The website Folk Horror Review site was available online until some time earlier in the 2010s and it was a relatively early site etc where the gathering together and exploring of some of the iconic “canon” of folk horror and interrelated otherly pastoral culture took place.
At the site there was writing on The Wicker Man, its possible forebear Robin Redbreast, ghostly scribe Arthur Machen, A Field In England, The Twilight Language Of Nigel Kneale book, Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape, various BBC Ghost Stories For Christmas, Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising, Children Of The Stones, Psychomania and Alistair Siddon’s In The Dark Half.
There were also posts on interconnected items such as the compilation album that accompanies Rob Young’s Electric Eden book; Hail Be You Sovereigns, Lief and Dear from Cold Spring’s undercurrents of folk Dark Britannica album series, the BFIs DVD release of film recordings of folk customs and ancient rural games Here’s A Health To The Barley Mow and the academic conference A Fiend In The Furrows, which explored folk horror in it’s various forms.
Back then the phrase folk horror was still relatively esoteric and niche and although The Wicker Man was undergoing critical rehabilitation it was also still a relatively niche taste. How things have changed (!) Today it seems like I can hardly pick up a mainstream newspaper or magazine without coming across something being described as folk horror or see a reference to The Wicker Man.
As is often the way with the sometimes mayfly existence of online content The Folk Horror Review site is now long gone. It’s a shame as I expect it would make interesting reading as a snapshot of a time before the otherly landscape of folk horror had been so thoroughly explored and harvested.
It doesn’t even seem to have been archived at the Internet Archive Wayback machine, which attempts to store the back catalogue of the internet and the site is now merely another spectre in the history of lost online content.
The original post published during the first year of A Year In The Country:
The Modernist is a cultural group which publishes a magazine, one-off publications, produces merchandise, hosts events and has a gallery and is dedicated to an appreciation of 20th century modernist architecture and design.
If you find a certain romance in sometimes unloved, neglected or lost Brutalist architecture and/or are drawn to a hauntological sense of modernist architecture representing lost progressive futures then you will find much to appreciate amongst their publications etc. Be warned though, although a number of their items are priced at accessibly low almost pocket-money friendly prices, The Modernist has something of a prolific output and an extensive back catalogue, so investigating and collecting may well still eventually diminish said pocket-money a fair bit (!)
A couple of their publications which recently caught my eye are From the Archives: Progress, which features the demolition of buildings in Manchester and reproduces rarely seen images from Manchester’s Chethams Library collection and The Last Days of the Coventry Evening Telegraph Building, which is is a photographic document of an unoccupied newspaper’s building.
It is a strange thing to see the buildings in From the Archives: Progress reduced to rubble and their constituent parts and whatever the reasoning behind it being carried out it seems like something of a squandering of the industry, effort and materials that went into building them.
From the Archives: Progress is one of a set of six photobooks / photozines which feature images from the Chethams Library archive. The striking image above is from the Housing edition and the flats seem both almost flamboyantly Brutalist and prosaically utilitarian.
The images in The Last Days of the Coventry Evening Telegraph Building have a Marie Celeste-like quality to them. The building, its contents and production machinery often appear to have just been left more or less exactly as they were when it was still in use and decorative items, a small portable radio and material for the paper’s layout and so on are still sat where they were left.
There’s a gently ghost-like, waiting quality to the images and the building, as though it is still hopeful that its previous occupants will return and that the printing presses will once again spring into life.
As is said on The Modernist’s website, it “is a visual tour through a bygone age of print journalism” and although the building didn’t become vacant until 2012 there is something decidedly pre-digital age about the building’s interior and some of the design materials that have left behind, such as a printed photographic image and a brush to remove the dust from it, which presumedly was going to be used in the newspaper. Viewed today there is a sense in the photographs of harking back to the utilitarian aesthetics of a previous era’s production and design, more 1970s / early 1980s than post-Millennium.
I still have something of a soft spot for the images in Margery Facklam and Patricia Phibbs’ Corn-Husk Crafts book.
Published in 1973 it’s actually a conventional and straightforward crafting guide but the corn dolls with featureless faces have a character and atmosphere to them that connects with contemporary “wyrd” rural culture and they have both a nostalgic and folk horror-esque quality to them.
Alongside which as I also mentioned in the first year of A Year In The Country, their featureless faces are somewhat reminiscent of “faceless monsters, intruders and mannequins” come to life in television series back when.
I have often found myself looking through rural, craft etc orientated books from a few decades ago in second-hand shops, hoping to find images which seem like accidental forebears of contemporary wyrd culture. This was a lucky find along those lines.
The original post published during the first year of A Year In The Country:
The 1950 film Gone to Earth, adapted from Mary Webb’s book originally published in 1917 and directed by Powell and Pressberger, has long been something of a favourite around these parts. The plot involves a free-spirited young woman living a rural life close to nature, who marries a kind-hearted local priest but, in part due to physical attraction, takes as a lover and runs away with something of a cad and bounder. Its depiction of the story seems to be straining at the very seams of acceptable cinema mores of the time, and features some wonderful, almost surreally vivid Technicolor views of the British countryside.
And what’s this that’s arrived in the post? Well, I appear to now have two different versions of the book that were released to tie-in with the film’s release; one British edition and one American (I already had the British one, which I didn’t know about until, appropriately enough, as it is the setting for the novel, I discovered it in Wales, in amongst a second hand bookshop’s literally tottering stacks of books). They both have illustrated, rather than photographic covers; I’m not sure quite when photographs started to be more prominently used in film tie-in novels? I’m guessing here rather than knowing, but I think it was probably at some point in the sixties.
In contrast with later film tie-ins, where that it’s the book of the film tends to emblazoned quite clearly on the cover, it’s not immediately obvious that they are film tie-ins. The US edition has “Jennifer Jones stars in the motion picture” printed in small text on the cover, while the British edition does not mention any connection to the film on the cover, but on the first page inside there is some, also small text, that says “The cover is from the Powell-Pressburger film, distributed by British Lion”.
The film had a troubled release as, although he was apparently involved throughout the filming, the executive producer David O. Selznick disliked the finished version and took The Archers, Powell and Pressberger’s production company, to court, in order to try to be allowed to change it. Although he lost the case, he subsequently discovered that he had the right to change it for the American release. He had some extra scenes shot and edited the film from the original 110 minutes down to 82 minutes, leaving around two-thirds of the original film intact. It was subsequently released during 1952 in the US as The Wild Heart.
I assume due to legal obligations in regards to Mary Webb’s book, the US edition of the novel tie-in, which was published in 1953 after the film had been released as The Wild Heart, still has the original title of Gone to Earth, which I expect may have confused some readers and buyers.
I’m particularly taken with the US edition’s map of the story’s setting on the back, and the way it describes the area as “The haunted region of ‘Wild Wales'”. This mention of a “haunted land”, some of the semi-magical rural folklore of the film (whenever she has problems the lead character Hazel, played by Jennifer Jones, turns to the book of spells and charms her gypsy mother left her), along with the the Harps in Heaven song sequence, which is sung by Hazel atop a hill to the harp accompaniment of her father, and has an enchanting otherworldly quality not dissimilar to acid folk of the late 1960s and 1970s, seem to presage the current interest in all things “wyrd” or “otherly” folk and pastoral. Or, as I say in A Year in the Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields:
“As a film it… appears to be a forebear of later culture which would travel amongst the layered, hidden histories of the land and folklore, showing a world where faiths old and new are part of and/or mingle amongst folkloric beliefs and practices… In some ways the air of not-quite-real-ness that can be found in Gone to Earth makes it seem like a forerunner to the more adult fairy tale side of the Czech New Wave (especially Valerie and her Week of Wonders from 1970 and possibly Malá Morská Víla / The Little Mermaid from 1976) and also of the style, character and imagery of a younger Kate Bush, of a free spirit cast out upon and amongst the moors.”
For a long time I thought I would never get to see the The Wild Heart version of the film. I wasn’t sure if it even still existed, and all the various UK and elsewhere in the world home releases were always of Gone to Earth.
Also, the DVD releases of Gone to Earth seem to have that odd ratio issue that often happens with DVDs released before approximately 2006, prior to HD widescreen television sets started to become the norm, where the aspect ratio is all out-of-sorts. No matter which ratio setting you choose on your TV, you either can’t see all the picture, the picture is squashed or stretched out of shape and so on. Because of its somewhat fine imagery and cinematography, this is a film that I very much wanted to see via a decent, sympathetic high-definition transfer.
(Yes, I’m looking at you Blu-ray release companies who variously oversaturate skin tones to give people “salmon coloured faces”, apply too much digital noise reduction so that the actors’ skin looks waxy, or make the detail very harshly defined and distracting, to the point where in some releases which contain both the DVD and Blu-ray, I’ve turned off the Blu-ray and put the DVD on. Yes, I know I’m quite fussy about such things, but I think a good transfer should effectively be invisible. Anyways, I digress…)
One day I was browsing through the titles of upcoming films to be broadcast on Talking Pictures TV, when all of a sudden I saw the title The Wild Heart. I thought, no, surely not, but yep, it was indeed that The Wild Heart.
If you don’t know of Talking Pictures TV, it’s well worth seeking out. It’s a British television channel, broadcast on Freeview and elsewhere (see image above), that specialises in what could be called archival film and television, and tends to focus on British productions. It generally shows things that were originally released between 1930 and the early 1990s, although the majority of its content is possibly from the 1950s to the 1970s – or maybe that’s just the films etc that I notice more. It shows a lot of older black and white films that once, decades ago, might have been broadcast on, say, Sunday afternoons on mainstream British television, but which aren’t shown there anymore.
But it doesn’t just show such things, and has a fairly eclectic remit that takes in amongst other things: BFI documentary shorts; the kind of British television series that are often otherwise only available on DVD released by Network, such as young adult fantasy/supernatural anthology series Shadows; British B-movies; cult and classic film, which takes in everything from the early 60s Soho time capsule The Small World of Sammy Lee to cult horror Carnival of Souls via 1973 science fiction curio The Final Programme and British New Wave films such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning; various quota quickie films from the 1930s (these were made quickly and cheaply for US distributors, so that they could comply with their legal obligations under the 1927 Cinematograph Films Act, which stipulated that, for a duration of 10 years, British cinemas had to show a certain quota of British films); and spotlights on/interviews with related directors and actors.
And sometimes I’ll come across things on it, such as The Wild Heart, that previously I’d never known be available elsewhere.
And it’s all available for free (well, for a little of your time, as it does show adverts), which is something of a treat and rarity in contemporary times, when a lot of broadcast and streamed television is now viewable only via subscription and/or one-off fees.
Andrew Male, the senior associate editor of Mojo magazine, wrote about the channel in the October 2017 issue of the BFI’s Sight & Sound magazine, where he says that within two years the channel had 1.3 million viewers per week, and that it was still run from a tiny home office by a staff of just three family members (husband and wife Neill and Sarah Cronin-Stanley, and her father Noel). He also comments that it has gained vocal celebrity supporters such as Mark Gatiss and Danny Baker (elsewhere it has been written that Matt Lucas and Barbara Windsor are also fans). Elsewhere in the article he discusses how “superfan” Vic Reeves took over the programming of the channel for a day and selected “British cinema landmarks”, including Woman in a Dressing Gown, the aforementioned Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Whistle Down the Wind and Hell Drivers. The article quotes Noel Cronin as saying that much of what they acquire the broadcast rights to they are “literally saving from the grave”, as essentially it is just being left to rot in storage:
“Much of the 24-hour roster is dictated by the large cache of films the Cronins own the rights to, [which is] the legacy of more than 25 years spent running the independent production company Renown Pictures, and Noel’s work throughout the 1970s as head of UK film distributor Dandelion.” (Andrew Male, writing in the above article).
Since the early 2000s they have also run the successful niche DVD label Renown, which has released a lot of the same or similar archival films that are now also shown on Talking Pictures TV:
“Renown Pictures was the first company, that’s been running for about 18 years. It was a small independent production company and the owner of rights to films. My dad used to go and buy libraries and in those libraries of older British films, which we’re predominantly interested in, he would retain the copyrights because not many people were into looking after films from the 30s, 40s and 50s… People were interested in the big titles but he wanted to save the smaller, more obscure titles, from getting lost. We own the original Scrooge film and we would rent it out to play on TV. Sometimes companies would buy a film for DVD and then we thought why we don’t give it a go ourselves.” (Sarah Cronin-Stanley, interviewed in Watford Observer, 17th November 2016).
And it still really is a small, family operation, apparently run in a manner that is, in part, separate from the modern digital age; in an interview with Antonia Quirke on the 12th April 2018 edition of BBC Radio 4’s The Film Programme, Noel Cronin discussed how he relies on his own memory to recall viewing figures and the popularity of things they show, rather than having them stored on computer databases etc, and in the above interview with the Watford Observer it is noted that the broadcast schedules are still handwritten.
(As an aside, a limited selection of the films shown and released by Renown / Talking Pictures TV they also release digitally, and they can be streamed as part of an Amazon Prime subscription or via pay per view VOD, with the films being identifiable by the company’s logo, their 2 x 2 grid of black and white stills and their distinctive blue and yellow artwork designs.)
As a channel, it seems to be dedicated to broadcasting the overlooked, often fading, history of cinema and television history, its shadows, as it were.
With seeing The Wild Heart there, I knew that it was available in the world, and lo and behold, I discovered that it had been released on Blu-ray in the US by Kino Lorber. The disc is locked to Region A, meaning that standard British Blu-ray players won’t play it but because of, gawd bless ’em, multi-region Blu-ray players, I would finally be able to both watch and own it.
In a manner that is reminiscent of the novel tie-ins’ mentions of the film, “Includes Gone to Earth – the original 1950 version” is only in small text on the cover. Also, I think, but I’m not sure, that the cover image is actually from the UK Gone to Earth release, rather than the US The Wild Heart release.
Curiously the version of The Wild Heart is listed on the box the “Roadshow Edition”. Looking that up, I discovered that such versions of films were released with music that preceeded and followed the feature, alongside having a recommended presentation policy from executive producer David O. Selznick and his staff that included:
“Beautiful, well-appointed theatres at least 100 miles apart. Reserved seats. Bookings running from three to nine months or more. A maximum of three showings daily. No popcorn. Expensive candy bars… [and] Courteous ushers.” (Quoted from the Widescreenmuseum website)
Anyways, something of a treat to arrive through the letterbox…
Over the last year or two Chris Lambert, working as Wyrd Kalendar, has been creating an “aural appendix” to the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book.
This has taken the form of audio mixes posted at Mixcloud that include music discussed in the book and/or inspired by the topics covered in it, extracts and soundtracks from the film and television programmes featured in the book and so on.
Reflecting the structure of Wandering Through Spectral Fields, which takes its cue from the cycle of the year, there are four of these mixes, as there are seasons in the year.
Each mix is presented by the Kalendar Host and explores 13 chapters of the book: the fourth and final one is now online and “steps over the Ghost Box stile for one last time”. Below is the tracklisting for it:
Chapter 40: The Stone Tape, Quatermass, The Road and The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale – Unearthing Tales from Buried Ancient Pasts
1) Quatermass and the Pit – Closing titles by Tristram Carey (careful where you go digging, you don’t know what you might find!)
2) An extract from the radio drama of Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape (which was an adaptation written by Matthew Graham and Peter Strickland, the latter of whom also directed it, and featured music and electronics by James Cargill of Broadcast, with vocal effects by Andrew Liles).
3) Hobgoblins by Mount Vernon Arts Lab (from the 2001 hauntological antecedent album The Séance at Hobs Lane, which was reissued by Ghost Box Records in 2007).
4) Electronic Music Cues by Tristram Carey (further work from Tristram Carey for Quatermass and the Pit).
5) Disempowered by Olan Mill (something of an ambient musical respite, which here is intertwined with a reciting of the rhyme Huffity Puffity from the final series of Quatermass).
Chapter 41: Folklore Tapes and the Wyrd Britannia Festival – Journeying to Hidden Corners of the Land/the ferrous Reels and Explorations of an Arcane Research Project
6) Ritual in Devon Folklore by Paper Dollhouse (spectral wordless singing, created for the Folklore Tapes project, that wouldn’t be out of place on Cat’s Eyes’ The Duke of Burgundy soundtrack).
7) Fields of Blackberry by The Soulless Party (on which Chris Lambert sings an unaccompanied folk-style song, which sounds as though it has tumbled backwards and forwards through time from a set of field trip recordings back when, and which is featured on The Soulless Party album Tales from the Black Meadow that accompanied Chris Lambert’s book of the same name).
Chapter 42: Skeletons – Pastoral Preternatural Fiction an a World, Time and Place of its Own Imagining
8) Polregnala E Pschenitza by The Bulgarian State and Television Female Vocal Choir (who contributed to Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares album released on 4AD, and whose work seems to have almost uncannily and coincidentally synced with the “classic” 1980s 4AD ethereal sound).
Chapter 43: Field-Trip England – Jean Ritchie, George Pickow and Recordings from the end of an Era
9) John Barleycorn by Haxey Hood Singers and Customers at The Kings Arms, Haxey Lincolnshire (a playful harvesting song that if you listen to the lyrics is both grizzyly and seems to be folk horror-ish before the phrase existed).
10) Jonny Todd by Isla Cameron and Ewan McColl (a folk song duet that you could almost imagine soundtracking a tale in Bagpuss!)
11) Oranges and Lemons by Dianne Endicott (a reciting of a traditional rhyme, the lyrics to which are also a little grizzly when you think about it).
Chapter 44: Noah’s Castle – A Slightly Overlooked Artifact and Teatime Dystopias
12) Noah’s Castle by Jugg (a fine slice of “teatime dystopia” soundtracking synthery).
Chapter 45: Jane Weaver Septieme Soeur and The Fallen by Watch Bird – Non-Populist Pop and Cosmic Aquatic Folklore
13) Europium Alluminate by Jane Weaver with Demdike Stare (a rumbling, ominous soundscape reimagining of the original, with Jane Weaver’s voice a spectral will o’ the wisp off in the distance).
14) The Fallen by Watchbird by Jane Weaver (non-populist pop at its finest).
Chapter 46: Detectorists, Bagpuss, The Wombles and the Good Life – Views from a Gentler Landscape
15) The Miller’s Song by Beautify Junkyards (which opens the Tiddlywinks album released by Mega Dodo, which was released in aid of Save the Children, on which nursery rhymes are reimagined).
16) Detectorists by Johnny Flynn (a joyful yet quietly melancholic song; “I’m with the ghosts of the men who can never sing again”).
17) The Bony King of Nowhere by John Faulkner and Sandra Kerr (and there’s nothing like a visit to the marvellous mechanical mouse organ, accompanied by some musical “bleeping” or censoring!)
18) The Good Life by Matt Berry (from his Television Themes album of subtley reinvented theme music).
19) Womblin’ Free by The Wombles (underground, overground…)
Chapter 47: Weirdlore, Folk Police Recordings, Sproatly Smith and Seasons They Change – Notes from the Folk Underground, Legendary Lost Focal Points and Privately Pressed Folk
20) Blackthorn Winter by Sproatly Smith (lovely pastoral acid folk from the Weirdlore compilation).
21) Gently Johnny by The Woodbine and Ivy Band (a softly seductive siren call – if Kate Bush’s In The Warm Room was a slice of folkloric Americana that had somehow ended up The Wicker Man soundtrack, it might sound a little like this).
22) Nottanum Town by Oberon (a classic example of privately pressed folk from 1971, originally released in an edition of just 99 copies).
23) Rosebud in June by Sproatly Smith (and talking of The Wicker Man, as said on the Gaping Silence silence website, this song is “…like something from The Wicker Man, if The Wicker Man had been a 1960s children’s TV series about time travel”).
Chapter 48: The Moon and the Sledgehammer and Sleep Furiously – Visions of Parallel and Fading Lives
24) Avril 14 by Aphex Twin (from Sleep Furiously but this piece of gentle piano song is far removed from the electronic music you might expect from Aphex Twin).
25) Ma’er Aderyn Glas by Trefeurig Community Choir (this is a track performed by a village choir in Sleep Furiously – the title translates as “The Bluebird”).
26) Extract from The Moon and The Sledgehammer (a collage of sounds and voices from the film, which evocatively conjures up the lives of the family it focuses on).
Chapter 49: From Gardens Where We Feel Secure, Wintersongs, Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails – Lullabies for the Land and Gently Darkened Undercurrents
27) Hearth by Plinth (from the gently melancholic pastoral album Wintersongs).
28) It’s Too Hot to Sleep by Virginia Astley (a bucolic lullabye full of owl song…)
29) Dark Pool by Sharron Kraus (…and its fever dream flipside, from the album Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails).
Chapter 50: Strawberry Fields and Wreckers – The Countryside and Coastal Hinterland as Emotional Edgeland
30) Labour of Love – Troubadour Rose (an Americana tinged song from the soundtrack to the pastoral hinterland of the film Strawberry Fields).
31) To the Barn by Andrew Lovett (further gentle piano song, as featured on the soundtrack to Wreckers).
Chapter 51: Zardoz, Phase IV and Beyond the Black Rainbow – Seeking the Future in Secret Rooms from the Past and Psychedelic Cinematic Corners
32) Zardoz Opening by David Munrow and his Early Music Consort of London (choral chants from the world of the Vortex).
33) Phase IV by Brian Gascoigne and David Briscoe (considering the nature of the film this is misleadingly gentle contemporary classical in style… although it segues into something much more John Carpenter-esque).
34) Run Program: Sentionauts by Sinoia Caves (…and talking of John Carpenter-esque… from the soundtrack to the “Reagan era fever dream” of Beyond the Black Rainbow).
Chapter 52: Winstanley, A Field in England and The English Civil War Part II – Reflections on Turning Points and Moments When Anything Could Happen
35) The Damp of Hell by Jim Williams (from the soundtrack to A Field in England, this could well be a darkened piece of worship orientated music, which fades away into the ghost of a dream…)
36) The Digger’s Song by Chumbawumba (a performance of the 17th century protest song, which connects with the story of the film Winstanley).
37) Excerpt from The Battle of Orgreave (extracts from the Jeremy Deller and Mike Figgis’ film, which featured original archival material and a contemporary re-enactment of a turning point in British history).
38) Walking There, Two Shadows Went by Jim Williams (and to – almost – finish the mix and its journey, another track from the soundtrack to A Field in England).
The mix ends with some final words from the Kalendar Host: “I trust you have enjoyed your jaunt through the spectral fields… goodbye for now, tread carefully.”
It’s well worth putting on some sensible shoes, packing some sandwiches (and a cagoule just in case) and stepping over the Ghost Box stile with him…
Chris Lambert is the author of several books which explore the myths and mysteries of the Black Meadow, including Tales from the Black Meadow, Christmas on The Black Meadow, Songs from the Black Meadow and The Black Meadow Archive Volume 1. He is also the author of Wyrd Kalendar, illustrated by Andy Paciorek of Folk Horror Revival, which takes a dark fictional journey through the months of the year. Details of the books can be found at his website.
Viewed today John Benjamin Stone’s 19th and early 20th century images of folk rituals seem as though they could be an early example of “wyrd” or otherly pastoral culture.
The passage of time and becoming more used to “wyrd” / otherly pastoral etc culture has not diminished their impact or otherlyness. Even when viewed today with knowledge of contemporary wyrd etc culture and knowing that they are a hundred or more years old they still seem more than a little odd, “other” and/or surreal.
The original post published during the first year of A Year In The Country:
Day #131/365: John Benjamin Stone; records of folkloric rituals, traditions and light catching from other eras
Over the last two or three years I have come across the three albums below that in various ways are inspired by electronic music pioneer and BBC Radiophonic Workshop member Delia Derbyshire:
1) The 2017 Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society eponymous album, which was their first full length release.
Musically it makes me think of if Brian Eno’s ambient albums went a bit more techno but still didn’t have beats. There’s a lovely warm vintage sound to it, without it being overly retro. And there are some sub-bass bits that are just wonderful and all enveloping, and which I’ve found myself listening to over and over again.
2) The Radiophonic Workshop’s soundtrack to Mathew Holness’ film Possum.
As mentioned in the sleeve notes the album includes “elements composed and recorded by Delia Derbyshire”, which are taken from the Delia Derbyshire archives held at the John Ryland Library at the University of Manchester.
The soundtrack was composed and performed by the reformed Radiophonic Workshop. Well, sort of reformed, possibly more autonomously recreated as they are no longer a department of / directly connected to the BBC.
Released in 2018 it begins with some pastoral flute sounds, which may mislead the listener into thinking they’re about to listen to something, well, nice and calming. Far from it. The first intimations that something is awry are briefly reversed sections and then… well darkness and melodic dissonance tumbles forth and builds until it just suddenly stops on a reversed note. And that’s just the first track. Unsettling doesn’t quite cover it.
“Unsettling doesn’t quite cover it” may well also be applied to the film Possum. It has its own unique character, atmosphere and presentation that feels unlike and separate from much of contemporary cinema. Set in a psychic and literal hinterland / edgeland, watching it is like stepping into a never-ending recurring personal nightmare, one where the “bogey man” keeps returning no matter what you do.
Possum’s artwork was designed by Julian House of Ghost Box Records, Children of Alice and the Intro design agency, and features a number of his signature graphic design styles: the front cover has a subtle slightly off kilter cathode ray television effect couple with a form of cosmic light show that adds a darkened dreamlike atmosphere to it, while elsewhere there are stark gridded duotone stills from the film, accompanied by a minimal modernist type layout. It’s both beautiful (or should that be entrancing?) and something that you want to get away from you as quickly as possible, and the sense of being drawn in and also repulsed reflects the character of the film.
3) Drew Mullholland’s Three Antennas in a Quarry.
This was released in 2019 by Buried Treasure and featured rather fine design work by Nick Taylor of Spectral Studio. It was one of those “blink and you miss it” very limited vinyl releases and is now sold out but the digital version is still available.
The album was inspired by a copy of a graphic score that Delia Derbyshire sent Drew Mulholland after they became friends in the late 1990s. She couldn’t remember what it was for but dated it vaguely as “the late ’60s”. In his sleeve notes Drew Mulholland talks of how she had provided him with a fragment of a recipe but no indication of what its ingredients were or what the intended sound sources were. He goes on to say that in order to create the album he began to “sketch with sound” after studying enlargements of the score that he had pinned to his study wall. The subsequent album could be considered a ghost-like, will-o’-the-wisp interpreting of the score, and the spirit of Delia Derbyshire’s music.
In what could be thought of as a hauntological psychogeography manner it utilises field recordings Drew Mulholland made when visiting the university where Delia Derbyshire had studied music and mathematics. The resulting music is resolutely experimental and at the same time accessible, and has a homespun character while also seeming to conjure up images of some long-lost studio hall.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, long before the ongoing current interest in hauntology, folk horror, The Wicker Man, Quatermass, the Radiophonic Workshop and so on, Drew Mulholland seems to have been exploring these areas and navigating paths through and interlinking them. Alongside contacting Delia Derbyshire in the ’90s, working as Mount Vernon Arts Lab he released the album The Séance at Hobs Lane, a concept album which took as its inspiration Quatermass and the Pit: the album was influential on Ghost Box Records, who subsequently reissued it in 2007. In the late ’90s he also made field recordings at the locations of key scenes of The Wicker Man, recordings from which were subsequently used (alongside fragments of the actual Wicker Man figure from the film) in the “sonic archaeology” of his The Wicker Tapes album that was released in 2019. Which is another “blink and you miss it” release and also sold out and I’m not sure if it’s even available digitally.
Are the overseas folkloric costumes in Charles Frégers Wilder Mann: The Image of the Savage as unsettling if they’re part of your national tradition / consciousness as they are viewing them as an outsider? It’s difficult to know.
They were an early(ish) reference point for A Year In The Country and the flipside and undercurrents of the bucolic and pastoral and even when viewing them again now they’re still more than a little unsettling.
I’ve written similar before but they do seem like characters that have come to life from an old episode of Doctor Who and they are very much folkloric “monsters from under the bed” (or plough or snowscape).
The original post published during the first year of A Year In The Country:
Whistle Down the Wind is one of those films that when I was young I remember as always being on TV, along with the likes of the 1970 version of The Railway Children, the 1968 adaptation of Oliver!, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Wizard of Oz. I don’t know if they actually were repeated often, or if just I remember it that way.
It had been a fair few years since I’d seen Whistle Down the Wind but I recently found myself drawn to it; possibly because I’ve wondered about examples of expressions of the flipsides and undercurrents of the rural / pastoral in film and television that I saw when I was younger, and which subconsciously may have influenced A Year In The Country.
And then I came across the above left poster, which intrigued me somewhat and solidified my intention to rewatch it. The poster is one of those pieces of culture that seem hauntological-esque long before the idea/concept was formulated. With its bluntly cutout collaging, use of grayscale and duotone images and creation of a spooky atmosphere in a bleakly minimal pastoral landscape, it could well be the cover art for a contemporary hauntological / otherly pastoral orientated album. It’s just odd and curious. Why are two of the children apparently floating in mid-air? Why is the hand which is grabbing a shoulder disembodied? And if you look closely you will notice that Alan Bates is menacingly brandishing a broken bottle. Brrr (!)
Whistle Down the Wind is set in and around a British Northern farm and rural town, and involves two sisters and a brother who are being raised by their father and an Aunty, as their mother has died. The oldest sister discovers an injured stranger in one of the family farm’s barns, and when she initially sees him he exclaims “Jesus Christ!” due to being discovered, before fainting. This, his beard and her religious education at Sunday School cause her to mistake him for the second coming of Jesus Christ, and she subsequently convinces her siblings and other local children that he is Jesus. The children do not tell any adults about him, as they are concerned he will be persecuted by them, as Jesus was in Biblical stories, and they bring him food and gifts. The man, whose name is Arthur Blakey, is actually on the run and wanted for murder, and he does not attempt to correct the children’s mistake, as he wishes to continue to receive their help and protection. Eventually the majority of the local children find out about the man and want to visit “Christ”, and there is an inevitability that his presence will somehow be revealed to the local adults, who are very aware of the manhunt which is taking place in order to track him down.
Released in 1961, it was adapted from Mary Hayley Bell’s novel of the same name, and starred her daughter Hayley Mills in a lead role as the older sister Kathy. The film was the first to be directed by Bryan Forbes, who over five decades worked as a director, screenwriter, film producer, actor and novelist. Some of his other credits include acting in the 1957 film version of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass 2, producing and contributing writing to the parallel personal universe / preternaturally cloned life thriller The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970), directing The Stepford Wives (1975), in which a sinister organisation arrange for the replacement of a community’s wives with model housewife automatons, and directing and screenwriting British New Wave classic The L-Shaped Room (1962). Whistle Down the Wind’s screenplay was by Willis Hall and Keith Waterhouse, the latter of whom also wrote the screenplay’s for two other classic British New Wave films; A Kind of Loving (1962) and Billy Liar (1963). The murderer on the run is played by Alan Bates, who appeared in two iconic British New Wave films The Entertainer (1960) and A Kind of Loving (1962).
That some of those involved in Whistle Down the Wind’s making were also involved in British New Wave films is not surprising on watching it, as it shares a number of characteristics and criteria with them, including a Midlands/Northern setting, a realist aesthetic, a first time director and is shot in black and white. However, it does not tend to be included in the accepted canon of British New Wave films, possibly in part because it is more family viewing orientated, which is an area of cinema that is often excluded from more reverent critical opinion and acceptance.
The film depicts the rural landscape as a starkly beautiful place, and imparts to the watcher a sense that they are viewing a place on which modernity has not yet fully encroached, a rural edgeland which is possibly also not quite as regulated as elsewhere. The opening scenes show a farm labourer setting off to drown unwanted kittens in a sack as birds caw somewhat menacingly, and the landscape is shown as being full of derelict and abandoned equipment and broken fences. Children appear to be able to roam freely and unsupervised wherever they want, whether amongst farms and their equipment, the fields or what may well be former mining and/or quarry areas.
Day-to-day life as shown in the film feels very different and distant from today, and in various ways Whistle Down the Wind is something of a time capsule or snapshot of a previous era. For example there is a distinct lack of telephones in the local area; there is no phone on the farm where Blakey is hiding, meaning that in order to telephone the police to inform them that Blakey is hiding in their barn, the children’s aunty has to run into town. Once there her first attempt is thwarted as it is half-day closing at the shop she tries, a retail practice which also very much roots the film in a previous era.
This distance from contemporary British mores is also depicted in terms of how religion and religious beliefs are very widespread and an inherent part of life for much of the population, in particular in terms of the depiction of children’s beliefs and their open and devout acceptance of religious stories; based on little evidence the eldest sister Kathy comes to believe that Blakey is Jesus, and sets about shielding him from the adults, stealing food for him and essentially acting as a religious gatekeeper or apostle in the way that she allows or keeps the other children from him, while also stoking and ensuring their belief in him being Jesus Christ.
Also the way in which the children are left to play and roam the countryside, town, formery quarry/mining areas, railways and amongst farm buildings and equipment almost completely unsupervised provides a marked contrast and distance from contemporary times, and what has come to be known often disparagingly as helicopter parenting (a phrase which implies an overprotective and excessive interest in one’s children). There is a sense in Whistle Down the Wind that the children are free to create their own worlds and world vision, which may well be quite separate and at odds with the adult world and reality, and not without danger.
This connects with Andy Beckett and Roger Luckhurst’s comments in The Disruption, a booklet length discussion inspired by 1975 post-apocalyptic and at times mystical children’s television drama 1975, in which they say that “One of the strengths of The Changes is the way it makes childhood seem both frightening and incredibly exciting, almost limitless with possibilities.”
They also comment that the government-commissioned public information films which were broadcast on television regularly and extensively in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were in part a reflection of the freedom without adult supervision that children enjoyed during this period, which meant they needed to be warned about the dangers of railway tracks, electricity substations, farms, factories, predatory strangers and so on. In some ways watching Whistle Down the Wind with a contemporary mindset that dangers can lurk round every corner, the film can seem almost like a custom made piece of propaganda for the importance of public information films.
(As an aside, public information films were provided free of charge to broadcasters for them to use whenever they wished. Part of the reason they were broadcast extensively was that they were useful as a cost-free way of filling the gaps in fixed-duration commercial breaks when sections of advertising airtime had remained unsold. Along with their often ominous and unsettling qualities, the accidental side product of their frequent broadcasting due to this commercial usefulness may well how deeply ingrained they are in the minds of those who grew up watching them, and who subsequently have come to view them as hauntological cultural inspirations and totems.)
Tonally it is an oddly multi-layered and ambiguous film; on some levels it is almost archetypal family viewing, full of childhood wonder and exploration, while on others it can be read as somewhat darker toned, as essentially the children befriend, aid and are in awe of a man wanted for murder.
Also, the film appears to be ambiguous to a degree in terms of Blakey; he is not painted so much as an out-and-out villain, more just a bit of a “wrong un”, and he is shown as a desperate man who somewhat manipulatively takes advantage of an opportunity that is presented to him. The background to his alleged crime is not given in the film, so it is not revealed if it was in self-defence or had other mitigating circumstances. However he has hidden a gun, which was possibly the murder weapon, and the possession of firearms would have been something of a rarity in 1960s Britain, and this implies that he was very much involved or embedded far away from the right side of the law and conventional life. Possible viewer ambiguity or even sympathy for him is, however, greatly tested when he sends Kathy to fetch the gun, albeit she does not know what it is, and he tells her not to look inside its cloth wrapping.
This sense of ambiguity about a man on the run and his being aided in a rural setting by a child who has lost one or more parents has parallels with Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations (1861), which has been repeatedly adapted for film and television. In the novel an escapee convict called Magwitch is stumbled upon and subsequently aided by a young orphan boy called Pip. However, rather than as in Whistle Down the Wind it being due to severely mistaken identity coupled with religious belief, in Great Expectations Pip initially helps Magwitch due to intimidation and fear.
As with Blakey in Whistle Down the Wind, Magwitch is also shown to be not purely villainous, as when he has found his fortune abroad, as a thank you for his help, he becomes Pip’s anonymous benefactor and enables him to move to the city and become a gentleman. Further layering the sense of ambiguity in the story, Pip’s new-found prosperity causes him to lead a somewhat aimless decadent lifestyle, overspend and acquire heavy debts, and later in the novel, after discovering Magwitch is his benefactor, he attempts to help him once again avoid capture, this time acting of his own free will.
Religious allegorical aspects recur throughout Whistle Down the Wind, some of which are more obvious than others. For example, in one scene an older teenage tough mocks and bullies a younger boy into denying he has seen Jesus, which he does three times, after which a train whistle is heard. This is analogous with the story in the Bible of Apostle Peter denying Jesus three times, which Jesus had predicted he would do before the rooster crowed. That this is religious allegory requires very observant watching of the film, coupled with a reasonably in-depth knowledge of stories in the Bible. Elsewhere, when Blakey is frisked after giving himself up to the police and he holds his arms outstretched, it is potentially easier for the casual viewer to detect the allegorical nature, as it quite clearly connects with the widely known iconic religious imagery of Jesus’ crucifixion.
The film’s allegorical content is also made fairly explicit, or at least hidden in plain view, in the credits, where the early core group of children who visit Blakey are called The Disciples, a reference to them numbering a dozen, as did Jesus’ disciples in Christian theology.
Kathy observes his capture and stance during frisking, and it seems to confirm her belief that Blakey is actually Jesus Christ, and the adults and police officers are merely repeating the previous Biblical persecution of him. She continues to maintain her unshakeable belief throughout the film, despite him doing nothing that could possibly confirm that belief. It is possible that alongside a religious connection, she is also seeking some kind of connection, guidance and attention from an older adult figure, no matter who they are; her father is constantly busy with his farm work, and as mentioned previously her mother has died, and she is being in part brought up by an aunty who lives with them, who is something of a shrew and makes little effort to hide her dissatisfaction with the situation, her familial duties and the behaviour of the children.
There is also a sense that the children are coming to the realisation that adults do not fully understand, nor are able to provide convincing explanations for how the world works and/or God’s will. This is highlighted when Blakey has let the younger brother Arthur’s kitten die, having given him it as he believes Jesus will care and provide for the creature, as a Salvation Army officer had told him that was what Jesus would do. Arthur and Kathy set off to find a priest and ask him why God and Jesus would let the creature die. In a cafe the priest looks somewhat awkward at having been put on the spot, and tells them that as babies are being born all the time, we’ve got to make room for them. As they leave the cafe Arthur matter-of-factly says “He doesn’t know does he?” and Cathy can only shake her head.
The manner in which children are portrayed at times presents them as having a threatening group mentality, and this is coupled with the aforementioned sense that they are not subject to constant adult supervision, and also operate and have effective communication networks that exist outside of the adult world. This mob mind and threatening aspect is particularly pronounced when the first group of children outside the brothers and sisters visit the supposed Jesus in the barn, and they surround him and chant oppressively and demandingly for a story. This is a sequence which is difficult to watch without it conjuring up images of the children in the 1960 film Village of the Damned, in which alien children in human form are implanted into and aim to take over a small village, acting as a holistic hive-like mob, and utilising a form of telepathic group think to do so. This connection may be made in part as in both films the children have a near uncontrollable nature, a forceful and unrelenting way in which they make their demands, and both also feature isolated rural settings, and were made at a similar time, and so share some similar period aesthetics.
This potentially uncontrollable mob nature of the children is also present when Blakey is finally surrounded by the police, and dozens of children, perhaps the best part of a hundred, swarm to the site over the fields. They have been summoned by Kathy through some mysteriously highly efficient and fast acting network of communication, and even with foreknowledge through previous viewing that it is not the case, there is a palpable threat and tension to this massing of children, which leaves the viewer questioning whether they will join forces to overpower the adults and allow their messiah to escape.
Kathy’s belief that Blakey is actually Christ remains undimmed to the very end, and this is demonstrated in an almost final scene when two small children approach Kathy and ask her “Has he gone?” She replies “Yes, you missed him this time. But he’ll be coming again”, implying that she believes that what has occurred was merely one cycle in a series of Christ’s resurrections.
After having previously fiercely fought with him to prevent Blakey’s capture, the final shot shows her father putting his arm around her and they walk off to the farm together. This leaves the viewer with a decided unresolved nature to the story, as although Kathy has acquiesced to his fatherly comforting, her future is likely to involve much confusion as she battles with her belief in Blakey being the messiah and that his capture was merely a repeating of Christ’s persecution in ancient times, alongside the reality that is likely to be presented by the adults in her life, newspapers and so on that he was actually a man on the run who had been accused of murder.
But I shouldn’t leave the reader with a sense that Whistle Down the Wind is unrelentingly bleak and dark, or grittily realist. Far from it. It is highly entertaining, moving, tender, and at times very humorous, and the realism is very much intertwined with a sense of magic realism. Much of the humour comes from Charles, the youngest sibling, who has a forthright Northern bluntness to his manner which at times is laugh out loud funny. It is a film full of memorable, funny and poignant moments and images.
These include when one of the sisters brings Blakey the wonderfully ill-suited, and useless to a wanted man on the run, gift of a young girl’s magazine/comic, with her pleasedly pointing out that it contains an Arabian charm bracelet as a free gift. The only response to this he can think of is just to say “Very nice”, and it leads to a noteworthy sequence when he subsequently chooses to read to the children a story from the magazine of an air steward, rather than reading from the copy of the New Testament they have brought him, as they expect him to. The children don’t seem to really mind, they merely appear to be enjoying having a story read to them, and for a brief moment the incongruity of the situation almost melts away. Another time, before he has realised they think he is Jesus, Kathy gives him an illustrated postcard of Jesus in Biblical times. He is bemused by why she has given it to him and with disarming naivety and accidental humour she says “It’s a picture of you. Course it was taken a long time ago.”
Towards the end of the film, when he is cornered in the barn by her father and the police, Kathy sneaks off to talk to him through a window hole, and she brings him some cigarettes (“snout”) that he had earlier asked for in a very un-Christ-like manner. He knows that his time is up, and in the style of a condemned man enjoying one last moment he puts one of them in his mouth, only to realise that Kathy has not brought him any matches. There is a certain quiet prosaic tragedy to this moment, a humanising of Blakey amongst the high drama of the situation and the unreality and unsustainability of the world and belief the children have created around him.
As a final note: at the time of writing Whistle Down the Wind only seems to be available on DVD and hasn’t been released on Blu-ray (in the UK or internationally). Also, as far as I know, it hasn’t had a widespread digital release. It is available to stream in high definition at the ITV and BBC joint streaming venture Britbox but, and I don’t know if this was a temporary glitch, when I last viewed it there the quality looked nearer to an upscaled standard definition version rather than a pristine HD restoration.
All of which seems like something of a shame, as the black and white visuals in the film, particularly the landscapes, are very striking and I expect would very much benefit from a sympathetic high-definition restoration.
Homer Sykes’ Once a Year was published in 1977 and is a collection of photographs taken oven seven years as he travelled across Britain recording traditional customs and folk rituals.
Until I revisited the post I wrote on it during the first year of A Year In The Country I’d forgotten that the book was one of the early starting points for what eventually became A Year In The Country. It may well have been the first thing I bought when the ideas that became A Year In The Country were developing and percolating away.
When I bought it the book seemed like a rare photographic documenting of folk culture and customs but since then there have been a fair few books published that take as their subject such traditional customs, both in the UK and abroad. A number of them I have written about before and they could be seen as being part of lineage which stretch back to Benjamin Stone’s photographing of British traditional customs in the late 19th and 20th century. Below is a list of some related books:
Homer Sykes’ Once a Year (1977, reissued in 2016 by Dewi Lewis Publishing)
Sarah Hannant’s Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids: A Journey Through the English Ritual Year (2011)
Merry Brownfield’s Merry England – the Eccentricity of English Attire (2012)
Charles Fréger’s Wilder Mann: The Image of the Savage (2012)
Axel Hoedt’s Once a Year (2013)
Estelle Hanania’s Glacial Jubilé (2013)
Axel Hoedt’s Dusk (2015)
Henry Bourne’s Arcadia Britannica: A Modern British Folklore Portrait (2015)
Axel Hoedt’s Fast Nacht (2015)
Charles Fréger’s Yokainoshima: Island of Monsters (2016)
There seemed to be quite a concentration of such books over a six-year period between 2011-2016 but I haven’t come across any new similar publications for a while now. Perhaps the release of these books connected with a wider cultural interest in the undercurrents and flipsides of folk and rural culture which seemed to begin to flower around 2010 or so and gained considerable pace from approximately 2014 onwards. It’s slightly surprising though that there haven’t been many more since then. Perhaps the topic has been thoroughly explored and related book releases had reached a saturation point and the subject needs to lie fallow for a while.
The original post published during the first year of A Year In The Country:
Pulselovers’ Cotswold Stone album is a rather lovely slice of gently hauntological pastorally inflected electronica (intertwined with more than a dash of traditional “organic” instrumentation). It draws from Mat Handley of Pulselovers personal and sometimes hazy memories, not so much in a hauntologically melancholic manner but rather in a reflectively reverential and playful way:
“A meditation on the passing of time and the persistence of memory and is, in part, a reflective work of familial dedication and reverence. When taken in a single sitting these soundscapes create a strong overarching narrative that take you on a journey through the rolling hillsides of England… This is a very personal album and is an attempt to preserve the memories of a happy childhood where along with siblings and cousins, I spent a lot of time in the Oxfordshire town of Burford in the mists of time… Many of the titles are taken from road signs of towns and villages in the surrounding countryside, some of which I never actually visited but the words themselves trigger unspecific memories from those long 70’s summers: Cleeve Hill, Shipton-under-Wychwood, Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold, Bradwell Grove and Moreton-In-Marsh don’t hold any particular place in my heart (though I do remember Bourton was a great place to feed the ducks and Auntie C’s ramshackle Bradwell Grove cottage was situated within the grounds of the Cotswold Wildlife Park), but the words themselves silently echo throughout the album like vaguely familiar ghosts, like rain on hot tarmac or lavender on a summer breeze.” (Quoted from text which accompanied the album’s release.)
Reflecting the album’s “attempt to preserve the memories of a happy childhood” Cotswold Stone often has a noticeably positive, upbeat atmosphere, where the arpeggiated sounds seem to be almost literally gambolling through the “rolling hillsides”. However here and there something darker creeps through; “The Green Leaves Of Shildam Hall” seems to almost hark back to the soundtrack to some imagined affluent form of lounge living but at the end it segues into the sound of subtly unsettling birds crawing in the sky above.
While the driving, propulsive analogue techno sounds of penultimate track “Under Wychwood” could at times be a club orientated remix of the soundtrack to a parallel world Public Information Film that you can’t quite remember which warned children away from the candy walled house in the forest (!)
But bucolic memories and calm are returned to in final track “On The Wold”, which interweaves soothing pastoral folk-ish melodies with an ongoing relaxed and impressive guitar solo that somewhat fittingly recalls, recreates and reimagines the guitar heroes on an album your older brother may well have listened to once upon a time.
Released on Castles in Space, the album is beautifully packaged in a manner which accompanies that sense of a hazy time back when. Designed by Nick Taylor of Spectral Studio it was released on distinctive “Heath and Marsh” coloured vinyl, and included an original 1970 Royal Mail Cotswold Limestone Stamp from the British Rural Architecture series.
Just prior to the album being released, Castles in Space released a limited edition lathe cut single, the first track of which, that is not on the album, is called “On The Green” and could be considered to form a three song suite with “In The Marsh” and “On The Heath” from Cotswold Stone. “On The Green” is accompanied on the single by a remix of the album’s “In The Marsh” by Panamint Manse, which gently reinterprets the original through a filter of sometimes skittering, almost morse code like pulses and tape wobble.
(As an aside it’s nice to see a physical single preempting and signalling the upcoming release of an album, something which once was common but now seems somewhat rare.)
The period cover image is of a folk art-esque ornamental horse, cart and plant basket stood alongside, but apart from, parked cars and stylistically it would not be out-of-place in Barbara Jones’ The Unsophisticated Arts book where she documented day-to-day folk art from fairgrounds, high street shops, seaside piers, amusement arcades etc in 1940s Britain.
This is accompanied on the sleeve by concentric wistfully nostalgic textures that are subtly reminiscent of William Morris’ work. The insert features carefully torn and layered images; a vintage photograph of an older couple (Mat Handley of Pulselovers’ family?), a local crest, a Cotswold limestone stamp and postal ink stamps, reassuringly familiar seeming and sometimes gnomic patterns, tourist orientated text and a plant life illustration from a previous era.
The overall effect makes it seem as though it could well be a long-lost album that you might once have stumbled upon back in the 1970s, in a bric-a-brac shop in a bucolic small town or village that inspired the album…
And if you did stumble upon it there you may well keep on discovering once you arrived home as alongside the above mentioned original stamp there is also a Castles in Space label promo postcard, a sealed and stamped envelope which contains Side A and a Side B badges that use the artwork from the vinyl’s label, and in some copies a vintage photograph (postcard?).
A couple of other links to Mat Handley of Pulselovers’ work; his Woodford Halse project which has featured work by amongst others Grey Frequency, Time Attendant, Revbjelde, the aforementioned Panamint Manse, Polypores, Field Lines Cartographer, Widow’s Weeds, Kitchen Cynics, Folclore Impressionista and The Twelve Hour Foundation can be found here and the Mixcloud archive of his rather fine but no longer broadcasting radio show You, the Night & the Music can be found here.
Castles in Space’s Bandcamp page can be found here and is well worth a visit. As with Cotswold Stone their releases tend to be rather beautifully designed and packaged and often explore various realms and aspects of the more spectral, hauntological side of electronica. Their releases have included work by / collaborated on by amongst others Drew Mulholland, Panamint Manse, The Soulless Party (including further explorations of the mist hazed myths of The Black Meadow), Polypores, The Central Office of Information, The Twelve Hour Foundation, Concretism and Keith Seatman.
Castles in Space also released the Scarred for Life: The Album charity fund-raising compilation which is inspired by the unsettling televisual sounds of childhoods gone by, and features some of the aforementioned artists released by Castles in Space alongside Vic Mars, The Home Current, Quimper, Listening Center etc. Below is some of the text from Bob Fischer’s (of the Fortean Times’ and his own website The Haunted Generation) review of the album in Electronic Sound:
“Kev ‘The Soulless Party’ Oyston has assembled luminaries from the hauntological world to produce material inspired by their own jumbled memories of the era for an accompanying album… Cult of Wedge contribute ‘The Gamma Children’, clearly the theme to some long-lost, spooky HTV series… Pulselovers’ wistful ‘Nice View From Up Here’ is an homage to legendary Public Information Film stalwarts Joe and Petunia… Vic Mars’ ‘The Time Menders’ is a bombastic Farfisa-drenched nod to ‘Sapphire & Steel’… The Central Office of Information contribute ‘Puzzled’ which sounds for all the world like the theme to some forgotten, pre-teatime BBC One quiz show: I defy anyone over the age of 40 to hear it without picturing cheering cub scouts, BBC Micro graphics, and Richard Stilgoe in a pastel-shaded sweatshirt… [and] early synth enthusiast Carl Matthews’… wonderfully melancholy piece; a delightful analogue-sounding recording from a man who blazed a trail as a pioneer of the original era of cassette-based DIY electronica… Elsewhere Keith Seatman, Polypores, The Home Current and The Heartwood Institute join the fun… and terrific fun it is, too.”
The album accompanies the book Scarred For Life: Volume One, that explored the darker side of pop culture in the 1970s, from Public Information Films to curiously challenging and scary children’s television dramas via the boom in paranormal paraphernalia and much more.
Willow’s Songs is a compilation released in 2009 by Finders Keepers Records which gathers together “12 vintage recordings of haunting, rowdy and risque British balladry” which are said to have influenced the soundtrack to The Wicker Man.
The album was released after the first official release of The Wicker Man’s soundtrack in 1998 by Trunk Records. It is part of a not-so-small industry of all things Summer Isle related, that takes in multiple releases of the film on DVD and Blu-ray, the soundtrack and novel, alongside collectors cards, documentaries, academic conferences, a book of sheet music, zines, t-shirts, posters, several non-fiction books, near endless seeming posts online and so on.
Six of the tracks don’t have recording artists listed, which as I said in the first year of A Year In The Country, is quite nice in these days of instant digital knowledge about almost everything. It helps to create a slight sense of mystery to the songs, which suits both The Wicker Man itself and the many myths that surround its production, and also the sense of mystery and ancient semi-known tales which sometimes surrounds traditional folk music and culture, particularly in its more “wyrd” aspects, interpretations and explorations
As I also say in the first year of A Year In The Country it is Highland Lament, the first track on the album, which is a particular standout for me. I’m listening to it as I type and it has a timeless quality and is indeed haunting, both musically and in its heartbreaking tale of dispossession due to the “unrelenting cruelties” of those in power.
On the 2002 Silva Screen release of The Wicker Man soundtrack the song is known as “Opening Music” and is used as Sergeant Howie flies towards Summer Isle. The song is shortened so that the lyrics only tell of rural hardship and poverty but not actual dispossession; its use ties in with the imagery and themes of the film, being heard as Howie flies over more arid landscape but then once he arrives over the fertile greenery of Summer Isle it ends and “Corn Rigs” sung by Paul Giovanni begins and tells of “bonnie” crops and late night trysting amongst them.
The original post published during the first year of A Year In The Country:
Beth Moon’s photographs of ancient and/or unusual trees have stuck in my mind since I first saw them.
Essentially the trees are just another aspect of the natural world but often there is something almost otherworldly about them. That may well in part come from them at times containing some indefinable sense of their ancient nature which doesn’t purely come from their wizened appearance but rather is more subtly eldritch. It may also be in part be due to how in one of Beth Moon’s projects the trees are set against a backdrop of the cosmos taken in some of the world’s last truly dark places, which adds a literal otherworldly quality to them and also seems to connect them to the ancient and vast nature of the universe.
If you should fancy a wander amongst Beth Moon’s photographs of these natural stalwarts the photographs have been collected in two books; Ancient Trees – Portraits of Time and Ancient Trees – Ancient Skies and a selection of her work can also be found at her website – links below.
The photographs and the trees in them bring to mind some of the themes of The Watchers album that was released as part of A Year In The Country in 2019, in particular the sense of them undertaking a stately, still form of time travel. Below is some of the text which accompanied The Watchers:
“Amongst Britain’s trees there are thought to be over 3,000 ancient oaks – those which date back 400 years or more – and of those trees more than 115 are 800 to 1,000 years old or more. They are part of a tree population that also includes ash trees that have lived for hundreds of years and a yew that is estimated to be between 2000-3000 years old or possibly many thousands of years older and that some consider to be the oldest living thing in Europe.
These are living organisms which could be seen to be undertaking a very stately, still form of time travel, to be watchers and observers over the passing of the years, centuries and even millennia.
Some of them have lived through invasions of their island home undertaken by wooden ships, sword and arrow, the final days and passing of the old ways and the times of magic and witchcraft, the coming of the industrial revolution and the dawning of the digital era.
Throughout it all they have stood by and watched the endeavours of humans and the encroaching of their lands as the tales passed through traditional folklore evolved into the sometimes dizzying swathes of today’s cultural landscape, with these “mighty oaks” and their companions now coming to be living amongst the invisible hubbub of modern day wirelessly transmitted communications.
The numbers of these longstanding inhabitants of this once largely green and unpaved land have dwindled due to the march of progress but a few stalwartly continue their journeys through time. The Watchers reflects on those journeys and these ancient trees’ residing over growing layers of history.”
The Watchers album features music and accompanying text on the tracks by Grey Frequency, Field Lines Cartographer, Widow’s Weeds ft Kitchen Cynics, Depatterning, A Year In The Country, Phonofiction, Pulselovers, Sproatly Smith, Vic Mars, The Heartwood Institute and Howlround – for more information click here or on the link below.
The View from a Hill by The Owl Service was one of the first albums I bought when the ideas and themes of what would become A Year In The Country first began to coalesce, alongside the “cosmic aquatic folklore” of Jane Weaver Septième Soeur’s The Fallen by Watchbird, the enigmatic cut-ups of Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witchcults of the Radio Age, and Gather in the Mushrooms, on which Bob Stanley curated British acid folk from the 1960s and 1970s.
The album revisits and reinterprets traditional folk music in a way that is very accessible but also it is not purely mainstream folk music, or as I said during the first year of A Year In The Country, it is an exploration of the patterns beneath the plough.
The album’s title is in part inspired by M.R. James’ short ghost story A View from a Hill, in which a historian borrows a pair of binoculars that have been bewitched in order to show objects which no longer exist. The story was adapted for television in 2005 as part of BBC Four’s revival of the Ghost Story for Christmas series that was originally broadcast between 1971 and 1978. The series has included a number of adaptations of M. R. James’ stories, and the original episodes have become ongoing hauntological / otherly pastoral reference points.
The Owl Service was formed by Steven Collins in 2006 and he has said that:
“Essentially what I was trying to do at the start was to somehow capture in sound the feel of some films and TV shows that had a major effect on me as a child – things which, for reasons I can’t explain, have always evoked the same feeling in me as my favorite folk music. Films like The Wicker Man, Blood on Satan’s Claw, and the Quatermass films, and also TV shows like Children of the Stones, The Stone Tape and the BBC’s M.R. James adaptations.”
In this sense it could be considered to have helped laid the pathways, or ploughed the furrows, for the current blooming of interest in wyrd folk / otherly pastoral culture, and where it intertwines with the parallel worlds and spectres of hauntology.
The original post published during the first year of A Year In The Country:
Day #30/365: The Owl Service – The View from a Hill
I’ve long been fascinated by Soviet era Eastern European versions of Western film posters. Rather than using the original poster designs they feature new designs and illustrations, which are sometimes quite abstract and/or at times somewhat unsettling and sometimes contain just a hint or vague allusion to the content and atmosphere of the film.
I’m not sure why they didn’t use the original designs and I’ve deliberately not looked it up or read about it, preferring to just let my mind wonder (and wander) about them. Was it for rights or cost reasons? Was it an ideological issue? Would the Western posters be considered a form of invasive propaganda?
Whatever the reasons, the Eastern European poster’s designs seem to accidentally create some kind of phantasmagoric parallel world history of cinema.
There have been a few books about / that feature them and the one the book images in this post are drawn from is called 77 Posters / 77 Plakatow, which was published in 2010 by Fundaca Twarda Sztuka with the support of the Polish Film Institute and the British Film Institute and accompanied an exhibition at the BFI.
In the majority of page spreads an original British poster design is shown on the left page and its Polish equivalent is on the right, which very effectively illustrates and allows for a comparison of their differences. Above is one of the original British poster designs and the minimalist illustrated Polish film poster for Nigel Kneale’s The Quatermass Xperiment which are featured in the book.
77 Posters / 77 Plakatow was released in a handsomely produced large format hard back edition with a textured cloth screen printed cover and is a hand numbered limited edition of just 300 copies. It’s not cheap but then I can imagine it cost a fair bit per copy to produce, especially in such a relatively short run.
In a number of posters in the book there’s a stark minimalist and sometimes otherworldly, hypnagogic or dreamlike quality that, along with the likes of The Modern Poets books published by Penguin in the 1960s and 1970s, seem like a notable forebear or influence of some of hauntology orientated design, in particular that by Julian House of Ghost Box Records. House has mentioned that Eastern European film posters are a reference point for his work and a number of his Ghost Box Records designs have a similar use of stark monochrome and duotone pastoral images as is found in The Modern Poets covers, which is often combined in his work with imagery, atmosphere and design that invokes a subtly parallel world or cultural dreamscape – a sense of which Ghost Box Records in a wider sense often explores, creates and/or invokes.
Above is the poster for Joseph Losey’s 1962 youth hoodlums and Cold War paranoia film The Damned. In this case the original British poster has a lurid, nightmarish pulp and exploitation quality to it, while the Polish poster reduces the film to a simple… maze? Cross section of a brain?
The Polish poster for Ken Hughes’ 1970 film Cromwell distills the film and the English Civil War to is core components; an upside down (deposed?) Royal crown and a Cromwellian hat in flames that may well be intended to represent the conflict and overturning of existing power structures at the time.
The above Polish poster for Don’t Look Now is, well, quite frankly just disturbing and it expresses the atmosphere and story of the film in a somewhat surreal nightmarish fever dream manner.
Both the British and Polish posters are also snapshots of previous decades when film poster design was often more illustration based and free in terms of design, having not yet been reduced to the contemporary state of affairs where they seem to generally be largely an exercise in contract fulfilment in terms of putting photographs of the actors front and centre and using recognisable stars as marketable branding tools. That has led to a lot of official contemporary film posters being either comprised largely of the title with photographs of the stars in an American football style line-up and/or their floating heads.
(This narrowing of design parameters and freedom in contemporary film posters may well have been one of the things which has led to the creation of a film related side industry of often illustrated third-party designed and released posters which in part hark back to earlier film poster design experimentation and freedom, such as though released by Mondo and which are featured in the documentary 24×36: A Movie About Movie Posters, which focuses on the rise, fall and return of illustrated film posters.)
The Eastern European posters also bring to mind illustrated 1960s and 1970s Western science fiction novel covers, which I wrote about in A Year In The Country: Straying From The Pathways:
“In the 1960s and 70s, science fiction novel covers seemed to often allow space, or free rein for quite out-there slipstream-like illustration and design, including Peter Haars’ psychedelic illustrations for editions of books published by Lanterne in Norway which included those by local authors and the likes of Stanislaw Lem, Ursula K. Le Guin, Brian W. Aldiss, C.S. Lewis and Kurt Vonnegut. Viewed today such covers seem to encompass a sense of a kind of parallel-to-the parallel-world of a hauntological record label, and a point in time when the likes of ‘speculative fiction’ magazine New Worlds and Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius captured and expressed a moment where science fiction and related writing was hiply and exploratively psych like.”
And talking of parallel worlds, above left is the Polish poster for the 1971 film Quest for Love. The poster design is almost, well sort of, quite straightforward design wise. It has a notable hand drawn quality but the illustration of Tom Bell is quite recognisable as him and seems to be based on a still from the film which was used in a Western lobby card (see below), although Joan Collins and Juliet Harmer, apart from their hairstyles, are less so (and Joan Collins has become Jean Collins in the lettering).
The film is something of a favourite around these parts and I often tend to connect it with The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970). Both films were released around a similar time and feature parallel world’s and/or lives, alongside showing an affluent, stylish upper middle class urban British way and strata of life that seems notably to contrast with much of later 1970s British cinema which often seemed to depict British life in a more gritty, downbeat manner. Joan Collins in particular in Quest for Love is strikingly stylish, all flowing couture-style fashion and grand structured hairstyles.
Perhaps in part the two films represent a transitional point when 1960s affluence and optimism began to give way to 1970s trouble and strife, along with being a snapshot of a related affluent and borderline aristocratic, at times formal or gentile establishment and high-end corporate way of life that seems to hark back to previous decades or even an earlier age.
Quest for Love is more overtly science fiction orientated than The Man Who Haunted Himself, which is, if not actually supernatural then at least preternatural and in terms of genre both could well be considered examples of speculative fiction.
Quest for Love involves a scientist who after an experiment goes wrong is thrown into a parallel world, where he is a successful fiction writer and the story has a strong romance element as he tries to prove to his wife that he has changed (which he has, very literally) and is no longer the unfaithful arrogant so-and-so he previously was. Eventually after he returns to his original reality he seeks out and saves the stranger who is the version of his wife in that world from a medical condition which doomed her in the parallel world.
In relation to its romance element and travelling to alternate realities it is not that dissimilar to 1980 film Somewhere in Time, which is a magic realist romance fantasy film in which a playwright wishes himself back in time to 1912 in order that he can find love with an actress he had seen in a photograph.
Quest for Love curiously doesn’t tell what happened to the version of himself in the parallel world which he has replaced; has his alternate self been destroyed by his arrival? Is he in some kind of limbo? Has he also been thrown into another world?
Some of those questions are more directly considered in The Man Who Haunted Himself, which could in part be considered a variation on the Jekyll and Hide story. In this film a married and successful high-end corporate executive called Harold Pelham briefly clinically dies after an operation and this causes an alternate version of himself to be released into the world, one who is his licentious alter ego and is far more ruthless in terms of his business decisions. The double begins to live his life in parallel to the original Harold’s, causing conflict and confusion for the original by having illicit love affairs, supporting a controversial financially beneficial but morally questionable business merger which the original Harold opposes and so on. It is not until considerably later in the film that the original Harold discovers the truth, by which time he has variously thought that there is a double masquerading as him or that he is going mad.
Eventually when the original Harold meets and confronts his ruthless double he is told by him that there is only room in the world for one of them. There is then a wonderfully psychedelically shot road chase and the new ruthless Harold drives the original off a bridge and to his death and is able to take over his life.
Viewed now the new duplicated Harold could be viewed almost as an accidental harbinger of a 1980s cinematic archetypal ruthless or amoral yuppie and personal financial gain orientated character for whom “the end justifies the means”.
A while ago I sat down and listened to the 1998 Trunk Records of The Wicker Man soundtrack back to back with the Silva Screen version that was first released in 2002 and which was also included with the 40th anniversary home release of the film and has had various reissues on CD and vinyl.
As you may well know if you are reading this the soundtrack was composed and arranged by Paul Giovanni and performed by him and the band Magnet, which was formed in order to record the soundtrack and was assembled by the film’s associate musical director Gary Carpenter.
It is easy to forget just how odd and unique the soundtrack is. It feels very much like part of older British traditional music even though only a small part of it is directly traditional in origin.
The Trunk Records release is described as “The original motion picture soundtrack music and effects” and is not a conventional soundtrack album where each song is presented as an isolated whole, possibly with snippets of dialogue from the film between the tracks. On this album the songs, effects and so on are sequenced into one another and at points fragments of earlier songs reappear and fade in and out:
“The original music and effects tapes were found and carefully copied, and the LP release is an identical copy of the sounds found on these tapes.” (Quoted from the Trunk Records site.)
(Above: the 1998 Trunk Records release of the soundtrack which included a map of Summer Isle.)
It isn’t purely a straightforward edited recording of the film’s audio… it’s more like it takes you a journey through the atmosphere of the film, one which evokes a sense memory of its story rather than telling it in full and it captures the “otherly” character of the film.
Something which struck me when you sit down and listen to the lyrics is their obsession with fecundity. They are more than bawdy, more a sort of overwhelming sleazyness masked by a connection to nature. They become akin to a form of propaganda intended to convince the listener/islanders that this is the correct and natural way of being and there is a sort of overpowering enforcement of conformity to them, disguised as a form of liberal paganism.
The current interest and critical appreciation of The Wicker Man can in part be traced back to the Trunk Records release of the soundtrack; at the time of its release the film was not overly referenced and the release was one of the sparks (apologies for the accidental sort of pun) that started its rehabilitation.
My copy of the CD still has the HMV price sticker on the back and cost £14.95, which allowing for inflation since the late ’90s means it probable cost the contemporary equivalent of £25. Blimey (!)
The Silva Screen edition of the soundtrack is more conventionally presented and features isolated complete songs accompanied by some snippets of the film’s dialogue and at times it seems almost curiously showbiz-like in comparison to the Trunk Records edition. It isn’t sequenced in the order that the music appears on the album but rather is front loaded with the “hits” – Corn Rigs, The Landlord’s Daughter and Gently Johnny.
Both versions of the soundtrack have their champions and pros and cons and they complement one another in a manner which is in keeping with the film’s history in the sense of there not being a definitive, complete and final version of the film known to still be in existence.
Interest in The Wicker Man only seems to grow as the years pass, as do the number of releases and reissues of books, DVDs, Blu-rays, posters, zines, documentaries, trading cards, soundtracks etc related to it. As I’ve commented before the film has inspired a mini-industry all unto itself.
I suppose collecting multiple releases of a film, alongside related merchandise, is not all that different to say following a band and buying different versions of their singles back in the ’80s and 90s, which sometimes varied only slightly in content and at times it was only the cover art that was different. However, if you were to attempt to be a completist Wicker Man collector you would probably need a fair few pounds and also a fair amount of shelf space.
In this post I gather together some of the output (very bountiful harvest?) from the Summer Isle mini-industry…
The first more full length (well, sort of, this is The Wicker Man after all) and archival “proper” home UK release of the film.
The Quest for The Wicker Man, Constructing The Wicker Man and the two editions of Allan Brown’s Inside The Wicker Man non-fiction books.
One of the many and varied poster designs.
A title graphic which accompanied the BFI’s Sing Cuckoo: The Story of The Wicker Man Soundtrack documentary, which featured amongst others Stephen Cracknell of The Memory Band and Jonny Trunk of Trunk Records.
Covers to two issues of Nuada – “The Wicker Man journal” from the late 90s.
Artwork which accompanies Stephen Applebaum’s eBook of conversations with Robin Hardy, Anthony Shaffer and Edward Woodward.
The first edition of The Wicker Man novel and a reissue.
The Wicker Man The Complete Piano Songbook.
Images from The Wicker Man press book.
More images from The Wicker Man press book and a collection of images from The Wicker Man trading cards.
The DVD of The Wicker Man given away free with The Guardian newspaper – and for completist purposes as in its early days The Wicker Man shared a double bill with it, the DVD of Don’t Look Now that was given away free with The Observer newspaper.
More images from The Wicker Man trading cards, including various “chase”-able collectibles such as original print blocks, signed cards etc.
Various DVD, VHS, poster, novel and soundtrack covers etc (including a revisit to the Trunk Records edition). No laser disc I notice, which I don’t think the film was released on…
…but talking of rarer formats, above are two Betamax versions.
The limited edition Record Store Day seven-inch single of Willow’s Song and Gently Johnny released by Silva Screen in 2012.
One of the various VHS covers.
The limited edition poster released in 2013 to accompany the Silva Screen limited edition reissue of the soundtrack and another trading card printing block and I think one of the collectible “chase” trading cards.
The issue of Sight & Sound magazine with The Wicker Man as the cover feature and Vic Pratt’s Long Arm of the Lore article from the magazine and the The Films of Old, Weird Britain issue with cover art partly inspired by The Wicker Man.
And last but definitely not least… one of the places where the current interest in and critical acceptance of The Wicker Man can be traced to; Volume 6 Number 3 of Cinefantastique that was published in 1977, which was an issue of the magazine that largely focused on The Wicker Man.
The Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society’s website has on its home page the following description:
“This is not the site to visit for technical information pertaining to telegraph poles. You’ll find nothing about 10KVa transformers, digital telephone networking or even so much as a single volt. This is a website celebrating the glorious everyday mundanitude of these simple silent sentinels the world over. We don’t care what the wires contain either. They all carry electricity in some way be it the sparky stuff which boils your kettle, or the thinner stuff with your voice in it when you’re on the phone.”
The site is a celebration of the accidental utilitarian art of telegraph poles and there’s a friendly passion and mild eccentricity to the site and project.
The images in this post come from the Pole of the Month Archive section on the site, which as the name suggests collects together photographs of telegraph poles that have caught the TPAS’s eye, including some fantastically complex multi-wired poles from abroad.
The TPAS is the kind of project that seems like it should have a permanent bricks and mortar home / museum / visitors centre. It would be the ideal kind of place to be featured in a new edition of the Uncommonly British Days Out books which act as guides to Britain’s often small, individual or family run museums, visitor centres, follies, neglected or unloved public art, bygone defence of the realm installations and the like, including amongst many others Keith Harding’s World Of Mechanical Music and The British Lawnmower Museum.
In the meantime if you should want a memento of your visit to the site the TPAS have a small shop section where you can buy a Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society mug, a Visit The Fabled Lost Pole poster, an 150 page Telegraph Pole Appreciation for Beginners guide-book and a Life Membership of The Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society.
(The Life Membership is something of a bumper and somewhat bargain like package, as along with a certificate of membership it also includes the above guide-book and a TPAS pencil and badge.)
The original post published during the first year of A Year In The Country:
The book Future City: Experiment and Utopia in Architecture 1956-2006 accompanied an exhibition of the same name at the Barbican in London which took place in 2006:
“What would it be like to live in a hairy house, a floating city, or an inflatable pod? Pure fantasy or the shape of things to come? From extraordinary houses and incredible towers, to fantasy cityscapes and inhabitable sculptures, Future City showcases the most radical and experimental architecture to have emerged in the past 50 years.” (Quoted from text which accompanied the book and exhibition.)
Some of the most intriguing images in the book are from the 1960s and contain an exploratory sense of a space age future and viewed now can be seen as “the shape of the future’s past” or a form of what, if used for design today, would be likely to be called retro futurism.
They could be considered part of a cultural trend which envisioned the possibility that in the future much of the population would be living in the above mentioned futuristic pods or floating cities, probably while wearing plastic and/ or silver foil clothing and travelling to work by jetpack (!), that high-rise blocks of apartments would be designed in unusual and experimental ways and so on. (Aspects of which can be seen in the image above in the book of The House of the Future, which was featured in the Ideal Home Exhibition that took place in London in 1956.)
(As an aside I suppose people today do often wear clothing made from variations of plastic, as thermal fleece material is often made from recycled plastic and a percentage of the population do live in high-rise housing. However both generally are much more prosaic than the experimental, at times flamboyant and often possibly impractical or uncomfortable looking clothing and housing that featured in that once imagined space age future which is showcased in Future City.)
The projects in the book often seem to be nearer to art projects or, as the book’s subtitle suggests, experimental design projects, perhaps from which some elements would become part of or influence future real world design. Alongside which as the book’s subtitle also suggests a number of the projects are utopian in character, i.e. they represent an imagined possible perfect future.
The experimental and art project-like nature of the design in the book brings to mind a passage in A Year In The Country: Straying From The Pathways where I wrote about Peter Chadwick’s book This Brutal World in which he photographed Brutalist architecture from around the world and some related topics:
“The variety and experimentation of much of the architecture in [Peter Chadwick’s This Brutal World] indicates the degree to which the use of concrete as a building material allows for freedom and expression in terms of architectural shape and form. It could be compared to the use of rubber as a fabric with which to make clothes; there have been a number of fantastical outfits created using rubber but while they may be structurally explorative and very striking as extreme club and fashion wear and/or as futuristic outlandish costume in film and television, for day-to-day use it is more than a little impractical. Along which lines I once visited an undergraduate degree show and viewed the scale models for buildings designed by architecture students. A number of them were so intricate, experimental and avant-garde in design that they could only be viably created via contemporary digital 3D printing techniques – something which is analogous to the malleability of concrete as a building material. The designs for buildings were often intriguing and beautiful but as with the images in This Brutal World they often appeared closer to abstract art projects than places to live and work. Connected to which, while the structures pictured in This Brutal World may indeed have been perfectly practical in real world terms, the non-conventional and at times almost science fiction-like aspects of their design sometimes imparts a similar sense of seeming nearer to projects that have allowed for the creative expression of their architects rather than having day-to-day human needs in mind.”
UN Studio’s Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos’ The Ziggurat design from 2006 is decidedly utopian in intention and accompanying text describes it as a place which is intended to create a balance between culture and commerce and that it is intended a Mediatheque which stores and preserves information of all types, alongside which it would form part of a network of community “centers dedicated to learning and culture” and provide a “playground” safe haven for its participants.
The design is striking in a number of ways, not least its attempt to bring nature, plant life and green open public spaces to urban and high-rise locations.
Although possibly not the designers’ intention, the mention in the accompanying text that the building would act as a “safe haven” implies that the future which The Ziggurat would be part of is in some way dysfunctional, dystopic or threatening.
The Ziggurat could be considered to represent a version of the aforementioned “shape of the future’s past” in its centralised institutional physical storing of information etc and it being a location which people must physically visit to access that information; a science fiction-esque trope which still frequently appears in future based films and television.
In the contemporary world there are still physical stores of information and culture in libraries and museums etc which people must visit to access but in terms of amount of usage and ease of access, information storage and access is today largely decentralised. It still must be physically stored somewhere – often in digital server farms – but these are generally anonymous places and not places which the general public visit and the information stored in them is normally accessed remotely via the internet.
The text which accompanies The Ziggurat and its description or hope that it would be “a place for meeting and exchange” could be considered prescient in terms of contemporary concerns about the potentially isolating effects of technology and the internet, where people are digitally connected and interact with others but there is debate around whether those connections have real substance and if concentrating on digital connections may in fact be a cause of social isolation.
The image above left of Arthur Quarmby’s design for a tower block and its organic shapes notably contrast with much of real world high-rise structures, which are often more likely to feature straight lines and be considerably less intricate.
(Quarmby’s design also wouldn’t look out-of-place in the vast high-rise Mega City One future city that featured in the Judge Dredd stories in 1980s issues of comic anthology 2000 AD.)
And while on the subject of comic book stories, Walter Pichler’s Compact City design above and it’s not so much transparent dome but rather bottle or jar-like enclosure is reminiscent of the shrunken and bottled city of Kandor from the Superman comics.
Peter Cook and Ron Herron’s design for an instant floating city which would attach itself to a more conventional ground city seems almost Victorian or possibly steampunk-esque in its design.
Although more officially sanctioned seeming it brings to mind science fiction author William Gibson’s Bridge trilogy of books, in which the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge that has been abandoned becomes a shantytown where its inhabitants have improvised and strapped their homes on top of one another, to the bridge’s towers and so on.
David Greene’s design and model for a Living Pod also very much connects with science fiction, seeming closer to a concept model for a science fiction film than something intended for real world use.
Occasionally futuristic and science fiction-esque visions do appear in the real world; above is the design for the Selfridges department store in Birmingham’s city centre. In amongst the more traditional architecture which surrounds the building it looks not so much to have been built but rather to be some alien Quatermass-esque structure which has descended on the city.
The Corn Mother novella, written by Stephen Prince, is a further exploration of the world, stories and dreamscapes of an imaginary near-mythical film, which first began on an album released with the same name in 2018.
The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths album, also written and recorded by Stephen Prince, is both a soundtrack to accompany The Corn Mother novella and a standalone piece of work.
The novella and albums are explorations and relections “of the whispers that tumble forth from the corn mother’s kingdom”. A place and story where fact, fiction, reality and dreams blur into one:
1878: A villager is forced to flee from her home after rumours begin that she has cursed the crops. Her vengeful spirit, known as the corn mother, is said to visit those responsible in the night, bringing ill fortune and an all-encompassing sense of guilt.
1982: A film called The Corn Mother begins to be made. Although the plot is fictional, it closely resembles the story of the fleeing villager. The film is completed but never released, with all known copies disappearing after its production company collapses.
1984: A lifelong quest begins to find the near-mythical film.
2020: All mentions of The Corn Mother begin to disappear from the world, calling into question if the film ever existed.
“After the first The Corn Mother album was released I would find myself still thinking about the story of this ‘imaginary film’, wondering what had happened to particular characters connected to it and so on. It felt like a story that was unfinished and which continues to echo off into the dreamscapes of imagination. Those ongoing echoes resulted in The Corn Mother novella and The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths album.” Stephen Prince
As with the A Year in the Country project as a whole, which they are released as part of, the book and album’s structure are inspired by the cycle of the year. Following the number of seasons, the book is split into four sections; it has 52 chapters (which could also be considered scenes or episodes), the same number as there are weeks in the year; relating to the number of days in a non-leap year, each chapter’s text contains no more than 365 words; and as there are days in a week, the album has seven tracks.
The Corn Mother novella. 80 pages. Softcover.
“A fascinating and truly inventive novella… This is an original and significant piece of work, not only in its novel, singular and successful approach to folk horror and ‘imaginary’ films but in the creation of its own self referencing folklore.” Grey Malkin, Folk Horror Revival
The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths – Nightfall Edition. Limited to 104 copies.
Hand-finished boxset contains: album on all black CD, 1 x sheet of accompanying notes, 2 x prints, 4 x stickers and 4 x badges.