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The Corn Mother Novella and The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths Album – Released 16th March 2020

The novella and CDs will be available to order on 16th March 2020 at our Artifacts Shop and Bandcamp site.
The novella will also be available to order on the same date at Amazon and Lulu.

The Corn Mother novella, written by Stephen Prince, is a further exploration of the world, stories and dreamscapes of an imaginary near-mythical film, which first began on an album released with the same name in 2018.

The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths album, also written and recorded by Stephen Prince, is both a soundtrack to accompany The Corn Mother novella and a standalone piece of work.

The novella and albums are explorations and relections “of the whispers that tumble forth from the corn mother’s kingdom”. A place and story where fact, fiction, reality and dreams blur into one:

1878: A villager is forced to flee from her home after rumours begin that she has cursed the crops. Her vengeful spirit, known as the corn mother, is said to visit those responsible in the night, bringing ill fortune and an all-encompassing sense of guilt.

1982: A film called The Corn Mother begins to be made. Although the plot is fictional, it closely resembles the story of the fleeing villager. The film is completed but never released, with all known copies disappearing after its production company collapses.

1984: A lifelong quest begins to find the near-mythical film.

2020: All mentions of The Corn Mother begin to disappear from the world, calling into question if the film ever existed.

“After the first The Corn Mother album was released I would find myself still thinking about the story of this ‘imaginary film’, wandering what had happened to particular characters connected to it and so on. It felt like a story that was unfinished and which continues to echo off into the dreamscapes of imagination. Those ongoing echoes resulted in The Corn Mother novella and The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths album.” Stephen Prince


As with the A Year in the Country project as a whole, the book and album’s structure are inspired by the cycle of the year. Following the number of seasons, the book is split into four sections; it has 52 chapters (which could also be considered scenes or episodes), the same number as there are weeks in the year; relating to the number of days in a non-leap year, each chapter’s text contains no more than 365 words; and as there are days in a week, the album has seven tracks.

The album will be released as two hand-crafted CD editions that include prints, badges, stickers and accompanying notes, which are produced using archival giclée pigment inks.

Tracklisting:
1) The Infernal Engines (1877)
2) Night Wraiths (1878)
3) I Have Brought A Myriad Fractures And Found Some Form Of Peace (1879)
4) Ellen’s Theme (1983)
5) Dreams of a Third Generation Grail (2018)
6) They Are All Here (2021)
7) An Unending Quest (1877-2022)

“A ghostly collection that marries ambient noise, sparse instrumentation and murky electronics to a suitably unsettling effect. Eerie, elegant and ever so evocative.” Thomas Patterson, Shindig!

The Corn Mother album released in 2018 includes music by Gavino Morretti, Pulselovers, The Heartwood Institute, United Bible Studies (David Colohan, Dominic Cooper of The Owl Service, Alison O’Donnell of Mellow Candle), A Year In The Country, Widow’s Weeds (featuring former members of/collaborators with The Hare And The Moon), Depatterning, Sproatly Smith and Field Lines Cartographer.

Further details of the The Corn Mother album released in 2018 can be found here.

“You want to see the film as described in the liner notes, and as conjured in the songs on the album, and that’s an incredible trick to pull off… This is hauntology – the genre, rather than the philosophical dystopic – in its finest form, where buried memories of film, TV, music, and life come to the surface, often unverifiable because the hard copy has been lost or was never properly recorded in the first instance.” Alan Boon, Starburst

 

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The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale: Revisiting 2/26

The Texte und Töne published The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale was the first of their books that I owned. As with all their releases, it is beautifully designed by Rob Carmichael of Seen Studios and Risograph printed, which is a process that is a cross between photocopying and screenprinting, and which creates a rather lovely tactile and human feeling finish.

The book came with a compilation cassette of specially composed work featuring tracks by Asterism & Xylitol, Emma Hammond, Robin The Fog, Hong Kong In The 60s, Listening Center, Mordant Music and The Real Tuesday Weld, a number of whom have come to be associated with the spectral explorations of hauntology.

It was released to accompany a one-day event in New York called called A Cathode Ray Séance: The Haunted Worlds of Nigel Kneale, which took place in 2012. The event included screenings of work written by Nigel Kneale including The Stone Tape, Murrain, an episode of Beasts, Quatermass and the Pit, a multimedia performance of his lost work The Road and a panel discussion

The book, cassette and event are a fine example of when otherly pastoral, hauntological related etc work from previous decades has inspired new and exploratory work.

Taking as its inspiration Nigel Kneale’s work, the text is eclectically themed and takes a varied approach to its subject matter. It featured essays, conversations and fiction orientated work by Mark Fisher, Will Fowler, Ken Hollings, Paolo Javier, Roger Luckhurst, Sophia Al-Maria, Bilge Ebiri, China Mieville, Drew Mulholland, Ken Hollings, David Pike, Dave Tompkins, Mark Pilkington, Michael Vazquez and Evan Calder Williams, alongside a number of other contributors.

The content’s eclectic nature includes amongst other things notes, stills and scripts of an imaginary lost series of Quatermass, discussion of Nigel Kneale’s Kinvig and its curious foray into comedy and how youthful discoveries lead to the creation of the Quatermass inspired album The Séance at Hobs Lane. The book also wanders amongst loosely interconnected subjects including tape loops, the intertwining of the space race and the electronic music of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Ghost Box Records, Sapphire & Steel, M. R. James’ ghost stories, and a whole lot more.

 

The original post published during the first year of A Year In The Country:

 

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Worzel Gummidge – Mackenzie Crook’s Albion in the Overgrowth Recalibrating of Mainstream Family Television: Wanderings 3/26

With the festive season having only fairly recently passed and it still being the New(ish) Year, I thought I would write about some festive television.

In particular Mackenzie Crook’s modern-day adaptation of Barbara Euphan Todd’s Worzel Gummidge books, that were originally published between 1936 and 1963. Crook wrote, directed, starred in and was one of the producers of the new two-part mini-series, which was broadcast by the BBC on the 26th and 27th December 2019 (and apart from Christmas Day and Eve, you couldn’t really have a much more festive time slot).

Set in the British countryside, the story involves two children called John and Susan who have been living in care and are very unused to rural life and its lack of technology (cue their phones being lost, broken and not being able to charge them as they connect with rural life), who travel to a farm called Scatterbrook for a holiday. They stay with a farmer and his wife, and in one of the farm’s fields they meet Worzel Gummidge, who is a living, sentient scarecrow with a turnip head, and conker brain, who is able to walk and talk. According to scarecrow lore Gummidge is not supposed to talk to human’s but because of what he describes as their mismatched ways of dressing (which are vaguely gothic and urban casual) he thought they were scarecrows. The children and him become friends and embark on adventures in the countryside together, as they are called upon to save a magical tree, restore the seasons which have become stuck and do battle with a gang of wannabe-biker tough-guy scarecrows (!)

Along the way Worzel also meets up with Aunt Sally, an ex-fairground doll who, as with Worzel, is alive and sentient and who, rather than his bumbling friendliness, has a somewhat snooty demeanour, and he also tries to enter himself in a competition amongst non-sentient scarecrows made by children, which takes place at the “big house”, the local mansion owned by Lady Bloomsbury Barton (which is subsequently infiltrated by the wannabe-biker scarecrows).

The series has been adapted for television before, including a four-part series called Worzel Gummidge Turns Detective broadcast in 1953, and Gummidge was also played by former Doctor Who Jon Pertwee in the 1979-81 series Worzel Gummidge, with him reprising the role for a Television New Zealand and Channel 4 co-follow up series that ran for two series in 1987 and 1989, and which relocated the story to New Zealand. Pertwee’s Gummidge, with his besoiled face, straw sticking out of his sleeves and interchangeable heads which gave him different abilities is somewhat iconic, as is his femme fatale in the series Aunt Sally, who was played by Una Stubbs. However,  Mackenzie Crook has said that he didn’t see that version as a child and he did not view it before working on his, with him saying that:

“I had a very clear idea about how he wanted it to unfold. I thought it was right to knit in environmental issues, not in a way that is preachy but in a way that children would understand the context of the stories… Worzel is part of a dying [i.e. traditional rural ways] England but he has a message which is incredibly relevant for today… That was one of the main reasons I wanted to do this and why I want to carry on with more series.” (Event magazine, 15/12/2019)

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Just as some of 1960s and 1970s British children’s television, such as The Changes, Children of the Stones and The Owl Service, that was somewhat odd in terms of atmosphere and themes etc, particularly considering its intended audience, has been repurposed as hauntological and wyrd / otherly folkloric touchstones and inspirations, Crook’s Worzel Gummidge could be considered to be a further repurposing, taking that 1960s and 1970s source material and recalibrating it for a contemporary audience. In a way, although the subject of his films is somewhat more adult, it put me in mind of the manner in which Peter Strickland’s films, including The Duke of Burgundy and Berberian Sound Studio, in part take as their inspiration European cult arthouse independent cinema from previous decades which often had left field, exploratory and sometimes transgressive or salacious subject matter and presentation, and recalibrates, evolves and filters it via his own aesthetic and cinematic vision for a contemporary audience.

Crook previously also wrote, directed and starred in the Detectorists television series that was broadcast by the BBC between 2014 and 2017, which centred around two friends who go metal detecting together in the countryside. Both the Detectorists and Worzel Gummidge are deeply imbued with a sense of pastoral bucolia and beauty, which is accompanied by undercurrents or flipsides; in Detectorists there is a sense that the landscape is layered with hidden and often lost secrets, while Worzel Gummidge adds a sense of magical folkloric goings on hidden in plain view.

Both series could be placed in a loose category of television drama that, in the A Year in the Country book Straying from the Pathways, I describe as “offering ‘glimpses of Albion in the overgrowth’, that is to say, mainstream dramas which to various degrees explore, utilise and express a flipside, or otherly pastoralism, and at times variously contain elements of, or are fully intertwined with folk horror.”

Due to those aspects being notably present in both Detectorists and Worzel Gummidge, Mackenzie Crook is beginning to create an otherly pastoral / wyrd folk body of auteur-like television work, and indeed to be one of mainstream British televisions prime proponents and creators of “Albion in the overgrowth”.

Both series, albeit more overtly in Worzel Gummidge, interconnect with some of the themes, atmospheres and iconography of folk horror but in a way that, although at times a little unsettling, sidesteps actual horror. Although generally Detectorists is fairly realist in tone, one episode features a timeslip sequence, where the history of the landscape melts aways and then is relayered under the watchful, prescient eye of magpies. Although the sequence is not overly dark, there is something subtly unsettling about it, perhaps in part because the magpies have a slightly ominous air to them, and also possibly because of the use of music by The Unthanks to soundtrack the sequence (who also created the soundtrack for Worzel Gummidge), which is a lush, fecund reinterpretation of traditional folk intermingled with traditional and children’s rhymes, and is both accessibly melodic and also subtly hints at a sense of the “otherly” or “wyrd” in folk and pastoral orientated work.

