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She Wants to be Flowers – Filming The Owl Service: Revisiting 7/26

“She wants to be flowers…”

“…but you make her owls…”

“You must not complain, then…”

“…if she goes hunting.”

The original post published during the first year of A Year In The Country:

 

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The Wicker Man Soundtrack and a Summer Isle Mini-Industry: Wanderings 7/26

A while ago I sat down and listened to the 1998 Trunk Records of The Wicker Man soundtrack back to back with the Silva Screen version that was first released in 2002 and which was also included with the 40th anniversary home release of the film and has had various reissues on CD and vinyl.

As you may well know if you are reading this the soundtrack was composed and arranged by Paul Giovanni and performed by him and the band Magnet, which was formed in order to record the soundtrack and was assembled by the film’s associate musical director Gary Carpenter.

It is easy to forget just how odd and unique the soundtrack is. It feels very much like part of older British traditional music even though only a small part of it is directly traditional in origin.

The Trunk Records release is described as “The original motion picture soundtrack music and effects” and is not a conventional soundtrack album where each song is presented as an isolated whole, possibly with snippets of dialogue from the film between the tracks. On this album the songs, effects and so on are sequenced into one another and at points fragments of earlier songs reappear and fade in and out:

“The original music and effects tapes were found and carefully copied, and the LP release is an identical copy of the sounds found on these tapes.” (Quoted from the Trunk Records site.)

(Above: the 1998 Trunk Records release of the soundtrack which included a map of Summer Isle.)

It isn’t purely a straightforward edited recording of the film’s audio… it’s more like it takes you a journey through the atmosphere of the film, one which evokes a sense memory of its story rather than telling it in full and it captures the “otherly” character of the film.

Something which struck me when you sit down and listen to the lyrics is their obsession with fecundity. They are more than bawdy, more a sort of overwhelming sleazyness masked by a connection to nature. They become akin to a form of propaganda intended to convince the listener/islanders that this is the correct and natural way of being and there is a sort of overpowering enforcement of conformity to them, disguised as a form of liberal paganism.

The current interest and critical appreciation of The Wicker Man can in part be traced back to the Trunk Records release of the soundtrack; at the time of its release the film was not overly referenced and the release was one of the sparks (apologies for the accidental sort of pun) that started its rehabilitation.

My copy of the CD still has the HMV price sticker on the back and cost £14.95, which allowing for inflation since the late ’90s means it probable cost the contemporary equivalent of £25. Blimey (!)

The Silva Screen edition of the soundtrack is more conventionally presented and features isolated complete songs accompanied by some snippets of the film’s dialogue and at times it seems almost curiously showbiz-like in comparison to the Trunk Records edition. It isn’t sequenced in the order that the music appears on the album but rather is front loaded with the “hits” – Corn Rigs, The Landlord’s Daughter and Gently Johnny.

Both versions of the soundtrack have their champions and pros and cons and they complement one another in a manner which is in keeping with the film’s history in the sense of there not being a definitive, complete and final version of the film known to still be in existence.

Interest in The Wicker Man only seems to grow as the years pass, as do the number of releases and reissues of books, DVDs, Blu-rays, posters, zines, documentaries, trading cards, soundtracks etc related to it. As I’ve commented before the film has inspired a mini-industry all unto itself.

I suppose collecting multiple releases of a film, alongside related merchandise, is not all that different to say following a band and buying different versions of their singles back in the ’80s and 90s, which sometimes varied only slightly in content and at times it was only the cover art that was different. However, if you were to attempt to be a completist Wicker Man collector you would probably need a fair few pounds and also a fair amount of shelf space.

In this post I gather together some of the output (very bountiful harvest?) from the Summer Isle mini-industry…

The first more full length (well, sort of, this is The Wicker Man after all) and archival “proper” home UK release of the film.

The Quest for The Wicker Man, Constructing The Wicker Man and the two editions of Allan Brown’s Inside The Wicker Man non-fiction books.

One of the many and varied poster designs.


A title graphic which accompanied the BFI’s Sing Cuckoo: The Story of The Wicker Man Soundtrack documentary, which featured amongst others Stephen Cracknell of The Memory Band and Jonny Trunk of Trunk Records.

Covers to two issues of Nuada – “The Wicker Man journal” from the late 90s.

Artwork which accompanies Stephen Applebaum’s eBook of conversations with Robin Hardy, Anthony Shaffer and Edward Woodward.

The first edition of The Wicker Man novel and a reissue.

The Wicker Man The Complete Piano Songbook.

Images from The Wicker Man press book.

More images from The Wicker Man press book and a collection of images from The Wicker Man trading cards.

The DVD of The Wicker Man given away free with The Guardian newspaper – and for completist purposes as in its early days The Wicker Man shared a double bill with it, the DVD of Don’t Look Now that was given away free with The Observer newspaper.

More images from The Wicker Man trading cards, including various “chase”-able collectibles such as original print blocks, signed cards etc.

The Wicker Man Collage-A Year In The Country-1080

Various DVD, VHS, poster, novel and soundtrack covers etc (including a revisit to the Trunk Records edition). No laser disc I notice, which I don’t think the film was released on…

…but talking of rarer formats, above are two Betamax versions.


The limited edition Record Store Day seven-inch single of Willow’s Song and Gently Johnny released by Silva Screen in 2012.

One of the various VHS covers.

The limited edition poster released in 2013 to accompany the Silva Screen limited edition reissue of the soundtrack and another trading card printing block and I think one of the collectible “chase” trading cards.

The issue of Sight & Sound magazine with The Wicker Man as the cover feature and Vic Pratt’s Long Arm of the Lore article from the magazine and the The Films of Old, Weird Britain issue with cover art partly inspired by The Wicker Man.


And last but definitely not least… one of the places where the current interest in and critical acceptance of The Wicker Man can be traced to; Volume 6 Number 3 of Cinefantastique that was published in 1977, which was an issue of the magazine that largely focused on The Wicker Man.

 

Links:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country (well, a few of such things, I expect there are more):

 

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The Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society: Revisiting 6/26

The Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society’s website has on its home page the following description:

“This is not the site to visit for technical information pertaining to telegraph poles. You’ll find nothing about 10KVa transformers, digital telephone networking or even so much as a single volt. This is a website celebrating the glorious everyday mundanitude of these simple silent sentinels the world over. We don’t care what the wires contain either. They all carry electricity in some way be it the sparky stuff which boils your kettle, or the thinner stuff with your voice in it when you’re on the phone.”

The site is a celebration of the accidental utilitarian art of telegraph poles and there’s a friendly passion and mild eccentricity to the site and project.

The images in this post come from the Pole of the Month Archive section on the site, which as the name suggests collects together photographs of telegraph poles that have caught the TPAS’s eye, including some fantastically complex multi-wired poles from abroad.

The TPAS is the kind of project that seems like it should have a permanent bricks and mortar home / museum / visitors centre. It would be the ideal kind of place to be featured in a new edition of the Uncommonly British Days Out books which act as guides to Britain’s often small, individual or family run museums, visitor centres, follies, neglected or unloved public art, bygone defence of the realm installations and the like, including amongst many others Keith Harding’s World Of Mechanical Music and The British Lawnmower Museum.

In the meantime if you should want a memento of your visit to the site the TPAS have a small shop section where you can buy a Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society mug, a Visit The Fabled Lost Pole poster, an 150 page Telegraph Pole Appreciation for Beginners guide-book and a Life Membership of The Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society.

(The Life Membership is something of a bumper and somewhat bargain like package, as along with a certificate of membership it also includes the above guide-book and a TPAS pencil and badge.)

 

The original post published during the first year of A Year In The Country:

 

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Future City – Experiment and Utopia in Architecture 1956-2006: Wanderings 6/26

The book Future City: Experiment and Utopia in Architecture 1956-2006 accompanied an exhibition of the same name at the Barbican in London which took place in 2006:

“What would it be like to live in a hairy house, a floating city, or an inflatable pod? Pure fantasy or the shape of things to come? From extraordinary houses and incredible towers, to fantasy cityscapes and inhabitable sculptures, Future City showcases the most radical and experimental architecture to have emerged in the past 50 years.” (Quoted from text which accompanied the book and exhibition.)

Some of the most intriguing images in the book are from the 1960s and contain an exploratory sense of a space age future and viewed now can be seen as “the shape of the future’s past” or a form of what, if used for design today, would be likely to be called retro futurism.

They could be considered part of a cultural trend which envisioned the possibility that in the future much of the population would be living in the above mentioned futuristic pods or floating cities, probably while wearing plastic and/ or silver foil clothing and travelling to work by jetpack (!), that high-rise blocks of apartments would be designed in unusual and experimental ways and so on. (Aspects of which can be seen in the image above in the book of The House of the Future, which was featured in the Ideal Home Exhibition that took place in London in 1956.)

(As an aside I suppose people today do often wear clothing made from variations of plastic, as thermal fleece material is often made from recycled plastic and a percentage of the population do live in high-rise housing. However both generally are much more prosaic than the experimental, at times flamboyant and often possibly impractical or uncomfortable looking clothing and housing that featured in that once imagined space age future which is showcased in Future City.)

The projects in the book often seem to be nearer to art projects or, as the book’s subtitle suggests, experimental design projects, perhaps from which some elements would become part of or influence future real world design. Alongside which as the book’s subtitle also suggests a number of the projects are utopian in character, i.e. they represent an imagined possible perfect future.

The experimental and art project-like nature of the design in the book brings to mind a passage in A Year In The Country: Straying From The Pathways where I wrote about Peter Chadwick’s book This Brutal World in which he photographed Brutalist architecture from around the world and some related topics:

“The variety and experimentation of much of the architecture in [Peter Chadwick’s This Brutal World] indicates the degree to which the use of concrete as a building material allows for freedom and expression in terms of architectural shape and form. It could be compared to the use of rubber as a fabric with which to make clothes; there have been a number of fantastical outfits created using rubber but while they may be structurally explorative and very striking as extreme club and fashion wear and/or as futuristic outlandish costume in film and television, for day-to-day use it is more than a little impractical. Along which lines I once visited an undergraduate degree show and viewed the scale models for buildings designed by architecture students. A number of them were so intricate, experimental and avant-garde in design that they could only be viably created via contemporary digital 3D printing techniques – something which is analogous to the malleability of concrete as a building material. The designs for buildings were often intriguing and beautiful but as with the images in This Brutal World they often appeared closer to abstract art projects than places to live and work. Connected to which, while the structures pictured in This Brutal World may indeed have been perfectly practical in real world terms, the non-conventional and at times almost science fiction-like aspects of their design sometimes imparts a similar sense of seeming nearer to projects that have allowed for the creative expression of their architects rather than having day-to-day human needs in mind.”

UN Studio’s Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos’ The Ziggurat design from 2006 is decidedly utopian in intention and accompanying text describes it as a place which is intended to create a balance between culture and commerce and that it is intended a Mediatheque which stores and preserves information of all types, alongside which it would form part of a network of community “centers dedicated to learning and culture” and provide a “playground” safe haven for its participants.

The design is striking in a number of ways, not least its attempt to bring nature, plant life and green open public spaces to urban and high-rise locations.

Although possibly not the designers’ intention, the mention in the accompanying text that the building would act as a “safe haven” implies that the future which The Ziggurat would be part of is in some way dysfunctional, dystopic or threatening.

The Ziggurat could be considered to represent a version of the aforementioned “shape of the future’s past” in its centralised institutional physical storing of information etc and it being a location which people must physically visit to access that information; a science fiction-esque trope which still frequently appears in future based films and television.

In the contemporary world there are still physical stores of information and culture in libraries and museums etc which people must visit to access but in terms of amount of usage and ease of access, information storage and access is today largely decentralised. It still must be physically stored somewhere – often in digital server farms – but these are generally anonymous places and not places which the general public visit and the information stored in them is normally accessed remotely via the internet.

The text which accompanies The Ziggurat and its description or hope that it would be “a place for meeting and exchange” could be considered prescient in terms of contemporary concerns about the potentially isolating effects of technology and the internet, where people are digitally connected and interact with others but there is debate around whether those connections have real substance and if concentrating on digital connections may in fact be a cause of social isolation.

The image above left of Arthur Quarmby’s design for a tower block and its organic shapes notably contrast with much of real world high-rise structures, which are often more likely to feature straight lines and be considerably less intricate.

(Quarmby’s design also wouldn’t look out-of-place in the vast high-rise Mega City One future city that featured in the Judge Dredd stories in 1980s issues of comic anthology 2000 AD.)

And while on the subject of comic book stories, Walter Pichler’s Compact City design above and it’s not so much transparent dome but rather bottle or jar-like enclosure is reminiscent of the shrunken and bottled city of Kandor from the Superman comics.

Peter Cook and Ron Herron’s design for an instant floating city which would attach itself to a more conventional ground city seems almost Victorian or possibly steampunk-esque in its design.

Although more officially sanctioned seeming it brings to mind science fiction author William Gibson’s Bridge trilogy of books, in which the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge that has been abandoned becomes a shantytown where its inhabitants have improvised and strapped their homes on top of one another, to the bridge’s towers and so on.

David Greene’s design and model for a Living Pod also very much connects with science fiction, seeming closer to a concept model for a science fiction film than something intended for real world use.

Occasionally futuristic and science fiction-esque visions do appear in the real world; above is the design for the Selfridges department store in Birmingham’s city centre. In amongst the more traditional architecture which surrounds the building it looks not so much to have been built but rather to be some alien Quatermass-esque structure which has descended on the city.

 

Links:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Corn Mother Novella and The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths Album: Released

Released today 16th March 2020.

Novella and CDs available at our Artifacts Shop and Bandcamp page.

Novella also available at Amazon UK, Amazon US and their other worldwide sites and Lulu.

The Corn Mother novella, written by Stephen Prince, is a further exploration of the world, stories and dreamscapes of an imaginary near-mythical film, which first began on an album released with the same name in 2018.

The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths album, also written and recorded by Stephen Prince, is both a soundtrack to accompany The Corn Mother novella and a standalone piece of work.

The novella and albums are explorations and relections “of the whispers that tumble forth from the corn mother’s kingdom”. A place and story where fact, fiction, reality and dreams blur into one:

1878: A villager is forced to flee from her home after rumours begin that she has cursed the crops. Her vengeful spirit, known as the corn mother, is said to visit those responsible in the night, bringing ill fortune and an all-encompassing sense of guilt.

1982: A film called The Corn Mother begins to be made. Although the plot is fictional, it closely resembles the story of the fleeing villager. The film is completed but never released, with all known copies disappearing after its production company collapses.

1984: A lifelong quest begins to find the near-mythical film.

2020: All mentions of The Corn Mother begin to disappear from the world, calling into question if the film ever existed.

“After the first The Corn Mother album was released I would find myself still thinking about the story of this ‘imaginary film’, wondering what had happened to particular characters connected to it and so on. It felt like a story that was unfinished and which continues to echo off into the dreamscapes of imagination. Those ongoing echoes resulted in The Corn Mother novella and The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths album.” Stephen Prince

As with the A Year in the Country project as a whole, which they are released as part of, the book and album’s structure are inspired by the cycle of the year. Following the number of seasons, the book is split into four sections; it has 52 chapters (which could also be considered scenes or episodes), the same number as there are weeks in the year; relating to the number of days in a non-leap year, each chapter’s text contains no more than 365 words; and  as there are days in a week, the album has seven tracks.

 

The Corn Mother novella. 80 pages. Softcover.


 

 

 

“A fascinating and truly inventive novella… This is an original and significant piece of work, not only in its novel, singular and successful approach to folk horror and ‘imaginary’ films but in the creation of its own self referencing folklore.” Grey Malkin, Folk Horror Revival

 

The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths – Nightfall Edition. Limited to 104 copies.
Hand-finished boxset contains: album on all black CD, 1 x sheet of accompanying notes, 2 x prints, 4 x stickers and 4 x badges.

Further packaging details:
1) Cover, notes and prints custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink.
2) Contained in a matchbox style sliding two-part rigid matt card box with cover print.
3) Fully black CD (black on top, black on playable side).
4) 1 x folded sheets of accompanying notes, printed on textured laid paper – hand numbered on back.
5) 2 x smaller badges, 2 x larger badges.
6) 1 x smaller round sticker, 2 x larger round stickers, 1 x landscape sticker.
7) 2 x prints on textured fine art cotton rag paper.

 

The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths – Dawn Light Edition. Limited to 104 copies.
Hand-finished white/black CD album in textured recycled fold out sleeve with fold-out insert and badge.

Further packaging details:
1) Custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink.
2) Includes metal badge, secured with removable glue on string bound tag.
3) 1 x folded sheet of accompanying notes, printed on textured laid paper, hand numbered on back.


The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths tracklisting:

1) The Infernal Engines (1877)
2) Night Wraiths (1878)
3) I Have Brought A Myriad Fractures And Found Some Form Of Peace (1879)
4) Ellen’s Theme (1983)
5) Dreams of a Third Generation Grail (2018)
6) They Are All Here (2021)
7) An Unending Quest (1877-2022)

“A ghostly collection that marries ambient noise, sparse instrumentation and murky electronics to a suitably unsettling effect. Eerie, elegant and ever so evocative.” Thomas Patterson, Shindig!

“Spectral, swooping electronics and ominous analogue washes create a barren, shadowed landscape… Chillingly effective and genuinely unsettling, the synth pulses and growls are an adept soundtrack to the terrors in the book itself and work in a similar manner; subtle, pervasive and with a creeping sense of unease… a spooked sense of yearning and obsession played out in the ghost-strewn harmonies…” Grey Malkin, Folk Horror Revival

The Corn Mother album released in 2018 includes music by Gavino Morretti, Pulselovers, The Heartwood Institute, United Bible Studies (David Colohan, Dominic Cooper of The Owl Service, Alison O’Donnell of Mellow Candle), A Year In The Country, Widow’s Weeds (featuring former members of/collaborators with The Hare And The Moon), Depatterning, Sproatly Smith and Field Lines Cartographer.

“You want to see the film as described in the liner notes, and as conjured in the songs on the album, and that’s an incredible trick to pull off… This is hauntology – the genre, rather than the philosophical dystopic – in its finest form, where buried memories of film, TV, music, and life come to the surface, often unverifiable because the hard copy has been lost or was never properly recorded in the first instance.” Alan Boon, Starburst

Further details of the 2018 The Corn Mother album here.

 

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Folklore Tapes – Rekindling Myths and Otherly Geometry: Revisiting 5/52

When I first came across it I was very much intrigued by the Folklore Tapes project, with the first one of their releases I heard being Volume IV – Rituals & Practices, which included tracks by Magpahi and Paper Dollhouse.

As I said in the first year of A Year In The Country, Folklore Tapes creates an intriguing, secret world unto itself as they explore the undercurrents and flipsides of folk culture, music and the landscape:

“Folklore Tapes is an open-ended research project exploring the vernacular arcana of Great Britain and beyond; traversing the myths, mysteries, magic and strange phenomena of the old counties via abstracted musical reinterpretation and experimental visuals. The driving principle of the project is to bring the nation’s folk record to life, to rekindle interest in the treasure trove of traditional culture by finding new forms for its expression.” (Quoted from the Folklore Tapes website.)

They are still exploring and putting out new releases, but I will always have something of a soft-spot for their early releases, which were often released in “blink and you miss them” very limited editions of 30, and created from hollowed-out hardback books.

Below is a selection of artwork / cover art from Folklore Tapes, alongside some examples of design work by Folklore Tapes’ David Chatton Barker.

Various Folklore Tapes cover art designs…

Folklore Tapes Film Series artwork and poster design for Echo of Light performance at the Wyrd Britannia festival which featured David Chatton Barker and Sam McLoughlin of Folklore Tapes alongside Alison Cooper (Magpahi). As with some of the Folklore Tapes artwork, these designs, particularly the Field Report Films one, could be considered examples of what I have described as “an otherly geometry”.

Poster for Lore of the land Folklore Tapes event and an issue of Caught by the River’s “tributary” publication An Antidote to Indifference.

Earlyish Folklore Tapes poster design for the Devon Folklore Tapes releases and a live event featuring non-populist pop purveyors The Eccentronic Research Council and Jane Weaver.

Further otherly geometry in David Chatton Barker’s designs for some of the releases for the newly returned / reinvented The Radiophonic Workshop.

 

The original post published during the first year of A Year In The Country:

 

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A Quatermass Book Mini-Achive: Wanderings 5/26

I’ve long had a fondness for film and television novelisations and tie-in editions of books from previous decades. Often, when I was young, they were the only access I had to particular films and television shows, particularly in the days before home video releases of things became more ubiquitous, if the films etc were “too grown up” for me to watch (!), I’d missed them at the cinema and so on. Viewed nowadays they can also have a particular period charm to them and can sometimes be almost like mini time capsules of particular eras.

Is it just me, or aren’t there as many novelisations of films and television dramas as there once were? If that is the case then I’m guessing that a lot of novel film tie-ins now are re-releases of previously published books that were subsequently made into films, rather than in previous decades where it was possibly more likely that a novelisation was an adaptation of an original film script.

Also, it may be that today there isn’t as much demand for them, as people can more easily see the actual film and there is often so much more other merchandise available, online/social media content and activity to view and interact with, that people possibly aren’t drawn to them as much (although I have to say, there are a number of more recent films etc that I would dearly like to see novelisations of).

Along which lines, above is the cover to the final series of Quatermass, with both the book and the series having been written by the Quatermass’ creator Nigel Kneale. This was quite possibly one of the first of such tie-ins that I can trace the roots of A Year In The Country back to after first reading it back in the 1980s.

I think my copy back then was bought from a local newsagent which had a section with remaindered books in it, and my copy was in amongst those (alongside, 1980s The Prisoner novel tie-ins, fotonovella versions of films and copies of the left-of-centre comics anthology Warrior, where I also first read Alan Moore’s dystopian V for Vendatta).

The 1979 series tells of a near future British society in a state of dissolution and collapse, in which a worldwide cult of hippie-like young “Planet People” set off on quests to stone circles and other ancient gathering places, believing that they will be taken to a new planet. When large numbers of them have gathered together at these locations, some kind of extra terrestrial power arrives and they disappear, leaving behind only a crystal-like dust. Once a space pioneer, Professor Quatermass is now an old man and just wishes to find his grand daughter, who he believes has joined the planet people, but he is drawn into the fight against this alien force in an attempt to stop what he believes to be the reaping or harvesting of the world’s youth.

When I looking it up online, I came across the hardback edition, which was published simultaneously with the paperback, that I didn’t know about. It goes for a fair few pounds nowadays, quite possibly even in the hundreds.

I also came across this rather lovely cover for the novel (above left), which was published by long-running Italian science fiction magazine Urania. It has a quiet dignity to it and reminds me of some of the posters for the series/its cinematic release (the novel’s illustration of Professor Quatermass look like it was probably adapted from the still used on the poster) and also the edition of Time Out magazine from back when which had the series as its featured cover article.

Which then lead me to the other Urania Quatermass covers. I’m particularly taken by their one for The Quatermass Experiment, which is sort of terrifying and, perhaps because of its period illustration style and design and the use of iconic British architecture, also somehow charmingly quaint at the same time.

The Urania Quatermass and the Pit cover captures both the terrifying nature of the insect-like alien evil-archetype instilling creatures from the story and there is also an intriguing minimal and modernist look to the multi-storey buildings that it looms over, the illustrations for which at first glance it’s easy to miss.

This isn’t the first time at A Year in the Country that I’ve gathered together a collection of Professor Quatermass inspired books. Elsewhere on the site and in the A Year in the Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book I’ve written about the various non-fiction books about Nigel Kneale’s work and/or Quatermass including:

“We Are The Martians: The Legacy of Nigel Kneale edited by Neil Snowdon… that features writing by and conversations with writers and critics including Mark Gatiss, Kim Newman and Tim Lucas, with cover art by David Chatton Barker of Folklore Tapes… the biographical Into the Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale by Andy Murray and published by Headpress (originally released in 2006 and revised and republished 2017), film critic and author Kim Newman’s Quatermass and the Pit published by the BFI in 2014 which focuses on the film and its origins and the beautifully produced, Risograph-printed collection of essays The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale, which was edited by Sukhdev Sandhu, published by Strange Attractor and Texte und Töne and designed by Seen Studios.” (Quoted from A Year in the Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields)

I shall end this post with a rhyme, that if you’ve seen the final series you may well know:

“Huffity, puffity, Ringstone Round
If you lose your hat it will never be found
So pull your britches right up to your chin
And fasten your cloak with a bright new pin
And when you are ready, then we can begin
Huffity, puffity, puff….”

 

Links:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Jane Weaver Septième Soeur’s The Fallen by Watchbird: Revisiting 4/26

Jane Weaver Septième Soeur’s The Fallen by Watchbird album, released in 2010 jointly by Bird / Finders Keepers Records, was one of the early reference points and inspirations for A Year In The Country, along with The Owl Service’s revisiting and reinterpreting of traditional folk on The View from a Hill, the enigmatic cut-ups and melodies of Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witchcults of the Radio Age and the acid folk compilation Gather in the Mushrooms.

The Fallen by Watchbird is a loosely defined concept album of “cosmic aquatic folklore”, which takes as its themes telepathy, technology, lost-love, wiccan, war and watchbirds. It is part of a multi-faceted project that also included, amongst other things, an illustrated fiction book, poster, video, a “sequel of sorts” album of remixes / reinterpretations and a mixtape album.

As I said in the first year of A Year In The Country, it is resolutely avant garde in concept and influences but also works well as a pop record and has a fair few very “hummable tunes”. A form of conceptual non-populist pop, to use the phrase which would be used in the notes which accompanied The Eccentronic Research Council’s 1612 Underture, that was also released by Bird / Finders Keepers Records.

The influences on The Fallen by Watchbird have been listed as Germanic kunstmärchen / fairy tales, 70’s television music and early murmers of 80’s synth pop. And in particular Eastern European children’s cinema, including an unsubtitled copy of Malá Morská Víla (The Little Mermaid), which if you should ever see it has some beautiful, entrancing and phantasmagoric imagery, some of which is a direct influence on the video for The Fallen by Watch Bird’s title track

Anyways, well worth seeking out and something of a treat to revisit.

 

The original post published during the first year of A Year In The Country:

 

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Marion Adnams, Paul Nash and Matthew Lyons – Wyrd Culture Forebears, Otherly Geometric Landscapes and the Shape of the Future’s Past: Wanderings 4/26

From time to time I discover work that seems like an accidental forebear of “wyrd” culture, and which was created long before the contemporary upsurge of interest in the uncanny, eerie flip side of rural, folk etc orientated culture. An example of this are some of the paintings by Marion Adnams, who lived and worked in Derby from 1898 until her death in 1995.

Apparently her work found recognition during her lifetime but for a fair few years she became semi-forgotten, and there was not an exhibition devoted to her work for fifty years, until one took place at Derby Museum and Art Gallery in 2017-2018.

Interestingly Adnams never provided explanations for her work, believing that they should be interpreted as people wished. This non-explanation continues with her painting’s titles, which are often both evocative and intriguingly cryptic (and also at times somewhat presciently wyrd-like), and which include For Lo, Winter is Past and Monkey Harvest.

There is a decided 20th century “classic” surrealist style to some of her paintings; when I first saw her work it first put me in mind of the work of British surrealist painter, war artist, writer, book illustrator and fabric, poster and stage scenery designer Paul Nash (1889-1946), some of whose work is shown below.

Nash is said to have found inspiration in “landscapes with elements of ancient history, such as burial mounds, Iron Age hill forts such as Wittenham Clumps and the standing stones at Avebury in Wiltshire”, and this seems to presage some of the inspirations and reference points for wyrd / otherly pastoral culture today.

The majority of Nash’s painting are devoid of people, but curiously at times their style, curves etc seem reminiscent of some of artist Tamara de Lempicka’s Art Deco portraits and nudes, which connects with his comments in a letter he wrote to a friend in 1912, where he said “I have tried… to paint trees as tho’ they were human beings… because I sincerely love and worship trees and know that they are people”.

Nash’s His Vision at Evening (above), which he created in 1911, could be seen as a forebear of some of the more new age, mystical sides of contemporary wyrd and otherly pastoral culture. It also could be seen as presciently connecting with the sense of mystical beliefs and landscapism which were part of the inspiration and culture that surrounded elements of festivals and related culture in the 1960s and 1970s, including the Pilton / Glastonbury festivals in 1970 and 1971. As I say in the A Year in the Country: Straying from the Pathways book published in 2019, that period was a time when “in part, festivals were an experiment in alternative ways of living and thinking, and were often inspired by hippie, new age, utopian and later anti-authoritarian ideals, and in keeping with their less commercial and non-mainstream nature they sometimes took place without charging an entrance fee.”

It also seems to capture the “visionary” pastoral spirit of music, culture and the landscape that is explored in some of the earlier sections of Rob Young’s book Electric Eden, where he focuses on, amongst other things, work from the 19th and earlier twentieth century. This includes William Morris’ bucolic utopian novel News from Nowhere (1890), and early twentieth-century composers including Vaughan Williams and Holst, of whom Young says, in a manner that connects their work with Nash’s, that their work was inspired by “thunderbolts of inspiration from oriental mysticism, angular modernism and the body blow of the Great War…”

In contrast to the more oblique titles of Marion Adnams’ work, the title of Nash’s 1918 war painting We are Making a New World (above), appears to be a concisely self-explanatory attack on the intentions and results of the conflict during the First World War.

While his war paintings often have a hellish quality, some of his other landscapes contain a bucolic, gentle, warm atmosphere, which is often accompanied by a sometimes subtle, and at times overt, surreal, modernist and/or geometric aesthetic.

The notable geometric style in some of his work could also be considered a forebear of what elsewhere at A Year In The Country I have called the “otherly geometry” of some graphic design/art, including some of Julian House’s work for hauntological record label Ghost Box Records, and described as “work which often seems to make use of geometric shapes and patterns to invoke a particular kind of otherlyness, to allow a momentary stepping elsewhere”.

Accompanying which, Nash has come to be seen as playing a key role in development of Modernism in English art:

“Modernism is both a philosophical movement and an art movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the factors that shaped modernism were the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid growth of cities, followed then by reactions to the horrors of World War I.” (Quoted from Wikipedia.)

The manner in which modernism was both a “reaction to the horrors” of conflict and also the modernisation of society, cities, industries etc, could be considered part of a cultural/philosophical lineage, which in recent years has included hauntological related work’s utilising of modernist-esque iconography and culture, such as Brutalist architecture, often coupling this with a sense of Cold War Dread and/or a sense of melancholia or mourning for lost progressive post-Second World War futures.

I often associate the phrase modernism with both the just mentioned Brutalist architecture, and also a mid-century modern and populuxe-esque space age future-retro aesthetic. A modern-day use and interpretation of that aesthetic can be found in Matthew Lyons’ illustrations, which I have also written about at A Year In The Country before. His work often invokes a parallel world sense of “the shape of the future’s past”, and could also have its lineage and possible inspirations traced back to Nash’s work and his creation of angular, geometric, and yet painterly, landscapes.

Elsewhere:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Corn Mother Novella and The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths Album – Released 16th March 2020

The novella and CDs will be available to order on 16th March 2020 at our Artifacts Shop and Bandcamp site.
The novella will also be available to order on the same date at Amazon and Lulu.

The Corn Mother novella, written by Stephen Prince, is a further exploration of the world, stories and dreamscapes of an imaginary near-mythical film, which first began on an album released with the same name in 2018.

The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths album, also written and recorded by Stephen Prince, is both a soundtrack to accompany The Corn Mother novella and a standalone piece of work.

The novella and albums are explorations and relections “of the whispers that tumble forth from the corn mother’s kingdom”. A place and story where fact, fiction, reality and dreams blur into one:

1878: A villager is forced to flee from her home after rumours begin that she has cursed the crops. Her vengeful spirit, known as the corn mother, is said to visit those responsible in the night, bringing ill fortune and an all-encompassing sense of guilt.

