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Day #207/365: The Eccentronic Research Council: modern day magic on a monthly tariff and the rhyming (and non-rhyming) couplets of non-populist pop

Eccentronic Research Council-1612 Underture-Maxine Peake-Andy Votel-Bird Records-Jane Weaver-Finders Keepers Records-A Year In The Country 5File under: Trails and Influences.
Other Pathways. Case #32/52.

I seem to have been a-listening to Adrian Flanagan and collaborators work in one form or another for a fair few years now… from a slew of seven inches under the moniker Kings Have Long Arms through to The Eccentronic Research Council in more recent times.

Around these parts I’m not going to go overly into the themes of their 1612 Underture album overly; the album tells that story. Suffice to say this is a “one part political commentary and feminist manifesto and two parts theatrical fakeloric sound poem” which takes as its subject matter the persecution of the Pendle Witches in the early 17th century…

…and along the way it draws more than a few analogies with modern-day times; moral panics, folk devils and economic/political goings on and shenanigans then and now.

All wrapped up a kind of warm, woozy, analogue (?) synthesized Northern Electronic take on hauntological folk music, primarily voiced by a certain Ms Maxine Peake. An “electronic Smithsonian Folkways record” brought into being after a trip or two to Bardwells accompanied by the Twins Of Evil (mildly obscure but hopefully relevant musical history reference point).

Eccentronic Research Council-1612 Underture-Maxine Peake-Andy Votel-Bird Records-Jane Weaver-Finders Keepers Records-A Year In The Country-2
If memory serves correctly, their 1612 Underture album was purchased by my good self on the day it first came out… but for some reasons I’ve only recently fully watched the accompanying short film by Klunklick… and it’s a fine piece of work.

Rather slickly done on an (I assume) shoestring and handful of pennies budget. It’s funny, moving, quite lovely. Reminded me somewhat of the likes of Chris Marker’s La Jetée in that it’s built up largely from still images (although isn’t all film really?) rather than traditional movement. Although mostly using actual personages, it’s not dissimilar in a way to some kind of semi-animated childrens program that I can’t quite put my finger on from years gone by. You could call it a fumée, to use a posh word; those comic strips that used to be put together using actors or the book adaptations of films that were made up of stills that seemed to be around quite a bit in my younger days…

Anyway, aside from that, one of the reasons that I’m wandering off on a “science factional travelogue” with The ECR is because of a rhyming couplet in their song “Another Witch Is Dead”:

“It’s a middle class vendetta, on women who are better.”

Eccentronic Research Council-1612 Underture-Maxine Peake-Andy Votel-Bird Records-Jane Weaver-Finders Keepers Records-A Year In The Country-3That’s just superb. It’s one of the things that I’ve found stuck in the old bonce the most on the way and during A Year In The Country. I think it’s the best class-related piece of lyricism I’ve heard for a good while. Probably since some other purveyors of sometimes-thinking-persons-pop wandered forth from the once city of steel to tell the class-tourism based story of a girl who would never get it right, ’cause when she was laid in bed at night, if she called her dad he could stop it all (and there was me thinking it was “if you’re cold your dad could stop it all” for all these years, well, you learn something new every day).

It’s nice to hear a bit of politics and consideration of class conflict/power struggles and abuses in a non-hectoring manner, in some (non-populist) pop music.

And Another Witch Is Dead is pop music, unabashedly so. Somewhere in an alternative timeline Legs And Co. are doing an interpretative dance routine to it; the band themselves can’t appear this week as it’s success and sitting comfortably in the Top 10 for a fair few weeks now means that they’re off cutting the ribbons for the opening of a chain of “16th century Holland & Barretts” somewhere in the north country, where “like all beautiful flowers, we need our rain”.

And while we’re talking about magic, spells, more recent occurrences of such things and the like (see Day #205/365) In Eccentronic Research Council’s 1612 Underture album there’s a point where they talk of mobile phone handsets and their uses as being “modern-day magic on a monthly tarrif”.

Which connects with something I seem to ponder a fair bit…

Eccentronic Research Council-1612 Underture-Maxine Peake-Andy Votel-Bird Records-Jane Weaver-Finders Keepers Records-A Year In The Country-3

If we talk of previous eras belief systems it may well all be spirits and fairies in the woods, invisible forces and powers that we must appease, there was a small cadre of priests/prophets/enchanters etc who really knew how it all worked/had the ears of/influence on those spirits and powers and so on. All of which is now largely considered balderdash or at least looked on as quaint “sometimes a bit daft” ways of looking and thinking of the world. So now, with our modern-day magic, it works purely logically, it’s all based on science y’kno’…

“Oh it’s programming that operates via silicon chips that are built from these more or less invisible things called molecules that pass around some other more or less invisible things called electrons and then send also more or less invisible messages through the air and so on and so forth. It’s all based on fact and physics, the fundamentals of which nobody really understands but there are some very complicated, arcane theories that only a select few know and they probably do. Well, they say they do. And all the matter that makes up these little boxes and their activities, life and existence in general sprung into existence from nothing a very long time ago. Honestly, that’s what happened.”

How many atoms/angels can you fit on a pin head?

Hmmm.

Eccentronic Research Council-1612 Underture-Maxine Peake-David Chatton Barker-Finders Keepers Records-A Year In The Country-2

We just accept that these things work. On faith really. They do (generally). It’s an operating and belief system that works (kind of, depending on which particular rung of the ladder you’re stood on or clinging to) for a particular stage of capitalism and human history.

Is it all really any different to previous eras acceptance on faith that a particular ritual offering meant that a particular thing would (hopefully happen). We could be seen to make our own offerings today but it’s just a bit more prosaic seeming in modern times as that offering up is now often in the form of a direct debit…

…but don’t make that offering and see how long the “modern-day magic on a monthly tarriff” keeps working.

Hmmm again.

In a more secular society we have turned to other things and ways to express our beliefs and in which to look for some of meaning and transcendence in life. Bill Drummond comments in his book The 17 that those who need a lot of music today are quite possibly people who needed a lot religion in the past. There may well be something in that, some kind of continuum between past practises and rather modern ways of thinking and believing.

Kluncklick ECR related flickerings can be found here. They were also responsible for visual interpretations of Jane Weaver’s work amongst fallen watchbirds, which is well worth a watch.

The Eccentronic Research Council have various filing cabinets amongst the ether. Start rummaging amongst the ring binders here, here and here.

1612 Underture was sent out into the world in physical form via Finders Keepers and Bird Records. Find them here.

PS The above image: nice bit of reinterpeting of Andy Votel’s cover artwork by David Chatton-Barker (Folklore Tapes, see Days #7/365, #32/365 and 57/365)

 

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Day #198/365: Wandering from the arborea of Albion (#2) and fever dreams of the land…

Sixteen Horsepower-Folklore-A Year In The CountryFile under: Trails and Influences.
Other Pathways. Case #31/52.

I’ve been thinking here and there about cultures away from the shores of Albion which might be considered to have some similarities with some of the otherly folkloric/hauntological culture that I’ve been wandering through during this year in the country; the sense of an unregulated, sometimes overlooked culture with deep roots in the land and history, that could be seen to be haunted by spectres of a nation’s past.

The folk cultural history (in the sense of being from the wild woods, away from the cities, a touch more autonomous and of/by the people ) of places rather than the pop cultural history (based in urban centres, mass spectacle, centrally controlled).

…along which lines, if I was to look way over the oceans I would probably cast my gaze towards what I tend to think of a certain dusty plains, Southern Gothic aesthetic and artifacts.

General orders no 9-a year in the countryI’ve touched briefly on such things when talking about General Orders No.9 (see Day #51/365), an astonishing piece of flickering celluloid which takes in the discarded, collapsed, neglected and yet also invaded/consumed landscape of America’s deep south…

If I was to pick two particular other cultural artifacts and resonances in the air which represent such things then it would probably be the albums Hex; Or Printing In The Infernal Method by Earth and Folklore by 16 Horsepower.

These are haunted and haunting pieces of work. Musically quite different but I feel they’re wandering similar pathways, somewhere in history.

The second, although not really pigeonhole-able, could be seen to be a form of visionary, folkloric dark Americana.; very melodic and presented in traditional song form. It draws on gospel but if this is a revival it’s wandering the forest with its sins, having travelled from its church roots but never too far that it can’t hear the calls from its home.

Earth-Hex or printing in the infernal method-A Year In The Country

The first takes a similar aesthetic but applies a relentless but strangely comforting heaviness and sense of being enveloped and crushed, this time taking a vocal-less drone guitar path through the dust bowls of its land.

And when it stops, I don’t want it to end.

They are both the fever dreams of stories etched in the land, shadows of the past in the present.

Wire magazine-Earth-Joseph Stannard-A Year In The Country

Mirrors of folklore and drawing the lines:

Lead Earth gent Dylan Carlson has begun to explore English folklore, culture and related esoteric pathways quite explicitly (see Day #156/365) and has mentioned late 1960s/early 1970s folk rock along the lines of Pentangle as being an influence on more recent work… you could well peruse him discussing such things via a certain gent from The Outer Church here.

16 Horsepower-Live DVD-Glitterhouse-A Year In The Country16 Horsepower’s live performance of Joy Division: It’s a fair few years since I first saw this but having re-watched it still entrances and transports me. Mr Eugene Edward is channelling something here.

Watch the grip of the mercenary hand here. Although to truly appreciate it, bringing home it’s intended place would be most recommended.

Visit Mr Carlson’s various projects in the ether here.

More than worth a mention if you should be travelling such pathways: Searching For The Wrong Eyed Jesus

Searching For The Wrong Eyed Jesus-Jim White-Harry Crews-A Year In The Country

This and General Orders No.9 could be seen to be mirror images of studies of this fair isle’s outer edges and edgelands (see Day #160/365)…

 

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Day #195/365: World On A Wire; a curiously prescient Simulacron

World On A Wire-1973-Counterfeit World-Daniel F Galouye-A Year In The CountryFile under: Trails and Influences. Other Pathways.
Case #30/52.