(Above left-right: one of Mackenzie Crook’s sketches for the show and Arthur Rackham’s Tree Talks to Scarecrow)

The design of the scarecrows draws heavily from sketches which Mackenzie Crook made when he was making the series (and also, possibly subconsciously or coincidentally, some of the “pirate as rock’n’roll rebel” stylings of the Pirates of the Carribean films released in 2013-2017, which he has appeared in):

“[Worzel Gummidge’s] look occurred to me almost immediately, and that’s why I was suddenly into [making the series] – the idea that he wasn’t stuffed, but just clothes hanging on sticks…  I was thinking of Arthur Rackham’s illustrations – they’re very dark and gothic… Early on, I had an idea that he had an old military redcoat that he found in a barn, like in an old soldier’s chest – and had a robin in his pocket [where his heart would be]… Most writing days I would start off by just drawing a scarecrow… I wanted them to look domestic, as if they’d been built by someone out of odds and ends.” (Mackenzie Crook, interviewed in The Telegraph, 21st December 2019)

Crook goes on to say in the interview that although Worzel Gummidge looks alarming, “as a scarecrow is supposed to” but that as soon as he smiles and says “Welcome to Scatterbrook” that hopefully this aspect is dispelled and that there’s nothing dark about the show. He comments that it’s tone is closer to the rustic potterings and gentle comic relief of Detectorists. However, in his version of Worzel Gummidge the scarecrows often have not just an appearance but also instill an atmosphere that would not seem out-of-place in a folk or other horror film; many of them are friendly but they could just as easily be bogey men. Gummidge himself is somewhat reminiscent of iconic horror film character Freddy Krueger, with both having long pointed fingers, red and black tops/coats, black hats and skin with a not dissimilar wrinkled appearance (albeit Krueger’s is due to damage rather than the natural texture of a turnip).

Francesa Mills plays a diminutive, older female scarecrow called Earthy Mangold whose clothes and face are made from sack cloth. Earthy Mangold is actually a warm, maternal character but there is something about her sack cloth face (which is very well done, tip of the hat to those who worked on the design, makeup, SFX etc) and short stature that is unnerving. Perhaps in a in some oblique way she is reminiscent of another iconic horror film character, the murderous doll Chucky? Adding to some viewers expectations that the series would take a darker turn is the presence of Steve Pembridge as the farmer, who previously appeared in and co-created the comedy horror radio / television series and film The League of Gentleman (1997-2017) and the black comedy / horror anthology series Inside No. 9 (2014-), both of which at times had notable folk and/or other horror-esque aspects.

Add to all that night-time borderline grotesqueries silhouettes of the scarecrows cavorting across the landscape and the way in which much of contemporary film and television is quite dark and/or violent and, despite the series being family viewing, it is a series where the viewer could be forgiven for half expecting the scarecrows to turn bad and say, go on a murderous spree (!) Thankfully, they don’t… but still, at times the series feels like a friendly nightmare, and has an air of unsettling unpredictableness, which is heightened by the scarecrows often having a chaotic, unfettered by convention air to them, particularly when they are gathered together.

This unpredictable air takes a turn for the worse when Soggy Boggart arrives, who is the leader of the aforementioned scarecrow wannabe-biker gang, who have never actually been on a motorbike. They tear around the countryside causing trouble, pretending to be on their motorbikes, which are actually merely sections of handlebars or home-made pseudo-motorbikes and scooters, and are closer to children’s toys than the real thing. Soggy and his gang present themselves as ruffians and bad boys who only drink fizzy drinks, which in scarecrow culture appears to be the equivalent of drinking alcohol in order to denote its imbiber as being tough and hard.

Stylistically their leather, cut off and painted jackets are reminiscent of British bikers from the 1950s to 1970s such as Ton-up boys and café racers, and also the undead bikers of the 1973 film Psychomania. Alongside this their style also has aspects of American biker and rock’n’roll culture, but in an archetypal manner that recalls the Swiss rebels of the 1950s and 1960s photographed by Karlheinz Weinberger, who reinterpreted their US source material and inspiration in a heightened and almost surreal manner, as though they only knew of it via the dreamscapes of a fading in and out television signal.

All the gang, as does Worzel Gummidge, have heads made from vegetables, and Soggy has an Elvis-style quiff perched on top of his long marrow-head, the comic and conflicting nature of which somewhat undermines his desperate wish to be a stylish bad boy (he keeps insisting that his name is Harley Davidson and gets riled when anybody calls him Soggy).

Worzel seems wary of Soggy and his gang, perhaps a little afraid, but not all that much and at one point it looks like there’s going to be a rumble between him and them. This doesn’t happen as Earthy Mangold arrives and she talks of how she used to babysit for Soggy and how he wore teddy bear pyjamas and that she knows all their mothers and what would they think? In the face of a “grown up” from their childhood the gang are immediately reduced to apologetic, meek penitents, their bad boy intentions forgotten and swept away, and along with Worzel and the children they set to washing the graffiti ‘swears’ they have painted on the sides of the farmer’s cows. In one of the many humorous moments in the series these ‘swears’ are gloriously inoffensive and funny and include the likes of “Horse” and “Cud mucher”.

And, despite my above comments about the potentially darker tinged aspects of the series, overall it is light-hearted, humorous and tender, and works on a number of different levels to be true all-ages family viewing.

As referred to in the quote by Mackenzie Crook above, the series tackles ecological issues. Soggy Boggart and his gang leave a trail of meal deal-like sandwich packaging, bottled drinks etc litter behind them in the countryside, which Worzel and the children try and pick up, and this marks the gang out as not so much nonchalant tough guys but rather negligent and misguided fools at best.

At one point the children and Worzel convince the crows, who are his natural adversary, to remove and recycle the plastic bags which have become entangled in the branches of a magic tree, causing it to become unwell. The seasons have also become stuck, meaning that harvests are not ripening, flowers are not blooming and so on. Although the reason for this is not given an overtly ecologically themed explanation, or in fact overly explained at all, other than it being said that it happened before, being placed alongside other more overt ecological issues in the series, the potential problems it poses place it quite firmly amongst and alongside contemporary ecological issues and concerns.

The seasons are said to be locked and they must be unlocked by the use of a key and Worzel needs to gather together himself and other scarecrows in order to solve the problem (the magic tree sends out his message to them on the wind, which it could not do when it was in poor health due to the plastic bags in its branches). This “key” turns out to be a magical pattern on Worzel’s handkerchief, with the pattern’s shape being that of a helicopter style tree seed, which are also known as keys. This leads to some of the most otherly or magical aspects of the series, when the gathered scarecrows dance and twirl through the fields, as the seed keys do in the air, in order to recreate the magical pattern in the crops, in a manner reminiscent of crop circles. Once created some of the circles amongst the pattern gently rotate under their own power, and the following day, with the seasons unlocked, crops are shown as ripening and turning golden in a matter of seconds as the change flows through the land, flowers bloom fast enough for the eye to see and so on.

Interwoven amongst this is the series’ trademark humour and details of how the scarecrows’ well thought out world works; once the seasons have been unlocked and the harvests have been able to be collected, the crows receive their reward for clearing the magic tree from Worzel and the children, which is a bag of grain. Once they’ve “enjoyed” this Worzel, who can talk with and summon birds, humorously tells their leader that they’re not friends, and gives them scant seconds to scarper and get their filthy talons off his land. They rapidly fly off and the common antipathy and co-dependant balance and struggle between farming and nature is once again restored, and Worzel can get back to working as a scarecrow. Although he may seem at times bumbling, a bit daft and something of a tender hearted softie, Worzel is no easy mark when push comes to shove; although initially seeming scared by him, when he was threatened by Soggy and things looked like they might turn more serious he seemed perfectly prepared to stand his ground.

The series is full of other sections which give an insight into the scarecrows’ lives and characters. In another humorous and this time also somewhat charming sequence, with a degree of hubris (which is part of his character, as he somewhat boastingly thought he would definitely win the scarecrow competition mentioned earlier) Gummidge flourishingly mimes for Earthy Mangold his going through a door at the “big house”. She finds it astonishing, hilarious and hugely entertaining, exhorting him to do it again but this time to mime pulling rather than pushing the door, what with such things being so out of the realms of day-to-day life and possibility for scarecrows.

None of the magical aspects of the series – the way the scarecrows are sentient and alive and so on – are commented on nor explained. They just are, and are present in an otherwise normal, realistic world, in a magical realism manner. Although, as is often the way in such children and family orientated fantasy orientated fiction and drama, the magical aspects of the world are hidden from view from the grown-ups (Worzel generally goes into what he calls a “sulk”, when he goes stiff and returns to being a normal scarecrow, if he realises any adult humans are likely to observe him).

In the above interview with The Telegraph, Mackenzie Crook talks about this intersection of the day-to-day and the extraordinary and how he can trace his related interest in the “myth, lore and history” of the English countryside to Jez Butterworth’s play Jerusalem, in which Crook performed alongside Mark Rylance:

“The whole play was about English identity, rural identity, and I’d been fascinated by that since. As well, the stories I’ve always been fascinated by are about a very ordinary world where something extraordinary happens… Mark Rylance is massively into crop circles, and as an end-of-run gift he enrolled us all in a crop circle society, so we got quarterly newsletters about them. [Said very much tongue in cheek] It was all very mystical.” (Mackenzie Crook, interviewed in The Telegraph, 21st December 2019)

The scarecrows in Worzel Gummidge are created and loosely ruled by the The Green Man, who is the keeper of scarecrow lore and the mystical spirit of the countryside. His character and presence is one of the most overt connections with ancient folklore and myth in the series, in part because his name is, I assume, taken from Green Man sculptures, which generally depict a face surrounded by or made from leaves. These sculptures have been found in many different cultures and ages throughout the ages and have primarily been interpreted as being symbols of rebirth and representing the cycle of growth each spring. (The name Green Man is thought to stem from an article by Lady Raglan called “The Green Man in Church Architecture”, which appeared in a 1939 issue of The Folklore Journal.)

As with the scarecrows, the truth of who and what The Green Man is are hidden from the “real”, adult world, who think he is merely a traveller who passes through from time to time and mends damaged fencing hedges without wishing for payment.

The Green Man wears worn clothes, a charm round his neck, has a heavily lined face, large grey beard and unkempt dreadlocks with moss in them and is bestrewn with leaves, with the overall effect conjuring elements of ancient druid, mystic sage, an older member of the crustie subculture and a roaming tramp. He is played by actor, writer, comedian and traveller Michael Palin, who is one of the creators of the innovative and surreal Monty Python comedy sketch series which was broadcast on the BBC between 1969 and 1974. His presence in the series seems to add a certain cultural weight to it, and also connect it to a long-standing strand of experimentalism and left-of-centre work in British mainstream television (more of that please!)

(There is also another six degrees of separation from Monty Python, and indeed the classier side of British television comedy, and the 2019 adaptation of Worzel Gummidge, as in the 1980s series Gummidge finds double trouble in the shape of Aunt Sally II, played by Connie Booth who co-created classic British sitcom Fawlty Towers with Monty Python co-creator John Cleese.)

In the 1970-80s television adaptation of Worzel Gummidge, the character of The Green Man is known as The Crowman and was played by Geoffrey Bayldon, who also played the starring role as the title character in the 1970-71 British children’s fantasy television series Catweazle which adds a further otherly folkloric / hauntological television layering to Worzel Gummidge. Catweazle tells the story of an eccentric 11th-century wizard who accidentally travels through time to arrive in 1969 and is befriended by a young boy, who hides him from his father as Catweazle attempts to return to his own time. The series is particularly memorable for Catweazle’s mistaking of modern technology for a form of magic, with him calling electricity “elec-trickery” and telephones the “telling bone”. Although he looks more like a crazed or Rasputin-esque medieval monk, with his grey extravagant facial hair and mystical ways, his appearance and character are not all that removed from Palin’s The Green Man in Worzel Gummidge.

A further loose connection can be made to hauntological-esque television during a sequence in Crook’s Worzel Gummidge when John, one of the young children visiting the farm, is instructed by the farmer to somewhat hazardously climb amongst the beams and rafters of a barn in order to find the parts of a beehive. As he does so John nearly falls down onto various pieces of farm equipment and a barrel full of spiked implements (comically labelled as such), and when he needs light to see, the farmer throws him an already aflame cigarette lighter, which John subsequently drops amongst some dry straw – which fortunately does not set on fire. Consciously or not, this sequence appears to be channeling 1970s British public information films, which warned of the dangers of playing in “dark and lonely water”, flying kites near pylons etc and often had surprisingly dark atmospheres and presentation, and which have become ongoing hauntological inspirations and touchstones.

Worzel Gummidge ends with The Green Man and Worzel Gummidge talking as they sit overlooking a field. The Green Man has previously warned Worzel against talking to humans, saying that it is against scarecrow lore and that rather than gallivanting around he must stay at his post and continue his work, even warning him that the farmer is thinking of nailing him to his (literal) post, which puts an almighty fear into Worzel. However, Worzel successfully argues for the progression and evolution of scarecrow lore; he talks of how he is worried about nature, the flowers, the seasons, the bees, saying that they are all having a hard time but that maybe he can keep talking to the two young humans and they can begin to spread change to get things back on track. The Green Man asks him if he really thinks that just these two humans can really make a difference and Worzel says he thinks they can, which ends the series on a note of everybody being able to make a difference in terms of helping to protect the environment, despite them just being individuals or no matter how small their actions, and it manages to do this without an overly cloying, schmaltzy or by numbers manner, but rather in a heartfelt and touching way. Or as Michael Palin has said of the series:

“The environmental message is deftly woven in, so it won’t bash you on the head. It’s mainly just funny.” (Weekend magazine, 14th December 2019)

 

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Rob Young’s Electric Eden: Revisiting 2/26

Rob Young’s Electric Eden has been something of an ongoing reference point for A Year In The Country. It’s a monumentally comprehensive exploration of what he describes as “visionary music”, and related culture, which wanders from pastoral literary utopias to acid folk via hauntology, Kate Bush and beyond.

In terms of more contemporary culture (as opposed to films and television etc I first became aware of in the 70s and 80s), I first read this book by Rob Young when my plans for A Year In The Country really began to coalesce. The way it drew connections between different aspects and eras of folkloric, landscape orientated and spectrally hauntological culture was a notable inspiration for me and A Year In The Country. As indeed was the cover of the first edition (above left), with its mixture and intermingling of the old and the new in its photograph of traditional horse-drawn ploughs in a field overlooked by an electricity pylon. It’s a very evocative image in the way it implies the layering and permeable nature of traditions, technology, history and so on.

In the first post about the book during the first year of A Year In The Country I included the above photograph of my copy. It shows all the corners I’d folded of the book, which after I’d been reading it for a while I often did to indicate that there was something I was particularly interested in on those pages. Some sections of the book seem to have more folds than not (!), which is something of an indication of just how much of interest I found much of the book.

It’s now heading towards a decade since it was first published and I read it, and I still find myself picking it up and referring to it, following the lines it draws and pathways it follows and/or creates amongst a loosely interconnected cultural landscape.

 

The original post published during the first year of A Year In The Country:

 

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The Quietened Journey – Reviews, Broadcasts and Dreams of Overgrown Sidings and Crumbling Platforms

A selection of some of the reviews and broadcasts of The Quietened Journey album:

“The Quietened Journey reflects with both mourn and celebration on these derelict and decaying memorials to a lost age… The assembled cast provide a perfect sonic journey documenting these empty spaces and decaying echoes of what once was, between the haunting and the nostalgic, all aspects, shadows and memories are uncovered, discovered and recalled anew…” Mark Barton, The Sunday Experience

“The likes of Field Lines Cartographer and Grey Frequency evoke heartbraking radiophonic dreams of overgrown sidings and crumbling platforms, and Pulselovers’ Woodford Halse To Fenny Compton In Five Minutes contrives to make a hypnotic, krautrock synth anthem the perfect celebration of pre-Beeching steam travel. Joyous.” Bob Fischer, Electronic Sound

“Exploring what’s left behind, the rusted and overgrown lines that vanish into the distance, the abandoned stations and buildings that pop up out of nowhere, the ghostly commuters who wait on empty platforms, they’re all here, across ten tracks that occasionally namecheck the relics they are visiting, but are just as likely to close their eyes and not even think of checking the map reference… As always, a wealth of contributors ensure that each journey is very different to the last…” Dave Thompson, Goldmine

Dave Thompson also included The Quietened Journey in his Spin Cycle best of 2019 column at Goldmine magazine’s site. Visit that here.

“A charming new album… invites contributors including The Heartwood Institute and Howlround to create music inspired by memories of abandoned railway lines, stations and roads. Anyone looking for a dose of bucolic calm amidst the frenzy of the festive season would be well advised to use it as the soundtrack for an icy ramble in their favourite overgrown sidings.” Bob Fischer, The Haunted Generation column in Fortean Times, issue 387 (and it can also be found at The Haunted Generation website here).

“A fine meditation on Britain’s abandoned railways and (in two cases) roads, with the usual balance of eerie electronica and atmospheric, acoustic folk here tilted very much towards the former. Woodford Halse To Fanny Compton In Five Minutes by Pulselovers is a rustic, steam-powered Kraftwerk and, at the other end of the line, ‘Along The Valley Sidings’ by Keith Seatman a Hampshire Tangerine Dream. There are moments when the pastoral breaks through however, such as the spectral harpsichord and wordless chanting on Sproatly Smith’s The 19:48 From Farley and the elegiac viola of Bruce White closing The Séance’s Elm Grove Portal. Phantom engines shunt through the night, but the brutal noise bursts of Howlround’s Thrown Open Wide sound like a derailment. We’re left with Grey Frequency’s melancholy An Empty Platform: the last station standing in an age that has long since passed it by.” Ben Graham, Shindig!

“The last release of the year in the series of excellent albums from A Year In The Country… For this latest themed album the subject is abandoned and former railways, railway stations and roads…. Field Line Cartographer deliver a superb ‘Ghosts Of The Wires’ about a pioneering test line for overhead electrification. Dom Cooper and Zosia Sztkowski investigate an old Roman road close to devil’s bridge. Keith Seatman creeps us out with ‘Along The Valley Sidings’ set in the Meon Valley, a terrific atmospheric piece that includes the sounds of ghostly trains, of rotted sleepers and derelict rusty signs. The record finishes with Grey Frequency’s ‘An Empty Platform’ about Tumby Woodside an abandoned station in Lincolnshire, with added field recordings made at the site to record birds, crumbling masonry and rust!” Andrew Young, Terrascope

James Mann included the album amongst his “finds of 2019” at the Ink 19 website. Visit that here.

“The train theme is rendered immediately apparent by the opening piece from Pulselovers, a chugging electronic rhythm which suggests a network still full of life and energy. After this the mood quickly darkens, and we’re left on the platform of a station like the haunted one in Sapphire and Steel, with the sun going down and only the ghosts for company. This is another impressively strong collection, ranging from the wistful memorialising of The Ghosts of Salzcraggie by Widow’s Weeds, and A Year In The Country’s hissing roadway, to Howlaround’s Thrown Open Wide, an eruption of noise prompted, he says, by the rebellion of his machines. The machinery of the railway returns to life on Keith Seatman’s Along The Valley Sidings, another synthesised train journey, before we find ourselves on Grey Frequency’s empty platform. The Quietened Journey is a welcome exploration of a feature of the British landscape which has been given surprisingly little attention, and which is now disappearing altogether. The last train will be departing soon.” John Coulthart, feuilleton

Next up are some of the broadcasts of music from the album:

Pulselover’s Woodford Halse To Fenny Compton In Five Minutes and The Séance’s Elm Grove Portal were featured amongst the esoteric audio wanderings of Pull the Plug, in two separate episodes. Originally broadcast on Resonance FM, the shows are archived at Mixcloud here and here.

In a rounding the circle manner, The Séance’s Elm Grove Portal and Keith Seatman’s Along The Valley Sidings were included on two separate episodes of The Séance’s phantom seaside radio show. Originally broadcast on Radio Reverb, totallyradio and Sine FM, the episode’s tracklistings can be found at the show’s site here and here, and the show’s are archived at Mixcloud here and here.

Sunrise Ocean Bender included The Séance’s Elm Grove Portal, Sproatly Smiths The 19.48 from Fawley and
Pulselovers Woodford Halse To Fenny Compton In Five Minutes on the Everybody Must Get Throned episode of their show (a title which seems both somewhat elegant and also made me chuckle and think of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Stoned & Dethroned album, alongside the more obvious Bob Dylan reference). Originally broadcast on WRIR FM, the tracklisting can be found here and the show is archived at Mixcloud here.

The Stillness and the Dancing included Widow’s Weed’s The Ghosts of Salzcraggie amongst their shows exploration of, amongst other things, “ambient, drone, post-rock and neoclassical”. Originally broadcast on 15th January 2020 at CRFU, the programme’s archive can be found here and the tracklisting can be found at their tumblr page here.

Mind De-Coder included The Séance’s Elm Grove Portal amongst the psychedelic and hauntological wanderings of their show. The episode is archived at Mixcloud here and the accompanying blog post can be found here.

Thanks and a tip of the hat to everbody involved for the above…

The Quietened Journey is an exploration of abandoned and former railways, railway stations and roads, a reflection on them as locations filled with the history, ghosts and spectres of once busy vibrant times – the journeys taken via them, the stories of the lives of those who travelled, built and worked on them.

Nature is slowly reclaiming, or has already reclaimed, much of this infrastructure, with these testaments to industry and “the age of the train” being often left to quietly crumble and decay.

The Quietened Journey is both a celebration and a lament for these now faded links across the land, of the grand dreams and determination which created them and their layered histories that – as these asphalt ribbons, steel lines and stone built roads once prominently were – are threaded throughout the twentieth century and even back to Roman times.

It features music and accompanying text on the tracks by Pulselovers, Sproatly Smith, The Séance, Widow’s Weeds, The Heartwood Institute, Depatterning, Howlround, A Year In The Country, Field Lines Cartographer, Dom Cooper & Zosia Sztykowski, Keith Seatman and Grey Frequency.

More details can be found here.

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Lisa Bond’s Landscape Phantasms: Wanderings 2/26

A while ago I came across Lisa Bond’s photographic art and initially on a first guick glance, without reading anything about it and having seen only a few pieces of her work, I thought they were a form of illustration, when in fact they are created in part through, I think, collaging photographs, in camera techniques and possibly also some illustration.

There is an interesting layering and interweaving of atmospheres in the images; they capture the beauty of rural areas but are not merely traditional images of it, rather they create an often haunted landscape that is both entrancing and at times subtly, quietly unsettling.

There is also a textural quality to them which, while they have their own character, puts me in mind here and there of some of the work that graphic designer Vaughan Oliver and photographer/filmmaker Nigel Grierson did between 1983-1988, often for the 4AD record label.

Many of the images are available as very reasonably priced gicleé prints (i.e. they are printed with archival and fade resistant inks), fine art cards, tea cups (yes please!) and, in a manner that seems wonderfully incongruous and a coming together of different worlds, phone and tablet cases.

The text below is taken from her website, where she talks about her inspirations, intentions, processes and so on:

Inspired by witchiness, folklore and the darker side of nature, [my work] encompasses deep-inked illustrative captures of ever changing, resilient weather beaten landscapes. I have emphasised extreme emotions ranging from negative space to elements of claustrophobia.

My inspiration did not just come from spending time in the landscapes I feature; intertwined is my internal soundtrack, and how a place makes me feel and sets my imagination free. I wanted to heighten the mood and take you to the place of my inner soundtrack rather than just portray a 2D version of the landscape in front of me. Although I appreciate the technical brilliance of the more traditional landscape photography, it doesn’t make my heart sing or require a second glance.

I want people to ‘peer’ curiously at my work and hopefully invoke an emotional response or attachment to a place from their own memories or imaginations… As a… lover of the ‘other’, I explore our relationship with nature and our sense of place. My emphasis is on intimacy; creating multi-layered visual stories to evoke memories of place…

I want my work to reflect my interactions with the world – the ethereal, and the bewitching. My tendency is to sway to the dark side, whilst loving the light.

For [The Spellbound] collection of prints, framed prints, cards and enamel mugs, I was inspired by the enigmatic and ever changing landscapes, especially the windswept, wild Yorkshire moors. All black and white, with a finish like an inked illustration.

For me, these are bewitching visions and bring to my mind the work of Kate Bush, Stevie Nicks, Emily Bronte, Edgar Allan Poe, The Unthanks, along with myths and legends. An eclectic mix of artists and folk story, but all share a touch of the dark in their own ways.”

 

Links:

 

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Gather in the Mushrooms: Revisiting 1/26

Due to the ever-expanding nature of the internet and the way that search engine results often seem to focus on more recent posts etc, a lot of older online content can be, if not lost, then at least a little lost-to-view. A bit like a book in an overcrowded second-hand bookshop that’s hidden away near the bottom of a pile of books. Still worth a look-see but you’ve got to forage a bit to find it.

I’ve had something of a hankering to return to and have a wander through the first year of A Year In The Country, to revisit some old cultural “friends” and inspirations. Maybe it will be a bit like picking up an old magazine that you’ve had on the shelves for years but haven’t browsed through for a fair old while.

I find myself enjoying that, appreciating the way that the contents can be like time capsules or snapshots of a particular point in time, and also how sometimes things that you missed the first time around or didn’t fully take in can now catch your eye and interest.

(As an aside, I also appreciate, particuarly in older music magazines, the prices of things back then – adverts for gigs by bands who now play stadiums and that it might cost you £80 or more to see playing a small venue with an entry fee of £2.50 and so on.)

Sometimes as well, when you pick up older magazines you spot cultural trends or themes that weren’t apparent at the time. Picking up an older magazine can also sometimes give you a moment to stop, pause and reflect, which is somewhat precious in these times of such a vast array of access to culture in various forms.

It’s also a form of digital scrapbooking, in a not dissimilar way that once upon a time people may have created actual scrapbooks of things in magazines etc that caught their eye.

These posts are in part inspired by all that and this is the first of a series of posts which will revisit posts from the first year of A Year In The Country.

And so, without further ado, the first of these “revisitings” jumps all the way back to one of the very first posts at A Year In The Country:

The collection of acid folk etc on the Gather in the Mushrooms compilation album released in 2004 was a notable inspiration for A Year In The Country. Particularly Trader Horne’s Morning Way, that begins with “Dreaming strands of nightmare, Are sticking to my feet”, which seemed to open something up in my mind and thoroughly cast aside any preconceptions of folk music I had.

Compiled by Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne, it has the subtitle The British Acid Folk Underground 1968-1974. Alongside Trader Horne it includes, amongst other things, an instrumental version of Magnet’s Corn Riggs from The Wicker Man soundtrack, the ethereal gothic folk of Forest’s Graveyard, Pentangle’s haunting take on traditional song Lyke Wake Dirge, Sandy Denny’s beguiling journey through love and the seasons Milk and Honey and Sallyangie’s Love in Ice Crystals, which features a rather young Mike Oldfield and his sister prior to his Tubular Bells fame.

The album is a rather fine and concise gathering and representation of the different strands of exploration in British folk in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, and although it is long out of print and can sometimes be a bit pricey used, it is well worth seeking out.

 

The original post published during the first year of A Year In The Country:

 

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Build Your Own Stonehenge Model Kits (and Other Sacred, Profane and Playful Simulacra): Wanderings 1/26

Now, I know that Stonehenge holds a unique place in people’s imaginations, and there are endless and ongoing debates about why  and how it was built etc.

Alongside more traditional heritage and archaeological interest in them, the sense of mystery, the ancient past and so on that stone circle’s often contain also interconnects with a “wyrd” or “otherly” sense of history, folk culture and so on, which has added to the interest in them.

I also knew that there have been an awful lot of books published on Stonehenge and stone circles in general. However, even allowing for all that I was still somewhat pleasantly surprised to see just how many Stonehenge model and construction kits of one form or another have been released commercially. In this post are just a few of those that I’ve come across.

English Heritage’s online shop stocks some of them along with all kind of Stonehenge ornaments, including two different “Stonehenges in a tin” (!)

English Heritage also used to sell a Stonehenge fridge magnet cross stitch kit, which I rather liked the idea and look of, as it seems to interweave so many things in a sort of slightly wrong but also interesting way; a certain Wicker Man-esque aesthetic, ancient history, traditional crafts, the commercialisation of religious or sacred souvenirs etc. Other related cross stitch items which I don’t think are still available from them include a bookmark and a keyring. For some reason the bookmark seems a bit more “acceptable” than a fridge magnet or a keyring, perhaps because books are often held in higher esteem than such things.

I like the figures of the visiters in the pop-out kit above, who seem to variously be questioning or bemused by Stonehenge, or in one case imagining an elaborate possibly worship orientated wooden structure over the top of it.

(Above: Stonehenge model kit with Arthurian extras, completed by zoidpinhead – link below.)

These various model kits seem to be a mixture, and possibly inspired by, an interest in the sacred, profane and at times just sheer playfulness. In that sense, they could well be filed alongside some of HeyKidsRocknRoll pop-up diorama sets of the likes of Delia Derbyshire, The Stone Tape, Quatermass and the Pit, The Wicker Man etc. Those dioramas could be considered examples of when contemporary secular cultural work, which for some people has gained an almost sacred-like aspect, is the inspiration for playful or child-like build at home ornaments.

Actually, surprisingly, I don’t think HeyKidsRocknRoll have made a Stonehenge or stone circle related diorama. A Halloween III: Season of the Witch set might well work, one which incorporated the film’s nefarious company scientists’ lab and their use of chippings from Stonehenge, the ancient power of which is used in novelty Halloween masks sold to the public, that are intended to bring about the destruction of their wearers.

Another reference point might also be Zupagrika’s various build your own Brutalist architecture kits, particularly those based on Soviet-era Eastern Bloc architecture, as that was built during and as symbols of a regime which attempted to do away with traditional religion and replace it with a belief or faith system based around the political system and its figureheads.

The above model isn’t a Stonehenge LEGO kit as it first may appear, but rather a LEGO compatible nanoblock kit, which in its utilising of the grey areas of copyright law could well be considered a form of profanity in terms of the corporate world’s belief systems.

I was rather taken by the above adapted kit, the photograph of which is included in an article on building your own miniature stonehenge garden – link below.

When I was searching for Stonehenge model kits I came across a blog called Clonehenge which contains a searchable set of posts, lists etc of Stonhenge replicas “from the megalithic follies of the 1800s to the present”. It includes amongst other things posts on retail bought and custom kit builds, large permanent replicas and laptophenge which, of course, does what it say on the can. And a whole lot, lot, lot more. Blimey, there’s been a fair old bit of Stonehenge clonehenging that’s gone on in the world.

And talking of mixing the sacred, profane and playful, last but not least, there’s Jeremy Deller’s inflatable bouncy castle replica which has travelled around Britain and the world. Funded in part by Creative Scotland and Arts Council England it is called, appropriately enough, and in a way that I expect both undercut and annoyed its critics, Sacrilege.

 

Links:

 

Elsewhere at A Year in the Country:

 

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The Corn Mother Novella and The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths Album – Release date 16th March 2020

The Corn Mother novella, written by Stephen Prince, is a further exploration of the world, stories and dreamscapes of an imaginary near-mythical film, which first began on an album released with the same name in 2018.

The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths album, also by Stephen Prince, is both a soundtrack to accompany The Corn Mother novella and a standalone piece of work.

The novella and albums are explorations and relections “of the whispers that tumble forth from the corn mother’s kingdom”. A place and story where fact, fiction, reality and dreams blur into one:

1878: A villager is forced to flee from her home after rumours begin that she has cursed the crops. Her vengeful spirit, known as the corn mother, is said to visit those responsible in the night, bringing ill fortune and an all-encompassing sense of guilt.

1982: A film called The Corn Mother begins to be made. Although the plot is fictional, it closely resembles the story of the fleeing villager. The film is completed but never released, with all known copies disappearing after its production company collapses.

1984: A lifelong quest begins to find the near-mythical film.

2020: All mentions of The Corn Mother begin to disappear from the world, calling into question if the film ever existed.

“After the first The Corn Mother album was released I would find myself still thinking about the story of this ‘imaginary film’, wandering what had happened to particular characters connected to it and so on. It felt like a story that was unfinished and which continues to echo off into the dreamscapes of imagination. Those ongoing echoes resulted in The Corn Mother novella and The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths album.” Stephen Prince

The novella and album will be released on 16th March 2020.

The Corn Mother album released in 2018 includes music by Gavino Morretti, Pulselovers, The Heartwood Institute, United Bible Studies, A Year In The Country, Widow’s Weeds, Depatterning, Sproatly Smith and Field Lines Cartographer. It is available at the A Year In The Country Artifacts Shop and Bandcamp site.