Trails and Influences: Touchstones
The image above is of a handcrafted folk art horse (circa 1920s?)…
This artifact was a particular touchstone and point of reference when I was heading towards this year in the country.
It has always felt quite precious, delicate and in need of, well, a good home.
It seemed to capture, contain and direct a certain spirit of something as the strands and signals that would become A Year In The Country resolved and made themselves clear…
And so, I come to the end of this particular (pathway of the) journey.
I thank everybody who has read and supported my good self as I walked along the pathways and explored the stories that can be found beneath the plough, pylons and amongst the edgelands during this year long voyage.
I must leave now. I must rest my weary head.
Well, while I’m talking about posters/packaging that attempt to make a celluloid tale appear to be that which it is not (see Day #311/365)..
I have something of a soft spot for fictional tales that deal with alternative timelines, their sense of “what if?” sending the mind a-wandering, in a way that I expect has its roots many years back in my reading/viewing habits.
Resistance from 2011 is one such story.
It is set in a Britain in 1944, after D-Day has failed and Germany has invaded this island state.
Generally you would expect such stories to concentrate on epic battles and changes within and around urban areas, the massive changes that such an event would bring about, the associated pomp and glory…
… but Resistance is different. It’s a low-key film set in a small rural community. The invasion force is a small, almost unobtrusive group of men and in some ways life carries on as before, the fields, flocks and stone walls remaining impassive in the face of man’s viciousness over management styles/rights/use and abuses of the above.
(In some ways, thinking back to the film it reminds me of The Wall/Die Wand – see Day #13/365 – in that this is speculative/science fiction of a pastoral nature, gentler – in terms of spectacle at least – than many of its urban/future/post-civilisation set brethren.
You could also draw a line back to another set of fields in this land, Winstanley -see Day #78/365 – and interelated speculative fiction as the directors of that particular celluloid tale, Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, also made It Happened Here, which dealt with a similar alternative timeline of a successful invasion of Britain by Germany but one which concentrated on urban/capital events…)
There’s something jarring, unsettling in seeing this invasion force in amongst such a setting. In seeing the familiar iconography of that particular power in a traditional low-roofed cottage or amongst a country fair; what do rosettes now mean in such times?
Seeing such things here, in amongst the endlessness of nature and the land, seeing sten guns next to shire horses, watching how life adjusts, moves and accommodates the new realities in a pastoral setting – as opposed to the more expected filmic tropes of heroic resistance in cities and towns – invokes a quiet disturbance as a viewer, it is subtly shocking and questioning.
One of the things the film made me think about is how those realities/the rule of law of those now in power would take form further away from the roots and power bases in the cities; in a way it makes me think of the differences between societies based around folk/the wald/the wild wood in contrast to those which draw from pop/populous/city (see Day #40/365) and the more flexible, tenuousness of such bonds (threads?) as you move away from the denser urban areas, particularly at such times… almost harking towards a return to earlier, feudal times and ways of being.
View the cinematic foretelling here.
Visit the place from which the story sprung here.
There have been only a handful of books written (in part) about the curious interplay/explorations of folk/rock/psychedelia – more recently Rob Young’s Electric Eden, Jeanette Leech’s Seasons They Change and Shindig magazines Witches Hats and Painted Chariots…
…but if you should forage back to just after the high point of such things you may well come across Electric Muse: Folk Into Rock, the book written/put together jointly by Karl Dallas, Robin Denselow, David Laing and Robert Shelton and accompanied by a compilation album of the same name…
…and then if you should forage forward in time you may well come across the album New Electric Muse, which is an updating/extending of the earlier album (and it would appear that the march of progress has continued under its revellers feet and merriments), including on its discs various more recent works.
One of my favourites on the album is the Battlefield Band’s Tae The Beggin’; it’s a curious recording that puts a smile on my face every time I hear it. As a song it makes me think of some kind of collusion between a 1990s indie band with experimental tendencies who’ve just bought a synthesizer for 10p and are still in the learning to play it with one finger, traditional folkloric tales and fare and a falling back through time of Finders Keepers Records Willows Songs compilation.
(The plot, as it were? Well, Essentially Tae The Beggin’ is the story/thoughts of an itinerant(?), ne’er do well/beggar and his claims that the begging life provides for a fine life…)
There something about it that draws me in, lets me go and then draws me back again – a sense of an accidental(?) experimentalism in catchy folk(/pop?) clothing. It’s that keyboard, when it comes back in I just have to stop and smile.
I know little about the Battlefield Band and I’m quite okay with keeping it that way, just allowing myself to step back and enjoy this one particular song.
Finding the song in the ether in its recorded/disc encasement form may involve a bit of rummaging and foraging. A starting point could well be here.
Electric Eden’s binders and sending forth-ers: tales from before and after such things up to and alongside “21st century pastoral electronica“.
Day #322/365: Z.P.G.; a return to a curious mini-genre, bleak as an acceptable mode / a world of plastic food and simulated merriment…
Z.P.G. – Zero Population Growth – is a curious film… reasonably obscure/overlooked I guess but somewhat intriguing (not least because of the presence of Mr Oliver Reed post his peak but still full of a glowering, brooding power, the daughter of a bagged trousered celluloid tummler and the bewitching, almost otherworldly luminescence of an away from the celluloid flickers and into the corporeal Bond companion / folkloric bloom and spouse / rattler of simple men…)
It could be connected with the curious mini-genre of science fiction films from the 1970s that dealt with ecological/societal collapse, diminishing natural resources and overpopulation – No Blade Of Grass, Soylent Green, Logan’s Run, Phase IV, Silent Running (see Days #83, #88, #213/365)…
Essentially in a massively polluted, smogbound Earth natural childbirth has been banned for 30 years in order to try and preserve resources and transgressors are punished in a particular draconian manner (which involves plastic domes printed with the word insignia being used as traps and spray painted pink).
…couples are offered robot child substitutes (shades of bipedal Tamagotchi?) but not all are quite obeying the rules…
From Max Ehrlich’s novelization (The Edict):
“All citizens stand by. This is an edict from WorldGov. In the interest of balancing the population, and preserving the food supply, the birth of any baby is forbidden for the next thirty years. Any man and woman who conceive and have a child during that period will be put to death by the State. Any child conceived will be considered an outlaw child, and will also be liquidated. There will be constant surveillance by StatePol and a large reward in extra calories for any citizen who reports the presence of an outlaw child. That is all.”
I think one of the things that’s stuck with me from the film is Ollie Reed’s day job; he is an actor in a museum that lets people watch how previous generations lived in the twentieth century – the scene where he is putting in the hours at a simulated dinner party feels is a jarring moment where the film seems to have stepped back through to (almost) today… and it also seemed to connect it to other museums/repositories of previous times in such fellow mini-genre films as Soylent Green and Silent Running.
As a celluloid tale it has elements of b-movie-ism (albeit with what appears to be an at least reasonably decent budget) and elements of action movies but as a document of its time it points to an interesting difference with today’s mainstream orientated tales… it’s a particularly downbeat film, it’s not all glitz, glamour and the good guys winning…
…and although not as classy or classic, it possesses a certain intelligence within its genre tropes that put me in mind of Planet Of The Apes, particularly towards its ending…
Typing away about it makes me want to step back to watch and study it once more when I have a mo’ or two… and so with that I shall step away once I’ve sifted through and recorded a selection of its changing shadows/encasement vessels (see Days #90/365 / #176/365) and associated artifacts….
(I’m generally pretty curious to see the changes and variations that occur with such things over the years and throughout the globe… particularly when more or less completely unrelated apart from its genre artwork is used – muscle-bound hunk, beau and space capsule anybody? – though it is actually something of a favourite…)
Peruse Z.P.G.’s cinematic foreteller here.
Day #316/365: The Detectorists; a gentle roaming in search of the troves left by men who can never sing again
I somewhat appreciated The Detectorists series which was sent forth via the nation’s airwaves by the venerable British Broadcasting Corporation.
Its premise is the lives and study of a pair of metal detectorists and their woeful but really rather sweet passions.
In some ways it restored my faith in homegrown television or at the very least was a glint of light. I can’t quite say why but there was a subtle intelligence, an astute observing of the ways and wiles of people, a love of the land and country (but which stepped nowhere near little island-isms)…
…there’s a sadness portrayed in its characters lives but not in a maudlin or the sometimes grim and grit default setting of modern (once) cathode ray tales; again it’s shown with great love and affection – a portrait of people just trying to make the most of things, of people trying to add some magic to their lives…
…and in this instance that involves quietly, contemplatively walking the land, hoping that their modern-day divination rods will catch a reflection of treasures buried beneath the earth or maybe just the occasional scattering from those troves, echoes from the lives of men who can never sing again.
(In a way it seemed to be a part of a lineage that stretched back to the likes of Fawlty Towers; one of those times when mainstream entertainment/comedy somehow manages to escape forth into the world without being neutered.)
The series is written and directed by Mackenzie Crook, who also appears as one of the main detectorists… alongside Straw Bear companion and sometime Berberian Sound engineer Toby Jones, whose work and wanderings seem quietly (that word again) scattered here and there throughout this particular year in the country.
The main title song is by Johnny Flynn and reflects the gentle roaming of the series somewhat perfectly. Lilting would seem to be a somewhat apposite word…
Will you search through the lonely earth for me,
Climb through the biar and bramble.
I’ll be your treasure.
I felt the touch of the kings and the breath of the wind,
I knew the call of all the song birds.
They sang all the wrong words.
I’m waiting for you,
I’m waiting for you.
Will you swim through the briny sea for me,
Roll along the ocean’s floor.
I’ll be your treasure.
I’m with the ghosts of the men who can never sing again,
There’s a place follow me.
Where a love lost at sea.
Is waiting for you.
Is waiting for you
(As an aside, the song puts me in mind of Penda’s Fen and seems to connect and draw lines to/with stories that roll through and from the land and history.)
Lovely stuff. Both the series and the song. Tip of the hat to all concerned. Thanks.
Visit Mr Mackenzie Crook and his curation of an exhibition no-one visits here.continue reading
Day #303/365: Towards Tomorrow; a selection of cuttings from The Delian Mode, sonic maps, the corporation’s cubby holes and the life of an audiological explorer…
File under: Trails and Influences: Touchstones. Case #38/52.
“The air raid sirens. It’s an abstract sound because you don’t know the source of it as a young child. And then the all-clear. That’s electronic music in those days.”
Well, what can I say. The Delian Mode. This is quite frankly an astonishing piece of work.
Yes, it helps that it is a film/documentary that focuses on the work/life of an astonishing audiological explorer, Ms Delia Derbyshire but even so…
“What is this fearful noise coming out to accompany these so-called arty programs?”
Even if you should not be an appreciator of Ms Derbyshire’s music/work/the mythology that surrounds The Radiophonic Workshop, I would thoroughly, heartily recommend seeking out this film.
It’s a moving, touching, respectful, informative piece of film making.
Right now, as I type this, I would go so far as to say that if you should seek out but one cultural artifact from the fair few that can be found amongst this year in the country, well, this would be a particularly noteworthy candidate.
Interestingly, Ms Derbyshire left The Radiophonic Workshop in 1973, a year that I seem to have often returned to around these parts (see Day #277/365):
“The 60s was a lovely, blooming time. But something happened in the 70s that made it not right. The world went out of time with itself.”
In a way I think you could say of Ms Derbyshire that she was an outsider artist who for a time was able to step inside, to work within one of the almost accidental spaces that seem to open/exist from time-to-time within large infrastructures, the overlooked cubby holes, nooks and crannies.
Ann Shenton (Add N To X): “I like the idea of her staying at The Radiophonic Workshop, Maida Vale, ’til very late at night, when everyone else has b’d off home, so that she could use the corridors and the hallways to put her tape all the way round, so she was using these massive tape loops that were like sonic maps.”
“I’m glad we built up towards something. That’s lovely.”
Visit The Delian Mode in the ether here.
Visit times of audiological remembrance around these parts here.
Day #300/365: A slightly overlooked artifact #2; Noah’s Castle and spectacular vs participative media
Well, I touched upon Noah’s Castle once (or twice) before (see Day #282/365) but I feel like this/today is the core of things…
The end titles to Noah’s Castle. I’ve just rewatched them and quite frankly the old mind is swirling and twirling.
As the sun sets on a hill overlooking a classic British industrial town/cityscape, armed and riot helmeted soldiers stand watch and gather around their vehicle.
They are framed by the sunset and there is something decidedly Eden-askew about the juxtaposition of them and a bare branched tree that appears to be almost growing from their transport.
To a background of hyperinflation, food shortages, economic and social collapse these soldiers appear almost as lovers, there is an intimacy at points to how they stand and face one another… an intimacy that put me in mind of imagery from visual work Kate Bush might have created before the muse appears to have left her somewhere around the mid-1980s.
(It reminded me also of Terminator but I’m not quite sure why.)
And the words. The words. As classic 1970s/1980s turning point synthesizer based music (created by library music/soundtrack aficionados Jugg music, if you should wish to explore further) plays in the background, a news reporter intones words of the looting of food trains, the collapse of British society/economy/currency, silent protests by the nation’s youth and international resource restrictions/game playing…
And bear in mind that this is a program that was aimed at children/the young.
Now you could say that tales of economic division, social unrest, shortages and repression are currently mainstream fodder for that market via the likes of The Hunger Games…
Well, that story is all flash and fantasy. Mildly diverting/enjoyable maybe but it presents a story/world that is a safe remove from the one in which its viewers live…
…while the strifes of Noah’s Castle are set today, possibly tomorrow but on recognisable streets, yours, mine, the street next door…
Which made me think of fragments of a conversation between Mr Mark Fisher and Mr Julian House (see Day #296/365):
“British TV’s problem, we agreed, is that is too in thrall to film. The classic serials of the seventies produced a world you felt a part of, a sense of inclusion to which ‘wobbly sets’ somehow contributed. The professionalism and glossiness of current TV, by contrast, locks you out, subordinates you to Spectacle. (I thought, later, of McLuhan’s distinction between film – as a hot, spectacular medium – and TV – which he said was a ‘cool’, participative medium, whose picture literally has to be ‘finished off’ by the viewer.)”
This is particularly apparent in a series like Noah’s Castle, where characters talk about the effects on them of lack of food while wandering around looking like normal well-fed day-to-day folk… but it doesn’t really matter, the story involves the viewer and leave space for the imagination…
The search for perfect, believable imagery/representations of the fantastic has led to that very same fantastic imagery becoming almost banal, no matter how spectacular (in the situationist and visual sense? – see also contemporary video games for a similar diminishing effect).
Also that quest for an ever more “real” unreality doesn’t fundamentally work – somehow or other your mind “knows” that such imagery isn’t real. There is no genuine weight (spirit?) to it, no matter how real it appears on a surface level.
(As an aside, such work also locks out folk uses of associated imagery; the designs and images presented are often massively complex and require a high level of technical expertise to reproduce them. Compare and contrast say the enemy fighter spaceships from say a late 1970s galactic space opera such as Star Wars with similar objects from most modern films; one can be drawn with literally a few pencil marks and be recognisable… the other, well, where would you start?)
