of desperate acts by protagonists who may be flawed, morally questionable or just involved in desperate circumstances.

    It is also often, although not exclusively, set in urban locations

    Shirley Collins and The Albion Country Band-No Roses-cover artwork and gatefold

    Looking towards more pastoral and folk orientated culture, noir-ish elements can be found in the likes of the song Poor Murdered Woman and its desolate, dark and unsettling tale, which was recorded by Shirley Collins and featured on her and the Albion Band’s No Roses album, alongside the Bob Stanley curated compilation Early Morning Hush – Notes From The UK Folk Underground 1969-1976.

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    While there is also a noir-ish element to the song Cruel Mother, as also recorded by the likes of Shirley Collins, Steeleye Span and The Owl Service, the latter of whom included the song as the final track on their album The View from a Hill and featured the lyrics prominently within the packaging.

    This tells a particularly brutal tale of the desperate actions of a mother deserted by her lover and subsequent damnation and it could in a different context and era well be the plot to a noir-ish film or novel (albeit with a supernatural element).

    The Wicker Man-film still-Edward Woodward

    While in part the cultural behemoth of The Wicker Man can be seen as both a folk horror and a form of folk crime film: its tale of an incorruptible detective attempting to single-handedly investigate a multi-layered conspiracy is not all that far removed from similar elements in noir fiction and film.

    Albeit here the detective is an officer of the law and somewhat priggish, in contrast to for example the stubborn but generally more warmly likeable private detective Philip Marlowe from Raymond Chandler’s novels and their film adaptations such as The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely and The Long Goodbye.

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    (As an aside, the main protragonist’s in The Wicker Man’s official position of authority and the film’s folkloric elements are the source of a double meaning in Vic Pratt’s article on the film Long Arm of the Lore, which was published in Sight & Sound magazine around the time of The Wicker Man’s fortieth anniversary and related reissues. It is well worth seeking out as it is a considered, reflective exploration of the film and the context within which it was made.)

    It is not much of a step from say the variously crime, supernatural and mystical/faith elements of The Wicker Man, Poor Murdered Woman and Cruel Mother back round to the magic-in-the-modern-day aspects of the likes of Aberystwth Mon Amour nor some of the more uncanny elements of the work shown in Pastoral Noir: to a degree they are part of a loosely interconnected continuum of such things and a contemporary interest in the uncanny, sometimes mystical or mythical flipsides and undercurrents of pastoral and folk orientated work, the old weird or “wyrd” ways and a related interest in the preter or supernatural.

    Elsewhere:
    Malcolm Pryce
    Long arm of the lore – Vic Pratt’s article on The Wicker Man archived at the BFI’s site

    Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
    1) Day #3/365: Gather In The Mushrooms: something of a starting point via an accidental stumbling into the British acid folk undeground
    2) Day #30/365: The Owl Service – A View From A Hill
    3) Week #20/52: Pastoral Noir, if onlys, a seeking of names / the ether giveth and the ether taketh away
    4) Chapter 10 Book Images: The Wicker Man – Notes on a Cultural Behemoth
    5) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 36/52: Flipside Noir Part 1 – Aberystwyth Mon Amour and Gangsters in Mistletoe

     

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  • Magpahi, Paper Dollhouse and The Eccentronic Research Council – Finders Keepers/Bird Records Nestings and Considerations of Modern Day Magic: Chapter 35 Book Images

    Magpahi EP-Alison Cooper-Finders Keepers Records-A Year In The CountryThe Watchbird Alluminate-Jane Weaver Septieme Soeur-Magapahi-Finders Keeepers Bird Records-album cover art

    “Alison Cooper, who often records under the name Magpahi, creates work which feels as though it exists in and has tumbled from an indefinable fabled time and place of its own creation, work which at times seems to have been created by or also tumbled from arcane and lost music boxes.

    Her recorded work includes the tremulously vocalled acid or psych-esque folk on the Magpahi EP compilation, released by Jane Weaver’s Bird Records in collaboration with Finders Keepers Records in 2008, which is a gathering of imagined poems and tales told in folk music refracted through a filter of woodland fantasia.

