The A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields Book and A Visual Accompaniment
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
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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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.‘”
“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.’”
“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.’”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.’”
“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.“
“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.’”
“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 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.”
“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.”
“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.
The Owl Service, Anne Briggs, The Watersons, Lutine and Audrey Copard – Folk Revisiters, Revivalists and Re-interpreters: Chapter 37 Book Images
“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).”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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).”
“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…
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.”
“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.
Vashti Bunyan – From Here to Before – Whispering Fairy Stories until They are Real: Chapter 36 Book Images
“Vashti Bunyan: From Here to Before (is) the 2008 documentary about her fabled horse-drawn trip across the country at the end of the 1960s and turn of the decade and the album she made at the time.”
“Other films and documentaries made by its director Kieran Evans, including the Saint Etienne and Paul Kelly collaboration Finisterre (2003), edgelands exploration The Outer Edges (2013) which was made as part of a wider project with Karl Hyde and dramatic film Kelly + Victor (2012) have all had fairly widespread releases in the cinema and/or on DVD.
However, From Here to Before although covered in the press to a certain extent seemed to have a fairly limited cinematic release and then, apart from a few clips that can be viewed online, it seems to have more or less disappeared from view and has never had a commercial home release.”
“Born in 1945, in the mid 1960s Vashti Bunyan worked with Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, released two singles which did not sell in great numbers and recorded further songs for Oldham’s Immediate records which remained unreleased for many years.”
“After this she decided to travel with her boyfriend Robert Lewis by horse and cart to the Hebridean Islands to join a commune planned by a friend, fellow singer/songwriter Donovan. During the trip, she began writing the songs that eventually became her first album, Just Another Diamond Day which was released in 1970.”
“By 2000 Just Another Diamond Day had acquired a cult following and it was re-released, with her work and story becoming inspirational to a new generation of musicians, some of whom including Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom, who have been loosely connected under the label “freak folk”.”
“After this re-release and a gap of more than 30 years Vashti Bunyan began recording again, collaborated with contemporary musicians and appeared live.
She released the album Lookaftering in 2005 and in 2014 what she said was to be her final album Heartleap (both on Fatcat).”
“Vashti Bunyan: From Here to Before… serves as an entrancing exploration of a youthful journey of exploration and searching and also an associated self-created almost parallel sense of reality.
To quote author Rob Young from his 2011 book Electric Eden they seemed to be undertaking a form of “imaginative time travel”, a wish to get back to the land and simpler ways of life, which seems to have been fairly widespread at the time within certain often folk leaning areas of culture and music.
Just Another Diamond Day has become a totem and reflection of such yearnings.
This is due in part to the album’s gentle farside of folk delivery and vocals, alongside the almost dreamlike bucolic subject matter of its songs and the evocative nature of her horse and cart journey when she began work on what would become the songs on the album.
Adding to this are the equally almost dreamlike, fantasy rural atmosphere conjured by the cover image of Vashti Bunyan in period rural clothing and headscarf, where she is pictured outside her cottage accompanied by painted animals.”
“Alongside recording Vashti Bunyan’s thoughts and memories of her journey, life and work as she revisits places from her journey or prepares for a live appearance, contemporary interviews make up part of the film.
These include amongst others Andrew Loog Oldham, her 1960s producer Joe Boyd, Adem Ihan who is one of the musicians rehearsing with her for a live performance and artist John James who was a companion for parts of the journey.”
“The film also includes archival footage and photographs of Vashti and her partner in their folkloric, late 1960s-esque, gypsy like garb that they wore at the time.
“From Here to Before was made over four years around the mid to later 2000s, when interest in her work was flowering and she began to express herself again creatively in public via music and live performance and the film is a respectful observation of this period in her life and her earlier stories.
Vashti Bunyan’s music of the time and her journey have created an iconic story, set of images and songs; a modern-day fable or almost fairy-tale. The film is a reflection and exploration of this fable-like nature but it also captures the realities and hardships of their journey and subsequent home but without shattering the allure or spell of that dream.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 36 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.
Magpahi, Paper Dollhouse and The Eccentronic Research Council – Finders Keepers/Bird Records Nestings and Considerations of Modern Day Magic: Chapter 35 Book Images
“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.”
“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.”
“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 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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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 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:
The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water – Public Information Films and Lost Municipal Paternalisms: Chapter 34 Book Images
“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.”
“…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.”
“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) 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:
Symptoms and Images – Hauntological Begetters, the Uneasy Landscape and Gothic Bucolia: Chapter 33 Book Images
“The British Film Institute’s Flipside strand of DVD/Blu-ray releases and cinema events began in 2009.
Its intention is said to chart “the untold history of British film” and it has taken in a wide variety of the fringes of film and cinematic work which for various reasons has fallen outside the critically accepted and/ or acknowledged canon of cinema.
The DVD/Blu-ray releases have included what could be considered subterranean, exotica or mondo cinema, forgotten or lost film, arthouse and odd b-movies and occasional strands of unsettled or otherly pastoralism.
These cinematic outcasts have been sympathetically restored and released with extended extras and notes.”
“In 2016 the 1974 José Ramón Larraz film Symptoms was released as part of the Flipside strand of films.
As a brief precis of the film’s history and plot, it was produced in 1973, came out in 1974, received a fair amount of critical attention and praise and then largely disappeared for the best part of forty years, apart from via privately circulated bootleg copies.
It is the tale of two young women who go for a break in a large rurally located house, wherein one of their mental states begins to splinter and fracture.”
“In a Record Collector magazine review from 2016 it was described as “…gothic-bucolic… the sort of thing that begat hauntology and Peter Strickland…”, ending on “…it’s a revelation”.
The phrase gothic-bucolic connects with certain aspects of A Year In The Country wanderings, particularly in terms of views of the landscape that deal with an unsettled flipside or subterranean, darker-hued bucolia.”
“Peter Strickland does not appear to mention the film in any interviews, nor lists it as one of the films that he noted as having fed into, influenced or were an inspiration for his 2014 film The Duke of Burgundy.
However, in many ways Symptoms appears connected with that film, seeming to be in part an unintended companion or sister piece.
The setting and setup is not all that dissimilar from The Duke of Burgundy; two women living in a relatively isolated rurally-set grand house that is decorated in a slightly faded, possibly slightly aristocratic or upper class, decadent or luxuriant manner and a depiction of the increasing tensions and dysfunctions of their relationship.”
“While the sense of connection and even sisterhood is increased by Angela Pleasance, who plays the lead in Symptoms and who bears a degree of physiognomic similarity to Chiara D’Anna who plays one of the main characters in The Duke Of Burgundy.”
“Symptoms also brings to mind the work of fashion photographer Deborah Turbeville and the use in her photographs of crumbling textures, decaying glamour and grandeur, alongside a certain shared languor to its characters and the use in both of edge of rural isolation settings.”
“…in Symptoms there is an underlying sense of dread, the viewer can at points or to a degree relax, sink into and enjoy its views of nature and escape. Such elements are very much part of the film’s enclosed, self-contained, claustrophobic world which is all overhanging branches and wooded enclosure rather than wide-open spaces.
Here and there light may break through the trees but it seems to only just be breaking through, to be almost battling or momentary.
And while the viewer can appreciate the natural beauty the film contains, it also instills a sense of “never has the British countryside been so quiet and calm and yet so unnourishing.””
“Symptoms shares a number of similarities with its almost cinematic period contemporary Images, a Robert Altman film from 1972: in both films the main female protagonists undergo extreme mental disturbance with somewhat deadly results, while living in largely isolated rurally based homes.
However, whereas Symptoms has a more subtly fractured dreamlike quality in the way it expresses such things and atmospheres, Images has a more overt, ongoing literal and graphic expression of those disturbances.”
“As with Symptoms it is a study of the fracturing of a mind in an isolated rural setting, amongst a landscape that should contain bucolic ease, escape and rest but that underlyingly could be seen to represent and capture a sense of 1970s psychic malaise.
In part that may be because despite the rural setting, both films have an understated murky, subdued colour palette, which as previously mentioned, seems to have been prevalent around the time of their making.”
“Also, within both films the interior scenes of the country houses are claustrophobic, confined, dark spaces, seemingly worlds unto themselves, decorated in what could be described as a gothic, bohemian, Hammer Horror mansion bric-a-brac style.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 33 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Poles and Pylons and The Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society – A Continuum of Accidental Art: Chapter 32 Book Images
“The internet has given space, nooks and crannies to all kinds and manner of niche interests, and it’s safe to say The Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society and its website is one of the more niche, even amongst the further flung of such crannies.
The Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society declares that its aim is to celebrate “the glorious everyday mundanitude of these simple silent sentinels the world over”, which has a rather fine poetic lyricism and intent. Amongst its pages you will find numerous photographic documentings of telegraph poles, Pole of the Month, Pole Appreciation Day and reporting on photographic recordings of poles from around the world.
A sense of appreciation is woven tightly throughout its collecting and documenting work; though sometimes cast in jovial language, there is a genuine love for these utilitarian objects, an appreciation of their accidental art.”
“An accompanying but not formally connected website is Poles and Pylons (or to give its full name, Telegraph Poles and Electricity Pylons). At this site, communication poles and their lines of communication can be found alongside fellow land-striding brethren and their humming power carrying cables. It is possibly a more otherly/psychogeographical study and documenting than The Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society but both sites and their related activities complement one another somewhat; the flipside of one another’s coins.”
“The images they contain can often be a literal expression of the juxtaposition of technology, modernity and the pastoral, of the old ways and the new, when they are photographed amongst the landscape. In this manner they connect with the cover image of the first printing of Rob Young’s Electric Eden book from 2010 which depicts a farmer ploughing the land in a traditional horse-drawn manner under the gaze of electricity pylons.”
“Further sites which act as archival documentation hubs and expressions of an appreciation of similar structures and aspects of infrastructure include Disused Stations, which focuses on closed British railway stations and Subterranea Britannica, which documents often forgotten or decommissioned underground structures and installations such as Cold War Monitoring Posts and bunkers.
Sites such as these can also capture a sense of a lost age, of lost futures and a related melancholia or even paranoia at points with Subterranea Britannica.”
“The Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society and Poles and Pylons also remind us of Jonny Trunk’s book collections of library music covers, The Music Library (2005 and revised in 2016).
While library music was produced in the more overtly creative medium of music, it was still designed to serve a particular purpose, to be stock audio that could for example soundtrack or reflect particular moods in film and due to that utilitarian intent the appreciation of it has links with that of the more accidental art of poles and pylons.”
“Also, a line could be drawn from such things to Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane’s Folk Archive book (2005) and exhibition, Barbara Jones Unsophisticated Arts book (1951) and the associated Black Eyes and Lemonade exhibition. These focus on, document and serve as an appreciation of creative work from everyday life that may have been created for utilitarian purposes and may not be considered art by its makers or wider society such as fairground ride decorations and cafe signs.”
“Further lines could also be drawn to Christopher Herwig’s Soviet Bus Stops book published in 2015, in which he creates a photographic document and appreciation of Soviet era bus stops and their designs which seems to have a reach beyond their utilitarian purpose and to reflect the visions and far-reaching striving of an empire.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 32 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Folkloric Photography – A Lineage of Wanderings, Documentings and Imaginings: Chapter 31 Book Images
“There is an area of photography which concerns itself with documents of British folkloric rituals and costumes.
A starting point for such things is Sir Benjamin Stone’s work in the late 19th and early 20th century, when he photographed British traditional customs, collected in book form in A Record of England: Sir Benjamin Stone and the National Photographic Record Association 1897 -1910, which was published in 2007.
The people, times and places in Benjamin Stone’s photographs seem as though they belong to somewhere now impossibly distant from our own times…
Alongside this they can also possess an air of surreality: in one photograph a stuffed figure is shown as if it is floating in the air amongst the foliage of a tree; dressed in a white flowing dress its face and hands are completely obscured or replaced by what appear to be harvest crops.”
“Other photographs contain numerous stag’s antlers worn as part of ritual costume.
This, along with the challenging stance and stares of their subjects, lend them a folk horror aspect, almost as though they are a glimpse forwards and backwards to the transgressive rituals of the villagers in 1970 Play for Today television drama Robin Redbreast.”
“Benjamin Stone’s work is an early point in a lineage that leads to more recent books which document British folkloric tradition, ritual and costume such as Homer Sykes Once a Year: Some Traditional British Customs (1977), Sarah Hannant’s Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids: A Journey Through the English Ritual Year (2011), Merry Brownfield’s Merry England – the Eccentricity of English Attire (2012) and Henry Bourne’s Arcadia Britannica: A Modern British Folklore Portrait (2015).”
“As a starting point, Homer Sykes Once a Year… is a collection of photographs from seven years of journeying around Britain and was reissued in 2016 by Dewi Lewis Publishing.
As with sections of Benjamin Stone’s work, some of the photographs in Once a Year have a genuinely eerie or unsettlingly macabre air, particularly the cover photograph of the original edition which features the custom of burning tar barrel-carrying in Allendale, Northumberland.”
Once a Year also acts as a document of period 1970s detail and style, while also capturing the way traditional customs existed in amongst such things…
One of the key images in the book is of somebody completely enclosed in a Burry Man folkloric costume, which is made from sticky flower or seedheads, in a pub who is being helped to drink through a straw. It is a precise distilling and capturing of a particular moment in British life, full of subtle signifiers of a way of life which, while only being a few decades ago and not yet as inherently distant as the world captured by Benjamin Stone’s photographs, still seems to belong to a world very far apart from our own.”
“In a number of ways Sarah Hannant’s Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids is similar to Once a Year in that both books are documentary photography social histories of the ongoing observance and enactment of British folk rituals…
In Sarah Hannant’s book this positioning and juxtaposing is shown in photographs which, for example, picture somebody dressed in a straw bear folkloric costume next to a local metro supermarket and a fluorescent-clad safety officer next to carnival float queens.”
“Often the rituals pictured have a playful, dressing up, knockabout air but just once in a while something else seems to creep into the photographs, in particular in one photograph where the blackened faces of those engaged in and wearing the costume of folkloric rituals peer and appear through a pub window.”
“Alongside Once a Year and Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids, Merry Brownfield’s Merry England is a book which utilises documentary photography via its photographs of its subjects in real world settings.
At first glance and from the book’s cover, which features somebody dressed in traditional green man folk costume, it appears to be another book in this lineage, one which directly focuses on folkloric traditions and photographs of people in traditional folk costume forms the heart of the book with sections titled “Straw Bear”, “The Castleton Garland Day”, “Holly Man”, “Mummer’s Plays” and “Morris Dancers”.
However, it also travels considerably further afield to encompass pop culture tribes and styles such as mod and people who appear to have tumbled from the page of The Chap magazine in “The Tweed Run” and “Vintage Style” sections.
Alongside which it also documents the city-based London East End tradition of pearly kings and queens, the comic convention-esque costumes of attendees to the World Darts Championship, traditional Billingsgate fish market bobbin hats and a number of possibly more contentious hunting and aristocratic areas.”
“Henry Bourne’s Arcadia Britannica takes a different approach to the above books in that, as its subtitle suggests, the book contains more formal posed portraits of those in folkloric costume.
The photographs are described as being “shot in the wild” at various events and festivals but apart from the occasional appearance of grass beneath the feet of some of those in the photographs, due to the use of a blank white backdrop aesthetically they could be studio portraits.
The white backdrop removes those in the photographs from the wider world and accompanied by the capturing of detail which is enabled by the formal posing and controlling of light sources it lends the project the air of an almost scientific recording of its subjects; through these choices of technique the book represents and contains a precise documenting of a particular point in folkloric time archived for future generations.
