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Day #90/365: The Wicker Man – the future lost vessels and artifacts of modern folklore

The Wicker Man Collage-A Year In The Country-1080File under:
Trails and Influences: Other Pathways. Case #12/52.

I suppose there was a certain inevitability that The Wicker Man would come knocking at the door of A Year In The Country one morning…

Over the years it seems to have become such a touchstone and point of reference for people and there seems to be an exponentially increasing amount of text, articles, referencing and so on which shows no sign of dwindling even a touch.

Via storage and dissemination through various mediums and artifacts, such celluloid and (once) cathode ray stories could now be considered to be our modern-day folklore or folktales, allowing for a common cultural language in days when people no longer live and share such things with their geographic neighbours to as large a degree as in the past.

The Wicker Man-Hessian Bag Edition-Insert-A Year In The Country-2The title of the page mentions “future lost vessels”. Why you may ask? Well, one day in years to come it is quite likely that some of the physical artifacts, the digital discs and ferrous cassettes, that have been used to pass on our folk tales from the 1970s onwards may well still exist as objects but will the stories that they contain still be readable by all but a few? The current machines for such things will have more than likely returned once more to the ground from whence they originally came. The stories themselves may well have been re-recorded and transferred to other mediums but the original artifacts will quite possibly just have become symbols or ornaments that represent them…

But who knows what may happen in the future and what the future story may be of a tale which is already possibly partly buried beneath passing cars (see here about half way down the page for more details).


And so, this page is a document of some my favourite (or at least the ones I find the most interesting) of the vessels and artifacts of this particular slice of modern day folklore…

(In memory of possible future lost vessels, only the casing that contains the discs and tapes are shown below, I’ve included a touch of actual vinyl as such things have proved a certain longevity).

Here goes…

I think one of my favourite of such things is the hessian bag release of the DVD… it just seems to fit…

The Wicker Man-Hessian Bag Edition-A Year In The Country 2 The Wicker Man-Hessian Bag Edition-DVD-A Year In The Country

One of the Dan Mumford poster designs for the 40th Anniversary re-issue of the film…
The Wicker Man-Dan Mumford poster-A Year In The Country
…and some variations on the poster via Dark City Gallery
The Wicker Man-Dan Mumford poster detail-A Year In The Country
Below on the left is what seems to be one of the rarer DVD issues of the film, featuring part of a still that seems to be something of a favourite out in the world (and which has been used by contemporary pastoral-psych-folk band Sproatly Smith, who also released a 7″ single of Gently Johnny)…

Nice rarer paperback cover on the right below… well, when I saw nice, it’s in the context of somebody being thrown onto the altar so that people can grow some mildly exotic apples…
The Wicker Man-The Cult Classic Film Series-A Year In The Country The Wicker Man-Pocker Fiction paperback-A Year In The Country


Ah, the days of VHS (was this ever released on Betamax? Video 2000?)…
The Wicker Man-1973 1972-VHS Thorn EMI-Pick Of The Flicks-A Year In The Country copy
Now, I should really love the hinged wooden box edition of the film but there’s something just slightly off or maybe unloved about it…
The Wicker Man-Wooden Box Edition-DVD-A Year In The Country
Something which may well have been responsible for some of the increase in interest over the last decade or so… The Trunk Records vinyl release of the soundtrack album, the first time it had been commercially available…
The Wicker Man OST soundtrack-Jonny Trunk-Trunk Records-A Year In The Country
If you should wish to read about how film cults came about in part because of the siren call of ladies in metal bath tubs to the cigar chomping folk behind the scenes…
The Wicker Man book-Allan Brown-A Year In The CountryThe Wicker Man book-Allan Brown-A Year In The Country 2
…and a return to VHS, this time with a slightly more sober cover (and more giving away of the plot)…The Wicker Man-VHS video cover-A Year In The Country
Now this seems to be one of the rarer artifacts out in the world… the 2012 Record Store Day 7″ single release of Willow’s Song/Gently Johnny…
The Wickerman Willows Songs Gently Johnny 7 vinyl Record Store Day-Silva Screen International-A Year In The Country 2The Wickerman Willows Songs Gently Johnny 7 vinyl Record Store Day-Silva Screen International-A Year In The Country
…and (almost) finally, Richard Beckett’s poster for the 40th Anniversary (as seen on t-shirts, the aforementioned posters and a new differently edited version of the soundtrack)…

…plus one of the lesser seen DVD releases. I like the simplicity of this one.
The Wicker Man-Richard Beckett poster-silver hair variant-A Year In The Country

The Wicker Man-Studio Canal DVD-A Year In The Country

So, 12 artifacts to accompany A Year In The Country seems quite an appropriate number.

I know what, let’s make it a baker’s dozen as I quite like the story behind that phrase…

A double page spread from a copy of Film Review magazine back in 1974, showing The Wicker Man side-by-side with its cinematic partner Don’t Look Now:

The Wicker Man-Dont Look Now-Film Review Magazine-A Year In The Country-1200

(In case you’re curious the cover of that issue featured Sid James, Babs Windsor, Margaret Nolan and Valerie Leon in Carry On Girls… something of a favourite in the Carry On cannon round these parts, a point when the films began to change and reflect a country “gone to the dogs” but before the films just became seedy shams. Anyway, I digress…).

As an (actual) final note: don’t watch The Wicker Man with an older relative, suggesting a viewing as your mind seems to have momentarily selectively remembered it as a bit of a knockabout light-hearted folkloric musical…

Ah, we live and learn.

A few trails and pathways: The appeal for lost Wicker Man materials here and at The Art Shelf here. Corn(flake) rigs via Johnny Trunk at Feuilleton, at Fuel and at Mr Trunk’s home in the electronic ether. A whole slew of Wicker soundtracks here. Richey Beckett’s hand of glory here. An interesting “behind-the-scenes” on the creation of the artwork for the 2012 Record Store Day Willow’s Song/Gently Johnny 7″ here and here. Sproatly Smith and the Woodbine & Ivy band split version of Gently Johnny (something of a favourite) at purveyor of vinyl artifacts Picadilly Records and Static Caravan.

A baker’s or devil’s dozen here.


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Day #76/365: Josh Kemp Smith – Illuminating Forgotten Heritage

Josh Kemp Smith-Illuminating Forgotten Heritage-A Year In The Country 2File under:
Trails and Influences: Other Pathways. Case #11/52.

Last year I came across Josh Kemp Smith’s Illuminating Forgotten Heritage project.

In it the forgotten and crumbling remains of industrial buildings throughout the countryside are lit and photographed at night.

There is something quite beautiful and even romantic about the resulting photographs: these overlooked piles of brick, stone and concrete become almost otherworldly and magical, appearing to be links or even gateways to another time and way of life.

And often the photographs seem to capture a certain graceful grandeur to these once proud and imposing man made edifices – here they stand, stoic, accepting of their fates and (in part) resilient to the elements and the passing of time, while some of the structures seem to possess an almost masonic appearance and have an air of being standing or ritualistic stones.

Josh Kemp Smith-Illuminating Forgotten Heritage-A Year In The Country 1

Josh Kemp Smith-Illuminating Forgotten Heritage-A Year In The Country 3

Josh Kemp Smith-Illuminating Forgotten Heritage-A Year In The Country 4

Well worth a look-see. Find them here.

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Day #72/365: Arthur magazine and the brief flickering of freak folk

Arthur Magazine-cover-2004-A Year In The CountryFile under:
Trails and Influences: Other Pathways.
Case #10/52.

Wandering once again temporarily from the shores of albion to…

For a fair few years now I’ve had this particular copy of Arthur magazine, which was released in 2004. This was the only copy I ever saw, it was printed in newsprint form over the years it has begun to age, brown and crinkle in that sometimes lovely way that old newspapers do**.

(Note to the world: useful as they are PDFs, JPEGs and URLs are unlikely to do this.)

Joanna Newsom-2-Arthur Magazine-A Year In The CountryAs a magazine you can sense the genuine love Arthur was put together with. This issue concentrates on some of the leading lights of that loose gathering of musicians who were sometimes termed freak folk (Devendra Banhart, Coco Rosie, Joanna Newsom* and Faun Fables) and was released just as there was a brief flickering of interest in such things amongst the wider world and I think really nice captures that moment (the sub-heading for the articles is New Sounds From The Folk Underground).

Faun Fables-2-Arthur Magazine-A Year In The CountryFreak folk (or whatever you may wish to call it… I know such labels can sometimes be annoying and/or lump together actually quite disparate artists but they can be a useful shorthand) was an interesting section of music; it seemed to draw in parts from the past and past traditions but these were radically reimagined to create a world of its own.

I don’t think at the time I really thought of it as folk or of there being a connection to traditional folk music: it was covered by the mainstream indie music/other press and so I think I just thought of it as… well, music. I didn’t know the lineage back to earlier experiments in what has become known as acid or psychedelic folk or individualistic travellers such as Vashti Bunyan.

Over the years since I first read this issue and listened to the associated music it’s been interesting joining the dots and seeing how music by people such as Espers and Sharron Kraus fits with such things, how with but a hop or step or two you could wander back to the shores of albion via some of the roots and influences of a band such as The Owl Service… and slowly realising that I had connected it all up almost by accident and without realising I had done.

Guy Maddin-The Saddest Music In The World-Arthur Magazine-A Year In The Country(As an aside, the magazine also featured Guy Maddin’s film The Saddest Music In The World, see image on the left, the textures of which I think may have seeped into A Year In The Country somewhere along the line.)

And curiously, just as I thought I would write about Arthur I discovered that the magazine had just come to an end and any leftover copies were literally being recycled or composted.

Occassionally over the years I would have a look at what was going on in the world of Arthur Magazine but never purchased another copy (although actually the copy I have was free, as the magazine sometimes was)… and now they’re gone, of course I’m hankering after them. Ah well.

In some ways this page is an homage to now departed labours of love. So, Arthur magazine, here’s a tip of the hat to you. Rest in peace indeed.

The remnants of Arthur here and here. Most photography on this page by Melanie Pullen. Trailer to The Saddest Music In The World here. The Owl Service and compatriots here. Sharron Kraus here. Greg Weeks/Espers and compatriots here. Coco Rosie here. Faun Fables here. Devendara Banhart here. Joana Newsom here. And finally and most respectfully, Vashti Bunyan here.

Joanna Newsom-3-Arthur Magazine-A Year In The Country

Joanna Newsom-1-Arthur Magazine-A Year In The CountryCoco Rosie-Arthur Magazine-A Year In The Country


Faun Fables-Arthur Magazine-A Year In The CountryFaun Fables 1-Arthur Magazine-A Year In The Country

Arthur Magazine-A Year In The Country

*Jeanette Leech,  in her sleevenotes to the Weirdlore compilation talks about a new wave of folk music practitioners in the earlier 2000s and how such things of British origin were largely ignored and the contrasting levels of attention paid to such things when these “popular kids” arrived, which as a phrase has always made me smile.

And now, sadly Folk Police Records who put out Weirdlore have wandered off for a last repast. More on Weirdlore later I expect.


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Day #71/365: Kate Bush, Under The Ivy and secret gardens…

Kate Bush-Under The Ivy Running Up That Hill vinyl-A Year In The CountryFile under:
Trails and Influences: Other Pathways.
Case #9/52.

For a long time I had a fair few vinyl records but a while ago I started to send them off out into the world… but this is one of the few that survived that despatch.

And well, if there is a song which sums up a melancholic yearning for lost secret gardens and once arcadias, it would probably be Kate Bush’s Under The Ivy (maybe accompanied by her England My Lionheart).

Kate Bush-Under The Ivy vinyl-A Year In The Country…and while we’re on the subject of Kate Bush, when I think back I wander how much somewhere along the line her work laid some of the roots for A Year In The Country and it’s sense of both a bucolic pastoralism but also an unsettled otherly-ness? As in amongst a sometimes dreamlike landscape and world, also can be found such things as…

Kate Bush-Breathing single-A Year In The CountryBreathing: A five minute single based around cold-war dread and the maternal passing on of radioactive fallout, which at one point wanders off into a public information broadcast about how to recognise the size of the weapon used in a nuclear explosion/attack?

I think that it’s unlikely such a song would appear in the top 20 today. And as a “pop single” for somebody not yet in their teens to be humming along to? A curiousity indeed (and a mighty fine, intelligent and thought provoking one at that).

Kate-Bush-Hounds-of-Love-Cover-Back-LP-A Year In The Country…or The Ninth Wave, the concept-album (?) side of her album The Hounds Of Love; in parts breathtakingly beautiful,  dreams of sheep, traditional folk jigs and a sense of the sun rising over the earth, while it’s actually about somebody in the water, close to drowning and there is a genuinely nightmarish quality to it at certain points.

(One thing I tend to think about The Ninth Wave and the album as a whole is that it’s an astonishingly mature and complete piece of work for somebody who was what, twenty five then?).

Cloudbusting-Kate Bush-A Year In The Country…or the single/video Experiment IV where scientists are asked to “create a sound that kill someone”, which results in the creation/summoning of a malevolent spirit which indeed does that (shades of Nigel Kneales’s The Stone Tape?) and sets about devastating and doing away with the staff of the research establishment which brought it forth…

…or Cloudbusting from the other side of The Hounds of Love album, wherein a maverick inventor out in the countryside creates a steampunk-esque machine which can change the weather and create clouds… who is then hauled off by the authorities while his young child completes his experiment…

Kate Bush-The Secret History Of-Fred Vermorel-A Year In The CountryAs a final point… on the left is a non-conventional biography on Kate Bush by Fred Vermorel.

Something of a classic cover photograph indeed, which completes some kind of circle back to a sense of secret gardens and arcadias.




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Day #69/365: Charles Fréger’s Wilder Mann and rituals away from the shores of albion

Charles Freger-Wilder Mann-Dewi Lewis Publishing-A Year In The CountryFile under:
Trails and Influences: Other Pathways. Case #8/52.

Well, as I seem to say here and there, while we’re talking about Charles Frégers Wilder Mann (see Day #65/365), here is his document of folk rituals and costume from other shores.

And well, if you want to look for an underlying unsettledness to a bucolic pastoralism, look no further.

Although it’s probably not all that underlying.

I’m curious as to whether it’s just the exoticness of not having seen them before; that their tropes, designs and roots are not deeply buried in my subconscious which makes these seem so much more dramatic, odd, film like and possibly accomplished or even professional in appearance compared to those found in English folk rites…

Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country…and why sometimes do I think of the march and advancement of the simians upon homo sapien in The Planet Of The Apes / The Monkey Planet (circa 1960s and 70s, not later mind)? Or even strangely surreal Stan Lee superheroes and villains?

With these photographs there is often something unsettling and genuinely scary to some part of me that still feels ten; they strike a chord with that younger me and can genuinely give me the heebie jeebies… these images could well have tumbled from distant lands into high fever childhood Wicker nightmares.

In one photograph somebody is having a ciggie, which should break the spell but it doesn’t; there’s something about that, his costume, stance and the way he’s staring at the camera that makes it wander off into some very odd almost slasher film territory and more childhood nightmares. These are Sesame Street monsters which have crawled from under the bed and out of the cupboards…


I think this is one of those posts or days where I shall stop now and let the images speak for themselves.

Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country

Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The CountryWilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country

Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The CountryWilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country

Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The CountryWilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country

Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The CountryWilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country

Wilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The CountryWilder Mann-Charles Freger-A Year In The Country

Peruse the Wilder Mann here. Marvel at the price of the now sold out English text edition here. Fortunately you can still find German and other language editions here. Dewi Lewis, the original publishers of the UK edition here.

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Day #66/365: Sarah Hannants wander through the English ritual year

Mummers Maypoles and Milkmaids-Sarah Hannant-A Year In The Country 1File under:
Trails and Influences: Other Pathways. Case #7/52.

Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids: A Journey Through The English Ritual Year by Sarah Hannant.

In many ways this is a continuation of the journey that Homer Sykes with his Once A Year book/project (see Day #19/365). Both books are visual social histories of the ongoing observance and enactment of English folk rituals.

Mummers Maypoles and Milkmaids-Sarah Hannant-A Year In The Country 4I think one of the things I find fascinating about them is the way that these sometimes arcane rites and rituals are pictured alongside and in contrast to symbols of modern-day life: whether it be a straw bear next to a local metro supermarket, a fluorescent clad safety officer next to float queens or a burry man supping a drink through a straw (again see Day #19/365 on Homer Sykes for that last one),  sometimes just small things such as a digital camera next to blackened faces, the modern eye wear of a traditional jester as he wanders down a country lane or maybe just the modern day physiognomy and clothing of the observers of burning tar barrel carrying.

Often the rituals pictured have a playful, dressing up, knockabout air but just once in a while something else seems to creep into the photographs, faces at the window that just here and there begin to hint at or conjure up an otherly albion, slithers of a view through the portal as it were.

Mummers Maypoles and Milkmaids-Sarah Hannant-A Year In The Country 3

Mummers Maypoles and Milkmaids-Sarah Hannant-A Year In The Country 2

Mummers Maypoles and Milkmaids-Sarah Hannant-A Year In The Country 7

Mummers Maypoles and Milkmaids-Sarah Hannant-A Year In The Country 5

Mummers Maypoles and Milkmaids-Sarah Hannant-A Year In The Country 8

Mummers Maypoles and Milkmaids-Sarah Hannant-A Year In The Country 6

Rather reasonably priced this book. Read more here. Sarah Hannant can be visited here.

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Day #59/365: Signals and signposts from and via Mr Julian House

Shindig-Broadcast-The Children Of Alice-Julian House-Ghost Box-A Year In The CountryFile under:
Trails and Influences: Other Pathways.
Case #6/52.

A post in which I select my four favourite recent-ish designs by Ghost Box Records co-coordinator and The Focus Group conductor Mr Julian House; the ones that have caught my eye and mind the most and/or that I keep returning to (and/or that have been involved in causing me to utilise my electronic fiscal passkey).

It’s curious how things come around and link together… I knew that Julian House had been involved with graphic design agency Intro but I didn’t realise that he had worked on the artwork for Primal Scream’s Exterminator album… artwork which greatly influenced a project I worked on previously a fair few years ago now… and then all these years later here I am perusing and writing about his work again.

Belbury Tales-Belbury Poly-Julian House-Ghost Box Records-A Year In The Country…and then in that trail of breadcrumbs and joining the dots way, when I was looking up where the Children Of Alice design came from I discovered that it was for an issue of Shindig magazine which featured…

…an interview with James Cargill of Broadcast, a piece by psych/acid folk documenter and authoress Jeannette Leach on Broadcast, a talk with Jim Jupp and Julian House/a profile on Ghost Box Records, a history of The Children’s Film Foundation (silver balls that eat all the cereal and all the electricity ahoy) and another piece of Julian House’s artwork accompanying a primer on the Italian slasher-but-odd and-possibly-art-rather-than-just-exploitation Giallo film genre…

…a genre which inspired the film Berberian Sound Studio, artwork for which was created by Julian House and is featured here, soundtrack for which was by Broadcast, with artwork by Julian House and…

…well there are some of the dots joined up and breadcrumb trails followed…

Hmmm, time to hide the aforementioned fiscal passkey again.The Berberian Sound Studio-Julian House-A Year In The Country
A few trails and pathways:

Shindig Magazine here. Belbury Parish Magazine/Jim Jupp of Belbury Poly/Ghost Box Records on that issue of Shindig magazine here. Julian House at Intro here.

The Focus Group at Ghost Box Records here.

Berberian Sound Studio at Warp films here. Broadcast’s soundtrack to the film here.

Jeanette Leechs Seasons They Change: The Story Of Acid and Psychedelic Folk here.

Ghost Box Records-Julian House-See They Await Us-A Year In The Country

Good Press Gallery-Julian House-A Year In The CountryNice selection of Julian House posters to annoy you because they were in editions of around five and they’re all sold out here.

(As I was writing this I had a suspicion one of those might sneak onto this page… ah, well, make that my five favourite recent-ish Julian House designs.)

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Day #46/365: Threads, The Changes, the bad wires and the ghosts of transmissions

Threads-1984 TVFile under:
Trails and Influences: Other Pathways. Case #5/52.

You may notice during this A Year In The Country that the wires, pylons and installations of modern communications reappear in form or another, particularly in my own work…

Why is that you may ask?

Well, I think it comes back to one of the roots of A Year In The Country – that it springs in part from the duality of my own relationship as a child to the countryside: as somewhere that was a fantastic adventure playground and also somewhere that I discovered about the end of the world via watching a program on the possible results of the so-called Cold War and nuclear conflict (see the About page for more information).

Right, deep breath before I start writing all this. It still gives me the heebie jeebies. I wasn’t sure how directly I was going to write about this stuff in A Year In The Country…

The Midwich Cuckoos-John Wyndham-A Year In The CountryThe idea of such a conflict was all quite exciting in the daylight of the playground and to young minds: war and such things seem often to be to younger male folk… but at night such an attack, the resulting devastation and consequences would be become my own particular bogeyman, possibly taking the place of more conventional scary fairy stories of times gone by; my own particular monster under the bed/in the cupboard but this was/had the potential to be real.

Around the time I discovered about the end of the world I also seemed to start discovering dystopian/disaster orientated science fiction along the lines of John Wyndham, John Christopher and other interconnected cultural items which possibly didn’t help the night time wanderings of my mind…

It’s curious how your mind remembers and mis-remembers things – I can remember discussing the1984 television film Threads about the effects of a nuclear attack on Britain in a country school playground in 1980, before it was filmed…  but maybe that was actually Peter Watkins 1965 The War Game, which has a similar subject matter.

Threads-TV-1984Now I come to write about it, so many scenes from Threads have stuck in and long fascinated my mind, possibly without me realising it. I use the word fascinated but that is with a sense of both attraction and utter horror. Right now though I’m not going to write and describe them… suffice to say and also to forewarn if you should watch it, it isn’t easy viewing…

The film Threads takes its name from the threads and lines of communication that connect civilisation and how they would be so heavily damaged in such an attack… these threads are literally physical items in the case of telephone lines, which I think subconsciously may be an early starting point for A Year In The Country and hence part of why they and interconnected poles and pylons reappear during it.

Another major contributor to such things was a science fiction short story I read sometime around the early to mid-eighties, wherein there is a lead up to a devastating attack/war, during which birds are noted as sitting on the telephone wires around and about… when the attack arrives, the central (human) character rushes to his fallout shelter, only to find it crammed full of birds and animals, with no space for him: the birds had actually been listening to mankind’s communications via the telephone lines and knew that the attack was coming and where to hide.

As an idea, that has always stuck with me and I find it quite unsettling writing about it even now.

I’m not sure what the story was called, I think it was possibly by Clifford Simak but I don’t think I really want to know, know too much about it or revisit it; sometimes these things hold their power more as semi-remembered cultural touchstones (something James Cargill of Broadcast touches on in an earlier post here).

This has probably all mixed in with the cover of the first edition of Rob Young’s Electric Eden and it’s almost perfect representation of the old ways of the land and the march of progress through a photograph of farm land being ploughed in a traditional horse-drawn manner, under the shadow of electric pylons.

The Changes-1975-BBC-A Year In The Country-8Also tied into this recurring subject of communication wires and pylons is the BBC 1975 TV series The Changes based on Peter Dickinson’s book, which has as one of its central themes the idea of “the bad wires” (referring to overhead telegraph/electricity wires), which as a phrase seemed to be with me a lot while taking the photographs for A Year In The Country.

The Changes-1975-BBC-A Year In The CountryThe Changes is part of that strange section of 1970s British children’s television which includes The Owl Service, Noah’s Castle, Sky and The Children Of The Stones, which concerns itself with subject matter and atmospheres that seem curiously strange and even unsettling choices for broadcasts aimed at younger folk; something of a preponderance of eerily presented supernatural/alien forces and/or the breakdown of normal society.

Curiously many of these programs were largely set in rural landscapes/villages etc, which in part is maybe some of what connects them with being part of a body of work that could be seen to be of an “Other” or Wyrd Britainnia. In The Changes much of modern societies technology is destroyed/rejected which could also be seen to connect with  an attraction to rural, rustic, folk and ways of the land in folk music in the earlier 1970s and films such as Akenfield

The Changes-1975 BBC TV-A Year In The CountryAs a brief precis of The Changes: it starts with a normal middle class family sitting at home, their daughter planning her homework, the weather has been strange and suddenly society is gripped by a form of madness which makes everybody destroy and fear almost all machinery and a pogrom of machine orientated violence sweeps the nation.

The Changes-1975-BBC-A Year In The Country 5The program largely concerns itself with the period after this and as the modern cities become abandoned wanders into being a parable about racial harmony, life returning in the countryside to an almost medieval way of life under a sword wielding master of the village, all black and chain wearing louche beatnik robbers and brigands, wanders off into a milder version of The Witchfinder General territory where those who are suspected of using machinery or even saying there names are seen as “wicked sinners” and indeed to be witches…

The Changes-1975-BBC-A Year In The Country 2I won’t spoil the plot for if you should watch it but suffice to say I was watching some of it thinking “How was this come to be made as children’s entertainment?”. In particular the first episode where the madness has gripped mankind and the machines are being smashed in the streets.

The program was originally made in 1973 and not broadcast until 1975 for reasons I know not.

Maybe it was considered too heady, depressing or possibly prescient for a society that was reeling from a large amount of political, social and economic strife, oil shortages and the unravelling of post-war political consensus.

Strange-Days-Indeed-Francis Wheen-A Year In The CountryMuch of the 1970s in the UK was that way inflected but 1973 seemed to be a particular high/low point: something I had semi-consciously felt but which was confirmed when I recently read Francis Wheen’s Strange Days Indeed, a book about the paranoia and peculiar political and social behaviour which was afoot and even became commonplace during the 1970s, with the book portraying the year The Changes was made as something of a watershed for such things.

Possibly also The Changes could be seen as a reflection of some of societies fears of social breakdown at that time and the threats represented by a reliance on modern technology which needed modern fuel, which was at that time under threat due to a crisis in oil supplies… a wish for a escape from such worries could also be one reason for the aforementioned increase of interest in culture which reflected rural idylls and folklore/folk music at this time

It’s not as inherently strange as a program as say The Owl Service or possibly The Children Of The Stones but still quite odd and worth a watch as it’s an interesting document from a particular time in British history. Also programs like this, the aforementioned Sky, The Owl Service etc have somehow gained layers of otherlyness with the passing of time and they now seem almost like occult (in the sense of hidden) artefacts and transmissions from some other stranger fictional Britain.

That is possibly in part added to by the colours and nature of the images themselves; in particular with something like The Change which has never been commercially available to rent/buy and the only way of viewing it are in smudgey grey-green ghosts of the original broadcasts (again, something James Cargill also talks about, which can be read in an earlier post in A Year In The Country here).

The Changes-1975-BBC-A Year In The Country 4If you should wish to investigate The Changes further, there is an extensive amount of writing and background on the program, including the author of the sites correspondence with the BBC about possibly releasing the series commercially:

The BBC’s Cult TV page on The Changes.

As a final note, I came across an interesting article from The Hauntological Society on the film Threads, the sense of dread it engendered and the way such fears have been reflected by elements of what has become known as hauntological culture: it can be read here.

The Changes-1975-BBC-A Year In The Country-6


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Day #44/365: Katie Jane Garside, Ruby Throat and delicate artifacts

Katie Jane Garside-Ruby Throat-A Year In The Country 1File under:
Trails and Influences: Other Pathways. Case #4/52.

Now, Ms Katie Jane Garside, Where to start?

You may well know her from her work with Daisy Chainsaw and Queen Adreena but in recent years she has wandered off into her own pastures via her group Ruby Throat (with Chris Whittingham)… and those pastures have lead down a pathway that could be loosely described as a kind of ghostly folk noir, all ephemeral crumbling enchantments with just a hint of a dusty gothic Americana…

Katie Jane Garside-Ruby Throat-A Year In The Country-10Really though, she has created a world all of it’s own. Although one of Ruby Throat’s tracks appeared on Cold Springs We Bring You a King with a Head of Gold which, was part of their dark folk Britannica series, their work is not easily categorisable, nor am I sure if it would benefit from being.

One of the things that has drawn me to her work are the physical artifacts/forms/photography/pin-hole photography via which it is presented to the world. Delicate, precious items, handmade and handfinished; they are things that you want to pick up carefully and store safely and protected.

Here are just a few:

Ruby Throat-Katie Jane Garside-A Year In The Country-6

Ruby Throat-Katie Jane Garside-A Year In The Country-8o’doubt o’stars is a quite beautifully presented album which documents Katie Jane Garside and her partners journeys through the waterways of Britain while making the album: the cover is bone-creased, printed on flecked paper, with a tipped in photograph, the book is bound with transparent ribbon and each page is separate by vellum paper.

This release in particular was a big influence on my own A Year In The Country Artifacts…
Ruby Throat-Katie Jane Garside-A Year In The Country-4

Ruby Throat-Katie Jane Garside-A Year In The Country-2Ruby Throat-Katie Jane Garside-A Year In The Country-3

Each copy of The Ventriloquist was individually inscribed to each owner and it’s case was antique Indian leather…

Ruby Throat-Katie Jane Garside-A Year In The Country-1
Above is the limited edition vinyl version of The Ventriloquist, released by Lovers Will and featuring photography on the right by James Sutton.

Queen Adreena-Taxidermy-A Year In The CountryI would also recommend a perusing of Queen Adreena’s Medicine Jar video: is English gothic rural brutality glamstomp rock-folkhorror a genre? Well, it is in this.

Possibly also a wander back further to have a watch-see of Martina Hoogland-Ivanow’s videos for Adore You and Cold Fish might not be a bad idea; all surreal hummingbird textural imagery, a dash of Vaughan Oliver and a touch of Ms Deborah Turbeville but through the looking glass darkly indeed.

Visit Katie Jane Garside’s site here.


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Day #33/365: Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age and the recalibrations of past cathode ray stories…

Broadcast and The Focus Group video still-A Year In The Country 2File under:
Trails and Influences: Other Pathways. Case #3/52.

Phew, well, yesterday’s post was something of a mammoth one. I think I shall try and keep this one shorter indeed as the old brainbox is a touch tired today.

This album was something of an early research/reference point for A Year In The Country. I was drawn to it for reasons I couldn’t quite put into words at the time but returning to it and looking back I can see all kinds of touchstones and reference points that have come to be a part of or influence A Year In The Country; from mis and half-remembered/half-seen television of my youth to something odd lurking beneath the plough in the English countryside, it’s all here to see indeed.

Essentially it’s a collaboration between Broadcast and their often almost member Julian House (of Ghost Box) in his Focus Group guise. I don’t intend to overly review the album, that has been done extensively elsewhere in the printed and electronic ether but suffice to say it’s a music box collage of the “classic” Broadcast dream-like pop sound and woozy, disorientating loops and samples (and as I wander around the cultural world I sometimes come across its source material… exploitation witchcraft orientated pseudo-documentaries for example)…

Broadcast and The Focus Group video still-A Year In The Country 1Something/s I really love about the album are the videos #1 : Witch Cults and #2: I See, So I See So that they co-created with Julian House to accompany it. Consciously or not I think they seeped into my mind to quite a degree…

You can watch the videos on the official Warp Records Youtube channel here or at Warp’s main site  here and here.

Exploring connections to the album lead me to a particularly fine interview with James Cargill of Broadcast by XLR8R wherein he talks of drawing from witchcraft references but not taking it too seriously, more as a pulp cultural reference point by way of old horror films such as Curse Of The Crimson Altar…

The Owl Service TV program-A Year In The Country…and he goes on to talk about how British kids TV of the late 1960s/1970s such as Children Of The Stones, Sky, The Owl Service (see left) etc were also quite a reference point for the album and the odd/disturbing/why were they like that? atmosphere of them.

He comments that he only half-remembers the programs, that they’re just fragments of memory and that he quite likes that, he doesn’t want to know everything about them and the having watched them on breaking up TV receptions or an old faded video added something to what made the memory of them interesting…

(When I did finally watch The Owl Service a while ago, I quite liked that the version I watched was a blurry, fuzzy, miscoloured version rather than a pristine digital copy… contrary of me maybe but I came to know of it as The Hidden Vision version).

Which as an idea tied in quite a lot with A Year In The Country; there are TV programs which I only saw snatches of as a child around the time of discovering the Two Brown Bakelite Boxes which in part lead to all this (see About) that have stayed with me and intrigued me forever more.

Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age CD-A Year In The Country

Over the years their sometimes odd subject matter for children’s television (for example one particular drama I saw just a glimpse of about hyper inflation and food shortages in contemporary Britain held a strong sway on my imagination for a long time) has gained other layers of interest and mystique and if I try and watch them now that is dispelled or it’s like watching a completely different program to my misremembered cultural memory of them.

Also, to add to that, as Mr Cargill says in the interviews, to watch these programs you need to recalibrate yourself as entertainment from that time had a different, slower pace. The modern mind/viewer isn’t geared up to handle them; so when watching them now, what is maybe remembered or misremembered as quite magical, well the mind used to modern cultural rhythms may just be bored or unable to take them in correctly.

You can watch the interview at XLR8R or at Youtube.

The Owl Service TV program-A Year In The Country 3PS If would heartily recommend watching the introduction to The Owl Service TV series (view it here). It feels like an almost magical communique from another time and a  trail of breadcrumbs which leads to the Broadcast And The Focus Group album and videos.



I shall leave the final word on the album to a few others:

It really is quite fabulous… (Broadcast) crowned themselves dark monarchs of hauntology’s expanding kingdom”   The Wire

As with all the best mysteries, Witch Cults resists summary. It’s difficult to shake the impression that you’ve been subjected to some brand of home magic: tuned into a paranormal frequency via shortwave radio, or seen something that you can’t quite shake conjured up using only a children’s chemistry or magic set. At the end, you’re still not quite sure what happened — but you know that it did. You’ll begin, trip and fall again.” The Quietus

Like a strange mirage glimpsed in the depths of the English countryside…The BBC

And well, you can’t say fairer than that (and ah well, this has turned into quite a long post again).


Special postscript:
Jonny Trunk-The OST Show-Broadcast-A Year In The CountryI never knew Trish Keenan but I was sorry to hear of her passing. I think a fitting and moving tribute was Jonny Trunk’s rebroadcasting of his OST radio show which featured Broadcast. His introduction to the rebroadcast is rather moving.

The archive for the show is here at Resonance FM or you can listen to the original broadcast/see the tracklisting on Soundcloud.

I’d like people to enjoy the album as a Hammer horror dream collage where Broadcast play the role of the guest band at the mansion drug party by night, and a science worshipping Eloi possessed by 3/4 rhythms by day, all headed by the Focus Group leader who lays down sonic laws that break through the corrective systems of timing and keys.” Trish Keenan on the album from an unedited transcript of an interview by Joseph Stannard of The Outer Church (view the full article at The Wire.)

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Day #19/365: Once a Year – Homer Sykes

Day 17-Once A Year cover-Homer Sykes-A Year In The CountryFile under:
Trails and Influences: Other Pathways.
Case #2/52.

This was something of a starting point for A Year In The Country.

I was coming towards the end of one of the stages of a large, subterranean culturally city orientated project (and indeed towards the end of a long period of living in cities) and this book seemed to catch my eye in a local charity shop window.

It was one of those charity shops where they know the value of things and price them accordingly (indeed they once had photographer Paul Graham’s A1: The Great North Road book for sale for hundreds of pounds), so this wasn’t cheap: thirty of your good British pounds indeed.

It still has the price sticker on the cover, so I must have paid that much, which is interesting because looking back at that time the cupboards were quite bare at home and so the subject matter of the book must have touched quite a chord.

The book was published in 1977 and is a document of seven years of journeying around Britain photographing traditional British customs. In many ways it is a continuation of Sir Benjamin Stone’s work and is part of a lineage that leads to Sarah Hannant’s Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids: A Journey Through the English Ritual Year book. In many ways Ms Hannant’s is very similar in some ways to Once A Year (although her photographs are in colour) and indeed apart from the hairstyles and period details some of the photographs could almost be exchanged from one book to the other.

Talking of period details, Once A Year is actually interesting as much for it’s recording of period 1970s detail and style and the way these traditional customs lived in amongst them. In that sense they remind me of the work of Tony Ray-Jones and his documentation of then contemporary English life. Along which lines, the photograph below from the book is something of a favourite:
Day 17-Once A Year cover-Homer Sykes-A Year In The Country

…to wander off at a tangent a bit, I think Tony Ray-Jones was something of a genius. I don’t know if I’ve seen anybody else’s work that captures a certain time, place and spirt of Blighty as much as his did. I must admit I’m quite excited about a soon to come exhibition of his work at The National Media Museum in Bradford.

Anyway, back in course: some of the photographs in Once A Year have a genuinely eery or unsettlingly macabre air. Particularly the cover photograph, of burning tar barrel carrying in Allendale, Northumberland. The Wicker Man come to life indeed; it presents a sense of a world that feels fascinatingly separate to mainstream contemporary society and mores (then or now).

An electronic ether pathway or two you might like to peruse:
Simon Norfolk’s We English blog post on Once A Year.
Café Royal Books limited edition edited reprint of Once A Year.
Homer Sykes Once A Year page on his site.
Tony Ray-Jones at Lens Culture.


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Day #10/365: The Auteurs – How I Learned To Love The Boot Boys; our most non-hauntological hauntologist…

Day 10-The Auteurs How I Learned To Love The Bootboys-A Year In The CountryFile under:
Trails and Influences: Other Pathways. Case #1/52.

Although the phrase hauntology has often come to mean a particular aesthetic (ie a particular kind of often sample lead music and found imagery, often drawing on library music and TV/film soundtracks of the later sixties through to the early eighties; see Ghostbox, Julian House etc), if you consider it in a more general sense to mean the present being haunted by spectres of the past then Luke Haines is probably one of the more hauntological musicians I can think of.

Why? Well, his music often seems to literally be haunted by the past, his own and society/cultures and bogeymen/figures of one sort and another from previous decades.

Take this album How I Learned To Love The Bootboys, by one of his previous combos, The Auteurs. Lead track The Rubettes borrows liberally from 1970s pop (Sugar Baby Love by it’s namesakes), their are maruding skinhead bootboys from a similar era, we’ve an ode to a 1950s pop/rock band (the singer of whom is “dead within a year”), imbibements popular in other eras (Asti Spumante; known as a “noxiously sweet poor man’s Champagne”) and so forth… alongside a sometimes and possibly recurring sense of the playground dread of an arty-schoolboy looking back to the marauding dangers of his 1970s childhood.

Elsewhere, such as on his solo album Off My Rocker At The Art School Pop there are teddy boys discos and Vauxhall Corsas, “the three day week, half-day Wednesdays, the spirit of the Blitz”, an unsolved 1960s celebrity boxers death and that’s before we get to an entire concept album dedicated to 1970s and early 1980s wrestling (called in a “it does what it says on the can” manner Nine and a Half Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and early ’80s… a fine title and subject matter).

Or indeed, it’s before we get to the sublime Black Box Recorder, his trio with cohorts Sarah Nixey and John Moore. This combo often sounded to me as though they were singing from some kind of brutal, sneering, imaginary 1970s hinterland, all arch pop noir and hidden away in cupboards secrets along with Lord Lucan-esque classy British sleaze…Day 10-Moon Wiring Club-Rob Young-Uncut Magazine-A Year In The Country

…which reminds me in a way of Rob Young’s review of a Moon Wiring Club album in Uncut magazine where he talks of the enclosed music being “slathered in the fiction that it comes from an older, weirder England”… and so we come back round to what is considered hauntological culture in a more conventional sense.

So, Mr Luke Haines, a curious gent and I think an interesting example of how pop/rock can be conjoined with a certain intellectual stance and influence and still be, well, good pop/rock songs (I say pop as both The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder bothered the singles charts in the days when such things kind of still mattered a bit… oh and the songs are often catchy. “Non-populist pop”? to quote the sleevenotes to The Eccentronic Research Council’s first album).

I find that there’s a certain British nature/countryside brutality to the cover of How I Learned to Love The Bootboys (particularly more so in the original full colour cover version… the red dye splashed on the sheeps coats seems to conjure the edges of nightmares and the blood soaked history of the land. Or is that just me?).

I’m suprised returning to the cover as well as in my head the sheep are next to and below an imposing dark grey cliff. Misremembered cultural memories and all that.

Day 10-The Auteurs-The Rubettes-A Year In The CountryOh and as final note, just what is going on in tthis cover to The Auteurs The Rubettes? It’s genuinely unsettling and well, nasty. Literally contemporary folk horror.