    The creation and transporting of its listener to an unknown or unknowable place can also be found in her more folk-orientated work as Magpahi on the album Watchbird Alluminate from 2011 where songs from Jane Weaver’s Fallen by Watchbird album released in 2010 are reimagined or reinterpreted, on which Magpahi reinterprets “My Soul Was Lost, My Soul Was Lost and No-One Saved Me”, imparting an otherworldly fabled atmosphere to the song.”

    Devon Folklore Tapes Vol IV-A Year In The CountryDay 7-Devon Folklore Tapes Vol IV-Magpahi and Paper Dollhouse-A Year In The Country 2

    Berberian Sound Studio-soundtrack album-Broadcast-Warp-Julian House-Intro Design AgencyThe Duke of Burgundy-Cats Eyes

    “On Devon Folklore Tapes Vol. IV – Rituals and Practices, released by Folklore Tapes in 20122 Magpahi’s contribution includes leftfield glacial otherly and exploratory folk pop, instrumentals and wordless singing as though captured by far away dusty recording mechanisms; in spirit it may not be a million miles away from work that say Broadcast or Cat’s Eyes might have created for the insular dreamscapes of Peter Strickland’s films.”

     Natural Supernatural Lancashire-Magpahi-Samandtheplants-DiM-Finders Keepers Records-A Year In The CountryHood Faire record label-logo

    “As Alison or A. Cooper and collaborating with fellow sometimes Folklore Tapes collaborator and co-founder of the Hood Faire record label Sam McLoughlin, she has released two volumes of folkloric soundscapes called Natural/Supernatural Lancashire and Supernatural Lancashire Volume Two, released in 2009 and 2013 respectively by Finders Keepers Records.

    These are largely instrumental works (though just occasionally her voice will fleetingly appear) which create a soundtrack or an audiological tribute to the northern British Lancashire landscape and its stories…

    However, neither part is a straightforward pastoral view and on the Natural Lancashire side you can be immersed in the wheezing almost carny previous era world of “Stream Power” one second and then transported to the meadows via “Edder” the next.”

    Alison Cooper-Gwendolen Osmond-Crystal Mirrors-Folklore Tapes-Hood Faire

    Mistletoe and Cold Winter Skies-Was Ist Das? cassette albumthe-forest-the-wald-cover-a-year-in-the-countryAll The Merry Year Round-album cover-A Year In The CountryThe Quietened Cosmologists-CD album cover-A Year In The Country-1080p

    “Alison Cooper has also released work in collaboration with Gwendolen Osmond as Crystal Mirrors on a joint Folklore Tapes/Hood Faire released cassette in 2014, alongside contributing tracks as Magpahi to the compilation Mistletoe & Cold Winter Skies released by Was Ist Das? in 2014 and several A Year In The Country released themed compilations including The Forest/The Wald in 2016 and All The Merry Year Round and The Quietened Cosmologists in 2017.”

    Finders Keepers Records-logo-1px border

    Jane Weaver-The Fallen By Watchbird-video-press shot

    The Innocents-O Willow Waly-George Auric-Isla Cameron-Finders Keepers 7 inch vinyl-Finders Kreepers-A Year In The Country

    “The Magpahi EP, Natural/Supernatural Lancashire, Supernatural Lancashire Part Two and Watchbird Alluminate were all released by Finders Keepers Records or its collaborative sister label Bird Records, which is run by musician Jane Weaver.

    Both labels have proved to be a home for various often female-led or sung explorations of music that could very loosely be connected to folk but which wander amongst their own particular landscape of such things.

    This has taken in both modern, newly created work and also the release of archival material such as “O Willow Waly” by George Auric taken from 1961 film The Innocents which was released on 7” by Finders Keepers in 2013.

    Sung by Isla Cameron, it could be considered a precursor to the folk horror and soundtrack of the likes of The Wicker Man film from 1973 in the way that it draws from traditional music tropes to create beguilingly entrancing music which also summons a sense of the “other” out amongst rural climes.”

    Paper Dollhouse-A Box Painted Black-Bird Finders Keepers Records-A Year In The Country Paper Dollhouse-A Box Painted Black-Bird Finders Keepers Records-A Year In The Country 2

    “Devon Folklore Tapes Vol. 4 – Rituals and Practices, as mentioned earlier was a split release by Magpahi and fellow Bird Records-released Paper Dollhouse, whose 2012 album A Box Painted Black is an experimental piece of music but as with much of Magpahi’s work it also contains an accessibility and/or a left field folk-pop sensibility.

    This album was made by Astrud Steehouder working as solo artist; it has been described as “dark gothic minimal folk” and at the time she listed her influences as:

    “…bewildering post nuclear landscapes, bleak fields, forests, thunderstorms and archaic industrial objects in the middle of nowhere…”

    As with Magpahi’s work, the album seems to belong to a time, place and landscape of its own. It comes across as having been recorded in some semi-lost wooden cottage, in an indefinable place and time and the noises and creaks of its habitat have seeped in and become part of the very fabric of the music.”

    Paperhouse 1988-A Year In The Country Marianne Dreams-Escape Into Night-Paper Dollhouse-Catherine Storr-A Year In The CountryEscape Into Night 1972-A Year In The Country

    “Paper Dollhouse in part take their name from the intriguing rurally-set 1988 film Paperhouse and its themes of childhood dreams and nightmares of drawings come to life, which was previously made as a television series in 1972 called Escape into the Night, with both being based on Catherine Storr’s 1958 novel Marianne Dreams.”

    Eccentronic Research Council-1612 Underture-Maxine Peake-Andy Votel-Bird Records-Jane Weaver-Finders Keepers Records-A Year In The Country 5

    Maxine-Peake-The Eccentronic Research Council

    Kings Have Long Arms-Phil Oakey-Add N to X-I Monster-record covers

    “Bird Records also released the 2012 album 1612 Underture by The Eccentronic Research Council. This was a collaborative work by Adrian Flanagan and Dean Horner, who had previously worked in the fringes and left-of-centre areas of electronica and electronic pop via the likes of Kings Have Long Arms, Add N To (X) and I Monster, alongside renowned actress Maxine Peake.”

    Eccentronic Research Council-1612 Underture-Maxine Peake-Andy Votel-Bird Records-Jane Weaver-Finders Keepers Records-A Year In The Country 4

    “1612 Underture is a concept album which takes the form of a spoken word, soundtracked travelogue play, one that sometimes moves into more overtly song based moments; it is said to be “one part political commentary and feminist manifesto and two parts theatrical fakeloric sound poem”.

    The album’s subject matter is the historical persecution of the Pendle Witches in the early 17th century and as suggested by the word “fakeloric” in the album’s description, throughout its observations on a contemporary voyage of discovery and pilgrimage it also interweaves historical events, folklore and imaginings and reimaginings of past events.

    During the telling of its stories the album draws more than a few analogies with modern-day times: moral panics, folk devils and economic/ political goings on and shenanigans then and now. All of which are wrapped up in a warm, woozy, acoustic and synthesized analogue take on hauntological folk music, primarily voiced by Maxine Peake.”

     The Eccentronic Research Council-klunkclick video still-2 The Eccentronic Research Council-klunkclick video still-1

    “The album was accompanied by an extended accompanying video/ film by kluncklick (who also worked with Jane Weaver on her The Fallen by Watch Bird album from 20105).

    This is rather slickly done on a (presumably) shoestring and handful of pennies budget.

    Although using footage of actual people, it is not dissimilar in a way to a semi-animated children’s programme from years gone by, while also reminding us somewhat of Chris Marker’s film La Jetée (1962) in that it is built up largely from still images rather than traditional movement.

    You could call it a fumée: the comic strips that are put together using actors or the book adaptations of films that were made up of stills that in previous decades were published fairly regularly.

    While the album’s themes are quite serious and it is experimental in spirit, this is also a record which is deeply rooted in electronic pop and has been called non-populist pop.

    “Another Witch Is Dead” is pop music, unabashedly so, including ear worm-like choruses, in particular the rhyming couplet “It’s a middle class vendetta, on women who are better”, which is a fine piece of class-related lyricism.

    Today, often even within more leftfield music, it is relatively unusual to hear overt comment on class politics and relations and so in this sense 1612 Underture is somewhat refreshing. It also considers analogies with previous era’s magic and belief systems and that of today, describing mobile phones as being “modern-day magic on a monthly tariff ”.

     

    Online images to accompany Chapter 35 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:

    Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields 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.

