Right, well, this About page is quite long, so here’s a (reasonably) brief precis:
A Year In The Country is a set of year long explorations of an otherly pastoralism, the undercurrents and flipside of bucolic dreams.
It is a wandering amongst work that takes inspiration from the hidden and underlying tales of the land, the further reaches of folk music and culture and where such things meet and intertwine with the lost futures, spectral histories and parallel worlds of what has come to be known as hauntology.
Those explorations take the form of this website, the posts/artwork on it, music and book releases.
The posts on the website are appreciations and investigations of the above themes and work, while also being intended as a trail of cultural breadcrumbs, starting points for their readers’ own wanderings and pathways through related fields.
The writing from the first three years of A Year In The Country has been collected, revised and revisited, alongside new work, in the book A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields – subtitled Journeys in Otherly Pastoralism, The Further Reaches of Folk and the Parallel World of Hauntology.
“Stephen Prince’s densely packed tome covers everything from folkloric film and literature to electronic music to acid folk to folk horror to the dystopian fiction of John Wyndham and the classic unearthings of Nigel Kneale to the formation of under-the-furrows record labels like Trunk, Ghost Box and Finders Keepers.
“If you’re already interested in folk culture and want to be astonished by how deeply its roots run, you’ll treasure A Year in the Country enormously.
“Almost every one of the 52 chapters sideswiped me with a revelation that is already making me look at a genre I love with new, more appreciative eyes.
Ian White, Starburst
“The first book of it’s kind to catalogue all these disparate strands, many of which cross over time and space to influence one another.” DJ Food
As with the A Year In The Country project as a whole, the book draws together and connects layered, at times semi-hidden cultural pathways and signposts; wandering from acid folk to edgelands via electronic music innovators and pioneers, folkloric film and photography, dreams of lost futures and misremembered televisual tales and transmissions.
The A Year In The Country site also includes artwork created by A Year In The Country which acts as a visual expression of slipstream, subcultural pastoral undercurrents.
This artwork is also used in the music releases, which feature music that draws from similar and interconnected strands of inspiration – the patterns beneath the plough, pylons and amongst the edgelands.
Further information, inspirations, explanations, background information etc can be found below…
“A Year In The Country quietly go about their business releasing beautifully packaged music that is influenced by folk, electronica, drone as well as by landscape, time and place… each have themes running through them, tying the music together and seemingly telling a story as they unfold.”
Simon Lewis at Terrascope
The A Year In The Country record label has released records by amongst others Howlround, Hand of Stabs, Michael Tanner, She Rocola, Twalif X, Grey Frequency and United Bible Studies.
It has also released a series of themed compilations, including The Quietened Village which was a study of abandoned villages, The Quietened Bunker which explored decommissioned Cold War bunkers and The Restless Field which took as its theme the land as a place of conflict and protest as well as beauty and escape.
The compilations have included work by Keith Seatman, Vic Mars, Listening Center, The Hare And The Moon, Polypores, Time Attendant, The Soulless Party, Sproatly Smith, Magpahi, The Rowan Amber Mill, The Séance, Lutine, The Straw Bear Band, David Colohan, A Year In The Country itself and a fair few others.
Music from the releases has been played on BBC Radio 6 by Gideon Coe and Stuart Maconie, BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction by Nick Luscombe, Jonny Trunk’s OST show on Resonance FM, The Golden Apples Of The Sun on RTR FM and You The Night And The Music on Sine FM.
The A Year In The Country releases have been reviewed in magazines including Wire, Shindig and Electronic Sound and written about online by/at Simon Reynolds, John Coulthart, The Active Listener, A Closer Listen, Bliss Aquamarine, Music Won’t Save You, Folk Radio etc.
A selection of editions from the first and second year’s releases are available in the British Library’s Sound Archive.
The records are generally released in limited, hand finished editions, with the associated artwork and packaging designed and printed by A Year In The Country.
During the journeys and explorations of A Year In The Country there have been an awful lot of cultural reference points which have inspired, influenced and intrigued me (the three i’s as it were).
Part of the project has been writing about those reference points and inspirations which, as said above, is a way of exploring and appreciating such work and also of creating a trail of breadcrumbs that may well act as starting points for their readers’ own wanderings and pathways through related fields…
The posts on the site reflect the intertwined nature of the A Year In The Country wanderings and have included writing about Rob Young’s Electric Eden unearthing and layered Albionic folk investigations, the ongoing resignations of Nigel Kneale’s Stone Tape and Quatermass, the towering behemoth of The Wickerman, the music and cultural constellations of Broadcast, privately pressed and once semi-lost psych/acid folk, the lionheart-ess dreams of Kate Bush… (pause for breath)…
…archival rediscovery and investigative record labels such as Trunk Records and Finders Keepers Records and an associated interest in library music, the curiously disquieting atmosphere of Public Information Films from previous eras, The Duke Of Burgundy and the worlds created by Peter Strickland, the “somewhat odd considering their target audience” likes of Children Of The Stones, The Changes and The Owl Service (and while we’re on the subject, the band of the same name)… (pause for breath again)…
…the fantasia of Czech New Wave films, the explorative spirit of The Radiophonic Workshop and Delia Derbyshire, edgeland investigations by amongst others Edward Chell, the unsettled fictions of John Wyndham – in particular The Midwich Cuckoos, the assignments of Sapphire & Steel, photographic work and projects that focus on folkloric costumes and rituals such as Charles Fréger’s Wilder Mann and Homer Sykes’ Once A Year and the quietly off-centre pastoral views of the films Vashti Bunyan: From Here To Before, The Moon And The Sledgehammer and Sleep Furiously…
…to name but a few.
The Cyclical Nature Of Things
A Year In The Country is growing into a number of spins around the sun… regulated, inspired and broadcast according to the passing of the days, weeks, months and years.
After visiting a small part of England that felt like a secret garden, I semi-consciously realised that I nolonger wanted to or enjoyed living in dense urban environments and was moving away from the accompanying dizzying cultural stories. I wanted a bit of calm, thought and reflection.
And so now I live in the countryside, in a small cottage on the side of a hill.
Prior to upping sticks and moving I had found myself increasingly drawn to the further flung corners of folk music and what has been labelled hauntology; searching for some kind of expression of an underlying unsettledness to the bucolic countryside dream and A Year In The Country is part of that search…
But why that search? Well, that leads me to…
Why that unsettledness? Well, memories of Cold War dread may well have more than a little to do with it…
When I was about ten, towards the end of the seventies, I lived in the countryside for a year. It was a Famous Five, English idyll existence of building dams in rivers, rolling down hillsides and biking down the one street in the village.
At the same time I discovered about the end of the world.
“Pardon?” I may hear you say. “You were ten and discovered about the end of the world?”
Yes, while my family were playing Monopoly I watched a TV documentary about nuclear conflict and its effects. Probably a Panorama or World In Action, one of the weekly programs from the time.
(Around the same time I became aware of the government’s Protect and Survive guidance films/booklets, which the images from this section are from; in hindsite these are sad, comically tragic and insulting; how to protect you and your family from an explosion with more power than several suns by whitewashing your windows and putting an old mattress up against a wall to hide under in your house).
Anyway, it kind of all blew my ten year old mind. I became obsessed with the end of the world via nuclear war, took to stocking up on torch batteries, trying to work out if the stone walls of our house would protect us if the nearest city took a direct hit from a nuclear missile (I’m still not sure if they would) and so on.
This was further complicated by two smallish brown boxes in my life; my dad was one of the local village bobbies and we lived in a police authority owned house with a small police office in our forecourt. In that office, sat on the side, was a nuclear air raid siren.
Yep, you read that right. A nuclear air raid siren.
Now, you probably think of such things as being large devices atop steel towers but this was about the size of a portable TV back then (ie a microwave oven now). Curiously old fashioned looking even then, Bakelite is a phrase that comes to mind.
Now, for a ten year old who is obsessed by nuclear war, that’s probably not the thing to have around in your life. But this was complicated by the second box.
A close friend lived in a nearby house, which was attached to the local tourist information centre. In his front room was another of these brown boxes.
So, I would go around to play and discuss the latest science fiction that was occupying our young minds, while sat on his front room windowsill was a box that at any time could announce the end of the world.
This one I remember more clearly. Perhaps because I saw it more often, perhaps because it was more incongruous in a slightly bohemian living space.
So, in the corner of rooms set in fields which shall forever be England, these two boxes sat, waiting for the signal to announce that the missiles would soon be falling.
Curiously Dystopian Childhood Fiction and Duality Regarding English Secret Gardens
At the same time as the above I seemed to begin discovering apocalyptic or dystopian future fictions; John Wyndham’s The Day Of The Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos (aka Village Of The Damned in flickering celluloid form), John Christopher’s Tripods series, Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass, snatches of a children’s TV series where Britain was suffering from hyper inflation and food shortages, all of which took root and intrigued my mind for many years to come.
In part A Year In The Country has grown out of and is an expression of the resulting duality of my own childhood relationship with the countryside, hence its sometimes subtitle An English Idyll, A Midnight Sun (the second half of that phrase being one which has been used to describe nuclear attacks/explosions).
The intention is not for the resulting work to be all doom and gloom, although some kind of Gothic Albion or Dark Britannica seems to creep unbidden into it, I also want it to express the beauty of the world that now surrounds me. It will be a bit of all these things I expect.
All the artwork featured in the gallery and the Image posts is by A Year In The Country, along with the majority of the record releases’ artwork.
In the early days of heading towards A Year In The Country I read an introduction to a photography book written by photographer Paul Hill, where he commented on a recent exhibition/book which was intended as an overview of British photography; in his text he noted how landscape and nature photography was almost completely ignored.
For some reason that put my back up and I thought “I’m not having that”.
From that thought, I realised that I wanted to try and create a new language of nature/landscape photography, one which would (hopefully) make sense to an urban and/or subcultural sensibility; which is my own background in many ways – for a fair few years I lived in city environments, working in what I suppose could be called counter-culture or left-of-centre oddball pop culture.
And so I set about doing that.
The book The Marks Upon The Land, available from our Artifacts Shop and Amazon, collects all the artwork from the first year of A Year In The Country.
Matching my childhood time spent living in the countryside, I spent a year taking photographs; starting on the first day I moved to the countryside and on the final day of that year returning to the village of my childhood with a camera slung over my shoulder*.
Over that year of shutterbugging I just wanted to capture the photographs I took without editing, perusing and browsing them as I went along. So it was a suprise and a journey to see what fell from my digital daguerreotype boxes over the next year…
The photographs I took then and since were used to create the images/artwork that are part of A Year In The Country and the record releases.
The image above is the first one which was posted at A Year In The Country.
*Curiously and unplanned for, on that final day Nigel Kneale’s classic 1972 TV program The Stone Tape was showing at a cinema in a city I would pass through. I thought that was maybe fate throwing something my way. So on the way back I stopped off for a little cathode ray seance, rounding the circle as it were.