Posted on Leave a comment

A Pocket Guide To Dream Land and Journeys Through the Spectral Seaside

The British seaside in some ways can be considered to have inherently spectral hauntological, the past inside the present aspects, in that it seems to be in an ongoing state of quiet sadness for its own past glories, coupled with its attractions, such as traditional piers, ballrooms and penny-flipping games, often seeming at least partly rooted firmly in the past of their Victorian era boomtime.

The spectral aspects of British coastal towns have been explored in various pieces of work that interconnect with hauntology that I have written about previously at AYITC, including Luciana Haill’s augmented reality project which uses digital technology to conjure “spectres” of the seaside’s past and also Keith Seatman’s Time To Dream But Never Seen album. The latter of these is a “a loosely themed concept album based around a hauntological refraction of the British seaside and mayday fairs in times gone by” that, as with much of hauntologically inclined work “draws from and utilises contradictory atmospheres and memories to create an atemporal parallel world”.

Dave Clarkson’s 2022 largely instrumental electronica album A Pocket Guide To Dream Land: Faded Fairgrounds And Coastal Ghost Towns Of The British Isles explores similar territory and atmospheres and could be considered an unofficial companion piece for Keith Seatman’s album.

It extensively utilises field recordings from trips to seven “faded” British seaside towns, including a number of sounds that, while contemporary, also seem deeply rooted in the past, such as traditional fairground organs and penny fall arcade games.

The album opens with the almost straightforwardly cheery roll-out-the-barrel-esque fairground organ-based track “Organ Donor” which through being subtly dislocated seeming and its positively threatening title hints at both the fun and terrors to come.

And then without a moment’s pause the doors to the funfair’s ghost train swing open and the listener finds themselves on the woozy, dream-nightmare ride of “Rollercoaster Ghost”, which through using the screams of people, presumably, enjoying themselves on fairground rides, serves to both bring back memories of similar experiences back when while also, on this particular glitchy bitcrushed ride, turning the track into a hauntological take on a 1980s US slasher film relocated to the grimy underbelly of faded older British cinema. While “Illuminations (Dirty Electricity)” brings to mind and recalls childlike wonder at seeing the lights strung along the seafront, while its title and recurring electrical crackles recall both the worries of vintage Public Information Films and the fear of the “bad wires” in the hauntological touchstone TV series The Changes (1975).

If you’re looking for fairground treats to calm your nerves then you might head to the hot dog stand but here the “Sizzling Hot Dogs and Burnt Onions” are soundtracked by a distorted drum’n’bass/gabber-esque soundtrack that could almost have graced a release on Digital Hardcore Recordings in the 1990s and not so much recalls memories of innocent times of eating too much and going on too many rides in childhood but rather of having stumbled into the funfair on a bad trip and finding yourself staggering amongst the hall of mirrors of the rides as your senses are overloaded by the sights, sounds and smells.

The album also acts as a document of Clarkson’s own personal and family history, as “Spectral Pier Ballroom” which “is a spliced and stripped composite of three separate old musical recordings from his family archive, featuring his late father, grandmother and grandfather”. On the album they are reconfigured as echoing cut-up voices that fade in and out of the weather and eventually into the waves and which seem both a fond remembrance and also possibly a Sapphire and Steel-esque breaking through the walls of time by the ghosts of the past who may have unknown and unfinished business.

And now the weather’s gone off, of course with this being the British seaside, so why not head into the “Penny Arcade in The Rain” and try your luck? And just like the penny falls arcade games that it samples, this track has a repetitive hypnotic quality that keeps drawing you in until your pockets are empty.

The album isn’t all hauntological spectres peering perhaps curiously and perhaps menacingly over your shoulder. The seventh track “Tiny Lights (Magic in a Child’s Eyes)” begins a duo of relaxing more ambient and at times near new age-like tracks that you can float away amongst the “Coastal Ghost Towns” with as the waves lap gently on the shore and the seagulls overhead decide that just for today they won’t swoop down and off with your fish and chips but rather will leave you in peace.

Then despite its melancholic title of “Memories and Loss” the penultimate track has a notably upbeat quality that brings to mind the more “intelligent dance music”/home listening orientated side of 1990s chart pop house, dance music etc… and ah, with that in mind it’s not a surprise to learn that Graham Massey of 808 State, who were some of the prime proponents of such things, contributed to the album.

The album, sort of, ends as it began with a return to the funfair organ on “Organ Transplant”, which begins as something of a doppelganger of the intro track, with the sounds of the vintage pipes not seeming as threatening or disorientated after the previous few more chilled/upbeat tracks. However, as the track continues the sounds of demolition become apparent, with it being unclear if these are harbingers of renewal and reinvestment or the end of these “faded fairgrounds” and finally all that is left to do is listen to the beeps as you put your meal deal through the metro supermarket’s self-service point and catch the train home…

Links at A Year In The Country:


Links elsewhere:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.