Now, if you want a lesson in how to create an intriguing, secret world unto itself then here would be a good place to start.
Originally monikered Devon Folklore Tapes, this could be called a record label but how it has been created and presented to the world it feels more akin to an arcane research project.
The mainstay of it’s releases are especially commissioned music projects/soundtracks (again I feel that research project would be more appropriate), generally presented on good old ferrous compact tapes which are housed in adapted, hollowed out hardback books which were very limited in quantity (ie 30 copies and once they were gone they were gone). Hens teeth is a phrase that comes to mind.
I think for a while that was the only way you could hear any of the resulting work. I liked the fact that in order to listen you would have to dig out a dusty old tape recorder and actually sit down and listen (initially I thought my copy of one of the tapes had been recorded in mono as I was listening to it on an almost end of the line dictaphone I’d bought in the mid 2000s and I didn’t realise that it would only play one channel of the tapes)…
Now, generally they also come with a download code and there are often simpler packaged copies of the tapes also available… but when they are released there is generally a feeding frenzy and whoosh they’re gone (something I often find out about just after the fact so that I can hear myself say “Darned, not again”).
The collaborators/creators of the series have included Rob St John, Children Of Alice (part of Broadcast), Anworth Kirk and David Orphan… though my favourite volume is number IV which features Finders Keepers cohorts Magpahi and Paper Dollhouse: the Magpahi side is all… well, I don’t know quite how you would put it but I think haunting folkloric vocals and quite an interesting pop sensibility while Paper Dollhouse wanders off into early morning free floating word association.
I think Boomkat put it quite well:
“Volume IV in this enchanted series surveys ‘Rituals And Practices’ connected to the folklore of Devon in the south west of England. Research was carried out by Magpahi and Paper Dollhouse into the myths, legends and strange phenomena of the old county, resulting in a creaking combination of wyrdly symbolic sonic energies and spirits that manifest as haunted ambient pop and folk song. At risk of breaking the spell, we won’t go any further, other than to tell you this is our favourite in the series so far and comes recommended to fans of Broadcast, Nico, stone circles and fine storytelling.”
…which I think is the first place I heard any of the music and it just stuck in my head and I seemed to have to own it (a fair few possibly nolonger wanted items were flung on the pyrrhic reselling market in order to purchase a copy if memory serves me right).
What else? Well, it’s not just the tape releases, there are field trips, events, photography, newsletters mailed to you in the traditional paper style and more. I particularly like head honcho David Chatton-Barker’s design work, well worth a look-see…
I shall leave the (almost last) word to Folklore Tapes themselves:
“Folklore Tapes is an ongoing cassette-based cult devoted to exploring the folkloric arcana of the farthest-flung recesses Great Britain, via divinatory research, abstracted musical reinterpretations and experimental visuals. Exploring mysteries, myths topography and strange phenomena of the old counties. This site will archive designs, research and production of each volume.”
Sites of interest:
Place where you can see that the tape you wanted is sold out.
Place where you can see if you can afford a previous volume.
Mr Chatton-Barker’s site and design work.continue reading
Day #6/365: The Fallen By Watchbird – Jane Weaver Septième Soeur; the start of a journey through cosmic aquatic folklore, kunstmärche and otherly film fables…
Well, what can I say, if there is a finer album of cosmic aquatic folklore out in the world I’ve not heard it.
That may sound a little facetious but this mult-faceted project by Jane Weaver has had something of a mighty hold on my imagination for a year or two or more now…
I’m not quite sure how I came across it but I think the first song I heard from it was Silver Chord, which is just haunting and is one of those songs that sends me into some almost trance like kind of state. Quite frankly sublime.
I’m sure an online search will let you know all about it but suffice to say that the first/main album features all kinds of left-of-centre and almost lost folk/pop songstresses, from Weny & Bonnie to Susan Christie via Lisa Jen… and that’s before we get to the companion (spin-off? remix? reimagining?) album The Watchbird Alluminate which features reworkings of the songs by Demdike Stare, The Focus Group, Wendy Flower, Amworth Kirk Samandtheplants and a beautiful, haunting reinterpretation of My Soul Was Lost, My Soul Was Lost And No-One Saved Me by Magpahi (worth the price of admission on it’s own I feel, tip of the hat to all concerned).
I think one of the interesting things about Fallen By Watchbird is that though in many ways it is resolutely avant garde in concept and influences, it’s actually a really good pop record; it has tunes you can and would want to hum.
Those influences? Well, they’re quoted as including Eastern European children’s cinema, Germanic kunstmärchen (fairy tales or the electronic ether literally translates it as art fairy which I quite like), 70’s television music and early murmurs of 80’s synth pop. Which is enough to intrigue a chap like myself in itself…
…and those influences also lead me down a path to discover or rediscover an interesting strand of cinematic history: the Czech New Wave (or the Czechoslovak film miracle, which considering the otherworldly nature of some of the films seems quite appropriate). Often playful, surreal, fairy tale like and often a feast for the eyes. Daisies and Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders are two of the standouts for me… though Ms Weaver quotes an unsubtitled copy of Malá Morská Víla (The Little Mermaid but possibly something of a world away from it’s more well known filmic twin) as having been the starting point for this album and some of the stylings of have found their way into the packaging and accompanying video.
