• Day #139/365: Sharron Kraus, the less well trodden paths of Heretics Folk Club and unfurling sails…

    Sharron Kraus-Heretics Folk Club-A Year In The Country-1b
    File under: Trails and Influences: Recent Explorations. Case #19/52.
    Field Trip Report: Case #2.

    I recently wandered along to the Heretics Folk Club, which is a corner of the world that serves as an enclave for “balladeers, hauntologists, audio-archaeologists, field recordists” and the like, to see Sharron Kraus live for the first time.

    The performance was upstairs in a rather lovely riverside venue, which felt as though it should be or was only lit by candle light and the flickering projections that acted as a backdrop.

    Live as on record Ms Kraus’ music casts a certain spell: it is beguiling in that it is both shimmering and full of light while also wandering down some of the darker and not always so easy paths of life and love. Spellbinding is a word that comes to mind and it’s interesting how just somebody’s voice and an acoustic guitar can cast such a spell over a room.

    There is both a fragility and a strength to her music and performance, these are songs that make you want to just close your eyes and to travel with them. Her work connects to traditional folk but this is no simple retreading of well-worn paths; it’s a very personal cherishing and re-crafting, layered with a sense of there being considerable thought, journeying and studies which underpin and inform her music, it’s inspirations and themes.

    Sharron Kraus-Heretics Folk Club-A Year In The Country-3-1200

    A song which particularly intrigued me, which Ms Kraus played tonight, was Traveller Between The Worlds.

    In this there is a consideration of the push, pull and testing of love when you feel you must fly free, when your “sails have unfurled” and you are drawn to set forth and explore the world, leaving your beau behind as you wander and hoping that those you travel and depart from will remember you and be able to welcome you home when the time comes.

    It is a tender and at points heartbreaking song:

    In my dreams your hair’s grown long
    Your beard is streaked with grey
    And our tiny children
    Run around all day

    I hope that they’ll know me
    When I come home
    And I’ll not be a stranger
    To those I call my own

    Connected to the theme of that song is how a performer such as Sharron Kraus can have an inherent ability to travel. Just a voice and a guitar being all that are needed to take these songs to where they and their creator need and wish to journey. I suppose in a way you could also connect that back to travelling musicians and entertainers from times gone by, those who wandered from village to hamlet to town, plying their trade throughout the land.

    Heretics’ Folk Club is once a month and I would heartily recommend a wander along. View more about it herehere and here. It was discussed earlier in A Year In The Country, see that at Day #43/365.

    Sharron Kraus can be found in the ether here and here. I visited her Pastoral Trails & Pilgrim Chants album on Day #58/365 of A Year In The Country.

    Traveller Between The Worlds can be found on The Woody Nightshade album released by Strange Attractors. You can visit it here.

    Related to Heretics’ Folk Club, Sharron’s post Folk Revivals and Haunted Places, written about an earlier event put on by the same people (in a deserted and abandoned department store no less) is well worth reading. It captures the spirit and excitement of an event which explored some of the concepts and concerns of those aforementioned less well worn paths of folk music and folkloric culture (and also makes you kick yourself that you weren’t there).

    Sharron Kraus-Heretics Folk Club-A Year In The Country-2-1200

     

    continue reading
  • Day #138/365: Image N/2

    Image N2-A Year In The Country
    File under:
    A Year In The Country: Work

     

    continue reading
  • Day #137/365: Image M/2

    Image M2-A Year In The Country-rescale
    File under:
    A Year In The Country: Work

    continue reading
  • Day #136/365: Mr Ben Wheatley wanders amongst a curious number of subjects which may be familiar to visitors of these fields…

    The Owl Service-TV series titles-Alan Garner-A Year In The CountryTrails and Influences: Electronic Ether. Case #18/52.

    Well, while I’ve just been talking about and scurrying away from Kill List, see Day #135/365, I found this interview in the ether (and once upon a time in physical wood pulp form) an interesting insight into Ben Wheatley’s work.

    In it he wanders through and around a number of his influences, many of which may well be familiar to regular visitors of the fields I write amongst. In particular it was interesting to read about how childhood dreams and nightmares connected to the English landscape seem to have been carried forward into his work as an adult.

    Here are a few snippets:

    There’s something about the Eighties that’s so miserable anyway, so the shots of Sheffield before it blows up are almost as terrifying as afterwards…

    Threads is my favourite British horror…

    The Owl Service-TV series titles-Alan Garner-A Year In The Country-1200

    The Owl Service… it’s like David Lynch… I watched it about five or six years ago, and I was just stunned by it. You wouldn’t even fathom showing that to children now. That’s what would pass as adult drama now, even quite difficult adult drama…

    Children Of The Stones… you’d barely get that commissioned now if you were Steven Poliakoff…

    …(in reference to Penda’s Fen, The Owl Service etc, these are shows that are) not afraid to put you through the emotional wringer. They were really impactful in a way that drama doesn’t seem to be any more. There was no politeness about it. You felt your mind being scarred and you were never the same again afterwards….

    When I was a kid, I grew up in Essex next to some woods, and I always had nightmares about the woods and things that would happen to you in the woods. I had very vivid nightmares about the surrounding area, I’d have a recurring nightmares about a farm building that was near to us – and I still have them now. All the stuff that’s not mediated, that’s not about watching a film and being scared and incorporating it into your own imagination – for me, it was primal terror about the environment I lived in. I think over time that mutated into an interest in why the countryside is scary, or why England is scary.

    Read the full interview by Michael Bonner here.

    As a note to myself that I really must watch The Owl Service again, I’ve only used images from it in this post. I’ve quoted it around these parts before but shall have to again: “I am the wolf in every mind”. I’ve found that lodged in my mind since I heard it. I can’t imagine what it would have done to my young mind if I’d watched it as a child.

    And as a final point. Is the title sequence to The Owl Service one of the finest pieces of television ever produced? Well, around these parts it is.

    The Owl Service-TV-Alan Garner-A Year In The Country 2

    The Owl Service-TV-Alan Garner-A Year In The Country-3

    If you’re reading this, you may also find Day #73/365 piques your interest, which is a wander through some visual work that tumbled forth from A Field In England, work summoned by Twins Of Evil and other travelling companions.

    continue reading
  • Day #135/365: Kill List

    Kill List-Ben Wheatley-A Year In The Country-4File under: Trails and Influences:
    Other Pathways. 
    Case #18/52.

    I think I’ve been putting off writing about this film as quite frankly I’m not sure I wanted to revisit it.

    Not because I think it’s a bad film. It’s just that the very thought of it gives me the creeping, screaming heebie jeebies.

    As a film it’s an intriguing, fascinating, inspiring piece of work and I don’t know if I ever want to see it again.

    For weeks after watching it I had unsettled, nightmarish dreams. I can’t remember where or find it again but I read a discussion about the film that said something along the lines of “some pieces of culture are the thing that they purport to be about”. This is a film about evil and it feels like it is that thing.

    I’ve picked up/sought out it’s physical vessel all kinds of times in library sales, in the last remaining emporiums of music and film on the high street, in the ether and so on but I won’t or can’t have it in the house. I don’t want it sat on my shelves.

    Kill List-Ben Wheatley-A Year In The Country-3In large part the world it represents, though about the lives of somewhat shady mercenaries, is presented in an every day, kitchen sink like way. It doesn’t feel like an esoteric otherly world. People are having dinner, a couple argues about money. But something else lurks and creeps in. A symbol is scratched behind a mirror. A descent begins and… well, even writing about it with a good distance I feel uncomfortable.

    I don’t want to give too much away but in many ways this felt like the true sequel to The Wickerman, not The Wicker Tree. More in keeping with the themes of that film but through a modern day filter of a corruption that feels total and also curiously banal.

    Kill List-Ben Wheatley-A Year In The Country

    Mr Wheatley, you’ve made a fine piece of culture here. You’ve captured something indefinable. Please keep it out of my home.

    Kill List-Ben Wheatley-A Year In The Country-Iron Jaiden-Mondo posters
    Above is the limited edition screen print poster for Kill List by Iron Jaiden, released by blink-and-you’ll-miss-them poster reimagining house Mondo.

    Kill List-Ben Wheatley-A Year In The Country-2

     

    continue reading
  • Day #134/365: Rouge’s Foam – Hauntology: The Past Inside The Present and an awareness that the ghosts will always win

    Luc Tuymans-Valley 2007-Rouges Foam-A Year In The CountryTrails and Influences: Electronic Ether. Case #17/52.

    At those times when the eyes are occupied with other things but the brain requires a bit of stretching and stimulation, the audio version of the article Hauntology: The Past Inside The Present by Rouge’s Foam could be just the ticket.

    It’s a theoretical journey through some of the concepts that surround and underpin hauntology. It doesn’t necessarily finally pin down this somewhat elusive cultural idea (which is strangely one that I seem to instinctively know what it is, even if I find that hard to put it into words) but it is one particular place to start wandering in and around some of it’s associated and interconnected themes and practitioners.

    Boards-of-Canada-Music-Has-the-Right-to-Children-1998-Warp Records-Rouges Foam-A Year In The CountryAnd part of that wandering in the audio piece is a consideration and snippets from a selection of music from the possibly hauntological precursors (or at least heading in that general direction) Boards Of Canada, Ghost Box co-ordinators and cohorts Belbury Poly, The Focus Group and The Advisory Circle through to the fallen forwards to an apocalyptic future pop of Ariel Pink before arriving at Bahamian magic/ritual by way of Exuma.

    Ghost Box Records-Sketches and Spells-The Focus Group-Julian House-Rouges Foam-A Year In The Country

    The audio version is extended/accompanied by a text based version of the article, which includes numerous visual pieces of work that includes work by amongst others Luc Tuymans (see his revisiting of The Midwich Cuckoos/Village Of The Damned at the top of this post), Peter Doig, Neo Rauch, D. L. Alvarez, Dan Hays (see below) and Mark Weaver… oh and a soothingly kitsch GDR postcard, alongside a consideration of it’s fractured relationship with the reality from which it arrived.

    …but it’s the audio version I’m most drawn to. It’s interesting to hear a theoretical analysis of such things via a possibly more populist cultural medium.

    Listen to it here.

    GDR Postcard-Hedgehog-wildlife-Boards-of-Canada-Music-Has-the-Right-to-Children-1998-Warp Records-Rouges Foam-A Year In The Country

    Dan Hays-POvergrown Path 2000-Rouges Foam-A Year In The Country

    PS I rather liked this quotation from Julian House of Ghost Box/The Focus Group that is in the piece: ‘Rather than pastiche, where everything is on the surface, there’s a way of triggering one’s memory of things that confuses rather than makes apparent.’ That could be taken as something of a manifesto point or guidance initiative for Ghost Box Records.

    And as a final postscript while I’m thinking of such themes:  I must say there has been something of a patient but rather long wait around these parts for the arrival of Mark Fisher’s Ghosts Of My Life, his book which in part considers the themes of hauntology or to quote David Peace, is a navigation “of these times out of joint, through all their frissons and ruptures, among all their apparitions and spectres, past, present and future”.  Ah, the waiting is soon to end.

    Visit that particular publication here.

     

    continue reading
  • Day #133/365: Artifact #19/52 released; Monitoring The Transmissions fabric badge set

    Monitoring The Transmissions fabric badge set. £6.00.
    Artifact 19-Monitoring The Transmissions fabric badge pack-four badges-A Year In The Country

    Artifact 19-Monitoring The Transmissions fabric badge pack-badge 2-A Year In The Country Artifact 19-Monitoring The Transmissions fabric badge pack-badge-A Year In The Country
    Artifact 19-Monitoring The Transmissions fabric badge pack-front of pack-A Year In The Country

    Limited edition of 52 sets.

    Each set is hand signed and numbered.
    4 x 25mm / 1″ printed fabric button/pin badges in a see-through pack with printed card header.

    Conventional pin badges have a transparent plastic cover over the front. These badges are made with the design printed onto fabric, with a matt finish, which gives them a more natural, tactile feel and you can see the weave of the fabric.

    Available at our Artifacts Shop.

     

    continue reading
  • Day #132/365: Espers, coruscation and the demise of monarchs…

    Espers II-Greg Weeks-Drag City-A Year In The CountryFile under: Trails and Influences:
    Other Pathways. 
    Case #17/52.

    The word that comes to mind when I hear Dead Queen on the Espers II album is coruscating, it’s a song that swoops, sparkles, gently tilts you back into somewhere else. It’s epic and grand in scale but never verbose; a song full of glistening beauty, gentle and lilting but also one which subtly loops and returns throughout to something that touches on night dreams.

    And I seem to find it hard to travel beyond it on the album; where do you go after something like this? It’s such a complete, swirling world of a song.

    Espers II-Greg Weeks-Drag City-A Year In The Country 4When I hear it I think of semi-lost privately pressed psychedelic/acid folk records from somewhere in the 1970s (and the phrase space rock seems to wander into my mind) but this is no straight replucking or homage; in many ways it shines a beacon as how to look to and draw from earlier source material but to bring it into today and your own vision.

    Now, there has been much written about Espers and their connection to what has sometimes been labelled freak folk. You can easily have a wander through the ether to search out those stories (or via Jeanette Leech’s Seasons They Change book). This small piece of writing isn’t intended to retell or retread that ground, it’s just a small corner of the world where I might politely suggest a seeking out of the song and letting yourself step into it. Well worth eight or more minutes of your time.

    Espers at Drag City here. Current activities of some of its cohorts at Language Of Stone. Wanderings from these shores, across the waters and back again here.

    Espers II-Greg Weeks-Drag City-A Year In The Country 3

    Espers II-Greg Weeks-Drag City-A Year In The Country 5

    continue reading
  • Day #131/365: John Benjamin Stone; records of folkloric rituals, traditions and light catching from other eras…

    John Benjamin Stone-A Record of England-folk customs and traditions-A Year In The Country-4File under: Trails and Influences:
    Other Pathways. 
    Case #16/52.

    Back mostly in the 19th century John Benjamin Stone made a photographic record of the folk customs and traditions of Britain, alongside documenting wider sections of people on these shores and cultures across the world.

    The people, times and places in his photographs seem as though they belong to somewhere now impossibly distant from our own times; the physiognomy of those portrayed, their stances, their very being have gained layers of difference and otherlyness as the years have gone by.