1982: A film called The Corn Mother begins to be made. Although the plot is fictional, it closely resembles the story of the fleeing villager. The film is completed but never released, with all known copies disappearing after its production company collapses.

1984: A lifelong quest begins to find the near-mythical film.

2020: All mentions of The Corn Mother begin to disappear from the world, calling into question if the film ever existed.

“After the first The Corn Mother album was released I would find myself still thinking about the story of this ‘imaginary film’, wondering what had happened to particular characters connected to it and so on. It felt like a story that was unfinished and which continues to echo off into the dreamscapes of imagination. Those ongoing echoes resulted in The Corn Mother novella and The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths album.” Stephen Prince


As with the A Year in the Country project as a whole, the book and album’s structure are inspired by the cycle of the year. Following the number of seasons, the book is split into four sections; it has 52 chapters (which could also be considered scenes or episodes), the same number as there are weeks in the year; relating to the number of days in a non-leap year, each chapter’s text contains no more than 365 words; and as there are days in a week, the album has seven tracks.

The album will be released as two hand-crafted CD editions that include prints, badges, stickers and accompanying notes, which are produced using archival giclée pigment inks.

Tracklisting:
1) The Infernal Engines (1877)
2) Night Wraiths (1878)
3) I Have Brought A Myriad Fractures And Found Some Form Of Peace (1879)
4) Ellen’s Theme (1983)
5) Dreams of a Third Generation Grail (2018)
6) They Are All Here (2021)
7) An Unending Quest (1877-2022)

“A ghostly collection that marries ambient noise, sparse instrumentation and murky electronics to a suitably unsettling effect. Eerie, elegant and ever so evocative.” Thomas Patterson, Shindig!

The Corn Mother album released in 2018 includes music by Gavino Morretti, Pulselovers, The Heartwood Institute, United Bible Studies (David Colohan, Dominic Cooper of The Owl Service, Alison O’Donnell of Mellow Candle), A Year In The Country, Widow’s Weeds (featuring former members of/collaborators with The Hare And The Moon), Depatterning, Sproatly Smith and Field Lines Cartographer.

Further details of the The Corn Mother album released in 2018 can be found here.

“You want to see the film as described in the liner notes, and as conjured in the songs on the album, and that’s an incredible trick to pull off… This is hauntology – the genre, rather than the philosophical dystopic – in its finest form, where buried memories of film, TV, music, and life come to the surface, often unverifiable because the hard copy has been lost or was never properly recorded in the first instance.” Alan Boon, Starburst

 

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The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale: Revisiting 3/26

The Texte und Töne published The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale was the first of their books that I owned. As with all their releases, it is beautifully designed by Rob Carmichael of Seen Studios and Risograph printed, which is a process that is a cross between photocopying and screenprinting, and which creates a rather lovely tactile and human feeling finish.

The book came with a compilation cassette of specially composed work featuring tracks by Asterism & Xylitol, Emma Hammond, Robin The Fog, Hong Kong In The 60s, Listening Center, Mordant Music and The Real Tuesday Weld, a number of whom have come to be associated with the spectral explorations of hauntology.

It was released to accompany a one-day event in New York called called A Cathode Ray Séance: The Haunted Worlds of Nigel Kneale, which took place in 2012. The event included screenings of work written by Nigel Kneale including The Stone Tape, Murrain, an episode of Beasts, Quatermass and the Pit, a multimedia performance of his lost work The Road and a panel discussion

The book, cassette and event are a fine example of when otherly pastoral, hauntological related etc work from previous decades has inspired new and exploratory work.

Taking as its inspiration Nigel Kneale’s work, the text is eclectically themed and takes a varied approach to its subject matter. It featured essays, conversations and fiction orientated work by Mark Fisher, Will Fowler, Ken Hollings, Paolo Javier, Roger Luckhurst, Sophia Al-Maria, Bilge Ebiri, China Mieville, Drew Mulholland, Ken Hollings, David Pike, Dave Tompkins, Mark Pilkington, Michael Vazquez and Evan Calder Williams, alongside a number of other contributors.

The content’s eclectic nature includes amongst other things notes, stills and scripts of an imaginary lost series of Quatermass, discussion of Nigel Kneale’s Kinvig and its curious foray into comedy and how youthful discoveries lead to the creation of the Quatermass inspired album The Séance at Hobs Lane. The book also wanders amongst loosely interconnected subjects including tape loops, the intertwining of the space race and the electronic music of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Ghost Box Records, Sapphire & Steel, M. R. James’ ghost stories, and a whole lot more.

 

The original post published during the first year of A Year In The Country:

 

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Worzel Gummidge – Mackenzie Crook’s Albion in the Overgrowth Recalibrating of Mainstream Family Television: Wanderings 3/26

With the festive season having only fairly recently passed and it still being the New(ish) Year, I thought I would write about some festive television.

In particular Mackenzie Crook’s modern-day adaptation of Barbara Euphan Todd’s Worzel Gummidge books, that were originally published between 1936 and 1963. Crook wrote, directed, starred in and was one of the producers of the new two-part mini-series, which was broadcast by the BBC on the 26th and 27th December 2019 (and apart from Christmas Day and Eve, you couldn’t really have a much more festive time slot).

Set in the British countryside, the story involves two children called John and Susan who have been living in care and are very unused to rural life and its lack of technology (cue their phones being lost, broken and not being able to charge them as they connect with rural life), who travel to a farm called Scatterbrook for a holiday. They stay with a farmer and his wife, and in one of the farm’s fields they meet Worzel Gummidge, who is a living, sentient scarecrow with a turnip head, and conker brain, who is able to walk and talk. According to scarecrow lore Gummidge is not supposed to talk to human’s but because of what he describes as their mismatched ways of dressing (which are vaguely gothic and urban casual) he thought they were scarecrows. The children and him become friends and embark on adventures in the countryside together, as they are called upon to save a magical tree, restore the seasons which have become stuck and do battle with a gang of wannabe-biker tough-guy scarecrows (!)

Along the way Worzel also meets up with Aunt Sally, an ex-fairground doll who, as with Worzel, is alive and sentient and who, rather than his bumbling friendliness, has a somewhat snooty demeanour, and he also tries to enter himself in a competition amongst non-sentient scarecrows made by children, which takes place at the “big house”, the local mansion owned by Lady Bloomsbury Barton (which is subsequently infiltrated by the wannabe-biker scarecrows).

The series has been adapted for television before, including a four-part series called Worzel Gummidge Turns Detective broadcast in 1953, and Gummidge was also played by former Doctor Who Jon Pertwee in the 1979-81 series Worzel Gummidge, with him reprising the role for a Television New Zealand and Channel 4 co-follow up series that ran for two series in 1987 and 1989, and which relocated the story to New Zealand. Pertwee’s Gummidge, with his besoiled face, straw sticking out of his sleeves and interchangeable heads which gave him different abilities is somewhat iconic, as is his femme fatale in the series Aunt Sally, who was played by Una Stubbs. However,  Mackenzie Crook has said that he didn’t see that version as a child and he did not view it before working on his, with him saying that:

“I had a very clear idea about how he wanted it to unfold. I thought it was right to knit in environmental issues, not in a way that is preachy but in a way that children would understand the context of the stories… Worzel is part of a dying [i.e. traditional rural ways] England but he has a message which is incredibly relevant for today… That was one of the main reasons I wanted to do this and why I want to carry on with more series.” (Event magazine, 15/12/2019)

250-The-Changes-1975-BBC-A-Year-In-The-Country-8

Just as some of 1960s and 1970s British children’s television, such as The Changes, Children of the Stones and The Owl Service, that was somewhat odd in terms of atmosphere and themes etc, particularly considering its intended audience, has been repurposed as hauntological and wyrd / otherly folkloric touchstones and inspirations, Crook’s Worzel Gummidge could be considered to be a further repurposing, taking that 1960s and 1970s source material and recalibrating it for a contemporary audience. In a way, although the subject of his films is somewhat more adult, it put me in mind of the manner in which Peter Strickland’s films, including The Duke of Burgundy and Berberian Sound Studio, in part take as their inspiration European cult arthouse independent cinema from previous decades which often had left field, exploratory and sometimes transgressive or salacious subject matter and presentation, and recalibrates, evolves and filters it via his own aesthetic and cinematic vision for a contemporary audience.

Crook previously also wrote, directed and starred in the Detectorists television series that was broadcast by the BBC between 2014 and 2017, which centred around two friends who go metal detecting together in the countryside. Both the Detectorists and Worzel Gummidge are deeply imbued with a sense of pastoral bucolia and beauty, which is accompanied by undercurrents or flipsides; in Detectorists there is a sense that the landscape is layered with hidden and often lost secrets, while Worzel Gummidge adds a sense of magical folkloric goings on hidden in plain view.

Both series could be placed in a loose category of television drama that, in the A Year in the Country book Straying from the Pathways, I describe as “offering ‘glimpses of Albion in the overgrowth’, that is to say, mainstream dramas which to various degrees explore, utilise and express a flipside, or otherly pastoralism, and at times variously contain elements of, or are fully intertwined with folk horror.”

Due to those aspects being notably present in both Detectorists and Worzel Gummidge, Mackenzie Crook is beginning to create an otherly pastoral / wyrd folk body of auteur-like television work, and indeed to be one of mainstream British televisions prime proponents and creators of “Albion in the overgrowth”.

Both series, albeit more overtly in Worzel Gummidge, interconnect with some of the themes, atmospheres and iconography of folk horror but in a way that, although at times a little unsettling, sidesteps actual horror. Although generally Detectorists is fairly realist in tone, one episode features a timeslip sequence, where the history of the landscape melts aways and then is relayered under the watchful, prescient eye of magpies. Although the sequence is not overly dark, there is something subtly unsettling about it, perhaps in part because the magpies have a slightly ominous air to them, and also possibly because of the use of music by The Unthanks to soundtrack the sequence (who also created the soundtrack for Worzel Gummidge), which is a lush, fecund reinterpretation of traditional folk intermingled with traditional and children’s rhymes, and is both accessibly melodic and also subtly hints at a sense of the “otherly” or “wyrd” in folk and pastoral orientated work.

(Above left-right: one of Mackenzie Crook’s sketches for the show and Arthur Rackham’s Tree Talks to Scarecrow)

The design of the scarecrows draws heavily from sketches which Mackenzie Crook made when he was making the series (and also, possibly subconsciously or coincidentally, some of the “pirate as rock’n’roll rebel” stylings of the Pirates of the Carribean films released in 2013-2017, which he has appeared in):

“[Worzel Gummidge’s] look occurred to me almost immediately, and that’s why I was suddenly into [making the series] – the idea that he wasn’t stuffed, but just clothes hanging on sticks…  I was thinking of Arthur Rackham’s illustrations – they’re very dark and gothic… Early on, I had an idea that he had an old military redcoat that he found in a barn, like in an old soldier’s chest – and had a robin in his pocket [where his heart would be]… Most writing days I would start off by just drawing a scarecrow… I wanted them to look domestic, as if they’d been built by someone out of odds and ends.” (Mackenzie Crook, interviewed in The Telegraph, 21st December 2019)

Crook goes on to say in the interview that although Worzel Gummidge looks alarming, “as a scarecrow is supposed to” but that as soon as he smiles and says “Welcome to Scatterbrook” that hopefully this aspect is dispelled and that there’s nothing dark about the show. He comments that it’s tone is closer to the rustic potterings and gentle comic relief of Detectorists. However, in his version of Worzel Gummidge the scarecrows often have not just an appearance but also instill an atmosphere that would not seem out-of-place in a folk or other horror film; many of them are friendly but they could just as easily be bogey men. Gummidge himself is somewhat reminiscent of iconic horror film character Freddy Krueger, with both having long pointed fingers, red and black tops/coats, black hats and skin with a not dissimilar wrinkled appearance (albeit Krueger’s is due to damage rather than the natural texture of a turnip).

Francesa Mills plays a diminutive, older female scarecrow called Earthy Mangold whose clothes and face are made from sack cloth. Earthy Mangold is actually a warm, maternal character but there is something about her sack cloth face (which is very well done, tip of the hat to those who worked on the design, makeup, SFX etc) and short stature that is unnerving. Perhaps in a in some oblique way she is reminiscent of another iconic horror film character, the murderous doll Chucky? Adding to some viewers expectations that the series would take a darker turn is the presence of Steve Pembridge as the farmer, who previously appeared in and co-created the comedy horror radio / television series and film The League of Gentleman (1997-2017) and the black comedy / horror anthology series Inside No. 9 (2014-), both of which at times had notable folk and/or other horror-esque aspects.

Add to all that night-time borderline grotesqueries silhouettes of the scarecrows cavorting across the landscape and the way in which much of contemporary film and television is quite dark and/or violent and, despite the series being family viewing, it is a series where the viewer could be forgiven for half expecting the scarecrows to turn bad and say, go on a murderous spree (!) Thankfully, they don’t… but still, at times the series feels like a friendly nightmare, and has an air of unsettling unpredictableness, which is heightened by the scarecrows often having a chaotic, unfettered by convention air to them, particularly when they are gathered together.

This unpredictable air takes a turn for the worse when Soggy Boggart arrives, who is the leader of the aforementioned scarecrow wannabe-biker gang, who have never actually been on a motorbike. They tear around the countryside causing trouble, pretending to be on their motorbikes, which are actually merely sections of handlebars or home-made pseudo-motorbikes and scooters, and are closer to children’s toys than the real thing. Soggy and his gang present themselves as ruffians and bad boys who only drink fizzy drinks, which in scarecrow culture appears to be the equivalent of drinking alcohol in order to denote its imbiber as being tough and hard.

Stylistically their leather, cut off and painted jackets are reminiscent of British bikers from the 1950s to 1970s such as Ton-up boys and café racers, and also the undead bikers of the 1973 film Psychomania. Alongside this their style also has aspects of American biker and rock’n’roll culture, but in an archetypal manner that recalls the Swiss rebels of the 1950s and 1960s photographed by Karlheinz Weinberger, who reinterpreted their US source material and inspiration in a heightened and almost surreal manner, as though they only knew of it via the dreamscapes of a fading in and out television signal.

All the gang, as does Worzel Gummidge, have heads made from vegetables, and Soggy has an Elvis-style quiff perched on top of his long marrow-head, the comic and conflicting nature of which somewhat undermines his desperate wish to be a stylish bad boy (he keeps insisting that his name is Harley Davidson and gets riled when anybody calls him Soggy).

Worzel seems wary of Soggy and his gang, perhaps a little afraid, but not all that much and at one point it looks like there’s going to be a rumble between him and them. This doesn’t happen as Earthy Mangold arrives and she talks of how she used to babysit for Soggy and how he wore teddy bear pyjamas and that she knows all their mothers and what would they think? In the face of a “grown up” from their childhood the gang are immediately reduced to apologetic, meek penitents, their bad boy intentions forgotten and swept away, and along with Worzel and the children they set to washing the graffiti ‘swears’ they have painted on the sides of the farmer’s cows. In one of the many humorous moments in the series these ‘swears’ are gloriously inoffensive and funny and include the likes of “Horse” and “Cud mucher”.

And, despite my above comments about the potentially darker tinged aspects of the series, overall it is light-hearted, humorous and tender, and works on a number of different levels to be true all-ages family viewing.

As referred to in the quote by Mackenzie Crook above, the series tackles ecological issues. Soggy Boggart and his gang leave a trail of meal deal-like sandwich packaging, bottled drinks etc litter behind them in the countryside, which Worzel and the children try and pick up, and this marks the gang out as not so much nonchalant tough guys but rather negligent and misguided fools at best.

At one point the children and Worzel convince the crows, who are his natural adversary, to remove and recycle the plastic bags which have become entangled in the branches of a magic tree, causing it to become unwell. The seasons have also become stuck, meaning that harvests are not ripening, flowers are not blooming and so on. Although the reason for this is not given an overtly ecologically themed explanation, or in fact overly explained at all, other than it being said that it happened before, being placed alongside other more overt ecological issues in the series, the potential problems it poses place it quite firmly amongst and alongside contemporary ecological issues and concerns.

The seasons are said to be locked and they must be unlocked by the use of a key and Worzel needs to gather together himself and other scarecrows in order to solve the problem (the magic tree sends out his message to them on the wind, which it could not do when it was in poor health due to the plastic bags in its branches). This “key” turns out to be a magical pattern on Worzel’s handkerchief, with the pattern’s shape being that of a helicopter style tree seed, which are also known as keys. This leads to some of the most otherly or magical aspects of the series, when the gathered scarecrows dance and twirl through the fields, as the seed keys do in the air, in order to recreate the magical pattern in the crops, in a manner reminiscent of crop circles. Once created some of the circles amongst the pattern gently rotate under their own power, and the following day, with the seasons unlocked, crops are shown as ripening and turning golden in a matter of seconds as the change flows through the land, flowers bloom fast enough for the eye to see and so on.

Interwoven amongst this is the series’ trademark humour and details of how the scarecrows’ well thought out world works; once the seasons have been unlocked and the harvests have been able to be collected, the crows receive their reward for clearing the magic tree from Worzel and the children, which is a bag of grain. Once they’ve “enjoyed” this Worzel, who can talk with and summon birds, humorously tells their leader that they’re not friends, and gives them scant seconds to scarper and get their filthy talons off his land. They rapidly fly off and the common antipathy and co-dependant balance and struggle between farming and nature is once again restored, and Worzel can get back to working as a scarecrow. Although he may seem at times bumbling, a bit daft and something of a tender hearted softie, Worzel is no easy mark when push comes to shove; although initially seeming scared by him, when he was threatened by Soggy and things looked like they might turn more serious he seemed perfectly prepared to stand his ground.

The series is full of other sections which give an insight into the scarecrows’ lives and characters. In another humorous and this time also somewhat charming sequence, with a degree of hubris (which is part of his character, as he somewhat boastingly thought he would definitely win the scarecrow competition mentioned earlier) Gummidge flourishingly mimes for Earthy Mangold his going through a door at the “big house”. She finds it astonishing, hilarious and hugely entertaining, exhorting him to do it again but this time to mime pulling rather than pushing the door, what with such things being so out of the realms of day-to-day life and possibility for scarecrows.

None of the magical aspects of the series – the way the scarecrows are sentient and alive and so on – are commented on nor explained. They just are, and are present in an otherwise normal, realistic world, in a magical realism manner. Although, as is often the way in such children and family orientated fantasy orientated fiction and drama, the magical aspects of the world are hidden from view from the grown-ups (Worzel generally goes into what he calls a “sulk”, when he goes stiff and returns to being a normal scarecrow, if he realises any adult humans are likely to observe him).

In the above interview with The Telegraph, Mackenzie Crook talks about this intersection of the day-to-day and the extraordinary and how he can trace his related interest in the “myth, lore and history” of the English countryside to Jez Butterworth’s play Jerusalem, in which Crook performed alongside Mark Rylance:

“The whole play was about English identity, rural identity, and I’d been fascinated by that since. As well, the stories I’ve always been fascinated by are about a very ordinary world where something extraordinary happens… Mark Rylance is massively into crop circles, and as an end-of-run gift he enrolled us all in a crop circle society, so we got quarterly newsletters about them. [Said very much tongue in cheek] It was all very mystical.” (Mackenzie Crook, interviewed in The Telegraph, 21st December 2019)

The scarecrows in Worzel Gummidge are created and loosely ruled by the The Green Man, who is the keeper of scarecrow lore and the mystical spirit of the countryside. His character and presence is one of the most overt connections with ancient folklore and myth in the series, in part because his name is, I assume, taken from Green Man sculptures, which generally depict a face surrounded by or made from leaves. These sculptures have been found in many different cultures and ages throughout the ages and have primarily been interpreted as being symbols of rebirth and representing the cycle of growth each spring. (The name Green Man is thought to stem from an article by Lady Raglan called “The Green Man in Church Architecture”, which appeared in a 1939 issue of The Folklore Journal.)

As with the scarecrows, the truth of who and what The Green Man is are hidden from the “real”, adult world, who think he is merely a traveller who passes through from time to time and mends damaged fencing hedges without wishing for payment.

The Green Man wears worn clothes, a charm round his neck, has a heavily lined face, large grey beard and unkempt dreadlocks with moss in them and is bestrewn with leaves, with the overall effect conjuring elements of ancient druid, mystic sage, an older member of the crustie subculture and a roaming tramp. He is played by actor, writer, comedian and traveller Michael Palin, who is one of the creators of the innovative and surreal Monty Python comedy sketch series which was broadcast on the BBC between 1969 and 1974. His presence in the series seems to add a certain cultural weight to it, and also connect it to a long-standing strand of experimentalism and left-of-centre work in British mainstream television (more of that please!)

(There is also another six degrees of separation from Monty Python, and indeed the classier side of British television comedy, and the 2019 adaptation of Worzel Gummidge, as in the 1980s series Gummidge finds double trouble in the shape of Aunt Sally II, played by Connie Booth who co-created classic British sitcom Fawlty Towers with Monty Python co-creator John Cleese.)

In the 1970-80s television adaptation of Worzel Gummidge, the character of The Green Man is known as The Crowman and was played by Geoffrey Bayldon, who also played the starring role as the title character in the 1970-71 British children’s fantasy television series Catweazle which adds a further otherly folkloric / hauntological television layering to Worzel Gummidge. Catweazle tells the story of an eccentric 11th-century wizard who accidentally travels through time to arrive in 1969 and is befriended by a young boy, who hides him from his father as Catweazle attempts to return to his own time. The series is particularly memorable for Catweazle’s mistaking of modern technology for a form of magic, with him calling electricity “elec-trickery” and telephones the “telling bone”. Although he looks more like a crazed or Rasputin-esque medieval monk, with his grey extravagant facial hair and mystical ways, his appearance and character are not all that removed from Palin’s The Green Man in Worzel Gummidge.

A further loose connection can be made to hauntological-esque television during a sequence in Crook’s Worzel Gummidge when John, one of the young children visiting the farm, is instructed by the farmer to somewhat hazardously climb amongst the beams and rafters of a barn in order to find the parts of a beehive. As he does so John nearly falls down onto various pieces of farm equipment and a barrel full of spiked implements (comically labelled as such), and when he needs light to see, the farmer throws him an already aflame cigarette lighter, which John subsequently drops amongst some dry straw – which fortunately does not set on fire. Consciously or not, this sequence appears to be channeling 1970s British public information films, which warned of the dangers of playing in “dark and lonely water”, flying kites near pylons etc and often had surprisingly dark atmospheres and presentation, and which have become ongoing hauntological inspirations and touchstones.

Worzel Gummidge ends with The Green Man and Worzel Gummidge talking as they sit overlooking a field. The Green Man has previously warned Worzel against talking to humans, saying that it is against scarecrow lore and that rather than gallivanting around he must stay at his post and continue his work, even warning him that the farmer is thinking of nailing him to his (literal) post, which puts an almighty fear into Worzel. However, Worzel successfully argues for the progression and evolution of scarecrow lore; he talks of how he is worried about nature, the flowers, the seasons, the bees, saying that they are all having a hard time but that maybe he can keep talking to the two young humans and they can begin to spread change to get things back on track. The Green Man asks him if he really thinks that just these two humans can really make a difference and Worzel says he thinks they can, which ends the series on a note of everybody being able to make a difference in terms of helping to protect the environment, despite them just being individuals or no matter how small their actions, and it manages to do this without an overly cloying, schmaltzy or by numbers manner, but rather in a heartfelt and touching way. Or as Michael Palin has said of the series:

“The environmental message is deftly woven in, so it won’t bash you on the head. It’s mainly just funny.” (Weekend magazine, 14th December 2019)

 

Links:

 

Elsewhere at A Year in the Country:

 

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Rob Young’s Electric Eden: Revisiting 2/26

Rob Young’s Electric Eden has been something of an ongoing reference point for A Year In The Country. It’s a monumentally comprehensive exploration of what he describes as “visionary music”, and related culture, which wanders from pastoral literary utopias to acid folk via hauntology, Kate Bush and beyond.

In terms of more contemporary culture (as opposed to films and television etc I first became aware of in the 70s and 80s), I first read this book by Rob Young when my plans for A Year In The Country really began to coalesce. The way it drew connections between different aspects and eras of folkloric, landscape orientated and spectrally hauntological culture was a notable inspiration for me and A Year In The Country. As indeed was the cover of the first edition (above left), with its mixture and intermingling of the old and the new in its photograph of traditional horse-drawn ploughs in a field overlooked by an electricity pylon. It’s a very evocative image in the way it implies the layering and permeable nature of traditions, technology, history and so on.

In the first post about the book during the first year of A Year In The Country I included the above photograph of my copy. It shows all the corners I’d folded of the book, which after I’d been reading it for a while I often did to indicate that there was something I was particularly interested in on those pages. Some sections of the book seem to have more folds than not (!), which is something of an indication of just how much of interest I found much of the book.

It’s now heading towards a decade since it was first published and I read it, and I still find myself picking it up and referring to it, following the lines it draws and pathways it follows and/or creates amongst a loosely interconnected cultural landscape.

 

The original post published during the first year of A Year In The Country:

 

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The Quietened Journey – Reviews, Broadcasts and Dreams of Overgrown Sidings and Crumbling Platforms

A selection of some of the reviews and broadcasts of The Quietened Journey album:

“The Quietened Journey reflects with both mourn and celebration on these derelict and decaying memorials to a lost age… The assembled cast provide a perfect sonic journey documenting these empty spaces and decaying echoes of what once was, between the haunting and the nostalgic, all aspects, shadows and memories are uncovered, discovered and recalled anew…” Mark Barton, The Sunday Experience

“The likes of Field Lines Cartographer and Grey Frequency evoke heartbraking radiophonic dreams of overgrown sidings and crumbling platforms, and Pulselovers’ Woodford Halse To Fenny Compton In Five Minutes contrives to make a hypnotic, krautrock synth anthem the perfect celebration of pre-Beeching steam travel. Joyous.” Bob Fischer, Electronic Sound

“Exploring what’s left behind, the rusted and overgrown lines that vanish into the distance, the abandoned stations and buildings that pop up out of nowhere, the ghostly commuters who wait on empty platforms, they’re all here, across ten tracks that occasionally namecheck the relics they are visiting, but are just as likely to close their eyes and not even think of checking the map reference… As always, a wealth of contributors ensure that each journey is very different to the last…” Dave Thompson, Goldmine

Dave Thompson also included The Quietened Journey in his Spin Cycle best of 2019 column at Goldmine magazine’s site. Visit that here.

“A charming new album… invites contributors including The Heartwood Institute and Howlround to create music inspired by memories of abandoned railway lines, stations and roads. Anyone looking for a dose of bucolic calm amidst the frenzy of the festive season would be well advised to use it as the soundtrack for an icy ramble in their favourite overgrown sidings.” Bob Fischer, The Haunted Generation column in Fortean Times, issue 387 (and it can also be found at The Haunted Generation website here).

“A fine meditation on Britain’s abandoned railways and (in two cases) roads, with the usual balance of eerie electronica and atmospheric, acoustic folk here tilted very much towards the former. Woodford Halse To Fanny Compton In Five Minutes by Pulselovers is a rustic, steam-powered Kraftwerk and, at the other end of the line, ‘Along The Valley Sidings’ by Keith Seatman a Hampshire Tangerine Dream. There are moments when the pastoral breaks through however, such as the spectral harpsichord and wordless chanting on Sproatly Smith’s The 19:48 From Farley and the elegiac viola of Bruce White closing The Séance’s Elm Grove Portal. Phantom engines shunt through the night, but the brutal noise bursts of Howlround’s Thrown Open Wide sound like a derailment. We’re left with Grey Frequency’s melancholy An Empty Platform: the last station standing in an age that has long since passed it by.” Ben Graham, Shindig!

“The last release of the year in the series of excellent albums from A Year In The Country… For this latest themed album the subject is abandoned and former railways, railway stations and roads…. Field Line Cartographer deliver a superb ‘Ghosts Of The Wires’ about a pioneering test line for overhead electrification. Dom Cooper and Zosia Sztkowski investigate an old Roman road close to devil’s bridge. Keith Seatman creeps us out with ‘Along The Valley Sidings’ set in the Meon Valley, a terrific atmospheric piece that includes the sounds of ghostly trains, of rotted sleepers and derelict rusty signs. The record finishes with Grey Frequency’s ‘An Empty Platform’ about Tumby Woodside an abandoned station in Lincolnshire, with added field recordings made at the site to record birds, crumbling masonry and rust!” Andrew Young, Terrascope

James Mann included the album amongst his “finds of 2019” at the Ink 19 website. Visit that here.

“The train theme is rendered immediately apparent by the opening piece from Pulselovers, a chugging electronic rhythm which suggests a network still full of life and energy. After this the mood quickly darkens, and we’re left on the platform of a station like the haunted one in Sapphire and Steel, with the sun going down and only the ghosts for company. This is another impressively strong collection, ranging from the wistful memorialising of The Ghosts of Salzcraggie by Widow’s Weeds, and A Year In The Country’s hissing roadway, to Howlaround’s Thrown Open Wide, an eruption of noise prompted, he says, by the rebellion of his machines. The machinery of the railway returns to life on Keith Seatman’s Along The Valley Sidings, another synthesised train journey, before we find ourselves on Grey Frequency’s empty platform. The Quietened Journey is a welcome exploration of a feature of the British landscape which has been given surprisingly little attention, and which is now disappearing altogether. The last train will be departing soon.” John Coulthart, feuilleton

Next up are some of the broadcasts of music from the album:

Pulselover’s Woodford Halse To Fenny Compton In Five Minutes and The Séance’s Elm Grove Portal were featured amongst the esoteric audio wanderings of Pull the Plug, in two separate episodes. Originally broadcast on Resonance FM, the shows are archived at Mixcloud here and here.

In a rounding the circle manner, The Séance’s Elm Grove Portal and Keith Seatman’s Along The Valley Sidings were included on two separate episodes of The Séance’s phantom seaside radio show. Originally broadcast on Radio Reverb, totallyradio and Sine FM, the episode’s tracklistings can be found at the show’s site here and here, and the show’s are archived at Mixcloud here and here.

Sunrise Ocean Bender included The Séance’s Elm Grove Portal, Sproatly Smiths The 19.48 from Fawley and
Pulselovers Woodford Halse To Fenny Compton In Five Minutes on the Everybody Must Get Throned episode of their show (a title which seems both somewhat elegant and also made me chuckle and think of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Stoned & Dethroned album, alongside the more obvious Bob Dylan reference). Originally broadcast on WRIR FM, the tracklisting can be found here and the show is archived at Mixcloud here.

The Stillness and the Dancing included Widow’s Weed’s The Ghosts of Salzcraggie amongst their shows exploration of, amongst other things, “ambient, drone, post-rock and neoclassical”. Originally broadcast on 15th January 2020 at CRFU, the programme’s archive can be found here and the tracklisting can be found at their tumblr page here.

Mind De-Coder included The Séance’s Elm Grove Portal amongst the psychedelic and hauntological wanderings of their show. The episode is archived at Mixcloud here and the accompanying blog post can be found here.

Thanks and a tip of the hat to everbody involved for the above…

The Quietened Journey is an exploration of abandoned and former railways, railway stations and roads, a reflection on them as locations filled with the history, ghosts and spectres of once busy vibrant times – the journeys taken via them, the stories of the lives of those who travelled, built and worked on them.

Nature is slowly reclaiming, or has already reclaimed, much of this infrastructure, with these testaments to industry and “the age of the train” being often left to quietly crumble and decay.

The Quietened Journey is both a celebration and a lament for these now faded links across the land, of the grand dreams and determination which created them and their layered histories that – as these asphalt ribbons, steel lines and stone built roads once prominently were – are threaded throughout the twentieth century and even back to Roman times.

It features music and accompanying text on the tracks by Pulselovers, Sproatly Smith, The Séance, Widow’s Weeds, The Heartwood Institute, Depatterning, Howlround, A Year In The Country, Field Lines Cartographer, Dom Cooper & Zosia Sztykowski, Keith Seatman and Grey Frequency.

More details can be found here.