The A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields Book and A Visual Accompaniment
Winstanley, A Field in England and The English Civil War Part II – Reflections on Turning Points and Moments When Anything Could Happen: Chapter 52 Book Images
“Winstanley is the 1975 Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo film biography and tribute to Gerrard Winstanley, who was a religious reformer and political activist in the 17th century.
Gerrard Winstanley was one of the founders of an English group known as the True Levellers or Diggers, who occupied previously public common lands which had been privatised, living in what could be considered some of the first examples of or experiments in socialist communal living.
The community he helped to create was quickly suppressed but left a legacy of ideas which inspired later generations.”
“Winstanley is a curiosity which lingers in the mind, one which ploughed its own furrow and created its own very particular corner of British filmmaking.”
“In many ways Winstanley could be seen as a companion piece to Ben Wheatley’s also low-budget fictional historic fantasy film A Field in England (2013), possibly the more erudite, learned, historical brother to its rambunctious more recently released sibling.
There are a number of similarities to the films; both are set around a similar time period of the English Civil War, have similar costumes, are set in the rural landscape, shot in crisp black and white and show a flipside and/or the undercurrents of English history.”
“Accompanying the BFI DVD/Blu-ray release of Winstanley is the “making of ” documentary, It Happened Here Again in which there is a curious mixture of centuries and styles.
In the documentary the costumed cast are pictured in amongst contemporary families, the rickety cars and vans of the 1970s and folk who aesthetically could have tumbled from 1970s Open University broadcasts.
There is a sense of it capturing a very specific time and place in English history during the mid 1970s; possibly the last days of the utopian sixties dream and aesthetics before punk and the Thatcherite 1980s arrived and made much which immediately preceded them seem almost to belong to a separate parallel world: one far distant from our own.”
“The period during which Winstanley was made could also be seen as a link to the time when it and A Field in England were set as there are similarities to both points in history; periods of unrest and historical points of battle and change in society.”
“In the 17th century it was the battle between magic, religion, science, the old ruling order/economic models and the new; in the 1970s during Winstanley’s production Britain was wracked by internal unrest, economic strife and the battle which would lead to the turning of elements of society towards the right and the adoption or possibly ascendancy of a related new economic/political model.
That particular change also led to another battle, sometimes fought amongst the fields of England and its neighbours; the bitterly fought Miners Strike of 1984-1985 where the government of the day clashed with miners over pit closures.”
This was a defining conflict at the time between those who believed in more collectively-organised labour and a post-war progressive consensus (with regards to the state intervening in the welfare of the nation) and a political, economic and philosophical grouping which wished to move towards a more monetarist, consumer and individual-orientated society.”
“With regards to A Field in England, Ben Wheatley has talked about being interested in making a film about a period when Britain was in “free fall and chaos… a moment when anything could happen”, which could apply equally to Britain at either of the above times in the 17th or 20th centuries.”
“These were times when history could have gone various ways and which could be seen as the start of turning points in the world and society. Connecting back to the period in which Winstanley is set, the Miners Strike of 1984-1985 has been called the The English Civil War Part II by artist Jeremy Deller, who used the phrase as the title of a book released in 2002, which documented and reflected on the strike and a re-enactment of a defining conflict during it which has come to be known as ‘The Battle of Orgreave’.”
That re-enactment, also called The Battle of Orgreave, was initiated by Jeremy Deller and was a partial re-enactment of what has come to be thought of as one the turning point conflicts of the strike that originally took place on 18 June 1984 and involved violent clashes between striking miners and the police.
The events or “battle” took place at a British Steel Corporation coking plant in Orgreave, Yorkshire, which processed fuel made from coal, that the miners wished to stop the collection of supplies from and a large number of striking miners converged on this one point on that date.
The re-enactment featured both miners and policemen who had been involved in the strike alongside members of re-enactment societies and a documentary of the event filmed by Mike Figgis was televised by mainstream broadcaster Channel 4.”
“The English Civil War Part II book is a companion piece to the re-enactment and contains personal accounts by those who were involved in the strike and the re-enactment, alongside memorabilia from the strike including pamphlets, news clippings, photographs from personal scrapbooks, song texts, a CD containing interviews with former miners and some of their wives and also photographs of the re-enactment.
While being to a degree documentary or archival in nature, the book combines these elements to create a moving and evocative tribute to the conflict and those whose lives it affected.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 52 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page.
Zardoz, Phase IV and Beyond the Black Rainbow – Seeking the Future in Secret Rooms from the Past and Psychedelic Cinematic Corners: Chapter 51 Book Images
Zardoz (1974), Phase IV (1974) and Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) could be gathered in a left-of-centre, science fiction and fantasy orientated corner of more exploratory cinematic culture that to varying degrees incorporates and/or draws from psychedelic culture and imagery and associated dreamlike or altered reality states, often in pastoral or nature orientated/connected settings.”
“Zardoz was written, produced and directed by John Boorman.
The plot involves a future Earth ruled by immortal Eternals, an advanced sect of humans who live a luxurious but aimless life in an area known as the Vortex, protected by an invisible barrier from the wasteland of the outside world which is inhabited by Brutals who carry out forced labour farming.
The Eternals have created a false god known as Zardoz, which is represented by a huge flying stone head and is used to control and intimidate the Exterminators, who in turn control the Brutals through the use of force.”
“The secluded paradise of the Eternals is a curious mix of advanced technology, new age-isms and a kind of indulgently folkloric ritualised way of life set in what appears to be an almost village like insular idyll; the Eternals partake in a liberal, democratically decided and also underlyingly conformistly oppressive way of life, with its functioning and continuation only enabled because of the forced labour farming carried out by the Brutals.”
“Watching Zardoz is a dreamlike, at points hallucinatory or psychedelic, stepping through the looking-glass experience, notably so when Zed crosses over into the crystal based Tabernacle which controls the Vortex and when he is absorbing all the Eternals’ knowledge outside of time and the real world.”
“…while undergoing the absorption of knowledge process a projected lightshow of collaged and drifting images representing this knowledge plays over and completely covers his and the Eternals’ faces and unclothed bodies as they float disembodiedly across the frame in what becomes a swirling, speeding up carousel of faces.”
“It is an exploratory, dissonant, challenging blockbuster or spectacle film, one which questions society’s actions, accompanied by references to 20th century cinematic fantastical fairy tales and philosophy, while also being full of ‘I can’t actually believe that this was allowed to come to the big screen’ moments.”
“All of which is complemented by a former James Bond wearing what can only be described as revealing futuristic Mexican fetish-bandit wear. To use a phrase from the film itself, this is one of those times when popular culture goes ‘renegade’.”
“Phase IV is the only film made by renowned designer Saul Bass and as with Zardoz it is a cultural oddity, and Paramount Pictures were probably more than a little surprised when they saw what they had financed.”
“In the film two scientists and one younger woman they rescue are held hostage in a desert research facility by ants which they are meant to be studying but who seem to have gained some form of collective consciousness and higher intelligence due to some unknown cosmic event.”
“…it literally explodes in a psychedelic coming of a new age and order collage of imagery sequence at the end. Well,sort of… There was full-length journey into and through the new world fantasy sequence filmed as an ending but it was not used for the general release. The film that most people have seen ends with a glimpse of this new world but it is merely a brief view.
The full sequence had a limited public cinematic outing when a version of it was found in 2012 at the Academy Film Archive in Hollywood, USA but it has never been included as part of an official release for home viewing.”
“It is… a film that though not all that well-known (and the semi-lost ending hardly at all), seems to have somehow or other reverberated through and influenced culture since its inception.
“In particular, lines of connection can be drawn from Phase IV to Beyond the Black Rainbow which was written and directed by Panos Cosmatos.
The plot of that film centres around the Aboria Institute, a new age research facility founded in the 1960s by Dr Arboria which is set in “award winning gardens” and dedicated to finding a reconciliation between science and spirituality, allowing humans to move into a new age of perpetual happiness.
In the 1980s his work was taken over by his protégé Dr Barry Nyle who despite outward appearances of charm and normality is actually mentally unstable and has thoroughly corrupted the Institute and its aims.”
“The lines of connection and inspiration between Phase IV and Beyond the Black Rainbow are not a direct transference and replication, rather, as also said by the director it is in an ‘abstracted, vaguely recognisable way’…
This sense of non-replication can be linked to the representations of the 1980s when Beyond the Black Rainbow is set, which do not create a detail-perfect simulacra but rather a reflection of that time which in text that accompanies the film’s DVD/Blu-ray release has somewhat aptly and evocatively been described as “a Reagan-era fever dream”.
Although referring to a different time period than the late 1960s to 1970s, which much of hauntological-leaning work tends to, Beyond the Black Rainbow shares with that area of culture a sense of the reimagining or fragmented recall of cultural memories which are explored and used in order to create a parallel world view of previous eras…
Watching it can instill the sense that you are viewing an overlooked David Cronenberg film from that time.”
“Also, in a similar manner to sections of hauntologically-labelled work, Beyond the Black Rainbow has a strong sense of being a rediscovered lost artifact; this is a film which could have tumbled from the further reaches of an early 1980s video shop’s shelves but one from that “fever dream” rather than being passed down directly via historical reality…
…Somewhat appropriately considering the above and despite such things being more or less obsolete and no longer widely manufactured, alongside the DVD and Blu-ray editions it was also released on limited edition VHS videocassette by Mondo, who alongside such things specialise in limited edition posters featuring commissioned artwork reinterpretations of films.”
“If the film could be a rediscovered and refracted Cronenberg project from a parallel world, then its soundtrack could well be a Tangerine Dream-esque soundtrack from that world.
The soundtrack is by Jeremy Schmidt (working as Sinoia Caves), and utilises mellotron choirs, analogue synthesizers and arpeggiators to create a period aesthetic and atmosphere.”
It puts me in mind of the further reaches and undercurrents of what has been loosely labelled new age music, including some of the work that can be found on the compilation I Am the Center: Private Issue New Age in America – 1950-1990 (released in 2013 by Light in the Attic) such as Wilburn Burchette’s “Witch’s Will” which, as with the soundtrack to Beyond the Black Rainbow, creates an atmosphere that is restful, draws you in and yet is also portentous and unsettling.”
“…Beyond the Black Rainbow is not always an easy and often an unsettling film, so if you should seek it out then tread gently but it has a visual beauty, entrancing atmosphere and sense of cinematic and cultural exploration that makes it a somewhat unique film experience.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 51 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.
Strawberry Fields and Wreckers – The Countryside and Coastal Hinterland as Emotional Edgeland: Chapter 50 Book Images
“The plot of Frances Lea’s 2012 film Strawberry Fields involves a young-ish postwoman who is possibly running away from the loss of her mother and her over demanding, somewhat unsettled sister. She seeks escape in seasonal strawberry picking work in a rural coastal area and within this temporary community the film becomes a compressed microcosm of lives, loves, family and friendships, all of which seem to fracture, stumble and tumble in a brief moment of time.”
“The setting feels like an isolated, separate world unto itself; it comprises mostly of just the picking fields, ramshackle semi-derelict buildings, temporary accommodation, deserted beaches, neglected barns and equipment, the concrete brutalism and shabby infrastructure of the local railway station and monolithic overhead roadways (a spaghetti junction relocated amongst the fields and flatlands).”