    His work is well worth a wander, an explore and a gander… it can also be seen as a precursor to journeys through the English ritual year and across these lands by the likes of Homer Sykes, Tony Ray-Jones (something of a favourite around these parts: see Day #19/365) and Sarah Hannant (see Day #66/365)… and as I mentioned back not too long ago on Day #127/365, it felt like seeing a glimpse backwards and forwards to his photographs in part of Robin Redbreast (Day #127/365).

    John Benjamin Stone-A Record of England-folk customs and traditions-A Year In The Country-5

    John Benjamin Stone-A Record of England-folk customs and traditions-A Year In The Country-6

    John Benjamin Stone-A Record of England-folk customs and traditions-A Year In The Country-3John Benjamin Stone-A Record of England-folk customs and traditions-A Year In The Country-1 

    See more of his work here and here. Have a peruse of Record Of England, a book co-published by Dewi Lewis Publishing here.

     

    continue reading
  • Day #130/365: Image L/2; Atavistic Memories

    Image L2-Atavistic Memories
    File under:
    A Year In The Country: Work

    continue reading
  • Day #129/365: Image K/2; The Gateway (Secondary Phase)

    Image K2-The Gateway (Secondary Phase)-A Year In The Country
    File under:
    A Year In The Country: Work

    continue reading
  • DAY #128/365: Audrey Copard – English Folk Songs and dew on the corn…

    English Folk Songs-Audrey Copard-Folkways Records-Scarborough Fair-A Year In The CountryFile under: Trails and Influences:
    Recent Explorations. Case #18/52.

    I have no idea how I came across this. Maybe I was looking up Lutine’s version of Died Of Love and stumbled across it that way as this album/10″ also features the song (see Day #50/365).

    I don’t know all that much about traditional folk that was revived in the 1950s and 1960s. No particular reason, it’s just not something I’ve tended to explore all that much. This album, originally recording in 1956, is music which could probably be connected with such things though and it felt like a real find; there’s a playful, sometimes cheerful, sometimes wistfully sad delivery to the songs that just makes my hair stand on end.

    The opening lines to the record are “If all the young men were like hares on the mountain, then all the pretty girls would take guns and go hunting” which makes me smile and laugh.

    English Folk Songs-Audrey Copard-Folkways Records-Scarborough Fair-A Year In The Country 2 copyThe songs are presented simply, just Ms Copard’s voice and sometimes guitar accompaniment and that’s all they need and apparently it features the first recorded and commercially released version of that heading towards the toppermost of the poppermost songs Scarborough Fair, so I guess as a record it has a certain cultural historical importance.

    Here a not-to-be-a-hit version of that hit record sits in amongst songs that I first discovered via more contemporary people such as The Owl Service, the aforementioned Lutine, Anne Briggs and so forth. It was interesting hearing some of their earlier incarnations and wondering how these versions may have somewhere along the line come to influence the songs future existences.

    Finding the record on vinyl can be done but it’s a reasonably rare item, particularly on these shores. Time to save up the pennies and all that, though it is more easily available in shiny modern form (and even, curiously, on cassette).

    English Folk Songs-Audrey Copard-Folkways Records-A Year In The Country-Hares On The MountainSee more about the record here.

    continue reading
  • Day #127/365: Robin Redbreast…

    Robin Redbreast BFI dvd-A Year In The Country-Play For TodayFile under: Trails and Influences:
    Recent Explorations. Case #17/52.

    A curious thing Robin Redbreast… it’s a 1970 television play but it only still existing as a black and white recording and the well spoke diction of some of the cast makes it feel like it’s from an earlier, pre-pop culture explosion era.

    Sometimes when unearthing and perusing cult artifacts they can be interesting in terms of their subject matter, their style etc but not necessarily stand up as pieces of work/drama in themselves.

    Robin Redbreast wasn’t one such time. It’s a piece of work which still draws you in, entertains, grips and unsettles you.

    The story involves a London based television script editor who decides to stay in the country house that her and her partner owned after they separated. Her and her friends are outsiders, visitors to the countryside; city sophisticates, all cocktails and slightly groovy clothing, who consider themselves slightly above the local rural folk.

    Robin Redbreast BFI dvd-A Year In The Country-Play For TodayThe main female character becomes pregnant via a local man, although she’s bored by him and his intellect, after a one night stand. There are folkloric/ritualistic shennanigans connected to her pregnancy and coupling, possibly instituted by those local rural folk, possibly as part of a tribute to the land and ensuring it’s fertility (and to a degree in this sesnse the film reminded a touch of Nicholas Roeg’s 2007 kitchen sink/realist style folk horror film Puffball).

    Now, if any of that plot sounds slightly familiar, it may be because in terms of it’s themes it’s not all that dissimilar to The Wickerman. It’s easy to assume that Robin Redbreast may have influenced The Wickerman but without talking to that film’s creators that’s hard to know for definite.

    It does tread similar pathways but that may have been coincidence or it may be part of the way that similar themes can appear in different people’s work around a particular time in culture, even though they are not directly connected with one another.

    Robin Redbreast BFI dvd-A Year In The Country-Play For TodaySometimes it’s as though something is in the air and in that sense Robin Redbreast could be seen to be part of a cultural arc that took in folk horror films such as The Wickerman, the esoteric wanderings of folk music at the time and an interrelated interest in the otherly side of the landscape which was expressed in television flickerings which looked at such things, ie Pendas Fen, The Changes and The Owl Service.

    Robin Redbreast-A Year In The Country-BFI DVD-1970-2

    Robin Redbreast-1970-BFI-A Year In The CountryIt isn’t an especially visual representation of folkloric rites as say The Wickerman is (apart from one brief moment which could almost be a Benjamin Stone photograph or modern day reenactment); it doesn’t have the broad cinematic sweep or cult musical accompaniment of that film but this is a different creature. It’s a more intimiate, enclosed, television play with I expect a relatively small budget, a small cast and a quite limited number of locations but none the worse for it.

    It’s intelligent television and well worth a visit. View more here.

     

    As an aside, why did the semi-abstract Play For Today opening titles feel like coming home when I watched them? Are they somehow or other ingrained in my consciousness from a really rather young age?

    Robin Redbreast-A Year In The Country-BFI DVD-1970-Play For Today

     

    continue reading
  • Day #126/365: Artifact #18/52: Mind How You Go fabric badge set

    Mind How You Go fabric badge set. £6.00.Artifact 18-four fabric badges-A Year In The Country

    Artifact 18-front of fabric badge set-A Year In The Country

    Artifact 18-single fabric badge-A Year In The Country
    Artifact 18-back of fabric badge set-A Year In The Country

    Mind How You Go 4 x fabric pin badge pack/set.
    Limited edition of 52 sets.

    Each set is hand signed and numbered.
    4 x 25mm / 1″ printed fabric button/pin badges in a see-through pack with printed card header.

    Conventional pin badges have a transparent plastic cover over the front. These badges are made with the design printed onto fabric, with a matt finish, which gives them a more natural, tactile feel and you can see the weave of the fabric.

    Available at our Artifacts Shop.

    continue reading
  • Day #125/365: Journeying through The Seasons with David Cain (or maybe just July and October)

    Seasons-David Cain-Jonny Trunk-BBC-A Year In The CountryFile under: Trails and Influences:
    Touchstones. Case #20/52.

    This record,  with music by David Cain and “poetry” by Ronald Dunan, is one of those shake your head and be pleasantly slightly stunned moments in culture.

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

    Well, I guess then it was at least aimed at 11-12 year old. Still rather odd and surreal but probably not quite as nightmare inducing as if it was say for 5-8 year olds.

    Why do I say that? Well, to a minimal Radiophonic musical backing (or is it a suite of Ghost Box Records recordings that fell back through time?*), here are a selection of the lyrics:

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

    Pardon? That would be a touch odd for a later 60s psychedelic album or performance piece, let alone something aimed at schools.

    Or…

    An empress with an endless train walks the broad valley, she holds no sceptre, wears no crown, moving so proudly. White swans and modest little boats follow her slowly, thus the royal cortege goes down to the indifferent sea. Her way is lonely.

    Her way is lonely? Why is her way lonely? These things can prey on a young mind.

    Seasons-David Cain-Jonny Trunk-BBC-A Year In The Country 2
    (A touch of movement and mime; a photograph on the cover of the album).

    I think I would probably file it alongside the likes of the TV series of Alan Garner’s The Owl Service as things which are possibly a little to otherly for their intended young audience (though that’s in large part why they have gained cult appeal over the years): “I am the wolf in every mind”? Blimey.

    The albums songs (and I use that word fairly loosely) are divided into twelve months and four seaons but I only ever seem to properly listen to July and October on the album. I’m not quite sure why but I will find myself humming the beep like refrains to those two songs as I wander along and it’s always those that I return to.

    The original version of the album, if you should be able to find one, is likely to cost you a fair few pennies. Fortunately it has been re-released by Jonny Trunk. Here’s him on the album:

    This album is a “cult” classic in many ways. Always a little devil to find, I first posted it up on the Recommendations pages in 2003. This was one of three copies I’d found with Martin Green at a Tonbridge Wells record fayre in the late 1990s. Several people in my small circle of peculiar musical chums also came across it, and by the mid naughties it was coming across as a major influence on retro futurism and the new fangled scene they named hauntology. This comes as no surprise as the album has several layers and levels to it; it is weird, spooky. unsettling, very British, has an unusual whiff of childhood to some, it comes scattered with pregnant language and is full of unexpected metaphors, pagan oddness, folk cadences and insane noises. Does it get any better? Considering this was an LP made for children’s education and improvised dance, I think not.

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

    Peruse the album and read an interview with David Cain by Julian House of Ghost Box Records/Focus Group at Trunk Records here.

    Listen to July here and October here.

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

    In a way it could be seen as part of mini-genre of school music related oddness. That would probably take in a couple of other Trunk Records releases (the Classroom Projects compilation and Carl Orff & Gunild Keetman’s Music For Children/Schulwerk) and probably the granddaddy of all such things The Langley Schools Music Project Innocence & Despair (a sixty strong group of Canadian schoolchildren reinterpret David Bowie, The Carpenters, Brian Wilson and more).

    Classroom-Projects-CD-Trunk Records-A Year In The Country(As an aside, whenever I hear the version of Space Oddity from The Langley Schools Music Project I’m always transported back to the English seaside, in particular a studio flat I shared, lived and worked in for a brief year or so: it was on a compilation that somebody had done for the gal I was living with… the flat was all corridor, long, thin and tall and it would drift up from the decades out of the room where she worked.)

    In many ways such school albums/the music contained in them could be seen to genuinely be folk music, in the sense of being music from the people, by the people, generally unmediated by outside concerns (or if they were, they seem to have sidestepped them to leave precious unfettered musical snapshots).

     

    *Adding to that sense is the aforementioned interview between Julian House and David Cain, that the sleeve notes for the re-release were written by sometimes Ghost Box traveller Jon Brooks (The Advisory Circle). Or indeed the post on the album’s re-release at the Belbury Parish magazine, where Jim Jupp says:

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

    View more here.

     

    continue reading
  • Day #124/365: Image J/2

    Image J2-A Year In The Country
    File under:
    A Year In The Country: Work

    continue reading
  • Day #123/365: Image I/2; Monitoring The Transmissions (#2)

    Image I2-A Year In The Country
    File under:
    A Year In The Country: Work

    continue reading
  • Day #122/365: A trio or more of Fine Horsemen via Modern Folk Is Rubbish and through to patterns layered under patterns…

    The Owl Service-Wake The Vaulted Echo-Hobby Horse-Fine Horseman-A Year In The CountryTrails and Influences: Electronic Ether.
    Case #16/52

    One of the songs which captured my ear and mind a fair old bit in various versions during the planning and preparing for A Year In The Country was Fine Horseman.

    It’s a song full of yearning; a romantic, pastoral dream of a song but those dreams are tinged with a darkness, an unsettledness that is always only just at the edges of it’s story.

    I think the version I’ve probably listened to the most is The Owl Service’s, on their Wake The Vaulted Echo EP (their first release?), closely followed by June Tabor & Maddy Prior’s version in their Silly Sisters incarnation and then possibly Anne Briggs version. All fine horsemen indeed.

    The Owl Service’s version on this EP is a soft, lilting thing that transports you elsewhere, all gentle shades of twilight…

    I first heard the Silly Sisters version on one of the ether’s goggle boxes and I’ve always liked how one of the comments below it said something along the lines of “whatever planet this was created on, I want to live there”. It does indeed feel like it’s been slightly borrowed from somewhere else…

    While the version by Anne Briggs… well as there usually is with her music, there’s a clarity, purity and beauty to her singing that always leaves me wishing that more of her work had been committed to the old ferrous reels over the years.

    The Owl Service-Modern Folk Is Rubbish-A Year In The CountryI’d been meaning to write about this song for a while and I think what reminded and prompted me to put pen to digital paper is a recent flurry of activity from The Owl Service in the ether of late. In particular their Modern Folk Is Rubbish compilation, which apparently contains the reference versions of pretty much every traditional song they’ve recorded so far.

    Fine Horseman was written by Lal Waterson and her version, made with her brother Mike, can be found on the compilation, alongside a fine collection that takes in Anne Briggs, Shirley Collins, former children’s TV presenter/sometime witchery duo Dave & Toni Arthur, The Pentangle, The Young Tradition, Fotheringay, Peter Bellamy and… well, basically enough fine not modern folk to keep the ear and mind occupied for a while and as a collection it could well serve as an introduction to certain strands of English folk and folk rock.

    Some pathways. Mind the brambles…

    Listen to the Modern Folk Is Rubbish compilation here and and here. Visit the The Owl Service’s new homes in the ether and their patterns beneath the plough here and here.

    Silly Sisters-No More To The Dance-Maddy Prior-June Tabor-Topic Records-A Year In The CountryListen to Silly Sisters version of Fine Horseman here. Listen to The Owl Service’s version… well, on the soon to come repressing of the She Wants To Be Flowers But You Make Her Owls archive collection of their work, which can be perused here (alongside a later version of Fine Horseman, which you can listen to and a free “Best Of” style album). Or indeed read a review of the Wake The Vaulted Echo from the time of it’s release via the good folk at Terrascope here.

    Information on various other Fine Horsemen can be found here.

    The Edge Of Darkness-BBC-Bob Peck-A Year In The CountryAnd I’m not quite sure why, possibly it’s when it wanders off into a guitar solo towards the end or maybe it’s the sense of other/hidden worlds but Silly Sisters version of Fine Horseman always tend to remind me of the soundtrack to the classic rather dark and rather intelligent BBC conspiracy series Edge Of Darkness: a world full of patterns layered under patterns and secrets buried out beneath the landscape.

    I’m wary of being all “Oh, in my day it was all fields around here” but it seems that television of this level is something of a rarity today. Just reading about it now still managed to send shivers up the old spine.

     

    As a final note, if you should like Modern Folk Is Rubbish, you might well appreciate a peruse of The Owl Service’s Acid Tracks compilation, which is subtitled “An introduction to the roots of psych-folk”. Read more about that at Day #107/365 or at Stone Tape Recordings here.

     

    continue reading
  • Day #121/365: Skeletons; a world, time and place of it’s own imagining

    Skeletons-Nick Whitfield-Soda Films-A Year In The CountryFile under: Trails and Influences: Other Pathways.
    Case #15/52.

    I think the first time I became aware of Skeletons was when I picked up a postcard for it at the independent cinema in my once home town…

    I was drawn in by and to it and I couldn’t say why. I didn’t get to watch it until it came out for home perusing but recently I was able to see it at a cinema… I was curious what I would think of it now that to some degree I’ve been spending this year in amongst various otherly, separate or fantastical landscapes.

    Briefly the plot involves two suited, slightly shabby or even seedy in one case, privately contracted investigators who walk through the English countryside to visit couples and others who want to exhume the secrets and skeletons in one another’s closets before say getting married. This is done via visiting a form of portals to the couples lives accessed via the cupboards in their houses, which allow the investigators to view and experience the hidden parts of their customers* lives.

    Things are complicated though because one of the investigators is a glow chaser – he is hooked on visiting scenes of his own childhood and such behaviour can corrupt their official contracted viewings.

    They are asked to help locate the lost husband of a wife who has a daughter who will nolonger speak. However, the home where she lives is situated on a path which misdirects the readings they need to take… I won’t go into it more as, well, I would be ruining the plot.

    Skeletons-2010-Nick Whitfield-British film-A Year In The Country-4

    It’s a curious item in the pantheon of British film; one which at first glance has some visual similarities with realist film but which is actually a journey through a fantastical world, one set alongside but slightly apart from the “real world” but it’s done in a subtle, not fully explained way; the science, methods, techniques, the organisation they work for etc of the investigators is just taken as is: people contract them to do their work, what they do works.

    (As an aside, I suppose you could slightly link this to a film like The Wall/Die Wand – see Day #13/365; pastoral science fiction as a genre, set in a landscape where the fantastic happens/has happened but where the reasons, whys and wherefores are not fully explained.)

    Their working methods seem curiously lo-fi and understated for what is actually quite a mind-blowing activity: the ability to step into and view the lives of others at different times and places. Their work isn’t shown in a big budget flash-bam-whallop way though, which seems to line up with and compliment the lo-fi techniques of the investigators**.

    Skeletons-2010-Nick Whitfield-British film-A Year In The Country-8

    I wondered if on re-seeing the film I would connect it with views of otherly goings on in the landscape which can be found in a small section of British television in the late 1960s and 1970s (The Owl Service, Children Of The Stones, Penda’s Fen). No, not exactly but…

    Well, one thing that surprised me was just how similar it was to the late 1970s British television series Sapphire and Steel. I don’t think in a deliberate manner (indeed when I asked the director at a Q&A about it, he was aware of the series but couldn’t remember it particularly).

    Both series and film deal with a pairing of investigators who in some ways could be said to be working with problems based around a modern updating of supernatural concerns; some place where science and the preternatural combine and co-exist, where a domestic freezer can be reconfigured to freeze malevolent spirit creatures from the beginning of time or valve like instruments can measure the readings required for screenings and visitings of other times and places of people’s lives.

    And both series seem to exist a time and place of their own imagining: yes, Sapphire and Steel is rooted in the 1970s via the colours and light trails of its video recorded existence but really it could be at almost any time in the last century.

    Skeletons-2010-Nick Whitfield-British film-A Year In The Country-3

    Skeletons-2010-Nick Whitfield-British film-A Year In The Country-2In Skeletons there is little reference to the contemporary world: the instruments they use could be post war, the suits the investigators wear are contemporary-ish, the aprons and goggles they wear for protection when carrying out their viewing seem to hark back to some earlier later mid-twentieth century industrial Britain when men sweated in jobs that were “the backbone of the country”. Their boss could have tumbled from the parade ground of a 1960s comedy (and is a standout turn as it were), there are no mobile phones or computers. We hardly see a car. It’s now but not.