     

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  • The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water – Public Information Films and Lost Municipal Paternalisms: Chapter 34 Book Images

    Dark and Lonely Water-2-A Year In The Country

    “The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water is considered something of a “classic” public information film from 1973, some of which are renowned for having scared the heck out of a generation of youngsters through their forthright, graphic or unsettling atmospheres and depictions of potential dangers.

    Public information films were a curiously blunt tool used to educate the population, often on matters of health and safety and were issued by the government-run and funded Central Office of Information in the UK from 1945 until 2005.

    The structure, naming and concept puts me in mind of a previous era’s underfunded, unsophisticated benign paternalism, of a “we know best” tea and limp sandwiches committee which was in charge of a sub-sub-Orwellianism, though it actually seems to have sprung forth in part from that previous era’s social consensus orientated wish to help, nurture and protect its citizens.”

    Charlie-Says-Public-Information-Films-DVD covers

    Scarred For Life-Volume One-Book-1Scarred For Life-book-contents-c

    “…public information films have been collected in various commercially released DVDs, including a series by the BFI. They are also featured extensively in the Scarred For Life – Growing Up in the Dark Side of the Decade – Volume One: The 1970s book by Stephen Brotherstone and Dave Lawrence, published in 2017 and which focuses on ongoing unsettled reverberations from these films and related period culture.”

     The_wicker_man_film_1973-final sequence

    “Revisiting The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water, which was intended to warn children of the dangers of playing near water, there is a striking similarity with that other cultural artifact of 1973, The Wicker Man, at the point when Lord Summerisle tells Sergeant Howie of the characteristics he had that made him ideal as their sacrifice/source of plant renewal:

    “I am the spirit of dark and lonely water, ready to trap the unwary, the show-off, the fool…”
    (from The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water).

    “A man who would come here of his own free will. A man who has come here with the power of a king by representing the law… A man who has come here as a fool…” (from The Wicker Man).””

    The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water-Public Information film still

    “(The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water) invokes a sense of the journey that UK society has gone on, from youngsters playing amongst a culture’s debris, in the muddy puddles and potential deathtraps of its discarded places and edgelands (although that word did not yet exist at the time of the film’s release) to a time of much more intensified commodification and birthday trips to softplay centres and so on…

    … it could be seen as a document produced during or transmission from one of the times when society was battling over its future shape, order and social consensus; hence the link to the themes and interests of hauntological study and work and associated yearnings for forgotten futures and municipally organised utopias.”

     

    Online images to accompany Chapter 34 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:

    Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields 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.

     

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  • Welcome to the Village Green Non-Preservation Society – The Avengers and Further Visitings of Villages as Anything but Idyll: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 30/52

    The Avengers-Series 5-1967-Murdersville-village green-opening title-2

    A while ago I watched an episode of the 1960s television series called Murdersville.

    The episode in question is from series 5, originally broadcast in 1967 and I think was the second to last in which Diana Riggs played the iconic Mrs Peel, accompanying the bowler hatted Steed as a duo of some form of loosely defined trouble shooting agents of authority with a somewhat flippant, irreverent attitude to the problems they encounter (although they invariably have a certain accompanying steely resolve in terms of getting the job done).

    They are often called in and/or accidentally stumble on bizarre, surreal, grandiose plots to say take over the world or turn domestic pets into trained assassins via the use of brain wave modulators.

    The episodes, particularly the later colour ones, have a set-in-the-real-world but not aspect, a sort of stylised cartoonish presentation that is not a million miles away from the 1960s television series of Batman.

    The Murdersville episode could be considered something of a forerunner to Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz film from 2007 in the way it depicts an English chocolate box like idyllic village or small town gone bad.

    The Avengers-Series 5-1967-Murdersville-village sign

    Murdersville opens with a sign which says “Welcome to Little Storping-in-the-Swuff. Voted the best kept village in the country. Please help us to keep it that way.”, which caused me to think initially that as with Hot Fuzz the dastardly deeds would also be in order to maintain its “best kept village” status.

    However, whereas in Hot Fuzz the village/townsfolk are involved in a murderous conspiracy to essentially keep out the riff-raff and make sure it retains a picture perfect appearance and its title of Village of the Year, in Murdersville the village has become a place run by the Murder Incorporated organisation and where for a fee you are able to lure people to and do away with them, which is then covered up by the villagers.

    The Avengers-Series 5-1967-Murdersville-village pub

    And as in Hot Fuzz, you know something is seriously wrong when the good old English bobby (a colloquial, possibly period phrase for a uniformed British police officer) and the “pint of warm ale” serving local pub are part of the corruption.

    The Avengers-Series 5-1967-Murdersville-library silence sign

    In Murdersville these symbols of civility are part and parcel of the corrupted ways of the village, while in a “keeping standards up” manner, even during an assassination the Silence sign in the local library is still pointed to by a librarian and obeyed.

    The Avengers-Series 5-1967-Murdersville-villagers

    As is often the way in fantastical depictions of villages, here the village and villagers are shown as the “unknown” or other to the city folk and at one point, as in The Wicker Man and The Village of the Damned, they become a mob handed mass and as also in The Wicker Man they are shown as employing medieval/olden ways methods when they use a witch trials like ducking device on Mrs Peel.

    The Avengers-Series 5-1967-Murdersville-Mrs Peel-village green

    Mrs Peel looks wonderfully out-of-place in her purple, stylish, pop-art-esque outifit in amongst the olde worlde village, the village green and the countryside etc.

    The Avengers-Series 5-1967-Murdersville-Mrs Peel pie flinging

    Towards the end of the episode it turns into a Tiswas like set of flan flinging fisticuffs and despite the life threatening, murderous aspects of the village, by the end the villagers run off when threatened by Mrs Peel armed with but a pie made for a traditional English produce competition alongside the likes of jars of homemade jam, knitting and needlework.

    The Avengers-Series 5-1967-Murdersville-Mrs Peel-cocktail

    Which fits really with the subtly imaginary, cartoon-like world of The Avengers, where even quite traumatic events are treated as essentially jolly japes with seemingly little mental after effects on Mrs Peel, Mr Steed or their sartorial elegance and definitely nothing that a droll quip and a post-action cocktail won’t put to bed.

    Elsewhere:
    The Avengers introduction and credits sequences
    The Hot Fuzz trailer

    Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
    Day #173/365: “Douglas I’m scared”; celluloid cuckoos and the village as anything but idyll…

     

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  • No Blade of Grass and Z.P.G. – A Curious Dystopian Mini-Genre: Chapter 28 Book Images

    ZPG-Silent Running-Soylent Green-1970s science fiction film posters

    The Omega Man-Logans Run-Noahs Castle-1970s science fiction film and television posters-DVD cover

    “In the 1970s there was a curious mini-genre or gathering of doom laden apocalyptic, dystopian science fiction films, which warned of the dangers of ecological collapse, the depletion and battle for vital resources, out of control population growth and related ways citizens might be controlled and manipulated.

    You could include Z.P.G. (1972), Soylent Green (1973), Silent Running (1972) and The Omega Man (1971) in amongst these, possibly in a more crowd and eye-pleasing way Logan’s Run (1976) and you could draw a line from them to later British television series along similar lines such as Noah’s Castle (1979), which also dealt with the effects of dwindling resources and the resulting societal breakdown.”

    No-Blade-Of-Grass-The Death of Grass-John Christopher-book covers and film poster

    “No Blade of Grass (1970), based on John Christopher’s The Death of Grass novel from 1956, was another such film.

    This is a surprisingly bleak, brutal film (admittedly with some inappropriate almost sitcom-like music here and there and longstanding UK sitcom and soap opera actress Wendy Richards as a slightly out-of-place comic female character) about what happens when a new strain of virus kills the world’s grass, related plants and crops.”

    No Blade Of Grass 1-A Year In The Country

    “The title frames show a lone group of figures armed and on the run on a parched, cracked landscape, set against images of pollution and decay, which are soon followed by scenes of abundant food and conventional affluent middle class ways of life.”

    No Blade Of Grass 2-A Year In The Country

    No Blade Of Grass 8-A Year In The Country

    “In the 1970s it often seemed to be wild gangs of bikers who were the recurring societal bogeymen that would take over when civilisation collapsed (John Christopher’s 1968 novel Pendulum novel takes a similar line, while the 1973 film Psychomania sees the bikers become undead countryside hoodlums).”