“This is a world curiously free of controlling older adult influences and there is possibly only one such person whose face is seen.
The result of these circumstances seems to have created an unregulated temporary autonomous zone, one that allows for unfettered and sometimes-destructive human actions, behaviour and responses; the inhabitants are adults but their behaviour appears nearer to that of rampaging unsupervised children.”
“As an aside, there is a lovely soundtrack to Strawberry Fields, largely by Bryony Afferson and her band Troubadour Rose, which is all slightly dusty Americana tinged folk songs, drones and snatches of ghostly vocals that lodge in the mind for days.”
“Wreckers (2011), directed by D. R. Hood, focuses on a young couple who have moved from the city to a small rural community.
Their lives are unsettled when one of their siblings, who is a combat veteran on whom his experiences in conflict have taken a considerable toll, unexpectedly arrives and brings with him an unearthing of hidden, painful secrets from the family’s past.
In contrast to times when the British village is depicted in cinema as an orderly country idyll, here this is gently flipped on its side; at one point in the film a tour around the locale leads not to “Oh, that’s a pretty church” comments and the like but rather to a cataloguing of who did what traumatic thing where and the emotional relationships and rules depicted in the film feel like they have reverted back to some earlier unregulated medieval time.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 50 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.
From Gardens Where We Feel Secure, Wintersongs, Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails – Lullabies for the Land and Gently Darkened Undercurrents: Chapter 49 Book Images
“Virginia Astley’s 1983 album From Gardens Where We Feel Secure is the very definition of bucolic and is an album which summates England’s pastoral, Edenic dreams, albeit with subtly melancholic and unsettled undercurrents.
It is a largely piano and woodwind-led melodic record, which is accompanied throughout by the sounds of the countryside and blissful repose: birdsong, lambs, church bells and rowing on the river.”
“It features in Rob Young’s Electric Eden, the final “Poly Albion” section, in the chapter “Towards the Unknown Region”, where he considers the more outerlying areas of the music and culture which has sprung forth from the likes of hauntology and an otherly, spectral take on pastoralism.
In this section when describing From Gardens Where We Feel Secure he begins by saying that it “does not go anywhere”, in presumably an attempt to show the album’s ambient, non-formal song structure.”
“It is an interesting choice of phrase as it also suggests how the English can sometimes hanker after unchanged, unending idylls where the gates can be locked, allowing rest, slumber and dreaming, with the rambunctious march of progress safely held at bay even if just for a moment. Although the album is largely a suite of music which invokes such an Albionic Arcadia, conjuring up lives spent in timeless English villages, it is not merely a chocolate box or twee reverie, as it also contains a sense that there is a flipside to those dreams: that the nightmare may well intrude on the secure Eden.”
“The record distantly wanders some of the same fields as the outer regions of an alternative landscape which can be found in say the film The Wicker Man (1973) or some psych/acid folk music but here while the sense of an idyllic rural Eden has an otherly quality it is not overt: more it is a form of wistful nostalgia or reverie, even where such aspects are most present on When the Fields Were on Fire.”
“Such views of the landscape which are both bucolic but also quietly, subtly travel through its flipside can be found on the 1999 album Wintersongs by Plinth, which was made by Michael Tanner with Steven Dacosta, accompanied by Nicholas Palmer and Julian Poidevin…
In a similar manner to From Gardens Where We Feel Secure it creates a soundtrack for the landscape: one that is in parts gently melancholic but also gently magical and on a track like “Bracken” it almost feels like a walking companion for Virginia Astley’s album in its melodic, looping and minimal exploration of a bucolic atmosphere.
However, as with From Gardens Where We Feel Secure this is not a twee trip through the land; while at times it may be a journey amongst a certain kind of pastoral reverie there is also something else going on amongst the hills and trees.
There is heartbreak in the pathways of its songs at points and the quiet melody and refrain of “Hearth” makes the mind wander towards losses along the byways of life.”
“Walking and exploring amongst similar territories is Sharron Kraus’ 2013 album Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails.
In the text that she wrote to accompany it there is a sense of her discovering and rediscovering the land as she had begun to live in or visit the Welsh countryside, exploring her surroundings and unlocking some kind of underlying magic or enchantment to the landscape…”
“A phrase which springs to mind when listening to Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Tales and its bonus disc Night Mare was “these are lullabies for the land” and in many ways they do literally feel similar to or have a lullaby-like effect, as they contain a dreamlike quality that is rooted in the land but is also a journey through its hidden undercurrents and tales.
This is music which also literally soundtracks the landscape where it was made, utilising field recordings captured along the way; the sound of birds, streams, waterfalls, animals, the wind and jet planes which were recorded on Sharron Kraus’ explorations.”
“Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails is beautifully packaged; it was released in a very limited edition by Second Language Music and designed by Martin Masai Andersen/Andersen M Studio and it feels like a precious artifact: one which you want to pick up carefully and gently.
The album was presented as a small book-sized gatefold, with the packaging and the gently transformed nature and landscape photography (which in its textural qualities recalls the 23 Envelope work of Vaughan Oliver and Nigel Grierson for 4AD records), capturing the beauty and grace of the land through which Sharron Kraus travelled and in which she worked.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 49 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.
The Moon and the Sledgehammer and Sleep Furiously – Visions Of Parallel and Fading Lives: Chapter 48 Book Images
“The Moon and the Sledgehammer is a 1971 documentary film directed by Philip Trevelayn that shows a snapshot of a family (a father, two sons and two daughters) who live in an isolated woodland English house.”
“Their lives and ways of living have a sense of drawing from the past while living in the present; water is drawn by bucket from a well, if there is any mains electricity it is not to be seen, they run and hand build old steam engines, the men dress like working class labourers from earlier in the 20th century (all suit jackets and hats for hard manual and engineering work) and the family play hand-pumped organs and pianos out in the open.
This way of life does not appear to have come about in any modern dropping off the grid, overly conscious manner but rather to have happened or continued to happen naturally over the years.”
“The only time the film shows them leaving their own land and home is during a police-escorted trip down country lanes on a black-smoke puffing steam engine amongst the Morris Minor etc. cars of the period.”
“In part, it is a fitting travelling companion with the 1974 film Akenfield, which is more a recreated/partially dramatised but based on the stories of rural living example of filmmaking (it draws from Ronald Blythe’s oral history 1969 book Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village) than documentary representation but which also seems to represent some kind of earlier 1970s interest in, and attempt to, capture or recapture a disappearing world and pastoral idyll.”
“However, The Moon and the Sledgehammer is possibly nearer to Ben Rivers’ Two Years at Sea film from 2011, which focuses on the life of a man who lives alone in an isolated rural environment, in that it is a picturesque but also unadorned document of lives that have stepped to one side of normal life, with both being filmmaking which records and presents its subjects lives largely without narration.”
“The Moon and the Sledgehammer, along with Two Years at Sea is connected to a small genre of British filmmaking that is in part landscape/pastoral based documentary but which to varying degrees is non-conventional and/or may include elements of art or expressive film.”
“Along with which, we could include Gideon Koppel’s 2008 film Sleep Furiously.
This film is a view of a small village community that is slowly fading away as the population and local amenities decline. Parts of it are nearer to stills than film; contemplative views of the landscape, sometimes time-lapsed, sometimes with just one tiny figure or vehicle traversing the land.”
“It shares a sense of an almost painterly or photographer’s eye for such things with the 2009 film General Orders No. 9 and reminds me of art-photography views of the landscape such as Paul Hill’s Dark Peak, White Peak photography book from 1990; work which combines that just-mentioned expressive view alongside a documentary recording of the landscape.”
“In contrast to General Orders No. 9, Sleep Furiously is not an overtly otherly view of the countryside and pastoralism but it is more than just a straight documentary in some manner which is hard to define; there is an understated gentle magic to it.
And gentle is an apposite word as in many ways this is a gentle film; gently soporific and largely gently soundtracked, a gentle possibly muted visual colour palette and gently visualised.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 48 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Weirdlore, Folk Police Recordings, Sproatly Smith and Seasons They Change – Notes from the Folk Underground, Legendary Lost Focal Points and Privately Pressed Folk: Chapter 47 Book Images
“Once Upon a Time in 2012 there was an event called Weirdlore, which could well in future years have come to be known and referred to as a focal point for a new wave of what has variously been called acid, psych, underground or wyrd folk.”
“The phrase weirdlore was coined by Ian Anderson of fRoots magazine,
who organised this event, as a name for the one-day gathering and also as a possible genre title for such things.
There have been quite a few different genre titles attached to this area of music but none has ever really fully stuck or come to fully define or delineate a loose grouping of music that draws from various strands of folk music, culture and traditions, while also often being exploratory and/or underground in nature and audience.
Unfortunately said event was cancelled. Apparently there was a lot of enthusiasm for it but this did not translate into actual ticket sales.”
“However, an accompanying compilation album called Weirdlore was still released in 2012 by the no longer-operating Folk Police Recordings. Folk Police Recordings was a Manchester-based record label that was active from 2010-2013 and was a home for work that took folk music as its starting point but which wandered off down its own paths (while still generally keeping an eye cast towards its roots).”
“Their releases included work by amongst others Sproatly Smith, The Woodbine & Ivy Band, The Owl Service, Harp and a Monkey and Lisa Knapp as well as an album by Frugal Puritan which was alleged to have been a recording of lost Christian acid folk (please note the “allegedly” as this may in fact have been a project created and imagined in contemporary times).”
“Folk Police Records could be seen to be one of a number of record labels and music orientated projects which to various degrees have worked in and released left-of-centre, exploratory folk and related work and/or work related to the flipsides and undercurrents of pastoralism and the land.
Along which lines are included amongst others Deserted Village, Was Ist Das?, Hood Faire, Patterned Air Recordings, Front & Follow, Caught By The River’s Rivertones, Stone Tape Records, Clay Pipe Music, The Geography Trip, Folklore Tapes, Rif Mountain and A Year In The Country itself.”
“The Weirdlore album is, as was the intended event, a snapshot of things musically weirdloric and includes tracks by performers whose work was released separately by Folk Police Recordings and others and included songs by Telling The Bees, Emily Portman, Rapunzel & Sedayne, Nancy Wallace, Pamela Wyn Shannon, Katie Rose, The False Beards, Foxpockets, Boxcar Aldous Huxley, The Straw Bear Band, Starless & Bible Black, Alasdair Roberts, Corncrow, Rosalind Brady, The Witches with Kate Denny, Harp and a Monkey and Wyrdstone.
Aside from the music the album is also well worth a peruse in part for the accompanying text by Ian Anderson, written with Weirdlore still a month away and not yet cancelled. In it he rather presciently describes the album as “celebrating a day which has yet to happen and a genre that quite conceivably doesn’t exist.”
A particular standout track is Sproatly Smith’s version of traditional folk song “Rosebud in June”, which was described by website The Gaping Silence as being:
‘…like something from The Wicker Man, if The Wicker Man had been a 1960s children’s TV series about time travel.’
Which sums up the song and the atmosphere it creates rather well; otherworldly, transportative, dreamscape acid or psych folk.”
“Sproatly Smith were described by fRoots magazine as “the mystery flagship band of the new wave of weirdlore” and in keeping with that sense of mystery, for a while there did not seem to be any photographs of them online.
On the Folk Police Recordings released Minstrels Grave album from 2012 by Sproatly Smith two songs in particular stand out: “Blackthorn Winter” which manages to be shimmeringly stark, dark and beautiful all at once and “The Blue Flame”, which while gentler conjures visions of a land rolling away just out of sight of the mind’s eye.”
“Another recording of Sproatly Smith’s which is particularly appealing is a split seven-inch single with fellow Folk Police Recordings released performers The Woodbine & Ivy band on Static Caravan, released in 2012. On this release they both covered the traditional and evocatively erotic and unblushing song “Gently Johnny” which was reinterpreted by Paul Giovanni for The Wicker Man’s soundtrack in 1973…
Sproatly Smith’s version has a lilting gentleness to it that does not belie its salaciousness, while The Woodbine & Ivy Band’s has a graceful delicateness that is all English Rose and soft wantonness with just a hint and twang of dustbowls across the sea here and there.
Music such as this builds visions of pastoral otherliness, taking the roots of folk and late 1960s and early 1970s acid or psych folk music and quietly wandering somewhere new.”
“Within Weirdlore’s album packaging there is an extended piece of writing by Jeanette Leech who is the author of the book Seasons They Change: The Story of Acid and Psychedelic Folk (2010), which to quote the back cover “tells the story of the birth, death, and resurrection of acid and psychedelic folk”. Which it does indeed do, dropping a trail of breadcrumbs largely chronologically through that particular story…”
“Seasons They Change is one of only a small handful of books that focus on such or interconnected areas, which includes Rob Young’s Electric Eden (2011), Shindig magazine’s Witches Hats and Painted Chariots (2013), The Electric Muse: The Story of Folk into Rock (1975) and Dave Thompson’s Seance at Syd’s (2015) which loosely groups contemporary acid folk with, amongst other areas of music, psych and space rock.”
“Seasons They Change draws connecting lines of history between everything from 1960s psychedelic folk to the 2000s arrival of freak folk such as Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom via the apocalyptic underground folk of Current 93 and the world of privately pressed folk music.”
“Some of those featured appear on the compilation Early Morning Hush: Notes From the Folk Underground 1969-76, released in 2006 and compiled by musician and writer Bob Stanley, which included privately pressed folk amongst its tracks.
Along with its companion album Gather in the Mushrooms from 20042 it presented folk music that was a far sweeter and stranger set of concoctions than anything that springs to mind under the label of folk before, which is a description that could well be applied to much of privately pressed folk from the later 1960s and 1970s.”
“The Early Morning Hush album features songs that were originally released via private pressing by Stone Angel on their eponymous album from 1975 and Shide & Acorn from their 1971 album Under the Tree, of which just 99 copies were pressed.
The album also includes a track by Midwinter (who later evolved into Stone Angel) that was part of a set of recordings from 1973 that were not released until 1994.”
“Other privately pressed folk from the time includes the eponymously titled Caedmon album from 1978 and the album A Midsummer Night’s Dream from 1971 by Oberon, which as with Under the Tree was originally pressed in an edition of just 99 copies.
There is a mixture of the lost and found, the strange and familiar to such music which is possibly a result of it springing from earlier traditional music while progressing and exploring elsewhere.”
“When John Coulthart was discussing at his Feuilleton website the A Year In The Country-released themed compilation album The Forest/The Wald from 2016, which in part contained music that could be seen as a continuum of the experimentations of the acid or psych folk found on such private pressings, he said that it is:
“…a response to British folk traditions that acknowledges the history without seeming beholden to it.”
Which could also be a way to describe both the likes of Midwinter and Shide & Acorn or the contemporary visitings and revisitings of traditional folksongs and acid or psych folk by Sproatly Smith (whose work is featured on The Forest/The Wald).”
Online images to accompany Chapter 47 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Detectorists, Bagpuss, The Wombles and The Good Life – Views from a Gentler Landscape: Chapter 46 Book Images
“There is an interconnected strand of often comic, gentle and uncynical work within British television which variously revolves around the landscape, self-sufficiency and recycling.
The Good Life is one thread of such things.
This was a BBC sitcom broadcast from 1975-1978; a chap who lives in suburbia decides he has had enough of the rat race, quits his job and along with his wife tries to live self-sufficiently via growing their own food, keeping livestock etc.
However this is not self-sufficiency on a smallholding out in the countryside.
Rather this is self-sufficiency attempted in a normal house in middle class suburbia, next to their more conventional affluent neighbours.
Although some of the ideas presented within the series are quite radical and much of the comedy is derived from the conflict between the self-sufficient lifestyles of Tom and Barbara and their attempts at this way of life next door to conventional ways of life, this is still gentle uncynical comedy – a form of bucolia in suburbia.”
“Initially slightly preceding The Good Life, an interconnected strand of television is The Wombles, an animated series originally broadcast in the UK in 1973-1975.
The series features fictional pointy-nosed furry creatures that were created by author Elisabeth Beresford and appeared in a series of children’s novels by her which began to be published in 1968.
The Wombles lived in burrows and could be found internationally, although the series focuses on those who live below Wimbledon Common in London.
As with The Good Life it was ahead of its time in the way that it dealt with themes of recycling, waste and helping the environment, which were the main activities of The Wombles.”
There were also a number of hit records by The Wombles, which were sung, written and produced by Mike Batt, who in 1975 would go on to produce folk rock band Steeleye Span’s top 5 single ‘All Around My Hat’.”
“1970s British television seemed to be notably populated by such gentle, whimsical programmes with one particular highlight being the also animated series Bagpuss, first broadcast on the BBC in 1974.”
“Set around the end of the 19th century in the Victorian era, it featured the goings on of a set of normally inanimate toy creatures in a shop for found things. They come to life when the shop’s owner, a young girl called Emily, brings in a new object and they debate and explore what the new thing can possibly be…
Made by Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate through their company Smallfilms it contains a sweetness, a uniqueness and gentle melancholia that arguably has never been repeated or equalled.”
“Firmin and Postgate also created such other exemplary and distinctive work as the softly psychedelic and just a touch pop-art space age animation The Clangers (1969-74) and Ivor the Engine (1975-77)…
Theirs was work that did not feel that it had been created as part of an assembly line and targeted at a well-defined cultural demographic and marketplace. It was more personal and precious feeling and seems nearer to examples of a form of folk art.”
“Which makes it somewhat appropriate that Trunk Records archival record label head Jonny Trunk was responsible for the retrospective The Art of Smallfilms book published in 2014 and via his label he has released the soundtrack albums to The Clangers and Ivor the Engine.
“Some of the voices and all the music in Bagpuss were played and in part written by Sandra Kerr and John Faulkner who, according to Rob Young’s Electric Eden book from 2011, had been former alumni and apprentices with Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger’s The Critics Group.
This was a kind of master class for young singers performing traditional songs or who were writing songs using traditional and folk music structures…
“The soundtrack for Bagpuss is rather lovely, taking in various strands of folk and traditional music and is able to stand on its own merits aside from the connections to the series.
A favourite is still “The Miller’s Song”, which is a lilting, life affirming and yet also curiously quietly melancholic song about the cyclical nature of farming and rural life, the growing of crops and the passage of those crops to the mill and eventually via the baker to become loaves of bread…
The sequence goes on to include what seems like a curiously out-of-place and anachronistic modern combine harvester alongside a combustion engine tractor and delivery truck, while also showing more traditional milling methods.”
“A more recent series which could be placed amongst these strands of gentle uncynical television is Detectorists.
First broadcast in 2014 by the BBC it revolves around the lives of a pair of metal detectorists and their passion for their hobby of exploring the landscape with metal detectors and hoping to find lost artifacts.”
The series is written and directed by Mackenzie Crook, who also appears as one of the main detectorists, alongside sometime By Our Selves straw bear companion and Berberian Sound Studio engineer Toby Jones.”
“Detectorists is part of a lineage, which stretches back to the likes of Fawlty Towers; one of those times when mainstream entertainment and comedy somehow manages to escape into the world without being neutered. It undertakes astute observations of the ways and wiles of people, a love of the land and country and there is a sadness portrayed in its characters’ lives.”
“That main title song, also called ‘Detectorists’, is by Johnny Flynn and in its lyrics and modern-day take on traditional folk music reflects the gentle roaming of the series somewhat perfectly.
As with “The Miller’s Song” from Bagpuss, lilting would seem to be a somewhat apposite word and it also contains within it a sense of yearning and loss, themes which seem to recur throughout much of these particular strands of television.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 46 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Jane Weaver Septième Soeur and The Fallen by Watch Bird – Non-Populist Pop and Cosmic Aquatic Folklore: Chapter 45 Book Images
“The Fallen by Watch Bird is a conceptual pop album/project by Jane Weaver released on her own label Bird Records in conjunction with Finders Keepers Records, the theme of which is:
“…a floating storyline based around missing seamen, telekinesis, avian messengers, white witchkraft and death & re-birth…”
“The project includes the main album The Fallen by Watch Bird, a sort of sequel or companion record called The Watchbird Alluminate that revisits and reinterprets the main album, an illustrated fictional book, video work, poster and an accompanying compilation mix called Europium Alluminate.
The project takes inspiration from a number of areas of inspiration including Eastern European children’s cinema, Germanic kunstmärchen (fairy tales or one online service literally translated it as “art fairy”), 70s television music and traces of 80s synth pop to create what is described as cosmic aquatic folklore; the resulting work creates a fable like atmosphere that creates a sense of it connecting or belonging to some of its source material but is far from homage, with any such aspects being via a reimagined dreamscape.”
“The Fallen by Watch Bird is credited to Jane Weaver Septième Soeur and features seven other female musicians alongside Jane Weaver, including Susan Christie whose lost 1960s acoustic pop recordings were released by Finders Keepers, 1960s soft psych pop rock musicians Wendy & Bonnie, Lisa Jen who is a member of Welsh language folk band 9Bach and members of Jane Weaver’s former band Misty Dixon.”
“The Watchbird Alluminate adds to that cast and includes collaborations, extensions, revisitings and reinterpretations of the The Fallen By Watch Bird also by Jane Weaver Septième Soeur, alongside Demdike Stare, The Focus Group, Emma Tricca, Wendy Flower, Anworth Kirk, Magpahi, Samandtheplants and Susan Christie.
This album adds to the loose conceptual theme and is said to be about ‘telepathy, technology, lost-love, wiccan, war and watchbirds’.
It is more overtly experimental than purely conceptual pop-orientated and adds a certain spectral, hauntological aspect…”
“The Europium Alluminate mix CD was compiled by Jane Weaver alongside Finders Keepers Records co-founder Andy Votel and it is described as:
‘A 70 minute transmission of cosmic aquatic folklore, flickering luminescent lullabies & hand-plucked pop.’
It is an explorative and intriguing musical journey which serves as an accompaniment and musical backgrounding for The Fallen by Watch Bird, one that hints at some of the possible influences and inspirations for the project but leaves these as hints as there is no tracklisting.”
“The project’s influences led me down a path to discover or rediscover a strand of cinematic history known as the Czech New Wave…
The genre was also known as the Czechoslovak film miracle, which considering the otherworldly nature of some of the films seems quite appropriate, in particular the variously playful, surreal, fairy tale-esque and sometimes anarchic or darker hued likes of Daisies (1966), Valerie and her Week of Wonders (1970) and Malá Morská Víla (1976).”
“Jane Weaver quotes an unsubtitled copy of Malá Morská Víla (also known as The Little Mermaid but something of a world away from the more well-known mainstream 1989 Disney film) as having been the starting point for this album and some of the stylings from it have found their way into photography associated with The Fallen by Watch Bird and the title track’s accompanying video by klunklick.”
“(The video) mixes photography of Jane Weaver dressed as a fallen-through-a-portal sister of one of the characters of Malá Morská Víla, found illustrations from children’s fairy stories (which also accompany the albums’ artwork), live action mixed with animation, cosmic symbolism, fantasia like pastoral and at sea scenes, the appearance and reappearance of black feathered birds and documentary war photography all of which interweave with the left-of-centre pop of the song to create a phantasmagorical, darkly hued and yet also whimsically entrancing fairy tale fable.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 45 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
There is an almost canon of late 1960s and 1970s British television dramas and series that have come to be seen as hauntological touchstones and which have resonated through the years and come to represent an otherly spectral folklore.
“That grouping includes The Owl Service (1968), Children of the Stones (1978), The Changes (1975), Sky (1975) and The Stone Tape (1972)… One series which often seems to be slightly overlooked amongst such things is 1979’s Noah’s Castle, based on John Rowe’s 1975 novel.
Many of the above series were intended as children’s/younger persons entertainment; their oddness and possibly advanced or unsettling themes for their target audience is now part of their appeal.”
“However, the ideas and plot of Noah’s Castle quite possibly trumps them all in such terms; it is a series that has at its core hyperinflation, food shortages, societal collapse and a patriarch’s attempt to hole up and bunker away with his family in their middle class home (the “Castle” of the title). Cue troops on the streets, food riots and looting.”
“Noah’s Castle could also be linked to a mini-genre of 1970s largely cinematic science fiction that dealt with societal, ecological and resource collapse, overpopulation and the resulting attempts at control, a mini-genre which includes Z.P.G. (1972), Soylent Green (1973), Logan’s Run (1976), Silent Running (1972) and No Blade of Grass (1970).”
“The end titles are particularly striking: as the sun sets on a hill overlooking a classic British industrial town or cityscape, armed and riot helmeted soldiers stand watch and gather around their vehicle.
They are framed by the sunset and there is something decidedly Eden askew about the juxtaposition of them and a bare branched tree that appears to be almost growing from their transport.
As a synthesised soundtrack by Jugg plays in the background, a news reporter tells of the looting of food trains, the collapse of British society, its economy and currency, silent protests by the nation’s youth, international resource restrictions and political game playing.”
“You could say that tales of economic division, social unrest, shortages and repression have become mainstream fodder in more recent times for a younger audience via the likes of the film and book series The Hunger Games (2012-2015 and 2008-2010 respectively). However, that series is all flash and fantasy… The Hunger Games presents a story and world that are a safe remove from the one in which its viewers live.”
“While the strifes of Noah’s Castle are set today, possibly tomorrow but on recognisable streets; yours, mine, the street next door and the conflicts shown in it were a direct product, reflection of and extrapolation from societal strife and conflict around the time it was made.
“In this sense, Noah’s Castle could be seen as the lower budget, more youth-orientated flipside to the final series of Quatermass (1979) and its consideration of societal collapse and norms.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 44 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Field Trip-England – Jean Ritchie, George Pickow and Recordings from the End of an Era: Chapter 43 Book Images
“Field Trip-England is a 1960 album released by Folkways where Jean Ritchie and George Pickow travelled around England recording literally the music of the folk of the land: from the peels of church bells to children’s rhymes via sailors’ laments and folk songs passed down through generations of families. It includes stories of seafarers who squander their money and life wandering with “flesh-girls” (ladies of the night) and a grand old gardener singing crackedly of riding up to Widdecombe Fair with “Phil Lewer, Jan Brewer, Harry Hawkins, Hugh Davy, Philly Whitpot, George Pausley, Dick Wilson, Tom Cobley and all”.”
“Alongside this are children’s rhymes with instructions for chopping off of heads in “Oranges and Lemons”, tabloid scandal mongering and sensationalism from days gone by via folk song in “Death of Queen Jane”, a paper costume adorned Mummers Play and a particularly boozy version of “John Barleycorn” from the Haxey Hood games…”
“The Folkways records releases from that time had lovely packaging and a very solid physical presence; all matt printing on textured stock and they feel built to stand the tests of time. The copy of the album I bought has indeed stood the test of time; it is one of the original 1960 issues, as far as I know it has not been reissued on vinyl and it was one of those rare occasions where even via the ease of access and seeking out of secondhand records afforded by the internet, it was actually quite hard to find a copy.
Although it is available as a print on demand CD, to do it justice I wanted to hear and feel how it looked and sounded at the time when it was first sent out into the world, crackles and all.”
“These recordings seem to document a sense of an end of an era, which possibly parallels (Jean Ritchie’s) own family/cultural history, with them capturing some kind of final golden age of pre-technological transmission of songs and stories.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 43 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Skeletons – Pastoral Preternatural Fiction and a World, Time and Place of its Own Imagining: Chapter 42 Book Images
“Skeletons is a film by Nick Whitfield. It is something of a gem in amongst British film, one which in part deals with the sense of loss associated with unrecapturable moments and people in our lives and the way in which we may wish to try and revisit the gossamer strands of those now gone times.
However, it is not a heavy or dark view, but rather it is humorous, touching, fantastical and intriguing.
The plot involves two suited, slightly shabby (or even seedy in one case), privately-contracted investigators who walk through the British countryside to visit couples and others who want to exhume and clear out the secrets and skeletons in one another’s closets before for example getting married.
This is done via visiting a form of portals to the couples’ histories, that are accessed through the cupboards in their houses and which allow the investigators to view and experience the hidden parts of their customers lives.”
“It is a curious item amongst British film; one which at first glance has some visual similarities with realist film but which is actually a journey through a fantastical world, one that is set alongside but slightly apart from the real world.
In this sense it could be linked to a film such as 2012’s The Wall/Die Wand where a lone inhabitant is trapped by an invisible barrier in a rural location, while all of the outside world has been frozen in time; both that film and Skeletons are pastoral science fiction as a genre, set in a landscape where the fantastic happens/has happened but where the reasons, whys and wherefores are not fully explained.”
“It has also been described as a very British Ghostbusters (1984), which is rather apt; if you were to put the comedic paranormal investigators story of Ghostbusters through a British pastoral and independent film filter, it might just come out a little like this.”
“Provisionally Skeletons appears to be set in contemporary times but there are a number of pointers and signifiers which also set it aside from today: the instruments the investigators use could be post war, the suits they wear are contemporary-ish, while the aprons and goggles they don for protection when carrying out their viewing seem to hark back to some earlier possibly mid-twentieth century industrial Britain.”
“Further reflecting this mixing of the styles and artifacts of different time periods their boss could have tumbled from the parade ground of a 1960s comedy (and is a standout turn with his clipped parade ground manner) but there are no mobile phones or computers and we hardly see a car. It is now, but not.”
“One of the only references to modernity are the power station cooling towers that background one of the investigator’s homes but even then what decade are we in?”
“Skeletons shares some common ground with the 1979-1982 British television series Sapphire & Steel. This does not appear to be a deliberate connection or point of reference and when director Nick Whitfield was asked about it at a post screening Q&A he said that he was aware of the series but could not remember it particularly.
Both Sapphire & Steel and Skeletons deal with a pairing of investigators who in some ways could be said to be working with problems based around a modern updating of supernatural concerns and stories…
…both seem to exist in relatively isolated worlds of their own imagining, ones where the outside or wider world rarely intrudes. Connected to this, geographically Sapphire & Steel and Skeletons tend to take place in isolated spaces or those that are removed from the wider world.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 42 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Folklore Tapes and the Wyrd Britannia Festival – Journeying to Hidden Corners of the Land/the Ferrous Reels and Explorations of an Arcane Research Project: Chapter 41 Book Images
“Folklore Tapes began in 2011 and is described on its website as being:
‘…an open-ended research project exploring the vernacular arcana of Great Britain and beyond; traversing the myths, mysteries, magic and strange phenomena of the old counties via abstracted musical reinterpretation and experimental visuals. The driving principle of the project is to bring the nation’s folk record to life, to rekindle interest in the treasure trove of traditional culture by finding new forms for its expression.'”
“The core of the project’s activities is a series of generally themed music releases that have been split into often geographical groupings such as Devon Folklore Tapes, Lancashire Folklore Tapes, Cheshire Folklore Tapes and the more seasonally based Calendar Customs.”
“The themes of these releases have included “Mid-Winter Rites & Revelries”, “Inland Water”, “Ornithology”, “Memories of Hurstwood”, “Stanton Drew Stone Circle” etc.”
“The packaging is an inherent part of the releases and will often include booklets, essays, film work and accompanying ephemera such as seed envelopes that act as a further space or accompaniment for the exploration and expression of the themes.”
David Chatton Barker is the instigator of the project and has created much of the Folklore Tapes visual imagery and presentation which, as referred to in the website text above, delves in amongst folkloric and pastoral layers and signifiers of culture from other eras and related overlooked esoteric corners and artifacts, retaining their spirit but also reinterprets them to create thoroughly modern visual work. The music/audio collaborators and contributors to the series have included Rob St John, Children Of Alice (members of Broadcast and Julian House of Ghost Box Records), Magpahi, Sam McLoughlin, Ian Humberstone, Anworth Kirk and David Orphan (an alias of David Chatton Barker).”
“Of these earlier releases, a particular favourite is Devon Folklore Tape Vol. IV – Rituals and Practices, which was released in 2012 and features Magpahi and Paper Dollhouse.
The Magpahi side contains haunting folkloric vocals and a certain left-of-centre almost at times pop sensibility would be a starting point of reference, while Paper Dollhouse wanders off into early morning free-floating word association.”
“Folklore Tapes have also been involved in a number of live events, one of which was the Wyrd Britannia festival of 2012 that took place in Halifax and Hebden Bridge.
The event seemed like one of those times and events where somebody who works for the council/public services was given the go ahead to put something culturally rather leftfield that they were genuinely passionate about into the world.
Organised by James Glossop, the festival was to mark the relaunch of the Calderdale libraries Wyrd Britannia collection of films, books and music. The collection and the festival explore and reflect not dissimilar territory to Folklore Tapes itself, which is reflected by the following quote from the council’s site which says that the collection:
‘…reflect(s) the dark and complex underbelly of English rural tradition and beliefs.'”
The festival featured screenings of some of the core films and television of what could be called British hauntological folklore or folk horror: The Wicker Man (1973), Robin Redbreast (1970) and the at the time pre its DVD/Blu-ray release by the BFI the then rather rare Penda’s Fen (1974).”
“Also featured in the festival were readings and performances by Alison Cooper (Magpahi) collaborating with David Chatton Barker and Sam McLoughlin of Folklore Tapes, Chris Lambert who is the author of the hauntological folkloric Tales from the Black Meadow collection of stories published in 2013 and Andy Roberts on his Albion Dreaming book from 2012 which focuses on the history of LSD in Britain.”
“First up was Chris Lambert, reading from his book Tales from the Black Meadow and informing us about this multi-faceted project which takes as its starting point the imagined history of Professor R. Mullins who was alleged to have gone missing in The Black Meadow atop the Yorkshire Moors in 1972.”
As a project Tales from the Black Meadow incorporates elements of folklore, Radiophonic-esque scores, imagined semi-lost documentaries and the flickering cathode ray transmissions of a previous era; a creaking rural cabinet stuffed full of hidden and rediscovered government unsanctioned reports.”
“…Echo of Light performed, presented by Folklore Tapes and featuring Alison Cooper, Sam McLouglin (who also performs as Samandtheplants and co-oversees the record label Hood Faire) and David Chatton Barker.
It has been described as incorporating the projectionist as puppeteer and having watched it, that is an apt description.
To an electronic and acoustic soundtrack of largely improvised music, two of the collaborators were hidden behind a screen as they essentially live-mixed/live-created a series of projections onto the screen using various physical props, found natural materials and artwork, which in turn were also used to create some of the soundtrack…
As a set of work, as with Folklore Tapes itself, it appeared to be an exploration of the hidden in nature and folklore which surrounds it (or the pattern under the plough).”
“Libraries seem like centres of calm, civility and culture in a rapacious landscape… on display that night were book, CD and DVD selections from the Wyrd Britannia collection.
These included a number of Quatermass films, The Miners Hymn (2010), albums by 1960s/1970s acid folk band Forest, The Owl Service’s fine folk revisiting album The View from a Hill (2010), a 3 disc DVD reissue of The Wicker Man, The Stone Tape (1972), Trembling Bells Abandoned Love (2010), Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age (2009) and the Gather in the Mushrooms compilation of underground 1960s/early 1970s acid folk released in 2004…”
“(Also) on display were Bob Pegg’s (of the early 1970s the-darker-shade-of-folk band Mr Fox) Rites and Riots (1981), a whole slew of books on folklore and song, various selections of witchery, George Stewart Evan’s The Pattern Under the Plough (1966), The Owl Service author Alan Garner once or twice and a particularly intriguing looking The Cylinder Musical-Box Handbook (1968) by Graham Webb.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 41 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
The Stone Tape, Quatermass, The Road and The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale – Unearthing Tales from Buried Ancient Pasts: Chapter 40 Book Images
“The Stone Tape is a 1972 television drama written by him which features a team of British scientists holed up in a country mansion while they attempt to create a new recording technique (and presciently to compete with the Japanese at such things).
They discover a form of historic, spectral recording which exists within the substance or literally the stone of the house itself and attempt to study, initiate and possibly capture it as part of their research and development process.
“The programme mixes and layers scientific techniques along with an interest in preternatural or supernatural occurrences and while it is set in a country mansion it is not overtly concerned with depicting a rural setting but has nonetheless come to be connected with an interest in folk horror.”
“This is commented on in reference to The Stone Tape by Andy Paciorek in his article “From the Forests, Fields and Furrows”, which acts as an introductory essay to the loose genre of folk horror at the Folk Horror Revival website:
‘Some consider that the setting should be rural for the film to be‘folk’, but I think a broader view may be considered.The tradition of the horror may indeed have rustic roots and pastoral locations may provide the setting for many of the stronger examples, but people carry their lore and fears with them on their travels and sometimes into a built-up environment. Also, below the foundations of every town is earth with a more ancient past.’”
“The Stone Tape television drama popularised the idea and the phrase and as with the recordings in the walls of the mansion featured in it, has continued to echo down the years.
This is particularly so in terms of its title that has been used as the name of record label Stone Tape Recordings, which was founded by Steven Collins who was also the founder member of folk rock band The Owl Service, as the title of an album of site specific spoken word recordings by Iain Sinclair called Stone Tape Shuffle released by Test Centre in 2012 and the name of hauntological otherly folkloric explorers duo The Stone Tapes.”
“In 2015 there was also a radio play version of The Stone Tape which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as part of their Halloween Fright Night season. This added extra layers of cultural intertwinings with hauntological related culture:
It was directed by Peter Strickland who wrote and directed the 2012 film Berberian Sound Studio, which in itself has a number of hauntological intertwinings, not least its depiction of an imagined folk horror-esque giallo film and sound recording studio and the inclusion of film and design work by Julian House of Ghost Box Records.”
“The radio play also featured music by James Cargill of Broadcast (who also created music for Berberian Sound Studio).
The soundscape was by Andrew Liles, who has worked with a number of musicians/performers that through the title of a 2003 book by David Keenan which explored such areas of at times culturally subterranean music, have become known as England’s Hidden Reverse, including Current 93 and Nurse With Wound.”
“Further connections to hauntological points of interest include that the script was by Matthew Graham who was also the writer and/or co-creator of mainstream hauntological-esque timeslip series Life on Mars (2006-2007) and Ashes to Ashes (2008-2010), alongside post-apocalyptic accidental cryogenic time travel science fiction series The Last Train (1999).”
“Andy Paciorek’s mention of an “ancient past” below the earth… In The Stone Tape this takes the form of the spectral recordings in the material of the house, while in the television series and film Quatermass and the Pit (1958-1959 and 1967 respectively) it is depicted via the discovery of an ancient alien spacecraft under London which is found to have a malign influence and be part of an alien experiment in genetic modification and manipulation of humans over hundreds or thousands of years, which has been responsible for much of the war and conflict in the world.”
“…returning to a sense of echoing down over the years, the main location in Quatermass and the Pit is used in the 2001 album title The Séance at Hobs Lane by Mount Vernon Arts Lab. This album was created by Drew Mulholland and is in itself an exploration of the echoes of society and culture, being a psychogeographic exploration of London’s hidden and underground spaces, eighteenth century secret societies and Quatermass itself. It is seen as a forebear of hauntological work and in what could be seen as an acknowledgement of the pathways it helped to pioneer was reissued by Ghost Box Records in 2007.”
“A sense of the buried “ancient past” can also be found in the final series of Quatermass from 1979, where in the near future large numbers of young people who call themselves “The Planet People” are being drawn to travel across the countryside to gather at ancient prehistoric sites such as stone circles, believing that they will be transported to a better life on another planet.
However the ancient sites are essentially markers put in place thousands or more years ago to enable the gathering and harvesting of humans by an extra terrestrial force, harvesting that may have already occurred at these sites at least once before.”
“During the extended period of development and production of the series, Britain underwent a period of considerable societal, political and economic conflict and the Quatermass book and series capture the spirit of and extrapolate from those troubles and presents an evocative depiction of Britain gone to seed and a crumbled, dysfunctional society… In these aspects it connects with 1979 television series Noah’s Castle, which also extrapolates from social strife and youth unrest of the time.”
“Nigel Kneale’s own work also has its own spectral, buried history as some of his work has been lost due to broadcasts being transmitted as live performances, recordings being wiped in order that the tapes could be reused or only black and white versions of the colour recordings remaining as is the case with The Year of the Sex Olympics.
One of his lost television plays is The Road from 1963. This was set in 1770 and involves a country squire and “natural philosopher” Sir Timothy Hassell investigating a haunted wood where men pass away screaming after hearing strange cries “as if all the dead people was risin’ out o’ Hell”.
This is a phenomenon that occurs just once a year, on Michaelmas Eve. Sir Timothy decides to investigate, thinking it is a past echo of a retreating Roman army but it is actually the cries of those suffering in a future apocalyptic attack.”
“There have been other fleeting glances of The Road: for a while there was a live amateur production of it available to watch online but that has since disappeared and transgressive horror research project The Miskatonic Institute presented a live reading of it at The Horse Hospital venue in London in 2015. That reading was to mark the launch of a book of essays about Nigel Kneale called We Are The Martians: The Legacy of Nigel Kneale edited by Neil Snowdon, the release of which was delayed until 2017, that features writing by and conversations with writers and critics including Mark Gatiss, Kim Newman and Tim Lucas, with cover art by David Chatton Barker of Folklore Tapes.”
“There have been a number of other books published which have focused on Nigel Kneale’s life and work, including: the biographical Into the Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale by Andy Murray and published by Headpress (originally released in 2006 and revised and republished 2017), film critic and author Kim Newman’s Quatermass and the Pit published by the BFI in 2014 which focuses on the film and its origins and the beautifully produced, Risograph-printed collection of essays The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale, which was edited by Sukhdev Sandhu, published by Strange Attractor and Texte und Töne and designed by Seen Studios.”
“The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale was published to accompany a one day 2012 event in New York called A Cathode Ray Seance: The Haunted Worlds of Nigel Kneale which featured screenings and discussions of his work and in a further echoes of lost work manner also featured a reading and live soundtrack performance of The Road.
It contains a set of essays, conversations etc. produced in response to Nigel Kneale’s work and features work by Sophia Al-Maria, Bilge Ebiri, Mark Fisher, William Fowler, Ken Hollings, Paolo Javier, Roger Luckhurst, China Miéville, Drew Mulholland, David Pike, Mark Pilkington, Joanna Ruocco, Sukhdev Sandhu, Dave Tompkins, Michael Vazquez and Evan Calder Williams.
The book also came with a cassette tape called Restligests, featuring specially-composed work by The Asterism, Emma Hammond, Hong Kong In The 60s, Listening Center, The Real Tuesday Weld, Robin The Fog of Howlround and Mordant Music.
As a package and cultural event it positions Nigel Kneale firmly within the cultural setting of hauntology while also maintaining his own particular space and created worlds.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 40 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
“Drawing a line back from A Year In The Country to early discoverings of more experimental or left-of-centre forms of pastoralism, then on the way to the likes of Bagpuss (1974) and other Smallfilms produced work, then doubtless a dot would be marked on the said line, and a pause made for a cup of tea, to consider the work and interweavings of Kate Bush.”
As mentioned in Chapter 37: “…Folk Revisiters, Revivalists and Reinterpreters”, Mike Scott of the band The Waterboys said that when Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” went straight to number one in the UK charts in 1978 that it “was like an old British soul got returned to us”.
That resonates in part because her work seems often to delve amongst and have roots in the myths and tales of the land, of its magic and mystery...
…this was pop music, if of an exploratory nature; in the earlier parts of her career Kate Bush worked within the realms of pop music, the charts and related work such as promotional videos. There were experimental elements to her work but such things were also generally intertwined with accessible and even catchy song structures and melodies.”
“Although working within the realms of pop music and generally commercially successful releases, her work often explored themes which you would not normally expect to bother the pop music charts but these most definitely did, featuring numerous Top 40 or even number one hit albums and singles over the years.
As a small snapshot of such things, some of those themes included:
1) “Breathing” was a five-minute single based around Cold War dread and the maternal passing on of radioactive fallout, which at one point wanders off into a public information broadcast about how to recognise the size of the weapon used in a nuclear attack.
2) The Ninth Wave, the concept album side of The Hounds of Love album is in parts breathtakingly beautiful and takes in dreams of sheep, bucolic bliss, traditional folk jigs and a sense of the sun rising over the earth, while it is actually about somebody in the water, close to drowning and there is a genuinely nightmarish folk horror quality to it at certain points.
3) The single and video “Experiment IV” (1986) tells of scientists being asked to create a militaristic sound weapon, which results in the creation or summoning of a malevolent spirit that sets about devastating and doing away with the staff of the research establishment which brought it forth.”
“The song Cloudbusting and its accompanying film tell a cinematic tale in miniature of a father’s attempt to create and operate a cloud-creating, steampunk-like machine, accompanied and aided by a son/daughter (although played by Kate Bush, the gender of the child is not completely clear in the video).
In the video, Kate Bush’s character pulls a copy of a paperback called A Book of Dreams from her fictional father’s pocket while they are on a hilltop and about to operate his cloudbusting machine.
This is essentially breaking the fourth wall in a metafictional manner as the book is a real world autobiography written by Peter Reich and published in 1973, which inspired the Cloudbusting song.”
“A Book of Dreams was the biographical story of Peter Reich growing up amongst the world and work of his father, the non-conventional and controversial scientist and psychologist Wilhelm Reich.
Wilhelm Reich amongst other activities did build actual cloudbusting-style devices and at points used them to attempt to break droughts in the US…
…it was reprinted in US in 1989 after Cloudbusting was released… in 2005 the book was republished with a new cover design but the appeal remains with the original, the one Kate Bush’s character pulled from her fictional father’s pocket and the associated sense of layering and stories within stories that it induced. And although now more easily available, there is a sense that it possibly should be left alone to continue to work its magic unimpeded.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 39 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
The Seasons, Jonny Trunk, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Howlround – A Yearning for Library Music, Experiments in Educational Music and Tape Loop Tributes: Chapter 38 Book Images
Educational music is generally that which was created to be used as a classroom aid and/or music created by children in an educational setting under the guidance of adults.
In the 1960s and 1970s it produced some remarkable recordings that if placed in a different context may well have been considered experimental or avant-garde work.
Library music, sometimes otherwise known as production music, is music which is available ready and licensable off the shelf in a similar manner to stock photography and is music that has generally been created quite specifically for that purpose and made available for use in adverts, films, television, radio etc.”
“The BBC Radiophonic Workshop was established in 1958 to produce sound effects and new music for BBC radio and later television, and was closed in 1998.
During the late 1950s through to the 1970s in particular it was responsible for creating a body of renowned and technically innovative work, with this often being considered the “classic” period and the one that hauntological interest generally revolves around.
Often the sounds required for the atmosphere that programme makers wished to create were unavailable or non-existent through traditional sources.
This lead to some of those working at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to explore new techniques to produce effects and music for their pieces utilising tape manipulation, experimenting with electronic music equipment etc.
“Using such methods allowed them to create often unique soundscapes and music, notably the iconic theme tune to Doctor Who which was created electronically by Delia Derbyshire in 1963 utilising Ron Grainer’s score.”
“One of the reasons for the connection between educational music and that of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and hauntological areas of work is that it connects with a hauntological sense of a yearning for lost progressive futures associated with the 1960s and 70s.
Simon Reynolds describes this aspect of hauntology in the November 2006 issue of Wire magazine in his article “Haunted Audio”, which focuses on Ghost Box Records and other hauntological-related work, as being:
‘A wistful harking back to the optimistic, forward-looking, benignly bureaucratic Britain of new towns and garden cities, comprehensive schools and polytechnics.‘”
“John Cavanagh who runs the Glo Spot label, which has reissued library music originally released by the company KPM has commented:
‘There’s a striking originality to library records from that time because they were all about the search for new sounds. Back then, musicians weren’t told what to do. Big companies also weren’t so obsessed with focus groups and demographics, so musicians were allowed to have more open-ended adventures.’”
“Tim Lee, MD of Tummy Touch Records which has reissued a number of recordings also from the KPM music library, has commented about this and the sometimes-associated snobbery around such music, saying that:
‘Library music was never supposed to be expensive. By its nature, it was utilitarian and designed to be used as cheaply as possible. People forget that these records were made to be used and heard often, rather than being treated like fetishistic objects. So by distributing these sounds to more and more people, labels like ours treat the music in a similar way to its initial intentions.’”
“Jonny Trunk has for a number of years been championing, compiling and reissuing library music via his Trunk Records label, journalism and broadcasting.
He seems drawn to, and expresses an appreciation for, such music for a number of reasons including its at times musically innovative and intriguing qualities, alongside the significance that its scarcity lends it and the investigative work required to find such music, while also wishing to extend its reach into the world by reissuing it.”
“The Trunk Records library music-related releases have included compilations of the work by different performers originally released by a particular company such as The Super Sounds of Bosworth (1996) which brings together work from The Bosworth Music Archive and G-Spots (2009) which is subtitled “The spacey folk electro-horror sounds of the Studio G Library”.
They also take in related releases in an album such as Dawn of the Dead (2004), the soundtrack of which used library music in part from the Music De Wolfe label, alongside albums that focus on the work of one particular musician in this field such as Stand by for Adverts (2011), subtitled “Rare Jingles, Jazz and Advertising Electronics” and which features work by Barry Gray.”
“In a further appreciation, exploring and archiving of such work Jonny Trunk has also authored two editions of The Music Library, published by FUEL in 2005 and revised in 2016, a book which collects the cover art of library music.”
“Another strand of the Trunk Records reissues focuses on educational music. One such record is The Seasons, which features music by David Cain of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and poetry by Ronald Duncan. Originally released in 1969 by BBC Radio Enterprises, it was reissued by Trunk Records in 2012…
Listening to it is one of those “shake your head and be pleasantly slightly stunned” moments in culture.
The album was “designed to stimulate dramatic dance, movement, mime and speech” and was part of a series of radio broadcasts by BBC Radio For Schools called Drama Workshop, a creative drama programme for children in their first and second years of secondary school.
The album’s songs (that word is used fairly loosely in this instance) are divided into twelve months and four seasons and to a minimal Radiophonic-esque musical backing it features poetry along these lines:
‘Like severed hands, the wet leaves lie flat on the deserted avenue. Houses like skulls stare through uncurtained windows. A woman dressed like a furled umbrella, with a zip fastener on her mouth steps out of number 53 to post a letter. Her gloved hand hesitates at the box. Then, knowing there will be no reply, she tears it up and throws it in the gutter. And autumn with its pheasants tail consoles her with chrysanthemums.’
Which could be regarded as being a touch odd for a later 1960s psychedelic album or performance piece, let alone something aimed at schools.“…
When the album was reissued by Trunk Records, Ghost Box co-founder Jim Jupp said at his Belbury Parish magazine website:
‘It’s an album that’s very much part of the DNA of Ghost Box: the perfect example of the spooked educational media we reverence and reference so often.’”
“The Seasons is part of a mini-genre of educational music-related oddness which as mentioned earlier also includes work performed by children themselves under adult guidance, examples of which have been issued on two other Trunk Records releases: Carl Orff & Gunild Keetman’s Music for Children/Schulwerk and the compilation of work by different groups of schoolchildren Classroom Projects, both released in 2013.“
“One of the best-known of all such recordings and albums is The Langley Schools Music Project Innocence & Despair, containing recordings from 1976-77 by Canadian schoolchildren reinterpreting the likes of David Bowie, The Carpenters and The Beach Boys in a somewhat unique and inimitable style and which was first released commercially in 2001.
It was a project undertaken by Canadian music teacher Hans Ferger, who said about it:
‘I knew virtually nothing about conventional music education and didn’t know how to teach singing. Above all, I knew nothing of what children’s music was supposed to be. But the kids had a grasp of what they liked: emotion, drama, and making music as a group. Whether the results were good, bad, in tune or out was no big deal – they had élan. This was not the way music was traditionally taught. But then I never liked conventional ‘children’s music’, which is condescending and ignores the reality of children’s lives, which can be dark and scary. These children hated ‘cute.’ They cherished songs that evoked loneliness and sadness.’”
“The School Is Full of Noises, a documentary on the BBC’s Radio 4 first broadcast in 2015. In it, poet, journalist, playwright, and broadcaster Ian McMillan considered:
‘How did tape loops, recycled everyday sounds and countless other weapons of the avant-garde find their way into school music lessons during the 1960s?’
To quote one of the documentary’s participants, this was music education which:
“‘…wasn’t about privilege, it wasn’t about instrumental lessons outside school, it was about something that everybody could engage with, understanding music from the inside… knowing what it takes to make a piece of music, that it’s not something fully formed that exists in the world, it’s something that you make.’”
“…Jonny Trunk is also a broadcaster, in particular being known for his long-running The OST Show on Resonance FM.
It is one of the avenues by which he explores his appreciation of and penchant for the often-overlooked nuggets of gold and sometimes tarnished with neglect areas of music, with this programme concentrating on films and television soundtracks, library music and other related work.”
“Over the years these guests have included Jon Brooks of The Advisory Circle and sometimes Ghost Box Records, whose appearance was accompanied by a good deal of knitting and “doing” the actions to a mining safety song by once highly popular light entertainer and singer Max Bygraves.
They have also included the DJ and musician Andrew Weatherall, Monsterist illustrator Pete Fowler, Jim Jupp and Julian House of Ghost Box Records, Radiophonic Workshop explorer Paddy “The Changes” Kingsland, more Radiophonic exploring courtesy of David “The Seasons” Cain, Ian Hodgson of whimsical hauntological music and visual project Blank Workshop who releases records as Moon Wiring Club and some excellent delving and wandering through the undercurrents of music courtesy of Trish Keenan and James Cargill of Broadcast.”
“The OST Show has at times been hosted by the aforementioned Robin The Fog who releases records as one half of Howlround, working in collaboration with Chris Weaver.
Howlround came to prominence with their first album, 2012’s The Ghosts of Bush.
This is a recording which documents the last days of Bush House, the once home to broadcasting stalwart the BBC World Service. It takes as its initial source material indoors field recordings which were captured late at night in the empty rooms and corridors of the building towards the end of the BBC’s tenure of it and the resulting album is a culturally and musically fascinating and intriguing piece of work.
The album is a tribute to its subject from whence it sprang, one which is made up of many layers; whether literally in terms of the sounds it contains and how they were made, the history of where it was made or the Robin The Fog’s own connection to the work (at the time he was a studio manager at Bush House).
Part of that layering process and how the recording was made comes about by a literal layering of sound. The record was created using only tape loop manipulation which utilised some of the last remaining of such machines in Bush House…
When I listen to The Ghosts of Bush I often think of the distant howls of long-lost and departed creatures, huge as dinosaurs. Which in these days of almost ubiquitous free market culture, may well be somewhat appropriate as Bush House was responsible for transmissions from that possibly endangered philosophical idea, publicly owned broadcasting in the free market-orientated West.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 38 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
The Owl Service, Anne Briggs, The Watersons, Lutine and Audrey Copard – Folk Revisiters, Revivalists and Re-interpreters: Chapter 37 Book Images
“On the Way Towards starting A Year In The Country the three albums I probably listened to the most were Jane Weaver Septième Soeur’s conceptual cosmic folkloric Fallen by Watch Bird (2010), the acid folk compilation Gather in the Mushrooms (2004) and The Owl Service’s The View from a Hill (2010).”
“The View from a Hill could be categorised as folk but it has its own take or edge to it.
Many of the songs on it are folk or traditional music mainstays and both musically and visually it uses what could be considered standard tropes of folk music, folklore and culture but this is anything but a mainstream folk album.
The reasons for that are hard to fully define but there are other layers and intelligence to the album, a pattern beneath the plough as it were; it feels subtly experimental but still maintains its listenability.”
“The songs wander from the Archie Fisher-esque widescreen but intimate take on “Polly on the Shore”, through to the “quite pretty but if you listen to the lyrics you realise that this is actually quite an odd story of attraction and paternalism” “Willie O’Winsbury” (and a reprise by way of 1973 film The Wicker Man’s “Procession” as if played by a New Orleans marching band), through to the spectral “The Lover’s Ghost” (featuring vocals by former 1970s acid/psych folk band Mellow Candle member Alison O’Donnell) and the album also draws on the talents of amongst others The Memory Band’s Nancy Wallace and The Straw Bear Band’s Dom Cooper.”
“The band were formed by Steven Collins in 2006 and were active until 2016, with the band name being drawn from Alan Garner’s The Owl Service novel from 1967 and its subsequent television adaptation from 1969.
According to an interview with him in Jeanette Leech’s Seasons They Change (her 2010 book on the story of acid and psychedelic folk that is discussed in Chapter 47: “…Lost Focal Points and Privately Pressed Folk”), originally The Owl Service did not physically exist as a band but was more created by him as an imagined idea for his ideal folk band, one which drew its influences from a certain section of 1960s and 1970s British film and television and the sound of the English folk revival.”
“I would not necessarily consider The Owl Service as overtly acid or psych folk: it is more a revisiting and reinterpreting of traditional folk and folk rock in a quietly left field or exploratory, respectful to but not hide bound by tradition manner.
In that sense of revisiting and reinterpreting, they could be seen to be carrying on another tradition that can be traced back to the likes of folk singer Anne Briggs in the 1960s and early 1970s.
As mentioned in Chapter 39: “…The Worlds and Interweavings of Kate Bush”, Mike Scott of The Waterboys said that when Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” went straight to number one in the 1978 singles chart that it “was like an old British soul got returned to us”.
Which puts me somewhat in mind of Anne Briggs and her music…
There is a beauty, purity and transcendence to her music and her voice that quite simply stops the listener in their tracks.”
“Aside from a handful of collaborative and compilation appearances there are only three recorded solo albums and two EPs that document her music, with the third of those albums Sing a Song for You being her final album, which she recorded in 1973 but that was not released until 1997 after which she seemed to wish to largely step back from public view and performance.”
“Travelling for a Living, a 1966 documentary by Derrick Knight that focuses on folk band The Watersons, in which Anne Briggs briefly appears…
The film follows The Watersons throughout their life on the road, playing their interpretations of traditional folk songs at folk clubs, recording in studios and at home in Hull as friends and other performers visit.”
“Although it was released in 1966, it seems to belong to an earlier much more kitchen sink, almost post-war period.
Often representations of British life and social history from that time focus on a swirling, colourful, pop-mod about-to-be-psych Swinging London metropolitan view of things.
Travelling for a Living presents a more gritty Northern contrast to that (although no less vital), an almost alternative history view of culture at that time which seems to have been semi-written out of popular cultural history.
However, quite possibly, the locations and music shown in Travelling for a Living were nearer to the day-to-day life of more of the nation than that of Swinging London; more backroom of a local pub than Kings Road high life club and boutique orientated.”
“This is a much more grassroots, kitchen sink, gritty culture and makes the viewer think more of the 1950s than the 1960s; all monochrome Northern living and black-wearing beat style.
In a way it is reminiscent of images of the 1980s Medway garage punk scene, such as photographs taken by Eugene Doyen; it shares a similar sense of a culture that is occurring separately to the mainstream stories and histories of the time and as with his photographs contains a similar kitchen sink, no frills and fripperies aesthetic.”
“This music doesn’t exist today as a living form but only in odd corners of memory; selected, hidden in the early recordings, notes and jottings treasured in the collections of Cecil Sharp House. From these still warm ashes The Watersons created music which is then seen to be very much alive.” (On The Watersons work, from the narration to the film).”
“Which brings us to Lutine, whose work is rooted in folk music but which also exists within its own landscape, creating work which draws from folk and other music but is not a recreation or homage…
Lutine’s 2014 debut album White Flowers, released by Front & Follow, is reminiscent of a peak point of the label 4AD in the 1980s until around the turn of the decade, a time when it was a home for fragile, textured beauty and explorations, with its releases often being packaged, enhanced and accompanied by the equally textured and intriguing visual work of Vaughan Oliver and Nigel Grierson working as 23 Envelope.
A particular point of reference in terms of Lutine and that period of 4AD is His Name Is Alive and the ethereal beauty of their 1990 album Livonia. If you take one of the literal definitions of ethereal as being “something which is extremely delicate and light, in a way not of this world” then you may be heading towards the atmosphere and work Lutine create…
Lutine’s is chamber music from a time neither then, today or tomorrow. Thoroughly modern and yet steeped in waters from previous eras, gently experimental but particularly accessible.”
“Which brings me to the just mentioned Audrey Copard and her 1956 folk revival album titled simply English Folk Songs.
There is a playful, sometimes cheerful, sometimes wistfully sad delivery to the songs on this album, with its 14 traditional folk songs being presented simply and in an unadorned manner, featuring just Audrey Copard’s voice and sometimes guitar accompaniment.
It features the first recorded and commercially released version of traditional song “Scarborough Fair” which used the melody that was later used on the commercially successful version of the song released by Simon & Garfunkel in 1965.
English Folk Songs enabled this author to hear some of these songs’ earlier incarnations and caused me to wonder how these versions may have somewhere along the line come to influence their future versions existences, revisitings and reinterpretations of folk music.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 37 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Vashti Bunyan – From Here to Before – Whispering Fairy Stories until They are Real: Chapter 36 Book Images
“Vashti Bunyan: From Here to Before (is) the 2008 documentary about her fabled horse-drawn trip across the country at the end of the 1960s and turn of the decade and the album she made at the time.”
“Other films and documentaries made by its director Kieran Evans, including the Saint Etienne and Paul Kelly collaboration Finisterre (2003), edgelands exploration The Outer Edges (2013) which was made as part of a wider project with Karl Hyde and dramatic film Kelly + Victor (2012) have all had fairly widespread releases in the cinema and/or on DVD.
However, From Here to Before although covered in the press to a certain extent seemed to have a fairly limited cinematic release and then, apart from a few clips that can be viewed online, it seems to have more or less disappeared from view and has never had a commercial home release.”
“Born in 1945, in the mid 1960s Vashti Bunyan worked with Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, released two singles which did not sell in great numbers and recorded further songs for Oldham’s Immediate records which remained unreleased for many years.”
“After this she decided to travel with her boyfriend Robert Lewis by horse and cart to the Hebridean Islands to join a commune planned by a friend, fellow singer/songwriter Donovan. During the trip, she began writing the songs that eventually became her first album, Just Another Diamond Day which was released in 1970.”
“By 2000 Just Another Diamond Day had acquired a cult following and it was re-released, with her work and story becoming inspirational to a new generation of musicians, some of whom including Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom, who have been loosely connected under the label “freak folk”.”
“After this re-release and a gap of more than 30 years Vashti Bunyan began recording again, collaborated with contemporary musicians and appeared live.
She released the album Lookaftering in 2005 and in 2014 what she said was to be her final album Heartleap (both on Fatcat).”
“Vashti Bunyan: From Here to Before… serves as an entrancing exploration of a youthful journey of exploration and searching and also an associated self-created almost parallel sense of reality.
To quote author Rob Young from his 2011 book Electric Eden they seemed to be undertaking a form of “imaginative time travel”, a wish to get back to the land and simpler ways of life, which seems to have been fairly widespread at the time within certain often folk leaning areas of culture and music.
Just Another Diamond Day has become a totem and reflection of such yearnings.
This is due in part to the album’s gentle farside of folk delivery and vocals, alongside the almost dreamlike bucolic subject matter of its songs and the evocative nature of her horse and cart journey when she began work on what would become the songs on the album.
Adding to this are the equally almost dreamlike, fantasy rural atmosphere conjured by the cover image of Vashti Bunyan in period rural clothing and headscarf, where she is pictured outside her cottage accompanied by painted animals.”
“Alongside recording Vashti Bunyan’s thoughts and memories of her journey, life and work as she revisits places from her journey or prepares for a live appearance, contemporary interviews make up part of the film.
These include amongst others Andrew Loog Oldham, her 1960s producer Joe Boyd, Adem Ihan who is one of the musicians rehearsing with her for a live performance and artist John James who was a companion for parts of the journey.”
“The film also includes archival footage and photographs of Vashti and her partner in their folkloric, late 1960s-esque, gypsy like garb that they wore at the time.
“From Here to Before was made over four years around the mid to later 2000s, when interest in her work was flowering and she began to express herself again creatively in public via music and live performance and the film is a respectful observation of this period in her life and her earlier stories.
Vashti Bunyan’s music of the time and her journey have created an iconic story, set of images and songs; a modern-day fable or almost fairy-tale. The film is a reflection and exploration of this fable-like nature but it also captures the realities and hardships of their journey and subsequent home but without shattering the allure or spell of that dream.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 36 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Magpahi, Paper Dollhouse and The Eccentronic Research Council – Finders Keepers/Bird Records Nestings and Considerations of Modern Day Magic: Chapter 35 Book Images
“Alison Cooper, who often records under the name Magpahi, creates work which feels as though it exists in and has tumbled from an indefinable fabled time and place of its own creation, work which at times seems to have been created by or also tumbled from arcane and lost music boxes.
Her recorded work includes the tremulously vocalled acid or psych-esque folk on the Magpahi EP compilation, released by Jane Weaver’s Bird Records in collaboration with Finders Keepers Records in 2008, which is a gathering of imagined poems and tales told in folk music refracted through a filter of woodland fantasia.
The creation and transporting of its listener to an unknown or unknowable place can also be found in her more folk-orientated work as Magpahi on the album Watchbird Alluminate from 2011 where songs from Jane Weaver’s Fallen by Watchbird album released in 2010 are reimagined or reinterpreted, on which Magpahi reinterprets “My Soul Was Lost, My Soul Was Lost and No-One Saved Me”, imparting an otherworldly fabled atmosphere to the song.”
“On Devon Folklore Tapes Vol. IV – Rituals and Practices, released by Folklore Tapes in 20122 Magpahi’s contribution includes leftfield glacial otherly and exploratory folk pop, instrumentals and wordless singing as though captured by far away dusty recording mechanisms; in spirit it may not be a million miles away from work that say Broadcast or Cat’s Eyes might have created for the insular dreamscapes of Peter Strickland’s films.”
“As Alison or A. Cooper and collaborating with fellow sometimes Folklore Tapes collaborator and co-founder of the Hood Faire record label Sam McLoughlin, she has released two volumes of folkloric soundscapes called Natural/Supernatural Lancashire and Supernatural Lancashire Volume Two, released in 2009 and 2013 respectively by Finders Keepers Records.
These are largely instrumental works (though just occasionally her voice will fleetingly appear) which create a soundtrack or an audiological tribute to the northern British Lancashire landscape and its stories…
However, neither part is a straightforward pastoral view and on the Natural Lancashire side you can be immersed in the wheezing almost carny previous era world of “Stream Power” one second and then transported to the meadows via “Edder” the next.”
“Alison Cooper has also released work in collaboration with Gwendolen Osmond as Crystal Mirrors on a joint Folklore Tapes/Hood Faire released cassette in 2014, alongside contributing tracks as Magpahi to the compilation Mistletoe & Cold Winter Skies released by Was Ist Das? in 2014 and several A Year In The Country released themed compilations including The Forest/The Wald in 2016 and All The Merry Year Round and The Quietened Cosmologists in 2017.”
“The Magpahi EP, Natural/Supernatural Lancashire, Supernatural Lancashire Part Two and Watchbird Alluminate were all released by Finders Keepers Records or its collaborative sister label Bird Records, which is run by musician Jane Weaver.
Both labels have proved to be a home for various often female-led or sung explorations of music that could very loosely be connected to folk but which wander amongst their own particular landscape of such things.
This has taken in both modern, newly created work and also the release of archival material such as “O Willow Waly” by George Auric taken from 1961 film The Innocents which was released on 7” by Finders Keepers in 2013.
Sung by Isla Cameron, it could be considered a precursor to the folk horror and soundtrack of the likes of The Wicker Man film from 1973 in the way that it draws from traditional music tropes to create beguilingly entrancing music which also summons a sense of the “other” out amongst rural climes.”
“Devon Folklore Tapes Vol. 4 – Rituals and Practices, as mentioned earlier was a split release by Magpahi and fellow Bird Records-released Paper Dollhouse, whose 2012 album A Box Painted Black is an experimental piece of music but as with much of Magpahi’s work it also contains an accessibility and/or a left field folk-pop sensibility.
This album was made by Astrud Steehouder working as solo artist; it has been described as “dark gothic minimal folk” and at the time she listed her influences as:
“…bewildering post nuclear landscapes, bleak fields, forests, thunderstorms and archaic industrial objects in the middle of nowhere…”
As with Magpahi’s work, the album seems to belong to a time, place and landscape of its own. It comes across as having been recorded in some semi-lost wooden cottage, in an indefinable place and time and the noises and creaks of its habitat have seeped in and become part of the very fabric of the music.”
“Paper Dollhouse in part take their name from the intriguing rurally-set 1988 film Paperhouse and its themes of childhood dreams and nightmares of drawings come to life, which was previously made as a television series in 1972 called Escape into the Night, with both being based on Catherine Storr’s 1958 novel Marianne Dreams.”
“Bird Records also released the 2012 album 1612 Underture by The Eccentronic Research Council. This was a collaborative work by Adrian Flanagan and Dean Horner, who had previously worked in the fringes and left-of-centre areas of electronica and electronic pop via the likes of Kings Have Long Arms, Add N To (X) and I Monster, alongside renowned actress Maxine Peake.”
“1612 Underture is a concept album which takes the form of a spoken word, soundtracked travelogue play, one that sometimes moves into more overtly song based moments; it is said to be “one part political commentary and feminist manifesto and two parts theatrical fakeloric sound poem”.
The album’s subject matter is the historical persecution of the Pendle Witches in the early 17th century and as suggested by the word “fakeloric” in the album’s description, throughout its observations on a contemporary voyage of discovery and pilgrimage it also interweaves historical events, folklore and imaginings and reimaginings of past events.
During the telling of its stories the album draws more than a few analogies with modern-day times: moral panics, folk devils and economic/ political goings on and shenanigans then and now. All of which are wrapped up in a warm, woozy, acoustic and synthesized analogue take on hauntological folk music, primarily voiced by Maxine Peake.”
“The album was accompanied by an extended accompanying video/ film by kluncklick (who also worked with Jane Weaver on her The Fallen by Watch Bird album from 20105).
This is rather slickly done on a (presumably) shoestring and handful of pennies budget.
Although using footage of actual people, it is not dissimilar in a way to a semi-animated children’s programme from years gone by, while also reminding us somewhat of Chris Marker’s film La Jetée (1962) in that it is built up largely from still images rather than traditional movement.
You could call it a fumée: the comic strips that are put together using actors or the book adaptations of films that were made up of stills that in previous decades were published fairly regularly.
While the album’s themes are quite serious and it is experimental in spirit, this is also a record which is deeply rooted in electronic pop and has been called non-populist pop.
“Another Witch Is Dead” is pop music, unabashedly so, including ear worm-like choruses, in particular the rhyming couplet “It’s a middle class vendetta, on women who are better”, which is a fine piece of class-related lyricism.
Today, often even within more leftfield music, it is relatively unusual to hear overt comment on class politics and relations and so in this sense 1612 Underture is somewhat refreshing. It also considers analogies with previous era’s magic and belief systems and that of today, describing mobile phones as being “modern-day magic on a monthly tariff ”.
Online images to accompany Chapter 35 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water – Public Information Films and Lost Municipal Paternalisms: Chapter 34 Book Images
“The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water is considered something of a “classic” public information film from 1973, some of which are renowned for having scared the heck out of a generation of youngsters through their forthright, graphic or unsettling atmospheres and depictions of potential dangers.
Public information films were a curiously blunt tool used to educate the population, often on matters of health and safety and were issued by the government-run and funded Central Office of Information in the UK from 1945 until 2005.
The structure, naming and concept puts me in mind of a previous era’s underfunded, unsophisticated benign paternalism, of a “we know best” tea and limp sandwiches committee which was in charge of a sub-sub-Orwellianism, though it actually seems to have sprung forth in part from that previous era’s social consensus orientated wish to help, nurture and protect its citizens.”
“…public information films have been collected in various commercially released DVDs, including a series by the BFI. They are also featured extensively in the Scarred For Life – Growing Up in the Dark Side of the Decade – Volume One: The 1970s book by Stephen Brotherstone and Dave Lawrence, published in 2017 and which focuses on ongoing unsettled reverberations from these films and related period culture.”
“Revisiting The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water, which was intended to warn children of the dangers of playing near water, there is a striking similarity with that other cultural artifact of 1973, The Wicker Man, at the point when Lord Summerisle tells Sergeant Howie of the characteristics he had that made him ideal as their sacrifice/source of plant renewal:
“I am the spirit of dark and lonely water, ready to trap the unwary, the show-off, the fool…”
(from The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water).
“A man who would come here of his own free will. A man who has come here with the power of a king by representing the law… A man who has come here as a fool…” (from The Wicker Man).””
“(The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water) invokes a sense of the journey that UK society has gone on, from youngsters playing amongst a culture’s debris, in the muddy puddles and potential deathtraps of its discarded places and edgelands (although that word did not yet exist at the time of the film’s release) to a time of much more intensified commodification and birthday trips to softplay centres and so on…
… it could be seen as a document produced during or transmission from one of the times when society was battling over its future shape, order and social consensus; hence the link to the themes and interests of hauntological study and work and associated yearnings for forgotten futures and municipally organised utopias.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 34 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Symptoms and Images – Hauntological Begetters, the Uneasy Landscape and Gothic Bucolia: Chapter 33 Book Images
“The British Film Institute’s Flipside strand of DVD/Blu-ray releases and cinema events began in 2009.
Its intention is said to chart “the untold history of British film” and it has taken in a wide variety of the fringes of film and cinematic work which for various reasons has fallen outside the critically accepted and/ or acknowledged canon of cinema.
The DVD/Blu-ray releases have included what could be considered subterranean, exotica or mondo cinema, forgotten or lost film, arthouse and odd b-movies and occasional strands of unsettled or otherly pastoralism.
These cinematic outcasts have been sympathetically restored and released with extended extras and notes.”
“In 2016 the 1974 José Ramón Larraz film Symptoms was released as part of the Flipside strand of films.
As a brief precis of the film’s history and plot, it was produced in 1973, came out in 1974, received a fair amount of critical attention and praise and then largely disappeared for the best part of forty years, apart from via privately circulated bootleg copies.
It is the tale of two young women who go for a break in a large rurally located house, wherein one of their mental states begins to splinter and fracture.”
“In a Record Collector magazine review from 2016 it was described as “…gothic-bucolic… the sort of thing that begat hauntology and Peter Strickland…”, ending on “…it’s a revelation”.
The phrase gothic-bucolic connects with certain aspects of A Year In The Country wanderings, particularly in terms of views of the landscape that deal with an unsettled flipside or subterranean, darker-hued bucolia.”
“Peter Strickland does not appear to mention the film in any interviews, nor lists it as one of the films that he noted as having fed into, influenced or were an inspiration for his 2014 film The Duke of Burgundy.
However, in many ways Symptoms appears connected with that film, seeming to be in part an unintended companion or sister piece.
The setting and setup is not all that dissimilar from The Duke of Burgundy; two women living in a relatively isolated rurally-set grand house that is decorated in a slightly faded, possibly slightly aristocratic or upper class, decadent or luxuriant manner and a depiction of the increasing tensions and dysfunctions of their relationship.”
“While the sense of connection and even sisterhood is increased by Angela Pleasance, who plays the lead in Symptoms and who bears a degree of physiognomic similarity to Chiara D’Anna who plays one of the main characters in The Duke Of Burgundy.”
“Symptoms also brings to mind the work of fashion photographer Deborah Turbeville and the use in her photographs of crumbling textures, decaying glamour and grandeur, alongside a certain shared languor to its characters and the use in both of edge of rural isolation settings.”
“…in Symptoms there is an underlying sense of dread, the viewer can at points or to a degree relax, sink into and enjoy its views of nature and escape. Such elements are very much part of the film’s enclosed, self-contained, claustrophobic world which is all overhanging branches and wooded enclosure rather than wide-open spaces.
Here and there light may break through the trees but it seems to only just be breaking through, to be almost battling or momentary.
And while the viewer can appreciate the natural beauty the film contains, it also instills a sense of “never has the British countryside been so quiet and calm and yet so unnourishing.””
“Symptoms shares a number of similarities with its almost cinematic period contemporary Images, a Robert Altman film from 1972: in both films the main female protagonists undergo extreme mental disturbance with somewhat deadly results, while living in largely isolated rurally based homes.
However, whereas Symptoms has a more subtly fractured dreamlike quality in the way it expresses such things and atmospheres, Images has a more overt, ongoing literal and graphic expression of those disturbances.”
“As with Symptoms it is a study of the fracturing of a mind in an isolated rural setting, amongst a landscape that should contain bucolic ease, escape and rest but that underlyingly could be seen to represent and capture a sense of 1970s psychic malaise.
In part that may be because despite the rural setting, both films have an understated murky, subdued colour palette, which as previously mentioned, seems to have been prevalent around the time of their making.”
“Also, within both films the interior scenes of the country houses are claustrophobic, confined, dark spaces, seemingly worlds unto themselves, decorated in what could be described as a gothic, bohemian, Hammer Horror mansion bric-a-brac style.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 33 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter: