This is #1 in a series revisiting of some of the acid/psych, underground and/or privately pressed folk from the late 1960s to around the mid 1970s that I have repeatedly returned to during A Year In The Country and often that were also early touchstones and inspirations.
Nottanum Town is from the album A Midsummer Night’s Dream which wasoriginally released in 1971 as a privately pressed edition of just 99 copies.
Their version of the traditional song Nottanum Town opens the album and I would probably file it alongside other privately pressed psych folk from that period such as Stone Angel and Midwinter, in the way that it features transportive female vocals and conjures and captures a very particular otherly spirit of Albion atmosphere that seemed to prevail around then.
In 2014 it finally had a legitimate repressing by the label Guerrsen, which lead to these reviews/comments:
“At one point the UK’s most valuable folk album, this has a dark, claustrophobic sound, heightened by eerie, acid-induced lyrics. Probably the most notable track is “Minas Tirith”, a sinister extended psych-folk excursion which suddenly explodes into a bizarre and metallic (in the literal sense) drum solo. Also notable are “The Hunt”, a strange piece of progressive-folk and a doomy opening version of “Nottamun Town”. (Richard Falk, Galactic Ramble)
“From the murkiest crypts of the progressive folk underground comes this extraordinary LP, with a sound and atmosphere like nothing else. At least one of the few copies pressed should be preserved in the British Museum” (Patrick Lundborg, Galactic Ramble).
I recently wrote about Witch Cults, one of the videos which were created by Julian House to accompany the album Broadcast And The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age.
There was another video created at the same time for the song I See, So I See So.
This one is more obviously set in a recognisable real, realist or natural world than Witch Cults, which is more inherently other or occult and in which the normal or actual world and its colours very rarely make an appearance.
However, I See, So I See So is still a view through the looking glass.
What it puts me in mind of is the intros to the likes of The Tomorrow People and possibly The Owl Service or maybe some flipside Camberwick Green-esque animation series intro. It seems to shadow, layer and reflect such things but without being a replication.
At one point a crudely rendered orb flies across the screen, from room to outside a building, out into the country and almost to a child’s hand, which calls to mind an effect from a 1960s/1970s Children’s Film Foundation series of some flying creature, spirit or visiting alien.
Elsewhere in the video box is filled with objects, shapes, a staring disembodied eye, which also seemed to connect back to a previous era’s children’s television, viewing it as through an avant-garde, experimental film co-op filter.
At various points the video includes variations on Julian House’s signature mandalas and op-art graphics, rapidly changing images and rapidly moving psychedelic lights and patterns.
However, as with the television series intros, the mention of psychedelic is not meant to infer a replication of a previous era’s cultural forms.
If this is psychedelia then it is more an evolution, a using of such things as a lens through which to view, refract and explore:
“I’m not interested in the bubble poster trip, ‘remember Woodstock’ idea of the sixties. What carries over for me is the idea of psychedelia as a door through to another way of thinking about sound and song. Not a world only reachable by hallucinogens but obtainable by questioning what we think is real and right, by challenging the conventions of form and temper.” (Trish Keenan in an interview with Broadcast by Joseph Stannard, published in Wire magazine issue 308.)
Although I See, So I See So and Witch Cults are two of the more conventional songs on the album, they still contain elements of the collaging and jump cuts that characterise the album as a whole.
The video for I See, So I See So in particular seems to be a visual reflection of that and the associated collage techniques.
This, along with Trish Keenan’s comments about challenging conventions of form and temper puts me in mind of two quotes regarding such things that I have included in A Year In The Country once before:
“House is a fan of the inadvertent avant-gardness of ‘bad’ or ‘clunky’ design, as seen in Polish movie posters of library music sleeves. He intentionally achieves similar effects through “bad looping, looped samples that change their start and end points. With visual collage there’s a way in which images that are cut out ‘badly’, maybe with bits of their background or surrounding image, make it difficult to discern where on part of the collage begins and another ends. This trompe l’oeil effect (a visual illusion) brings you deeper into the collage, confuses your ability to discern images as surface”…” (From Simon Reynolds article Haunted Audio, published in Wire magazine issue 273.)
“…assembled using a sampling method which makes a virtue of its imperfection. House (Julian of Ghostbox Records/The Focus Group) evidently delights in the inexact fit, the abrupt cut, and for the most part, the rhythms on Witch Cults are irregular, giddily tripping over themselves and each other. In drawing attention to the awkwardness of each edit, House does not demystify the art of sampling so much as emphasise its position at the intersection of magic and science…” (Written by Joseph Stannard as part of the above interview in Wire magazine issue 308.)
Further and ongoing considerations of Panos Cosmatos 2010 film Beyond The Black Rainbow…
A brief précis of the plot:
The film centres around the Aboria Institute, a new age research facility founded in the 1960s by Dr Arboria and dedicated to finding a reconciliation between science and spirituality, allowing humans to move into a new age of perpetual happiness.
In the 1980s his work was taken over by his protégé Dr Barry Nyle who despite outward appearances of charm and normality is actually mentally unstable and has thoroughly corrupted the Institute and its aims.
He spends his time trying to understand the preternatural psychic abilities of a young woman under his care, nominally as part of a therapeutic process but in fact he has imprisoned her in a state of heavy sedation in a hidden quasi-futuristic facility underneath the institute.
The soundtrack to the film is an analog synthesizer score by Jeremy Schmidt (also of Sinoia Caves and Black Mountain), which I have written about before and revisit/expand on below:
If the film could be a rediscovered and refracted Cronenberg project from a parallel world, the music could well be what my minds tends to imagine a Tangerine Dream soundtrack from that world would sound like.
The music that accompanies the film puts me in mind of the further reaches and undercurrents of what has been loosely labelled new age music, including some of the work that can be found on the compilation I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age In America – 1950-1990 (released in 2013 by Light In The Attic) such as Wilburn Burchette’s Witch’s Will and its creation of an atmosphere that is restful, draws you in and yet is also portentous and unsettling.
Connected to this, one of the themes of the film seems to be the corrupting of new age principles (as referred to earlier when mentioning the activities of Dr Barry Nyle at the Arboria Institute); it presents a world where there has been a curdling or perverting of philosophies of empowerment and enlightenment from when the Institute was founded in the 1960s.
More so than the official soundtrack release, it is the soundtrack clips from the film that can be found online that I am particularly drawn to, their inclusion of elements of the dialogue and effects etc adding to and connecting with the atmosphere and world the film creates.
With their accompanying video clips they also act as an overview and distilling of that world and the aesthetics of the film.
A number of years after first watching it and writing about it at A Year In The Country, I still find that the 2010 film Beyond The Black Rainbow completely intrigues me and draws me into the world it creates.
Panos Cosmatos, its director, has spoken about how Phase IV was one of the major influences on his film, saying that:
“There is a sub-genre of what I call “trance film,” and I really wanted this film to fall into the trance or dream genre without it being specifically a dream. I wanted it to feel like a lucid dream state. The whole time you are probing forward, deeper and deeper into an unknown world.”
He includes Phase IV within this sub-genre of trance film, with which Beyond The Black Rainbow shares a deliberate, still or slow almost hypnotic pace.
It also uses a rich, sensuous colour scheme and accompanying geometric design, structures and architecture in the creation of its hidden world, which links with the underground insect sequences and the mirrored research facility and reflective structures that the ants build in Phase IV.
The lines of connection and inspiration between Phase IV and Beyond The Black Rainbow are not a direct transference and replication, rather, as also said by the director it is in an “abstracted, vaguely recognizable way”.
This sense of non-replication can be linked to the representations of the 1980s when the film is set, which do not create a detail perfect simulacra but rather a reflection of that time which has been somewhat aptly evocatively described as “a Reagan era fever dream”.
On James Cargill’s (of Broadcast and Children Of Alice) Soundcloud page there are a few Broacast related rarities, mix tapes, demo versions of songs etc.
One of my favourite items is the Bruton Music Flexi – Steens Dilemma.
This is (I assume) a promotional item made for/by the Bruton Music library music company.
It is a classic slice of period culture, depicting a rep from Bruton using his company’s catalogue and index book to find and supply music his client needs in a rush, politely geezer-ishly castigating him by saying he wouldn’t be caught in this last-minute dilemma if he just had Bruton’s library catalogue always to hand:
“Back in the office I grabbed the music selection code book. With it’s help I would have Steed’s material in no time. The code catalogue had been well thought out. Not only did it run in an alphabetical order, depicting each class of music but each letter had a colour which matched the corresponding record sleeves of that particular section. By this simple book I could find any style and mood of music in the library within seconds. I looked down the colour coded index on the side of the book… the job would be done in no time… Good pacey, that’s what he’ll want…”
It’s a time capsule of a previous era. Or maybe that should be an imaginative time machine, such is the way that it captures and conjures up a a particular time and way of doing things.
Back in the first year of A Year In The Country I wrote about 1968’s The Curse Of The Crimson Altar that there were two versions of the film in my mind:
“…one is the actual film, which is a pleasant enough, fairly mainstream potboiler… and the other version which lives in the basement of the main film, drenched in green light, with a soundtrack by Trish Keenan and James Cargill and where Ms Barbara Steele reigns supreme… in this other version, the sections lorded over by their queen have grown and taken on a life of their own, to become a fully fledged feature that has quietly subsumed that which originally spawned it.”
(That is expressed in the accompanying commentary on the DVD/Bluray release with David Del Valle and Barbara Steele who plays the Black Witch Lavinia, when one of them says that the subterranean sections of the film featuring her are what people really want to see.)
I rewatched it not so long ago on the 2014 high definition brush and scrub up restored Bluray version and though I still think it is something of a quite conventional, potboiler-esque with various “groovy” sixties and/or occult exploitation film sections, it sort of grew on me. I have a certain fondness for it and the way it seems to mix elements of mainstream cinema almost from a previous, more stilted period of British cinema and the more permissive/transgressive elements.
It feels like a transitional or bridging point in British cinema and culture, one that draws from a more censored past, contains elements of 1960s hipness from the time of its making and seem to point towards the more louche or even seedy elements of 1970s culture.
The film also contains a fair few of the themes and tropes of folk horror and while not considered part of the “classic” cannon of such things, could also be seen as a forebear to British cinemas explorations of such things in the early 1970s.
Anyways, talking of different versions, I recently came across the Super 8 version of the film online.
If you should not know these were edited versions of films that were sold for home viewing using projects, prior to the days of video recorders.
And when I say edited I mean very edited: the original 87 minute running time is cut down to 8 minutes and 42 seconds.
Watching it now, because of the colour and characteristics of the medium it seems to belong to an era far further back than 1968 and although it features sound (which I don’t think all the Super 8 versions did) it seems to belong nearer to the melodrama and obvious plot signposting of the silent film era.
(Apart from the top title credit image, the images in this post are from the full length film – not surprisingly the Super 8 version cuts the subterranean sections somewhat.)
I recently posted about an article at the BFI’s website called “Six films that fed into The Duke of Burgundy”.
One of those films is Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight from 1963, which is a short experimental silent film created without a camera but rather he “collected moth wings, flower petals, and blades of grass, and pressed them between two strips of 16mm splicing tape. The resulting assemblage was then contact printed at a lab to allow projection in a cinema. The objects chosen were required to be thin and translucent, to permit the passage of light.”
It creates a constantly changing collage of those collected items and there is an unsettling, dreamlike (or should that be nightmare-like) night and forest walk scene in the later part of The Duke Of Burgundy that very explicitly references and takes inspiration from it.
Here is Peter Strickland on such things:
“The inclusion of an obscure reference done in an obvious fashion can be precarious in terms of what that reveals about a director’s motivations. At worst, the act of homage is merely posing and diverting attention onto the director rather than the film, but when done organically and effectively, as with both Greenaway at his best and Tarantino, it enriches the film and places it within a wider (albeit self-imposed) lineage that can be rewarding for the curious viewer.”
For myself such referencing in The Duke Of Burgundy has been rewarding partly in the way that it has sent me off down various pathways of discovery and/or revisiting, Stan Brakhage’s work being one of those.
So, aside from the creation of a golden, shimmering dream world to step into, tip of the hat to Peter Strickland for that.
I have mentioned this song before when talking about the Acid Tracks compilation which was compiled by The Owl Service (the band) and was subtitled “An Introduction To The Roots Of Psych-Folk”.
Back then I wrote:
“The particular standout song on the Acid Tracks compilation for me is Archie Fisher’s Orfeo… possibly one of the recording artists on the compilation who at first glance would appear the least acid/psych like but Orfeo is a magnificent, epic song, cinematic in scope… and there are these monstrous horns/pipes/foghorns (?) which appear repeatedly throughout the song and arrive like depth charges.”
Along with cinematic and epic, elegant is another word that comes to mind.
It is still a standout track for myself, not just on this compilation but also in my A Year In The Country wanderings in general and so it feels good and right to revisit it.
I also said back when:
“The album, also called Orfeo, on which it originally appeared was first released in 1970 and though it had been re-released on both LP and CD since it’s still something of a rarity.”
Other than that I know very little about Archie Fisher or these particular recording and it is one of those times when I prefer to just lose myself in the music.
Often with the mini-genre of possibly slightly more odd, unsettling or eerie than you’d expect for it’s target audience children’s television of the late 1960s to late 1970s (aka children’s television of the late 1960s to late 1960s that while odd to start with has grown more odd, unsettling, eerie as the years have gone by), for myself the trailers provide a concise capturing of the program’s sense of otherylness in but a minute or so.
Along which lines, Children Of The Stones.
With say The Owl Service or The Tomorrow People intros the visual and the music are both quite left-of-centre and unsettling. Here, while the imagery of the standing stones hints at flipside tales of the land, it is more the music than the imagery which is overtly eldritch like… and when the eerie overtones break through it is more just in momentary flickers and still in part presented in a more realist manner.
I would recommend keeping watching until about 2:48 for the full effect of the intro and the music mind. Just when you think it’s all over etc…
If there was a version of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs dealing with videos and at the end you had to choose just one of your selection to save from the waves…
Well, that would be pretty hard to choose but this may well be that one video… or strictly speaking I’d probably have to ask to bend the rules and grab at least five or ten.
Either way, this would be pretty near the topper-most of the popper-rmost.
It is one of the more “conventional” Broadcast-like songs on the often more cutup and experimental album Broadcast And The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age album.
The video is by Julian House and accompanied by the song never fails to entrance and entwine me in the world it conjures.
In the way that it seems to explore the undercurrents, patterns and marking of the land in an occult (or hidden) manner it could well be an accompaniment to the rare tour only Mother Is The Milky Way mini Broadcast album and also to hint at or be a forebear of the flipside of folklore, pagan-like concerns of 2017’s Children Of Alice album.
In amongst the intros for such things and a mini-genre of “children’s television from the late 1960s to late 1970s that was slightly odd and possibly a bit eerie considering it’s intended audience”, the intro to The Tomorrow People is probably still the one that gives me the heebie jeebies the most.
Not the series itself so much, more just the actual intro and its accompanying music.
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country I describe it as seeming like a mixture of…
“…the commencement sequence to The Owl Service, The Modern Poets book covers from back when, Mr Julian House’s work tumbling backwards and forwards through time and the audiologica of The Radiophonic Workshop… but all filtered somehow through an almost Woolworths-esque take on such things.”
Despite that Woolworths-esque filter and the the inclusion of a somewhat incongruous sliced pepper in amongst the other more overtly unsettling imagery, I still find it unsettling now. Maybe it is the connection to seeing it back when.
Part of a further recalibration of this year of A Year In The Country…
This strand of posts takes inspiration from the listings of old copies of television and radio guides such as The Radio Times and TV Times from back when.
Despite having sold in large quantities, because they were only intended to be used for the week that they provided broadcast schedules for they are often now quite rare, more so than many newspaper and magazines from the same time and so they are difficult things to come by, apart from the occasional scan that can be found online.
At the time I expect they did not seem to be overly of historic or cultural importance in comparison to newspapers and some magazines, which may well have featured coverage of momentous occasions, people’s favourite bands etc and so they were more likely to have been kept and stored away.
They often seem to capture and reflect something of the spirit of the time they were published in a subtly unique and individual way, something that may be enhanced by their scarcity and being semi-lost to history.
Anyways, the Audio Visual Transmission Guides strand of posts are intended as pointers to particular videos, music, radio broadcasts etc online, accompanied by brief (or brief-ish or possible not all that brief) text, in a hazily filtered mirroring of the listings in those magazines of old.
If I had the power to create an other parallel world many of these AVT Guides would I expect appear in the television and radio listings magazines of back when or today and be broadcast over the airwaves to the nation and beyond but that’s a little beyond my reach (!)…
So, in a reflection of the modern world and the dissemination of such things online, these posts will generally be pointers to particular corners of the internet.
They will include some “classic” A Year In The Country touchstones, those that I have found myself returning to and/or inspired by ongingly (no complaints about these particular kinds of repeats I expect would be found around these parts), revisitations of old favourites and some new findings and points of interest.
So, without further ado…
Time of broadcast: 1969 to today to whenever (hopefully).
Channel: BBC 1, BBC 2, ITV (and any others we can find although at the time those three were all the broadcast television channels available in the UK. My, how the world has changed etc etc.)
In a parallel world on some nights this should be on a loop on at least one television channel, so that conversations in households across the land would go something like this:
“What’s on the box tonight?”
“The Owl Service.”
“Ah, which episode.”
“Not an episode, just the Intro looped throughout the evening.”
“Ah, good, brew up a pot of tea and open a packet of biscuits. This is a night for staying in with your feet up.”
“Three teenagers discover a mysterious set of owl and flower-patterned dinner plates in the attic and the magical ancient legend of the “Mabinogion. The introduction graphics are a forebear or tumbling backwards and forwards through time to the likes of Julian House’s work for Ghost Box Records and various other strands of the flipside and undercurrents of Albion.”
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