While the book largely focuses on those wearing traditional folkloric costume, although less so than in Merry England it also branches out further to include Pearly King and Queen costumes, while also taking in practising witches and warlocks (and in an interconnected manner includes an introductory essay by Simon Costin, who is the director of the Museum of Witchcraft alongside being the founder and director of the Museum of British Folklore).
“All the above books and photography focus on the British isles but there are a number of books which carry out similar studies and documenting of folkloric rituals and costumes elsewhere in the world, one of which is Charles Fréger’s Wilder Mann: The Image of the Savage originally published in 2012. This takes as its theme:
“The transformation of man into beast is a central aspect of traditional pagan rituals that are centuries old and which celebrate the seasonal cycle, fertility, life and death.”
Reflecting such transformations, generally the images in the book are of costumes where the human features of their wearers are no longer visible, being much more hidden than many British folkloric costumes.”
“In British folklore-focused photography and books the sense of unset- tling folk horror-esque undercurrents are more glimpses here and there; with Charles Fréger’s images such atmospheres are much more prevalent.
Many of the costumes in his photographs could well be escapees or prototypes for the 1970s British BBC costume and creature effect department in terms of their design.They appear to be creatures from a forgotten Doctor Who episode from back then, possibly compatriots of the befurred yetis or abominable snowmen that had a nation’s children hiding behind the sofa.”
“The images in Wilder Mann and the above books of British folkloric rituals often focus on documenting rurally-orientated or located events and customs. Axel Hoedt’s book Once a Year from 2013 shifts focus more exclusively to streets and towns, in particular the Swabian Alemannic carnival known as Fasnacht, Fastnacht or Fasnet, a custom in southwest Germany. The carnival is described in text which accompanies the book as being:
“…when the cold and grim spirits of winter are symbolically hunted down and expelled. Every year around January and February processions of people make their way through the streets of Endingen, Sachsenheim, Kissleg, Singen, Wilfingen and Triberg dressed up lavishly as demons, witches, earthly spirits and fearful animals to enact this scene of symbolic expulsion.”
The language used seems brutal and harsh; hunted down, expelled, expulsion, fearful.”
“In Estelle Hanania’s Glacial Jubilé book (2013), some of the European folkloric costumes and creatures from Wilder Mann seem at points to reappear and breach the rural/urban divide, but this time they can seem like alien invaders as they are shown advancing in formation across the landscape and then appearing in urban streets and shopping centres.”
“(In Laura Thompson’s Senseless photography series from 2016) she produced staged photographs of figures in the landscape dressed in costumes made from disposable manmade objects.
These photographs appear to recall European folkloric or mythical costume that may have appeared in say Charles Fréger or Estelle Hanania’s work but filtered as though via a story of outer space creatures who are lost and wandering the earth.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 31 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Folk Archive and Unsophisticated Arts – Documenting the Overlooked and Unregulated: Chapter 30 Book Images
“Folk Archive: Contemporary Popular Art from the UK is a book and exhibition from 2005, created and collected by Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane.
The Folk Archive collection is a gathering and documenting of creative work that could be loosely considered folk art from everyday life in the UK, part of which includes work which may have been created for utilitarian purposes or decoration such as cafe signs and often things which may not be considered art by its makers or wider society.
“The phrase “folk art” often conjures or represents a particular quite well-defined, often rural or cottage industry aesthetic and has been frequently used to refer more to work from previous eras but The Folk Archive does not make such distinctions.
In the pages of the book you can find largely photographic images of tattoos/tattoo guns, artwork from prisons, burger van signs, illustrations painted onto the bonnets of cars and crash helmets, fairground paintings, sandcastles, cake decorations, Christmas decorations, protest banners, shop signs, decorative costume for a night out or a carnival, clairvoyant’s hand created signs, crop circles and the trappings of what could be considered traditional folkloric rituals.”
“Jeremy Deller’s work often involves, incorporates and is interactively accessible or co-created by the public.
In line with that, his work in the past has included taking modern music technology to record with retired musicians in an English seaside town, re-enacting pitched battles in political disputes in conjunction with those involved at the time and re-enactment enthusiasts, taking a bouncy castle version of Stonehenge around the country, a traditional brass band playing acid house records to a young dance audience or a procession through Manchester that incorporated everything from a local pensioner-friendly snack bar recreated on the back of a float to Manchester’s musical legacy reinterpreted by a calypso band.”
“The Folk Archive collection provides a pathway to a modern-day revisiting of some of the themes of Barbara Jones’ Unsophisticated Arts, originally released in 1951 and republished in 2013 by Little Toller Books.
That book told the story of her explorations in the 1940s of everyday art throughout Britain and which took in some similar subject matter to that in Folk Archive: fairgrounds, tattoo parlours, taxidermists, houseboats, high street shops, seaside piers and amusement arcades.
Also in 1951 Barbara Jones organised the Black Eyes and Lemonade exhibition in the Whitechapel Art Gallery as part of the Festival of Britain, which in a similar manner to the Folk Archive presented creative work and objects which would normally not be included within the realms of fine art and associated gallery display…
Although it was intended as a recording of real life and day-to-day art, viewed now it provides a document of a fabled lost Britain; there is a certain whimsical fairytale like quality to the images of often ornately and elaborately decorated canal boat interiors, fairground rides, table cupboards etc.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 30 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
The Midwich Cuckoos and The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham, Dystopian Tales, Celluloid Cuckoos and the Village as Anything but Idyll: Chapter 29 Book Images
“Watching The Village of the Damned, the 1960 film adaptation of John Wyndham’s 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos, it seemed like the perfect summing up of one of the themes of A Year In The Country; an imagined sense of an underlying unsettledness to country idylls, of something having gone wrong and rotten amongst the hills, valleys and sleepy local streets of this green and pleasant land.”
“It is a film full of iconic imagery: nearly every scene arriving with at least one more: the early collapse into unconsciousness of that most British symbol of pastoral civility the bobby on a bicycle (bobby being a colloquial and possibly now period expression meaning police officer), nighttime mobs with burning torches and the children themselves with their emotional detachment, silver hair and glowing eyes.”
“In many ways it could be seen to be the flipside or even accompaniment to the film and television versions of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit (1958-1959 and 1967 respectively).
Quatermass and The Pit is a post Second World War consideration of the battle for genetic superiority, purity and control as experienced in a then still recent historic conflict, while in The Village of the Damned an amoral, Aryan-esque race are seeded amongst the population, determined to survive and colonise whatever the cost.”
“Both Quatermass author Nigel Kneale and John Wyndham seemed to often specialise in tales where the landscape and rural areas were far removed from idylls.
For example, in John Wyndham’s work there are the preternatural invaders of Village of the Damned and in his 1951 novel The Day of the Triffids survivors of a worldwide cataclysm take refuge in a rural cottage against predatory plants.
In Nigel Kneale’s final series of Quatermass from 1979, rural stone circles are the sites of extraterrestrial reapings of the world’s youth, the research conducive space that a country manor house should provide in 1972’s The Stone Tape instead becomes the scene for an unearthing and return of spectral events.”
“(In The Village of the Damned the children) are essentially a hive mind or colony, their leader or more vocal spokesperson is played brilliantly by Martin Stephens (second from right in the above still), just the touch of a smile playing about his lips as he stares otherwise without emotion at his mother after sending someone to a fiery departure.
He appears to have been the go-to young actor for such quietly unsettling preternaturalness in the early 1960s as he also appears amongst the reeds, willows, hauntings and transgressions of the 1961 film The Innocents.”
“(The title sequence to the 1981 television adaptation of John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids novel has) an air of being genuinely unsettling, in particular the introduction, where green and blue-tinted faces stare wonderingly at the cosmic light show which will make mankind blind, the brief terrifying attack by a triffid plant and the accompanying spectral choral soundtrack.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 29 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
“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 (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.”
“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.”
“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).”
“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.”
“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.”
“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. (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).”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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:
“General Orders No. 9 is a 2009 film by Robert Persons. As a very brief precis, the film takes the viewer on a journey through the transformation of a section of mid-Southern America (Alabama, Mississipi and Georgia) from a wilderness into its modern state and although not overtly stated or didactic it seems to be in part a mourning of the loss of wilderness areas and a connection to nature due to the encroachment of civilisation and urbanisation.
It is a non-narrative film, a form of expressive documentary with elements of experimentalism but it is eminently watchable and makes use of original location film footage, maps, vintage photographs, found objects and views of natural and manmade landscapes.”
“It could be thought of as a film which explores the hauntology of the Southern states; the land is seen to be littered with the remnants and spectres of mankind’s industrial and technological endeavours – old factory installations, derelict mobile phone masts, rooms filled with discarded detritus and hundreds of scattered old books.”
“Adding to the texture and layers of the journey the film takes is an accompanying narrative by a voice which could well be announcing the end of days (it is reminiscent of God Speed You Black Emperors song “Dead Flag Blues” from their 1997 album F# A# ∞, which in some ways could almost be a companion piece to General Orders No. 9, with its sense of lyrically beautiful apocalyptic dread).”
“(General Orders No. 9) could be placed very loosely amongst a strand of films that may be described as cinematic pastoral experimentalism. Along which lines is Andrew Kötting’s film By Our Selves from 2015, which involves a retreading of the wanderings which Northamptonshire nature poet John Clare undertook in 1841, as he went on a pilgrimage from a mental asylum to find Mary Joyce, the woman with whom he thought himself to be in love.”
“John Clare is played by Toby Jones, who is accompanied by a straw bear (a character from folklore, the costume of which involves its wearer being covered head to toe in straw), with director Andrew Kötting playing this part.”
“Alongside the film’s depiction of John Clare’s journey through the land are a number of separate sections where, for example, writer Iain Sinclair interviews Northamptonshire resident comic book writer Alan Moore (who describes Northampton as being so imbued with literary and poetic associations that it is “a kind of vision sump”) and Toby Jones’ own father appears and revisits his performance from a 1970 Omnibus documentary in which he played John Clare.”
“Possibly more appealing than the film’s specific dealings with John Clare’s story is its “folkloric in the modern-day” imagery (for example Toby Jones in ramshackle period costume leading the straw bear through a field of crops under the gaze of pylons) and its exploration of the hidden, underlying layers and roots of the land’s tales, people and history.
It seems to be very much an expression of those who are involved’s love of and enthusiasm for exploring and delving amongst the interconnectedness of such things and by its nature is a literal psychogeographic wandering.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 27 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside text extracts from the chapter:
Katalin Varga, Berberian Sound Studio and The Duke of Burgundy – Arthouse Evolution and Crossing the Thresholds of the Hinterland Worlds of Peter Strickland: Chapter 26 Book Images
“The three full length films which Peter Strickland has made so far: Katalin Varga (2009), Berberian Sound Studio (2012) and The Duke of Burgundy (2014), all create their own immersive worlds, often self contained and separate from wider reality and its markers.”
“Berberian Sound Studio is set in the enclosed world of a recording studio in 1976 and could be considered an homage to and a possible comment on that period’s “giallo” and Italian horror film genres and their sometimes-questionable excesses…
Berberian Sound Studio involves a garden shed-based British sound effects expert, played by Toby Jones, who travels to Italy to work on a film which turns out unbeknownst to him to be a disturbing giallo horror.
As time passes at the recording studio life and art implode and fall into one another and apart from going to his bedroom he does not seem to leave the studio complex.
His sanity crumbles and he becomes increasingly both part of and complicit in a culture and celluloid of misogyny, one which is masked and masquerading as art and the barriers between reality and unreality become increasingly blurred.”
“Alongside the link to giallo it shares a number of similar themes with David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983); the stepping into an altered reality via recorded media and the degradation of its listeners, watchers and participants.
Although whereas that film has a certain ragged, driving, visceral, hallucinatory and at times street-like energy, Berberian Sound Studio has and creates a more subtle, phantasmagoric dreamlike atmosphere.
This is not a film which intrigues and draws you in through a plot arc, rather it is the imagery, experimentation, atmosphere and its cultural connections.”
“With Berberian Sound Studio the cultural connections include a soundtrack by Broadcast and design/film work by Julian House (variously of Ghost Box Records, Intro design agency, The Focus Group musical venture and sometimes Broadcast collaborator), with striking elements of its visual character being created by him.
These include the tape packaging, edit sheets etc. for the studio setting and as a film it is deeply steeped within such pre-digital recording technology, with its physical form and noises becoming an intrinsic part of the story and its enclosed world.”
“Julian House’s work also includes an intro sequence for the film within a film called The Equestrian Vortex, which is the one Toby Jones’ character is helping to create the sound effects for.
Accompanied by Broadcast’s music this uses found illustration imagery and creates an unsettling, intense sequence which draws from the tropes of folk and occult horror.”
“Following Berberian Sound Studio, Peter Strickland’s next feature film was The Duke of Burgundy.
On initial glance and indeed for the first section of the film this appears to be something of a stylistically salacious piece of work, drawing from the more erotically-inclined side of the likes of director Jess Franco’s films, which it is said in part to be a homage to.
Jess Franco was a Spanish film director, writer, composer, cinematographer and actor. He is known for having a prolific output of around 160 films released between 1959 and 2013, which often focused on exploitation genres. His work has gained a cult following, in part due to the exploitation elements of the films alongside his own at times distinctive film making style/aesthetics and also because his prolific output was largely made with little or no funding and has come to be considered a form of almost renegade or outsider film production.
However as The Duke of Burgundy progresses its cinematic journey is shown to not be an exercise in purely prurient cinema.”
“It focuses almost exclusively on the lives of two female lovers, largely in the setting of one particular romantically and texturally ornate house and whose work involves the research, collecting and study of crickets and lepidoptera (butterflies and moths).
Although not explicitly explained, the wider world they live in seems to be largely concerned or even obsessed by such study, with their own lives revolving around little else (apart from boudoir activities).
Much of the decoration of the main house involves framed mounts of these creatures and the film will periodically focus on these and related images, creating a returning refrain and a near scientific but also reflective, expressive study of the beauty and decorations of nature.”
“Connected to the strife of the film’s central characters, their conflicts and day-to-day nature of relationships, one of the reference points that Peter Strickland quotes in relation to the film is the 1979-87 British television sitcom Terry and June.
he Duke of Burgundy has much in common with such work in the way that it is an observation of the practicalities and unbalanced wishes and desires that can be present in relationships, of the sometimes petty, sometimes far from petty, annoyances and compromises that can be part of them.
Although in The Duke of Burgundy such things have an exotic setting and involve private, intimate rituals, ultimately some of the issues it considers are very similar to those in Terry and June; the frustrations of two people in their nightwear and pyjamas in bed.”
“Josephine Decker’s Butter on the Latch film from 2013 is more stylistically experimental but might well be an appropriate reference point for Katalin Varga; pastorally set work that wanders off the beaten paths of conventional cinema or indeed a slasher in the woods and the land without the slashing.”
“Katalin Varga could almost be a period film and in part it seems to be set in a generally pastoral world that may not have changed all that much since medieval times.
During the film it is physically jarring when the viewer sees a more built up area and modern buildings, or when a mobile phone ring tone is heard in the film, while a yellow plastic plate that appears at one point seems almost offensive in this setting.
The modern world often seems to only appear in relatively small details: the contemporary rubber car tyres on the cart that is used in the journey, haymaking carried out by hand while in the background is a building with a satellite dish.”
“Katalin Varga does not necessarily have the more polished production sheen of the honey toned fantasy land of The Duke of Burgundy or the cloistered, contained and imagined interiors of Berberian Sound Studio but it creates a sense of its own world, time and place nonetheless. It may in part be a side effect of that lack of sheen but it seems as though it could be some semi-lost European film from an unspecified point in time, possibly the 1970s, which although arthouse did not quite belong to the accepted, reputable canon of cinema.
The kind of a film that would have been screened at London’s Scala cinema around the early 1980s to the early 1990s, which was something of a home for such things.
Peter Strickland’s films bring to mind those kind of arthouse, sometimes transgressive films that have often gone on to find a cult following but have not always become mainstream critically acceptable.
For example films that would have once appeared in the pages of Films and Filming magazine which was published from 1954-1990; often European cult arthouse independent cinema, with leftfield, exploratory and sometimes transgressive or salacious subject matter and presentation.”
“(The) sense of homage within Peter Strickland’s films can sometimes be quite overt; in The Duke of Burgundy the earlier-mentioned night-time dreamlike sequence which sees the screen and one of the main characters consumed by a rapidly layering collage of lepidoptera seems to quite directly visually reference experimental film maker Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight film from 1963, which layered natural elements and insects to create a rapidly moving montage.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 26 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside text extracts from the chapter:
Tim Hart, Maddy Prior and “The Dalesman’s Litany” – A Yearning for Imaginative Idylls and a Counterpart to Tales of Hellish Mills: Chapter 25 Book Images
“It is wise to be wary of harking back to some imagined pre-industrialisation idyll; as someone whose thoughts are recorded in the 1969 oral history book Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village by Ronald Blythe says, the old ways which were often quite harsh at the time can come to seem like pleasant aspects of life and times as the years add a distance and rosy glow to them.
Having said which, the song “The Dalesman’s Litany”, as performed by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior on their 1968 album Folk Songs of Old England, which takes as its subject matter a yearning for a return to pastoral idylls and away from a life working in industry is an appealing thing.
Originally a poem by Frederic William Moorman written around 1900, it is a tale told by an agricultural worker who has to choose between a life with his beau on the land he loves and working in towns, cities and mines because the local landowner does not want married workers.
In the later 1960s when this song was released, an idyllic, pastoral view of Olde England alongside the use and reinterpretation of traditional folk music and lore were sometimes part of a more experimental, exploratory strand in music and culture which to a degree was intertwined with psychedelia and a “hippie” utopian viewpoint…
The song imparts a sense of an aching yearning to return to the moor and leave the coalstacks, which makes the song a more personal counterpart to William Blake’s “Jerusalem/And did those feet in ancient time” which was originally published in 1808 and its words of dark satanic mills; a text which was a reaction to the societal disturbances brought about by the industrial revolution.”
“As mentioned in the chapter 7: “1973: A Time of Schism and a Dybbuk’s Dozen of Fractures”, by the early 1970s the spirit of “hippie” utopian ideals, which backgrounded the era in which the song was recorded, had begun to turn sour and inwards…
Accompanying which, being drawn to imagined, bucolic idylls from times gone by, folk music and culture may in part have come to be a reaction to a period of social, political and economic turmoil within Britain, related energy shortages and electricity blackouts.
Indeed, The Dalesman’s Litany almost seems like a subtle protest song aimed at the era of its recording, obliquely filtered via, to reference Rob Young’s Electric Eden book (2010), a form of imaginative time travel, which further removes it from the more twee, romanticised side of folk interpretation and revival.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 25 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside text extracts from the chapter:
“Musician and author Luke Haines is a curious gent and his work is an interesting example of how pop/rock can be conjoined with a certain intellectual stance and influence and still be good pop/rock songs.
Along which lines it could be considered to be “non-populist pop” (to quote the sleeve notes to The Eccentronic Research Council’s Underture 1612 album from 20121) .
The term “pop” is used as two of the bands he was involved with, The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder bothered the singles charts in the days when such things kind of still mattered, while the songs themselves are often catchy.
However, his work also seems to largely exist in a genre all of its own, one without a particular name.
It is without a name as probably something appropriately descriptive would need to be multi-layered and include the likes of One Time French Breakfast TV Indie Popstar, Brief Top Twenty-er, Musical Dada-Pantomine Villain and Pop Culture’s Hidden Undercurrents Explorer.
Which would be just a touch too long as a genre title for the racks of record stores.
As a background to the above possible genre title his band The Auteurs had a period of mainstream success in France which included Luke Haines appearing on breakfast television and Black Box Recorder’s single “Facts of Life” spent one week at number twenty in the UK singles chart. Although his work has a pop edge, it often also interacts with and explores more fringe or even experimental cultural areas, while he at times seems to position himself/be positioned as an arch observer or outsider, possibly even nemesis, to much of music and pop culture.”
“There has been a connection or few with his work and what has come to be known as hauntology…
If you consider hauntology in a more general sense to mean the present being haunted by spectres of the past then Luke Haines is probably one of the more hauntological musicians out there.
His music often seems to literally be haunted by the past – his own, society’s, culture’s and bogeymen-like figures or worries of one sort or another from previous decades.
Take the 1999 album How I Learned to Love the Bootboys by one of his previous bands The Auteurs, which he was the instigator/frontman of.
The lead track and single of the same year “The Rubettes” borrows liberally from 1970s pop (“Sugar Baby Love” by its namesakes in particular), there are marauding skinhead bootboys from a similar era, an ode to a 1950s pop rock band (the singer of whom is “dead within a year”), imbibements popular in other eras (Asti Spumante, known as a “noxiously sweet poor man’s Champagne”) and so forth.”
“Elsewhere, such as on his 2006 solo album Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop there are teddy boys discos and Vauxhall Corsas, “the three day week, half-day Wednesdays, the spirit of the Blitz” and an unsolved 1960s celebrity boxers death.”
“While in 2011 he released a concept album dedicated to 1970s and early 1980s wrestling, called in an “it does what it says on the can” manner Nine and a Half Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and early ’80s, which is a fine title and subject matter.”
“Between 1998 and 2003 Black Box Recorder, his trio with cohorts Sarah Nixey and John Moore, released three unparalleled albums which contained seething, brutally repressed, “now that the Empire has faded”, “I know what you’re doing in the afternoons”, arch Albionic pop-noir.
They often sounded as though they were singing from some kind of brutal, sneering, imaginary 1970s English hinterland.
Their work could be considered its own unique take on hauntological work’s creation of parallel worlds through a form of hazy misremembering and reinterpreting of previous eras and an associated sense of exploring resonant cultural reference points and atmospheres from the past and weaving with them to form new cultural forms and myths.”
“To a degree this connects with work that can be considered hauntological in a more conventional sense in that it puts me in mind of Rob Young’s review of a Moon Wiring Club album in Uncut magazine, where he talks of the enclosed music being “slathered in the fiction that it comes from an older, weirder England”.”
“His 2015 album British Nuclear Bunkers took him nearer to conventional hauntological territory, being a largely instrumental, Radiophonic-esque album which was recorded in part using (presumably, from his championing of them online around the time of the album’s release) cheap tuppence ha’penny synthesisers.
Aside from the album’s title, the titles of the tracks include “This Is the BBC”, “Test Card Forever”, “Mama Check The Radar at the Dada Station”, “New Pagan Sun”, “Deep Level Shelters Under London” and “Electronic Tone Poem”.”
“What he brings to hauntology-related work is a playful, sometimes outright humorous take on such things; an absurdist and dada-like exploration of occult histories.
If you should look up the definition of dada you may find that it was an art movement founded on “irrationality, incongruity, and irreverence towards accepted aesthetic criteria”,which sounds somewhat appropriate for Haines’ work and might also be used to refer to his insubordinate to the cultural status quo stance as an author in the 2009 and 2011 autobiographical books Bad Vibes and Post Everything and possibly also at points his interviewee stance.”
“Along which lines, the video that accompanies British Nuclear Bunkers features him with only somebody wearing a gorilla suit for company.
They are pictured in a largely featureless room that implies a sense of it being part of a subterranean, not known to the public Cold War interrogation centre.
The gorilla squeezes lemons and plays an analogue synthesiser while Luke Haines, dressed in what appears to be a biohazard protection suit, practises what can only be described as occult pagan yoga.”
“Haines’ 2015 album Smash the System seemed to also travel, in his own particular way, to the point at which hauntological concerns meet otherly folklore. So, for example, while there are all kinds of pop culture titles and references to the album (Marc Bolan, Bruce Lee, Vince Taylor etc.) there are also tracks called “Ritual Magick”, “Power of the Witch” and “The Incredible String Band”.
The album has an archival photograph of morris dancers as its cover image and the accompanying video for the title track shows their contemporary equivalent on a slightly worrying and unsettling bender or borderline riotous fracas in an urban capital city setting (while the song also namechecks his love of The Monkees and The Velvet Underground).
“The video also features gas masks and a tray full of shots for the Morris dancers to drink (for some reason the latter of which seems most unruly, unsettling and just a bit wrong).”
“Appropriate reference points may also include the arty-lairiness of Earl Brutus, with whom Luke Haines has at various points shared a designer and collaborator in the form of Scott King and possibly even the imagined troublesome youth cult of the film version of A Clockwork Orange from 1971.”
“…the cover to the “The Rubettes” single from 1999 travels further along this path with its depiction of genuinely unsettling folk horroresque masked men in black industrial protective weather proofs combined with Mr Punch-like outfits and masks.
They have parked their livestock van out in the countryside in the middle of nowhere and one of them peers out from the slats in its rear at the viewer with intentions that can only be far from good.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 24 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Queens of Evil, Tam Lin and The Touchables – High Fashion Transitional Psych Folk Horror, Pastoral Fantasy and Dreamlike Isolation: Chapter 23 Book Images
“There is a mini film sub-genre of pastoral fantasy, with at times elements of folk horror, wherein late 1960s and turn of the decade high fashion mixes with grown up fairytale high jinx, wayward behaviour and sometimes a step or two or more towards the dark side, all carried out in dreamlike isolation in the woods and pastoral settings.
The three main films aligned with such things are Queens of Evil aka Le Regine or Il Delitto del Diavolo (1970), Tam Lin aka The Devil’s Widow (1970) and in a more loosely connected manner The Touchables (1968).
All three of these films draw from, to varying degrees, some of the often defining themes of folk horror: being set in rural places and buildings where activities and rituals can develop or take place without easy escape to or influence from the outside world, normality and societal norms.”
“Queens of Evil’s plot follows a handsome young freewheeling hippie idealist who comes across a house in the woods after he has been involved in a road accident where a materially wealthy gent was killed.
Living in this house are three young women who take him in, charm, nurture, seduce and confuse him. Everything is rosy for a while but there is something off-kilter about the setup and he cannot quite seem to leave.”
“It is an at points chimeric fantasy which is largely set in sharply stylish but indolent, tree-inhabited period interiors and is full of late 1960s ethereal high-fashion along the lines of Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell’s work from then and also incorporating the period folkloric-meets-psychedelia imagery collecting of website Psychedelic Folkloristic and its reflection of a relatively brief point in time around the later 1960s to early 1970s when fashionability turned towards folk and pastoral concerns.”
“(In terms of) reference points it creates a sense of a gently decadent grown ups version of a tea-party in the woods, a dash of Snow White (at one point somebody says “It’s just like Snow White’s house” about the cabin in the woods), a bit more of a dash of Hansel and Gretel and its tales of leading astray, more than a touch of the earlier mentioned and loosely interconnected kidnapping and pop-art pastoral playground film The Touchables, alongside the social critique and/or dreamlike qualities of some of Czech New Wave films such as Daisies (1966) and Valerie and her Week of Wonders (1970).”
It could well also be appropriate to include The Wicker Man (1973) as another reference point.
“In both films there is a similar sense of game playing, of leading a worldly innocent through a set of rituals and of differing levels of power and control in a rural setting.
Also, in common with that towering relatively modern folklore tale, apples and symbols of temptation play a part in this game.
And as with The Wicker Man, this is a tale full of its own and borrowed mythology, which seems to exist and be told in a world of its own imagining, where the outside rarely intrudes.”
“In many ways it is a story of a culture tottering right on the edge of when the utopian, carefree, sundrenched dream of the 1960s was about to fall into the darkness of its own dissolution in the following decade (Liege & Lief becomes Comus, to draw parallels with folk music’s progression at the time).”
“In terms of this loose mini sub-genre of pastoral fantasy, The Touchables is more rooted in the later part rather than the tipping point of that 1960s dream, although it does represent a world and culture which seems to have become untethered and possibly one which lacks a moral centre.
It is a very modish tale of a group of stylish sixties women who live in a huge see-through plastic bubble in the middle of the countryside who kidnap a pop star as “a temporary solution to the leisure problem” and in order make him their plaything.
“Mixed in with this are the stealing of a Michael Caine dummy, gangsters, wrestlers with rather refined aristocratic tastes, a fair bit of high-fashion styling and a fine pop-psych title song by Nirvana (the 1960s band rather than the later Seattle based grunge group).
Essentially, at heart it is a caper romp but one that is more than one remove from the mainstream and quite surreal in its setting and the mixture of elements it contains.”
“It was not a surprise to discover that The Touchables was based on a script by Donald Cammell (with a screenplay by Ian La Frenais), as in part it represents a proto, more pop-art, possibly light hearted take on Performance (1970), which he wrote and co-directed.
As with The Touchables, Performance also incorporates a theme of a popstar living in an enclosed bubble world, although its setting is in some ways more prosaic as it involves a former popstar who lives a reclusive, isolated life in a London flat rather than in a rurally set large-scale see-through plastic dome as is the case with The Touchables.”
“One intriguing aspect of The Touchables is that there is not even an attempt to explain how the stylish group of female kidnappers’ bubble or lifestyle are afforded, nor why there seems to be no outside comment or interference by mainstream society, authority etc. about their quite frankly rather unusual giant blow-up see-through home that is sitting in the middle of the countryside, complete with jukebox, canopied merry-go-round etc.”
“Tam Lin is a curious film which as with Queens of Evil and The Touchables does not easily fit into any particular mainstream genre; it is a loose modern adaptation of the traditional folkloric tale and song “The Ballad of Tam Lin”, relocated to the country home of an almost mythologically wealthy older woman which is peopled by various late 60s hipsters, hunks and prepossessing actresses of the time (including Madeline Smith, Joanna Lumley and Jenny Hanley) and soundtracked by British jazz-folk band Pentangle.”
“Hollywood legend Ava Gardner stars as that wealthy, older woman, alongside a dapper Ian McShane who plays a young man that catches her eye and Stephanie Beacham as the innocent from the world outside.”
“It was directed by Roddy McDowell, who is possibly most famous for playing the lead simian character in the Planet of the Apes films that were released from 1968 to 1973.
This was the only time he directed which is a pity as this film shows that he had considerable promise in that area.”
“The plot involves an immensely rich older lady Michaela Cazaret, gathering up hip young things to come and live, play with and amuse in her country mansion; her actions seems like a scooping up or pied piper-esque leading as she heads a convoy of cars through roads walled by pylons into her country lair.
Cue childlike games (how can a game of frisbee seem so very odd?), partying, pleasing of the senses, imbibing and so forth.”
“In Tam Lin there is a sense of playful opulence and a mod/post-mod sharpness to the style which could be compared and contrasted with say the murk, grime and tattiness of the also sub/counter-culture orientated folk horror related film Psychomania which was released in 1973.
They are separated by but a few years but are worlds apart in terms of the aesthetic style, societal/economic conditions, atmosphere and possibly optimism that they represent or portray.”
“Tam Lin was also made at a high water mark of folk rock and the returning music refrain throughout the film is traditional folk song “The Ballad of Tam Lin” from which the film takes its inspiration, performed in the film by Pentangle and which infuses and intermingles with the more conventional music score.
The film’s story follows that of its folk music forebear which with its fantastical tales underpins and layers the sense of this being an adult fairytale.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 23 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
“Gone to Earth is a film from 1950 directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, based on the 1917 novel by Mary Webb. It is also known as The Wild Heart in a considerably re-edited version created at the instigation of producer David O. Selznick after a disagreement and subsequent court case between the directors and him.”
“In the film Hazel Woodus, played by Jennifer Jones, is a beautiful but innocent young woman who lives in the Shropshire countryside in 1897 and is very steeped in an older more rural way of life and lore. She loves and understands wild animals and whenever she has problems, she turns to the book of spells and charms left to her by her gypsy mother.”
In some ways it is a caddish melodrama, with the untamed main female character marrying the local priest (the “good man”) but being lead astray by the archetypal baddie, the local squire.
However, while containing elements of more mainstream cinematic fare of the time it also contains a non-populist or exploratory nature presented within a populist framework.
As you watch the film you can feel it straining at its period restrictions in terms of sexuality, desire, faithfulness and respectability, accompanied by expressions and considerations of sin, acceptance, redemption and retribution…
As a film it also appears to be a forebear of later culture which would travel amongst the layered, hidden histories of the land and folklore, showing a world where faiths old and new are part of and/or mingle amongst folkloric beliefs and practices. Accompanying which, in the world of Gone to Earth (and it is most definitely its own world) the British landscape is not presented in a realist manner.”
“The film’s elements of older folkloric ways and its visual aspects combine to create a subtle magic realism in the film and the world and lives it shows, conjures and presents.
It also creates a bucolic dream of the countryside, particularly during the “Harps in Heaven” song and sequence.
In this section Hazel Woodus is pictured singing on the crest of a hill in her Sunday best dress and bonnet, accompanied on a full size harp by her father…
The song itself is reminscent of “O Willow Waly” from the 1961 film The Innocents in that it has a similar haunting quality and a purity of voice that stops and captures you in your tracks.”
“In some ways the air of not-quite-real-ness that can be found in Gone to Earth makes it seem like a forerunner to the more adult fairy tale side of the Czech New Wave (especially Valerie and her Week of Wonders from 1970 and possibly Malá Morská Víla/The Little Mermaid from 1976 and also of the style, character and imagery of a younger Kate Bush, of a free spirit cast out upon and amongst the moors.
“The connection between Kate Bush and Gone to Earth is also further entwined in that her 1993 album Red Shoes takes its title from and was inspired by Powell and Pressburger’s 1948 film of the same name, which was also an influence on her 1993 film which accompanied the album The Line, the Cross & the Curve.”
“In a further interconnecting of later music, David Sylvian’s Gone to Earth album from 1986 took its name from Powell and Pressburger’s film and it is possible to trace a line from my interest in Sylvian’s work and what grew into A Year In The Country.
Towards the later 1980s I was somewhat enamoured and intrigued by his 1987 album Secrets of the Beehive and the textured, layered nature based imagery of the cover by Vaughan Oliver and Nigel Grierson working as 23 Envelope, alongside being drawn to his 1986 single taken from the Gone to Earth album, A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil. Both of these seemed to sidestep the sometimes-brash mainstream bustle of culture and attempt to create some kind of respite or repose…”
“…along which lines his and Kate Bush’s work are also linked in amongst related cultural and literal landscapes by Rob Young in his Electric Eden book from 2011, in a section also titled “Gone to Earth” which in part could also be connected back to some of the themes of Powell and Pressburger’s film:
“In the changed, materialistic Britain of the 1980s, the ideas about myth and magic, memorial landscapes and nostalgia for a lost golden age were banished to internal exile, but scattered links of the silver chain glinted in the output of certain unconventional pop musicians of the time, most notably Kate Bush, Julian Cope, David Sylvian and Talk Talk.””
Online images to accompany Chapter 22 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Afore Ye Go – A Final Visit to A Year In The Country at Late Junction, Accompanied by Explorations of Pastures New in Starburst and Revisiting a Highland Lament in Willow’s Songs
Just a brief note to say that if you should fancy a listen there is only one day left to listen to the A Year In The Country piece with Verity Sharp on BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction:
“Ah well, seeing as it is May the 1st we just had to kick off with that didn’t we? It’s a tune called May Day from The Hare And The Moon. They were a band that once existed but now are they say ‘as ghosts’. Which means that they slot perfectly into a genre called hauntology and that’s something that I’m going to be exploring a little bit later on with Stephen Prince, who works under the guise of A Year In The Country and he goes seeking out what he calls pastoral otherlyness in this sceptred isle.
“You don’t have to look very far for it either. I wander how many of you were up at dawn watching your local Morris side dance as the sun came up? And forget maypoles in the imagined town of Scarfolk, children would once again be dancing around that May Pylon.
“And for me personally Beltane is the thing, that ancient Celtic tradition where you can light a big bonfire and join hands with your friends and share thoughts about new beginnings. Let us celebrate all of that tonight…”
(Verity Sharp, from the introduction to the show.)
Wander amongst the spectral fields in the company of amongst others the just mentioned The Hare And The Moon, alongside The Advisory Circle, Trader Horne and Cat’s Eyes and enter a land of imagined plenty with Neil Mc Sweeney via the BBC’s iPlayer.
Thanks again to Verity Sharp and Rebecca Gaskell for inviting me on and putting together the show.
Plus this review for the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book recently appeared in issue 448 of Starburst magazine, which was nice to see:
“…aimed fiercely at turning over soil in pastures new… if you’re already interested in folk culture and want to be astonished by how deeply its roots run, you’ll treasure A Year In The Country enormously… covers everything from folkloric film and literature to electronic music to acid folk to folk horror to the dystopian fiction of John Wyndham and the classic unearthings of Nigel Kneale to the formation of under-the-furrows record labels like Trunk, Ghost Box and Finders Keepers… there are excursions to Kate Bush and Broadcast, television shows like Children of the Stones and Sapphire & Steel, the psychogeography of the Uncommonly British Days Out books and even a visit to the gentler landscapes of Bagpuss and The Good Life.”
Thanks to Ian White and Ed Fortune for that, much appreciated.
PS The above maypole image is from the booklet that accompanies the Willow’s Songs album released by Finders Keepers records, which is a collection of 12 vintage recordings of traditional British folksongs that inspired the soundtrack to The Wicker Man.
Well worth seeking out, particularly for the wonderfully evocative version of Highland Lament and its tales of social dispossession.
- A Year In The Country / Stephen Prince at BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction, with Verity Sharp
- Issue 448 of Starburst, featuring the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields review
- Willow’s Songs at Finders Keepers Records
- The Advisory Circle’s And The Cuckoo Comes at Ghost Box Records
- The reissue of Trader Horne’s Morning Way at Judy Dyble’s site
- Cat’s Eyes The Duke of Burgundy: on CD at Milan records and on vinyl at Cat’s Eyes own site
- The Hare And The Moon’s May Day, on their eponymous 2009 album, originally released on Reverb Worship
- Neil McSweeney’s Land of Cockaigne from A Coat Worth Wearing
- Verity Sharp at Twitter
- Rebecca Gaskell at Twitter
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
- A Year In The Country at Late Junction with Verity Sharp, BBC Radio 3 – Tonight 1st May 2018
- A Year In The Country at Late Junction with Verity Sharp – Archived at BBC Radio 3
- Day #3/365: Gather In The Mushrooms: something of a starting point via an accidental stumbling into the British acid folk underground (and I expect a fair few other places around these parts)
- Day #52/365: The Advisory Circle and ornithological intrigueries…
- Week #1/52: The Duke Of Burgundy and Mesmerisation…
- Day #18/365: Willows Songs
- The A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book
Throughout the year Chris Lambert, author of amongst other works Tales from the Black Meadow, is planning on creating four mixes which each explore 13 chapters of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book.
They will include a selection of music tracks, trailers, clips from the book etc which in various ways connect with and reflect the wanderings in the book.
And rather fine it is. At points it made me laugh out loud, at other times it was good to revisit some old audio friends, at others just to be able to step back and appreciate the intermingling and interweaving of tracks, styles, text and ideas.
It also made me wander if it is possible to sponsor a stile, in the same way that you see say public benches that have been sponsored by people?
I’m not sure but in the meantime, hop over the Ghost Box stile and wander the Spectral Fields with Mr Lambert…
A quiz for all the family:
While you wander the Spectral Fields, in an I-Spy manner, can you match the chapters and song titles below?
Chapters explored in the Spectral Fields Wyrd Kalendar Mix 1:
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
Songs etc included in the Spectral Fields Wyrd Kalendar Mix 1:
“We’re going to take a slightly different route…” – The Kalendar Host
I Was a Young Man – The Albion Country Band
Glistening Glyndebourne – John Martyn
Black Country Rock – David Bowie
Love in Ice Crystals – The Sallyangie
Morning Way – Trader Horne
Children of the Stones – Sidney Sager
Caged in Stammheim by Demdike Stare
Flying over a Glassed Wedge vs. The Stone Tape – Howlround
Playground Gateway – Belbury Poly
Mind How You Go Now – The Advisory Circle
Forgotten Places – Hoofus
The Magic Yard – Lubos Fiser
Loomings – Hoofus
Witch Hunt – Frog
Trailer – The Final Programme
The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water – Central Office of Information
The Be Colony – Broadcast and The Focus Group
I See, So I See So – Broadcast and The Focus Group
Noah’s Castle – Jugg
Tales from the Black Meadow (Main Theme) – The Soulless Party
The Book of the Lost – Rowan Amber Mill and Emily Jones
The Equestrian Vortex – Broadcast
Corn Rigs – Magnet
Wickerman – Pulp
Gently Johnny – Magnet
How Do – Sneaker Pimps
Searching for Rowan – Magnet
The Owl Service – Ton Alarch
The Dream of Gerontius/Penda’s Fen/Robin Redbreast – Edward Elgar
The Tomorrow People – Dudley Simpson
Red Shift Trailer – Phil Ryan
The Changes vs. The Ash Tree – Paddy Kingsland
The Bear Ghost – The Owl Service
WarGames – clip
Dancing with Tears in my Eyes – Ultravox
WarGames Theme – Arthur B. Rubinstein
Since Yesterday – Strawberry Switchblade
The Game Begins – Arthur B. Rubinstein
I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me – Nik Kershaw
Edge of the World (End Title) – Arthur B. Rubinstein
Coming Soon – The Kalendar Host
Thanks indeed to Mr Lambert for being such a helpful and informative Kalendar Host and for the work involved. A tip of the hat to you good sir.
Tales From The Black Meadow – the book (or few), the CD (or few), the project
The Wyrd Kalendar book by Chris Lambert and Andy Paciorek (published by Wyrd Harvest Press / Folk Horror Revival)
A Year In The Country – Spectral Fields – Wyrd Kalendar Mix 1; Chapters 1-13 at Mixcloud
The mix at the Wyrd Kalendar website
Tales from the Black Meadow – the book by Chris Lambert
Chris Lambert’s own writing website
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
The A Year In The Country Wandering Through Spectral Fields book
“Savage Party” and Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) – Glimpses of Albion in the Overgrowth: Chapter 20 Book Images
“In 2012 in the earlyish days of planning for A Year In The Country there was a trailer being broadcast for an episode called “Savage Party” of the British television youth-orientated soap opera Hollyoaks.
The trailer is basically a high street-esque take on some of the visual language, themes and tropes of the flipside or undercurrents of folkloric culture expressed in the likes of The Wicker Man (1973): a glimpse of Albion in the cultural overgrowth, a step through the gates into the secret garden (with spangly hotpants as your attire).”
“It shows the young folk entering a gated slightly magical-seeming woodland; they are often animal masked, behorned and May Queen crowned and enter an unsupervised carnivalesque atmosphere which seems to subtly hark back to earlier almost pagan times…”
“And yes the trailer is a simulacra of folklore-inspired culture but still enjoyable…
For some reason this promotional video blurs those lines a touch. It is joyous, ridiculous, a copy and also created with some sense of love or passion for its source material, even if that is but a flickering, passing moment of interest.”
“The trailer’s soundtrack is Stealing Sheep’s “Shut Eye” (2012), which is a lovely catchy sort of psych-folk indie-pop song, with the band’s music reminding me in a way of a more youthful, British Coco Rosie (the sister duo who were loosely connected with American freak folk in the 2000s, along with the likes of Devandra Banhart and Joanna Newsom).”
“Curiously in 2016 there was a “Halloween on Hollyoaks” trailer which drew from one of the other more flipsides of filmic culture, Italian super- natural horror and interconnected giallo, and was basically a homage to Dario Argento’s Suspiria film from 1977.”
“The appearance of such less thoroughly travelled themes in mainstream culture can seem like something of an unexpected treat when it is treated in a respectful manner and done at least reasonably well.
Along which lines, a soft spot should be reserved for the turn of the millennium remake of television series Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) that was broadcast in 2000-2001, and which was produced by Charlie Higson, who also wrote and directed some episodes, and starred comedians Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer alongside Emilia Fox and gloriously white-haired former Doctor Who Tom Baker.”
“…it often shows a great love for a whole slew of fantasy, television, literature, crime horror and science fiction films etc. from years gone by in the way that it references and draws from them.
“The episode Man of Substance in particular, which seems to predate Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg’s Hot Fuzz film of 2007 by a year or few in a number of its themes, borrowings and the story of a sleepy country idyll gone bad and is rather folk horror-like in its setting and plot.”
“I guess we should have known something was not quite right when shown the unsettling monument on the way into the village that looked as though it should have been on the cover of one of the John Barleycorn Reborn series of dark Britannica compilation albums of wyrd, exploratory, underground etc folk that were released by Cold Spring beginning in 2007.”
“Along the way the episode wanders into the territory of and borrows from: The Wicker Man, The Monster Club, Curse of the Crimson Altar, Hansel and Gretel, Witchfinder General, The Bloody Judge and Penda’s Fen.”
“And just having Tom Baker, possibly still the archetypal Doctor Who, in amongst it all makes the episode fundamentally interconnected in the minds of watchers of a certain vintage with particular culture and tropes.”
“…and that is before we get to Gareth Thomas, who once starred as a freedom fighter in the cult science fiction series Blake’s 7 (1978-1981), who here plays a real ale pushing pub landlord who later appears in his festival garb only to be revealed as a centuries-old medieval lord of the manor.”
“Randall & Hopkirk is not necessarily as dark but thinking back this episode may have shared some ground with the similar time period’s The League of Gentleman series that was broadcast from 1999-2002 and its mixing of horror and comedy in a rural setting gone bad where “You bain’t be from round here” is the general refrain.”
“Just prior to its broadcast the The Wicker Man soundtrack had been first released in 1998 via the efforts and investigating of Jonny Trunk and Trunk Records and this is thought to have been one of the sparks that ignited that growing interest.
However, the number of different references to fantastic fictions from before that time in the series suggest its creator had a knowledge, interest and love of such things that stretches back some way.”
“The episode Fair Isle is set on an isolated island called Strait Isle which has its own laws and ways of doing things, produces its own unique foodstuff under the direction of an eccentric lord ruler and includes high jinx with the locals in a very local hostelry, all of which further echo The Wicker Man.
That episode also features Doctor Who-esque folkloric costumed creatures, ecological worries that have shades of the series Doomwatch (1970-1972), transformations which echo Ken Russell’s Altered States film (1980), a hiding of relics which harks back to The Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and even an “I would’ve got away with it if it wasn’t for you pesky kids” Scooby Doo-esque unveiling of the baddie.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 20 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter: