The A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields Book and A Visual Accompaniment
Chapter 11 Book Images: Robin Redbreast, The Ash Tree, Sky, The Changes, Penda’s Fen, Red Shift and The Owl Service – Wanderings Through Spectral Television Landscapes
Online images to accompany Chapter 11 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
“Robin Redbreast is a 1970 television programme, which although it was originally made and broadcast in colour, now only a black and white version is known to exist. It contains a plot and atmosphere that draw you in, grip and unsettle you…
(It is not) an as-overtly visual representation of folkloric rites as say The Wicker Man is (apart from one brief moment where the locals gather, clad in folkloric attire, which could almost be a photograph by late 19th/early 20th century documenter of folk customs Benjamin Stone or a modern day re-enactment of his photographs); it does not have the broad cinematic sweep or cult musical accompaniment of that film but this is a different creature.
It is a more intimate, enclosed story, a television play with I expect a relatively small budget, a small cast and a quite limited number of locations but none the worse for it.”
“…some of the most intriguing pieces of work leading up to and during the creation of A Year In The Country have been the introduction and end title sequences to some of those television series and plays from the late 1960s to mid 1970s; this probably extends to around 1980 to take in Children of the Stones (1977), Sky (1975), The Tomorrow People (1973-1979), Noah’s Castle (1979), The Omega Factor (1979) and the final series of Quatermass (1979).
They often seem to represent a very concise, at points quite surreal capturing of the otherly spirit of the various series, related flipside and undercurrents of bucolia, hauntological concerns and a particular era…”
“The intro sequence for The Tomorrow People is a collage of images that include geometric science fiction-esque shapes, a single eyeball, cosmological swirls, a hand opening and closing, a shadowy figure in a doorway etc.
It could be a mixture of the stark, darkly pastoral covers of The Modern Poets series of book covers from the 1960s and 1970s and Julian House of Ghost Box Records’ design work tumbling backwards and forwards through time, filtered somehow through an almost Woolworths-esque take on such things but still having a particularly unsettling air.”
“The Owl Service’s intro sequence mixes and layers imagery that includes tinted largely monochromatic images of the forest, pulsating geometric circles, a candle flame flickering against a black background, hands making bird silhouettes and a mirrored illustration where the same elements can be seen as both owls and flowers.”
“Children of the Stones’ intro is presented in a more realist, visually conventional manner, though it still more than hints at flipside tales of the land.
To a soundtrack of a memorable, spectral, eldritch and wordless choir, it features multiple images of ancient standing stones, variously shown as ominous looming structures, with the sun refracting over them or in a layering of the past and present as they are pictured next to local village housing.”
It is a sort of rurally-set children’s television version of The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), with a cockney alien and ecological overtones which the promotional information describes somewhat esoterically as:
‘Out of the sky falls a youth, not of this place or time, ‘part-angel, part-waif ’, a youth with powers he can neither control or understand… nature itself rejects him and takes on the cadaverous body of Goodchild in sinister personification of the forces of opposition… He speaks of time travellers ‘Gods you call them’ who had tried again and again to help the people of Earth… Sky must find the mysterious juganet, the cross-over point in time, that is the key to his return to his own dimension.'”
“(In The Changes) black and chain-wearing louche beatnik styled robbers and brigands roam the land and at points the series wanders off into a milder version of Witchfinder General (1968) territory where those who are suspected of using machinery or even saying their names are seen as “wicked sinners” and considered to be witches…
..in one of the memorable phrases from the series overhead electricity (and so on) cables become known as “the bad wires” and people are not able to pass underneath them as this brings a return of The Noise and the madness which compelled people to destroy technology…
The source of The Noise and the machine smashing/rejecting madness is eventually tracked down by Nicky and her companion to a form of sentient lodestone which has been uncovered in quarry workings.
Although it is not explained what this stone is or how it came to be, we are told that it had given magical powers to Merlin in ancient historical times and it is now trying to take Britain back to what it considers to be a better pre-industrial time by psychically inducing the rejection of machinery…
How on earth did this come to be made as children’s entertainment? In particular the first episode where the madness has gripped mankind and the machines are being smashed in the streets: the scenes of which have an unnerving intensity…
…The Changes could be seen as a reflection of some of society’s fears of social breakdown at that time and the threats represented by a reliance on modern technology which needed modern fuel, which was at that time under threat due to a crisis in oil supplies.”
“(The Ash Tree television play from 1975, based on a story by M.R. James) shares some themes with Witchfinder General in its dealing with folk horror and persecution.
M.R. James’ short story was adapted for television by David Rudkin, who for a while seemed to be the go-to chap for otherly Albion-ic television and also wrote Penda’s Fen…
In many ways The Ash Tree could sit quite comfortably amongst the not-so-salubrious fare that littered the faded cinemas of mid 1970s Britain; it has that nasty, unsettling feeling to it that a fair few cinematic releases from that period did, possibly reflecting a wider sense of corruption and malaise in society…
There is little beauty in this landscape and its rolling fields. Bleak is a word that comes to mind; these are moors and feeding grounds full of judgement, punishment, voyeurism and unexplained carrion.”
“(Penda’s Fen) is a tale which takes in the revival of ancient pagan kings, hidden underground government facilities (cities?), left-wing truths, ranting and paranoia, substitute Mary Whitehouse-esque self-appointed moral majority figures, awakening sixth form adolescent sexuality, alternative religious histories and theological study, fancying your local milk man, demons, army cadet forces, William Blake’s Jerusalem, the threat and worry of the never stopping industrial conveyor belt, returning dead classical musicians who wish to see the silver river and verdant valleys but who are actually staring at a flaking brick wall, the battle of religion against older gods, a birthday cake, adoption, fertility, almost breaking the fourth wall self-criticism about himself in David Rudkin’s script, angelic riverside visitations and Kenneth Anger-esque phallic firework dreams…
It could be a head spinning melange and collage of freakish, cult film making but it is not; although in its hour and a half (actually, its first half hour) it manages to have covered more topics than a whole catalogue of other films may do, this is a very cogent and coherent film which at its core deals with conformity, coming of age and mankind’s sacred covenant with the land.’
“Red Shift from 1978 shares some similarities with Penda’s Fen: it is a visionary take on the landscape and its stories and histories, older forms of worship, tales of coming of age and a priggish not always likeable teenage protagonist…
In part it could be seen as an exploration of the literary, intellectual and cultural idea that similar, interconnected things continue to happen in the same places over time, almost as though places become nodes or echo chambers for particular occurrences or a kind of temporal layering occurs: something which is also explored in Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape from 1972.”
Filming the Owl Service (1970)… is long out of print and rare as hen’s teeth to find second hand, which is a shame as it is a fine companion piece to the series, full of rather lovely photographs, artifacts, anecdotes, background story, prop sheets and designs from the filming and the series itself.
The book is split into three parts; an “Introduction” by Alan Garner in which he discusses the making of the film, some of what inspired the original book, the coincidences around it and so on, “Our Diaries” by his children who took nine weeks off school while it was being made to be on and around its filming and “Making the Film” by its director Peter Plummer.
Some of the points of interest from the book are:
(Please note: there are 12 such points in the A Year In The Country book.)
5) When Peter Plummer introduced the actors to Alan Garner for the first time and asked if they looked right, Alan Garner’s recollection of it was that it was a “nasty experience”:
“I wanted to run. They looked too right. It was like a waking dream. Here were the people I’d thought about, who’d lived in my head for so long; but now they were real. I couldn’t accept that they were only actors.”
6) Alan Garner had based the part of Huw on Dafydd, an actual gardener from one of the locales of filming, but a Dafydd as he had imagined him being at the age of forty. When he saw them together he said that it “was like seeing father and son”. Apparently the two people in question when they saw one another said:
Dafydd: “I wish I was young and forty again.” Raymond: “Now I know what I’ll look like at eighty.”
The book leaves a sense that Dafydd was a very particular kind of person, one of those people who seem to have been part of the land forever, an archetype almost.
11) Alan Garner is one of the villagers in one scene in the series and apparently he was a foot taller than all the actual local people who were in the series and they all found it hard to behave normally when the man-made storm rain hits them.
Alan Garner: “…as soon as the solid water hit us we all gasped and yelled, and looked like anything but villagers out in a storm.” Dafydd: “We must be dumb and waterproof.”
Alan Garner: “That scene is still odd, because I was about a foot taller than anybody else, and I look like the village freak – which may be what Peter was after all the time.”
12) The end of Alan Garner’s section is a quote taken from a letter sent by Dafydd, referring to the time during the filming and The Stone Of Gronw, which the production had commissioned to be carved, prepared and set in place for the series:
“It was a good time… I have been to the stone. It is lonely now.”
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.
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:
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.)”
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.”
“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…”
“(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 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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
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)…
(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…”
“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.”
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.
The A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields Book – Print Book Preorder – Ebook Available Now
Journeys in Otherly Pastoralism, the Further Reaches of Folk and the Parallel Worlds of Hauntology
The print book will also be available via Amazon’s worldwide sites from 10th April 2018.
Download two sample chapters at this web page: Contents list and sample chapters
A Year In The Country is a set of year-long journeys through spectral fields; cyclical explorations of an otherly pastoralism, the outer reaches of folk culture and the spectres of hauntology. It is a wandering amongst subculture that draws from the undergrowth of the land.
As a project, it has included a website featuring writing, artwork and music which stems from that otherly pastoral/spectral hauntological intertwining, alongside a growing catalogue of album releases.
In keeping with the number of weeks in a year, the book is split into 52 chapters which draw together revised writings from the project alongside new journeyings. Connecting layered and, at times, semi-hidden cultural pathways and signposts, it journeys from acid folk to edgelands via electronic music innovators, folkloric film and photography, dreams of lost futures and misremembered televisual tales and transmissions.
It includes considerations of the work of writers including Rob Young, John Wyndham, Richard Mabey and Mark Fisher, musicians and groups The Owl Service, Jane Weaver, Shirley Collins, Broadcast, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Virginia Astley and Kate Bush, the artists Edward Chell, Jeremy Deller and Barbara Jones and the record labels Trunk, Folk Police, Ghost Box and Finders Keepers.
The book also explores television and film including Quatermass, The Moon and the Sledgehammer, Phase IV, Beyond the Black Rainbow, The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water, Bagpuss, Travelling for a Living, The Duke of Burgundy, Sapphire & Steel, General Orders No. 9, Gone to Earth, The Changes, Children of the Stones, Sleep Furiously and The Wicker Man.
The book has been designed/typeset by Ian Lowey of Bopcap Book Services and edited by Suzy Prince, who are the co-authors of The Graphic Art of The Underground – A Counter-Cultural History.
An online “cut out and keep” set of visual accompaniments to the chapters of the book can be visited here and text extracts from the book can be visited here, both of which will build throughout 2018 to include all 52 chapters.
Book Chapter List:
1. Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music: Folk Vs Pop, Less Harvested Cultural Landscapes and Acts of Enclosure, Old and New
2. Gather in the Mushrooms: Early Signposts and Underground Acid Folk Explorations
3. Hauntology: Places Where Society Goes to Dream, the Defining and Deletion of Spectres and the Making of an Ungenre
4. Cuckoos in the Same Nest: Hauntological and Otherly Folk Confluences and Intertwinings
5. Ghost Box Records: Parallel Worlds, Conjuring Spectral Memories, Magic Old and New and Slipstream Trips to the Panda Pops Disco
6. Folk Horror Roots: From But a Few Seedlings Did a Great Forest Grow
7. 1973: A Time of Schism and a Dybbuk’s Dozen of Fractures
8. Broadcast: Recalibration, Constellation and Exploratory Pop
9. Tales From The Black Meadow, The Book of the Lost and The Equestrian Vortex: The Imagined Spaces of Imaginary Soundtracks
10. The Wicker Man: Notes on a Cultural Behemoth
11. Robin Redbreast, The Ash Tree, Sky, The Changes, Penda’s Fen Red Shift and The Owl Service: Wanderings Through Spectral Television Landscapes
12. A Bear’s Ghosts: Soviet Dreams and Lost Futures
13. From “Two Tribes” to War Games: The Ascendancy of Apocalyptic Popular Culture
14. Christopher Priest’s A Dream of Wessex: Twentieth Century Slipstream Echoes
15. Sapphire & Steel and Ghosts in the Machine: Nowhere, Forever and Lost Spaces within Cultural Circuitry
16. Kill List, Puffball, In the Dark Half and Butter on the Latch: Folk Horror Descendants by Way of the Kitchen Sink
17. The Quietened Bunker, Waiting For The End of the World, Subterranea Britannica, Bunker Archaeology and The Delaware Road: Ghosts, Havens and Curious Repurposings Beneath Our Feet
18. From The Unofficial Countryside to Soft Estate: Edgeland Documents, Memories and Explorations
19. The Ballad of Shirley Collins and Pastoral Noir: Tales and Intertwinings from Hidden Furrows
20. “Savage Party” and Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased): Glimpses of Albion in the Overgrowth
21. Uncommonly British Days Out and the Following of Ghosts: File under Psychogeographic/Hauntological Stocking Fillers
22. Gone to Earth: Earlier Traces of an Otherly Albion
23. Queens of Evil, Tam Lin and The Touchables: High Fashion Transitional Psych Folk Horror, Pastoral Fantasy and Dreamlike Isolation
24. Luke Haines: Our Most Non-Hauntological Hauntologist
25. Tim Hart, Maddy Prior and “The Dalesman’s Litany”: A Yearning for Imaginative Idylls and a Counterpart to Tales of Hellish Mills
26. Katalina Varga, Berberian Sound Studio and The Duke of Burgundy : Arthouse Evolution and Crossing the Thresholds of the Hinterland Worlds of Peter Strickland
27. General Orders No. 9 and By Our Selves: Cinematic Pastoral Experimentalism
28. No Blade of Grass and Z.P.G.: A Curious Dystopian Mini-Genre
29. The Midwich Cuckoos and The Day of the Triffids: John Wyndham, Dystopian Tales, Celluloid Cuckoos and the Village as Anything But Idyll
30. Folk Archive and Unsophisticated Arts: Documenting the Overlooked and Unregulated
31. Folkloric Photography: A Lineage of Wanderings, Documentings and Imaginings
32. Poles and Pylons and The Telegraph Appreciation Society: A Continuum of Accidental Art
33. Symptoms and Images: Hauntological Begetters, the Uneasy Landscape and Gothic Bucolia
34. The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water: Public Information Films and Lost Municipal Paternalisms
35. Magpahi, Paper Dollhouse and The Eccentronic Research Council: Finders Keepers/Bird Records Nestings and Considerations of Modern Day Magic
36. Vashti Bunyan: From Here to Before: Whispering Fairy Stories until They are Real
37. The Owl Service, Anne Briggs, The Watersons, Lutine and Audrey Copard: Folk Revisiters, Revivalists and Reinterpreters
38. The Seasons, Jonny Trunk, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Howlround: A Yearning for Library Music, Experiments in Educational Music and Tape Loop Tributes
39. An Old Soul Returns: The Worlds and Interweavings of Kate Bush
40. The Stone Tape, Quatermass, The Road and The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale: Unearthing Tales from Buried Ancient Pasts
41 Folklore Tapes and the Wyrd Britannia Festival: Journeying to Hidden Corners of the Land/the Ferrous Reels and Explorations of an Arcane Research Project
42. Skeletons: Pastoral Preternatural Fiction and a World, Time and Place of its Own Imagining
43. Field Trip-England: Jean Ritchie, George Pickow and Recordings from the End of an Era
44. Noah’s Castle: A Slightly Overlooked Artifact and Teatime Dystopias
45. Jane Weaver Septième Soeur and The Fallen by Watch Bird: Non-Populist Pop and Cosmic Aquatic Folklore
46. Detectorists, Bagpuss, The Wombles and The Good Life: Views from a Gentler Landscape
47. Weirdlore, Folk Police Recordings, Sproatly Smith and Seasons They Change: Notes From the Folk Underground, Legendary Lost Focal Points and Privately Pressed Folk
48. The Moon and The Sledgehammer and Sleep Furiously: Visions of Parallel and Fading Lives
49. From Gardens Where We Feel Secure, Wintersongs, Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails: Lullabies for the Land and Gently Darkened Undercurrents
50. Strawberry Fields and Wreckers: The Countryside and Coastal Hinterland as Emotional Edgeland
51. Zardoz, Phase IV and Beyond the Black Rainbow: Seeking the Future in Secret Rooms from the Past and Psychedelic Cinematic Corners
52. Winstanley, A Field in England and The English Civil War Part II: Reflections on Turning Points and Moments When Anything Could Happen
Chapter 9 Book Images: Tales from the Black Meadow, The Book of the Lost and The Equestrian Vortex – The Imagined Spaces of Imaginary Soundtracks
Online images to accompany Chapter 9 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
“Over the years, the notion of soundtracks for imaginary films, or even visual work which creates imagery from imaginary films has often appealed. An example of such is the album Tales from the Black Meadow (2013).
This is part of a multi-faceted project which has taken the form of, amongst other things, books, album and video work, taking as its core story the imagined story of Professor R. Mullins who went missing in 1972 in an area known as the Black Meadow atop the North Yorkshire Moors.
The accompanying story tells of how he left behind an extensive body of work regarding his investigations of the folklore and oral history of the Black Meadow, in particular with regard to the phenomena of a local disappearing village…
Even though it is widely known that it is a created history, revisiting the project leaves some lingering doubt.
It plays with a hauntological sense of misremembered and faded cultural memories through the documentary backstory and the use of created archival material.”
“A further example of such imagined soundtracks is The Book of the Lost (2014): a collaboration between Emily Jones and The Rowan Amber Mill. As a project it draws from the folk horror likes of The Wicker Man (1973), Witch Finder General (1968), Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) and Psychomania (1973) and creates a world and backstory for the resulting music.
Instead of an imagined documentary as is the case with Tales from the Black Meadow, The Book of the Lost creates the soundtrack to episodes from an imagined period television series, which are called to life via the project and accompanied by details of their casts, synopsis, crew, production companies etc…
The setting is reminiscent of early 1970s British portmanteau horror: the type that often featured Joan Collins. In particular, Tales from the Crypt (1972) or Tales That Witness Madness (1973), films which have a certain period charm, entertainment value and cultural interest but which also reflected a time when British cinema was tumbling and hurtling towards its own demise via its focus on cheap exploitation fare, sex comedies or schlock and horror.”
“Along loosely similar lines is The Equestrian Vortex: a film-within-a-film that appears in Peter Strickland’s cinematically released 2012 film Berberian Sound Studio; this is set in and around 1970s Italian giallo film culture, creating the phantasmagorical closed world of a recording studio which is being used to produce the sound effects for that film.
As with The Book of the Lost, it draws from many of the classic tropes of folk horror and lists credits for an imagined cast, director, soundtrack and so forth.
Created by Julian House of Ghost Box Records/Intro design agency and soundtracked by Broadcast, The Equestrian Vortex appears purely as an introductory sequence created using found imagery and via sound effects in Berberian Sound Studio but without ever showing the actual film. It offers a brief window into the complete film; when watching it, there is a wish to see the full-length version, to seek out something that logically does not exist.
This is a reflection of the strength of such work as the above-imagined soundtracks and films; they present only glimpses and fragments of the imagined worlds, tales and histories that they are said to come from, drawing on shared and sometimes faded cultural memories, leaving the viewer/listener space to weave, create and imagine the fully finished programmes and films.”
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.
Online images to accompany Chapter 8 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
“Broadcast… are an odd, intriguing cuckoo in pop’s nest; they have been described as avant-pop, which is probably heading along the right lines. Their recordings feature a mixture of electronic and acoustic elements, melodic pop and more experimental audio techniques.
While their work as a whole connects with, signposts, layers, explores and takes inspiration from a wide variety of cultural reference points, including psychedelia and Czech New Wave film, although this is more in a reinterpreted rather than recreated manner.
(James) Cargill also discusses how British children’s television of the late 1960s and 1970s such as Children of the Stones (1976), Sky (1975) and The Owl Service (1969) and their odd, sometimes unsettling, “why were they like that when they were intended to be viewed by children?” atmospheres were also a reference point for the album…
He comments that he only half remembers the programmes, that they are just fragments of memory and that is part of the attraction of them, he does not want to know everything about them and how having watched them on breaking up television receptions or an old faded video recording added something to the aspects which made the memory of them interesting.
“Trish Keenan of Broadcast has been quoted as saying that the avant-garde without the popular can be rubbish, the popular without the avant-garde can be rubbish, which could almost be seen as a manifesto for the group and their work: their exploration and blurring of the boundaries between the two.
(Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age) more overtly steps towards the avant-garde than pop or popular music but if you should want to hear a melding of those two sides then a visit to their Mother is the Milky Way release from 2009 may well be the thing to do…
Mother is the Milky Way could be seen as the summation of a particular set of peaks and aims of Broadcasts work: a collection that gathers both their more pop and avant-garde influences, mixing, matching and balancing both sides of such things in a way that somehow makes its mixture of quite off centre jump cuts, lo-fidelity nuances, a certain dreamy surreality, dissonance, scattering and gathering of pop melodies and the use of reversed and found sounds all seem very accessible.”
“Czech New Wave film has been referenced and mentioned as a point of inspiration by Broadcast a number of times over the years, in particular the unsettling fairytale-like Valerie and her Week of Wonders (1970). On their 2003 album Haha Sound the song “Valerie” was inspired by the film and its soundtrack album which was released in 2006 by Finders Keepers Records featured sleeve notes by Trish Keenan, in which she wrote:
“Not since The Wicker Man has a soundtrack occupied my mind like Valerie and her Week of Wonders. It was like a door had been opened in my subconscious and fragments of memories and dreams rejoiced right there in my living room.”
“The visual elements of Broadcast’s work, including the packaging of their albums, videos and live projections have been an inherent part of their exploratory avant-pop nature.
Generally this aspect has been instigated and/or created by Julian House, at points to varying degrees in collaboration with the band and for Witch Cults they produced the #1: Witch Cults and #2: I See, So I See So videos, which feature two of the more conventional songs on the album.
…(the videos are) layered, occult (in the sense of hidden) collages of the land, bucolia as imagined through a lysergic glass darkly and pop filtered through the avant-garde…
Of the two #1: Witch Cults is the more overtly surreal, with the normal world and its colours very rarely making an appearance and the video containing imagery which seems to invoke a sense of an otherworldly rural summoning.
The video features (presumably) Trish Keenan’s silhouette flickering and strobing in the landscape in ritualistic stances, as the natural world melds and dissolves into an unsettling almost psychedelic set of images before the more conventional melody of the song also dissolves to become a gently unsettling set of tinkling noises accompanied by what may be roaring wind.
The final section of the video promises a return to the ease and calm of an almost natural world and sunset with the reappearance of the lone silhouetted figure in a windswept landscape but it is only the promise as once again the imagery melds and layers to become some kind of ritualistic summoning.”
“#2: I See, So I See So is more obviously set in a recognisable real, realist or natural world, but it is still very much a view through the looking glass. Connecting back again to James Cargill’s comments about children’s television broadcasts from earlier eras and their unsettled atmospheres, the video and its layering of geometric shapes, objects and the natural world brings to mind the introduction sequences of the likes of The Tomorrow People (1973-1979) and possibly The Owl Service or maybe some flipside Camberwick Green-esque (1966) animation series and seems to shadow, layer and reflect such things but without being a replication…
Elsewhere in the video a box is filled with objects, shapes and a staring disembodied eye, which also seem to connect back to a previous era’s children’s television, although it is a view of such things through an avant-garde, experimental film co-op filter.”
“It is difficult to fully describe or categorise Broadcast’s work on the likes of Witch Cults and Mother is the Milky Way but in (an article in Wire magazine) Joseph Stannard describes it as “occult pop laden with pagan psychedelia”, which along with the earlier mentioned avant-pop description, is again probably heading in the right direction.
Psychedelia and 1960s influences are often mentioned in reference to Broadcast, in particular the influence of the group The United States of America, whose solo eponymous album released in 1968 melded elements of melodic pop music, psychedelia, the avant-garde and art rock in a manner not dissimilar at points to Broadcast…
The music (Broadcast) have released is both contemporary and also seems to belong to some separate time and place all of its own, with psychedelia incorporated in a manner nearer to an explorative portal then rosy-eyed nostalgia:
“I’m not interested in the bubble poster trip, ‘remember Woodstock’ idea of the sixties. What carries over for me is the idea of psychedelia as a door through to another way of thinking about sound and song. Not a world only reachable by hallucinogens but obtainable by questioning what we think is real and right, by challenging the conventions of form and temper.”
“Mark Fisher in his 2014 book Ghost of my Life talks about how it is the culture that surrounds and constellates around music that has been as important as the music itself in conjuring seductively unfamiliar worlds, that during the 20th century these gatherings of culture acted as a probe for such explorations and alternatives to existing ways of living and thinking.
Broadcast are a fine, brightly shining example of such constellations and constellators and to this day continue to act as a guide to such explorations and alternative pathways of culture.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 7 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
“A Year In The Country has often meandered over to the year 1973 and the culture that was produced around that time, and this has been reflected and explored, both in posts at the main website and a related album release.
When perusing culture later than this particular year it is often the case that something in its spirit or atmosphere represents a move towards a sea change in society and the associated political, social and economic realignment…
In 2016 as part of A Year In The Country, the themed conceptual compilation album Fractures was released, which took as its inspiration 1973 as a particular cultural and historical juncture and explored related themes.
In the album sleeve notes, some notable events and cultural productions were then listed, which are gathered below, together with other appropriate points of interest from 1973 which were originally included in a related post on the A Year In The Country website.
Together they form a dybbuk’s or devil’s dozen (ie. 13) of those junctures and signifiers and provide a glimpse into part of the character of that point in time which was undoubtedly an era of schism.”
“1) Electronic music innovator and pioneer Delia Derbyshire left The BBC and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop: she deliberated later that around then “the world went out of time with itself ”.
“2) Electricity blackouts in the UK: these were due to industrial conflicts and the resulting restrictions on power production, with a state of emergency and the three day working week being declared by the then-government in order to attempt to conserve energy supplies.”
“3) The Wicker Man film was released: quite possibly the touchstone for all things interconnected to A Year In The Country, explorations of an otherly Albion and the flipside or undercurrents of folkloric culture.”
“4) The Changes children’s television series was recorded but remained unreleased: its plot concerns a world that has undergone a form of induced psychosis, resulting in the rejecting and destroying of all modern technology…”
“5) Richard Mabey’s The Unofficial Countryside book was published: an early and influential study of transitional/liminal edgeland spaces and where the city meets nature.”
“6) The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water was released: probably the definitive hauntological public information film – all scattered debris, a ghostly black-clad figure and the distinctively chilling voice of Donald Pleasance in a film intended to warn children of the dangers of careless or foolhardy behaviour near water but which had the effect of traumatising considerable swathes of its viewers.”
“7) Psychomania film was released: Nicky Henson stars as the leader of a gang of returned from the grave zombie motorcyclers who terrorise the locals in rural and small town 1970s Britain.
This is a curiously British, low key and understated take on biker and other myths that seems far removed from say the often glamorous cinematic presentations of American biker culture…”
“8) Sometime Fairport Convention and Trader Horne member Judy Dyble stepped back from making music; her departure from music could well be filed alongside that of Delia Derbyshire’s and for a number of years she would become one of the lost voices of British exploratory folk music from the later 1960s and earlier 1970s, alongside the likes of Vashti Bunyan and Shelagh Macdonald.”
“9) The Michael Fassbinder-directed German television series World on a Wire was released; this was a rather prescient representation of virtual reality and also in the world it created went curiously against the grain of more gritty, murky atmospheres which were often prevalent in films and television of the time.”
“10) The film Soylent Green was released: this was part of a film mini-genre of ecology and resources having gone to heck in a hand-basket which was prevalent in the 1970s.”
“11) The Final Programme film was released: it is mentioned previously about films released prior to 1973 often seeming as though they still contained elements of 1960s psych/mod sharpness: however, this is something of a cuckoo in the nest…
..the film shows decadence having tipped over into darkness as was often the way with culture from around 1973…
…it also seems to connect more directly with 1960s culture, particularly in terms of its dandified, frilly shirted, counter-cultural anti-hero and pop-art-esque giant-sized pinball table set.”
“12) Blue Blood film was released: the plot involves a debauched young aristocrat who entrusts the running of his estate to his butler, played by a glowering Oliver Reed, who begins to control and dominate his master and appears to possibly have demonic intent.
The film shares some similar territory to the corrupt, insular decadence of the 1970 film Performance (and maybe a touch of 1963’s The Servant in the way that power balances blur and tip between master and servant).
Who knows if this particular celluloid story would be made today? “Unsettling” and “troubling” are words that come to mind.”
Details of the book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.
Online images to accompany Chapter 6 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
“Folk horror is a loosely defined genre of fictional works which create an alternative, flipside view of the landscape and pastoralism; these works draw from and/or are frequently set in the landscape, creating unsettled and unsettling tales, in contrast to more bucolic representations of the countryside as a place of calm and restful escape.
They may tell stories of the patterns underneath the plough, may include elements of a more hauntological nature rather than being purely rurally based and can take in the hidden, layered histories and atmospheres within places.
There is often a sense of their inhabitants living in, or becoming isolated from, the wider world, allowing moral beliefs to become untethered from the dominant norms and allowing the space for ritualistic, occult, supernatural or preternatural events, actions and consequences to occur.
As a phrase, “folk horror” conjures images of a trio of British films released between 1968 and 1973; Witchfinder General (1968), The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) and The Wicker Man (1973).
Looking back today such films could be seen as a result or offshoot of there being, at the time of their production, a growing interest in folk music and culture, which was accompanied by a romantic sense of wishing to return to and embrace simpler and more natural or rural ways of living.
However rather than being an expression of such inclinations and idyllic bucolia, folk horror’s often bleak nihilistic nature and stories seem to be more an expression of the souring of related dreams and yearnings: a rural/folk reflected curdling of 1960s utopian optimism as it entered the 1970s.”
“…both Witchfinder General and The Blood on Satan’s Claw featured Tony Tenser as their executive producer… films which could be seen to have their roots and onscreen expression in both the more art inclinations of their directors (Michael Reeves and Piers Haggard respectively) and the exploitation aspects of their producer Tony Tenser.
Although over time critical appreciation has tended to tip more towards the art side of things, without both sides of this coin one could debate whether these films would have existed or have come to be such resonant cultural artifacts…
Tony Tenser, with his exploitation sensibilities, seems to have been partly responsible for a considerable portion of the late 1960s/early 1970s arrival of folk horror as he was also executive producer on Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968), which deals with some of the themes of folk horror (a rural setting, connections to the old beliefs and magic).
This film is particularly memorable in its conjuring up of phantasmagorical occult scenes, which are made all the more striking by a film-stealing Barbara Steele as Lavina Morley, Black Witch of Greymarsh, who is dressed in striking, opulent and almost surreal folkloric garb, including a behorned headdress.
She serves as mistress of the film’s woozily transgressive dreamlike ritual ceremonies, helping create almost a film within a film…”
“The late 1960s to around the mid 1970s was the main era for the production of the initial, classic examples of film and television that have come to be known as folk horror.
However, in terms of cinematic forebears, around 1960 there was a small grouping of horror and/or supernatural films which could be seen as being part of a lineage that would one day become or bring about what is known as folk horror.
These include Mario Bava’s Black Sunday from 1960, also starring Barbara Steele, Jack Clayton’s The Innocents from 1961 and Roger Vadim’s Et Mourir De Plaisir (or Blood and Roses to use its American title) from 1960.
Their tone and expression varies from the classic black and white gothic and grotesque horror of Black Sunday to the almost decadent aristocratic Technicolor sensuality of Et Mourir de Plaisir via the repressed supernatural hauntings amongst the reeds and willows of the British countryside in The Innocents.”
“On British television a number of series and plays were produced around a roughly similar period to The Wicker Man, The Blood on Satan’s Claw and Witchfinder General, which could to varying degrees be connected to the phrase folk horror.
Such programmes could include the work of Nigel Kneale such as the pre-hauntological investigations of The Stone Tape (1972) and the nature terrors and conflicts of The Beasts (1976) and other notable series including the made-for-children but curiously disquieting likes of The Owl Service (1968) and Children of the Stones (1977).
Alongside which the BBC’s Ghost Stories for Christmas, which often adapted M.R. James fiction, such as Whistle and I’ll Come to You (1968), The Ash Tree (1975) and Play for Today broadcasts including Robin Redbreast (1970) and Penda’s Fen (1974), contain many of the themes of folk horror; landscape-set tales of the supernatural, the persecution of those who practice the old ways, the flipside and undercurrents of the land/history, rural isolation and sacrifice.
You could also cast the net wider and include the Czech New Wave fantasia of Valerie and her Week of Wonders (1970) and the high-fashion fairytale-gone-rotten in the woods of Italian-made Queens of Evil (1970).”
“When A Year In The Country began in 2014, now-disappeared websites such as Folk Horror Review, which intermittently posted about such films and television as those mentioned above, felt like still fairly off the beaten track places: a wandering through the briars and undergrowth of a not overly harvested eldritch rural cultural landscape. This has changed somewhat in recent years.
While not quite yet an overtly mainstream genre name, as an example of how embedded folk horror has become as a descriptive phrase and cultural strand, if you should type it into a search engine then many millions of results will be returned.
Alongside which, a focal point of interest such as the website and social media group Folk Horror Revival has an online following which at the point of writing numbered in five figures, and in 2016 hosted its Otherworldly event at The British Museum.
Folk horror has also become a legitimate area of academic research as shown by conferences/events such as The Alchemical Landscape and A Fiend in the Furrows, which have concentrated on associated areas of study, accompanied by screenings of related film and television.”
“In wider culture elements and influences of folk horror can be found in a number of areas and projects.
This is particularly so within music, including the sometimes Midwich-ian or Nigel Kneale-esque parallel worlds of Ghost Box Records and projects such as The Book of the Lost (2014) and Tales from the Black Meadow (2013), which alongside other elements featured music intended to accompany imagined, layered backstories which draw from the tropes of folk horror.
A song such as She Rocola’s “Burn The Witch” (released in 2014 by A Year In The Country) and its glacial, haunting tale of love and persecution could well be a soundtrack to a lost classic British folk horror film: one which may have accompanied the canonic trio of such things back when.”
“While the Marshlight Software computer game Edgelands (2017) takes folk horror themes into interactive realms and is described as a psychogeographical folk tale:
“Magic and folklore… entangle the modern world… in an uncanny rustic adventure… you soon find yourself exploring an uncanny rustic twilight landscape in which familiar rural landmarks overlap with otherworldly occurrences, creating a dream-like blurring of the ordinary and the supernatural.””
“Over the years from but a few seedlings, folk horror as a cultural strand has created ever growing reverberations that are still being felt throughout culture and indeed which may now only be truly flowering and finding fully fertile ground.”
Details of the book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.
Chapter 5 Book Images: Ghost Box Records – Parallel Worlds, Conjuring Spectral Memories, Magic Old and New and Slipstream Trips to the Panda Pops Disco
Online images to accompany Chapter 5 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
“Via its record releases, events, videos and artwork Ghost Box conjures its own particular parallel world: one that harks back to some previous age, though not necessarily a time or place that strictly ever existed but which could be said to loosely take place approximately from around the early 1960s to the late 1970s and which also looks towards some form of a related lost utopian, modernist and progressive future.”
“There is a hazy familiarity to the work of Ghost Box due to the way it references cultural forms and work such as the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, public information films, library music and educational literature from earlier eras, but the resulting aesthetic and parallel world is not a retreading, rather an often quietly unsettling reimagining or as they put it themselves, a misremembering.”
“…a poster that accompanied the Ghost Box-released Belbury Poly’s Belbury Tales album from 2012 talks of the record taking in: “…medievalism, the supernatural, childhood, the re-invention of the past, initiation and pilgrimage (both spiritual and physical).””
“Midwich-ian could be an apposite phrase to use in reference to such atmospheres that Ghost Box at times conjure, in the sense of it referring to the preternatural occurrences within a bucolic English village that can be found in John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos novel from 1957 and its film adaptation as Village of the Damned in 1960.
That subtle sense of unease is something that can also be found on The Advisory Circle’s “And The Cuckoo Comes” from the early Ghost Box-released album Mind How You Go (2005).
It uses a vocal sample of nature-related studies, observations or prose that I do not know where it came from, although it conjures a sense of being an artifact from the 1960s or 1970s.
A brief half-listen of the words imply that it should be all pastoral delight as it describes the changes of the seasons. However, it is anything but an idyllic journeying through such things:
“In the summer, well, it’s usually cold and sometimes it snows.
The winds blow. In the autumn the flowers are out and the sun shines.
In the winter, the leaves grow again on the trees.
And in the spring the winds blow and the leaves fall from the trees.
And the sun shines and the leaves grow again on the trees.
And sometimes it snows… and the cuckoo comes.”
The dislocation in the words seems hidden as their delivery flows quite naturally, causing initial association with its fractured quality more with the song’s multi-layered, swirling, repetition.”
“Ghost Box-related work… often has a very playful element which intertwines with the more parallel world or occult side of things.