    No Blade Of Grass-The Death Of Grass-John Christopher 11-A Year In The Country

    No Blade Of Grass 11-A Year In The Country

    “Meanwhile those sometime symbols of bucolic English pastoralism, the good old tweed clad country farmer and the stone farmhouse become almost Deliverance (1972) style hijackers and scenes of troop insurrections.”

    No Blade Of Grass-3b-A Year In The Country

    “While in the cities the dependable British bobby has become an altogether different gas mask wearing, gun-toting symbol of authority.

    The spires of a land forever England now merely act as a backdrop to the chaos.”

    No Blade Of Grass-The Death Of Grass-John Christopher 17-A Year In The Country

    No Blade Of Grass-The Death Of Grass-John Christopher 16-A Year In The Country

    No Blade Of Grass-The Death Of Grass-John Christopher 19-A Year In The Country

    “Although in some ways quite a mainstream, possibly even exploitation piece of cinema, throughout the film there are quite non-mainstream moments, presentation and commentary on what has led the world to this place: the action will stop and be replaced by non-narrative sequences and stills that show fields full of carrion, rivers strewn with dead aquatic life, smokestacks framed by leafless nature, rows of discarded cars are pictured on riverbanks, a luxury car is shown abandoned in the countryside as an advertising voice over says “You can do anything in a Rolls-Royce” while the almost unnoticeable specs of citizens fleeing the rioting and looting mobs in the cities can be seen on the hill behind it.”

    Z.P.G.-1972-Oliver Reed-Geraldine Chaplin-Diane Cilento-A Year In The Country-4Z.P.G.-1972-Oliver Reed-Geraldine Chaplin-Diane Cilento-The Edict-Max Ehrlich-A Year In The Country

    “Z.P.G. (which stands for Zero Population Growth)  is not as overtly apocalyptic, more being a depiction of a dystopian-regulated future. It was inspired by Paul Ehrlich’s factual 1968 book The Population Bomb which warned of the potentially disastrous effects of mass resource depletion due to overpopulation, with a screenplay by Frank De Felitta and Max Ehrlich (the second of whom also published a novel based on the screenplay called The Edict in 1971 prior to the film’s release).”

    Z.P.G.-1972-Oliver Reed-Geraldine Chaplin-Diane Cilento-A Year In The Country-11

    “The film seems reasonably obscure and overlooked but is somewhat intriguing, not least because of the cast which includes Oliver Reed, past his peak but still full of a glowering, brooding power, Geraldine Chaplin who is the daughter of bagged trousered celluloid tumbler and sometimes dictator botherer Charlie Chaplin and the bewitching, almost otherworldly luminescence of sometime The Wicker Man (1973)/Summerisle inhabitant Diane Cilento.”

    Z.P.G.-1972-Oliver Reed-Geraldine Chaplin-Diane Cilento-A Year In The Country-10

    “The setting is a massively polluted, smogbound Earth where natural childbirth has been banned for 30 years in order to try and preserve resources, with those who stray from these rules being punished in a particularly draconian manner as it results in execution, which slightly surreally and unsettlingly involves plastic domes printed with the word “Transgressor” being used as traps which are spray painted pink to hide the inhabitants who are then left to run out of air.”

    Z.P.G.-1972-Oliver Reed-Geraldine Chaplin-Diane Cilento-A Year In The Country-12

    “Couples are offered robot child substitutes, in a way that seems prescient of Japanese electronic Tamagotchi toys where the users had to nurture a digital pet but without giving away too much, not all citizens are obeying the “no children” edict.”

    Z.P.G.-1972-Oliver Reed-Geraldine Chaplin-Diane Cilento-A Year In The Country-still

    Planet of the Apes-1968-ending

    “As a film, it is a good representation of a point in time when downbeat bleakness was often presented as part of mainstream entertainment, possibly reflecting the troubled times of the 1970s and the collapse of post-1960s utopian dreams…

    It contains elements of B-movies and action movies but also possesses a certain intelligence and investigation within its genre tropes that put the viewer in mind of Planet of the Apes (1968) and the sense of “What have we as a species done?”.” 

     

    Online images to accompany Chapter 28 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside text extracts from the chapter:

    Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields 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.

     

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