There are holes all over the place in the plot and the imagery of Noah’s Castle but it doesn’t matter.
You fill in the holes (I expect this works reasonably well or otherwise drama on the radiogram/talking books would not be all that feasible).
It’s funny that. As a species/target demographic of watchers we have this thing called imagination. We can fill holes pretty much as well, if not better, than the budgets, banks of computers and the huge lists of their operators that now inhabit the credits of even what can often appear to be quite a visually unspectacular film… or we could but due to the ubiquity of that aforementioned sense of thrall, the necessary overlooking of visual non-perfection can be a little bit harder to find/introduce to viewing in these days…
..and so, back to the credits to Noah’s Castle…
The ones on the final episode have no voice over. Watching them I was longing for them to start, partly to hear what wonderfully inappropriate political events they would cover, partly because them not being there sends the mind wandering and invokes a sense that it’s all over…
For a fair while now I’ve been haunted (to use an appropriate phrase I guess) by a short description of Ghost Box Records that accompanied a retrospective music, film and Q&A night of their work at one of the nation’s venerable art institutions.
I suppose in part I use the word haunted as it makes me think of how William Gibson, when talking about creating work, he said that it doesn’t tend to fall from his brow fully formed but rather he would, say, see something spray-painted on the side of a skip and it kind of haunted him… and that would feed into and become part of his work…
I’ve always though that in a very few words (115 to precise, having just counted – or at least set a small semi-invisible robot brain with the task of counting) it summed up both Ghost Box and also captured something very particular of the tools and techniques of that sometimes elusive cultural will o’the wisp hauntology.
So, without further ado, I shall replicate the text below (or strictly speaking I suppose, set many semi-invisible strands of electrons to work at that task):
“Ghost Box is a record label founded in 2004 that unites a small roster of creative talent with a common visual and sonic aesthetic. Inspired by an imagined and misremembered past, this musical and visual world is distinctly British in its sensibilities, condensing a cultural timeline from the early sixties through to the early eighties into one simultaneous and eerily familiar moment.
Julian House’s video for the label is a peculiar mélange of children’s television, 1960s underground animation and evolving op-art mandalas. Using a combination of new digital and old analogue techniques they conjure a world where TV station indents become occult messages and films for schools are exercises in mind control and collective hallucination.”
Visit the original event and to quote Rob Young, experiments in consenusal hallucation here (which also includes questioning and spinning of discs – zeros and ones? – by gatherer in of mushrooms and scribe precursor to a precursor of Summer Isle, Mr Bob Stanley, alongside work by cultural constellators Broadcast).continue reading
…and talking of certain places in the ether that I would find myself returning to on the way towards A Year In The Country (see Day #288/365)…
Folk Police Recordings.
This was a Manchester based record label that seemed to be a fine home for work that took folk music as its starting point but which wandered off in its directions, down its own paths (while still generally keeping an eye cast towards its roots). or to quote themselves, Folk Brut and other rough music…
Or to more fully quote themselves:
“We are purveyors of folk brut and other rough music. We like our folk skewed, raw and otherworldly. We’re basically traddies at heart, but we also like stuff that can trace its ancestry back to the Incredible String Band and the first psych-folk explosion. We like a bit of folk rock too, but not when it’s cunningly disguised pub rock, and we even like some singer songwriters, especially if they’re a little deranged. And we are always on the look out for the new Bert Jansch – all self respecting labels should have this as one of their goals. If you think we may like what you do, take a listen to some of the stuff we’ve uploaded, and if you still think we may like what you do, get in touch. Because we just-say-no to feudalism in music, we tend to license stuff off the artists we work with rather than give them dosh to go into the studio in return for ownership of their souls.”
A fine statement of intent. It saddened my soul to read that, knowing that Folk Police Recordings has departed for whatever distant field record labels depart to.
In keeping with the above, this was a label that seemed to side step the more strict tradition-gate-keeping (and maybe blandly inoffensive rather than brut) aspects of folk music and put out work that while it could be experimental, was also particularly listenable to/accessible. Not always an easy fence to stay stood upon. They seemed to have a lovely ear for such things. In a way they seemed like some kind of flipside or distant fellow travellers of Rif Mountain/Stone Tape Recordings…
To name but a few of Folk Polices sendees… They were responsible for the document of a lost focal point, Weirdlore (see Day #85/365) out into the world, alongside the entrancing contemporary but classic psych-folk wanderings of Sproatly Smith (see Day #92/365), the rather excellently named and sometimes singers of gentle Johnnies, Woodbine & Ivy Band (see Day #101/365) or the somewhat intriguing, is it a long lost artefact or a hidden modern story of Frugal Puritan, the kitchen sink, heartfelt observations of Harp And A Monkey…
As you’ve probably gathered, at some point not all that long ago Folk Police Recordings ceased their normal operations and now even their main home in the fields of zeros and ones is no more. Now there are just a few fallen leaves and scatterings throughout the ether. Well worth a wander amongst, kicking through and scooping up to see what you may find.
Here are a few of such things… An ether victrola. A Winter Mix: Folk Police Case Report No.1 (one of the few scatterings, preserved for propserity, at least for the time being by Folk Radio UK)… Another ether victrola (and still reasonably fruitful scattering).
One of the songs that has stayed with me the most leading up to and throughout this year in the country is Nancy Wallace’s version of I Live Not Where I Love.
It’s a uplifting and yet also sadly moving traditional song, taken gently into other fields and next to hearths and hearts by Ms Wallace.
It appears on her Old Stories album, which was released by Midwich Records. I knew little or nothing about the music this record contained but had a curious urge to own it… and upon discovering this song I think I was given my reason why that was so.
The cover is by Dom Cooper, sometimes of The Owl Service and sometimes of The Straw Bear Band and features a country cottage that is billowing smoke… it could be heading towards twee Rocket Cottage-isms (see Day #252/365) but it sidesteps such things. There is just a hint of something unsettling to the image, a slight hint of the eerie to the trees that surround it but it is also curiously comforting as an image; an idyll without the sometimes twee associations and connotations of such things.
The song itself I’ve always tended to think of as a cover version of some relatively recent song, I’m not sure why, despite its traditional origins. I suppose the nearest to it being of more modern provenance is Tim Hart and Maddy Prior’s version on Summer Solstice (or later Steeleye Span’s performing of it)…
Whenever I hear Nancy Wallace’s version I always expect at some point an almost choral joining in by other voices, possibly in the style of The Owl Service’s also rather fine version of Willy O’Winsbury on View From A Hill (see Day #30/365) but the song wends its way with quiet restraint.
Listen to I Live Not Where I Love via the half-of-half-half-of a tuppence paying curiously legal often bootlegisms of a corporation here (ah, the respectability that money, convenience, lawyers and aquiescence can purchase).
Nancy Wallace’s work is also well worth a wander amongst… you will find her working independently and also alongside other reinterpreters and reimaginers of folk tradition such as The Memory Band, Sharron Kraus and The Owl Service.
Consider Ms Sharron Kraus’ lullabies for the land at Day #58/365.
File under: Trails and Influences: Touchstones. Case #35/52.
Well, around these parts I seem to often refer to and be drawn to cultural artifacts from one year in particular, 1973…
If I see that something was made in 1973 I tend to be more interested in it and there’s not a lot of leighway. It’s not an overtly conscious thing but when perusing anything past that year I tend to feel that it represents a move and tumble towards a sea change in society…
…earlier, particularly around 1970 and there still tends to be a 1960s psych/mod sharpness to it, cultural work from that time hasn’t yet become a reflection of the end of a dream and a society that wasn’t yet fully struggling with the changes and aftermath from that awakening…
And so, I was curious to cast my eye and mind back to that particular year and over the days, weeks and months of A Year In The Country and a few interconnected pathways to see what I turned up from that particular year…
1) Day #273/365: Dark and Lonely Water… a recent visiting, which in part prompted this particular wandering, surveying and gathering; probably the hauntological Public Information Film. All scattered debris and that voice…
2) Day #90/365: The Wickerman… well, need I say more. Quite possibly the touchstone for all things interconnected to A Year In The Country and particular cultural explorations of an otherly Albion… a reflection of 60s counter cultural urges and explorations gone wayward/bad?…
3) Day #37/365: Psychomania; Nicky Henson and zombie motorcyclers bothering shoppers in 1970s Britain? Well, count me in for that I think…
4) Day #266/365: Judy Dyble stepped back from making music; well, the removal of such a voice from the landscape in itself could well be seen to harken a wandering into darker times.
5) Day #195/365: World On A Wire; a rather prescient virtual reality… also curiously against the grain of 1970s grit…
6) Day #1973/365: Preliminary filming began on the final Quatermass series; ah, I only recently discovered this. It makes the series make more sense in a way as it seems like such a reflection of a society that was in dire strife/potentially collapsing, as was the way in 1973… such things were still going on by the time of its broadcast but by then the stamping heels of a certain iron lady were already marking the soul of the land.
7) Day #213/365: Soylent Green… part of the mini-genre of ecology/resources having gone to heck in a handbasket. Spoiler alert: “Soylent Green Is People”… make room, make room.
8) Day #87/365; The Asphyx… of all the Hammer films, this one seems to have stuck with my imagination from all the years back, more concept than shock’n’horror driven perhaps? ‘Tis many years since I have seen it but I was reminded and returned to it via the work of Cathy and Eric Ward…
9) The Final Programme; talking of earlier 1970s films often seeming like they belonged more to a particular kind of sharp psychedelia… something of a cuckoo in the nest. It escaped into the world in 1973 and while it showed a side of decadence gone dark it also seems to stroll equally from a dandified 1960s counter-culture.
10) Blue Blood; I once heard myself describe this as being like The Wicker Man without a plot. On a rewatching it’s not necessarily but a line could be drawn from that film to this… Mr Oliver Read and companies questionable allegiances in a country estate; probably nearer to the bubble occurring decadences of Performance (and maybe a touch of The Servant) but with a background of truth, a lord of the land with multiple wifelets, a Page 3 girl and redecorating of the stately home with DIY rather physically amative murals… not sure if this particular celluloid story would be made today. Unsettling/troubling are words that come to mind.
11) Day #10/365: England Made Me; the film but when I think of it tends to send me back to Black Box Recorder’s album of the same name… a very particular non-hauntological slice of hauntology and to semi-quote Rob Young, appears to have sprung from a mythological England of the past that has its own particular brutalities but ones which are all English stiff upper lip and quietly furious repression.
12) Day #46/365: The Changes (filmed in 1973, released in 1975); ah, the bad wires – a tale of a world that has rejected and destroyed all modern technology to return to an almost medieval/feudal way of life and in which the sound of the combustion engine has become the mark of the devil… I suspect it was considered a little too close to home to be broadcast in the year of its making to a nation huddled around candles and suffering from the effects of an oil crisis.
13) Carry On Girls; ah, Carry on films. These feel like they have become part of our modern-day folklore, the soul of England in a way. This particular part of the series seems to fairly directly reflect a Britain in crisis and a tipping point where the aforementioned 60s utopian dream curdled, as did British cinema, to descend into smutty farce and tattered screens.
As I’ve mentioned around these parts before, 1973 in Britain was a particular unsettled time politically and socially; there was an almighty battle between organised labour and the elected (but essentially oligarchically self-appointed) managers of the land, an oil shortage and power crisis, a 3 day working week and so forth…
…and one thing that has stuck in my head along the way towards and through this A Year In The Country is Rob Young’s comment that possibly people were drawn to folk/folkloric/pastoral culture and its projection of undisturbed imagined idylls as an escape from that… hence Steeleye Span in the charts and one of folk/folk rock’s high water marks in popularity and amongst the wider society.
File under: Trails and Influences: Touchstones. Case #34/52.
And while I’m in the subject of overlooked gems that turned my head towards the further fringes of folk music and its possibilities away from the cultural stereotypes that can be associated with it (see Day #266/365)…
Forest’s Graveyard, which I also discovered via Bob Stanley’s Gather In The Mushrooms compilation (see way back near the start of the year here).
For a long time I knew almost nothing about Forest and quite enjoyed it that way. In fact, I knew so little that for a good while of that long time I had assumed that the singer was female…
I’ve actually read quite a bit about them I think but my mind seems to have quite quietly hidden away the associated information and I seem to enjoy just wandering off into the music.
The little else I know; they were a trio from the late 1960s/earlier 1970s who hailed from a Northern English town (with a most unethereal name considering the music they produced). One of the band has since worked on music with his son which appears on one of the Dark Britannica John Barleycorn albums (see Day #248/365)…
They put out two albums and then… well, no more.
How would I define Forest’s Graveyard? Well, minstrel like, classical/early music/medieval balladry, acid/psych folk may well be a reasonable reference point… gothic folk maybe?
On first glance the cover of the album Full Circle from when and where the song came appear quite pleasant, gently, pastoral and whimsical… and photographs of the band from the time put me in mind of the gentle kind of English reverie that the likes of Bagpuss and Emily may well have sprung from…
…but if you should step into the inner sleeve of Full Circle or listen closely to the lyrics of Graveyard… well that would be stepping towards the territory of the unsettling folk-horror of the likes of Comus.
And now that I come to type and think about it, it would not be particularly hard to draw a line that stretched from this song and forward to what is sometimes labelled doom-folk, gloom-folk, neo-folk, pagan-folk and the like… the outer, darker shores of folk music that are associated with and in a way a mutation from certain strands of industrial music (more in the exploratory art sense, ie post-Throbbing Gristle than the electronic body music use of that genre name)… some of which is explored on the aforementioned Dark Britannica series.
(If you should wish to explore such things, then heading towards the work of Novemthree may well prove fruitful – see Day #86/365)…
Considerably more background information and story on Forest courtesy of Terrascope here.
Well, this is something of a hop, skip and step back to near the start of the year…
Morning Way by Trader Horne, as come upon by my good self amongst the oft-overlooked treasures of Gather In The Mushrooms (see below)…
To my mind and ear this particular song is something of an apotheosis of all things that have come to be known as acid/psych folk.
It sits just at a particular point at the very end of the 1960s/very start of the 1970s and in amongst its notes there is a crystalline purity of a heady, exploratory dream just before it began to tip over into something and somewhere else.
The song is from the album of the same name (their only album it pains me to say)… and talking of playful lysergisms, the cover art reminds me of Malcom English’s Carnaby Street illustrations but re-thought by way of Oliver Postgate and The Pogles, maybe after stepping out for an imbibe and escapade or two with Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius (albeit during an evening when he was in a lighter mood)…
I’ve mentioned this before but this was probably one of two songs that I heard where I thought “Hmmm, something interesting going on here, this isn’t the idea of folk music that I thought I knew”…
It’s a decidedly explorative (that phrase again) track but also wonderfully melodic and accessible. It is a shimmering and a promise of an other world that you may just be able to step into, amongst and back to, even if only for but a few brief moments.
I’ve just gone away and taken a look and listen at the lyrics in full for Morning Way… the opening set of lines still stops me in my tracks when I hear them… and looking at the remainder of the lyrics, there’s a sadness, a gladness, a hope and an optimism to what may well be somebody’s passing.
…and in an alternative timeline, Judy Dyble of Trader Horne went on to be lauded as one of the voices of the high watermark of folk rock (prior to this she sang with an early incarnation of Fairport Convention but stepped back from music in 1973 for a number of years… ah, it’s that year again).
With that in mind, that other timeline I expect would need to be curated and visualised by Psychedelic Folkloristic (once again, see below),
Ah, we can but dream.
Talking of which…
Dreaming strands of nightmare
Are sticking to my feet
It’s time to wake up and throw away
The last remaining sheet
Sunlight sliding down my back
And dripping on the gray
It’s time to watch the dawning light
Reveal the morning way
Dreams are fading
Now it’s nearly noon
And then it’s afternoon
The leaves are creeping
Green inside the day
To where the friends
Who used to lend me love
Are all above my head
And looking down at me
To smile at how it ought to be
To where the friends
Who used to lend me love
Are all above my head
And looking down at me
To smile at how it ought to be
Visit Mr Bob Stanley’s rather fine collection of such semi-lost gems, Gather In The Mushrooms, here.
Visit a few other crystalline voices that have been lost and found over the years at Day #141/365.
Ms Judy Dyble in the ether today here.
File under: Trails and Influences: Touchstones. Case #32/52.
I must apologise for today’s brevity but I have a calling to go wassailing in Kensington Park…continue reading
Day #255/365: Beyond The Black Rainbow; Reagan era fever dreams, award winning gardens and a trio of approaches to soundtrack disseminations… let the new age of enlightenment begin…
“Hello, my name is Dr. Mercurio Arboria and I am the founder of the Arboria Institute.
It has long been my dream to find the perfect way for people to achieve simply…
These seem to be things that strangely elude us all but it doesn’t have to be that way.
We at Arboria have found a path to achieve them.
Here at the Institute, we are in the forefront worldwide in neuro-psychology and new therapeutic technologies.
Dr. Barry Nyle,|our head of research, myself and our dedicated team of herbalists, naturopaths, and healers have found a way to make that dream a reality.
Through our unique blend of benign pharmacology, sensory therapy and energy sculpting, we can guide you gently along the path to a new, better, happier you, all in the comfortable surroundings of our state-of-the-art facility and our award-winning gardens.
We invite you to join us…
and find out for your…
It is in a way that I can’t obviously describe or connect the dots between it and the more folkloric aspects of culture from these shores but the links are there all the same… it may have something to do with reimagining of past culture… Along which lines…
It has been described as “a Reagan era fever dream“.
I’ll have to type that again: “a Reagan era fever dream“.
That is a particularly evocative phrase and seems to collate and sum up many of the themes which I visit/revisit around these parts; although referring to a different time period than that which much of hauntological leaning work tends to (the early 1980s rather than late 1960s to late1970s), it shares a sense of the reimagining of cultural memories.
And along with some hauntologically labelled work, Beyond The Black Rainbow also has a strong sense of being a rediscovered lost artefact; this is a film which could easily sit amongst the further reaches of early 1980s video shelves. More than a little I felt when I was watching it that I had discovered some overlooked David Cronenberg film from that time.
If the film could be a rediscovered Cronenberg project, the music could well be what my minds tends to imagine a Tangerine Dream soundtrack from another era could sound like.
(As an aside, I should say that neither the film nor the music are an exercise in retreading; though they may have taken their initial impetus from preceding work and aesthetics, they have taken their source material/inspirations and created something that stands linked to but definitely separate from that which was sent out into the world before).
One of the themes of the film could well be seen to be a thorough corrupting of new age principles; a curdling of philosophies of empowerment and enlightenment. And along which lines, the soundtrack puts me in mind of the further reaches of what has been loosely labelled new age music, in particular Emerald Web or some of work that can be found via I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age In America – 1950-1990 such as that by Wilburn Burchette.
(It’s strange to think of anything with the phrase new age connected to it as being left-of-centre, counter-cultural, sometimes rather underground and quite out there culturally but in such cases it is somewhat that).
The audio accompaniment/soundtrack is a thing of beauty in itself and for a long time it existed only as “bootlegged” digital versions, borrowed and recorded from the film itself and was accompanied by non-separated/non-separable elements of the award winning gardens and environs from which it came.
After something of a wait the “official” soundtrack arrived from over the seas (a different but same version can also be found on these shores) encased in the grooves of vinyl and heavyweight gatefold sleeves. A rather lovely artefact in itself.
On first listen and after much hankering after this purer distillation of this part of the work, I found myself enjoying it but also missing the accompanying dialogue and sound effects. It felt possibly that it had become more music than spell in a way through this process of trimming away.
Those non-musical elements on the non-fully separated version caused the film to play and re-play in the mind, they are pointers towards it…
It was still a fine piece of music but there was a sense of it having been shorn a little and when voices from its original home appear distantly on the record then those stories began to play once again.
(As an aside and on the inclusion and non-inclusion of such things on various vessellings of The Wickerman’s soundtrack:
“The extra atmosphere was… important… you started creating your own narratives. It’s a powerful thing…”
From part of an interview with Joseph Stannard where James Cargill and Trish Keenan discuss such things – see Day #250/365…
Ah, I wandered how long it would be before I looked out and towards particular constellators once again… not long in this instant).
Previous listening to the “official soundtrack” release was carried out via less corporeal encapturings of the music which accompanied the purchase of said artefact and access to which preceded its physical arrival, as is often the modern way… free zeros and ones when you should purchase a disc for spinning (or storing).
Interestingly, though I am often not overly aligned to particular forms via which the music I peruse/listen to/explore has been recorded and transmitted to the world, there is something about the growl and growth of this particular record on its modern-day shellac that makes sense, that belongs… that spell returneth, connected but changed. This is work which has its roots in its arboric home but has become another, separate, massive sounding thing.
As a final aside, in my mind’s eye I tend to think of the bespoke poster design by Jay Shaw (just above/to the left/below/at the top of the page) as being the “official” poster for the film. I find it to be somewhat possessing of a deal of beauty and alongside it’s re-illustrating of the Arboria Institute, it is also an artefact which seems to connect backwards and sideways with the earlier mentioned new age corruptions.
…and connecting to the sense of it being a rediscovered/lost artifact, it was also sent out into the world on the reels and strands of a limited run video cassette, artwork once again by Jay Shaw…
Before I point out the following signposts and pathways, I feel it fair to say that Beyond The Black Rainbow and some of its connected artifacts are not always an easy or light watch/peruse… tread carefully…
Lost celluloid flickers and other particularly sharp travels in forms of modernist psychedelia: step under the dome of antecedents and begin Phase IV here. Omega: shades and shadows of another prescient journey.
Well, it seems like a while since I visited folk music itself around these parts…
Mike Scott of The Waterboys recently said that when Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights went straight to number one in the charts that it “was like an old British soul got returned to us”.
Which puts me somewhat in mind of Anne Briggs and her music.
Looking back, her music was some of the earliest I listened to when the more recent roots and seedlings of A Year In The Country began to grow. Although connected with the folk revival of the 1960s, I’ve tended to think of her as separate to it, somebody who’s work and music trod its own path, the roots of which stretched backwards and forwards to old stories, now and its own particular place under the sky.
Or indeed, listening to her work is like hearing the return of an old soul/s.
There’s a beauty, purity and transcendence to her music. I’ve just started to play the A Collection album, where I first discovered it and I’m finding it physically hard to type. Lowlands… her voice quite simply stops me in my tracks and transports me somewhere else.
And like that other earlier mentioned lost British soul, Kate Bush, her work is characterised in part by a stepping back and away from the bright lights and hurly burly of public life; aside from a handful of collaborative/compilation appearances there are but three recorded albums and an EP to document her music, one of which didn’t venture out into the world for a long time after it was recorded, after a certain point her performances and taking to the stage became rare things indeed.
And in terms of photographic documentation, there is very little of her. On this page are a few of those fleeting, tumbling glances and their repetitions; a baker’s dozen or brace of Ms Briggs.
Ms (Mrs?) Anne Briggs, a tip of the hat to you.
Other (flickering) glances:
File under: Trails and Influences: Touchstones. Case #30/52.
For a fair old while a selection of images/collages from an old educational magazine that I came across have intrigued and hung around my mind. Particularly the image below…
I wasn’t quite sure why but I think in large part it’s because they seemed to be defined/capture some kind of essence of what could be called hauntological design, although they were created a good while before such things came to have a (non-genre?) label applied to them. There is something about the unpolished collaging that draws me in…
What do I mean by hauntological design? Well, that would be difficult to precisely sum up what that means (although if you head towards a particular deletion of spectres you may well find a few signifiers of such things) but a good starting point would be the work of Julian House, particularly around his Ghost Box Record label/Focus Group recordings. Which leads me to…
In Jospeph Stannard’s fine & full of pathways to wander down and explore, interview with/article on Broadcast (perusable via the ether or printed and bound sheet archives of a certain Wire Magazine here) he talks of how the Broadcast and The Focus Group’s Investigate Witchcults Of The Radio Age album was:
“…assembled using a sampling method which makes a virtue of its imperfection. House (Julian of Ghostbox Records/The Focus Group) evidently delights in the inexact fit, the abrupt cut, and for the most part, the rhythms on Witch Cults are irregular, giddily tripping over themselves and each other. In drawing attention to the awkwardness of each edit, House does not demystify the art of sampling so much as emphasise its position at the intersection of magic and science…”
Hmmm. Abrupt cuts, inexact fits and showing the seams of art and technique? The scalpel/ferrous tapes or the zeros and ones audio/visual editing device? Intentions and the unintended…
If you take magic in the sense of one its adjective uses, ie being particularly effective in producing desired results, in much of hauntological related work one of the intentions could be seen to be a fracturing of time, a recalling of the past in the present and looking ahead to futures that never were, a blurring, indistincting and reimagining of now, then, reality, memory…
And so work which shows its seams, inadvertently or otherwise, could be seen to have the intention/results of working towards such fracturing and related effects. Along which lines…
“House is a fan of the inadvertent avant-gardness of ‘bad’ or ‘clunky’ design, as seen in Polish movie posters of library music sleeves. He intentionally achieves similar effects through “bad looping, looped samples that change their start and end points. With visual collage there’s a way in which images that are cut out ‘badly’, maybe with bits of their background or surrounding image, make it difficult to discern where on part of the collage begins and another ends. This trompe l’oeil effect (a visual illusion) brings you deeper into the collage, confuses your ability to discern images as surface”…”
(From Simon Reynolds article Haunted Audio, also viewable via the aforementioned archive but slightly to one side here.)
That inexactly cut-out, lack of technical perfection is very present in these images from the school magazine, whether deliberately or through lack of expertise/technology/time etc and as I mentioned earlier is part of what draws me to them; in the space allowed by a potentially utilitarian cultural artifact, something else has happened…
Along which lines (see also here)…
They also reminded me of images which accompany the David Cain/Ronald Duncan album Seasons (educationally intended but playfully/unsettlingly avant-garde in arrival – see Day #125/365), which apparently has been something of an influence on the world and work of Ghost Box Records and some of its fellow travellers/instigators:
(Left: the educational magazine, right: imagery from Seasons.)
…which leads me to a returning theme of culture sometimes influencing future work (see Days #235/365 and #149/365) in a way that can’t necessarily be explained by people having definitely seen the earlier pieces. Along which lines I shall (almost) leave this page with the two images below, separated by decades/intentions(?) but sharing something of a similar spirit.
(Left: recently contemporary spectral investigations, right: antecedent educational illustrations right.)
The images from the magazine were discovered via Starry Stillness and the somewhat appropriately named The Chemistry Set, which in turn were discovered via that rare thing in todays days, a bricks and mortar haven for music of an explorative nature, independent publications and acres of other reading matter, Rare and Racy. Well worth a visit if you should be around the once city of steel.
Day #205/365: The interfaces between the old ways/cathode rays; twelve spinnings from an (Electric Edenic) Invisible Ghost (Juke)Box
File under: Trails and Influences: Touchstones. Case #29/52.
A bit more than a couple of twirls round the sun ago there was a fine sort of interview by Rob Young (Electric Eden) with Misters Jim Jupp and Julian House of Ghost Box Records in Wire magazine.
I say sort of as actually it was one in a series of regular features called Invisible Jukebox where musicians and the like are played a set of pieces of music without being told what they are, asked if they know what each is and then that tends to be a starting point for various topics of conversation.
This article in particular has grabbed my imagination as it seemed to become a space that explored, expressed and encapsulated the Ghost Box world, ethos, inspirations, reasonings and so forth.
So with that we have:
1) Rob Young: (on Ghost Box Records) “...a boutique record label for a small group of artists who find inspiration in folklore, vintage electronics, Library music and haunted television soundtracks. The packaging and musical aesthetics evoke, and subtly mutate, aspects of British culture between the late 1950s and late 70s, alluding to uncanny forces underlying the era’s utopian social planning and education policies.”
2) Rob Young: “Do you think the sinister edge of your own recordings attempt to compensate for a lack of dread in modern pop?”
Jim Jupp: “I think so – it harks back to the Cold War thing… that kind of sci-fi dystopia, which probably nothing to do with social, political and environmental disasters and more to do with sci-fi scenarios.”
4) Jim Jupp: “One of the ways I use samples is to reconstruct songs, or to create songs that weren’t there.”
5) Jim Jupp: (on Boards of Canada and Position Normal); “They were very different things, but triggered the idea of memory in a kind of very un-obvious, non-nostalgic way. I still don’t think what we do, or what they do, is nostalgic. It triggers things. But it’s more like some kind of weird, unconscious therapy session… some kind of weird regression thing that actually goes back to little nooks and crannies you weren’t aware of and makes connections.”
6) Julian House: “There are things that are very impure, and I’ve never minded that sense of artifice in music. Like you say, there is something strange and folky and ancient but actually it’s manufactured by certain generations. A lot of what we receive is actually someone else’s memory and interpretation of the ancient past.”
7) Julian House: “We think about Ghost Box as a strange interzone between pop culture and what is nudging the idea of the occult. And it’s often in those strange things, like the interstitial images in Hammer films, or the ‘day for night’ blue filter that was used to films those scenes in [films like] Plague Of The Zombies, it all has a power…”
8) Jim Jupp: “We often get asked about ghosts and the occult, but the ghosts in Ghost Box have more to do with memories and TV screens than real ghosts.”
9) Julian House: (continuing from the previous point); “It’s a place where television memory and the supernatural meet.”
Jim Jupp: “…we’re not really about a real occult idea, but Ghost Box explores a world which is more about the uncanny rather than the occult. It’s more about fictional spaces and meta-fiction spaces in your head which have a reality, but there’s not necessarily a ritual to access them, so it’s accessed through fiction or music. That’s how we work on that world, with those things, rather than dressing up and robes and incense.”
11) Rob Young: (On the period of 1958-1978 that Ghost Box often draws from); “Why that 1978 cut-off date?”
Julian House: “The landscape changed. The post-war sensibility – that essentially left-leaning utopian sensibility that created things like the Radiophonic Workshop – was chopped off at that point.”
12) Julian House: “What you do through exploring strange avenues of memory and old media, is you hold a mirror up to something; you’re not commenting on it.”
Sometimes you read something and it coheres a set of thoughts you’ve been having and considering. It may not necessarily directly discuss those ideas but somehow it brings strands of though together for you…
That was the case around identifying and defining certain characteristics of what has become known as hauntological culture when I read Mark Fisher’s Ghosts Of My Life (see Day #163/365), also via the thoughts and writings of Rob Young the differences between pop/folk culture and the way that folk/hauntological culture have been used forms of imaginative travel/transportation (see Days #4/365, #40/365 and #190/365).
This happened to a degree with this piece of writing; it brought together some thoughts and considerations I’d had of media transmissions and their use in serving a not dissimilar purpose to those which in the past magic and/or folkloric rituals may have done.
I’m not dismissive of either, though I am a child of an age of electronic communications rather than of magic in the traditional sense. I’ve tended to think of certain pieces/sections of culture as possessing a form of magic or casting a spell in a way but not in a way that those older terms need to be used, it’s just that they have a transportative element to them; they can create a world to step into or that draws you in.
The terms and rituals of magic, spells etc are phrases/ideas from a previous eras operating system and that doesn’t mean that they can’t still be of use but they have become marginal (and dare I say maybe a little inefficient). Although they have gained a certain exotic, otherly, touch of the forbidden currency as the years have gone by and that marginalisation by newer techniques has occurred.
As I was saying, some creative work can be transportative, encapturing, revealing and exploring hidden meaning and layers in the way that I think was the intention with some older ways and rituals; or to return to the Ghost Box chaps earlier words “a strange interzone between pop culture and what is nudging the idea of the occult”.
If you should look up the definition and roots of the word occult and alongside the more ritualistic view you may also find “communicated only to the initiated, esoteric” and it’s origins come from words that meant conceal, to hide… which are concepts which could well be applied to worlds such as those created by the likes of Ghost Box Records, it’s language and slightly hidden away from/separate to the mainstream/often scarce or limited edition artifacts.
And there is something ritualistic about sitting quietly in a darkened room, alone or with others, to be transported by the flickering ghosts of (once) cathode ray or (once) flickering celluloid stories or the act of placing the emblem of a particular culture on a turntable or into its tray and letting the sounds transport or wash over you. It’s a continuum really in some ways rather than an either/or, new/old ways, rituals/transmissions.
In a more secular society we have turned to other things and ways to express our beliefs and in which to put them. Bill Drummond says in his book The 17 that those who need a lot of music today are quite possibly people who needed a lot religion in the past. There may well be something in that. Modern day methods to achieve similar results as the old ways? The symbols, rituals, representations and vessels of our interests, hopes, transportations, beliefs and faiths have changed but there may well something of the sacrament in them still.
Anyway, this is a fine, fine piece of journalism and discussion. The above quotes are but a snippet and I would highly recommend seeking it out the whole piece. You can do so in physical artifact form here, here and here or if shelf-space is restricted then you can do so via the ether here.
Various pathways around these parts on the way to Belbury Parish:
Ornithological Intrigueries. Signal and Signposts. Tales Of Geographic Peace (featuring a further interface between Mr Young and Mr Jupp). The Parish Circular.
This is a lovely book and rare as hen’s teeth as it were. I don’t know if it’s the scarcity of it, it’s subject matter or both but it feels like a somewhat precious thing that I have to lift up gently and carefully…
I was somewhat wary of reading it in a way as I didn’t want the magic of The Owl Service series to be undermined by knowing the behind the scenes tricks but… well, though it may have done that just a touch here and there, it also added to my appreciation of it and some surrounding culture and made me want to go back and revisit it, to watch for certain points and details the book mentions.
The book is split into three parts: an Introduction by Alan Garner in which he discusses the making of the film, some of what inspired the original book, some of the coincidences around it and so on, Our Diaries by his children who took nine weeks off school while it was being made to be on and around its filming and a Making The Film by its director Peter Plummer.
As I type I realise how little I knew about the book, the series or Alan Garner himself. The Owl Service existed unto itself in my mind, a somewhat precious touchstone and its “I am the wolf in every mind” line from the series has been something of a returning and recurring refrain during this year in the country…
So, what did I learn anew and what else has stuck in mind from reading the book?
1) The colours of the outfits of three of the main characters, Alison, Gwyn and Roger was based on an older International Colour Code for electrical wiring (red, black and green). Although the majority of those who saw the series would have been watching it in black and white, a decision was made that if it was going to be filmed in colour, they would use colour… which made me want to go back and watch the series again to spot this.
3) The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen, his first book, is set around somewhere that I have visited and recorded during my year in the country travels… it was also the first time I’d come across his work, many years ago as a much younger chap (much much younger) and certain scenes from it have always stuck in mind. Thinking back it may well have been one of the first times I came across such otherly pastoral/folkloric ideas in culture.
5) You tend to forget just how bored you often were when you were young; in the children’s diaries one of the most repeated phrases/descriptions are variations on “I was bored”/”It was boring”.
6) When Peter Plummer introduced the actors to Alan Garner for the first time and asked if they looked right, Mr Garner’s recollection of it was that it was a “nasty experience“:
“I wanted to run. They looked too right. It was like a waking dream. Here were the people I’d thought about, who’d lived in my head for so long; but now they were real. I couldn’t accept that they were only actors.“… which kind of reminds me of William Gibson saying that when he first stepped onto the set Johnny Mnemonic, he hadn’t realised that his ideas would be present in such high-resolution, in such detail and depth of reality.
7) Mr Garner had based the part of Huw on the actual gardener Dafydd, but a Dafydd as he’d imagined him being at the age of forty. When he saw them together he said that it “was like seeing father and son“.
The two people in question when they saw one another said:
“I wish I was young and forty again,” said Dafydd
“Now I know what I’ll look like at eighty,” said Raymond.
I’ve come away from the book with a sense that Dafydd was a very particular kind of person, one of those people who seem to have been part of the land forever, an archetype almost.
When the filming was carried out, he was eighty-one and first went to work at the location house in Wales in 1898, which seems an impossible stretch of time (the series was created in 1969).
Mr Garner talks of the curious coincidences that occurred during and around filming At one point, unprompted, Dafydd Rees scratched the name “Blodeuwedd” on a piece of slate:
Alan Garner: “What’s that?” I said.
Dafydd Rees: “A name, ” said Dafydd.
“Can you tell me about it?”
“It’s just a name.”
Blodeuwedd is the name of the mythical character in the old Welsh legend which was a staring point for Alan Garner when writing the book: she was made from flowers and turned into an owl as a punishment after betraying and killing her husband with a lover (again see Day #30/365 for more of such things).
Alan Garner: “The Owl Service is a kind of ghost story, in real life as well as on the film or page. Right from the start things happened that haven’t happened with any other book I’ve written.”
(Peter Plummer refers to such coincidences as “selective perception” ie you’re working on an owl themed piece of work, so you begin to notice owls in one form or another often… I shall leave the balance of truth to those reading this).
“It seemed at times that I was discovering, not writing, a story: it was all there, waiting and I was like an archaeologist picking away the sand to reveal the bones.”
9) On the last night of shooting the crew surreptitiously presented Mr Plummer with a brown paper package; it was a “jet-dark lambswool hat.”
The accompanying note said “From your black sheeps,” which seems rather apt and appropriate to the series and its stories.
10) The local fire brigade were hired to create the rain effects. Alan Garner’s children seemed to love that part (and even got to use the hose at time, snapping branches from a tree with it) and at one point comment on thinking that the actors don’t know that pond water is being used; there seems to be a constant battle to not run out of water, to create the correct seasonal conditions and battle against the elements – something which reminded me of tales from The Wickerman of extras having to suck ice cubes on supposedly sunny days to stop their breath showing in the cold air.
Alan Garner: “…we got there in the middle of May, it felt like the end of Winter…“.
11) Alan Garner is one of the villagers in one scene (“the author in his own film“) and apparently he was a foot taller than all the actual local people who were in the series and they all found it hard to behave normally when the man-made storm rain hits them.
Alan Garner: “…as soon as the solid water hit us we all gasped and yelled, and looked like anything but villagers out in a storm.”
“We must be dumb and waterproof,” said Dafydd…
Alan Garner: “That scene is still odd, because I was about a foot taller than anybody else, and I look like the village freak – which may be what Peter was after all the time.”
12) The end of Alan Garner’s section is a quote taken from a letter sent by the gardener of the house where they filmed, referring to the time during the filming and The Stone Of Gronw the production had commissioned to be carved, prepared and set in place for the series:
“It was a good time… I have been to the stone. It is lonely now.”
Which I think is a good place to end this page.
I’ve been interested and curious by just how many times references to the final 1979 Quatermass series have kept cropping up during this year in the country: not always obviously but when I recently re-perused it I kept having “Ah, that’s where that’s from” points of aha, connection and reference.
On this recent re-viewing I wandered if it wasn’t some kind of original point where the branches and trees of A Year In The Country first began to seed and grow; it has such a sense of the landscape and the fields being a place where ancient stories are told and retold, of pastoralism that is both refuge and an otherly unsettled place but more in a machinations of eldritch science/science fiction manner than ancient man made rituals. The patterns beneath the plough in this story are particularly deep, sewn from elsewhere in the cosmos and stretch way back through our history, to a previous (almost) final harvest.
I first came across the series in the early 1980s via it’s novelisation which was bought from the bargain bookshelves of one of my local newsagents (such places were something of an exciting cultural node for a young chap; I expect many an hour was spent wandering their shelves of comics and books, see Day #15/365 for more on such things).
I read it when I was going through an extended phase of reading science fiction that I expect was a bit beyond my years and comprehension but which I was drawn to and maybe searching for what would later become niche corners of culture.
This book in particular I was fascinated by and even to this day my mind still seems to ponder some of its themes and images.
And there are a lot of them: ancient stone circles as markers for where the human race was once reaped by an alien intelligence, of that intelligence possibly taking just a trace of the people it “destroys”/harvests – in a similar way as humans take just a trace of the musk deer to make our perfume, the collapse of society into near barbarism and the prime minister’s home having a tank outside to guard it (though it was said to not be mobile and to have a family of cats living in it), the new age wanderers seeking to be taken to the “planet”, decadent Benny Hill meets Clockwork Orange pandering television programs…
And it’s a fantastic vision of a Britain gone to seed and crumbled. I know that it will have been location scouted to show that but there is an underlying sense that this is more documentary than fiction in its portrayal; it captures something of the corrupt spirit of the times or at least how those times are sometimes remembered.
I don’t actually know if I saw the program when I was young, so I don’t know if it would qualify as a version of hauntological misremembered memory of it and its possible strangeness. I have a suspicion I may have seen the occasional snatch of an occasional episode late at night, on a black and white television with the sound turned right down and a coat over my head and the set so that the flickers of the screen didn’t give away my should be in bed watching…
…one thing that struck me on a recent re-viewing was just how genuinely watchable and gripping it is. Very modern in a way and stands up well with the pace and entertainment qualities of modern-day broadcasts. I mention that as it seems in contrast to some other become-otherly television programs that may be mentioned around these parts, which you almost have to recalibrate yourself to a different previous eras rhythm of story telling to appreciate today (see Day #33/365 for more on such things). It hadn’t been that long since I had previously seen it and still I was gripped from the start…
As seems to be my way of late, here are a few notes I made as I re-watched it:
1) Rather posh gang member muggers at the start in a thespian finishing school way.
2) “A wedding between a corrupt democracy and a monstrous tyranny.”
3) It’s an interesting comment on where the utopian freedoms and possible decadence of the 1960s and 1970s went when it overreached and curdled.
4) Every looks run down, bodged together in this Britain even radio telescope stations; there is a sense of a true plucky British spirit.
5) Burning books: almost Dickensian street market – a stall selling books “Guaranteed to burn well”.
6) “We’re being harvested.“
7) “Beware the quasars.”
8) “You mustn’t be like that when you grow up, promise me you won’t turn foolish. Promise me.“
9) There’s a curious sense of old world gentility in the face of societal collapse.
10) “It was here to, here in England, at ringstone round.”
11) The leader of the planet people is the worst kind of demagogue (and curiously looks rather like his almost opposite number, the radio telescope scientist leader… I kept having to double-take to check it wasn’t him).
12) It’s interesting as it’s a comment in a way against an over-reliance and over-emphasis on youth in society: “Yes, the older the better” on the scientists, officers and soldiers who become the investigators and possible saviours.
13) “A trace, a mere trace, you’re talking about a fragment” (see themes and images section earlier).
14) “You’d think she’d never had a stick in her hand before.” (see Benny Hill meets Clockwork orange, also in the themes and images section earlier); the logical extension of Legs and Co.?
15) “It’s the only show anybody watches anymore. It has a special place, it’s what we used to call a family show.“” Similar to Nigel Kneale’s prescient consideration of television in his other flickering stories, where programs have been reduced to The Hungry Angry Show.
16) “A ripe crop can’t appeal to the reaper. I think this is the gathering time. The human race is being harvested.“
17) “A cosmic error.“
18) “What was underneath
18) “A meadow. Appropriate for a human harvest.“
19) “What was underneath stayed under the open fields.” I’m actually unsettled typing some of this. Nigel Kneale’s stories seem to deal with very particular human and historical archetypes that get under the skin. By the end of Quatermass and The Pit’s atavistic pogroms I just really wanted it all to stop and the film to end, to leave me alone.
20) Scenes of (literally) underground government; all shabby, patched together and shrouded in cigarette smoke. It seemed like an accurate depiction of cultural memories of the hidden histories and subterfuges of the 1970s.
21) “Of course. The mother bird draws attention away from the chicks.“
22) Re longstanding sports gathering grounds: “The sacred turf they call it. I wander what’s underneath?” There’s a sense of distrust of mass gatherings and festivals, of the blind mass mind adherence and obedience of them.
23) There’s more than a touch of a connection and line from the harvesting of a species and it’s essences here to Under The Skin.
24) “You see the sky all sick? What that is, is spillings.” Well, there’s another bit of shoulder hunching heebie jeebies as I relate that.
25) “I can make them exist, do you know that? Not by magic or faith but… but by thinking.” Contrasts and battles between returned, resurging unquestioning beliefs and the rationality (?) of modern-day scientific belief systems.
26) Is it more unsettling because one of the planet people is future pop-ette Toyah Wilcox and one of the soldiers she helps convert is a future Blue Peter presenter?
27) It’s interesting how the closing credits change colour gradually over each episode and then in the final credits it’s just nursery rhymes and children playing amongst the ringstone round. A return to a pastoral idyll but there’s something just slightly menacing (foreboding?) to it.
28) “I have watched the sky and the land become clean.“