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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 2/26

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.

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Lisa Bond’s Landscape Phantasms: Wanderings 2/26

A while ago I came across Lisa Bond’s photographic art and initially on a first guick glance, without reading anything about it and having seen only a few pieces of her work, I thought they were a form of illustration, when in fact they are created in part through, I think, collaging photographs, in camera techniques and possibly also some illustration.

There is an interesting layering and interweaving of atmospheres in the images; they capture the beauty of rural areas but are not merely traditional images of it, rather they create an often haunted landscape that is both entrancing and at times subtly, quietly unsettling.

There is also a textural quality to them which, while they have their own character, puts me in mind here and there of some of the work that graphic designer Vaughan Oliver and photographer/filmmaker Nigel Grierson did between 1983-1988, often for the 4AD record label.

Many of the images are available as very reasonably priced gicleé prints (i.e. they are printed with archival and fade resistant inks), fine art cards, tea cups (yes please!) and, in a manner that seems wonderfully incongruous and a coming together of different worlds, phone and tablet cases.

The text below is taken from her website, where she talks about her inspirations, intentions, processes and so on:

Inspired by witchiness, folklore and the darker side of nature, [my work] encompasses deep-inked illustrative captures of ever changing, resilient weather beaten landscapes. I have emphasised extreme emotions ranging from negative space to elements of claustrophobia.

My inspiration did not just come from spending time in the landscapes I feature; intertwined is my internal soundtrack, and how a place makes me feel and sets my imagination free. I wanted to heighten the mood and take you to the place of my inner soundtrack rather than just portray a 2D version of the landscape in front of me. Although I appreciate the technical brilliance of the more traditional landscape photography, it doesn’t make my heart sing or require a second glance.

I want people to ‘peer’ curiously at my work and hopefully invoke an emotional response or attachment to a place from their own memories or imaginations… As a… lover of the ‘other’, I explore our relationship with nature and our sense of place. My emphasis is on intimacy; creating multi-layered visual stories to evoke memories of place…

I want my work to reflect my interactions with the world – the ethereal, and the bewitching. My tendency is to sway to the dark side, whilst loving the light.

For [The Spellbound] collection of prints, framed prints, cards and enamel mugs, I was inspired by the enigmatic and ever changing landscapes, especially the windswept, wild Yorkshire moors. All black and white, with a finish like an inked illustration.

For me, these are bewitching visions and bring to my mind the work of Kate Bush, Stevie Nicks, Emily Bronte, Edgar Allan Poe, The Unthanks, along with myths and legends. An eclectic mix of artists and folk story, but all share a touch of the dark in their own ways.”

 

Links:

 

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Gather in the Mushrooms: Revisiting 1/26

Due to the ever-expanding nature of the internet and the way that search engine results often seem to focus on more recent posts etc, a lot of older online content can be, if not lost, then at least a little lost-to-view. A bit like a book in an overcrowded second-hand bookshop that’s hidden away near the bottom of a pile of books. Still worth a look-see but you’ve got to forage a bit to find it.

I’ve had something of a hankering to return to and have a wander through the first year of A Year In The Country, to revisit some old cultural “friends” and inspirations. Maybe it will be a bit like picking up an old magazine that you’ve had on the shelves for years but haven’t browsed through for a fair old while.

I find myself enjoying that, appreciating the way that the contents can be like time capsules or snapshots of a particular point in time, and also how sometimes things that you missed the first time around or didn’t fully take in can now catch your eye and interest.

(As an aside, I also appreciate, particuarly in older music magazines, the prices of things back then – adverts for gigs by bands who now play stadiums and that it might cost you £80 or more to see playing a small venue with an entry fee of £2.50 and so on.)

Sometimes as well, when you pick up older magazines you spot cultural trends or themes that weren’t apparent at the time. Picking up an older magazine can also sometimes give you a moment to stop, pause and reflect, which is somewhat precious in these times of such a vast array of access to culture in various forms.

It’s also a form of digital scrapbooking, in a not dissimilar way that once upon a time people may have created actual scrapbooks of things in magazines etc that caught their eye.

These posts are in part inspired by all that and this is the first of a series of posts which will revisit posts from the first year of A Year In The Country.

And so, without further ado, the first of these “revisitings” jumps all the way back to one of the very first posts at A Year In The Country:

The collection of acid folk etc on the Gather in the Mushrooms compilation album released in 2004 was a notable inspiration for A Year In The Country. Particularly Trader Horne’s Morning Way, that begins with “Dreaming strands of nightmare, Are sticking to my feet”, which seemed to open something up in my mind and thoroughly cast aside any preconceptions of folk music I had.

Compiled by Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne, it has the subtitle The British Acid Folk Underground 1968-1974. Alongside Trader Horne it includes, amongst other things, an instrumental version of Magnet’s Corn Riggs from The Wicker Man soundtrack, the ethereal gothic folk of Forest’s Graveyard, Pentangle’s haunting take on traditional song Lyke Wake Dirge, Sandy Denny’s beguiling journey through love and the seasons Milk and Honey and Sallyangie’s Love in Ice Crystals, which features a rather young Mike Oldfield and his sister prior to his Tubular Bells fame.

The album is a rather fine and concise gathering and representation of the different strands of exploration in British folk in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, and although it is long out of print and can sometimes be a bit pricey used, it is well worth seeking out.

 

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

 

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Build Your Own Stonehenge Model Kits (and Other Sacred, Profane and Playful Simulacra): Wanderings 1/26

Now, I know that Stonehenge holds a unique place in people’s imaginations, and there are endless and ongoing debates about why  and how it was built etc.

Alongside more traditional heritage and archaeological interest in them, the sense of mystery, the ancient past and so on that stone circle’s often contain also interconnects with a “wyrd” or “otherly” sense of history, folk culture and so on, which has added to the interest in them.

I also knew that there have been an awful lot of books published on Stonehenge and stone circles in general. However, even allowing for all that I was still somewhat pleasantly surprised to see just how many Stonehenge model and construction kits of one form or another have been released commercially. In this post are just a few of those that I’ve come across.

English Heritage’s online shop stocks some of them along with all kind of Stonehenge ornaments, including two different “Stonehenges in a tin” (!)

English Heritage also used to sell a Stonehenge fridge magnet cross stitch kit, which I rather liked the idea and look of, as it seems to interweave so many things in a sort of slightly wrong but also interesting way; a certain Wicker Man-esque aesthetic, ancient history, traditional crafts, the commercialisation of religious or sacred souvenirs etc. Other related cross stitch items which I don’t think are still available from them include a bookmark and a keyring. For some reason the bookmark seems a bit more “acceptable” than a fridge magnet or a keyring, perhaps because books are often held in higher esteem than such things.

I like the figures of the visiters in the pop-out kit above, who seem to variously be questioning or bemused by Stonehenge, or in one case imagining an elaborate possibly worship orientated wooden structure over the top of it.

(Above: Stonehenge model kit with Arthurian extras, completed by zoidpinhead – link below.)

These various model kits seem to be a mixture, and possibly inspired by, an interest in the sacred, profane and at times just sheer playfulness. In that sense, they could well be filed alongside some of HeyKidsRocknRoll pop-up diorama sets of the likes of Delia Derbyshire, The Stone Tape, Quatermass and the Pit, The Wicker Man etc. Those dioramas could be considered examples of when contemporary secular cultural work, which for some people has gained an almost sacred-like aspect, is the inspiration for playful or child-like build at home ornaments.

Actually, surprisingly, I don’t think HeyKidsRocknRoll have made a Stonehenge or stone circle related diorama. A Halloween III: Season of the Witch set might well work, one which incorporated the film’s nefarious company scientists’ lab and their use of chippings from Stonehenge, the ancient power of which is used in novelty Halloween masks sold to the public, that are intended to bring about the destruction of their wearers.

Another reference point might also be Zupagrika’s various build your own Brutalist architecture kits, particularly those based on Soviet-era Eastern Bloc architecture, as that was built during and as symbols of a regime which attempted to do away with traditional religion and replace it with a belief or faith system based around the political system and its figureheads.

The above model isn’t a Stonehenge LEGO kit as it first may appear, but rather a LEGO compatible nanoblock kit, which in its utilising of the grey areas of copyright law could well be considered a form of profanity in terms of the corporate world’s belief systems.

I was rather taken by the above adapted kit, the photograph of which is included in an article on building your own miniature stonehenge garden – link below.

When I was searching for Stonehenge model kits I came across a blog called Clonehenge which contains a searchable set of posts, lists etc of Stonhenge replicas “from the megalithic follies of the 1800s to the present”. It includes amongst other things posts on retail bought and custom kit builds, large permanent replicas and laptophenge which, of course, does what it say on the can. And a whole lot, lot, lot more. Blimey, there’s been a fair old bit of Stonehenge clonehenging that’s gone on in the world.

And talking of mixing the sacred, profane and playful, last but not least, there’s Jeremy Deller’s inflatable bouncy castle replica which has travelled around Britain and the world. Funded in part by Creative Scotland and Arts Council England it is called, appropriately enough, and in a way that I expect both undercut and annoyed its critics, Sacrilege.

 

Links:

 

Elsewhere at A Year in the Country:

 

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

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 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

The novella and album will be released on 16th March 2020.

The Corn Mother album released in 2018 includes music by Gavino Morretti, Pulselovers, The Heartwood Institute, United Bible Studies, A Year In The Country, Widow’s Weeds, Depatterning, Sproatly Smith and Field Lines Cartographer. It is available at the A Year In The Country Artifacts Shop and Bandcamp site.

 

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Edge of Darkness, Lost Futures, Mark Fisher, Look Around You, Moon Stallion and Universal Harvester – The End of a Yearly Cycle and Something of a Round Up: Wanderings 52/52

Well, this being nearly the end of the year I thought it would be good to have a round-up of some of the other cultural items that have been keeping folk at A Year In The Country entertained throughout the year and/or that are on the “things to watch, read, explore, re-explore etc” list… There are a few of them, so here goes…

A rare issue of British television and radio listing magazine Radio Times from November 1985, with a cover feature on the rather exemplary and at times almost hallucinatory paranoid eco-thriller series Edge of Darkness that was first broadcast in the 1980s. This took a fair old bit of hunting down and is accompanied by John Caughie’s BFI released TV Classics book on the series, with an afterword by the series’ writer Troy Kennedy Martin. Also the book of his script for the series, which amongst other extras includes a background to the events that preceded the series (which seems to have become quite pricey since I bought it and is currently listed for between £50 and £650 online – blimey!)

(As an aside, the photograph used for the cover of the Radio Times makes Edge of Darkness look as though it may well be a quite conventional detective or noir series, which it really isn’t.)

The DVDs for the comedy series Look Around You (2002-2005), which is a fairly straightfaced spoof on 1970s Open University, Television for Schools and Colleges programmes and Tomorrow’s World – the latter of which looked at scientific and technological advances, inventions and so on.

Now, I’ve seen these before but it can’t hurt having them around to watch again – and whenever I watch the first series it tends to seem like something of a precursor to the parallel world reinventions of hauntology and utilises a number of similar reference points (previous eras’ public information television, Radiophonic-esque synthesized electronic music and so on).

John Darnielle’s novel Universal Harvester, which has a rather lovely cover design with video tape-esque silver foiled glitching and is part of the loose genre of “video tape as harbinger of the unknown and even possibly preternatural” fiction and film:

Jeremy works at the counter of Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa. It’s the 1990s, pre-DVD… But when a local schoolteacher comes in to return her copy of Targets, she has an odd complaint: ‘There’s something on it,’ she says. Two days later, another customer brings back She’s All That and complains that something is wrong: ‘There’s another movie on this tape.‘” (From the book’s cover text.)

I find myself sort of creeped out even before starting to read it…

The DVD and book adaptation of Brian Hayles’ The Moon Stallion, one of the possibly lesser known and not so easily available of the loose genre of “otherly” or “possibly a bit too scary and odd for children though that is who they were aimed at” 1970s British children’s television:

But they are no match for the dark forces of myth and magic which still exist among the Berkshire hills… With Merlin’s help, she learns that the Moon Stallion is beyond the reach of ambitious men. It is part of a legend which unites past, present and future…” (From the book cover’s text.)

Although originally broadcast by the BBC the DVD only seems to have been officially available in Germany and possibly Australia, which seems curious and it is now out of print. The book originally only cost 60p in 1978, which just seems almost impossibly cheap now (although it may well not have been at the time).

1980s Disney-darkness? Check for The Watcher in the Woods and an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Two of the graphic novels from The Red Star series; I’ve read these before but they are worth revisiting as they show that comics can sidestep the well-worn furrows of superheroes or low-key character pieces and still be entertaining and intelligent. They are set in an alternative parallel world and future where what is essentially the Soviet Union went onto ever greater power, achievement and technological advances, which are combined with preternatural non-scientific sorcery powers. In part they tell of this great empire’s hubris and eventual defeat by a less technologically advanced nation and super/preternatural powers and they are at times imbued with a striking nostalgic ache and sense of loss and could be considered a form of Soviet era inspired hauntology.

A pile of old Starburst magazines from the 1980s that arrived in the post, featuring an interview with John Carpenter around the time of Prince of Darkness being released, director Tommy Lee Wallace and the film’s original scriptwriter Nigel Kneale on Halloween III and a cover feature on the flawed but intriguing film The Keep, which is a somewhat unique period fantasy horror fable with an at times 1980s pop video aesthetic.

Mark Fisher’s K-Punk book, a collection of his writings, some previously unpublished. This is a hefty tome of a book at over 800 pages and one that I expect will keep providing inspiration for a long time to come.

Owen Hopkins’ book Lost Futures: The Disappearing Architecture of Post-War Britain, which accompanied an exhibition as the Royal Academy of Arts; this is a beautifully produced book that documents thirty-five buildings dating from 1945-1979, most of which have been either demolished or fundamentally altered:

Rebuilding Britain after World War II and through the post-austerity decades of the 1960s and 1970s enable architecture to embody a vision of a better future – both social and technological… a time when a belief in progress underlay innovation in design.” (From the book’s cover text.)

It features some particularly well-chosen and evocative period photography of the buildings and is in part a document, as the title and cover text suggests, of the lost progressive futures that they represented, while also being something of an almost accidentally beautifully art book.

Which just leaves me to say thank you once again for “tuning in” to A Year In The Country. As always a tip of the hat to you all!

 

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The Corn Mother: Audio Visual Archive 52/52

Cover art variation from The Corn Mother.

 

In the early 1970s a folk horror-esque screenplay made the rounds of the film industry but remained unmade until 1982.

The story is set in the late 19th century in a rural British village and revolves around the folklore of the “corn mother” – where the last row of the corn harvest is beaten to the ground by the reapers in an attempt to drive the spirit of the corn mother back into the earth for next year’s sowing.

The small closely-knit farming community’s worries about coming modernisation and the possible repeat of a blighted harvest that had occurred earlier in the village’s history, lead to burgeoning irrational fears and a search for a scapegoat who they persecute in order to salve those fears. Suffering from guilt and remorse at their actions, the villagers become plagued by nightmares in which their selected scapegoat returns to them to exact her revenge, and this becomes known as “the visiting of the corn mother”. The plot descends into a maelstrom where reality and unreality merge and the village becomes the kingdom of the corn mother.

The film was completed but was never released due to financial problems with the production company which resulted in legal wrangles, unpaid fees and recriminations, during which knowledge of the whereabouts of the footage became lost, with rumours suggesting that it may have been deliberately destroyed. It has been reported that a handful of preview copies of the film were made available on the now defunct formats of the time and these have become something of a mythical grail for film collectors.

This album is an exploration of the whispers that tumble forth from the corn mother’s kingdom, whisperings that have seemed to gain a life of their own, multiplying and growing louder with each passing year.

 

The album features music by Gavino Morretti, Pulselovers, The Heartwood Institute, United Bible Studies, Dominic Cooper, A Year In The Country, Widow’s Weeds, Depatterning, Sproatly Smith and Field Lines Cartographer.

 

“Halloween may be over but its spell for me always lingers… and albums such as this are especially suited to chill days, early twilights and long, dark nights.” (John Coulthart, feuilleton)

“An engaging album in which the apparently disparate genres of folk music and experimental electronica sit perfectly well together as different expressions of the same basic idea.” (Kim Harten, Bliss Aquamarine)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Quietened Mechanisms: Audio Visual Archive 51/52

Alternative artwork from The Quietened Mechanisms.

The album includes music and accompanying text on the tracks by Howlround, Grey Frequency, Listening Center, Sproatly Smith, Embertides, Keith Seatman, Time Attendant, A Year In The Country, Dom Cooper, Field Lines Cartographer, Vic Mars, Depatterning, Pulselovers, Quaker’s Stang, The Heartwood Institute and Spaceship.

It is an exploration of abandoned and derelict industry, infrastructure, technology and equipment that once upon a time helped to create, connect and sustain society.

It wanders amongst deserted factories, discarded machinery, closed mines, mills and kilns and their echoes and remains; taking a moment or two to reflect on these once busy, functioning centres of activity and the sometimes sheer scale or amount of effort and human endeavour that was required to create and operate such structures and machines, many of which are now just left to fade away.

 

“(These) epitaphs or nostalgia notations, uncover in the main, forgotten histories, whether forgotten through sheer neglect, conspiracy or misremembered, these moments or passages in time are locked in our fading subconscious much like fleeting apparitions or images disappearing over time whether by design or by way of a past rewritten. The Quietened Mechanisms turns its scholarly gaze on forgotten technologies and with it hosts of gathering of 17 intrepid travelers along for the journey.” (Mark Losing writing at The Sunday Experience.)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Strange Invaders – Paranoia, Safety and a Gently Skewed 1950s via the 1980s: Wanderings 51/52

There was a noticeable strand of American science fiction and horror cinema in the 1980s that revisited the 1950s; sometimes in an escapist manner such as in Back to the Future, various remakes including The Thing, The Fly, The Blob and Invaders from Mars and at times in a more subtle or oblique way such as John Carpenter’s Christine.

Strange Invaders (1983) was part of this strand:

“Michael Laughlin directs… an affectionate homage to science fiction/alien takeover films of the 1950s that stars Paul  Le Mat as a university professor searching for his ex-wife, who seems to have disappeared while visiting her hometown of Centreville, Illinois. In fact, the place turns out to be a hotbed of aliens, in place since the Fifties and weirdly unaware of how the outside world has changed.” (From the Twilight Time limited edition Blu-ray release.)

The film opens with the following text:

“It was a simple time, of Eisenhower, twin beds and Elvis from the waist up – a safe, quiet moment in history. As a matter of fact, except for the Communists and Rock-and-Roll, there was not much to fear. Not much at all… until that night.”

That text both vividly portrays and underplays a sense of 1950s societal conformity and also the unreality of the related mindset/viewpoint; this was a time when the Cold War between East and West was just beginning to heat up, bringing with it the threat of apocalyptic destruction and the scarring memories of the Second World War were still very near. Perhaps that such things were in the nation’s psyche is why “a safe, quiet moment in history” was needed.

In Centreville, the very name of which conjures up images of sedate and well-behaved Mid Western America, the aliens have taken over the bodies of the town’s inhabitants. Perhaps they too identified and needed the comfortable conformity of the 1950s so that they were able to go about their business without interference.

Centreville is shown to be a typical rural small town day-to-day idyll; during the opening scene the camera travels over a pretty flower bed and then switches to views of populuxe-esque cars and there is a sense of the affluence  of the 1950s and the related flourishing of consumerism, as the townsfolk watch television, eat popcorn and drink coca cola while teenagers chew gum and make out in the car to a soundtrack of gentle rock’n’roll music.

Paul Le Mat’s character Charles Bigelow teaches about insects at university, telling his students in a manner that becomes prescient for his own experiences when he meets the Centreville aliens that “We’re going to meet some creatures that do things you never dreamed were possible” and he goes on to say that after the course they will realise man is just one race in the universe.

When he travels to Centreville to find his missing wife it is not just the bodies the aliens inhabit which appear to have not aged; stylistically their clothes and indeed the whole town’s way of life appears to have been caught in a 1950s time warp, creating a form of living museum and strangely, as by this point it is almost 30 years since their takeover, none of their clothes or other items in the town appear worn. Is this a side effect of some alien power that we are not told about or are they secretly manufacturing simulacra period items?

Bigelow is chased out-of-town by alien powers and he realises that something strange is going on in Centreville; he returns to the city, which to the viewer in its contemporary built-up and busy nature now appears almost more alien than anything in Centreville and visits the National Center for U.F.O. Studies to report his findings. This is a government-run organisation and seems to be curiously easily accessible to the general public, while also having military guards.

When the aliens come to track him down their 1950s style does not look out-of-place in the 1980s city, which possibly reflects fashion of the time and also the seemingly endlessly enduring nature of 1950s style and revivals of it. English actress Fiona Lewis plays an alien and calls on a journalist who Bigalow has approached about the odd goings on in Centreville; she pretends she is an Avon sales rep (a form of from home/local community perfume and makeup retail) and the journalist does not look askance at her 1950s image and just asks if she is in a New Wave band.

Although not a remake at the time of Strange Invaders’ making there was a heightened tension and conflict between East and West – as there also was in the post-War 1950s when the originals of the earlier mentioned The Blob, Invaders from Mars etc were made – and so in making a film that reflects on an earlier time of tension and paranoia it might be expected that it would contain expressions of then contemporary takes on such things and for the central character to be suitably threatened and distressed by events.

However, despite his dog apparently being unexplainedly spirited away in Centreville and various far from normal goings on there Bigelow appears curiously unconcerned about things; he begins attempting to solve the mystery with the air of a man who is just slightly irked rather than one who had his car blown up by some kind of alien activity.

To a degree this reflects the tone of the film in general; it takes the American 1950s Red/Communist scare that was translated in science fiction cinema as alien invasion/takeover and transposes it into a less threatening form, creating a film that while still intended for adults also has a family viewing feel to it. It could be seen as a more gentle, less threatening version of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1978) – a film in which aliens destroy humans bodies as they replicate their physical form and which contains a particularly paranoid atmosphere. While the aliens’ actions in Strange Invaders are predatory and even violent there is still an air of well-meaning benevolence to them rather than out-and-out menace.

Perhaps in this sense Strange Invaders could be seen as an examination of worries about a more subtle form of takeover and invasion present in both the 1950s and 1980s:

“There is a book to be written about how America in the 1980s, in the thick of a deregulated corporate boom, might have inspired a few of its filmmakers to remake certain horror movies of the 1950s that reflected a past society similarly gripped by anxious, consumptive conformity. The wave of 1950s-era horror remakes that were released in the 1980s might constitute a prolonged coincidence, but it is a revealing one, as the films of both decades are informed by an understandable distrust of the sacrifices of personality that are necessary to yielding the insidiously comfy fruits of suburbia.” Chuck Bowen, writing for Slant Magazine

Ultimately the aliens and possibly therefore their invasive actions and keeping their host bodies in a state of comfortable 1950s lifestyle, are shown to be not all that bad as they “free” the sentiences of the humans whose bodies they have taken over, who then return to their own bodies (although it is not made clear what happens to the humans when one of the aliens has torn off their human outer shell, apparently irrepairably destroying it as they do so).

The aliens are depicted as nearer to that classic cinema trope – the close-knit small town rural community that does not welcome or accept newcomers and outsiders easily.

Despite being a science fiction alien takeover film Strange Invaders is not an action packed extravaganza and the film appears to have been made in a very laid back manner, almost as though both the humans and film makers are not really all that bothered about how things turn out. Ultimately, as Julie Kirgo writes in the above mentioned Twilight Time Blu-ray release: “It’s all very silly… and very satisfying.”

 

Elsewhere:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Shildam Hall Tapes: Audio Visual Archive 50/52

Alternative artwork from The Shildam Hall Tapes – “Reflections on an imaginary film.”

Features work by Gavino Morretti, Sproatly Smith, Field Lines Cartographer, Vic Mars, Circle/Temple, A Year In The Country, The Heartwood Institute, David Colohan, Listening Center and Pulselovers.

In the late 1960s a film crew began work on a well-funded feature film in a country mansion, having been granted permission by the young heir of the estate.

Amidst rumours of aristocratic decadence, psychedelic use and even possibly dabbling in the occult, the film production collapsed, although it is said that a rough cut of it and the accompanying soundtrack were completed but they are thought to have been filed away and lost amongst storage vaults.

Few of the cast or crew have spoken about events since and any reports from then seem to contradict one another and vary wildly in terms of what actually happened on the set.

A large number of those involved, including a number of industry figures who at the time were considered to have bright futures, simply seemed to disappear or step aside from the film industry following the film’s collapse, their careers seemingly derailed or cast adrift by their experiences.

Little is known of the film’s plot but several unedited sections of the film and its soundtrack have surfaced, found amongst old filmstock sold as a job lot at auction – although how they came to be there is unknown.

The fragments of footage and audio that have appeared seem to show a film which was attempting to interweave and reflect the heady cultural mix of the times; of experiments and explorations in new ways of living, a burgeoning counter culture, a growing interest in and reinterpretation of folk culture and music, early electronic music experimentation, high fashion, psychedelia and the crossing over of the worlds of the aristocracy with pop/counter culture and elements of the underworld.

The Shildam Hall Tapes takes those fragments as its starting point and imagines what the completed soundtrack may have sounded like; creating a soundtrack for a film that never was.

(Quoted from text which accompanies the album.)

 

“The sounds venture into reinterpretation of folk culture and music, early electronic music experimentation, high fashion, psychedelia and the crossing over of the worlds of the aristocracy with pop/counter culture and elements of the underworld… Just as film is the visceral, visual experience needed to startle and stimulate the eyes, The Shildam Hall Tapes is the appropriate aural experience needed to caress and connect the ears to everything they are listening to.” (Eoghan Lyng writing at We Are Cult.)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Woodshock – A Rudderless Tumbling Down the Rabbit Hole: Wanderings 50/52

Woodshock is a curious film in a number of ways.

Released in 2017 it was written and directed by Kate and Laura Mulleavy; sisters who are probably more known for the fashion label Rodarte which they founded in 2005, alongside also having co-designed costumes for Darren Aronofsky’s unsettling film Black Swan (2010).

So, what is Woodshock about? Loosely it focuses on the life of a young-ish woman who lives in a rural Redwood forest and town area of Northern California and who is dealing with grief and isolation. The film documents and reflect her emotional state and reality which begin to fracture and unravel as she repeatedly uses a strong hallucinatory substance.

However, to ask what the film is about is somewhat misleading as this  is not a conventional narrative film.

The presence of “known” American actress Kirsten Dunst in the lead role and to a degree the manner in which it has been conventionally presented/distributed leads the viewer to expect that this will be an at least reasonably conventional film.

In reality it is far from that and in some ways could be seen as being nearer to a film which might be shown in a gallery setting rather than via traditional cinemas and home viewing; Woodshock contains a linear narrative as it follows Kirsten Dunst’s character Theresa spiralling life and actions but it appears more concerned with creating an atmosphere and visual impressions/expressions of inner emotion than in plot exposition:

“It’s not about an explanation… maybe the questions are more interesting.” (Comments on Woodshock by the directors.)

And as with some of gallery orientated work where it is only once the viewer has read the accompanying text that the work’s meaning and the intentions of its creator begin to become more apparent, Woodshock’s nuances begin to make more sense once the Blu-ray’s accompanying extra Making Woodshock: A Mental Landscape has been watched.

In this featurette Kate and Laura Mulleavy discuss and put forward their intentions for the film and the way in which its different elements have been carefully chosen, pieced and layered together.

For example the score by Peter Raeburn features birdsong recordings which are not necessarily overly prominent upon a casual viewing but the Mulleavy’s point out that they only appear when lead character Theresa appears and they become the sound of her.

The score is also only played when Theresa is present, while pre-existing songs by amongst others Television, Gary Numan, Wire, Suicide and Galaxie 500 are only played when Keith, one of the male leads, is onscreen.

This musical selection of pre-existing songs subconsciously adds to a sense that although rurally set there is an element of this community which seems nearer to say the sleazier, scuzzball side of an urban indie way of life; Keith seems to spend much of his time in a darkly artificially lit bar that could as easily be situated in a large city as next door to a Redwood forest and he is essentially a licensed/legitimised drug dealer (more on which in a moment).

There is a dreamlike atmosphere to the film but rather than being a comforting, enveloping haze there is an emotional disconnect or distancing. This is created in part through the actions of its characters but may also be due in part to creative decisions by the film makers who for example in A Mental Landscape discuss how much of the film is shot via reflections with the intention of quietly dislocating the viewer as doorways will for example open one way and then another.

Accompanying such subtle visual aspects the film features extensive otherworldly visuals, making use of the likes of double exposures, heavily coloured lighting, briefly strobe lit forests, fleeting moments of flashbacks, the surreal levitation of a home and a person and so forth. However such elements do not generally feel overtly surreal but rather they have a sense of being almost seamlessly part of this world.

The surreality of the film is also added to as Theresa is pictured wandering amongst the enormous ancient Redwood trees, introducing an almost Alice in Wonderland element as she appears impossibly small, as though she has imbibed an Alice-like potion and shrunk (which to a degree she has, although in this case she has ingested an hallucinogen).

The relatively understated and often brief nature of such otherworldly visuals quietly and subtly help to build a sense of the fracturing of Theresa’s mental state as she repeatedly re-medicates herself and her life descends into an inescapable “bad trip”.

As she makes that descent there is a growing and eventually almost unbearable pressure that the viewer may not necessarily realise has come to be amongst the day-to-day mundanity elements of her life and where and how she lives. This is in part expressed via the film’s use of aspects of almost traditional American indie film tropes as it presents slightly dour, aimless lives (friends who don’t like one another hang out and get wasted, there’s nothing in the fridge etc).

Theresa works at Keith’s shop where he provides legal cannaboids to those with a medical license/need. This premises is a particular counterbalance to Theresa’s forestland and landscape wanderings and her understatedly stylish old worldly decorated home.

The shop seems almost coldly alien and scientific, in a manner which would not make it seem out of place in the earlier films of David Cronenberg or more appositely his son Brandon’s Antiviral (2012); although in a less overtly transgressive/shocking manner than in Antiviral, in Woodshock “natural” intoxicants are prepared and sold in a manner which seems far removed from their organic origin.

A further reflection of this disconnect with nature is the film’s depiction of the Redwood forests and mankind’s action in regards to them; their huge size and stature implies the ancient nature of this landscape but its potential contemporary transience is depicted as they are shown being cut down and the almost primitive seeming industrial mechanised preparation of the resulting timber is returned to on a number of occasions.

This destruction is also shown to be literally close to Theresa’s home and heart as her boyfriend is a lumberjack. She says to him at one point in a brief almost matter-of-fact exchange which lingers chillingly and memorably with the viewer:

“Do you ever regret it, cutting everything down?”

His only reply is “Sometimes” and it is obvious that the logging will carry on.

Possibly in a manner that reflects the Mulleavy’s fashion work, there is at times a languid beauty to Woodshock, which finds Kirsten Dunst wandering through her home and the forest in stylish and sometimes semi-diaphanous apparel in a manner that would not be out of place in say a higher end more abstractly orientated perfume advert.

But make no mistake; despite these elements of beauty, this is a far from lightweight, surface orientated view of a woman’s life; the film shows a subtle but intense fracturing to Theresa’s life, an unruddered and ultimately destructive journey through life, grief and psyche.

By the end that journey shockingly and briefly explodes into brutal violence, which may put the viewer in mind of the unravelling psyche of the female protagonists in rural isolation which is shown in José Ramón Larraz’s film Symptoms (1974) and Robert Altman’s Images (1972), while a final surreal montage of elements which include flashbacks, forestland and Theresa staring at the viewer is not all that removed from the original excised ending of Saul Bass’ Phase IV (1974).

Woodshock could be considered to explore not wholly dissimilar territory as Josephine Decker’s film Butter on the Latch (2013) which as with the Mulleavy’s film also depicts a strikingly beautiful woodland landscape and utilises some conventional film tropes alongside brief flashes of surreality and which ultimately, although stylistically less conventional, as with Woodshock is located at a far remove from mainstream Hollywood.

Woodshock only received a brief US theatrical release and a very limited cinematic showing in Portugal. To my knowledge it is not available officially in the UK either to watch online or on DVD/Blu-ray. It is available as a European import on DVD or as a locked to Region A imported Blu-ray from the US, meaning that if viewing it in the UK/Europe you would need a multi-region Blu-ray player to watch it.

As a final note, the film’s official website is simple and yet effective; it harks back to a previous era of Flash based animated sites and its use of subtle undulating images and layered images reflects and captures the striking visuals and hallucinatory nature of the film.

Elsewhere:

  1. Woodshock – the official site
  2. Woodshock – trailer
  3. Woodshock – Peter Raeburn’s soundtrack
  4. Woodshock – the Blu-ray
  5. The DVD

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Week #41/52: The Dark Pastoral Of Butter On The Latch
  2. Kill List, Puffball, In the Dark Half and Butter on the Latch – Folk Horror Descendants by Way of the Kitchen Sink: Chapter 16 Book Images
  3. Symptoms and Images – Hauntological Begetters, the Uneasy Landscape and Gothic Bucolia: Chapter 33 Book Images
  4. Audio Visual Transmission Guide #43/52a: Images and the Uneasy Landscape
  5. Week #28/52: Symptoms and gothic bucolia
  6. Day #149/365: Phase IV – lost celluloid flickering (return to), through to Beyond The Black Rainbow and journeys Under The Skin

 

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The Quietened Journey – Released

Released today 6th December 2019. 

CDs and download available to order at our Artifacts Shop and Bandcamp page.
Both editions are hand-finished and custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink by A Year In The Country.

The album 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.

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.

 

Nightfall Edition. Limited to 104 copies. £22.95
Hand-finished box-set contains: album on all black CD, 2 x sheets of accompanying notes, 1 x print, 4 x stickers and 4 x badges.


Top and underneath of CD.

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) 2 x folded sheets of accompanying notes, printed on textured laid paper – one sheet 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.

 

Dawn Light Edition. Limited to 104 copies. £11.95.
Hand-finished white/black CD album in textured recycled fold out sleeve with fold-out insert and badge.

Top and underneath of CD.

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.

Tracklisting:
1) Pulselovers: Woodford Halse To Fenny Compton In Five Minutes
2) Sproatly Smith: The 19.48 From Fawley
3) The Séance: Elm Grove Portal
4) Widow’s Weeds: The Ghosts Of Salzcraggie
5) The Heartwood Institute: The Solway Viaduct
6) Depatterning: The Beets At Wellingtonbridge
7) Howlround: Thrown Open Wide
8) A Year In The Country: Silent Treasure
9) Field Lines Cartographer: Ghosts Of The Wires
10) Dom Cooper & Zosia Sztykowski: Summonings
11) Keith Seatman: Along The Valley Sidings
12) Grey Frequency: An Empty Platform

“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

 

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Audio Albion: Audio Visual Archive 49/52

Alternative artwork from Audio Albion.

The album is a music and field recording map of Britain, which focuses on rural and edgeland areas.

Each track contains field recordings from locations throughout the land and is accompanied by notes on the recordings by the contributors.

The tracks record the sounds found and heard when wandering down pathways, over fields, through marshes, alongside rivers, down into caves and caverns, climbing hills, along coastlands, through remote mountain forestland, amongst the faded signs of industry and infrastructure and its discarded debris.

Intertwined with the literal recording of locations, the album explores the history, myths and beliefs of the places, their atmospheres and undercurrents, personal and cultural connections – the layered stories that lie amongst, alongside and beneath the earth, plants and wildlife.

(Quoted from text which accompanies the album.)

Features work by Bare Bones, David Colohan, Grey Frequency, Field Lines Cartographer, Howlround, A Year In The Country, Keith Seatman, Magpahi, Sproatly Smith, Widow’s Weeds, Time Attendant, Spaceship, Pulselovers, The Heartwood Institute and Vic Mars.

 

“…each musical composition (incorporates) sounds of place whilst using music and sound-art to further explore the history, myth and atmosphere of these locations… Audio Albion is a fine selection of eerie, experimental, cinematic sounds inspired by folklore and landscape.” (Kim Harten writing at Bliss Aquamarine.)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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British Rail: Designed 1948-97 – Notes from an Impossibly Far Off History: Wanderings 49/52

If Jonny Trunk of archival record label Trunk Records collaborated with The Modernist Magazine to put together a book which documented post-war until privatisation British Rail design and aesthetics it might well turn out something like British Rail: Designed 1948-97.

The book was written and compiled by David Lawrence and collects logo, building, vehicle, uniform etc design and prototypes alongside extensive accompanying text.

It is a publication not just for the more archetypal train-spotter enthusiasts but as a quote from Wayne Hemmingway states on the back of the book:

“Anyone with an eye for evocative design and graphics, and anyone with an interest in social history, can’t help but get drawn in…”

The book contains a certain appreciative curatorial sense which subtly takes in such work having at times an almost accidental utilitarian art or at least grand reaching or even high concept aspect.

While that element is not as overtly foregrounded as say in the book Own Label: Sainsburys Design Studio: 1962 – 1977, in which Jonny Trunk collected a supermarket’s period packaging and design, it is still present and makes the book at least a loosely connected shelf-fellow to such collections.

It could well be read as a form of now semi-forgotten modernist history that considers a section of British endeavour from a time of state-sponsored industry. Viewed now much of the design that is featured appears to be from some almost impossibly far off part of history, although it is in fact from a relatively modern period of history.

Anyways, in this post I collect together a few of the images and pages from the book that particularly caught my eye.

Some of the building design featured in the book – particularly the one on the top-right above – has an almost avant garde aspect and puts me in mind of the apparent exoticisms but actually quite day-to-day structures of Soviet bus stops which can be found in Christopher Herwig’s book of the same name.

British Rail goes kind of groovy and sixties mod-pop in the late-1960s and turn of the decade, with a touch of what could now be called retro futurism:

“Seaspeed hovercraft pursurettes wore ‘Hoversuits’ made from a synthetic jersey textile called Koratron…”

(From the text in the book. Koratron outfits left and bottom right.)

Stylistically the above image from 1973 of a “proposed second class saloon” railway carriage interior seems more in keeping with my own personal memories of British Rail period design; there is a glamour and style there but it is more Leonard Rossiter-esque than space age mod-pop. Think Rising Damp, 1970s Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins Cinzano adverts and The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin.

Following on from Koratron and hoversuits, there was some rather grand (or grandiloquent), futuristic and sometimes almost Orwellian sounding language used to describe various British Rail orientated design, committees etc.

Along which lines, above is the “Moto-X” building system on one of the British Rail stations.

And continuing along such lines, above is a corporate identity booklet produced in partnership with British Rail’s “Industrial Design directorate.” Not committee. Not department but “directorate”.

Well, you don’t get any more brutalist architecture than this. As with the use of the word “directorate” it brings to mind the phrase Soviet-Britain.

Above is a prototype buffet kitchen car…

While above left is a then glamorously modern seeming advert for a floor covering.

A further selection of at times almost Mad Men-esque midcentury modern populuxe-like British Rail lounge etc design.

In the book some of such photographs of the lounge bars, their prototypes etc seem to present a kind of swinging, stylish, cosmopolitan take on British railway history that seems somewhat at odds with the reality of them (at least as I remember them from my own younger days) which was often nearer to a kind of slightly down at heel functionalism.

I think it’s hard to truly think of anything being high style when reminded of these seat fabrics…

A curiously posed almost fashion line-up photograph of British Rail staff and their uniforms.

And more looking to the future; “PEP – the commuter train of the future”.

It is difficult now to objectively consider whether these designs did once seem genuinely forward looking as they have come to be so rooted in and connected to particular slightly downbeat utilitarian period tropes and aesthetics.

Returning to slightly grandiloquent language; British Rail paint colours are described as “Experimental blues”.

In a way and also returning to Soviet-Britain, such language and its aspirations cause me to think of the grand reaching aspects of the Soviet era social project in the 20th century; I suppose that state-sponsored and nationalised industry such as British Rail is not, at least in a purely philosophical rather than real world application manner, all that far removed at points from the communal/state property aspects of the former Soviet Union.

Brutalist corporate literature design…

It is hard to tell if it is due to the colours of the period film stock in the photographs above but there seems to be a somewhat large gap between the well-hued and attractively presented modernist and slightly art deco inspired future shown in the above illustration for a proposed station and the reality of such buildings when completed (see the lower two images).

And finally; a selection of promotional brochures; the one featured top right has an almost Wicker Man-esque sense of accidental folk-art to it, which as I’ve mentioned elsewhere at A Year In The Country could well be filed alongside some of the design work in the aforementioned Own Label: Sainsburys Design Studio: 1962 – 1977, a book which was compiled by Jonny Trunk (see images below).

 

Elsewhere:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country: