Charles Frégers Wilder Mann book and its photographs of folkloric costumes involving the transformation of man into beast has been something of an ongoing reference point for A Year In The Country…
…but until quite recently I hadn’t explored his other work all that much, although I knew that he had released another book of folkloric costumes.
Anyways, I’ve just had a look at his Yokainoshima: Island Of Monsters book of Japanese rural folklore costumes…
…and, well, I’m not quite which set of images is more out there; Wilder Mann or Yokainoshima.
Looking at the Yokainoshima photographs I wandered if our own folkloric ritual costumes look just as bizarre to people from over the seas and its just because I’m not used to seeing them that these Japanese costumes seem so, hmmm, peculiar (said in a good way).
They put me in mind of Axel Hoedt’s photographs of southwest German folkloric costume in his Once A Year book, in that to my eye and mind they seem to be channelling some kind of more outlandish club kid wear, along the lines of the 2003 film Party Monster which is set in the outer limits of New York nightlife.
Some of the images connect to our own straw bear traditions, some seem to be connected to natural fertility and some are nearer to a mutatedly stylised take on traditional Japanese clothing.
(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)
Although I’m wary of revelling too much or gratuitously in appreciations of abandoned structures, certain online sites and collections of photographs catch my eye…
One of those is the Disused Stations website which focuses on abandoned railway stations in the UK.
(The last train at Belmont station, which for some and various reasons seems particularly for myself seems to have a particularly sad or regretful air to it).
Disused Stations is an encyclopaedic and somewhat exhaustive text, archival image and contemporary photography collection and mapping of such places – and it is quite staggering to see just how many hundreds of stations there once were across the UK that are no longer in use.
As a site and project, it put me in mind of Subterranea Britannica’s documenting of forgotten structures and installations.
And like that site, the photographs can capture a sense of a lost age, of lost futures and a related melancholia.
They can have a haunting quality that seem at points to conjure the spirit of a very particular time that now seems far, far away from our own.
That is particularly so I suppose with the Disused Stations site in terms of its connection with the once publicly owned rail network.
(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)
When I was watching the 1999 television series The Last Train, some of the derelict sites that were used as locations seemed almost surreal and unexpectedly abandoned; it was genuinely odd to see a hi-de-hi like traditional British holiday camp in a state of abandonment and collapse, while the cooling towers that are seen in one episode seem just too monumental in scale and purpose to have been discarded.
When I was looking up online about the series, I came across various examples of what is sometimes known as urban exploration (exploring and photographing derelict places and structures) that featured the locations from The Last Train.
I was particularly taken by these of Thorpe Marsh power plant and its cooling towers; they seemed to capture a grand or monumental nature of the structures and put me in mind of photographs of Soviet era abandoned places and the way that they seem to be nearer to monuments to a lost time and age rather than merely derelict often utilitarian structures.
(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)
From the late 1960s to earlier 1970s there were a number of female musicians working around folk music who for a fair few years were lost to view…
They include Vashti Bunyan, Linda Perhacs, Shelagh Macdonald and Judy Dyble.
The last three of those were written about by Andrew Male and Mike Barnes in a feature called The Lost Women Of Folk in Mojo magazine back in November 2013, which is a fine exploration of the history of and interviews with those performers.
Shelagh McDonald and Judy Dyble’s work I have a longstanding softspot for, probably in part because both of them appear on the Pete Wiggs compiled Gather In The Mushrooms compilation (subtitled the British acid folk underground 1968-1974) that was one of the early inspirations for A Year In The Country.
On that album Judy Dyble performs a song called Morning Way with the band Trader Horne, of which in the early days of A Year In The Country I said:
“I think it was Forest’s Graveyard or maybe Trader Horne’s Morning Way that first grabbed my attention and made me realise that something other than my preconceptions about folk music was going on here. The first lines on Morning Way are “Dreaming strands of nightmare are sticking to my feet…”, followed close after by a somewhat angelic female voice in counterpart and well, I thought “This is odd, I like this…””
I find Judy Dyble’s voice captivating, entrancing and very evocative and on her earlier recordings it seems to capture and summon the atmosphere and spirit of the time and transport me back then…
I thought it was a shame that for a fair few years she had been slightly lost to view in the history of folk and in terms of her work with Fairport Convention (with whom she was the original female singer), so its good to see that over the years she is no longer so much one of the “lost women of folk”.
As the years have progressed she has stepped back into the public eye; beginning in 1981 she has guested at a number of live performances with Fairport Convention and in 2003 began recording again and has since put out a number of albums and singles.
More recently has seen an anthology of her work released by Earth records and also the release of a biography that she co-wrote with prolific author (and sometime A Year In The Country reviewer at Goldmine Magazine/Spin Cycle) Dave Thompson, both of which are well worth an exploration in terms of looking back at growing up in the 1960s, a highpoint of folk explorations in the later 1960s/early 1970s and what one of those who was connected to such things went on to do.
(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)
I remember being completely fascinated by the television series Space 1999 when it was originally broadcast, as I expect were many children of a certain age at the time.
Aside from the spaceships, ray guns and monsters that were much of what caught my eye back when, watching it today I was quite surprised in that it’s a curiously grown-up series in terms of its themes, dealing with mortality, parallel worlds and ways of life.
I often think it was made in the wake of the success of Star Wars being released in 1977 but actually it was first broadcast in 1974.
It had quite high-end production values, particularly compared to much of 1970s television, which while not on the same level as Star Wars they can often hold their own quite well.
However, in terms of pacing it is a world apart from the relentless blockbuster momentum that Star Wars heralded; Space 1999 is a much calmer, reflective viewing experience.
It’s actually quite psychedelic.
Not so much in a 1960s-esque bubble-trip aesthetics manner, although it does have some quite overtly psychedelic effects, more in a general exploratory and often dreamlike sense and a passing through into portals and other realities that often happens within the series.
The psychedelic, dealing with adult themes aspect put me in mind of John Boorman’s film Zardoz and its story of an enclave of humanity known as the Vortex which is inhabited by the Eternals who have become immortal and who now live a pampered, almost new age way of life where their folkloric rituals are underpinned and supported by advanced scientific technology.
The connection between the series and the film is quite overt in the Space 1999 episode Death’s Other Dominion, where also a group of human’s have become immortal and they lead a life which contains a curious intertwining of medievalism, craft and scientific research and methodology.
Alongside which in both Zardoz and Space 1999 one of the results of their immortality has been that some of their number still live but have become trapped in a mindless, stupefied immortality (known as The Apathetics in the former and The Revered Ones in the latter).
Also, in both Zardoz and Space 1999 there is a sense of flawed or corrupted Edenic paradises; in Zardoz this is via the parasitical Eternals enclave which can only exist through its exploitation and control of those excluded from it and which is slowly drifting into dissolution, in Space 1999 it is expressed in the various planetary idylls that the stranded moon base dwellers come across, only to find that their initial hopes are dashed by their inhabitants hidden darker intents or the planet’s destructive properties.
Curiously, both Zardoz and the first series of Space 1999 were released in 1974, which makes me wander if the psychedelic/exploratory aspects were a reflection of 1960s experimentations seeping out into more mainstream channels in not so obvious ways.
Another aspect of Space 1999 which comes as a welcome surprise as the episodes unfold are the number of revered and cult actors and actresses who appear as guest stars.
In a list that reads like a film and comic con memorabilia guest signee wish list, this includes Joan Collins, Ian McShane, Julian Glover, Peter Bowles, Isla Blair, Michael Culver, David Prowse, Pamela Stephenson, Peter Cushing, Leo McKern, Billie Whitelaw, Valerie Leon, Judy Geeson Patrick Troughton, Brian Blessed, Catherine Schell and Christopher Lee.
(And talking of Star Wars, a fair few of those above guests would later appear in it…)
(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)
I’ve briefly mentioned the The House Of Julian Flikr group that collects Julian House’s artwork and design work before…
Though I don’t visit it all that often (it’s not actually updated all that often, which I quite like as you’re not running to catch up with it) but it’s always a treat to do so when I do…
…and I thought it would be good to revisit around these parts…
I think it’s probably the best display/collection of his work that I have come across and includes his work for the Ghost Box Records label he co-founded with Jim Jupp, interconnected work with/for Broadcast, his design work for clients via Intro (book covers, records etc) and some exhibition work and photographs.
Although not exhaustive it seems to capture the ongoing styles, themes and aesthetics of his work.
I’m not quite sure how to define that style but occult, psychedelic, op-art, pop-culture, spectral layering and collaging may be heading in the right direction.
(I use the word occult more in the sense of it meaning hidden, arcane or esoteric – though there is some of the other kind in the work. Psychedelic I use more in the sense of meaning exploratory, of creating connecting points or portals to other realities than the more directly 1960s take on such things – though also here and there, there are traces and reflections of such things.)
Anyways, well worth a visit or two…
(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)
I recently went a-wandering to have a look-see if I could fine the original press book for The Wickerman – as I’ve mentioned around these parts before I have something of a softspot for press booklets from back.
As far as I can see there were two main ones back in 1973; one for the US and one for the UK.
Despite the cult and collectible nature of the film you can still occasionally find them, although they’re not necessarily cheap; the two I found were priced at/sold for around £26.00 and £325 (ahem!).
Anyways, as I was having a potter around online I found a site called The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia…
…and just when you think you know a fair bit about the film, have read a related book or two and seen a documentary or few etc…
…well, you realise you’re just scratching the surface.
The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia site has 138 different pages on the film, which may not sound like all that many but some of those have literally dozens of photographs, hundreds of pieces of information etc: maps, autographs, scripts, newspaper articles, behind the scenes photographs by the dozen, location photographs then and now, scripts, production notes, floor plans, reunion photographs, memoirs from cast and crew, images from missing scenes, fanzines, construction plans…
…and that’s to mention just a few of the things that can be found there.
Some of my favourite parts of the site are the Behind The Scenes page, in particular the images of the construction of The Wicker Man itself and also the numbered on-set and press photographs taken from contact sheets.
Those two parts of the site seem, even though they are on a public site, to offer a semi-hidden view or a glance behind the curtain at it were.
And interestingly, I don’t find that they ruin the mystique or myths of the film for me, which I can do sometimes with such photographs or “How We Made The Film” documentaries and DVD extras.
That’s possibly because The Wicker Man has such a multi-layered set of myths around it, some of which are intrinsically connected and interwoven with the production of the film itself and related backstories.
The site is a real labour of love that put me in mind of the Kate Bush Clippings site that I wrote about a while ago, on which there are hundreds or more scans of related magazine etc articles.
The two sites may well also be interconnected in that both Kate Bush and The Wickerman seem to have come to represent, have spun or exist within some kind of world and myths all of their own; ones that connect with some kind of sense of arcane, layered stories, history and fantasia from this part of the world.
Because of the vast nature of the site and the way that it is built (and possibly because of my initial sense of “must try and read and see it all”) it can be a bit overwhelming, so I thought a few initial pointers towards starting points and pages that caught my eye might be helpful…
Fairly recently I was in a charity shop and on the counter they had a box full of the DVDs and CDs that used to come free with newspapers…
That time now seems long, long ago, before the advent and popularity of online streaming services for films.
Anyways, a while after I got home I realised that two of the DVDs I had gotten from the shop were effectively the original double bill cinema release of The Wicker Man and Don’t Look Now.
The version of The Wickerman on the DVD is one of the shorter ones with a runtime of 84 minutes but nonetheless I suppose for Wickerman collectors and completists this would still be something to look out for.
Finding them also made me curious if there had ever been one of those double bill cinema posters for the two films.
They were once quite popular and now seem to often capture previous era’s styles and aesthetics.
However, despite quite a search for one of those double bill posters I couldn’t find one, only a couple of newspaper/magazine adverts.
So in lieu of an actual double-bill poster I thought I would repost a double page spread from a copy of Film Review magazine back in 1974, showing The Wicker Man side-by-side with its cinematic partner:
As mentioned in the notes for the A Year In The Country From The Furthest Signals album, it is a strange thing in the modern world, where most of culture is endlessly recorded, stored, archived and replicated relatively easily via digital technology, to think of a time when that was not the case, particularly in terms of radio and television broadcasts.
In past eras these were often produced and transmitted live or if they were recorded then the physical media that held them were often wiped, discarded, damaged and/or quite simply just lost.
There were a number of reasons for such actions and loss, including the cost and sheer physical volume of storage space required to archive them, wishing to save money by re-using tapes, not necessarily thinking that such recordings would have worth or cultural value in the future and sometimes just the literal fragility or unstably dangerous nature of the recording media.
Quite a few areas of what have come to gain a cult following in British television suffered such fates, in particular broadcasts of some of Nigel Kneale’s work.
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’s a past echo of a retreating Roman army… but it is actually the cries of those suffering in a future apocalyptic attack.
The idea of which is genuinely chilling and although part of me would like to see it, part of me is kind of glad I can’t.
Anyways, the script for The Road is available as a PDF on the out of print BFI DVD of The Stone Tape.
It was also published in book form in 1976 alongside the scripts for The Stone Tape and Year Of The Sex Oympics but the last time I looked you would need to be breaking into probably quite a few of your piggy banks to be able afford one as it’s rather rare and tends to cost in the hundreds of pounds.
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 in London in 2015.
The Horse Hospital reading was to mark the launch of a book of essays about Nigel Kneale called We Are The Martians: The Legacy Of Nigel Kneale, which was delayed somewhat but which is finally due to appear this year, which will feature writing by amongst others Mark Gatiss, Tim Lucas, Kim Newman and Neil Snowdon.
It joins a number of other explorations of his work in book form; the biographical Into The Unknown: The Fantastic Life Of Nigel Kneale by Andy Murray (which is to be revised and republished by Headpress in 2017), Kim Newman’s Quatermass And The Pit published by the BFI and the beautifully produced, risograph printed collection of essays The Twilight Language Of Nigel Kneale, which was edited by edited Sukhdev Sandhu, published by Strange Attractor and Texte und Töne and designed in a rather fine manner by Seen Studios.
(The earlier version of the book’s cover.)
(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)
Of late I seem to have been accidentally stumbling across and exploring various areas of what is sometimes known as pseudo or fringe science: scientific study, research and practises that are not accepted by and/or are outside the realms of conventional scientific thought.
That has wandered from reading the almost hallucinogenic world of his father’s that Peter Reich describes in his autobiographical A Book Of Dreams (which inspired Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting song and video), to the related and intertwined imagery and themes of artwork from The Delaware Road, via the science fiction-esque experimentations of The Creeping Garden and through to the Radionics Radio album by Daniel Wilson.
A brief description of radionics is below:
“A system of alternative medicine based on the supposition that detectable electromagnetic radiation emitted by living matter can be interpreted diagnostically and transmitted to treat illness at a distance by complex electrical instruments.”
While the Radionics Radio project and album:
“…draws upon the fringe-science of radionics, with its invisible forces and psychic resonances, to spawn electroacoustic and electronic compositions employing very alternative tuning systems. Radionics’ idea that thoughts can be represented as frequencies is vigorously explored on this new release through microtonal compositions which range from mutating drones to electronic sambas, with nods to Raymond Scott and Daphne Oram along the way.”
In practical terms, the album was created in this way:
“In 2014, Resonance FM’s Sound and Music Embedded Composer in Residence Daniel Wilson launched Radionics Radio. Through an online app replicating Delawarr’s Multi-Oscillator, users submitted their own thoughts and frequencies for radio broadcast… All sounds heard in the Radionics Radio compositions are strictly derived only from the respective submitted thought-frequencies.”
The Delawarr Multi-Oscillator? What is that I may hear you say. Well:
“In 1962, Oxford’s Delawarr Laboratories built their groundbreaking Multi-Oscillator instrument comprising multiple electronic tone generators. The Multi-Oscillator was the summation of all Delawarr Laboratories’ acoustical research into radionics. It was a strange instrument far ahead of its time. In a process best described as ‘dowsing with oscillators,’ the unorthodox device was employed intuitively to select clusters of frequencies that embodied thoughts, ailments or concepts.”
As is often the way when you look into one particular avenue of culture, you start to stumble upon more… along which lines, in Issue 26 of Electronic Sound there is an interview with Daniel Wilson where he talks about the creation of the Radionics Radio album and how the project grew from his time at the Goldsmiths University’s Daphne Oram archive:
“Which is when I discovered Daphne Oram’s interest in the esoteric field and in the very new age ideas of wave phenomena, the waves that underpin our lives. She was into everything to do with waves, vibrations, electronic sound, music, the ways you can interact with the body, even ley lines. It’s all very strange.”
Aside from the Radionics Radio album’s somewhat intriguing and multilayered backstory and creation, the resulting work is particularly listenable to. Classy is a word that comes to mind. Exploratory but also rather accessible.
If you should appreciate work by the Radiophonic Workshop and other electronic pioneers, the more melodic side of Ghost Box Records releases and a kind of often playful, sometimes quietly unsettling synthesized retro-futurism then you may well find a fair bit to appreciate in it.
Also, in an intertwined manner with some of the earlier reference points, there will be a Radionics Radio performance at The Delaware Road Kelvedon Hatch event…
(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)
While there have been a fair few Christmas market style humorous looks at films, television and paraphenalia from the 1970s, Scarred For Life isn’t in it for the wacky, wasn’t it all funny factor.
It’s a little more… well, dark and unsettling, particularly if you grew up in a particular era.
The book is subtitled Growing Up In The Dark Side Of The Decade and is:
“…an affectionate look at the darker side of pop culture in the 1970s. Public information films, scary kids’ TV show, bleak adult dramas, dystopian sci-fi, savage horror films, violent comics, horror-themed toys and sweets and the huge boom in paranormal paraphernalia; all this and much more is covered in depth.”
It is something of a mammoth 740 page tome that has chapters on The Owl Service, Escape Into The Night, The Tomorrow People, The Changes, Sky, Children Of The Stones, Play For Today, Doomwatch, The Guardians, Quatermass, A Ghost Story For Christmas, The Stone Tape, The Omega Factor…
(Pause for breath…)
…Public Information Films (there are over 100 pages just on those), folk horror, dystopian science fiction, the paranormal boom of the 1970s…
Which are just the more overtly hauntologically related sections for starters and the book wanders down a considerable number of other avenues.
A quite phenomenal labour of dedication.
Apparently this is Volume One, which focuses on the 1970s, with a 1980s book already being worked on.
(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)
Of late I have found myself exploring the Café Royal Books archive of their limited edition, one published per week photo booklets and wandering down various related pathways.
There have been a few of their books that have particularly caught my eye, Stephen Mclaren’s Dookits being one of them.
This is a book of pigeon lofts in the Eastend of Glasgow, which apparently are now disappearing from the landscape as the related sport/activity falls out of favour.
When I looked up the meaning of dookits online I came across a number of definitions which said it was a word that also meant a cupboard without doors or possibly a pigeonhole, with doocots being an alternative word.
And then after a bit more rummaging around I found that they were not so much pigeon lofts but rather:
“The often misunderstood doo-cot is used in a complex game of pigeon “kidnap”.
“The concept: let one bird out to bring a neighbour’s bird back to your doo-cot. On entering the doo-cot, the neighbours bird is captured and becomes the property of the capturer.
“Techniques: All sorts of techniques are used, of which seduction is one of the most common.
A female in a particularly attractive condition seduces another person’s amorous male back to her loft or to his, depending which one wins. If seduction doesn’t work, then aggressive males will bully another bird back to their doo-cot, often with heavy blows from the leading edge of their wings.
“The doo-cot differs from the pigeon loft in that the birds are not housed within the structures and are kept elsewhere in lofts, bedrooms, outhouses.”
(The above is taken from the Hidden Glasgow website.)
A curious game that I’ve never even vaguely heard of before.
The structures themselves make me think of brutalist architecture aesthetically but maybe brutalist architecture through the filter of the kind of local folk art that you might find in Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane’s Folk Archive book and project, that takes in the likes of cafe signs and fairground art rather than just the more narrowly defined rural, traditional type of folk art.
They also made me think of Cold War defence structures; in particular the Royal Observer Corps Underground Monitoring Posts which are small scale scructures that were intended to be manned by volunteers who would report on the scale of an attack and which have been abandoned but that still dot the land.
As with those, with some of the dookits there is a sense of them being quiet watchers or sentinels.
Although again, these would be such structures through a more hands on, from the people, almost folk art filter.
There was something about them that made me think they could be the ultimate edgeland structure, to be part of attempts to connect, reconnect with and/or bring a touch of nature amongst sometimes bleak overlooked spaces and at the points where urban built up areas transition, sit alongside and fade into the countryside.
While they are particularly utilitarian in design and materials there is a strange beauty to the structures. They seem inherently imbued with a kind of stalwart melancholia, possibly in a similar hauntological manner to that which can be found in brutalist and Cold War structures; there is a sense of them being from lost futures, from an almost parallel world or age.
I’ve written about various photographic books and documents of lost, forgotten and abandoned infrastructure, objects and places before, in particular Josh Kemp Smith’s Illuminating Forgotten Heritage, various books on the ruins of Detroit such as Andrew Moore’s Detroit Disassembled and those that collect views of derelict and left behind relics and reminders of the Soviet Union such as Rebecca Litchfield’s Soviet Ghosts and Daniela Tkachenko’s Restricted Areas…
…and online there are whole swathes of sites and photography that explore such things…
…but even amongst something of a plethora of such things, Martin Parr’s Abandoned Morris Minors of the West of Ireland particularly caught my eye.
(As with Homer Sykes’ Biddy Boys Ireland 1972 book which I also recently wrote about, this was published by Café Royal Books as part of their limited edition, one book released per week schedule.)
Perhaps it was the specificity of its subject matter that made me stop and look – one particular make and type of car in one particular part of the world. But I think it was more than just that…
The photographs were shot between 1980 and 1983 but they seem to hark back to a much earlier era, possibly because the Morris Minor evokes an almost postcard sense of Postwar 1940s and 1950s (although production of the car actually ended in 1972).
(As an aside, the above photograph makes me think of director Philip Trevelyan’s 1971 The Moon And The Sledgehammer and its often backgrounded images of the scrapped cars scattered around the grounds of the rural living-almost-in-the-past family’s home.)
At times the cars seems to be returning to the earth, not in a crumbling and rusting away manner but rather, as also in the photograph above, it is more a sense of burrowing, encompassing or maybe becoming one with.
Accompanying that, in many of the photographs there seems to be little sense of the hand of man, even in the more urban photographs (apart from in one photograph where cut logs and branches have been quite methodically piled nearer to the car).
The cars more appear to have just been genuinely left to their own devices, allowing nature, natural processes of decay and a returning to the land to take place, with them becoming part of, entwined by and succumbing to the natural world and landscape.
And as is often the way with this general area of photography, there is a melancholia coupled with a silent resilient grace in the face of the objects’ fate to the photographs.
That melancholia seems to be offset by the sort of warm, cosy nature of the Morris Minor, something that possibly comes from its curved, friendly design and also possibly is due to the way that it has come to be an iconic representation of a particular era and type of British-ness; it is imbued with a certain little England chocolate boxness but without the overtly twee or negative aspects that can be associated with such things and the cars retain a sense of having been day-to-day, practical workhorses.
Despite the neglect, abandonment and even the sleeting rain shown in the cover image there is something about the photographs that often puts a smile on my face rather than them seeming overtly, relentlessly bleak.
That possibly stems from in part from the character of the Morris Minor and may also be due to the rural settings and the associated beauty that is captured in many of the photographs and which lends a certain romance to them.
This is contrasted to a degree by the photographs which show the Morris Minors in either a more urban, rubbish strewn setting or the more dismembered car which lies on the the edge of a lake or the sea, the second of which contains a certain brutishness rather than a sense of quietly crumbling with grace.
Anyways, well worth a look-see, although between the limited edition and popular nature of the Café Royal editions and Martin Parr being somewhat well known as a photographer the print edition has sold out.
However, the images from the book and photographs of the book itself can be viewed via the links below.
British traditional folk rituals and costumes have been fairly well documented photographically/in books such as Sarah Hannant”s Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids, Henry Bourne’s Arcadia Britannica and Homer Sykes Once A Year, all of which I have written about around these parts previously.
However, I hadn’t seen all that much published photography that focused on Ireland…
Recently though I came across more work by Homer Sykes where he photographed folk customs; Biddy Boys Ireland 1972, published by Café Royal Books.
The book is a time capsule view of those involved in the customs and traditions surrounding Saint Brigid’s Day.
One description I found online of those traditions was:
“The Biddy Boys are a group of males who dress up in straw hats and women’s clothes and who go around houses carrying a straw doll or Brideog. They demand entrance to the house and entertain the occupants with music and song and then demand a reward.”
Café Royal are an interesting publisher: founded in 2005, every week they publish a new nicely produced zine like booklet in an ongoing similar format, generally in a limited edition of 150 and monochrome, with each book containing work by one particular photographer.
The books broadly focus on aspects of change within the UK, often reflecting such change by including archival documentary photographs, many of which have not been published before.
Anyways, Homer Sykes’ Once A Year, which is subtitled Some Traditional British Customs, was something of an early point of reference for what became A Year In The Country and his Biddy Boys photographs are an extension, companion or counterpart to those in Once A Year
As with his photographs in Once A Year, Homer Sykes’ Biddy Boys photographs are interesting in part because they seem to capture and reflect a place, time and history which though recognisable as being from reasonably recent history, they also seem to be from somewhere almost impossibly distant from our own times.
And to my eye the costumes in the photographs are genuinely quite odd.
That may be partly because sometimes as time passes what was quite normal, in terms of local celebrations and traditions, can gain some kinds of layers of otherlyness… but even so, some of these images seem to have a genuinely unsettling air to them.
And again, I don’t know if it is the cultural associations that have come to be connected with some folk culture over time but some of the masks worn in the photographs seem as though they should belong in a darker strand of 1970s science fiction/fantasy television, saying Sapphire & Steel or Doctor Who when they tipped over more that way and/or folk horror from back when.
While the photograph above seems as though Devo/some new wave band had somehow crossed beams and time paths with local folk customs (curiously, looking it up Devo did actually form around a similar time as the photographs were taken).
Anyways, Biddy Boys is out of print, as is often the way with the Café Royal editions and it does not seem to have been added to their Archive section yet but you can still view a selection of images from it via the links below at their CRB: Notes blog which accompanies their main site:
Via one small still in an old-ish film book I recently came across Roger Vadim’s 1960 film Et Mourir De Plaisir (or Blood And Roses to give it its American title).
This is nominally, possibly a vampire movie (I say possibly as there is some debate within the film about the existence of such things ) but it is one that while working with some related themes also transcends that genre and also possibly the films of its time.
In some ways it is a quite straightforward, mainstream-esque, almost period Hammer Horror-esque horror film…
…but there is something else within the film, some other underlying strands of intelligence, exploration and emotional resonance (the latter particularly in terms of its ending).
It is a beautiful looking and sumptuous film, with its rich vivid Technicolor palette giving it an almost surreal or hyperreal atmosphere and air, as is often the way with films which used that technique.
For a large duration of the film it travels along fairly conventional cinematic paths but then…
…well, then there is the famous (or infamous) dream sequence, which even to eyes used to modern less censored work left my mind and sensibilities reeling for a number of days. I can only imagine how thoroughly shocking it must have seemed at the time.
It is a woozily surreal, transgressive sequence that puts me in mind of Jean Cocteaus’s work but as reimagined by a strange mixture of David Lynch and a B-Movie borderline experimental exploitation film that you might see in the small hours on the archival film British television channel Talking Pictures TV.
Which, now that I have typed it, seems like an apt summing up of Et Mourir De Plaisir; it is a curious and intriguing mixture of mainstream, transgressive, almost exploitation and arthouse cinema, with the tropes and themes of all such areas of work contained in its relatively brief running time.
For a long time Et Mourir De Plaisir was a film that was only available in variously edited, censored, cropped, badly restored, dubbed etc versions and apparently was only really known in terms of its visual glories via cinematic legend, stills in film books etc.
In recent years there has been an official DVD release of a largely restored version available, although that was a limited edition and seems to have sold out. There is a legitimately downloadable version of the film doing the rounds under the name Blood And Roses but I think that is the American re-edited and dubbed version.
Which I am actually mildly curious about as apparently the English language version was shot at the same time as the French version and I am curious to see how it was reinterpreted and apparently more obviously signposted in terms of plot and symbolism when compared to the French version.
Looking back there seemed to be something in the water in relation to horror films from around the time Et Mourir De Plaisir was made, something that caused the creation and coming about of rather classy, exploratory and nuanced work.
Along which lines I would include Mario Bava’s Black Sunday from 1960, starring Barbara Steele and Jack Clayton’s The Innocents from 1961.
Their tone and expression varies from the classic black and white gothic and grotesque horror of Black Sunday to the almost decadent aristocratic Technicolor sensuality of Et Mourir De Plaisir via the repressed supernatural hauntings amongst the reeds and willows of the British countryside in The Innocents.
These films seem to be a small grouping of horror and/or supernatural films from that period which in some way make me think of them as being forebears or part of a lineage that would one day become or bring about what is known as folk horror.
All these films are set rurally but it is not this which makes me gather them together in this way (and what has come to be known as folk horror does not have to be exclusively set rurally)… it is something more subtle and underlying, possibly something in their atmosphere, their spirit and a sense that they are tellings of the stories of unsettled landscapes…
Hmmm. Something to think about and explore further I think…
The trailer below makes me smile as with its period almost 1960s Batman-esque cartoon style text, “Plunging You Into The Midnight Zone… Beyond Reason! Beyond Belief!” tag lines, “Starring two alluring continental beauties” voiceover and accompanying US promotional material makes the film seem much nearer to being purely what you might think of as having been played at a drive-in cinema back when… as I mention above it does have elements of such work but it is not by any means just that…
(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)
When I was planning and researching in the run up to starting A Year In The Country and during its first year in 2014 I tried in vain to watch Vashti Bunyan: From Here To Before, the 2008 documentary about her fabled horse drawn trip across the country at the end of the 1960s and turn of the decade, the album she made at the time.
Other films and documentaries made by its director Kieran Evans, including the Saint Etienne collaboration Finisterre, edgelands exploration/Karl Hyde collaboration The Outer Edges and dramatic film Kelly + Victor, 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 as far as I know has never had a commercial home release.
(“Vashti Bunyan’s tale of… exile and rediscovery is already one of this century’s most enduring musical legends. Kieran Evans’ gorgeously shot, achingly intimate portrait retraces Bunyan’s infamous voyage by gypsy caravan, from Inner London to the Outer Hebrides, during which she wrote her stunning… 1970 album ‘Just Another Diamond Day’… the film explores a very slim slice of Bunyan’s life in loving detail, pausing only to wonder at the enduring charm and mystery of this prodigious, prodigal talent.” From the Time Out review at the time of the film’s release.)
Anyways recently, almost purely by accident as I wasn’t looking for it, I stumbled upon the film and was able to watch it.
If you should not know about Vashti Bunyan and the subject matter of the documentary, below is a brief précis of the background to it:
Born in 1945, in the mid 1960s Vashti Bunyan worked with Rollings 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, released in 1970.
The album sold very few copies and Vashti Bunyan, discouraged, abandoned her musical career.
By 2000, her album had acquired a cult following and it was re-released, with her work and story becoming inspirational to a new generation of musicians who were loosely connected under labels including freak folk, including Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom.
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 accompanies her as she retraces the horse drawn journey she made with Robert Lewis and sets it against the backdrop of her first high-profile London concert and the associated rehearsals.
The film serves as an entrancing exploration of a youthful journey of exploration and searching and also the associated unreality.
Vashti and her partner appeared to want to step aside from mainstream society and the modern world’s ways of doing things and to seek out some kind of rural, previous era way of of life.
Watching the documentary it was as though they were searching for some pure, unobtainable dream, an escape, refuge and respite from the wider world; to quote Rob Young, 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 due in part to the almost dreamlike bucolic subject matter of its songs, its gentle farside of folk delivery and vocals, the almost fantasy like rural atmosphere conjured by the cover image of Vashti Bunyan in period rural clothing and headscarf outside her cottage where she is accompanied by painted animals and the story of her journey.
However, as she says in the documentary “The songs represented the dream. They didn’t represent reality” and she also says “I wasn’t living in the… beautiful hills, I was living in my head.”
Alongside recording Vashti Bunyan’s thoughts and memories of her journey, life and work as she revisits places from that 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 for her return to the stage 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, clothing that at times is almost medieval and which accompanied by images of them travelling in their horse and cart shows the degree to which they lived out their dreams and attempted to remake their lives in the image of those dreams.
John James comments on how the “leaders” of the journey (by which I assume he means Vashti Bunyan and Robert Lewis) took the dedication, single-mindedness and purity of their quest very seriously with it gaining an almost religious aspect or puritanical zeal.
Vashti Bunyan comments on this saying how she would look disfavourably on people who say went off to get a shop bought chocolate bar and how she wanted everything to be as natural or what she thought of as natural, handmade or created by themselves as possible.
From Here To Before also effectively becomes a document of the landscape as it records her return to locations of her journey and a line could be drawn from its more rural views and capturing of their beauty and Kieran Evans later film The Outer Edges exploration of edgeland landscapes.
The realities of Vashti Bunyan and her fellow travellers’ lives during their journey and after that are shown and discussed in the film were far from an idyll as much of it was physically and materially hard, reflecting the practicalities of long distance horse and cart travel in the twentieth century, particularly when undertaken with little financial cushioning, as was so in their case.
The refuge at the end of their horse and cart journey was a cottage in the Outer Hebrides which they eventually settled in for a while and which had a mud floor and a leaky thatched roof (although in From Here To Before Vashti Bunyan remembers being very appreciative after their horse and cart journey of the fact that it had a roof, whatever its condition.)
The dream did not last, with her saying in the film that they felt they were not wanted there and in contrast to her interests in the old ways of doing things the local people, particularly the young, were embracing modern ways and the coming of electricity, with the timing of her journey meaning that they arrived just as the old way of life was noticeably changing.
Although not made overly implicit in the film, it seemed that such things caused her to return with her partner to London.
This decision was also due to practical considerations about childbirth when she became pregnant and realising that no matter how beautiful the place and landscape, she actually wanted to be around friends and family (although she talks in the film about an ongoing journey and searching; they later moved variously to The Incredible String Band’s Glen Row cottages, then Ireland and also back to Scotland but did not return to the cottage).
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 fairytale.
From Here To Before was made over four years around the mid to later 2000s, when interest in Vashti Bunyan’s work was flowering and she began to express herself again publicly via music and live performance and is a respectful observation of this period in her life and her earlier stories.
It 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.
Well, if being a hauntologist was a job (which I suppose at times it is in terms of creating and releasing records etc) then The Delaware Road at Kelvedon Hatch event on 28th July 2017 could be considered a hauntological jolly or a works outing.
(If you should not know “jolly” is a now rarely used and possibly old fashioned phrase that means a holiday or break and which now seems to refer to previous eras and ways of doing such things).
Possibly by the nature of it, it is more a hauntological working day out than strictly speaking purely r’n’r.
And just as with all good jollys, they’ve even hired a charabang to get you there.
The venue is not quite your normal, common or garden establishment:
“The Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker at Kelvedon Hatch, in the Borough of Brentwood in the English county of Essex, is a large underground bunker maintained during the cold war as a potential regional government headquarters. Since being decommissioned in 1992, the bunker has been open to the public as a tourist attraction, with a museum focusing on its cold war history.”
The event has been put together by Buried Treasure Records, which is a UK label UK “specialising in archived electronic, tape, radiophonic, jazz, psych, folk & library sounds” and which put out the rather intriguing The Delaware Road album, of which this event is an extension of.
The event and its themes are described as:
“An occult conspiracy exploring a secret, abandoned Britain.
“London, 1968. Two brilliant musicians create innovative sound using reel to reel tape. Whilst working for a large media organisation they stumble upon a conspiracy with seismic implications for themselves and for Britain. Exploring folklore, magic, propaganda, television & radio broadcasting, counter-culture & early, electronic music, The Delaware Road is an incredible, alternative vision of Britain during the second half of the 20th century.
“This special performance takes place deep underground in a nuclear bunker, hidden in remote Essex woodland. The audience is free to explore the secret, cold war facilities where they will encounter a host of performers, experimental artists & musicians. This immersive mix of theater, film & live music will appeal greatly to fans of classic British science fiction & horror such as Quatermass, Dr Who, The Devil Rides Out & The Wicker Man.”
(As an aside this poster puts me in mind of Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting video, Peter Reich’s A Book Of Dreams which inspired it and related fringe religious/science explorations.)
The night will feature performances by DOLLY DOLLY, HOWLROUND, TELEPLASMISTE, RADIONICS RADIO, IAN HELLIWELL, GLITCH, SAUNDERS & HILL, CONCRETISM, SIMON JAMES, THE MUMMERS & THE PAPPERS, THE TWELVE HOUR FOUNDATION, LOOSE CAPACITOR and DJ FOOD, with films & projections by JEFFREY SIEDLER, FOLK HORROR REVIVAL, PSYCHE TROPES and THE INFINITE ATTIC.
Blimey, what a lineup (including some AYITC sometimes travellers) and one which could be filed alongside the first Further event at the Portico Gallery, which will also features Howlround, in terms of exploring particular strands of spectrally related culture.
There was a Survival Kit auction in aid of Resonance FM which featured numerous records, prints etc from those taking part. That has now been bought/won but the related special edition of the OST show is still available to listen to.
If your fears about Cold War dread have abated enough to take this particular subterranean trip then I expect this will be a fine and unique evening out (or under, as it were).
Although it’s quite rare I make it down to the metropolis nowadays, I’ve been somewhat drawn to and intrigued by the Further event put together by DJ Food and Pete Williams:
“An irregular event held in different places, it’s not a club night, it’s not monthly, there’s no dance floor. It HAS got all the things we love in it though: experimental music and film, food and drink, socialising and a bit of record hunting. Taking old analogue image making techniques from the 20th century and recontextualising it into new spaces for today.
“We have Jim Jupp (Belbury Poly) and Julian House (The Focus Group) from Ghost Box Records playing a rare audio visual set and Howlround sound tracking Steven McInerney’s short film, ‘A Creak In Time’.
“Pete and I will be pulling all manner of projections, films, slides and FX out to illuminate the gallery at the beginning and end of the evening to compliment our DJ sets.”
Sounds like a good old night and even allowing for the night bus home, you could probably be in bed by 1am if you live around those parts.
(The description of the event as a “A Temporary Audio Visual Space” made me think of Hakim Bey’s concept/book Temporary Autonomous Zones, which refers in part to spaces where the norms and rules of society and formal structures of control briefly do not apply, areas where for example a carnivalesque or explorative sense of freedom can be created. Though in Further’s case such things would I expect be more in terms of visual and musical aesthetics rather than the more overtly political considerations of Hakim Bey’s work.)
I particularly like the hand tinted slides that DJ Food posted on his site (because of the nature of AYITC you’ll need to pop over to his site to get the full effect). And if I’m not mistaken, there’s a Howlround design from the AYITC released Torridon Gate in amongst them.
Further could well be filed alongside the upcoming The Delaware Road Kelvedon Hatch event, in that both have Howlround performing and both I expect may well appeal to people who are culturally hauntologically/spectrally inclined. The Ghost Box Belbury Youth Club events may also be another reference point.
The event is on May 6th at The Portico Gallery in London.
(File post under: Other Pathway Pointers And Markers)
For a while now I’ve been intrigued by this book on Buckminster Fuller.
If you should not know he was an architect, author, designer and inventor who developed and popularised geodesic domes, along with being credited for the popularisation of terms including Spaceship Earth and synergistic.
There have been a fair few books on and by him but it is this one in particular by Mark Wigley that I am drawn to, I expect because of it’s title and the themes it covers in relation to Buckminster Fuller’s work.
“Bucky Inc. offers a deep exploration of Richard Buckminster Fuller’s work and thought to shed new light on the questions raised by our increasingly electronic world. It shows that Fuller’s entire career was a multi-dimensional reflection on the architecture of radio. He always insisted that the real site of architecture is the electromagnetic spectrum. His buildings were delicate mobile instruments for accessing the invisible universe of overlapping signals. Every detail was understood as a way of tuning into hidden waves. Architecture was built in, with, for and as radio. Bucky Inc. rethinks the legacy of one of the key protagonists of the twentieth-century. It draws extensively on Fuller’s archive to follow his radical thinking from toilets to telepathy, plastic to prosthetics, and data to deep-space. It shows how the critical arguments and material techniques of arguably the single most exposed designer of the last century were overlooked at the time but have become urgently relevant today.”
Although based in the real world, his work seems to cross some kind of divide between science fiction and science fact and to prefigure various science fiction and/or semi-futuristic films and their sets, in particular the likes of Phase IV and Beyond The Black Rainbow.
Another one for the ever growing “To look at and investigate further” pile.
The OM-1 cassette synthesiser is part of a current trend for the romance attached to analogue instruments and the desiring, possibly even fetishising of related small run, independently made hardware based electronic/synth instruments.
The FACT website described it as being “Instant Boards Of Canada”…
“The OM-1 Cassette Synthesizer is an analog musical instrument built around the concept that when a continuous tone/note is recorded to tape, its pitch will change as the tape’s playback speed is increased or decreased.”
Not sure if I would actually use it but I want one etc etc.
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