Posted on Leave a comment

The Likely Lads – Time Capsule Snapshots of Faded History

A while ago I wrote about the photozine From the Archives: Progress that was published by The Modernist and which collected archival images of building demolition in Northern British city Manchester.

The images in it brought to mind early scenes of demolition in the 1976 film The Likely Lads which is a spin-off of the television sitcom Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads (1973-1974), with both having been written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. These scenes, as with much of the film and series, are set in the Northern city of Newcastle and they show the terraced streets in which lead characters Terry and Bob, who have been friends since childhood and are now middle-aged, grew up and which are now being demolished. Bob, who has moved away and is attempting to live a more middle class lifestyle mourns and laments the loss of the streets and his roots, while until recently Terry still lived there and is just glad of being able to move to a modern block of flats with all mod cons rather than having to head out in the middle of the night to a freezing outdoor toilet. He lambasts Bob’s romanticising of a life that he was quick to leave behind and which Bob somewhat revealingly doesn’t want his own children to live:

Bob: “Worse for you than for me. I only spent my childhood here. You’ve lived here all your life.”

Terry: “It’s taken that long to pull the bugger down. It was condemned the year I was born. Me dad used to say, we’ll not be in here long. Only temporary, he said. That’s why we never re-papered the front room.”

Bob: “You must feel some nostalgia though. These streets are ugly but they have a kind of beauty.”

Terry: “Working class sentiment is an indulgence of working class people who have cracked it through football or rock and roll. Or people like you who moved out to the Elm Lodge housing estate at the earliest opportunity.”

Bob: “Well, I didn’t want my kids brought up in these streets.”

(Terry and Bob enter the pub set amongst the terraced streets, which was previously their local and is serving its final drinks before also being demolished.)

Joe (the pub landlord): “You’ll come and see us in the new one, won’t you?”

Terry: “Of course we will. What’s it like?”

Joe: “Bloody sight better than this one.”

Bob: “I mean, nobody cares! Nobody really cares. Nobody’s moved by the occasion.”

Terry: “Well those residents are. Moved to a high-rise.”

Bob: “Soulless concrete blocks.”

Terry: “What do you mean? It’s got a modern kitchen, a lovely view and an inside lavatory.”

Bob: “These streets had poetry.”

Terry: “Well there’s not much poetry at four in the morning, padding down the yard to a freezing outside bog.”

Bob: “You missed my point Terry, you missed my point.”

Filmed during what appears to be a real world demolition operation they are humorous and also achingly nostalgic scenes deeply imbued with pathos and their conflicting views of urban regeneration and the resulting banter between Terry and Bob are something of a concise summation of the push and pull, pros and cons related to architectural demolition, regeneration, tradition and modernity.

Both the film and the original two series of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads offer snapshots of a changing urban landscape and the contrasts between older terraced housing and new modernist / Brutalist architecture.

This is particularly so in Episode 4 of Series 1, in which Bob drives Terry, who has recently been demobbed after spending five years travelling the world as a member of the army, around the city to visit the haunts of their youth, the coffee bars and clubs they used to go to. None of these places still exist as they have all been knocked down and replaced with various examples of Brutalist architecture.

At one point they stand atop the Brutalist designed Trinity Square multi-storey car park:

Bob: “Know where we are now?”

Terry: “Well, vaguely. I just can’t place it.”

Bob: “Beneath this great pile of concrete is what used to be the Go-Go Rock Club. Members only, licensed till three, closed on Sundays, the North’s premier music Mecca.”

Bob: “The Go-Go? Gone?!”

Terry: “Gone, but not forgotten. At 3am under a full moon, you may see a headless guitarist, drifting through empty parking lots, playing ‘Roll Over, Beethoven’.”

Terry despairs at the loss of his youthful hangouts due to urban regeneration, which somewhat conflicts with his later appreciation of modern housing’s conveniences in the series’ film spin-off. As mentioned previously, in The Likely Lads film he considers his new multi-storey home to be very much an improvement on the older terraced houses he used to live in. However this notably positive view of them could now be tempered by historical hindsight, as in the mid-1970s such developments had necessarily yet begun to be as affected by the social dysfunction, issues with maintenance and so on which would afflict some similar developments in later decades.

There are a number of layered intertwinings between the real world, history, film and television in relation to the car park Terry and Bob visit. It was somewhat controversial, with some considering it iconic and others viewing it as an eyesore, and reflecting the changing cycles of trends and urban regeneration it was demolished in 2010 in order to make way for a new version of the ideal town centre which were intended to include a retail and student village. The car park had a glass and concrete rooftop box built 124 foot above ground level that was intended to be a nightclub and which was used in the classic 1971 British gangster film Get Carter. Somewhat ironically in context of Bob and Terry’s mourning the loss of the imaginary Go-Go Rock Club that was once on the site the rooftop box was never actually used as a club.

Some of the sites Terry and Bob visit seem to be somewhat desolate or desolated industrial areas and it is difficult to tell if they have been cleared for intended regeneration and new developments or if they are a harbinger of the closing down of industry in the North which would gain pace in the 1980s.

There are some holdouts against regeneration, such as the chip shop above, but when the camera pans out it becomes clear that it is merely a forlorn and isolated remnant and it stands alone amongst the electricity pylons, with the buildings that once adjoined it having been demolished. Elsewhere a local river they once fished at is now a polluted edgeland site since “they pulled down the flower mill and built a chemical factory” and the fish are long gone.

As an aside, the above right image of the chip shop is reminiscent of the above cover photograph from Peter Mitchell’s Strangely Familiar book, which documents sections of Northern city Leeds in the 1970s – the photograph was also used as the cover for the Bob Stanley and Pete Wigg’s curated English Weather compilation album which centres around the time when British music transitioned from psychedelia to prog. The below quote from text which accompanied English Weather seems somewhat apposite in relation to The Likely Lads and some of the topics discussed in this post:

“The autumnal sound of Britain at the turn of the 70s, looking out through wet window panes to a new decade with a mixture of melancholy and optimism for what might come next.”

Elsewhere at times there is an almost dystopian air to some of the very utilitarian looking high-rise redeveloped areas shown in Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads and any signs of greenery and nature are few and far between, bringing to mind 1973 science fiction film Soylent Green where the last few plants in a densely over populated city are kept in special enclosures. However despite these sometimes bleak images, it should be remembered that the series is a comedy and while it sometimes contains a certain melancholia the next set of (often deadpan) laughs are not far away.

The intertwining of the old and the new and also a related sense of how Bob’s upwardly mobile lifestyle has diverged from Terry’s is particularly present in the series’ opening sequence and credits.

In one section of the opening sequence the screen is split into four images, one of which show Bob wearing a three-piece suit standing proudly and somewhat smugly in front of his house on the new estate and the other images feature examples of Brutalist / modernist architecture. In another split screen image Terry is shown vainly trying to hail a bus on older terraced streets while another image, which is also featured in the credits, shows part of a demolished older house, the empty windows of which frame newer tower blocks off in the distance.

The Likely Lads film is full of period details and contains a number of time capsule snapshots of a world that is only a few decades away but seems very far removed from contemporary times. This is particularly noticeable in the scenes set in a supermarket, in which 1970s food looks to almost purely be processed, contained in cans and there appears to be little fresh or chilled produce.

It also contains a notable historic snapshot of a Northern British seaside town and fun fair in later sequences when Terry and Bob attempt to escape from their day-to-day troubles and life’s restrictions by going on holiday. The fair’s attractions are hand painted and nearer to outsider or folk art than the glossy hyper realist artwork which often features at fairgrounds today.

Shot during winter at Northern seaside town Whitley Bay, these scenes wonderfully capture the bleakness of such places during their off-season but rather than being purely grim, for some viewers (myself included), they also contain a nostalgically evocative character and they are lightened by the deadpan humour of Terry and Bob’s dialogue:

Terry: “I have the feeling that we’re the last two men on Earth. Shall we go on the beach?

Bob: “It’s too cold.”

Terry: “We’ll go to the pictures?

Bob: “Cinema’s closed. They’re twinning it.”

Terry: “How about the ice rink?”

Bob: “Doesn’t open till Easter.”

Terry: “I noticed a church hall back there. The senior citizens are having a bring and buy.”

Terry: “Something to keep up our sleeve.”

Elsewhere the film decamps to the countryside, where Terry and Bob have jointly gone on holiday with their partners (although only under duress and at the insistence of their beaus). As in the Carry On comedy franchise films Carry on Camping (1969) and Carry on Behind (1975) and the slightly bizarre comedy romp The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones (1976), the latter of which I have written about previously at AYITC, the British countryside subsequently becomes the setting for various period sitcom tropes of fish out of water, restrictive spouses and roaming eyes. However, while thoroughly entertaining The Likely Lads film is deeply imbued with a certain kitchen sink-like realism and an ongoing philosophical debate and pathos about missed opportunities and life’s pathways which add a certain depth to it and prevent it from rarely becoming purely knock about comic farce.


Links at A Year In The Country:

 

Links elsewhere:

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Tales of Unease: Calculated Nightmare – Orders from a Computer Empowered Bogeyman

Calculated Nightmare, part of the 1970 television anthology horror series Tales of Unease, is set in a corporation’s office block which is controlled by automated computer systems.

It largely centres around two executives who are working late at night as they, in a self-congratulatory manner, finalise details of redundancy plans for the company’s employees. They have drawn up the list of who is to be let go using the company’s computer system, which they are full of praises for and proclaim that via using this that the list has been objectively and rationally created, while also being dismissive of the effect that redundancy will have on people’s lives.

However, they are soon hoisted by their own petard as one of the employees on the list sets into motion an elaborate scheme that remotely utilises the building’s computerised systems to trap the executives in their office and freeze them if they do not send instructions to rescind the redundancy plans.

After their initial belligerent resistance to their captor’s plans, they give in to them when he threatens to use the same computer systems to kill them but even once they are let free there is a sense that the axe will soon fall on them.

Initially it’s implied that this may be via the lift they take to the carpark, which is viewed from within the elevator shaft, as such shots in horror orientated film and television rarely bode well for the characters. But no, in the end it’s the computerised security gates for the building’s car park which are used to act as a deadly portcullis and permanently puts paid to their redundancy plans.

It is difficult to have sympathy for the executives due to the way they are portrayed as smugly and indifferently playing with people’s lives and livelihoods and because they also seem thoroughly pleased with themselves for supposedly rationally discarding committed and longstanding employees in the pursuit of profit.

It’s a curious programme that is tense and unsettling and which feels like a horror film, perhaps one that might come to contain supernatural elements but ultimately it doesn’t and the terror proves to be man made but is no less creepy for that.

Posted on Leave a comment

From David Rudkin’s The White Lady to Kate Bush’s “Breathing” – Darker Hued Transmissions

 

The British TV drama Penda’s Fen, written by David Rudkin and directed by Alan Clarke, has become one of the more prominent touchstones for “wyrd related culture.

While Penda’s Fen is very multi-layered in terms of the themes and subjects it explores, it does at one point quite specifically focus on the exploitation and possible misuse of natural resources and landscapes when a character launches into a paranoid conspiracy-like rant:

“What is it, hidden beneath this shell of lovely earth? Some hideous angel of technocratic death? Some alternative city for government from beneath? Motorways there, offices, control suites. Silent there, empty, waiting for the day… those lonely places our technocrats chose for their extreme experiments… Sick laboratories built on or beneath these haunted sites…”

Which brings me to White Lady which was also written by David Rudkin (and he also directed it) which is much more overtly specifically concerned with ecological issues and on his website he describes it as being “A parable on the agro-chemical destruction of nature”.It was originally broadcast as part of the ScreenPlay drama anthology series in a primetime evening slot on BBC Two in 1987 and has not had an official home release on either physical media or digitally – although again degraded quality unofficial discs and online streamable versions have been distributed.

Its plot involves a divorced father who is trying to begin farming while also looking after his two young daughters; in the fields surrounding the farm pesticides are being used, which through the use of intercut actual laboratory images are shown to cause destructive side effects on animals. The titular White Lady is intended to embody the deadly effects of the pesticide and she is portrayed as a white robed spectral presence who masks her true nature under a beatific air.

Her manner and enticements are reminiscent of the White Witch in C.S. Lewis’ popular children’s fantasy novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), who attempts to lure a child to her parallel world and to do her bidding by plying him with Turkish Delight sweets. These “white witches” are not be trusted; the White Witch is a despotic ruler who has kept all of her kingdom frozen in winter, while the White Lady’s true colours are revealed as her beatific mask repeatedly slips.

At one point the White Lady apparently benevolently watches over the daughters as they sleep but is revealed as some form of predatory grim reaper when suddenly the silhouetted arc of a scythe she holds appears over their heads. Later she sits serenely and ethereal Earth Mother-like next to bountiful harvested produce displayed on incongruous tables and white tablecloths in the woods and attempts to entice the daughters to take their fill, accept her (and therefore pesticides) as a bountiful nurturing provider and to leave with her for another world:

“Yes, yes, take… eat… When I am queen, it is strawberries and asparagus all year… I am queen on the planet of light… you shall never be sick there… never die…”

She goes on to gently, slowly and hypnotically begins to say that their father has lost the Earth, that he cannot escape with them and then describe her side effects and how once they have accepted and left with her, she will leave behind changeling replacements to fool their father but that these will carry her “marks” (i.e., genetic mutations).

Eventually she says “All children are mine now… say goodbye to the earth” before fully revealing her true self again, but this time openly in front of their awakened eyes, as she once again appears holding a scythe overhead and looks down at the daughters with a sinister sense of possession. Her bountiful produce is then revealed to be the result of poisonous pesticides, the symbols for which are now shown to be on the white tablecloths as the camera pans across them.

The White Lady’s proclamations to the daughters that: “Each time you have eaten, I have kissed you. Each time you have breathed…” as the pesticide’s symbols are revealed is reminiscent of Kate Bush’s song “Breathing”. Originally released as a single which reached number 16 on UK the charts in 1980 during a period of heightened tensions in the Cold War (and later in the same year featured on the number one album Never for Ever), it takes the viewpoint of an unborn child which has to breathe in deadly fall-out and its mother’s nicotine after an apocalyptic nuclear event. Although initially the song utilises a conventional verse and “catchy” repetitive chorus format, as noted in A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields (2018) it:

“[breaks] from the conventions of what may be expected in a commercially successful pop song, it features an extended unsettling, drifting spoken word passage that describes in a scientific or documentary manner the characteristics of a flash from a nuclear explosion.”

Revisited today the subject matter and at times form of both “Breathing” and White Lady can be considered surprisingly challenging and darkly hued for what were mainstream television broadcasts and music releases, and can be considered as indicators of the vastly changed mainstream popular cultural landscape.

It is difficult to imagine such work as “Breathing” and The White Lady receiving high profile mainstream orientated releases today; there is often a darkness to, for example, contemporary television drama but this is generally utilised for the creation of atmosphere or to create graphic shocks and visual stimulus but it is rarely as explicitly challenging in terms of focusing on the darkness of real-world issues as “Breathing” and “The White Lady” are.

Posted on Leave a comment

Further Investigations of Pixelvision, Nadja, Howlround and Ashley Blewer’s Delve Through the History of Video Formats

I’ve had a longstanding fascination with Pixelvision cameras since I first saw Michael Almereyda’s 1994 film Nadja, which is a noirish black and white arthouse take on the vampire genre (think left of centre 1990s American indie film along the lines of Hal Hartley’s work, with which it shares a number of central actors, with dashes of David Lynch, who both produced and appears in Nadja) which at times utilised Pixelvision cameras.

Pixelvision video cameras were curious things; as noted in Ashley Blewer’s The Illustrated Guide to Video Formats, they were released in the US in 1987 by toy company Fisher-Price, were only available for around a year and approximately 400,000 were made.

It was relatively expensive for a child’s toy, which it was marketed to, as it cost $179 USD (which was the equivalent of roughly $430 or £300 in 2021) and had a number of distinctive features which make them something of a curio: it produced a distinctive minimal very low resolution 120 x 90 pixel monochrome only video and recorded onto conventional audio cassettes. However, it’s price and the style of video it produced attracted artists, music videomakers, filmmakers etc, including the above mentioned Michael Almereyda and the cameras are now collector’s items with working models often fetching fairly high prices.

Ashley Blewer’s The Illustrated Guide to Video Formats is also something of a curio; it contains hand drawn illustrations of dozens of different video tape formats, related equipment etc and the book acts as an informative, playful, easily accessible curator of a wide range of them. And boy were there a lot over the years.

Apparently Blewer is working on a similar guide that focuses on audio formats, which I’m looking forward to seeing.

Older and sometimes obsolete media formats, particularly analogue ones, seem to have gained something of a romantic evocative appreciation and use over the years, with their characteristics often being  utilised in hauntology orientated work, where, as I wrote in A Year in the Country: Cathode Ray and Celluloid Hinterlands:

“The use and foregrounding of recording medium noise and imperfections, such as the crackle and hiss of vinyl, tape wobble and so on that calls attention to the decaying nature of older analogue mediums and which can be used to create a sense of time out of joint and edge memories of previous eras.”

All of which brings me to the photograph below, which is one of musician Robin The Fog’s live setups (aka Howlround), who extensively utilises analogue tape in his work; the photo makes me smile every time I see it and shows a notable dedication to his cause (!)

Links at A Year In The Country:

 

Links elsewhere:

Posted on Leave a comment

Tales of Unease: Ride, Ride and Taking a Trip With a Supernatural Guardian of Time

Tales of Unease (1970) was a British anthology drama series adapted from stories originally published in three anthology horror-story books edited by John Burke and published between 1960 and 1969.

The series currently has a limited distribution and availability: it was released as double-bill episodes on video cassette back when, hasn’t had an official digital release and only a couple of episodes seem to have been unofficially distributed online. In 2022 it was released on a now fairly rare on the used market DVD by Network Distributing Ltd, which specialised in the DVD and Blu-ray of older (generally) British film and television, much of which has never had an official home release in any other form and so the company’s closing in 2023 has left a big gap in the cultural landscape.

Ride, Ride is the first episode in the series which is set at the turning point of 1960s hippy aesthetics and it’s a great period piece that features a number of distinctive period signifiers including hippie-esque 1960s fashion, wonderfully self-indulgent art school projects and a psychedelic oil light show at a student dance.

Its main character is a young male art school student who is drawn to a strangely distant seeming young woman at the student dance, who harangues him into giving him a lift home on his motorbike. However, the next week his fellow students tell him that the dance hasn’t happened yet and it’s actually on next weekend, after which he subsequently finds out that the young woman had died in a motor crash three weeks before.

He has an impending sense of doom and the next week at the dance when the young woman appears again, he tries to avoid her but also seems somehow aware that there is no avoiding fate and when he gives her a lift home again, they crash and die.

It had already been indicated that there was something preternatural about the young woman when she had previously mysteriously suddenly appeared on his motorbike as she waited expectantly for a lift home and, though not explained, she appears to possibly be an almost Sapphire and Steele-esque supernatural guardian tasked with ensuring the correct flowing of time and events.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

1984, Big Blue, Apple and Battles for the Future’s Past

 

I’ve written about the 1984 film adaptation of George Orwell’s novel of the same name at A Year In The Country before, including some of the controversy that surrounded it relating to the imposition/use of non-director approved music by the production company… which brings me to some other Orwellian 1984 related controversy which involved Apple Computers.

In 1983 and 1984 Apple created and had broadcast a television advert  that depicted a dystopic society that appears to be inspired by George Orwell’s 1984 and which was directed by Ridley Scott, who also directed another iconic vision of the future in Bladerunner. The advert features monitoring telescreens and a meeting where subservient and uniformly drably dressed workers are shown in a meeting listening to a Big Brother like figure who is orating along lines not dissimilar to those shown in similar scenes in 1984:

“Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology—where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory truths. Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death, and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!”

A nameless runner in athletic wear is shown outrunning visored police officers, carrying a large brass-headed hammer. She races towards the screen and hurls the hammer towards it just as the Big Brother-esque figure announces “We shall prevail!”. The screen is destroyed and the advert continues with a text and voice over saying:

“On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984’.”

There have been different interpretations of the advert by both observers and those who created it; these have variously posited Apple as the plucky underdog that brings down the conformity and leading market success of computer manufacturer IBM (which coincidentally had been nicknamed Big Blue) and also that it was not such a specific reference to IBM but rather showed the fight for the control of computer technology as a struggle of the few against the many, with the Macintosh symbolizing the idea of empowerment and originality.

Previous to the advert being broadcast attorney and film producer Marvin Rosenblum had bought the television and film rights to 1984 from George Orwell’s widow Sonia Orwell and considered the advert to be a copyright infringement and sent cease and desist letters to those involved. He did not file a lawsuit in regards to this matter but also the advert had a very limited broadcast that included its transmsission via 10 local US television stations on 31st December 1984 and it then had a second, and only national, transmission on 22nd January 1984 during a broadcast of the National Football League’s prestitigious annual championshop the Superbowl.

Apple did not further televise the advert, which has gone on to gain iconic status, although they did post a new version on their website in 2004 as part of the 20th anniversary celebrations of the Macintosh computer, digitally adding their then popular iPod digital music player and headphone earbuds to the heroine.

Viewed today there is a certain irony to the advert; in part because of Apple’s popularisation of mobile digital technology many of the world’s citizens carrying around their own two-way “telescreens” in the form of touchscreen mobile phones, while the empowered struggle of the “few” against the many in the case of Apple is dependent in terms of access to Apple’s “empowering” equipment on the financial ability to purchase digital products which often cost several hundred percent more than other similar products, albeit sometimes with less advanced specifications, equipment… technology giveth and technology take away etc etc…

Above and below are some of the advert’s storyboards drawn by Hank Hinton that were created while it was being developed and pitched and in which “Big Brother” has more friendly cartoonish face than in the finished advert and curiously I keep thinking that in one of the drawings he has a Ziggy Stardust-esque lightning bolt across his forhead, although actually it’s the runners hammer.

Posted on Leave a comment

A Pocket Guide To Dream Land and Journeys Through the Spectral Seaside

The British seaside in some ways can be considered to have inherently spectral hauntological, the past inside the present aspects, in that it seems to be in an ongoing state of quiet sadness for its own past glories, coupled with its attractions, such as traditional piers, ballrooms and penny-flipping games, often seeming at least partly rooted firmly in the past of their Victorian era boomtime.

The spectral aspects of British coastal towns have been explored in various pieces of work that interconnect with hauntology that I have written about previously at AYITC, including Luciana Haill’s augmented reality project which uses digital technology to conjure “spectres” of the seaside’s past and also Keith Seatman’s Time To Dream But Never Seen album. The latter of these is a “a loosely themed concept album based around a hauntological refraction of the British seaside and mayday fairs in times gone by” that, as with much of hauntologically inclined work “draws from and utilises contradictory atmospheres and memories to create an atemporal parallel world”.

Dave Clarkson’s 2022 largely instrumental electronica album A Pocket Guide To Dream Land: Faded Fairgrounds And Coastal Ghost Towns Of The British Isles explores similar territory and atmospheres and could be considered an unofficial companion piece for Keith Seatman’s album.

It extensively utilises field recordings from trips to seven “faded” British seaside towns, including a number of sounds that, while contemporary, also seem deeply rooted in the past, such as traditional fairground organs and penny fall arcade games.

The album opens with the almost straightforwardly cheery roll-out-the-barrel-esque fairground organ-based track “Organ Donor” which through being subtly dislocated seeming and its positively threatening title hints at both the fun and terrors to come.

And then without a moment’s pause the doors to the funfair’s ghost train swing open and the listener finds themselves on the woozy, dream-nightmare ride of “Rollercoaster Ghost”, which through using the screams of people, presumably, enjoying themselves on fairground rides, serves to both bring back memories of similar experiences back when while also, on this particular glitchy bitcrushed ride, turning the track into a hauntological take on a 1980s US slasher film relocated to the grimy underbelly of faded older British cinema. While “Illuminations (Dirty Electricity)” brings to mind and recalls childlike wonder at seeing the lights strung along the seafront, while its title and recurring electrical crackles recall both the worries of vintage Public Information Films and the fear of the “bad wires” in the hauntological touchstone TV series The Changes (1975).

If you’re looking for fairground treats to calm your nerves then you might head to the hot dog stand but here the “Sizzling Hot Dogs and Burnt Onions” are soundtracked by a distorted drum’n’bass/gabber-esque soundtrack that could almost have graced a release on Digital Hardcore Recordings in the 1990s and not so much recalls memories of innocent times of eating too much and going on too many rides in childhood but rather of having stumbled into the funfair on a bad trip and finding yourself staggering amongst the hall of mirrors of the rides as your senses are overloaded by the sights, sounds and smells.

The album also acts as a document of Clarkson’s own personal and family history, as “Spectral Pier Ballroom” which “is a spliced and stripped composite of three separate old musical recordings from his family archive, featuring his late father, grandmother and grandfather”. On the album they are reconfigured as echoing cut-up voices that fade in and out of the weather and eventually into the waves and which seem both a fond remembrance and also possibly a Sapphire and Steel-esque breaking through the walls of time by the ghosts of the past who may have unknown and unfinished business.

And now the weather’s gone off, of course with this being the British seaside, so why not head into the “Penny Arcade in The Rain” and try your luck? And just like the penny falls arcade games that it samples, this track has a repetitive hypnotic quality that keeps drawing you in until your pockets are empty.

The album isn’t all hauntological spectres peering perhaps curiously and perhaps menacingly over your shoulder. The seventh track “Tiny Lights (Magic in a Child’s Eyes)” begins a duo of relaxing more ambient and at times near new age-like tracks that you can float away amongst the “Coastal Ghost Towns” with as the waves lap gently on the shore and the seagulls overhead decide that just for today they won’t swoop down and off with your fish and chips but rather will leave you in peace.

Then despite its melancholic title of “Memories and Loss” the penultimate track has a notably upbeat quality that brings to mind the more “intelligent dance music”/home listening orientated side of 1990s chart pop house, dance music etc… and ah, with that in mind it’s not a surprise to learn that Graham Massey of 808 State, who were some of the prime proponents of such things, contributed to the album.

The album, sort of, ends as it began with a return to the funfair organ on “Organ Transplant”, which begins as something of a doppelganger of the intro track, with the sounds of the vintage pipes not seeming as threatening or disorientated after the previous few more chilled/upbeat tracks. However, as the track continues the sounds of demolition become apparent, with it being unclear if these are harbingers of renewal and reinvestment or the end of these “faded fairgrounds” and finally all that is left to do is listen to the beeps as you put your meal deal through the metro supermarket’s self-service point and catch the train home…

Links at A Year In The Country:

 

Links elsewhere:

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Browsing the Otherworldly Bookshelves of Wyrd Britain

Wyrd Britain, if you don’t know about it, is a website where Ian Holloway wanders amongst and explores the, appropriately enough considering its name, wyrder side of culture and it has something of a bent towards the “spookier” side of wyrd culture and has posts on related TV programmes, radio dramas, books etc:

“Wyrd Britain is a blog (and Facebook page) concerned with stories in, of, from and about the stranger places of Britain. Stories that explore a Britain other than the one we think we know. A Britain where the ghosts are unquiet, where the woods are alive and where distinctions between the present, the future and the past are permeable… Through our [bookshop] we hope to be able to pass on to like minded souls some of the treasures we find on our wanderings.” (Quoted from Wyrd Britain’s Etsy bookshop.)

It’s also an online bookshop, which, while it has a quite broad remit generally specialises in vintage science fiction, fantasy, horror, paranormal, fringe culture etc books and I often find myself popping over to visit to have a browse of what new treasures have turned up on it.

Above is a selection of some of the books and covers that caught my eye at the Wyrd Britain bookshop when I popped over just now, which includes a few favourites from the “back pages” of A Year In The Country, including  Geoff Taylor’s surreal cosmic artwork for Richard Cowper’s The Twilight of Briareus and the “Knockouts” edition of John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos… and is it just me or does the cover art to Frank Lauria’s The Priestess somehow bring to mind Barbara Steele’s character in The Curse of the Crimson Altar?

When I was growing up I had an uncle who still had a lot of the odd/slipstream-esque 1970s and early(ish) 1980s science fiction, fantasy etc books that he’d read when he was at university back then and every now and again when I was visiting I’d browse amongst them. Because of the distinctive and often cryptic, surreal etc cover designs and artwork they had it was like being given a glimpse into an adult, esoteric, exciting  other world.

Browsing the online shelves of Wyrd Britain’s bookshop is not all that dissimilar; a lot of the books that are for sale there are from a similar era as the books my uncle had and there’s a similar sense of looking into and exploring a strange, far off world.

To a degree, I guess a lot of 1970s science fiction book artwork had that sense, which is something I’ve written about before:

“In the 1960s and 70s, science fiction novel covers seemed to often allow space, or free rein for quite out-there slipstream-like illustration and design, including Peter Haars’ psychedelic illustrations for editions of books published by Lanterne in Norway [see the above image] which included those by local authors and the likes of Stanislaw Lem, Ursula K. Le Guin, Brian W. Aldiss, C.S. Lewis and Kurt Vonnegut. Viewed today such covers seem to encompass a sense of a kind of paral- lel-to-the parallel-world of a hauntological record label, and a point in time when the likes of ‘speculative fiction’ magazine New Worlds and Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius captured and expressed a moment where science fiction and related writing was hiply and exploratively psych like.” (Quoted from A Year In The Country: Straying From The Pathways.)

If you’re thinking “Hmmm, Ian Holloway, that name sounds familiar…” then you may well have come across some of his other work.

He has released music under his own name and as the (presumably Quatermass inspired) The British Space Group, amongst other names, including a track on the A Year In The Country themed album Fractures back in 2016. He also used to post about not dissimilar culture as that which he now writes about at Wyrd Britain at his site wonderfulwoodenreasons.co.uk, which if memory serves correctly was one of the frontier-like outposts of wyrd related culture before the interest in such things exploded.

Links elsewhere:

Wyrd Britain’s site

Wyrd Britain’s Etsy bookshop

Wyrd Britain’s Bandcamp

Ian Holloways’ Quiet World Bandcamp

 

Posted on Leave a comment

The Layering – Reviews and Broadcasts

A selection of reviews, broadcasts etc of The Layering album:

First up is a review in issue 70 of Electronic Sound magazine by Bob Fischer of The Haunted Generation site and Fortean Times column:

“…an evocative melding of windswept recordings and traditional pipe melodies… [a] haunting evocation of… ‘what lies beneath’.”

Visit Electronic Sound here and The Haunted Generation site here.

Above is a review by Ben Graham in issue 109 of Shindig! magazine:

“Unsettling and oddly meditative, The Layering proves that all the best things happen below the surface.”

Visit Ben’s website and details of his other writing work (including his book A Gathering of Promises: The Battle for Texas’s Psychedelic Music, from the 13th Floor Elevators to the Black Angels and Beyond) can be found here.

Shindig!’s site can be visited here.

Next is Eoghan Lyng’s review at We Are Cult:

“…speaks of interwoven geographies and technologies… a magnificent soundscape of noise… One of the most astonishing works 2020 has offered us.”

Visit that review at We Are Cult’s site here.

The album wandered over the seas and was reviewed at Rafaello Russo’s Music Won’t Save You site:

“…grainy analogue echoes… memories made opaque by time…”

Visit that here.

The album was featured in A Closer Listen’s Fall Music Preview – Ambient amongst an intriguing selection of ambient, experimental etc work. Visit that here.

And then onto some of the broadcasts etc of the album:

Golden Apples of the Sun played the Grey Frequency, Vic Mars and A Year In The Country tracks from the album on their 4th October 2020 episode, in amongst their “musical odyssey through psych-tinged realms such as pastoral folk, glitch, lo-fi electronica, hauntology and hypnagogic pop. Through blissful reverie and sun-dappled hallucinogenic soundscapes, find yourself transported to a world beyond time, where both past and future intermingle…”

The tracklisting, related videos etc for the show can be found at their website here. Originally broadcast on RTR FM a “just the music” version of the episode is archived at Mixcloud.

Flatland Frequencies included Field Lines Cartographer and Handspan’s tracks from the album amongst their “Ambient // Techno // Elektronische Musik” audio explorations on their 23rd September 2020 episode.

View the tracklisting and other details here and the show is archived at Mixcloud here.

The Heartwood Institute, Vic Mars and Handspan’s tracks from the album were featured on the 24th September 2020 edition of Kites and Pylons:

“Kites and Pylons is a radio show of otherworldly electronica… a heady brew of radical radiophonics, moody modular synths and eccentric experimentalism.”

Originally broadcast on Sine FM, the show is archived at Mixcloud.

Widow’s Weeds’ Gilmerton Cove was included in ezine Wyrd Daze’ Autumn and Wise (The Fall) mix alongside their wanderings amongst the fringes and undercurrents of culture. Visit that here.

A Year In The Country’s track from the album was included in the decidedly spooky (!) Mind De-Coder Halloween Special 2020. Visit that here.

Field Lines Cartographer, Grey Frequency and A Year In The Country’s tracks were included amongst the ever fascinating selections of Sunrise Ocean Bender’s show on the 22nd October 2020 episode. Originally broadcast on WRIR FM the show’s tracklisting can be found here and the show itself is archived at Mixcloud.

And then in a rounding the circle manner, Widow’s Weeds’ Gilmerton Cove was also featured on sometimes A Year In The Country music contributor’s The Séance’s phantom seaside radio show, on the 19th September 2020 episode.

Originally broadcast via Radio Reverb, totallyradio and Sine FM the show’s tracklisting can be found here and it is archived at Mixcloud here.

Thanks and a tip of the hat to all concerned!

The Layering album explores the way that places are literally layered with history, and is an audio slicing through the layers of time.

It features music and accompanying text on the tracks by: Circle/Temple, The Heartwood Institute, Sproatly Smith, A Year In The Country, Field Lines Cartographer, Howlround, Folclore Impressionista, Handspan, Widow’s Weeds, Listening Center, Vic Mars, Pulselovers and Grey Frequency.

More details on the album can be found here.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

The Watchers – Preorder

Preorder today 14th May 2019. Released 7th June 2019.

The CDs are now sold out but the album is available to download at our Bandcamp page, Amazon, The Tidal Store, 7digital etc and can be streamed on Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, YouTube etc.

Both CD editions are hand-finished and custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink by A Year In The Country.

Amongst Britain’s trees there are thought to be over 3,000 ancient oaks – those which date back 400 years or more – and of those trees more than 115 are 800 to 1,000 years old or more. They are part of a tree population that also includes ash trees that have lived for hundreds of years and a yew that is estimated to be between 2000-3000 years old or possibly many thousands of years older and that some consider to be the oldest living thing in Europe.

These are living organisms which could be seen to be undertaking a very stately, still form of time travel, to be watchers and observers over the passing of the years, centuries and even millennia.

Some of them have lived through invasions of their island home undertaken by wooden ships, sword and arrow, the final days and passing of the old ways and the times of magic and witchcraft, the coming of the industrial revolution and the dawning of the digital era.

Throughout it all they have stood by and watched the endeavours of humans and the encroaching of their lands as the tales passed through traditional folklore evolved into the sometimes dizzying swathes of today’s cultural landscape, with these “mighty oaks” and their companions now coming to be living amongst the invisible hubbub of modern day wirelessly transmitted communications.

The numbers of these longstanding inhabitants of this once largely green and unpaved land have dwindled due to the march of progress but a few stalwartly continue their journeys through time. The Watchers reflects on those journeys and these ancient trees’ residing over growing layers of history.

Features music and accompanying text on the tracks by Grey Frequency, Field Lines Cartographer, Widow’s Weeds ft Kitchen Cynics, Depatterning, A Year In The Country, Phonofiction, Pulselovers, Sproatly Smith, Vic Mars, The Heartwood Institute and Howlround.

 

Dawn Light Edition. Limited to 104 copies. £11.95.
Hand-finished white/black CD album in textured recycled fold out sleeve with fold-out insert and badge.



Top of CD and underneath of CD.

Further packaging details:
1) Custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink.
2) Includes 2.5 cm badge, secured with removable glue on string bound tag.
3) 1 x folded sheet of accompanying notes, hand numbered on back.

 

Nightfall Edition. Limited to 104 copies. £22.95
Hand-finished box-set contains: album on all black CD, 2 x sheets of accompanying notes, 2 x prints, 3 x stickers and 3 x badges.



Top of CD and underneath of CD.

Further packaging details:
1) Cover, notes and prints custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink.
2) Contained in a matchbox style sliding two-part rigid matt card box with cover print.
3) Fully black CD (black on top, black on playable side).
4) 2 x folded sheets of accompanying notes, printed on textured laid paper – one sheet hand numbered on back.
5) 2 x prints on textured fine art cotton rag paper.
6) 2 x 2.5 cm badge, 1 x 4.5 cm badge.
7) 1 x 5.6 cm sticker, 1 x 3.5 cm sticker, 1 x 12cm sticker.

 

Tracklisting:

1) Grey Frequency – In A Clearing
2) Field Lines Cartographer – A Thousand Autumns
3) Widow’s Weeds ft Kitchen Cynics – The Brave Old Oak
4) Depatterning – Ook/Dair
5) A Year In The Country – Radicle Ether
6) Phonofiction – Xylem Flow
7) Pulselovers – Circles Within Circles
8) Sproatly Smith – Watching You
9) Vic Mars – The Test Of Time
10) The Heartwood Institute – The Trees That Watch The Stones
11) Howlround – The Winter Dream Of Novel’s Oak