I’ve had World On A Wire sat around for a fair old while and have been meaning to peruse it but only recently did…

It’s a two-part television program from 1973, based on a book by Daniel F. Galouye (one of the covers for which is one of my favourite pieces of paperback art – a very analogue vision of a digital reality and its pastoral features).

World On A Wire is one of those particularly curiously prescient pieces of science fiction, prefiguring everything from second life style escapist computer games, virtual reality, social media, future Hollywood blockbusters, science fiction in various forms…

…and interestingly, although it was made in 1973, in contrast to much televisual output from Britain around that time, this is a program which isn’t all muddy coloured grimness. This is a shiny corporate (then) future, one of the lost futures pasts…

A brief overview of the plot: a supercomputer hosts a simulation program, a Simulacron, of a virtual world of human beings who are unaware that their world is not real. The technical director of the program is on the verge of some kind of major breakthrough but dies in peculiar, unexplained circumstances… his successor interacts with a security adviser who disappears without a trace and nobody else seems to know who he is/was, one of the virtual inhabitants commits suicide and reality/virtual reality and it’s inhabitants become intermingled with disastrous and life/freedom/corporate privilege threatening consequences for the program’s director…

World On A Wire-1973-A Year In The Country 2

Here are some notes I made as I went along:

1) Has a similar emotional distance/coldness like Cronenberg or Paul Schroeder’s work; the characters are often literally physically still and posed (at least in the first half).

2) It has more than a few similarities to A Dream Of Wessex and its prescient creation of virtual worlds (see Day 26/365) and the use of those worlds to consider possible future problems/needs within society.

World On A Wire-1973-A Year In The Country 3

3) The characters within the virtual world are called Identity Units – that made me smile and think of current day “social” digital worlds.

4) This is hauntological source material without the grimness – it presents a vision of a lost future that is all shiny corporate beauty.

5) There’s an impossibly glamorous corporate style to the world it presents and an unreal cartoon like beauty and glamour to some of the female characters – like Jessica Rabbits tumbled from the cartoons…

6) It takes place in a curiously depopulated world – one almost like a computer game/virtual reality simulation where only the main characters have been programmed and given screen time.

World On A Wire-1973-A Year In The Country

7) It’s also a curiously enclosed world, again at least in the first half – people hardly ever stray from the main corporate building.

8) This is a world drenched in blue and pink light. It’s quite lovely but also quite cold.

9) Dialogue: “I’ll deal with the little ideality.”

10) Dialogue: “I always thought switching minds was a utopian joke.”

11) Dialogue: “Your puppets are dancing again.”

12) Identity Unit name: Chrisopher Nobody.

13) Dialogue: “Okay, delete him.” (Comment on Christopher Nobody).

14) Dialogue: “I’m just a bundle of electronic circuits… a projection if you like.”

15) Dialogue: “Think about it, everyday you reign like God over a miniature world you helped to create and which you mistake more and more for a real world. You can add and delete people at will… this leads to feelings of depression, guilt and fear.”

World On A Wire-1973-poster-A Year In The CountryIn many ways it’s a program of two halves (literally as it was broadcast in two parts): the first is a vision of a future that is all middle-class corporate exploration and quietly decadent leisure, all presented in a beautiful yet cold,  subtley queasy aesthetic, largely under the cover and security of company buildings and the rewards of affluent domiciles and couplings… then when the gremlins come tumbling from the machine there is a sense of being ejected from this slightly soulless eden out into the wider world (and into a more conventional chase movie in a way)… although here even the forest seems particularly civilised and managed, another corporate perk.

Intelligent, stylish television. Lovely bleeping, drone filled electronic (and in part almost collapsing and disintentegrating vocal Weimar-esque cabaret) score.

View the recent(ish) trailer here. Consider it’s purchase here.

 

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Day #188/365: The Ash Tree; Sacred Disobedience, an unorthodox guidance and further fields In England

The Ash Tree-David Rudkin-MR James-A Ghost Story For Christmas-The BBC-A Year In The CountrThe Ash Tree-David Rudkin-MR James-A Ghost Story For Christmas-The BBC-A Year In The Country
File under: Trails and Influences. Other Pathways. Case #29/52.

Your search in Castingham shall be vain, witchfinder.

The Ash Tree-David Rudkin-MR James-A Ghost Story For Christmas-The BBC-A Year In The Country

I suppose the horrors and monsters under the bed I’ve been drawn to/explore during A Year In The Country have tended to be more man made than supernatural; I suppose this is a view that connects with Ben Wheatley’s consideration of Threads as a horror film and even his own Kill List more concerns the evils of man than those of phantasms and spirits.

The Ash Tree-David Rudkin-MR James-A Ghost Story For Christmas-The BBC-A Year In The Country 4

Now we have ye, now we see ye, in your night shape, the night hare.”

Having said which, I seem to keep stumbling across the more ghostly concerned work of M.R. James, largely in televisual form and via the referencing from other practitioners rather than in the leafs and pages of books…

Along which lines, The Ash Tree from 1975.

It was created and prepared for cathode ray transmission by David Rudkin, who for a while seemed to be the go-to chap for otherly Albion-ic television (he was also responsible for Penda’s Fen and Artermis 81); there is something visionary about this small body of work.

The Ash Tree-David Rudkin-MR James-A Ghost Story For Christmas-The BBC-A Year In The Country 8

I am confounded…”

In  many ways The Ash Tree feels like it could sit quite comfortably amongst the not-so salubrious fare that littered the faded dream palaces of mid seventies Britain, it has that nasty, unsettling feeling to it that a fair few cinematic escapees of the time in this fair isle did, possibly reflecting a wider sense of corruption and malaise in society (a theme that I seem to return to around these parts and more of which in a moment)… Connecting it with such other flickering tales is not to dismiss it, just that, well, it’s not easy viewing.

Having recently rewatched it, I still feel unsettled. I’m kind of mildly surprised that it escaped onto television as it’s a very adult piece of work, one which borders in part on exploitation cinema, albeit with an underlying arthouse intelligence.

I think of it as a film, even though it was made for television and is only just over half an hour long; it feels like a film in compact, condensed form.

…and that from which it is compressed may well be in part Witchfinders General, with which it shares an era and some themes… and it also brings to mind once again the deadly tree games of a certain early-mid 1970s British horror portmanteau film (see Day # 167/365)…

The Ash Tree-David Rudkin-MR James-A Ghost Story For Christmas-The BBC-A Year In The Country 6

I don’t know if it was just the murky colours of the transfer I watched but this is yester-year, pastoral England most definitely transposed to that aforementioned 1970s dissolution and grime. There is little beauty in this landscape and it’s rolling fields. Bleak is a word that comes and jumps to mind; these are moors and feeding grounds full of judgement, punishment, voyeurism and unexplained carrion.

What I have seen I have seen…

The Ash Tree-David Rudkin-MR James-A Ghost Story For Christmas-The BBC-A Year In The Country 3

Although I won’t enter into details of the plot overly here, suffice to say this is a tale of the hunting, hounding and revenge, of an establishment “vendetta, against women who are better” (to semi-quote The Eccentronic Research Council).

…an unorthodox guidance…

Hmmm.

The Ash Tree-David Rudkin-MR James-A Ghost Story For Christmas-The BBC-A Year In The Country-10

Seek out it’s shiny disc wandering here (tread carefully, this isn’t light and easy viewing) and the Sacred Disobedience of David Rudkin here.

Visit other fields in England at Day #73/365 and Day #78/365.

 

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Day #178/365: The cuckoo in the nest: sitting down with a cup of cha, a slice of toast, Broadcast, Emerald Web, Ghost Box Records and other fellow Shindig travellers…

Shindig Magazine-Broadcast-Julian House-Ghost Box Records-Emerald Web-A Year In The CountryFile under: Trails and Influences.
Other Pathways. Case #28/52.

Now, on the occasional time when I wander down a high street and into a newsagent in recent years, I don’t tend to expect to find a magazine that takes as its subject matter hauntological and interconnected culture and/or a touch of otherly folk music.

But this issue of Shindig magazine would have been one case where I might have discovered such a publication as sometimes it can be found nestled alongside other more generally culturally appealing periodical tomes…

Shindig is an independently published magazine that focuses on psychedelic, garage, beat, powerpop, soul and folk music, often from or influenced by previous eras. Although it does tend to explore experimental electronic work, you’re probably more likely to discover the likes of The 13th Floor Elevators, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, The Pretty Things, The Flamin’ Groovies and The Chocolate Watch Band on the cover than, well, contemporary electronic experimentalists, avant-garde cinema inspired, psychedelic modernist band from around and about The Black Country, such as Broadcast…

…but there is one issue that’s something of a cuckoo in the Shindig nest.

That’s issue 32 (which I have mentioned in passing before, see Day #59/365). Shindig is generally a fine publication but this particular issue is particularly fine in terms of the interests and pathways of A Year In The Country.

Why is that?

Well, let’s do a list of the contents:

1) Broadcast are on the cover: well, that’s a good start around these ways.

Shindig Magazine-Broadcast-Julian House-A Year In The Country

2) The Children Of Alice: Inside there’s a ten page (yes, ten pages indeed) article on the band/interview with James Cargill by Thomas Patterson. It covers Broadcasts history and influences, their work and geographic relocation, some rather classic photographs, James’ future plans and well… the subject of the sad passing of Trish Keenan, which is dealt with in a respectful manner. Oh and the article has a two page illustration by longstanding Broadcast collaborator Julian House.

2) The Noise Made By Trish: in which Seasons They Change author Jeanette Leech celebrates Trish Keenan and her work.

3) Your Hidden Dreams: a wander through some of the electronic pioneers who could be considered to have led the way towards Broadcast, including Silver Apples, Suicide and United States Of America.

Shindig Magazine-Delia Derbyshire-BBC Radiophonic Workshop-Electric Storm-Hauntology-Suicide-Silver Apples-A Year In The Country

4) An Electric Storm: a consideration of the arrival of Delia Derbyshire, fellow BBC Radiophonic Workshop companion Brian Hodgson and David Vorhaus’ White Noise album, subtitled “Mark Brend Chronicles the birth of “hauntological””.