    Geographically also it’s largely isolated in its own time and space: almost all of the film takes place in the countryside and the investigators seem to walk to wherever their next job is, over stiles and down railway tracks which seem to be free of their rolling stock.

    Skeletons-2010-Nick Whitfield-British film-A Year In The Country-6

    One of the only references to modernity are the power station cooling towers that background one of their homes but even then what decade are we in? Such modern-day monuments, their design and utilitarian stance tend to make me think I’m looking at a scene from previous decades, nearer to the 1970s than today.

    Skeletons was released in 2010, written and directed by Nick Whitfield. It’s well worth an hour or two of your time and I expect a few more hours after that while your mind wanders amongst its stories.

    Something of a gem in amongst British film, one which in part deals with the sense of loss associated with unrecapturable moments and people in our lives, the way we humans can want to try and revisit the gossamer strands of those now gone butterflies. However, it’s not a heavy or dark view of such a subject. It’s humorous, touching, fantastical, intriguing.

    Visit the film in the ether here. View the trailer here.

     

    *One thing I’ve just wandered: how much are the investigators paid for their services? Is it a reasonably well recompensed thing to do? Are they paid in monetary form? We never see the exchange of lucre during the film.

     

    **Actually, just looking the film up I saw it described as “a very British Ghostbusters”. I thought that was quite lovely. If you were to put Ghostbusters through an English pastoral filter, it might just come out a little like this.

    continue reading
  • Day #120/365: Plinth’s Wintersongs; a sometime walking companion for other landscape travellers

    Plinth-Wintersongs-Michael Tanner-Kit Records-Rusted Rail-A Year In The Country-1File under: Trails and Influences:
    Recent Explorations. Case #16/52.

    This album was made by Michael Tanner with Steven Dacosta, accompanied by Nicholas Palmer and Julian Poidevin…

    Now with somebody like Michael Tanner who has put out/collaborated on a fair few records (there are 20 releases to listen to at his ether victrola, over 50 records listed here), it can be a little hard to know where to start a-listening…

    Well, near the start is probably not a bad idea. And with that…

    Wintersongs. This is lovely album to drift off into. I suppose it could be loosely described as a kind of folkloric or pastorally themed ambient or even soundscape album but I don’t think it’s an easy piece of work to pigeonhole in such a way.

    It wanders through a landscape not dissimilar in parts to Virginia Astley’s From Gardens Where We Feel Secure (see Day #118//365); like that album it could be seen as a soundtrack for the landscape of these isles, one that is in parts gently melancholic but also subtley magical… and on a track like Bracken it almost feels like a walking companion for the From Gardens album.

    Plinth-Wintersongs-Michael Tanner-Kit Records-Rusted Rail-A Year In The Country-2Ah, Bracken, it was just playing as I typed… I could listen to that all day. Lovely stuff.

    However, like From Gardens Where We Feel Secure this isn’t a twee trip through the land; while in parts it may be a journey through a certain kind of pastoral reverie there is also something else going on amongst the hills and trees. There’s heartbreak in the pathways of it’s songs at points; Hearth makes my mind wander towards losses along the byways of life…

    In the sleevenotes Michael Tanner seems almost apologetic, though fond of this early work of his:

    these were our first attempts at making a record. and although i say it through squinted eyes, the naivety which used to make me run for cover is now kind of endearing…”

    Plinth-Wintersongs-Michael Tanner-Kit Records-Rusted Rail-A Year In The Country-3All I can say is if my first recording put out into the world felt like such a complete encapsulation of a particular world, view and journey, well, I think I would sleep easily.

    The album has gone through various incarnations over the years since it was first released: as a cassette in 1999, CDrs in 2002/2006 by Dorset Paeans and then Rusted Rail and of late a limited edition vinyl record release by Kit Records, housed in a rather lovely and lovingly produced linocut sleeve.

    All sold out I’m afraid but you can still listen to, purchase and peruse the album as zeros and ones at Michael Tanner’s music site here or at Kit Records here.

     

    As an aside, the instruments listed in it’s making include glockenspiel, trumpet, clarinet, guitar, clocks, fireplace, ring modulator, birds, teapot, train, voices, piano, garden, sleigh bells, cymbals, melodica…

    My first proper listening probably added a few more instruments to that mix: I was sat outside letting my mind wander over the valley in front of me as the album played.

    The birds in the trees around me were singing and chirruping their hearts out, local dogs would break into barking, cars would pass, the neighbours were nattering and the wind was gently rustling. At points I couldn’t tell quite which sounds were on the album and which in the world around me; as the sound of somebody’s footsteps played I found myself turning round thinking I had a visitor coming up the steps to my side and the album became almost like a live field re-recording, which seemed kind of fitting in a way as the first time to properly appreciate it.

     

    continue reading