For a long time I had a fair few vinyl records but a while ago I started to send them off out into the world… but this is one of the few that survived that despatch.
And well, if there is a song which sums up a melancholic yearning for lost secret gardens and once arcadias, it would probably be Kate Bush’s Under The Ivy (maybe accompanied by her England My Lionheart).
…and while we’re on the subject of Kate Bush, when I think back I wander how much somewhere along the line her work laid some of the roots for A Year In The Country and it’s sense of both a bucolic pastoralism but also an unsettled otherly-ness? As in amongst a sometimes dreamlike landscape and world, also can be found such things as…
Breathing: A five minute single based around cold-war dread and the maternal passing on of radioactive fallout, which at one point wanders off into a public information broadcast about how to recognise the size of the weapon used in a nuclear explosion/attack?
I think that it’s unlikely such a song would appear in the top 20 today. And as a “pop single” for somebody not yet in their teens to be humming along to? A curiousity indeed (and a mighty fine, intelligent and thought provoking one at that).
…or The Ninth Wave, the concept-album (?) side of her album The Hounds Of Love; in parts breathtakingly beautiful, dreams of sheep, traditional folk jigs and a sense of the sun rising over the earth, while it’s actually about somebody in the water, close to drowning and there is a genuinely nightmarish quality to it at certain points.
(One thing I tend to think about The Ninth Wave and the album as a whole is that it’s an astonishingly mature and complete piece of work for somebody who was what, twenty five then?).
…or the single/video Experiment IV where scientists are asked to “create a sound that kill someone”, which results in the creation/summoning of a malevolent spirit which indeed does that (shades of Nigel Kneales’s The Stone Tape?) and sets about devastating and doing away with the staff of the research establishment which brought it forth…
…or Cloudbusting from the other side of The Hounds of Love album, wherein a maverick inventor out in the countryside creates a steampunk-esque machine which can change the weather and create clouds… who is then hauled off by the authorities while his young child completes his experiment…
Something of a classic cover photograph indeed, which completes some kind of circle back to a sense of secret gardens and arcadias.
Well, as I seem to say here and there, while we’re talking about Charles Frégers Wilder Mann (see Day #65/365), here is his document of folk rituals and costume from other shores.
And well, if you want to look for an underlying unsettledness to a bucolic pastoralism, look no further.
Although it’s probably not all that underlying.
I’m curious as to whether it’s just the exoticness of not having seen them before; that their tropes, designs and roots are not deeply buried in my subconscious which makes these seem so much more dramatic, odd, film like and possibly accomplished or even professional in appearance compared to those found in English folk rites…
…and why sometimes do I think of the march and advancement of the simians upon homo sapien in The Planet Of The Apes / The Monkey Planet (circa 1960s and 70s, not later mind)? Or even strangely surreal Stan Lee superheroes and villains?
With these photographs there is often something unsettling and genuinely scary to some part of me that still feels ten; they strike a chord with that younger me and can genuinely give me the heebie jeebies… these images could well have tumbled from distant lands into high fever childhood Wicker nightmares.
In one photograph somebody is having a ciggie, which should break the spell but it doesn’t; there’s something about that, his costume, stance and the way he’s staring at the camera that makes it wander off into some very odd almost slasher film territory and more childhood nightmares. These are Sesame Street monsters which have crawled from under the bed and out of the cupboards…
I think this is one of those posts or days where I shall stop now and let the images speak for themselves.
Peruse the Wilder Mann here. Marvel at the price of the now sold out English text edition here. Fortunately you can still find German and other language editions here. Dewi Lewis, the original publishers of the UK edition here.continue reading
Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids: A Journey Through The English Ritual Year by Sarah Hannant.
In many ways this is a continuation of the journey that Homer Sykes with his Once A Year book/project (see Day #19/365). Both books are visual social histories of the ongoing observance and enactment of English folk rituals.
I think one of the things I find fascinating about them is the way that these sometimes arcane rites and rituals are pictured alongside and in contrast to symbols of modern-day life: whether it be a straw bear next to a local metro supermarket, a fluorescent clad safety officer next to float queens or a burry man supping a drink through a straw (again see Day #19/365 on Homer Sykes for that last one), sometimes just small things such as a digital camera next to blackened faces, the modern eye wear of a traditional jester as he wanders down a country lane or maybe just the modern day physiognomy and clothing of the observers of burning tar barrel carrying.
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, faces at the window that just here and there begin to hint at or conjure up an otherly albion, slithers of a view through the portal as it were.continue reading
And while we’re talking about Mr Jim Jupp (see Day #64/365 of A Year In The Country)…
One of the cultural corner shops I have visited the most during and in the run up to A Year In The Country is the Belbury Parish Magazine.
Here, in amongst the jars of boiled sweets you can come across all kinds of fine nuggets of curiosity: it is in part primarily a newsletter or “semi-offical companion” for all things Ghost Box but also one of the reasons I’m drawn to it is because it often wanders slightly off the beaten track to incorporate items of parish news from interconnected practitioners…
So, it was where I found out about Robin The Fogs audio-historical exploration of fading institutional signal transmission centres Ghosts of Bush House (see image to the left), one of the first places I read about Charles Frégers Wilder Mann book/project, the aforementioned Ghost Box/Broadcast friendly issue of Shindig Magazine (see Day #59/365)…
…all in amongst more audio-mixes than you could comfortably listen to in, well, a month or two… just as a teaser and taster at the Belbury Parish Magazine you can find Toys and Techniques Mix For Trish (a tribute to Trish Keenan of Broadcast), an ongoing selection of Belbury Radio broadcasts, Jon Brooks of The Advisory Circle’s Public Information Film inspired mix and more, all of which are mentioned in the parish magazine, alongside a scattering of video signals from other eras and re-imagined lands…
It is also a fine resource for viewing and discovering Mr Julian House’s artwork for Ghost Box and others (such as his artwork on the left which was used for the aforementioned Toys and Techniques Mix For Trish) and his posters for Belbury Youth Club events.
In fact, I suspect that a reasonable number of the cultural touchstones which have become an inherent part of the fabric of A Year In The Country, such as The Twilight Language Of Nigel Kneale book (see Day #15/365) I may well have first stumbled upon via this particular set of parish circulars.
So, if you should have a moment or two or more, wandering off to have a read and peruse would be heartily recommended.
Pick up your latest copy of the Belbury Parish Magazine from the good reverend Mr Jupp here.continue reading
The song Geography from Belbury Polys The Belbury Tales album is one of the ones which has stuck in my mind the most when working towards/on A Year In The Country.
I think the night I first heard it was also the night when I originally wrote what was to become much of the text on the About page of A Year In The Country, so I think it helped inspire, spark and put textual form to something… so something of a touchstone/key record indeed.
The song (and as I’ve said before in previous posts, I use that phrase loosely here) starts with the phrase “The Geography of peace” and then wanders off into… well, how to describe it; as a piece of music it is a beautiful, haunting form of looped folk electronica.
I don’t know where the main vocals come from and I don’t think I want to as it has a lost treasure feel to it. I assume that they’re formed from a sample found and reused but whatever and wherever they’re from they’re quite lovely.
The album is rather nicely put together/packaged: there’s a swirling, disorienting loop of fiction by Electric Eden author Rob Young and appropriately swirling, disorienting artwork by Julian House (see Day #59/365 at A Year In The Country).
Also, there are little touches to the album that make all the difference, such as the way different paper stocks are used in the sleeve cover and interior pages, with the inner pages have a flecked, texture feel to them.
As is often the way with Ghost Box, there is a whole otherly world presented and created here; in this case it’s the re-imagined pastoral but quietly discomforting bucolic village pleasures of a parallel plot of England from who knows quite where and when. There is something not quite so in this parish but whatever it is that’s occurring is happening just out of sight, flickering away in the corners of your eyes.
“Belbury Poly spin some tall tales across a concept album in the tradition of English prog rock. Along the way they take in medievalism, the supernatural, childhood, the re-invention of the past, initiation and pilgrimage (both spiritual and physical).”
Or indeed a review at the time:
“Jim Jupp’s past-haunted electronic eccentrics is a beautiful, eerie thing – a piped gateway to false memories of a time when the benevolent nation state commissioned young men to re-score English folk songs with government issue analogue synthesisers.” (from Mojo Magazine).