5) Sounds From The Living Room: In which Dan Abbott chooses what he considers Broadcast’s 10 best releases…

Okay, pause for breath… and then there’s…

6) The Equestrian Vortex: an investigation of Berberian Sound Studio and its accompanying soundtrack by Broadcast.

Shindig Magazine-Broadcast-James Cargill-Thomas Patterson-A Year In The Country
(Above Trish Keenan and James Cargill partake in tiffin accompanied by neighbours from the semi next door, Alex and Maxine Sanders, who’ve popped round for a little afternoon channelling of witch cults of the radio age.)

7) But then there’s an 8-page consideration of the stylish sleaze and cinematic transgressions of Italian Giallo cinema by Jame Blackford (BFI) and Lee Dorrian (Rise Above Records), which considers the genres connections and influence on Peter Strickland’s Berberian film…  oh and there’s a 2-page illustration by Mr Julian House again.

Wandering away from such things and more towards folkloric culture…

8) Ring Out The Solstice Bells: A brief consideration of the co-tour by The Trembling Bells with former Incredible String Band chap Mike Heron… oh and that’s accompanied by a quick mention of Witches Hats & Painted Chariots, the Shindig associated book on The ISB and psychedelic fok, plus a smidgeon about The Green Man festival.

Shindig Magazine-Ghost Box Records-Jim Jupp-Julian House-A Year In The Country

9) A Half-Remembered Past: wandering back towards hauntological shores, there’s an interview with the aforementioned Julian House and Jim Jupp of Ghost Box Records… accompanied by a label primer featuring The Focus Group, Pye Corner Audio, Belbury Poly, The Advisory Circle and former Broadcast-er/current Children Of Alice-r Roj.

10) At The Dragon’s Gate: An interview with Kat Epple of psych-folk-becoming-cosmic-electronica-became-released-on Finders Keepers Records duo Emerald Web (well worth taking flight with the ravens here).

11) Long Live The Children’s Film Foundation: Vic Pratt (also of the BFI… they get around you know) looks at the decades of celluloid adventures, japes and scrapes of well, The Children’s Film Foundation.

12) Glowing Reputation: wandering back to the fields of psych folk, there’s a four page consideration of two of Mike Heron’s solo albums by Alex Nielson.

13) Reviews of albums by wanderers through the otherly fields including Spriguns of Tolgus, The Memory Band, The Incredible String Band… oh and Mark Goodall’s (he of the Timecode: Hauntology 20 Years On conference) book Gathering Of The Tribe, which is a consideration of occult/secret knowledge creation and undercurrents in music.

Well, what can I say? To be honest, I think just the Broadcast/James Cargill article alone would have been enough to have me smashing the old digital piggy bank, counting out the coppers and passing them through the ether.

Although of course there are acres and acres of writing to be read in the ether along similar subjects, there’s still something precious about when that package drops through the letterbox and there is also something to be said for being able to sit down with a cup of cha and a bite of toast to peruse and soak up a more finite, edited, consideration of culture (mind the sticky fingers on the pages though).

Consider a purchase of the magazine here.

 

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Day #177/365: Zardoz… in this secret room from the past, I seek the future…

File under: Trails and Influences. Other Pathways. Case #27/52.Zardoz-1973-John Boorman-A Year In The Country 9
He who fights too long against dragons, becomes a dragon himself.

One of the stranger larger scale films to have escaped from the celluloid dream factories…

Zardoz-1973-John Boorman-A Year In The Country 8

Death approaches! We are all mortal again! Now we can say ‘yes’ to death, but never again ‘no’. Now, we must make our farewells: to each other, to the sun and moon, trees and sky, earth and rock, the landscape of our long waking-dream.

It could be seen as being part of the mini-genre of films from the 1970s that dealt with population control and/or ecological/resource collapse/disaster that I seem to return to in these pages (ie Z.P.G., No Blade Of Grass, Soylent Green, Phase IV, Logan’s Run etc; see Days #83/365, #88/365 and #149/365).

Zardoz-1973-John Boorman-A Year In The Country 2

And I have looked into the face of the force that put the idea in your mind. You are bred, and led, yourself.

Zardoz-1973-John Boorman-A Year In The Country-12bBut I think this is one of the most genuinely strange of them all, particularly as it appears to be quite a big budget, star scattered production (I guess this is what happens when film studios give open-ended creative freedom to people after they’ve made a big hit film – the director, John Boorman, had been given that pass after the success of his city slickers up against the folk from the woods and swamps film Deliverance)… to use a phrase from the film itself, this is one of those times when popular culture goes “renegade”…

We’ve all been used!… And re-used… And abused!… And amused!

psychedelic definition-A Year In The Country

It feels like a genuinely psychedelic and dreamlike (or to use the more academic, hauntology text appearing phrase, oneiric) experience in many ways… a dissonant, challenging blockbuster/spectacle film in a way, full of “I can’t actually believe that this was allowed to come to the big screen” moments, questioning of societies actions, elements of 20th century fairy tales and philosophy amongst, well, the thigh length boots, nudity, guns and entertainment.

Zardoz-1973-John Boorman-A Year In The Country-11

(Reading the film’s director talking about its making, there was possibly a literally psychedelic element to its production; “Um, it was the 70’s, and I was doing a lot of drugs. Frankly, even I’m not entirely sure what parts of the movie are about.” All the better for that lack of knowing and over exposition…).

Forcing the hand of evolution…

Zardoz-1973-John Boorman-A Year In The Country 10And it’s one of those pieces of celluloid where if, as film critic Mark Kermode says in his book “The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex: What’s Wrong with Modern Movies”, big budget escapades actually rarely lose money in the long-term then it makes me think it’s a shame that such dedicated, off kilter, visions aren’t allowed to be realised a bit more often. Or again to semi-quote Mr Kermode, if you’re going to make these big blockbusters and they probably won’t lose money, why not make them good?

You have penetrated me. There is no escape. You are within me. Come into my center… Come into the center of the crystal.

The plot? Well, the rich and powerful have secluded themselves behind an invisible barrier in an earthly paradise of bountifulness and eternal life, while the rest of the world has turned to scrubland and society has crumbled and reverted to a more or less medieval way of life. Out in those wastelands are exterminators who literally cull the population at the orders of the secluded powerful, who supply them with weapons to carry out their bidding, which are delivered by a flying, tribute collecting stone godhead… but then one of the exterminators manages to gain entrance to the endless idyll… and well, I don’t want to give too much away if you’ve not seen it…

I looked behind the mask, saw the truth.

Zardoz-1973-John Boorman-A Year In The Country 4The secluded paradise is a curious mix of advanced technology, new age-isms and a kind of indulgently folkloric way of life… these are dancers at the end of time (to quote Michael Moorcock in a book series with not too dissimilar themes in part of a privileged elite living in a bubble world of luxury and indulgence at the expense of the rest of the world); but it is an idyll which is degenerating and many of those who have been dancing its slow, indolent, self-regarding waltz for hundreds of years are slipping into a literally catatonic state of apathy or have to come to just wish to be able to end their unending lives.

I am innocent of psychic violence.

It’s a film full of beauty and brutality (and Brutals); lithesome eternals wander the bountiful lands in flowing semi-transparent garments, all democratic, liberal (and conformistly oppressive) decision-making, in stark contrast to the hirsute, futuristic Mexican fetish banditry of the interloper from the wastelands who breaks into their lands, bringing with him action, virulent fertility and the violence of change…

Zardoz-1973-John Boorman-A Year In The Country 3

The vortex is an obscenity…

I would recommend a trip into this particular vortex and a seeking out of the tabernacle with Zed or as one of the taglines said step “Beyond 1984, Beyond 2001, Beyond Love, Beyond Death”…

Zardoz-1973-John Boorman-A Year In The Country-12Other trails and pathways: talking of beyonds, if you should be drawn to the lysergic otherlyness of Zardoz then you may wish to take a wander amongst the arborea of Beyond The Black Rainbow, where I think you may find traces of the vortex…

..or to wander slightly off track, join in the Future Dance and enjoy the critiquing of the echo chamber conformity of social media popularity rituals via the App Development and Condiments episode of criminally under-exposed (on these shores at least) series Community and its affectionate tribute to such 1970s sf dystopias as appear on this page. Highly recommended and makes me chuckle quietly just to think of it.

Zardoz-1973-John Boorman-A Year In The Country

 

 

 

 

 

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Day #176/365: The changing shadows of the fictions of John Wyndham…

Day Of The Triffids-1981 BBC television-A Year In The CountryFile under: Trails and Influences. Other Pathways.
Case #26/52.

Well, while I was thinking about the work of John Wyndham (see Day #173/365)…

As I think I’ve mentioned some of this before but at a young age, when I was living in a small country idyll – population approx. 300, attendance at school across all 7 years of infant and junior approx. 30 – I began to discover the work of John Wyndham… initially via The Midwich Cuckoos (the copy I read had the last page torn out and so for years I didn’t know what happened at the end of the story)…

…this lead over the coming years to numerous readings (or attempted readings) of his fiction*, alongside various viewings of the flickering adaptations of his work; The Seeds Of Time, the hidden mutations of The Chrysalids, Trouble With Lichen, The Kraken Awakes… but the two that I’ve always been drawn back to are The Midwich Cuckoos and Day Of The Triffids and their tales of rural idylls overtaken and sown with eldritch children or of mankind struck down and left to fight amongst the soon to crumble ruins of civilisation and out in country compounds against vastly evolved nature…

I like the way that when books which stay popular are reprinted over the years, their new artwork and cover designs often capture and reflect the spirit of the times in which they were commissioned. This seems to be particularly true in the cases of genre fiction (science fiction, crime, fantasy etc); the contents stay the same but the covers quotas of luridness, sleaze, paranoia, wayout-ness etc varies and changes…

Along which lines here’s a selection of my favourites of The Midwich Cuckoos and Day Of The Triffids.

John Wyndham-The Day Of The Triffids-book cover-A Year In The CountryI love the way The Triffids appear set against a normal British house/street/street light here: they are in the very heart of a way of life…
 John Wyndham-The Day Of The Triffids-book cover-A Year In The Country 2This one always reminds me of the Richard Allen pulp fiction books… here the respectable, nicely mannered middle class cuckoos (well, nicely mannered in a planning on usurping mankind and the world kind of way) are nearer to seventies or eighties young toughs or bovver boys. Definitely up to no good.
John Wyndham-The Day Of The Triffids-book cover-A Year In The Country 3And quite what’s going on here I’m not really sure. Particularly inappropriate psychedelic cover… but I quite like it as it’s so wrong and at first glance unconnected to the book.
 InJohn Wyndham-The Day Of The Triffids-book cover-A Year In The Country 4 which the triffids wander in the very heart of the British capital… interesting how earlier versions of them were often pictured with more pronounced legs.
John Wyndham-The Day Of The Triffids-book cover-A Year In The Country 5A more exploitation, vigilante style cover… Quite rare this one, I’ve rarely seen it. It has that subtley unpleasant 1970s (?) atmosphere and there’s something particularly distressing about the young child on the back cover…
Midwich Cuckoos-John Wyndham-A Year In The CountryThis one has made an appearance in the pages of A Year In The Country before… for some reason it makes me think of the seaside and sailors. I think it’s the stripey top and the bird in a cage could be thrown jauntily over the shoulder, a present for a beau…
John Wyndham-The Day Of The Triffids-book cover-A Year In The Country 6One of the stranger covers. A dustbin with the word blind on it, with just a few creepers/triffid trails… I can only assume it’s meant to imply that mankind is for the dumpster…
John Wyndham-The Midwich Cuckoos-book cover-A Year In The CountryThe superbly superior, snotty Mr Stephens in the film…
John Wyndham-The Day Of The Triffids-book cover-A Year In The Country 8As I was saying, cover art can reflect the era in which it is commissioned… I can but assume that this appeared as the optimism and progression of psychedelia curdled into something else; it looks like societies scream.
The Day Of The Triffids-John Wyndham-book cover-A Year In The CountryAnother earlier edition with the triffids once again in the heart of the British capital, possibly reflecting the recent trauma that was visited upon it… this sense of them marauding through the metropolis is something which seems to disappear later. And what are the audio wave-like swirls? The hunting cries of the triffids? A sense of general disaster? The phenomena that strikes down the population?
The Midwich Cuckoos-John Wyndham-book cover-A Year In The CountryThe first edition of The Midwich Cuckoos… although you can tell it’s from another era, it looks curiously fashionable and relevant to now. Rather hauntological indeed. This is a strange, otherly cover but subtly so. Good stuff. Something of a favourite.
The Day Of The Triffids-John Wyndham-book cover-A Year In The Country 9I tend to think of this as the “classic” Day Of The Triffids cover. I’m not sure why but possibly it’s one of the ones I read in my younger days…

While looking up the fictions of Mr John Wyndham, I also had a peruse of the 1981 BBC television adaptation… images from it genuinely gave me the heebie jeebies. I know it did when it was first broadcast but I don’t think it’s just a reflection of that. There’s something about the triffids in this version that is genuinely gruesome and unsettling. Yes, they don’t look “real” in the way that digital generated later versions may do but they do look part of the real world. You don’t want to be around them.

There’s something about much of modern-day British television drama/genre programs that’s just terribly unconvincing. I tend to think of them as being like Children’s Film Foundation productions but not in a good way; adult programs without an adult spirit (characterisation? intelligence? lighting?).  I can’t quite say what it is but as Mark Fisher says in Ghost Of My Life, they don’t look lived in, though it’s not just a visual problem… hmmm.

If you should plan on sleeping with the lights on, you can watch the intro to the earlier TV adaptation here. I suspect I may well return to such flickerings around these parts…

 

*And as I also think I’ve mentioned before, a curious thing, the way that youngsters of a certain age are drawn to apocalyptic, dystopian, cataclysmic visions of the future; The Hunger Games would be a modern-day version of this I suppose… I know at the time I was drawn in part to some such stories as the idea of being left alone in the world meant I could raid the toyshops for all the LED electronic games and batteries I needed. You have to get your priorities right in a post-disaster world.

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Day #174/365: Strawberry Fields & Wreckers; the hinterland/village as edgeland

Strawberry Fields-2012-A Year In The Country
File under: Trails and Influences. Other Pathways. Case #25/52.
Edgeland Report Documents; Cases #6a-7a.

Something of a favourite around these parts is the film Strawberry Fields. I’m not quite sure why…

It’s basically a film about a postwoman who is possibly running away from the loss of her mother and her over demanding, somewhat unsettled sister. She seeks escape in some seasonal strawberry picking fields and the film becomes a compressed microcosm of lives, loves, family and friendships, all of which seem to fracture, stumble and tumble in a brief moment of time.

The setting feels like a world unto itself; it comprises mostly of just the picking fields, ramshackle semi-derelict buildings, temporary accommodation, deserted beaches, neglected barns and equipment, the concrete brutalism and shabby infrastructure of the local railway station and monolithic overhead roadways (spaghetti junction relocated amongst the fields and flatlands). Everything apart from the roadway looks cobbled together, patched up, built from whatever could be found…

Strawberry Fields-2012-A Year In The Country 3

And the colours in the fields are often just ever so slightly over vivid, adding just a touch of unrealness to it all…

Adding to that, it’s a world curiously free of controlling older adult influences. There’s possibly only one such person whose face is seen… the characters feel like barely contained adults rampaging as unsupervised children through emotions and this brief snapshot of life…

Strawberry Fields-2012-A Year In The Country-2

And when I first saw the images of the overhead roadway when I was heading towards A Year In The Country, something chimed inside me, the juxtaposition of nature and the unforgiving, un-beauty of this man-made structure seemed to sum something up… it made me want to pick up and my camera and find where it was, to capture the spirit it represented.

Strawberry Fields is a vision of the countryside and coastal hinterland as a form of literal and emotional edgeland: the structures, physical and personal, are thrown together, tumbledown, temporary, in a state of flux…

…which leads me to the film Wreckers.

Wreckers-2011-film-A Year In The Country

In this the often relaxing vision of the village as an orderly country idyll is gently flipped on its side: a tour around the village leads not to “Oh, that’s a pretty church” but to a cataloguing of who did what traumatic thing where, the emotional relationships and rules feel like they have reverted back to some earlier unregulated medieval time.

Wreckers-2011-film-A Year In The Country 2

As in Strawberry Fields, the physical structures aren’t neatly polished chocolate box visions of the countryside; the cottage that should have roses running up the outside and be full of quaint comforting knickknacks is in the process of being renovated… but it doesn’t feel like it’s being spruced up, rather that it has had its niceties stripped away and left raw, the other buildings shown are generally tumble down throwbacks and bodged together barns.

These films are a brief view of places where normality and the subtle veneers of civility and civilisation have quietly stepped back for a moment and come unfrayed around the edges…. or as the title of this page says, here the hinterland/village is shown and seen as a form of edgeland.

Troubadour Rose-Bryony Afferson-Strawberry Fields 2012-A Year In The Country-higher contrast

PS Nice soundtrack to Strawberry Fields, largely by  Bryony Afferson and her band Troubadour Rose. All slightly dusty Americana tinged folk songs that lodge in the mind for days, drones and snatches of ghostly vocals.

The trailer to The Wreckers can be viewed here. It can be found in the ether here.

The trailer to Strawberry Fields can be viewed here and you can pick your own here. Despite what I’ve written above, this isn’t a grim, gritty realist drama. In many ways it’s a gentle, touching film… not too dissimilar could also be said about Wreckers (though that is possibly a touch more emotionally harsh as a film).

 

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Day #157/365: The Dalesman’s Litany; a yearning for imaginative idylls and a counterpart to tales of hellish mills

Tim Hart and Maddy Prior-Folk Songs of Olde England-A Year In The CountryFile under: Trails and Influences. Other Pathways.
Case #24/52.

Now, I’m wary of harking back to some imagined pre-industrialisation idyll; as one of those whose thoughts are recorded in the book Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village says, the old ways which were often quite harsh at the time can come to seem like pleasant ideas and past times as the years put a distance between now and then.

Having said which this song, as sung by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior and which takes as it’s subject matter a yearning for a return to pastoral idylls, has stuck with me.

(A reasonably well-known example of where such pastoral impulses can lead is the modern folkloric legend of Vashti Bunyan briefly living in the forest before travelling by horse-drawn caravan over a period of years to arrive at an island community where you’re drawn to the old ways of doing things, while the local inhabitants are busy modernising, moving away from the old stoves, technology and associated ways of life.

Tim Hart and Maddy Prior-Folk Songs of Olde England-A Year In The Country 2I suppose to a degree in the era, the later 1960s and earlier 1970s, when this song and its fellows were recorded, that idyllic olde england view, the use and reinterpretation of traditional folk music and lore were sometimes part of a more experimental, exploratory strand in music and culture – or as I’ve mentioned before and to once again quote Rob Young from his book Electric Eden, a tendency towards a form of imaginative time travel.

Over time such music and culture has become subsumed into a more twee, conservative, chocolate box take on folk/folkloric culture, where now it’s almost hard to disconnect it from such baggage and even taint.)

Anyway, back to the song. The Dalesman’s Litany is a tale of an agricultural worker who has to choose between a life on the land he loves and knows and a life with his beau, as he is forced from his home to work in towns, cities and mines because the local landowner doesn’t want married workers.

It’s a very evocative recording, in particular in the imagery it conjures of the tongues of fire thrust out by furnaces as the once dalesman walks the lanes of Sheffield at night and also in the way it imparts a sense of an aching yearn to return to the moor and leave the coalstacks.

In some ways it’s a more personal counterpart to William Blake’s Jerusalem and it’s words of dark satanic mills.

Tim Hart and Maddy Prior-Folk Songs of Olde England-A Year In The Country 4

It’s hard when folks can’t find the work where they’ve been bred and born

When I was young I always thought I’d bide ‘midst roots and corn
But I’ve been forced to work in town so here’s my litany
From Hull and Halifax and Hell, good Lord deliver me

When I was courting Mary Jane, the old squire he says to me
I’ve got no rooms for wedded folk, choose whether to go or to stay
I could not give up the girl I loved, so to town I was forced to flee
From Hull and Halifax and Hell, good Lord deliver me

I’ve worked in Leeds and Huddersfied and I’ve earned some honest brass
In Bradford, Keighley, Rotherham I’ve kept my bairns and lass
I’ve travelled all three Ridings round and once I went to sea
From forges, mills and coaling boats, good Lord deliver me

I’ve walked at night through Sheffield lanes, ’twas just as being in hell
Where furnaces thrust out tongues of fire and roared like the wind on the fell
I’ve sammed up coals in Barnsley pits with muck up to my knee
From Barnsley, Sheffield, Rotherham, good Lord deliver me

I’ve seen fog creep across Leeds bridge as thick as the Bastille soup
I’ve lived where folks were stowed away like rabbits in a coop
I’ve seen snow float down Bradford Beck as black as ebony
From Hunslet, Holbeck, Wibsey Stack, good Lord deliver me

But now that all our children have gone, to the country we’ve come back
There’s forty mile of heathery moor ‘twixt us and the coalpits’ stack
And as I sit by the fire at night, I laugh and shout with glee
From Hull and Halifax and Hell the good Lord delivered me

Tim Hart and Maddy Prior-Folk Songs of Olde England-A Year In The Country 5The song was originally found on the album Folk Songs of Olde England Voume 1 (or even more originally Folk Songs of Old England) and can be found more easily nowadays on the Heydays compilation or listened to here.

 

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Day #155/365: Hand of Stabs… delving amongst the soil and roots for the hidden stories of the land…

Hand of Stabs-A Year In The Country 4
File under: Trails and Influences. Other Pathways. Case #23/52.

Now, Hand of Stabs are a curious and intriguing proposition, trio and well, phenomena.

In their own words:

Hand of Stabs, from the South East of England, are a three-man collective who’s work draws inspiration from their exploration of local, often forbidden, landmarks. They create improvised sound pieces which can be simultaneously uplifting, difficult and intense using both traditional and homebuilt instruments.

Sharing a love of the history and sacred past of Medway Towns and surrounding countryside, and inspired by regular, often night-time walks through these spaces, they are creating a series of soundworks evoking and celebrating their essence.

Hand of Stabs-A Year In The Country

Their recorded music is resolutely experimental but also very listenable-to, it is both warm and unsettling and although often created in part with resolutely non-electronic equipment, it makes me think of electronica played on and summoned from the land and soil.

Also, when I think of Hand of Stabs I’m reminded of the likes of COUM Transmissions, Throbbing Gristle, maybe a touch of Einstürzende Neubauten and even Herman Nitsch. There seems to be some kind of line or continuum from such cultural explorers and boundaries pushers to these gents but HoS have replaced forms of aggressive transgression with something more pastoral in its themes, while still creating work very far the centre of things and which delves in the hidden.

Hand of Stabs-A Year In The Country 3They often describe their work as Aktions and much of it exists only as a performance in a very particular time and space, often occurring in the green spaces and woodlands of this fair land. I find that somewhat refreshing in these days of zeros and ones where every single utterance and performance is recorded and pinned for posterity.

To intrigue the imagination, here are some of the themes and the ornithological soundtrack from one of their recent performances:

“…the demise of Beowulf, Medway estuarine piracy and fresh-water mermaids – with an awe-inspiring accompaniment from the cuckoos, nightingales, rooks, marsh harriers and herons of Northward Hill RSPB Reserve…”

While earlier in the year they collaborated on a performance, with dance accompaniment, based around a piano which was left in the woods for a year and played at the same time once a month, exploring and making use of it’s changing state.

Hand of Stabs-Piano In The Woods-A Year In The Country

Well, if that doesn’t capture the attention of ones curiousity, I’m not quite sure what will.

They cut a very particular dash to. Nice jib chaps. Always appreciated around these parts.

Hand Of Stabs-Stuart Ody of the New Brompton Postcard Co-A Year In The Country
(The above photograph is of Hand of Stabs beside the ruined schoolhouse in the lost village of Elmley, Isle of Sheppey. Infrared photography by Stuart Ody of the New Brompton Postcard Co.)

Hand of Stabs-Kevin Geraghty-Shewan-A Year In The Country copy
(Above photograph by Kevin Geraghty-Shewan.)

Hand of Stabs can be found in the 0/1 forests here. Piano In The Woods can be found here.

 

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Day #153/365: Stepping through into… Berberian Sound Studio

Berberian Sound Studio-Peter Strickland-Julian House-Ghost Box Records-Broadcast-A Year In The Country-12
File under: Trails and Influences. Other Pathways. Case #22/52.

Now, I know there’s been an awful lot written about Berberian Sound Studio and it has been heaped with many a selection of praise but to be honest… well, the first time I watched it in the escape and darkness of a once celluloid emporium, I enjoyed it for about 45 minutes but then… well, I just became restless and it felt like a conceit that had gone on too long.

Berberian Sound Studio-Peter Strickland-Julian House-Ghost Box Records-Broadcast-A Year In The Country 2

But still I was quite excited and intrigued by it as a piece of culture, the surrounding cultural connections and so forth.

So I bought it on shiny high pixel count disc the first day it came out for home perusing and watched it in wide-screen glory.

And the same thing happened. After about 45 minutes it lost me.

Berberian Sound Studio-Peter Strickland-Julian House-Ghost Box Records-Broadcast-A Year In The Country 3

Move forward to approximately a year and a half later and for a third time I watched it again. This time on a tiny (for these days) non-widescreen television screen, briefly interrupted by adverts throughout, in the hours after midnight, having been up until the wee hours the night before taking photographs…

And this time it got me and drew me in. Maybe it helped because I was able to share it and its cultural connections with an also somewhat tired companion. I’m not sure.

And boy oh boy does this have some cultural connections. It’s hardly a hop, skip and jump before you wander into an unsettling pastoralism, lost celluloid, Ghost Box Records, the design of Julian House, the music of Broadcast, discarded recording mechanisms, past genre films within films…

Berberian Sound Studio-Peter Strickland-Julian House-Ghost Box Records-Broadcast-A Year In The Country 4

In part I think what drew me in this time was the visual imagery, experimentation and atmosphere of the film.

In that and a wider sense it may not have the ragged energy that something like Videodrome does (with which it shares a number of similar themes – the stepping into an altered reality via recorded media, the degradation of its listeners/watchers/participants and so forth); it’s still quite a slick and polished presentation but it’s good to see a contemporary film which plays with presentation and form.

So many leftfield/independent/mainstream films are actually very conservative in their use of imagery, a shame in a cultural form which should be able to lend itself to flights of visual fantasy, ones that aren’t merely rooted in an attempt to provide ever more technical drawing accurate attempts at digital simulacra realism.

So, anyway, I don’t intend for this to be a review, more a few points of interest or questions accompanied by a bakers (devils) dozen of images from and around the film:

1) Julian House’s (Ghostbox Records/Intro/Focus Group) film within a film intro sequence. Lovely stuff (well, in an unsettling way), I can hear the score as I type.

Berberian Sound Studio-Peter Strickland-Julian House-Ghost Box Records-Broadcast-A Year In The Country 5

2) The studio manager (?) looks as though he has genuinely fallen from a 1970s Italian giallo film. His presence, physiognomy and physicality are just right.

Berberian Sound Studio-Peter Strickland-Julian House-Ghost Box Records-Broadcast-A Year In The Country 6

3) I love soaking in the tape boxes, edit sheets etc, knowing that Mr House designed them all… and the ferrous technology, its physical form and noises become such an intrinsic part of this story and it’s world.

4) Where was Toby Jones characters bedroom before it becomes adjacent to the studio?

5) Favourite part: where the film breaks through into the English countryside. A brief break into and relief via greenery and daylight, in contrast to the corridor, studio, bedroom, and night-time courtyard where the remainder of the film is set.

6) It’s a genuinely saddening film due to this being the last (?) piece of work that Trish Keenan of Broadcast worked on. It’s hard to shake that sense when watching the film. Hard not to wander what other fine pieces of work she would have brought into the world. A tip of the hat to you Ms Keenan.

Oh and the plot/setting… Well, basically a gentle, garden shed based British sound effects expert travels to Italy to work on a disturbing horror film and once he’s there life and art implode and fall into one another, his sanity possibly crumbles and he becomes increasingly part of/implicit in a culture and celluloid of misogyny which is masked/masquerading as art.

It is set in 1976 and in many ways is an homage to (comment on?) that period’s giallo genre (essentially stylish/artistic/left-of-centre gore/slasher films).

Berberian Sound Studio-Peter Strickland-Julian House-Ghost Box Records-Broadcast-A Year In The Country

View more of Julian House’s Berberian Sound Studio posters here. Exhibition of same that I really wish I’d seen here.

Visit the soundtrack here and here.

Watch The Equestrian Vortex trailer here (and then if you’re like me, watch it again a few more times and want to see the whole of this film within a film).

The Berberian Sound Studio-Julian House-A Year In The Country

Berberian Sound Studio-Peter Strickland-Julian House-Ghost Box Records-Broadcast-A Year In The Country-9 Berberian Sound Studio-Peter Strickland-Julian House-Ghost Box Records-Broadcast-A Year In The Country 7
Berberian Sound Studio-Peter Strickland-Julian House-Ghost Box Records-Broadcast-A Year In The Country-10 Berberian Sound Studio-Peter Strickland-Julian House-Ghost Box Records-Broadcast-A Year In The Country-11Berberian Sound Studio-Peter Strickland-Julian House-Ghost Box Records-Broadcast-A Year In The Country 8

 

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Day #148/365: Folk Archive

Folk Archive-Jeremy Deller-Alan Kane-A Year In The Country-burning tar barrel carryingFile under: Trails and Influences.
Other Pathways. Case #21/52.

I’ve never been especially drawn to what is often called fine art, whether contemporary or from previous eras. I’m not anti it but I suppose the culture I’ve been drawn to has tended to be a bit more democratically accessible and purchasable: more likely as I grew up to cost 30p, £5 or £10, to come from Woolworths, through the speaker of the radio, the local newsagents, a library or two and later bookshops and record shops than to be found in galleries and in the possession of a few more wealthy folk.

Along such lines…

In a library I used to frequent the books of Jeremy Deller’s work would generally be found in the fine art section but to me his work existed separately to much of what surrounded it: his work seemed to exist in a genre unto itself, it felt like there was a curious lack of ego, often it made me think more of a creative enabler, curator and event organiser than an artist with a capital A and in some ways his work bridged the gap between what is known as fine art and accessible popular art.

Folk Archive-Jeremy Deller-Alan Kane-A Year In The Country 3Folk Archive-Jeremy Deller-Alan Kane-A Year In The Country 5-Straw Bear Dancer
In keeping with that is the Folk Archive book/exhibition collection he worked on with Alan Kane. In it creative work from every day life in the UK, often things which may not be considered art by its makers or wider society, is collected and recorded photographically,

In the pages of the book you can find everything from tattoos/tattoo guns and artwork from prisons, burger van signs, illustrations painted onto the bonnets of cars and crash helmets, fairground paintings, sandcastles, cake decorations, Christmas decorations, protest banners, shop and cafe signs, decorative costume for a night out or a carnival, clairvoyant hand signs, crop circles and the trappings of what could be considered traditional folkloric rituals.

Folk Archive-Jeremy Deller-Alan Kane-A Year In The Country 4-Straw Owl sculpture-A303

The use of the word folk in Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane’s work I assume refers more to a sense of art from the people, of the people, by the people, for the people than to the roots of the word folk, which essentially refers to a sense of music and culture from the wald or wild woods (see Day 40/365). But in some ways it is still work from the wild woods, in that this is unregulated art, work which sidesteps definitions and hierarchies surrounding what is allowed into the canon of art and high culture.

Folk Archive-Jeremy Deller-Alan Kane-A Year In The Country-7-sandcastlesFolk Archive-Jeremy Deller-Alan Kane-A Year In The Country-scarecrow

Jeremy Deller’s work often involves, incorporates and is accessible to the public and as I said earlier, bridges the gap between what is thought of as art and popular culture.

In the past that has included taking modern music technology to record with retired musicians in an English seaside town, re-enacting pitched battles in political disputes in conjunction with those involved at the time and re-enactment enthusiasts (see Day #78/365), taking a bouncy castle version of Stone Henge around the country (!), a traditional brass band playing acid house records to a young dance audience or a procession through Manchester that incorporated everything from a local pensioner friendly snack bar re-created on the back of a float to Mancester independent music played by a calypso band.

Folk Archive-Jeremy Deller-Alan Kane-A Year In The Country 2-Burry ManThe images on this page concentrate on the more folkloric ritual side of the collection (apart from the sandcastles, because they made me smile and took me back to seventies film stock coloured younger days and the scarecrow because, well, that made me smile as well and every so slightly childhood scared): burning tar barrel carrying, a Straw Bear Dancer, the Burry Man and so on.

That’s partly in keeping with the themes of A Year In The Country and also because many of the images link back and interestingly even quite directly mirror photographs found in other records of such things that I have written about before. Specifically Homer Syke’s Once A Year (see Day #19/365) and Sarah Hannant’s wander through the English ritual year (see Day #66/365).

Visit Jeremy Deller in the ether here. View more on the Folk Archive here, more on Alan Kane here and the Folk Archive book here.

Unsophisticated-Arts-Barbara Jones-Little Toller books-A Year In The Country(As a postscript, in many ways the Folk Archive collection reminds me of a modern-day revisiting of some of the themes of Barbara Jones Unsophisticated Arts, the book which told the story of her explorations in the 1940s of everyday art throughout Britain and which took in some similar subject matter: fairgrounds, tattoo parlours, taxidermists, houseboats, high street shops, seaside piers and amusement arcades. Well worth a look-see.)

 

 

 

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Day #143/365: Central Office Of Information + Mordant Music = MisinforMation

MisinforMation-Mordant Music-Central Office Of Information-BFI-DVD cover-A Year In The CountryFile under: Trails and Influences.
Other Pathways. Case #20/52.

Well if, as was once said, writing about music is like dancing about architecture, what is writing about an audio-visual piece of work like? Dancing about two buildings with an adjoining door or overhead walkway?

That was a thought that occurred to me when I watched MisinforMation and for some reason a conventional piece of writing didn’t seem appropriate.

What follows are the notes I quickly made as I watched (and half re-watched) the DVD, presented largely as written:

Rats in a maze… non-future vision/visuals… cutting edge blunted… This segment is distressing. Don’t need to see it again… Illusions… Walking in circles… None actually used… Return to edgelands… Boschian concrete… A wander through a carpark: a view from a dystopian, paranoid period piece/drama?… Waste… A very real simulacra… Why does the Ideal/show homes part feel more like Protect and Survice?… Overspill areas… Decay like this can set in anywhere… The only solution is…

The future, technological dreams and hope… Is now our friend… Yolk, knife, finger, sleeve, fork… Again and again: repeat… Orchid, living, tomorrow, good… bye…

Boffins… In every dream home a heartache… Mannequins, countdown, stone circles… Sun flare. Beauty. Glints of beauty. Stands alone (through time?)… Distant breeze… crystal clear… And this. And this. Etched in his features/face?…

Britain: echo + fade… There are other ways… Shadows on the landscape: don’t usually see that/the vessel…

The end (tone?)… They appear over the hill. Cagoules. COI: curiously Orwellian? Monolothic?

MisinforMation-Mordant Music-Central Office Of Information-BFI-menu titles-A Year In The Country

Nematode. Cronenberg-esque? Black screen. Nulation. Exudation. Black Screen. Under The Skin?

Modernism vs nature; blunt + brutal; what it brings to the forefront…

Tractor drives down country lane – scan to flat-roofed new builds on hillside…

Made from/covered in concrete dust… Outdoor holiday necessities… The Golden Eagle… Bare empty conurbations, devoid of beauty + ornament…

Collapsed new buildings (that never stood up?)… Washington New Town – anything but new… Boxes/box houses…

Domestic building vehicle: militaristic vehicle (bleak)… Intercut: utopia + end of modernity… Spaceship Earth… the sick man of Europe… yellow haze…

Estrual slurry… expensive to leave, expensive to stay… Brief snatches of green but all looks like edgelands…

Rapid solutions, bent institutions…

Nuclear storage not sure where yours is.

All scrubland…

Eastbourne… Remoteness? Peter Greenaway… Hitchcockian burglar birds…

Early building – director chap… about terrifying… “Your child is at risk”…

Oddly out-of-place utopian cartoons…

Population as virus… Teeming… Pink salmon bleached out colours… Unsettling… The sea is in their blood… Driving music at odds with pastoral visuals but fitting… seaside; giving a different rhythm…

England protected: fallout?

MisinforMation-Mordant Music-Central Office Of Information-BFI-A Year In The Country 2MisinforMation is a DVD released by the BFI where Mordant Music was let loose with and rescored films from the archives of the Central Office Of Information – short films/programs/adverts intended for educational or instructional use from the 1970s and 1980s.

It is an unsettling, entrancing piece of work. These films in their original form now often have a disturbing around the edges, spectral feel, often they are visions of a future hoped for but never quite reached, snapshots of a society which now looks stuck or mired (though history has marched on). This unsettling aspect is added to by the fading of their colours over the years – the films show a world which often looks full of grimy shadows even out in the open and afternoon daylight let alone under unlit concrete structures and stairwells; often the colour palette is that of a sickly, washed out salmon pink.

MisinforMation-Mordant Music-Central Office Of Information-BFI-A Year In The CountryAdd to this the musical rescoring and re-interpretation of Mordant Music and… well there are some parts that I’m not sure if I want to watch again.

Though I have to say, it’s not all unrelenting hauntological worry and grimness: there are glimpses of beauty, sun and the rolling landscape in amongst this. Glimpses mind.

It has been asked by Simon Reynolds if this is the ultimate hauntological artifact, which is quite probably a fair question. Visit him here.

Visit Mordant Music here. Visit the disc at the BFI here. Peruse a clip or two here and here.

A more conventional overview of the disc can be found at Boomkat here; ah, you see, dancing about music/audio-visual work can be done effectively.

MisinforMation-Mordant Music-Central Office Of Information-BFI-A Year In The Country-egg

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Day #142/365: Fog Signals/Ghost signals from lost transmission centres

Howlround-Robin The Fog-the-ghosts-of-bush-A Year In The CountryFile under: Trails and Influences.
Other Pathways. Case #19/52.

Ghosts of Bush is a recording by Robin The Fog (under the name Howlround) which documents the last days of Bush House, the once home to that broadcasting stalwart the World Service. It is a kind of indoors field recording which was captured late at night in the empty rooms and corridors of the building.

It’s something that I’ve kept returning to over the months and years leading up to and during this Year In The Country. It’s a fascinating and intriguing piece of work; a tribute to its subject/from whence it sprang, one which is made up of many layers; whether literally in terms of the sounds it contains and how they were made, the history of where it was made or the author’s own connection to the work (he was a studio manager at Bush House)…

Part of that layering process, how the recording was made, comes about by a literal layering of sound. The record was created using purely analogue equipment, via tape loops and so on which utilised some of the last remaining of such machines in Bush House. This process feels like an important, intrinsic part of the work, a way of reflecting and capturing the spirit and history of the building, the institution and its technological stories and legacy.

Robin The Fog-Howlround-The Ghosts Of Bush-A Year In The CountryWhen I listen to Ghosts of Bush I often think of the distant howls of long-lost and departed creatures, huge as dinosaurs. Which in these days of almost ubiquitous free market culture, may well be kind of appropriate as Bush House was responsible for transmissions from that possibly endangered philosophical idea, publicly owned broadcasting.

And I have to use this word/phrase: it’s a haunted and haunting album, whether in terms of the sounds it contains, or it’s subject matter… but to be honest as I type I’m not sure I can put pen to digital paper and write anything better or which sums up and captures a sense of the work than what Robin The Fog has said himself:

These are the sounds the building makes when it thinks no-one is listening, the sounds of many sleepless nights spent isolated in a labyrinthine basement surrounding by a crepuscular soundtrack of creaks and crackles. It’s an attempted homage to the work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop who crafted the most incredible of sound-worlds from the most basic of sources. But mostly it’s my way of saying goodbye to a building that I and so many people have loved. 

When talking of historic structures, the old clichéd approach is to wonder what one might hear if the ‘walls could speak’. I like to think that with ‘The Ghosts Of Bush’ we come closer to hearing them sing: One last song about the passage of time and the impermanence of all things, with the ghosts of the machines joining in. The last hurrah of a bygone era, of obsolete equipment and of a studio that has since fallen silent forever.

Which is a lovely, evocative, sad and celebratory piece of writing.

Howlround-Robin The Fog-the-ghosts-of-bush-alt-press-release-Ghost Box-Scanner-Simon Reynolds-A Year In The Country

Robin The Fog is a busy chap. Alongside his own releases (under various names including the aforementioned Howlround – available for appearances at your local music hostelry accompanied by their ferrous wheel sound machines) he is often to be found sending his own broadcast signals out into the world.

Robin The Fog-OST show-Jonny Trunk-A Year In The Country-old radio.jpgAs part of that, he helps out on Jonny Trunk’s OST show on Resonance FM (his job description would probably include manning the phones for a series of make-me-chuckle-out-loud competitions, technical assistance and affectionate bickering) and occasionally stands in for Mr Trunk. I would heartily recommend his The Foggy Record Box show from the 27th October 2010: in large part this is a joyous wander through educational records from times gone by. Some truly wonderful stuff, which for me featured some good “Ah, that’s what that is/that’s where that’s from” moments.

It made me want to send off missives to all kinds of people I know who have young folk who may well appreciate such things. To quote Mr Fog it’s “fun for all the family” (although strictly speaking I probably wouldn’t let it run until the end as there is a collage piece that may have young folk checking under the beds and in the wardrobes for weeks to come).

Robin The Fog-The Fog Signals-A Year In The CountryYou can listen to that broadcast at Robin The Fog’s site here.

Howlround can be visited here.

You can listen to/purchase Ghosts Of Bush in its digital form here.  You may still be able to purchase it as a white spinning disc at Boomkat here (whose writing on some of the further flung pathways of music have often been a point of reference for A Year In The Country wanderings). If you have the space for such things, the appropriate playback technology and the spare pocket-money, it’s a record that’s well worth casting a net over.

And as a final note, as somebody who at this time of year has to often brave on a daily basis some slightly over attentive bovine creatures, the line “Trampled by cow is an embarrassing death” on his track “Notes On Cow Life” (accompanied by Guy J Jackson) made me smile. Listen to that here.

 

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Day #135/365: Kill List

Kill List-Ben Wheatley-A Year In The Country-4File under: Trails and Influences:
Other Pathways. 
Case #18/52.

I think I’ve been putting off writing about this film as quite frankly I’m not sure I wanted to revisit it.

Not because I think it’s a bad film. It’s just that the very thought of it gives me the creeping, screaming heebie jeebies.

As a film it’s an intriguing, fascinating, inspiring piece of work and I don’t know if I ever want to see it again.

For weeks after watching it I had unsettled, nightmarish dreams. I can’t remember where or find it again but I read a discussion about the film that said something along the lines of “some pieces of culture are the thing that they purport to be about”. This is a film about evil and it feels like it is that thing.

I’ve picked up/sought out it’s physical vessel all kinds of times in library sales, in the last remaining emporiums of music and film on the high street, in the ether and so on but I won’t or can’t have it in the house. I don’t want it sat on my shelves.

Kill List-Ben Wheatley-A Year In The Country-3In large part the world it represents, though about the lives of somewhat shady mercenaries, is presented in an every day, kitchen sink like way. It doesn’t feel like an esoteric otherly world. People are having dinner, a couple argues about money. But something else lurks and creeps in. A symbol is scratched behind a mirror. A descent begins and… well, even writing about it with a good distance I feel uncomfortable.

I don’t want to give too much away but in many ways this felt like the true sequel to The Wickerman, not The Wicker Tree. More in keeping with the themes of that film but through a modern day filter of a corruption that feels total and also curiously banal.

Kill List-Ben Wheatley-A Year In The Country

Mr Wheatley, you’ve made a fine piece of culture here. You’ve captured something indefinable. Please keep it out of my home.

Kill List-Ben Wheatley-A Year In The Country-Iron Jaiden-Mondo posters
Above is the limited edition screen print poster for Kill List by Iron Jaiden, released by blink-and-you’ll-miss-them poster reimagining house Mondo.

Kill List-Ben Wheatley-A Year In The Country-2

 

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Day #132/365: Espers, coruscation and the demise of monarchs…

Espers II-Greg Weeks-Drag City-A Year In The CountryFile under: Trails and Influences:
Other Pathways. 
Case #17/52.

The word that comes to mind when I hear Dead Queen on the Espers II album is coruscating, it’s a song that swoops, sparkles, gently tilts you back into somewhere else. It’s epic and grand in scale but never verbose; a song full of glistening beauty, gentle and lilting but also one which subtly loops and returns throughout to something that touches on night dreams.

And I seem to find it hard to travel beyond it on the album; where do you go after something like this? It’s such a complete, swirling world of a song.

Espers II-Greg Weeks-Drag City-A Year In The Country 4When I hear it I think of semi-lost privately pressed psychedelic/acid folk records from somewhere in the 1970s (and the phrase space rock seems to wander into my mind) but this is no straight replucking or homage; in many ways it shines a beacon as how to look to and draw from earlier source material but to bring it into today and your own vision.

Now, there has been much written about Espers and their connection to what has sometimes been labelled freak folk. You can easily have a wander through the ether to search out those stories (or via Jeanette Leech’s Seasons They Change book). This small piece of writing isn’t intended to retell or retread that ground, it’s just a small corner of the world where I might politely suggest a seeking out of the song and letting yourself step into it. Well worth eight or more minutes of your time.

Espers at Drag City here. Current activities of some of its cohorts at Language Of Stone. Wanderings from these shores, across the waters and back again here.

Espers II-Greg Weeks-Drag City-A Year In The Country 3

Espers II-Greg Weeks-Drag City-A Year In The Country 5

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Day #131/365: John Benjamin Stone; records of folkloric rituals, traditions and light catching from other eras…

John Benjamin Stone-A Record of England-folk customs and traditions-A Year In The Country-4File under: Trails and Influences:
Other Pathways. 
Case #16/52.

Back mostly in the 19th century John Benjamin Stone made a photographic record of the folk customs and traditions of Britain, alongside documenting wider sections of people on these shores and cultures across the world.

The people, times and places in his photographs seem as though they belong to somewhere now impossibly distant from our own times; the physiognomy of those portrayed, their stances, their very being have gained layers of difference and otherlyness as the years have gone by.

His work is well worth a wander, an explore and a gander… it can also be seen as a precursor to journeys through the English ritual year and across these lands by the likes of Homer Sykes, Tony Ray-Jones (something of a favourite around these parts: see Day #19/365) and Sarah Hannant (see Day #66/365)… and as I mentioned back not too long ago on Day #127/365, it felt like seeing a glimpse backwards and forwards to his photographs in part of Robin Redbreast (Day #127/365).

John Benjamin Stone-A Record of England-folk customs and traditions-A Year In The Country-5

John Benjamin Stone-A Record of England-folk customs and traditions-A Year In The Country-6

John Benjamin Stone-A Record of England-folk customs and traditions-A Year In The Country-3John Benjamin Stone-A Record of England-folk customs and traditions-A Year In The Country-1 

See more of his work here and here. Have a peruse of Record Of England, a book co-published by Dewi Lewis Publishing here.

 

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Day #121/365: Skeletons; a world, time and place of it’s own imagining

Skeletons-Nick Whitfield-Soda Films-A Year In The CountryFile under: Trails and Influences: Other Pathways.
Case #15/52.

I think the first time I became aware of Skeletons was when I picked up a postcard for it at the independent cinema in my once home town…

I was drawn in by and to it and I couldn’t say why. I didn’t get to watch it until it came out for home perusing but recently I was able to see it at a cinema… I was curious what I would think of it now that to some degree I’ve been spending this year in amongst various otherly, separate or fantastical landscapes.

Briefly the plot involves two suited, slightly shabby or even seedy in one case, privately contracted investigators who walk through the English countryside to visit couples and others who want to exhume the secrets and skeletons in one another’s closets before say getting married. This is done via visiting a form of portals to the couples lives accessed via the cupboards in their houses, which allow the investigators to view and experience the hidden parts of their customers* lives.

Things are complicated though because one of the investigators is a glow chaser – he is hooked on visiting scenes of his own childhood and such behaviour can corrupt their official contracted viewings.

They are asked to help locate the lost husband of a wife who has a daughter who will nolonger speak. However, the home where she lives is situated on a path which misdirects the readings they need to take… I won’t go into it more as, well, I would be ruining the plot.

Skeletons-2010-Nick Whitfield-British film-A Year In The Country-4

It’s a curious item in the pantheon of British film; one which at first glance has some visual similarities with realist film but which is actually a journey through a fantastical world, one set alongside but slightly apart from the “real world” but it’s done in a subtle, not fully explained way; the science, methods, techniques, the organisation they work for etc of the investigators is just taken as is: people contract them to do their work, what they do works.

(As an aside, I suppose you could slightly link this to a film like The Wall/Die Wand – see Day #13/365; pastoral science fiction as a genre, set in a landscape where the fantastic happens/has happened but where the reasons, whys and wherefores are not fully explained.)

Their working methods seem curiously lo-fi and understated for what is actually quite a mind-blowing activity: the ability to step into and view the lives of others at different times and places. Their work isn’t shown in a big budget flash-bam-whallop way though, which seems to line up with and compliment the lo-fi techniques of the investigators**.

Skeletons-2010-Nick Whitfield-British film-A Year In The Country-8

I wondered if on re-seeing the film I would connect it with views of otherly goings on in the landscape which can be found in a small section of British television in the late 1960s and 1970s (The Owl Service, Children Of The Stones, Penda’s Fen). No, not exactly but…

Well, one thing that surprised me was just how similar it was to the late 1970s British television series Sapphire and Steel. I don’t think in a deliberate manner (indeed when I asked the director at a Q&A about it, he was aware of the series but couldn’t remember it particularly).

Both series and film deal with a pairing of investigators who in some ways could be said to be working with problems based around a modern updating of supernatural concerns; some place where science and the preternatural combine and co-exist, where a domestic freezer can be reconfigured to freeze malevolent spirit creatures from the beginning of time or valve like instruments can measure the readings required for screenings and visitings of other times and places of people’s lives.

And both series seem to exist a time and place of their own imagining: yes, Sapphire and Steel is rooted in the 1970s via the colours and light trails of its video recorded existence but really it could be at almost any time in the last century.

Skeletons-2010-Nick Whitfield-British film-A Year In The Country-3

Skeletons-2010-Nick Whitfield-British film-A Year In The Country-2In Skeletons there is little reference to the contemporary world: the instruments they use could be post war, the suits the investigators wear are contemporary-ish, the aprons and goggles they wear for protection when carrying out their viewing seem to hark back to some earlier later mid-twentieth century industrial Britain when men sweated in jobs that were “the backbone of the country”. Their boss could have tumbled from the parade ground of a 1960s comedy (and is a standout turn as it were), there are no mobile phones or computers. We hardly see a car. It’s now but not.

Geographically also it’s largely isolated in its own time and space: almost all of the film takes place in the countryside and the investigators seem to walk to wherever their next job is, over stiles and down railway tracks which seem to be free of their rolling stock.

Skeletons-2010-Nick Whitfield-British film-A Year In The Country-6

One of the only references to modernity are the power station cooling towers that background one of their homes but even then what decade are we in? Such modern-day monuments, their design and utilitarian stance tend to make me think I’m looking at a scene from previous decades, nearer to the 1970s than today.

Skeletons was released in 2010, written and directed by Nick Whitfield. It’s well worth an hour or two of your time and I expect a few more hours after that while your mind wanders amongst its stories.

Something of a gem in amongst British film, one which in part deals with the sense of loss associated with unrecapturable moments and people in our lives, the way we humans can want to try and revisit the gossamer strands of those now gone butterflies. However, it’s not a heavy or dark view of such a subject. It’s humorous, touching, fantastical, intriguing.

Visit the film in the ether here. View the trailer here.

 

*One thing I’ve just wandered: how much are the investigators paid for their services? Is it a reasonably well recompensed thing to do? Are they paid in monetary form? We never see the exchange of lucre during the film.

 

**Actually, just looking the film up I saw it described as “a very British Ghostbusters”. I thought that was quite lovely. If you were to put Ghostbusters through an English pastoral filter, it might just come out a little like this.

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Day #106/365: The whisperings of Willow O Waly

The Innocents-O Willow Waly-George Auric-Isla Cameron-Finders Keepers 7 inch vinyl-Finders Kreepers-A Year In The Country 2File under:
Trails and Influences: Other Pathways.
Case #14/52.

Willow O Waly is the song which is the recurring motif for the 1961 film The Innocents…

Haunting. Lilting. Lovely. Indeed.

 

 

Finders Keepers Records fairly recently released a version of it on 7″ vinyl as part of their Finders Kreepers series:

Starting the series off on a good foot Finders Kreepers bring you a mysterious and beguiling piece of music that has enchanted and eluded fans of vintage horror for decades. A game changer for the new wave of British horror when it was originally released the most unnerving attribute of The Innocents was the recurring childlike song that haunted the corridors and gardens of a haunted house in between bursts of concrète effects and drones (made by an uncreditted Daphne Oram). A forerunner to a generation of lullaby lead horror scenes (such as Rosemary’s Baby and Profondo Rosso) whilst drawing comparison with other macabre music featuring minor maestros such as The Night Of The Hunter and The Wickerman, this song is an oft requested gem of a micro-genre which seldom passes through second hand record stores and bookshops undetected in its original vinyl form. Produced as an ambitious commercial tie-in for the release of the film in 1961 this elongated studio version sung by the lead Scottish born actress Isla Cameron (who many will also recognise as a prolific traditional folk singer on the early 60s) was casually marketed to a small audience of movie fans who perhaps liked the idea of bringing the ghost into their own house. This rare original studio version is one of the only ways to capture the short leading motif that has echoed, in limbo, through the consciousness of film enthusiasts for over five decades.”

Ah, re-reading that piece helps makes sense of something that I thought when I recently watched the film: that the music/sounds which accompanied Willow O Waly were curiously experimental sounding, so it’s not a suprise to see that they were created by a pioneer of electronic music (see Daphne Oram here).

The Innocents-O Willow Waly-George Auric-Isla Cameron-Finders Keepers 7 inch vinyl-Finders Kreepers-A Year In The Country

You can listen to the Finders Kreepers version of the song here. Listen to the simpler, purer version as featured in the film here.

The Innocents-O Willow Waly-George Auric-Isla Cameron-Finders Keepers 7 inch vinyl-Finders Kreepers-A Year In The Country 5As an aside, I’m still mildly annoyed with myself for missing a talk that Martin Stephen, the main male child actor from The Innocents gave which I had the change to go to. ‘Twould have been interesting I expect and something of a rarity to hear him talking about such things as after appearing in The Innocents, The Hellfire Club, Village Of The Damned, the Nigel Kneale penned The Witches etc he gave up acting at 18.

Ah well.

The Village Of The Damned poster-French-A Year In The Country-Martin Stephens

The Midwich Cuckoos-John Wyndham-A Year In The CountryJohn Wyndham’s book The Midwich Cuckoos on which Village Of The Damned was based was one of the earliest pieces of adult science fiction I read and has been mentioned in these pages before, see  Day #46) borrowed from the shelves of books that ran round most of the side of one of the two classrooms in the small country school I attended at the time… the final page or so was missing and so the end was a mystery for a fair while.

The unsettling visions of Mr Wyndham’s fiction seems to have stayed with me somewhat over the years and keeps cropping up around these parts… I think I may have to be a-returning to such things in a more indepth manner during the journey of this year in the country…

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Day #101/365: Gently Johnny, Sproatly Smith, The Woodbine & Ivy band and lilting intentions…

Gently Johnny-Sproatly Smith-The Woodbine & Ivy Band-Static Caravan-The Wicker Man-Magnet-A Year In The CountryFile under:
Trails and Influences: Other Pathways. Case #13/52.

Well, here we are a-returning once again to the pastures and culture that surrounds The Wicker Man…

There have been a fair few versions of Gently Johnny over the years (and not always in the film itself in some of it’s shorter versions), these are two of my favourites.

Why? Well, I think this quote from Static Caravan who released this split 7″ puts it quite well:

The Idiom Of The People-James Reeves-folk-folklore-A Year In The CountryIn his 1958 exploration of the more ribald aspects of English folksong*, The Idiom of the People, James Reeves suggests that Gently Johnny has its roots in medieval minstrelsy. However, it is better known as the slightly sinister song of seduction sung by the regulars in the Green Man pub in the cult British horror film, The Wicker Man. The song has continued to exert an influence over musicians, but many of the recordings that have been made of it are a little reverent and bloodless – either too faithful to the film version or treating the song as a precious and fragile faux-pagan remnant, maybe these two versions will go some way to redress the balance.

Sproatly Smith’s version has a lilting, gentleness to it that doesn’t bely it’s salaciousness… including some found sounds and wanders off into a touch of dialogue which you may well be familiar with…

…while The Woodbine & Ivy Band has a graceful delicateness that’s all English Rose and soft wantonness with just a hint and twang of dustbowls across the sea here and there…

Wantonness definition-A Year In The Country

Well worth a listen to and parting with a few pence or more. Indeed.

As a slight aside, while I was looking up things for this page I came across different sheet music versions of the song, including one recorded by folk archivist Cecil Sharp. Interesting to see the variations on the song and just how… well, lively shall we say, the song is or has been… which brings us back to James Reeves and the ribald lyrical content of native English song (more details on his book here.)

Gently Johnny My Jingalo-traditional folk-The Wickerman-A Year In The Country

Gently Johnny My Jingalo-Cecil J Sharp-folk-The Wickerman-A Year In The CountrySproatly Smith’s version can be listened to here.

The Woodbine & Ivy Band can be listened to via Folk Police Recordings here. The Alt Mix for Folk Radio UK version by The Woodbine & Ivy Band, which has a particular lush quality can be heard here.

The Static Caravan of the vinyl single (on appropriately green vinyl**) can be read about here, where you will no doubt be told it’s sold out but a bit of a rummage around the ether may find a copy in that now rarity the physical record shop such as here and possibly still via Reverb Worship here.

Day-16-Willows-Songs-b-Finders-Keepers-A-Year-In-The-Country-1If you delve back into the earlier days of A Year In The Country there is a consideration of the roots of the music that became The Wicker Man soundtrack. View Day #18/365: Willow’s Songs here. And more recently the vessels and artifacts that have carried the modern(ish) folklore of The Wicker Man at Day #90/365 here.

 

*”Where shall I meet you my pretty little dear 
With your red rosy cheeks and your coal black hair 
I’m going a milking kind sir she answered me 
But it’s dabbling in the dew where you might find me.

 

**”Some things in their natural state have the most vivid colours” (Willow McGregor)