This is particularly present on the Belbury Poly album New Ways Out from 2016, which Electric Sound magazine described as:
“…transporting you to those especially daft places only Belbury Poly can – Tizer-fuelled 70s youth club discos with side-rooms for Ouija boards…”
That quote creates anticipation of a sense of fun or playfulness from the album and indeed New Ways Out has that via a set of rather catchy pop hooks, but with that playfulness being quietly filtered through a Ghost Box parallel world filter.”
“Ghost Box co-founder Julian House is generally responsible for much of the design work for the label, and the resulting visual work plays an important part in creating the overall Ghost Box world, myths and aesthetic and the hazy familiarity referred to earlier.
It often plays with or conjures a sense of being parallel world governmental departmental or educational literature, the utilitarian nature of which seems to have quietly stepped to a place elsewhere.
At times the work contains Op art mandalas and geometric shapes, and while they may share an hallucinogenic quality with it they do not put me in mind so much of 1960s-esque psychedelia but rather they often contain a more subtly unsettled, darker aspect and atmosphere.
The Ghost Box design work is often created in part or whole via collage and found images but this is not always perfectly polished and may be presented nearer to a form of raw visual jump cutting where components are cut out inexactly, often leaving parts of their original background still present.
This is not dissimilar to the way in which Julian House’s Ghost Box musical output under the name The Focus Group, abruptly and irregularly cuts and splices samples and other elements, a technique that is also present in his collaborative musical and video work with Broadcast.”
Details of the book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.
Chapter 4 Book Images: Cuckoos in the Same Nest – Hauntological and Otherly Folk Confluences and Intertwinings
Online images to accompany Chapter 4 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
“A curious occurrence in an area or two of music and culture is the way in which folk music and folkloric-orientated work, of the underground, acid, psych, wyrd and otherly variety, has come to share common ground with synthesised work and electronica, of a left field and hauntological variety.
This is an area of culture where the use, appreciation and romance of often older electronic music technologies, reference points and inspirations segues and intertwines with the more bucolic wanderings and landscapes of exploratory, otherly pastoralism and folk culture, a part of the cultural landscape:
“…planted permanently somewhere between the history of the first transistor, the paranormal, and nature-driven worlds of the folkloric…” (author, artist, musician and curator Kristen Gallerneaux.)
On the surface such folkloric and electronic musical and cultural forms are very disparate and yet both have come to explore and share similar landscapes.”
“…looking back to some of the early cultural explorations that would lead to A Year In The Country, three of the first albums that provided some of the seedlings, wellsprings or inspirations were The Owl Service’s The View from a Hill (2010), Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witchcults of the Radio Age (2009) and the compilation Gather in the Mushrooms (2004).
These wander respectively from a subtly experimental revisiting and reinterpreting of folk rock that has taken the name of a seminal otherly pastoral book and television series (Alan Garner’s book and Granada Television’s TV adaptation of The Owl Service from 1967 and 1969 respectively), to an overtly experimental sample and synthesiser-created phantasmagorical vocal and dreamlike cut-up exploration of hidden cultural layers and transmissions via a delving and unearthing of late 1960s and early 1970s underground British acid folk.
Somehow, it all made sense that these things fitted together.”
“Such television series… provide a point of confluence for these areas of otherly folk music and hauntology. To semi-quote the A Year In The Country website and referring back to cultural folklore:
“In contrast to the often oral telling of tales from the wald/wild wood in times gone by, today the stories that have become our cultural folklore we discover, treasure, pass down, are informed and inspired by, are often those that are transmitted into the world via the airwaves, the (once) cathode ray machine in the corner of the room, the carrying of tales via the zeros and ones of technology that flitter around the world and the flickers of (once) celluloid tales.”
This cultural folklore would probably take in the likes of television programmes The Changes (1975), The Owl Service (1969), Children of the Stones (1977), The Stone Tape (1972) and the film The Wicker Man (1973), and a touch or two of the odder side of Doctor Who from way back when.”
While often being set rurally, in contrast to much of popular culture which concerns itself with towns and cities, they have come to be touchstones or lodestones that seem to invoke a hidden, layered history of the land but which also encompass and intertwine with a wider hauntological, parallel, alternative version of Britain.
Some of their musical accompaniments could well be said to form an early part or antecedent of the meeting of the strands of otherly folk and hauntology.”
“In the above list the “patterns beneath the plough” are soundtracked by imagined and re-imagined folk music (The Wicker Man), synthesised elsewhere explorations by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (The Changes, Doctor Who and The Stone Tape), spectral yet beautiful choral nightmares (Children of the Stones) and quite frankly still unnerving and experimental collaging (The Owl Service).
All quite different musically/aesthetically and yet all conjuring both (to again quote the A Year In The Country website) “an underlying unsettledness to the bucolic countryside dream” and a Midwich-ian take on the landscape.
If you should consider the descriptions of the above soundtracks, you may well find that a line could be drawn between them, the earlier description of three early A Year In The Country wellspring albums and much of more recent work that could be called hauntological and/or which explores the outer reaches and undercurrents of folk music.
These two strands of otherly folkloric and hauntological work and culture may appear at first to be cultural cuckoos in the same nest but have come to be fellow travellers in an alternative landscape, informing and accompanying one another’s journeys; this is a sharing of ground founded in similar exploratory and sometimes visionary or utopian spirit rather than divided by aesthetics.”
Chapter 3 Book Images: Hauntology – Places Where Society Goes to Dream, the Defining and Deletion of Spectres and the Making of an Ungenre
Online images to accompany Chapter 3 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
“Although it is hard to precisely define what hauntology is, it has become a way of identifying particular strands of music and cultural tendencies. As a cultural form it is fluid, loose and not strictly delineated but below are some of the recurring themes and characteristics of hauntological work:
1) Music and culture that draws from and examines a sense of loss of a post war utopian, progressive, modernist future that was never quite reached.
2) A tendency to see some kind of unsettledness and hidden layers of meaning in public information films, TV idents and “a bit too scary and odd for children though that is who they were aimed at” television programmes from the late 1960s to about 1980, which include the likes of The Owl Service (1968), Children of the Stones (1977) and The Changes (1975).
3) Graphic design and a particular kind of often analogue synthesised music that references and reinterprets some forms of older library music, educational materials and the work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, often focusing on the period from around 1969 to 1979 and related culture which is generally of British origin.
4) A re-imagining and misremembering of the above and other sources into forms of music and culture that seem familiar, comforting and also often unsettling and not a little eerie, creating a sense of work that is haunted by spectres of its and our cultural past, to loosely paraphrase philosopher Jacques Derrida.
5) The drawing together and utilising of the above elements to conjure a sense of a parallel, imagined, often strange or Midwich-ian Britain.”
“For a while the phrase hauntology when used to refer to a genre of music had been deleted on Wikipedia.
As author Simon Reynolds – who as just mentioned was, along with Mark Fisher, one of the first people to use the phrase hauntology in relation to such culture – points out, those doing the deleting have taken a fair few steps to make sure their own comments on Wikipedia are not deleted or modified. “Do as I say and not as I do” as it were.
Just as with deletion via consensus, a larger mass of consensus does not necessarily mean something is correct, but typing the word “hauntology” alongside “music” into a search engine at the time of writing brought up 170,000 pages to look at, while “hauntology music genre” returned over 50,000 results.
That would tend to imply that there is not a “consensus to delete” in the wider world, or at the very least there is a “consensus to discuss, explore, consider, create and debate”.
So, maybe rather than deleting the whole notion, making the debate around whether hauntology exists part of its page would have been a more reasonable or culturally democratic thing to do.”
“The creation of work which conjures a parallel world via a misremembered past need not necessarily draw purely from one particular period or set of cultural reference points, as has often been the case with hauntological work but rather that concept and process could be used as a general framework to also explore other eras and cultural areas.
To a certain degree this has been the case in the earlier mentioned hypnagogic pop, which draws more from the 1980s period and related culture and Italian Occult Psychedelia which focuses on non-British culture and Pye Corner Audio, who Ghost Box Records have released recordings by, appears to also extend the hauntological palette to incorporate a more 1980s VHS-esque aspect…
…while a film such as Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) could be seen as a form of hauntological work in its creation of a parallel world that creates a “Reagan era fever dream”.”
Chapter 2 Book Images: Gather in the Mushrooms – Early Signposts and Underground Acid Folk Explorations
Text extracts from and online images to accompany Chapter 2 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book:
“While Wandering down the A Year In The Country pathways, there have been an awful lot of cultural reference points that have inspired, in uenced and intrigued (the three I’s as it were).
The Gather in the Mushrooms album is one of the first. It is a 2004 compilation curated by Bob Stanley who is a member of the band Saint Etienne, subtitled “The British Acid Folk Underground 1968-1974” and it does what it says on the can.
The period of time that the album focuses on was a point in music/culture when the likes of Fairport Convention were reinterpreting traditional folk music, combining it with the more contemporary elements of rock to produce what has come to be known as folk rock.
Acid or psych folk was an extension or offshoot of such work, which often tended to wander down more overtly exploratory or experimental avenues and at times intermingled aspects of psychedelia with folk and rock elements.”
“Subcultural/countercultural movements tend to be thought of as having sprung from the cracks beneath the city’s walkways, whereas acid/psych folk seems to have been created by participants who were either physically located out in the cottages and meadows or who used a form of imaginative geographical travel to create a culture which, in contrast to urban influenced and inflected cultural movements, was hazily narcotically pastoral.”
Chapter 1 Book Images: Electric Eden – Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music – Folk Vs Pop, Less Harvested Cultural Landscapes and Acts of Enclosure, Old and New
As mentioned at the start of this year, later in the year (probably around March/April time, more details to come) I am going to publish a text based book called A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields which across 52 chapters collects, revises, revisits and interweaves the writing from the first three years of A Year In The Country.
Each week of this year I will be posting a gathering of images, alongside text extracts from the book, which are intended to become an online “cut out and keep” set of visual accompaniments to the chapters of the book.
So, without further ado…
Chapter 1: Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music: Folk Vs Pop, Less Harvested Cultural Landscapes and Acts of Enclosure, Old and New
Extracts from the text of the book and accompanying online images:
“(Electric Eden) the 2010 book by Rob Young, served as an ongoing reference for much of the earlier years of A Year In The Country.
It is an epic tome of a book which, in simple terms, is a journey through British folk and pastoral music and related culture from its roots to the modern day, but instead of serving as a straightforward documenting of such things, is more an exploration of its undercurrents, of at times semi-hidden or overlooked cultural history and its interconnected strands.
The book travels with folk revivalist collectors such as Cecil Sharp, the social idealism of William Morris and Ewan MacColl, the late 1960s/early 1970s folk rock of the likes of Fairport Convention and Pentangle, the acid or more experimental folk of Comus and Forest, The Wicker Man film from 1973 and related occult folklore, contemporary esoterically interconnected hauntological practitioners such as Ghost Box Records, the pastoral tinged work of pop music explorers Kate Bush, David Sylvian and Talk Talk and pastoral speculative/science fiction.
There is a sense within the book of folk and related culture seeming to point towards an otherly Britain: an imagined Albion of hidden histories and sometimes arcane knowledge, wherein there is still the space or possibility to sidestep some of the more ubiquitous, dominant and monotheistic tendencies of modern day culture and systems.”
“Which brings things round to to The Wombles and what happens when folk meets or tries to become pop. What appeared to happen in the mid-1970s is that music arrived at a point where one of folk rock’s more popular bands Steeleye Span have a hit single with their version of the traditional folk song “All Around My Hat”, which reached number five in the UK singles charts in 1975.
The single was produced by Mike Batt, who also oversaw records for the novelty pop band The Wombles: these were a musical offshoot of an animated children’s television series originally broadcast from 1973-1975 where furry, pointy-nosed creatures who live in burrows on Wimbledon Common spend their time recycling rubbish in creative ways.
All Around My Hat is folk that has wandered quite a way from its roots and seems intrinsically to be nearer to pop, a kind of glam romp with folk trappings.
Which is not to dismiss this version as it is a rather catchy and full of life interpretation, with the video and the song capturing a certain point in time and period nuances of British cultural history: of pop music and culture not yet overly-styled, honed and marketed, which in its own particular way is still from a less tamed cultural landscape.
This is one of the themes of Electric Eden; a sense of a taming of the cultural and at points literal landscape, of what Rob Young presents as music and culture of a utopian or visionary nature that draws from the land and folk culture.”
“He has discussed the connection between such areas of work and culture and how there is a connection to historic acts of land enclosure and clearance; the way in which from around 1760 onwards common land was put into private ownership by government Inclosure Acts, forcing agricultural workers towards the newly expanding cities and factories and how this displacement could be one of the roots of the British empathy with the countryside, with relics such as songs or texts from the world before this change having come to be revered as they seem to represent or connect to a pre-industrial “Fall” golden age.”