The A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields Book and A Visual Accompaniment
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
Poles and Pylons and The Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society – A Continuum of Accidental Art: Chapter 32 Book Images
“The internet has given space, nooks and crannies to all kinds and manner of niche interests, and it’s safe to say The Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society and its website is one of the more niche, even amongst the further flung of such crannies.
The Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society declares that its aim is to celebrate “the glorious everyday mundanitude of these simple silent sentinels the world over”, which has a rather fine poetic lyricism and intent. Amongst its pages you will find numerous photographic documentings of telegraph poles, Pole of the Month, Pole Appreciation Day and reporting on photographic recordings of poles from around the world.
A sense of appreciation is woven tightly throughout its collecting and documenting work; though sometimes cast in jovial language, there is a genuine love for these utilitarian objects, an appreciation of their accidental art.”
“An accompanying but not formally connected website is Poles and Pylons (or to give its full name, Telegraph Poles and Electricity Pylons). At this site, communication poles and their lines of communication can be found alongside fellow land-striding brethren and their humming power carrying cables. It is possibly a more otherly/psychogeographical study and documenting than The Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society but both sites and their related activities complement one another somewhat; the flipside of one another’s coins.”
“The images they contain can often be a literal expression of the juxtaposition of technology, modernity and the pastoral, of the old ways and the new, when they are photographed amongst the landscape. In this manner they connect with the cover image of the first printing of Rob Young’s Electric Eden book from 2010 which depicts a farmer ploughing the land in a traditional horse-drawn manner under the gaze of electricity pylons.”
“Further sites which act as archival documentation hubs and expressions of an appreciation of similar structures and aspects of infrastructure include Disused Stations, which focuses on closed British railway stations and Subterranea Britannica, which documents often forgotten or decommissioned underground structures and installations such as Cold War Monitoring Posts and bunkers.
Sites such as these can also capture a sense of a lost age, of lost futures and a related melancholia or even paranoia at points with Subterranea Britannica.”
“The Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society and Poles and Pylons also remind us of Jonny Trunk’s book collections of library music covers, The Music Library (2005 and revised in 2016).
While library music was produced in the more overtly creative medium of music, it was still designed to serve a particular purpose, to be stock audio that could for example soundtrack or reflect particular moods in film and due to that utilitarian intent the appreciation of it has links with that of the more accidental art of poles and pylons.”
“Also, a line could be drawn from such things to Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane’s Folk Archive book (2005) and exhibition, Barbara Jones Unsophisticated Arts book (1951) and the associated Black Eyes and Lemonade exhibition. These focus on, document and serve as an appreciation of creative work from everyday life that may have been created for utilitarian purposes and may not be considered art by its makers or wider society such as fairground ride decorations and cafe signs.”
“Further lines could also be drawn to Christopher Herwig’s Soviet Bus Stops book published in 2015, in which he creates a photographic document and appreciation of Soviet era bus stops and their designs which seems to have a reach beyond their utilitarian purpose and to reflect the visions and far-reaching striving of an empire.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 32 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Folkloric Photography – A Lineage of Wanderings, Documentings and Imaginings: Chapter 31 Book Images
“There is an area of photography which concerns itself with documents of British folkloric rituals and costumes.
A starting point for such things is Sir Benjamin Stone’s work in the late 19th and early 20th century, when he photographed British traditional customs, collected in book form in A Record of England: Sir Benjamin Stone and the National Photographic Record Association 1897 -1910, which was published in 2007.
The people, times and places in Benjamin Stone’s photographs seem as though they belong to somewhere now impossibly distant from our own times…
Alongside this they can also possess an air of surreality: in one photograph a stuffed figure is shown as if it is floating in the air amongst the foliage of a tree; dressed in a white flowing dress its face and hands are completely obscured or replaced by what appear to be harvest crops.”
“Other photographs contain numerous stag’s antlers worn as part of ritual costume.
This, along with the challenging stance and stares of their subjects, lend them a folk horror aspect, almost as though they are a glimpse forwards and backwards to the transgressive rituals of the villagers in 1970 Play for Today television drama Robin Redbreast.”
“Benjamin Stone’s work is an early point in a lineage that leads to more recent books which document British folkloric tradition, ritual and costume such as Homer Sykes Once a Year: Some Traditional British Customs (1977), Sarah Hannant’s Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids: A Journey Through the English Ritual Year (2011), Merry Brownfield’s Merry England – the Eccentricity of English Attire (2012) and Henry Bourne’s Arcadia Britannica: A Modern British Folklore Portrait (2015).”
“As a starting point, Homer Sykes Once a Year… is a collection of photographs from seven years of journeying around Britain and was reissued in 2016 by Dewi Lewis Publishing.
As with sections of Benjamin Stone’s work, some of the photographs in Once a Year have a genuinely eerie or unsettlingly macabre air, particularly the cover photograph of the original edition which features the custom of burning tar barrel-carrying in Allendale, Northumberland.”
Once a Year also acts as a document of period 1970s detail and style, while also capturing the way traditional customs existed in amongst such things…
One of the key images in the book is of somebody completely enclosed in a Burry Man folkloric costume, which is made from sticky flower or seedheads, in a pub who is being helped to drink through a straw. It is a precise distilling and capturing of a particular moment in British life, full of subtle signifiers of a way of life which, while only being a few decades ago and not yet as inherently distant as the world captured by Benjamin Stone’s photographs, still seems to belong to a world very far apart from our own.”
“In a number of ways Sarah Hannant’s Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids is similar to Once a Year in that both books are documentary photography social histories of the ongoing observance and enactment of British folk rituals…
In Sarah Hannant’s book this positioning and juxtaposing is shown in photographs which, for example, picture somebody dressed in a straw bear folkloric costume next to a local metro supermarket and a fluorescent-clad safety officer next to carnival float queens.”
“Often the rituals pictured have a playful, dressing up, knockabout air but just once in a while something else seems to creep into the photographs, in particular in one photograph where the blackened faces of those engaged in and wearing the costume of folkloric rituals peer and appear through a pub window.”
“Alongside Once a Year and Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids, Merry Brownfield’s Merry England is a book which utilises documentary photography via its photographs of its subjects in real world settings.
At first glance and from the book’s cover, which features somebody dressed in traditional green man folk costume, it appears to be another book in this lineage, one which directly focuses on folkloric traditions and photographs of people in traditional folk costume forms the heart of the book with sections titled “Straw Bear”, “The Castleton Garland Day”, “Holly Man”, “Mummer’s Plays” and “Morris Dancers”.
However, it also travels considerably further afield to encompass pop culture tribes and styles such as mod and people who appear to have tumbled from the page of The Chap magazine in “The Tweed Run” and “Vintage Style” sections.
Alongside which it also documents the city-based London East End tradition of pearly kings and queens, the comic convention-esque costumes of attendees to the World Darts Championship, traditional Billingsgate fish market bobbin hats and a number of possibly more contentious hunting and aristocratic areas.”
“Henry Bourne’s Arcadia Britannica takes a different approach to the above books in that, as its subtitle suggests, the book contains more formal posed portraits of those in folkloric costume.
The photographs are described as being “shot in the wild” at various events and festivals but apart from the occasional appearance of grass beneath the feet of some of those in the photographs, due to the use of a blank white backdrop aesthetically they could be studio portraits.
The white backdrop removes those in the photographs from the wider world and accompanied by the capturing of detail which is enabled by the formal posing and controlling of light sources it lends the project the air of an almost scientific recording of its subjects; through these choices of technique the book represents and contains a precise documenting of a particular point in folkloric time archived for future generations.
While the book largely focuses on those wearing traditional folkloric costume, although less so than in Merry England it also branches out further to include Pearly King and Queen costumes, while also taking in practising witches and warlocks (and in an interconnected manner includes an introductory essay by Simon Costin, who is the director of the Museum of Witchcraft alongside being the founder and director of the Museum of British Folklore).
“All the above books and photography focus on the British isles but there are a number of books which carry out similar studies and documenting of folkloric rituals and costumes elsewhere in the world, one of which is Charles Fréger’s Wilder Mann: The Image of the Savage originally published in 2012. This takes as its theme:
“The transformation of man into beast is a central aspect of traditional pagan rituals that are centuries old and which celebrate the seasonal cycle, fertility, life and death.”
Reflecting such transformations, generally the images in the book are of costumes where the human features of their wearers are no longer visible, being much more hidden than many British folkloric costumes.”
“In British folklore-focused photography and books the sense of unset- tling folk horror-esque undercurrents are more glimpses here and there; with Charles Fréger’s images such atmospheres are much more prevalent.
Many of the costumes in his photographs could well be escapees or prototypes for the 1970s British BBC costume and creature effect department in terms of their design.They appear to be creatures from a forgotten Doctor Who episode from back then, possibly compatriots of the befurred yetis or abominable snowmen that had a nation’s children hiding behind the sofa.”
“The images in Wilder Mann and the above books of British folkloric rituals often focus on documenting rurally-orientated or located events and customs. Axel Hoedt’s book Once a Year from 2013 shifts focus more exclusively to streets and towns, in particular the Swabian Alemannic carnival known as Fasnacht, Fastnacht or Fasnet, a custom in southwest Germany. The carnival is described in text which accompanies the book as being:
“…when the cold and grim spirits of winter are symbolically hunted down and expelled. Every year around January and February processions of people make their way through the streets of Endingen, Sachsenheim, Kissleg, Singen, Wilfingen and Triberg dressed up lavishly as demons, witches, earthly spirits and fearful animals to enact this scene of symbolic expulsion.”
The language used seems brutal and harsh; hunted down, expelled, expulsion, fearful.”
“In Estelle Hanania’s Glacial Jubilé book (2013), some of the European folkloric costumes and creatures from Wilder Mann seem at points to reappear and breach the rural/urban divide, but this time they can seem like alien invaders as they are shown advancing in formation across the landscape and then appearing in urban streets and shopping centres.”
“(In Laura Thompson’s Senseless photography series from 2016) she produced staged photographs of figures in the landscape dressed in costumes made from disposable manmade objects.
These photographs appear to recall European folkloric or mythical costume that may have appeared in say Charles Fréger or Estelle Hanania’s work but filtered as though via a story of outer space creatures who are lost and wandering the earth.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 31 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Folk Archive and Unsophisticated Arts – Documenting the Overlooked and Unregulated: Chapter 30 Book Images
“Folk Archive: Contemporary Popular Art from the UK is a book and exhibition from 2005, created and collected by Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane.
The Folk Archive collection is a gathering and documenting of creative work that could be loosely considered folk art from everyday life in the UK, part of which includes work which may have been created for utilitarian purposes or decoration such as cafe signs and often things which may not be considered art by its makers or wider society.
“The phrase “folk art” often conjures or represents a particular quite well-defined, often rural or cottage industry aesthetic and has been frequently used to refer more to work from previous eras but The Folk Archive does not make such distinctions.
In the pages of the book you can find largely photographic images of tattoos/tattoo guns, artwork from prisons, burger van signs, illustrations painted onto the bonnets of cars and crash helmets, fairground paintings, sandcastles, cake decorations, Christmas decorations, protest banners, shop signs, decorative costume for a night out or a carnival, clairvoyant’s hand created signs, crop circles and the trappings of what could be considered traditional folkloric rituals.”
“Jeremy Deller’s work often involves, incorporates and is interactively accessible or co-created by the public.
In line with that, his work in the past has included taking modern music technology to record with retired musicians in an English seaside town, re-enacting pitched battles in political disputes in conjunction with those involved at the time and re-enactment enthusiasts, taking a bouncy castle version of Stonehenge around the country, a traditional brass band playing acid house records to a young dance audience or a procession through Manchester that incorporated everything from a local pensioner-friendly snack bar recreated on the back of a float to Manchester’s musical legacy reinterpreted by a calypso band.”
“The Folk Archive collection provides a pathway to a modern-day revisiting of some of the themes of Barbara Jones’ Unsophisticated Arts, originally released in 1951 and republished in 2013 by Little Toller Books.
That book told the story of her explorations in the 1940s of everyday art throughout Britain and which took in some similar subject matter to that in Folk Archive: fairgrounds, tattoo parlours, taxidermists, houseboats, high street shops, seaside piers and amusement arcades.
Also in 1951 Barbara Jones organised the Black Eyes and Lemonade exhibition in the Whitechapel Art Gallery as part of the Festival of Britain, which in a similar manner to the Folk Archive presented creative work and objects which would normally not be included within the realms of fine art and associated gallery display…
Although it was intended as a recording of real life and day-to-day art, viewed now it provides a document of a fabled lost Britain; there is a certain whimsical fairytale like quality to the images of often ornately and elaborately decorated canal boat interiors, fairground rides, table cupboards etc.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 30 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
The Midwich Cuckoos and The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham, Dystopian Tales, Celluloid Cuckoos and the Village as Anything but Idyll: Chapter 29 Book Images
“Watching The Village of the Damned, the 1960 film adaptation of John Wyndham’s 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos, it seemed like the perfect summing up of one of the themes of A Year In The Country; an imagined sense of an underlying unsettledness to country idylls, of something having gone wrong and rotten amongst the hills, valleys and sleepy local streets of this green and pleasant land.”
“It is a film full of iconic imagery: nearly every scene arriving with at least one more: the early collapse into unconsciousness of that most British symbol of pastoral civility the bobby on a bicycle (bobby being a colloquial and possibly now period expression meaning police officer), nighttime mobs with burning torches and the children themselves with their emotional detachment, silver hair and glowing eyes.”
“In many ways it could be seen to be the flipside or even accompaniment to the film and television versions of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit (1958-1959 and 1967 respectively).
Quatermass and The Pit is a post Second World War consideration of the battle for genetic superiority, purity and control as experienced in a then still recent historic conflict, while in The Village of the Damned an amoral, Aryan-esque race are seeded amongst the population, determined to survive and colonise whatever the cost.”
“Both Quatermass author Nigel Kneale and John Wyndham seemed to often specialise in tales where the landscape and rural areas were far removed from idylls.
For example, in John Wyndham’s work there are the preternatural invaders of Village of the Damned and in his 1951 novel The Day of the Triffids survivors of a worldwide cataclysm take refuge in a rural cottage against predatory plants.
In Nigel Kneale’s final series of Quatermass from 1979, rural stone circles are the sites of extraterrestrial reapings of the world’s youth, the research conducive space that a country manor house should provide in 1972’s The Stone Tape instead becomes the scene for an unearthing and return of spectral events.”
“(In The Village of the Damned the children) are essentially a hive mind or colony, their leader or more vocal spokesperson is played brilliantly by Martin Stephens (second from right in the above still), just the touch of a smile playing about his lips as he stares otherwise without emotion at his mother after sending someone to a fiery departure.
He appears to have been the go-to young actor for such quietly unsettling preternaturalness in the early 1960s as he also appears amongst the reeds, willows, hauntings and transgressions of the 1961 film The Innocents.”
“(The title sequence to the 1981 television adaptation of John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids novel has) an air of being genuinely unsettling, in particular the introduction, where green and blue-tinted faces stare wonderingly at the cosmic light show which will make mankind blind, the brief terrifying attack by a triffid plant and the accompanying spectral choral soundtrack.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 29 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
“In the 1970s there was a curious mini-genre or gathering of doom laden apocalyptic, dystopian science fiction films, which warned of the dangers of ecological collapse, the depletion and battle for vital resources, out of control population growth and related ways citizens might be controlled and manipulated.
You could include Z.P.G. (1972), Soylent Green (1973), Silent Running (1972) and The Omega Man (1971) in amongst these, possibly in a more crowd and eye-pleasing way Logan’s Run (1976) and you could draw a line from them to later British television series along similar lines such as Noah’s Castle (1979), which also dealt with the effects of dwindling resources and the resulting societal breakdown.”
“No Blade of Grass (1970), based on John Christopher’s The Death of Grass novel from 1956, was another such film.
This is a surprisingly bleak, brutal film (admittedly with some inappropriate almost sitcom-like music here and there and longstanding UK sitcom and soap opera actress Wendy Richards as a slightly out-of-place comic female character) about what happens when a new strain of virus kills the world’s grass, related plants and crops.”
“The title frames show a lone group of figures armed and on the run on a parched, cracked landscape, set against images of pollution and decay, which are soon followed by scenes of abundant food and conventional affluent middle class ways of life.”
“In the 1970s it often seemed to be wild gangs of bikers who were the recurring societal bogeymen that would take over when civilisation collapsed (John Christopher’s 1968 novel Pendulum novel takes a similar line, while the 1973 film Psychomania sees the bikers become undead countryside hoodlums).”
“Meanwhile those sometime symbols of bucolic English pastoralism, the good old tweed clad country farmer and the stone farmhouse become almost Deliverance (1972) style hijackers and scenes of troop insurrections.”
“While in the cities the dependable British bobby has become an altogether different gas mask wearing, gun-toting symbol of authority.
The spires of a land forever England now merely act as a backdrop to the chaos.”
“Although in some ways quite a mainstream, possibly even exploitation piece of cinema, throughout the film there are quite non-mainstream moments, presentation and commentary on what has led the world to this place: the action will stop and be replaced by non-narrative sequences and stills that show fields full of carrion, rivers strewn with dead aquatic life, smokestacks framed by leafless nature, rows of discarded cars are pictured on riverbanks, a luxury car is shown abandoned in the countryside as an advertising voice over says “You can do anything in a Rolls-Royce” while the almost unnoticeable specs of citizens fleeing the rioting and looting mobs in the cities can be seen on the hill behind it.”
“Z.P.G. (which stands for Zero Population Growth) is not as overtly apocalyptic, more being a depiction of a dystopian-regulated future. It was inspired by Paul Ehrlich’s factual 1968 book The Population Bomb which warned of the potentially disastrous effects of mass resource depletion due to overpopulation, with a screenplay by Frank De Felitta and Max Ehrlich (the second of whom also published a novel based on the screenplay called The Edict in 1971 prior to the film’s release).”
“The film seems reasonably obscure and overlooked but is somewhat intriguing, not least because of the cast which includes Oliver Reed, past his peak but still full of a glowering, brooding power, Geraldine Chaplin who is the daughter of bagged trousered celluloid tumbler and sometimes dictator botherer Charlie Chaplin and the bewitching, almost otherworldly luminescence of sometime The Wicker Man (1973)/Summerisle inhabitant Diane Cilento.”
“The setting is a massively polluted, smogbound Earth where natural childbirth has been banned for 30 years in order to try and preserve resources, with those who stray from these rules being punished in a particularly draconian manner as it results in execution, which slightly surreally and unsettlingly involves plastic domes printed with the word “Transgressor” being used as traps which are spray painted pink to hide the inhabitants who are then left to run out of air.”
“Couples are offered robot child substitutes, in a way that seems prescient of Japanese electronic Tamagotchi toys where the users had to nurture a digital pet but without giving away too much, not all citizens are obeying the “no children” edict.”
“As a film, it is a good representation of a point in time when downbeat bleakness was often presented as part of mainstream entertainment, possibly reflecting the troubled times of the 1970s and the collapse of post-1960s utopian dreams…
It contains elements of B-movies and action movies but also possesses a certain intelligence and investigation within its genre tropes that put the viewer in mind of Planet of the Apes (1968) and the sense of “What have we as a species done?”.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 28 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside text extracts from the chapter: