Something of a tip of the hat to both the re-emergence of Ms Kate Bush, 1970s science fiction films which concentrated on ecological/resource related societal collapse and control (i.e. Z.P.G., Soylent Green, No Blade Of Grass, Logan’s Run etc) and also quite possibly the light that is brighter than a hundred suns.continue reading
A Year In The Country: Work
Something of a tribute to wandering, The Advisory Circle, Public Information films of my youth…
…and a tribute to times as a child of playing in a valley on the edgelands of a post-industrial town where the water of the stream would change colour (blue? orange?) depending on what was being pumped into it, a sewage pipe over the river with a spiked guard to stop you climbing across it seemed like an impossibly exciting and exotic barrier to surpass and we would be told to not play inside the discarded washing machines etc that scattered the side of the hill (as if we would)…continue reading
This was an issue of the BFI’s Sight and Sound magazine which was published in August 2010.
The main feature The Pattern Under The Plough was written by Rob Young and could well be seen as a companion piece or a lost chapter for his Electric Eden book which journeys through the “imaginative time travel” impulses of folk and interconnected music and culture (see Day #4/365 and Day #40/365).
As the title to the article suggests, it delves beneath the topsoil of British cinema to find a rich seam of films which take the landscape, rural ways, folklore (of the traditional and reimagined varieties) or “the matter of Britain” as their starting point and which often wander off through a celluloid and cathode landscape that the article describes as one where an older weirder Albion peeps through the cracks or “the sense of the past lying just behind the present”.
As a journey the article has many stopping points of such things, amongst them are the earlier mentioned Civil War era document of a search for an earthly paradise Winstanley (from which the opening still is taken), the folk horror of Witchfinder General and The Wickerman, the journey through a rural year of Akenfield, the “almost quite straight documentary but it’s not, something else is going on there” Sleep Furiously, the almost-canon of pastoral hauntological television The Changes, The Owl Service and Children Of The Stones, the art film experiments and psychogeography (a form of explorative wandering) of Derek Jarman, Patrick Keiller and Chris Petit (Journey to Avesbury, Robinson In Space, London Orbital), the atavistic memories of Quatermass and The Pit and the “was this really commissioned and allowed for mainstream television broadcast?” of Penda’s Fen…
And as can be found in Electric Eden, connections and lines between things are drawn… the article mentions how David Hemmings, who stars in 1969’s Alfred The Great, a Dark Ages costume drama which opens the piece, went on to fund one of the definitive acid-folk records, Mellow Candle’s Swaddling Songs… curiouser and curiouser
The Pattern Under The Plough is also accompanied by a shorter article by William Fowler; Absent Authors: Folk In Artist Film, which concentrates on the more experimental art film side of such things and I think both articles were published to accompany the BFI’s Here’s A Health To The Barley Mow compilation of folklore films (a still from its booklet is below)…
Which lead me to the Colloquim for Unpopular Culture and their presentation of The Barley Mow: Archive Folk Film Program (1912-2003), presented by William Fowler, who contributed to the risograph finery of The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale book (see Day #15/365) and appeared at the associated A Cathode Ray Séance event…
Here’s a (slightly edited) text about The Barley Mow Film Program from here:
“Recent years have seen a ‘rural turn’ in British cultural studies. Artists have wandered into an interior exile and a re-engagement with the countryside – its secret histories, occult possibilities. Psychogeographers are drawn to its edgezones and leylines, fringe bibliophiles are rediscovering the dark glories of writers such as Alan Garner, John Wyndham and Nigel Kneale, while organizations such as English Heretic and Lancashire Folklore Tapes exult in mystical toponymies and wiccan deep probes.
Key to this rural turn has been a critical reappraisal of ‘folk culture’, seeing it less as a repository of conservative tradition, but rather a teeming, eerie, almost surreal archive of customs and practices that might serve as an antidote to pasteurized urbanism. The Barley Mow, a kind of Anglo-celluloid version of Harry Smith’s American Folk Anthology, is a 60-minute programme that illuminates the charming, startling, uncanny convergences between populist and experimental approaches to capturing the folk music, dances, customs and sports of a semi-forgotten Albion.”
Well, that sums things up quite well I do believe.
The cover to this issue was designed by Becca Thorne. You can find her here (rather fine and lovely illustration work, well worth a visit indeed).
Details on this particular issue of Sight & Sound and backissues here. Akenfield here. Here’s A Health To The Barley Mow here. Will Fowler at the BFI here. And it can’t hurt to once again say Electric Eden here.
Well, as I seem to fairly often begin with; while we’re talking about industrial objects from other years in the English countryside (see Day #76/365: Josh Kemp Smith – Illuminating Forgotten Heritage)…
This was one of the first albums I bought when I was working towards A Year In The Country. It is undoubtedly an experimental piece of work but it’s one with a folk pop sensibility and the songs quietly nest in your mind…
It has been described as “dark gothic minimal folk” and Astrud Steehouder who created it lists her influences as “bewildering post nuclear landscapes, bleak fields, forests, thunderstorms and archaic industrial objects in the middle of nowhere”, which makes it sound like the album will be quite a heavy, dark thing but though it has elements of the night, it’s not just that…
I tend to think of it as having been recording in some semi-lost wooden cottage I don’t know quite where or when and the noises and creaks of it’s habitat seem to have seeped in and become part of the very fabric of the music.
As the songs begin it feels like opening the shutters to the sun in that lost home; shimmering and golden but also quietly fractured and unsettling, a view of a landscape and world all of it’s own…. there is a dreamlike, subtley surreal quality to the music and I have brought it out over and over again in the months and now years since it arrived in an attempt to capture something which isn’t quite captureable about it.
Quite simply, I think it’s a lovely, accomplished piece of work.
You can’t ask for more than that.
The album was release by Bird records, the offshoot of Finders Keepers Records. There’s a lovely evocative write-up about the album at Finders Keepers Records here.
The trailer to Paperhouse, the sometimes clunky but intriguing rurally set 1988 film of childhood dreams and nightmares, from which in part Paper Dollhouse take their name can be seen here. It’s 1972 but curiously anachronistically seeming still monochromatic earlier incarnation Escape Into Night can be found here.
And while we’re talking about fields in England (see Day #73/365), here is another interconnected meadow…
(Brief background: Winstanley is the 1975 Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo’s film tribute to Gerrard Winstanley, who was a religious reformer and political activist in the 17th century and was one of the founders of an English group known as the True Levellers or Diggers, who occupied previously public common lands which had been privatized and lived in what could be considered some of the first examples or experiments in socialist communal living…
Previous to this film they made It Happened Here, which was an alternative history imagining of what would have happened if Britain had been occupied by the Nazis. Both films were made largely independently and on very small budgets.)
In many ways Winstanley could be seen as a companion piece to Ben Wheatley’s A Field In England, possibly the more erudite, learned, historical brother to its rumbunctious sibling: there are a fair few similarities to them – both films are set around a similar time period of English Civil War, have similar costumes, are set in the rural landscape, are shot in crisp black and white and in different ways both show another side to English history.
Winstanley is an odd film to watch after watching A Field In England. At times my mind would almost become confused about which film I was watching; some of the characters and their faces in Winstanley seem as though they have tumbled from A Field In England (or vice versa). I think in some ways that’s because the physiognomy of those of many in both films feels right; many of the characters look as though they could have come from these fields, rather than the too-well fed look that can trip up modern visual reenactments of times gone by.
One of the things I liked and found interesting about Winstanley was the making of documentary from when the film was made, It Happened Here Again, that accompanies the BFI re-release.
In it there is a curious mixture of the centuries and styles – the costumed cast are pictured in amongst contemporary families, the rickety cars and vans of the 1970s, folk who could have tumbled from 1970s Open University broadcasts and a fair few counter cultural, I suppose hippie styled, people who helped on the film, both behind and in front of the camera (and could be seen to be some kind of link between the ideals of Winstanley and compatriots then and possibly similar travellers in the 1970s).
In many ways the then contemporary world seen in the documentary feels as or more exotic than the 17th century imagery and characters do.
There is a sense of it capturing a very specific time and place in English history – possibly the last days of the utopian sixties dream and aesthetics before punk and the Thatcherite 1980s arrived and made much which immediately preceded them seem so, well, otherly; the images in the documentary seem as though they are from a long-lost land and time, one which seems very separate and apart from today.
The period during which Winstanley was made could also be seen as a link to the time when it and A Field In England were set as there are similarities to both points in history; they were both periods of unrest and historical points of battle/change in society…
In Winstanley it was the battle/change between magic, religion, science, the old ruling order/economic models and the new; in the 1970s at the point when Winstanley was made Britain was wracked by internal unrest, economic strife and the battle which would lead to the turning of elements of society towards the right/a new economic/political model and also lead to another battle which could be seen as a decisive turning point in a field in England and which has become known as The English Civil War Part II (see Battle of Orgreave, Jeremy Deller’s film here and book here).
Interestingly, Ben Wheatley who directed A Field In England has talked about being interested in making a film about a period when Britain was in “free fall and chaos”, “a moment when anything could happen”… which could apply equally to Britain at that point in the 17th or 20th centuries: essentially a time when history could have gone various ways and which could be seen as the start of a turning point in the world/society and the battles that occurred around those times.
It’s curious how these things connect up as I type…
And so, back to Winstanley: it is a curiosity which lingers in the mind, one which ploughed its own furrow and created its own very particular corner of British film making.
There is such an attention to detail and authentic recreation in Winstanley: I liked the way that soldiers are shown as wearing political tracts and publications strapped to their hats as a way of showing their allegiances and beliefs (see image on the left below).
Visit A Field In England here.continue reading
This is a smaller (Sapling Edition) version of Artifact #5/52 and contains the same images as that book.
Printed using archival Giclée black/grey pigment inks.
Each book is handstamped, hand signed and numbered on the rear outside cover.
Book page size: 7.2 x 5.2 cm / 3.6 x 2 inches.
Book page count: 24 pages (12 printed).
Front and rear cover printed on 310gsm textured fine art 100% cotton rag paper.
Inside pages printed on 245gsm paper.
Free UK shipping.Available at our Artifacts Shop.continue reading
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.
Well worth a look-see. Find them here.continue reading
Day #73/365: A wander through A Field In England with Twins of Evil and other travelling companions…
A look at and consideration of the posters and other items which accompanied Ben Wheatleys slice of psychedelic historic pastoralism, A Field In England…
When the first teaser poster for A Field In England appeared (see left) I was all a-flutter, I expect in a way that the sixteen year-old me once was when I saw similar things for my then favourite bands.
And then it would appear that a small-scale industry was marshalled into existence to produce A Field In England posters and other ephemera…
Lovely work by Twins of Evil on the main poster and it’s variations. Tip of the hat to you gents. An intriguing and fascinating behind the scenes look at the evolution of the poster can be found here (well worth a look-see, especially for the animated orb teaser).
Having always had something of a soft spot for screenprinting (and having spent a fair bit of time with a squeegee or two myself), this page on The Private Press production of Richard Wells woodcut style poster was quite a find.
And then there is the beyond the shores of albion subsidary of the A Field In England industry… Below is Jay Shaw’s US poster artwork, released for sale by “blink-and-you’ll miss them” poster reinvention coordinators Mondotees.
I’d actually quite like to see a remix of the whole film done in this style. Just an idea to put out into the ether and hope that one day it may take roots…
And below is a Twins Of Evil poster for a Kill List and A Year In The Country double bill/Ben Wheatley Q&A… Nice link between the two in the design…
A double bill of those two films? Well, that’s one audience that won’t sleep properly for a week or three.
Various other variations by The Twins Of Evil are below (the first one is the poster that was included with the soundtrack):
A Field In England here. Twins of Evil’s graphic (design) take on folk horror here. Twin of Evil Luke Insect here. The other twin of evil Ken Goodall here. Mr and Mrs Wheatley here. Rook films and shop where you can possibly purchase posters and soundtracks but they’ve quite possibly already wandered off into the world via here.continue reading
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.)
As 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).
Freak 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.
(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.
*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.
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).
…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…
Breathing: 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).
…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?).
…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…
Something of a classic cover photograph indeed, which completes some kind of circle back to a sense of secret gardens and arcadias.
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…
…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.
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.continue reading
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.
I 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.continue reading
And while we’re talking about Mr Jim Jupp (see Day #64/365 of A Year In The Country)…
One of the cultural corner shops I have visited the most during and in the run up to A Year In The Country is the Belbury Parish Magazine.
Here, in amongst the jars of boiled sweets you can come across all kinds of fine nuggets of curiosity: it is in part primarily a newsletter or “semi-offical companion” for all things Ghost Box but also one of the reasons I’m drawn to it is because it often wanders slightly off the beaten track to incorporate items of parish news from interconnected practitioners…
So, it was where I found out about Robin The Fogs audio-historical exploration of fading institutional signal transmission centres Ghosts of Bush House (see image to the left), one of the first places I read about Charles Frégers Wilder Mann book/project, the aforementioned Ghost Box/Broadcast friendly issue of Shindig Magazine (see Day #59/365)…
…all in amongst more audio-mixes than you could comfortably listen to in, well, a month or two… just as a teaser and taster at the Belbury Parish Magazine you can find Toys and Techniques Mix For Trish (a tribute to Trish Keenan of Broadcast), an ongoing selection of Belbury Radio broadcasts, Jon Brooks of The Advisory Circle’s Public Information Film inspired mix and more, all of which are mentioned in the parish magazine, alongside a scattering of video signals from other eras and re-imagined lands…
It is also a fine resource for viewing and discovering Mr Julian House’s artwork for Ghost Box and others (such as his artwork on the left which was used for the aforementioned Toys and Techniques Mix For Trish) and his posters for Belbury Youth Club events.
In fact, I suspect that a reasonable number of the cultural touchstones which have become an inherent part of the fabric of A Year In The Country, such as The Twilight Language Of Nigel Kneale book (see Day #15/365) I may well have first stumbled upon via this particular set of parish circulars.
So, if you should have a moment or two or more, wandering off to have a read and peruse would be heartily recommended.
Pick up your latest copy of the Belbury Parish Magazine from the good reverend Mr Jupp here.continue reading
The song Geography from Belbury Polys The Belbury Tales album is one of the ones which has stuck in my mind the most when working towards/on A Year In The Country.
I think the night I first heard it was also the night when I originally wrote what was to become much of the text on the About page of A Year In The Country, so I think it helped inspire, spark and put textual form to something… so something of a touchstone/key record indeed.
The song (and as I’ve said before in previous posts, I use that phrase loosely here) starts with the phrase “The Geography of peace” and then wanders off into… well, how to describe it; as a piece of music it is a beautiful, haunting form of looped folk electronica.
I don’t know where the main vocals come from and I don’t think I want to as it has a lost treasure feel to it. I assume that they’re formed from a sample found and reused but whatever and wherever they’re from they’re quite lovely.
The album is rather nicely put together/packaged: there’s a swirling, disorienting loop of fiction by Electric Eden author Rob Young and appropriately swirling, disorienting artwork by Julian House (see Day #59/365 at A Year In The Country).
Also, there are little touches to the album that make all the difference, such as the way different paper stocks are used in the sleeve cover and interior pages, with the inner pages have a flecked, texture feel to them.
As is often the way with Ghost Box, there is a whole otherly world presented and created here; in this case it’s the re-imagined pastoral but quietly discomforting bucolic village pleasures of a parallel plot of England from who knows quite where and when. There is something not quite so in this parish but whatever it is that’s occurring is happening just out of sight, flickering away in the corners of your eyes.
“Belbury Poly spin some tall tales across a concept album in the tradition of English prog rock. Along the way they take in medievalism, the supernatural, childhood, the re-invention of the past, initiation and pilgrimage (both spiritual and physical).”
Or indeed a review at the time:
“Jim Jupp’s past-haunted electronic eccentrics is a beautiful, eerie thing – a piped gateway to false memories of a time when the benevolent nation state commissioned young men to re-score English folk songs with government issue analogue synthesisers.” (from Mojo Magazine).
(Jim Jupp is Ghost Box Records head co-coordinator/co-conspirator.)continue reading