(Jim Jupp is Ghost Box Records head co-coordinator/co-conspirator.)continue reading
Right, in the interests of textual restraint and because this is a film that I think tells it’s story itself, I’m just going to write one sentence about this film; suffice to say my mind has referred back to Two Years At Sea repeatedly while planning A Year In The Country and along with General Orders No. 9 and Sleep Furiously it has been one of the main celluloid flickerings which has caught my eye and imagination…
A post in which I select my four favourite recent-ish designs by Ghost Box Records co-coordinator and The Focus Group conductor Mr Julian House; the ones that have caught my eye and mind the most and/or that I keep returning to (and/or that have been involved in causing me to utilise my electronic fiscal passkey).
It’s curious how things come around and link together… I knew that Julian House had been involved with graphic design agency Intro but I didn’t realise that he had worked on the artwork for Primal Scream’s Exterminator album… artwork which greatly influenced a project I worked on previously a fair few years ago now… and then all these years later here I am perusing and writing about his work again.
…and then in that trail of breadcrumbs and joining the dots way, when I was looking up where the Children Of Alice design came from I discovered that it was for an issue of Shindig magazine which featured…
…an interview with James Cargill of Broadcast, a piece by psych/acid folk documenter and authoress Jeannette Leach on Broadcast, a talk with Jim Jupp and Julian House/a profile on Ghost Box Records, a history of The Children’s Film Foundation (silver balls that eat all the cereal and all the electricity ahoy) and another piece of Julian House’s artwork accompanying a primer on the Italian slasher-but-odd and-possibly-art-rather-than-just-exploitation Giallo film genre…
…a genre which inspired the film Berberian Sound Studio, artwork for which was created by Julian House and is featured here, soundtrack for which was by Broadcast, with artwork by Julian House and…
…well there are some of the dots joined up and breadcrumb trails followed…
The Focus Group at Ghost Box Records here.
Jeanette Leechs Seasons They Change: The Story Of Acid and Psychedelic Folk here.
Nice selection of Julian House posters to annoy you because they were in editions of around five and they’re all sold out here.
(As I was writing this I had a suspicion one of those might sneak onto this page… ah, well, make that my five favourite recent-ish Julian House designs.)continue reading
Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails by Sharron Kraus, accompanied by bonus disc Night Mare.
I’ve briefly touched on the Pilgrim Chants album in A Year In The Country before (see Day #43/365) but once it’s eager arrival through the letterbox had occurred I thought it was time for a fuller visiting.
Now, where to start… well, to part borrow from the album’s title, as I listened to it I just kept thinking “this is a pastoral magicbox of an album”.
And it is that indeed.
When I was first reading Ms Kraus text that explained how she was inspired to make and the setting in which she made the album, I could connect quite a bit… there’s a sense of her discovering and rediscovering the land, as she had begun to live in (visit?) the Welsh countryside, exploring her surroundings and unlocking some kind of underlying magic or enchantment to the land.
In many ways, it seems that she was initially creating something which was for herself, which could be a soundtrack to her own experiences, early cultural pathways which had pointed to the land and to create something which could try to interpret and/or represent the secrets in the valleys, streams and pathways through which she wandered…
…and a phrase which kept wandering into my mind as I listened to these two albums was “these are lullabies for the land” and in many ways they literally feel or have a lullaby like effect: I find myself drifting off as I listen to them, they have a dreamlike quality and they transport me somewhere else that is rooted in the land but is also a journey through an otherly landscape.
This is music which also literally soundtracks the landscape where it was made, utilising field recordings captured along the way; the sound of birds, streams, waterfalls, animals, the wind and jet planes which were recorded on her explorations. A sense of wandering the land is brought to life through these found sounds and at points you can literally hear the journey being taken as leaves crunch underfoot.
How to describe these albums musically? Well, I’m not sure if I can do them justice but as a set of general pointers if I didn’t know who had made them and somebody had told me that these two albums were the soundtracks to a semi-lost pastoral science fiction film released by Finders Keepers Records, well I quite possibly would have believed them.
Musically they are largely instrumental pieces and for me the nearest touch points would possibly be other albums which take their own path through sometimes Arcadian, sometimes otherly arborea such as Virginia Astley’s From Gardens Where We Feel Secure, Magpahi’s work for Vol. IV of the Folklore Tapes and Plinth’s (who Sharron Kraus has collaborated with) Wintersongs…
But they are not all bucolic countryside pleasantness, there is also a sense of dread to some of the songs, a quiet unsettlingness, particularly on songs such as Dark Pool, Nightmare and Sleepless (where I really found myself thinking that this music seemed like a rediscovered artifact, something from a different time or place), while An Army Of Woes takes a step or two towards Ghost Box hauntological reinterpreted library music… but really, if you should like to, I think that wandering off and listening to the music is probably the best way of doing it justice.
As a further note, the Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails album is beautifully packaged, even how the disc sits in its housing feels like something I want to coo over: it was released in a very limited edition and/or to subscribers only by Second Language Music and designed by Martin Masai Andersen/Andersen M Studio. It’s one of those times when something feels like a precious artifact, one which you want to pick up carefully and gently.
The album is presented as a small hardback style book and the packaging and photography perfectly captures the beauty and grace of the landscape through which Ms Kraus travelled and in which she worked.
I’m not a Luddite about such things but it’s also one of those times when physically produced cultural artifacts knock their purely digital brethren into a cocked hat; I can’t stand an MP3 on the side and have my mind sent off a-wandering each time I walk past it…
Sharron Kraus main home in the electronic ether is here. There is an excellent piece of writing by her about the album here (where you can also listen to/download the album). That writing is also continued here.
The Night Mare album, which accompanied Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails was only available to Second Language Music subscribers (cue frantic checking of Discogs etc to see if I could find a copy… to no avail). Fortunately it can still be found in digitised form here.
Other pathways: Plinth’s Wintersongs on vinyl via Kit Records here. Virginia Astley’s From Gardens Where We Feel Secure here. Magpahi’s contribution to Devon Folklore Tapes Vol. IV here (or if that has dissolved, possibly here).continue reading
Now, if you’re a regular reader of A Year In The Country (if there is indeed such a thing), you may have noticed the work of David Chatton Barker popping up and cropping up here and there, generally when mentioning Folklore Tapes (of which he could be said to be the curator).
(As a brief precis: Folklore Tapes is a form of research project which encompasses amongst other things audio releases on the reels of ferrous cassettes which are housed in reimagined hardback books. As a project it explores the hidden recesses, nooks and crannies of Britain, it’s landscape and folkloric arcana. Alongside it’s audio releases, Folklore Tapes also encompasses field trip work and live events – I wouldn’t say gigs as they’re generally something much more than that and can encompass live physically invented projections and improvised soundtracks; see more at Day #32/365 and Day #7/365 of A Year In The Country).
As well as putting together Folklore Tapes, Mr Barker has also created a rather fine selection of graphic artwork, often for various offshoots/interconnected fellow travellers with Folklore Tapes and or unearthers of rare sonic delights Finders Keepers Records…
I think one of the reasons I’m drawn to his visual/design work is the way it delves in amongst layers and signifiers of culture from other eras, overlooked esoteric corners and artifacts, retains their spirit but reinterprets them to create thoroughly modern work. Tip of the hat to you Mr Barker. It’s lovely stuff.
So, on this page is a baker’s (barkers?) dozen of my favourite pieces of his visual work, the ones that have lodged themselves in my mind and/or that I have returned to peruse over the months… some are selected because of the work itself, some for what it represents/features, often because of both those reasons…
A few trails and pathways:
David Chatton Barker, Folklore Tapes, folk tale songstress hailing from the black and white birds nest Magpahi and supernatural Lancashire séance co-director Samandtheplants/Sam McLoughlin, Mr Barker’s other sound transmissions identity David Orphan, the pastoral wanderings of Caught By The River, cosmic aquatic folklorist and Czech New Wave film channeler and reimaginer Jane Weaver (and at Day #6/365 of a Year In The Country), audiotronic delvers Finders Keepers Records and their occasional flickering celluloid events Hocus Focus, Ms Peake and former monarchs with extended appendager Adrian Flanagan’s The Eccentronic Research Council, old records made to feel young again via Andy Votel, aqueous researcher Rob St John, Iona Magnetic via Sam Khan-Mcintyre and “new band of the day No. 1,169” (which is perusable as an idea online) and fellow Bird Records/Finders Keepers Records travellers Paper Dollhouse.
Limited edition of 31.
Printed with archival Giclée pigment inks on clouded transparent clouded vellum paper.
Book page size: 29.7 x 10.5 cm / 11.7 x 4.1 inches.
Book page count: 24 pages (12 images).
“The images in this book are transluscent waifs; as each page of the book is transparent, the images build up in layers throughout the book; sections of the image/s below the current page can be seen through onto the current page.”
Curating the curators…
Now, the electronic ether is full of stuff. I’m sure most of us know that.
And so, a touch of curating doesn’t go amiss.
One such place is this page which is described as “All things hauntological, atemporal and future past nostalgic in music, media and ideas”… and indeed such things are scooped and sieved there.
I tend to think of it as a newspaper of all such things… a sort of newsletter digest collected and curated from the world’s thinkings and cultural endeavours.
So, as a brief overview of something of these sievings and scoopings there’s the Quietus on English Heretic alongside their features on Julian House of Focus Group/Ghost Box Records and Eccentronic Research Council… the release of Mark Fisher’s Ghosts Of My Life, various Tales From The Black Meadow, a fair smattering of consideration of the ruins and decay of culture and physical buildings/locations, all accompanied by a refreshing snapshot view or precis of a more academic/intellectual take on all things hauntological.
So, all in all, a fine dash or two of index carding of such things.
As a postscript: on the above pages there is also a brief mention of Owl Seance, which is a set of hauntological hills that I have been known to go tumbl(r)ing down. Another form of curating, this time of the visual kind.
A selection of images from Owl Seance below:
The Advisory Circle’s And The Cuckoo Comes was probably the first song (and I use that word loosely here) that I heard that had sprung forth from Ghost Box Records and travelling companions and is probably one of the ones that I have listened to the most in relation to A Year In The Country.
It uses a sample of a nature talk, I don’t know for definite where from although in my mind it conjures up the audio-recorded dust of the seventies of my youth and I expect it may have been borrowed/plucked from a Public Information Film of the time…
A brief half-listen of the words imply that it should be all pastoral delight as it describes the changes of the seasons. However, it is anything but an idyllic journeying through such things.
“In the summer, well, it’s usually cold and sometimes it snows.
The winds blow.
In the autumn the flowers are out and the sun shines.
In the winter, the leaves grow again on the trees.
And in the spring the winds blow and the leaves fall from the trees.
And the sun shines and the leaves grow again on the trees.
And sometimes it snows…
And the cuckoo comes.”
It’s an unsettling song, there’s a sense of dislocation to it, which I had put down largely to the multi-layered, swirling, repetition of the song. But writing the lyrics down just now I realised how much semi-consciously that dislocation was also due to the words themselves; time, the seasons and nature are out of joint and at odds while waiting for the singing songbird.
Listen to it here.
Something of an ornithological theme in Mr Brooks work… above is his Applied Music Vol. 1: Science & Nature released via his own café kaput label, to the left is the Owl Service-leaning cover to his As The Crow Files album and below are some images from his night time drifting Shapwick album.
Shapwick was released by Clay Pipe Music and wandered off into the world post-haste and to continue the aviarist theme is now rather as rare as domestic fowl molars. Nice artwork/packaging/accompanying Shapwick owl print by Clay Pipe orchestrator Frances Castle…
The Advisory Circle is but one of the labels under which Mr Jon Brooks sends his work out into to the world. You can see more about him at his blog Café Kaput.
And I’ve mentioned it before but I think it’s worth a mention again: Jonny Trunk’s OST radio show on Resonance FM – Jon Brooks guests on an episode and it’s worth an auditory visit even if it’s just for the image of his wife putting down her knitting and accompanying him to do the actions to a Coal Board Safety Song by Max Bygraves.
I realise that last sentence probably sounds a bit surreal but if you happen to listen to the show all shall become clearer.
If you should like a listen to OST’s intrigueries (and sometimes glorious shambolism) you can do so at Resonance FM’s Podcast archive.
Purchase/peruse the Revised Edition of Mind how you go (from whence The Cuckoo Comes comes) at Ghost Box Records.
As a final point, it’s interesting how very limited, very independently released and niche records sent out into the world in editions of 200 copies or so are now reviewed by the mainstream weekend press (see review above).
Ah, in my day you were lucky to have 2 column inches in one of the music inkly-weeklies. How the cultural landscape has changed… Nice write-up mind, captures the spirit of things rather well.continue reading