Right, I’m going on a bit here and I’ve not even got to the packaging yet… it was something of a trek to find a vinyl copy of Fallen By Watchbird but I’m glad I did… it’s a lovely package, from the gold gently corrugated sleeve, the tipped in cover image, obi strip etc: a real labour of love.
Oh and the illustrations… I’m not sure where they’re from but they’re quite magical and intriguing…
I may natter about this fine record and it’s cultural companions another time (there is also a book, a compilation CD, a tote bag, a poster etc and it is released on Bird / Finders Keepers, all of which could easily make this post twice the length if I was to start nattering now) but suffice to say this is a record which I wholeheartedly recommend.
I would recommend a viewing of the Fallen By Watchbird video.
The album can be purchased from: Finders Keepers Records
Jane Weaver’s site is here
PS There is also an accompanying rare as the proverbial domestic fowls molars promotional mix CD called Europium Alluminate. It is described as “A 70 minute transmission of cosmic aquatic folklore, flickering luminescent lullabies & hand-plucked pop”, which is compiled and mixed by Jane Weaver and Andy Votel and which is a fine, illuminating and interesting musical journey (and I quite like that there’s no easily available tracklisting, so it leaves your mind wandering).
Throughout the year we will be making available 52 artifacts from our A Year In The Country explorations.
Artifact #1/52: Transference & Transmissions print / poster is now available.
Limited edition of 12. Each print is signed and numbered.
Size: 55.2cm x 21 cm / 21.7″ x 8.3″ (same width as A2, half the height of A2).
Size includes 2cm/0.8″ unprinted border.
Printed with archival Giclée pigment inks on Hahnemühle Photo Rag 100% cotton paper.
Day #4/365: Electric Eden; a researching, unearthing and drawing of lines between the stories of Britain’s visionary music
Trails and Influences: Touchstones Case #2/52.
Well, this has been something of an ongoing reference point in all things A Year In The Country-ish. It’s a rather fine, epic tome of a book. In simple terms it’s a journey through British folk music from it’s roots to the modern day but really it’s much more than that.
On it’s journey it wanders well away from the more beaten tracks surrounding such things and is all the better for it: lines are drawn between a lot of intriguing dots and points of reference; the trail and timeline/s it creates as it does so makes it worth the effort of fully investigating the books 672 pages.
It journeys from folk revivalist collectors such as Cecil Sharp, the social idealism of William Morris and Ewan MacColl, the folk-rock of the likes of Fairport Convention and Pentangle, the acid folk of Comus and Forest, The Wicker Man and occult folklore, contemporary esoterically interconnected practitioners such as the Ghost Box record label and even wanders of towards Kate Bush and Talk Talk… but as I said it also travels off the beaten track towards Bagpuss, 1970s pastoral science fiction and… well, have a read-see.
Now in such a book there will always be sections that interest some readers more than others: just personal taste but I would gladly swap the 30 or so pages on the Incredible String Band for the paragraph that covers The Owl Service (the band) and their like or the few pages on Ghost Box but hey ho… I’m glad somebody has written about such things full stop (and put it all together in a cohesive form).
Speaking of such things, I think the books section on Ghost Box is one of my favourite parts of any factual book; it captures a certain something. What? Well, probably a sense of the excitement and envelopment that stepping into a separate created world or reality via cultural forms/scenes/events can provide, even if only for a record or evening or two.
Or to quote Mr Young, how at such times the creators and participants engage in a form of consenual sensory hallucination.
Blimey, I love that phrase. It’s a rather succinct description of the sense of giving yourself up to otherworldly cultures and stories.
Actually, there are a few rather fine turns of phrase in the book to describe such cultural goings on: imaginative time travel is another.
If you’re going to get a copy, I’d recommend one of the earlier editions (the “plough and pylon” version); nicer printing, layout and to my mind a cover that says much more about the curious cultural collisions to be found within the book than the more obvious later band cover.
Something of a returning reference point in the old subconscious for A Year In The Country this cover I think… the “bad wires” indeed… More of that later.
As a final point, if I’m reading a book and there’s something I want to refer back to or find particularly interesting I tend to fold the page over at the corner. I think the photograph on the left of my copy of the book shows it has a fair degree of such things.
If you should wish to purchase it via Amazon: Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Musiccontinue reading
Day #3/365: Gather In The Mushrooms: something of a starting point via an accidental stumbling into the British acid folk underground…
Part of A Year In The Country will be dropping a trail of breadcrumbs that start off with those three i’s and may well lead you good folk elsewhere.
This is the first of these here Trails and Influences…
Trails and Influences: Touchstones. Case #1/52.
Where to start. Well, near the beginning is a good place…
A few years ago for a while I had quite a few of one of my friends records and CDs stored at my house.
In amongst his platters and shiny digital discs he had quite a few folk albums. Now, to be honest I think I had tended to write folk off as all being a bit fiddle-di-di, knit your own jumper, earnest kinds of things.
I was drawn to this album, gather in the mushrooms and I’m glad I was. I knew next to nothing about the music, hadn’t read the sleevenotes but for some reason it had ended up on my iPod.
The first time I can really remember it grabbing me was on a late night walk through the mostly deserted backstreets of a slightly industrial city. A curious place to discover an interest in oddball folk music maybe…
I think it was Forest’s Graveyard or maybe Trader Horne’s Morning Way that first grabbed my attention and made me realise that something other than my preconceptions about folk music was going on here. The first lines on Morning Way are “Dreaming strands of nightmare are sticking to my feet…”, followed close after by a somewhat angelic female voice in counterpart and well, I thought “This is odd, I like this…”
And so, in those darkened semi-industrial backstreets, some kind of journey started.
It was compiled and rather well curated by Bob Stanley of St Etienne, with sleeve notes by him (which once I eventually bought it and read them, I think I found slightly, hmmm, not quite as satisfying or comprehensive as they might have been… top compilation otherwise though Mr Stanley).
Highlights? Well, for me it’s one of those albums where there aren’t all the many low-lights. It’s all worth a listen but in particular I would recommend:
Magnet: Corn Riggs; an instrumental version from The Wicker Man soundtrack.
Sallyangie: Love In Ice Crystals; a rather young Mike Oldfield and his sister in a pre-Tubular Bells incarnation.
Pentangle: Lyke Wake Dirge; their haunting take on a traditional song.
Forest: Graveyard; ethereal gothic folk as a genre anybody? For a long time I thought the singer was female.
Trader Horne: Morning Way; the start is just superb, features Judy Dyble, originally a singer with Fairport Convention.
Comus: The Herald; well, this probably actually is gothic folk or maybe macabre folk. Epic and unsettling.
Well, it goes on and on really. There’s even a Sandy Denny track, Milk and Honey, that’s quite lovely (sorry, I know she’s greatly loved but I normally find her singing leaves me a little cold).
It was released in 2004, which I think looking back probably around the time that there was something of a revived interest in the odder reaches of folk, in part due to the popularity of folk such as Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom were popular and Vashti Bunyan was being rediscovered by a wider audience.
Anyway, unfortunately it’s out of print but can still generally be found for around £10-20 of your well earned pounds. If you wish to have a look-see, you could start here at the old Amazon: Gather In The Mushrooms or Discogs etc.
There was a follow up album released a year or few after: Early Morning Hush; Notes From The UK Folk Undeground 1968-1976. In parts it has a look-see at privately pressed folk albums from that time. For my ears it’s not quite as superlative as Gather In The Mushrooms but still well worth a listen. Maybe more about this album in a future Trails and Influences.
Trails and Influences: Touchstones. Case #1.
A Year In The Country: Work
Welcome To A Year In The Country
Well, here goes. 365 days of A Year In The Country.
Have a look see at the About page to see what it’s all about. Here’s a brief precis
1) Trying to create landscape/nature photography/imagery that appeals to an urban and/or subcultural sensibility.
2) An exploration of the duality of my own relationship with the countryside (hence An English Idyll, A Midnight Sun); an exploration of and searching for some kind of expression of an underlying unsettledness to the English bucolic countryside dream.
3) A wandering about and through the trails of things that have influence, inspired and intrigued me along the way, which will quite possibly take in the further flung reaches of English folk music and what has been labelled hauntological culture.
1 Year, 4 Seasons, 12 Months, 52 Weeks, 365 Days
The plan is to base everything around the cycle of a year. I’m not quite sure how it will all work yet but here are some plans I’m making or have already carried out:
Matching my childhood time spent living in the countryside, I spent a year taking photographs; starting on the first day I moved to the countryside and on the final day of that year returning to the village of my childhood with a camera slung over my shoulder*.
A Year In The Country will feature images created using those photographs.
Over the next year:
1) 365 days; 365 postings including my own work alongside a breadcrumb trail of influences, inspirations and intrigueries.
2) 12 months; 12 touchstone records.
3) 4 seasons; 4 special editions of the work, each containing 52 images.
And so on**.
*Curiously and unplanned for, on that final day Nigel Kneale’s classic 1972 TV program The Stone Tape was showing at a cinema in a city I would pass through. I thought that was maybe fate throwing something my way. So on the way back I stopped off for a little cathode ray seance, rounding the circle as it were.
**The management reserves the right to change plans without notice.continue reading