Well, I’m kind of nervous to write about this… not sure why but in part I think it’s because it’s probably the album I’ve listened to the most in regards to A Year In The Country.
So, where to start?
Well, with the packaging, as in this case you can judge a book by it’s cover; the album is presented in a lovely and lovingly put together sleeve (artwork by Mr Dom Cooper of the Straw Bear Band and who also sings on this album, link below) which makes it feel like a precious artifact…
The music? Well, I guess it could be categorised as folk but it has it’s own take or edge to it… many of these songs are folk music mainstays and both musically and visually it uses what could be considered standard tropes of folk music, folklore and culture…
…but this is anything but a mainstream folk album. Why? Well, I can’t quite put my finger on it but there are other layers and intelligence to it all, a pattern beneath the plough as it were. As an album it feels subtley experimental but still maintains it’s listenability.
The songs wander from the Archie Fisher-esque take on Polly On The Shore, through to the quite pretty-but-if-you-listen-to-the-lyrics you realise that this is actually quite an odd story of Willie O’Winsbury (and a reprise by way of The Wickerman’s Procession as if played by a New Orleans marching band), through to the ghostly indeed The Lover’s Ghost (featuring vocals by former Mellow Candle member Alison O’Donnell) and the album also draws on the talents of amongst others Nancy Wallace and then to…
Well then to Cruel Mother which is probably one of the most brutal, disturbing songs I’ve ever heard. I won’t go into too many details but I find this song physically hard to listen to. Not because it is musically disonnant, it’s actually wrapped up ina rather lovely musical package but because the story is so unsettling.
The album end with the line from that song “‘Tis we for heaven and you for hell” and as Steven Collins says in the sleeve notes, what could come after that. In the context of this song/album, it’s true as it’s such a devastating line.
The band were formed by Steven Collins, drawing it’s name from Alan Garner’s The Owl Service novel…
According to an interview with him in Jeanette Leech’s Seasons They Change (her book on the story of acid and psychedelic folk) originally The Owl Service didn’t physically exist as a band but was more created by him as an imagined idea for his ideal folk band, one which drew it’s influences from a certain section of 1960s and 1970s British film and television and the sound of the English folk revival. Apparently people became interested in this at the start imaginary band (though they didn’t know of it’s insubstantialness) and began asking when they would be putting their songs out into the world… and from that the band became a real project… which I quite like as a way of something starting.
Also, I think I’m drawn to the album and indeed the work that Steven Collins makes/collaborates on because there is a sense of creating a world and an accompanying hands-on small scale cottage industry that supports and sends the music etc out into the wider world. Just getting on with it, from gig only CD-Rs via subscription 7″s to a limited edition package that contained every Owl Service song up to that point on one disc (see below and something I may return to later).
“She wants to be flowers but you make her owls. You must not complain then if she goes hunting.” What a quote (from Alan Garner’s The Owl Service). “I am the wolf in every mind” indeed.
Well worth a look-see-hear indeed.
Anyway, here are a few pathways of interest:
Steven Collins current activities via Stone Tape Recordings.
Dom Coopers work and influences here.
Nancy Wallace here.
Alison O’Donnell here.
Jeanette Leach Seasons They Change here.
Trails and Influences: Recent Explorations. Case #3/52.
Field Trip Report: Case #1a, subsection Metropolitan Incursions.
Well, although A Year In The Country is set in and around a personal vision of rurality, occasionally needs must and I’m drawn to venture forth into the Big City.
Now here was quite a treat; I was drawn to this in part by the mention of the darker side of fairy tales* and folklore when looking it up in the electronic ether. And also maybe in part because I think for myself part of creating work is the studying, collecting and curating of work that inspires and influences me… hence Trails & Influences.
The exhibition didn’t disappoint. It does indeed draw from the darker side of fairy tales and folklore, also taking in outsider art and even a dash of fashion photography.
Well there are a couple of photographs by Deborah Turbeville, who for quite a while I’ve found interesting as I think she represents one of the times that fashion photography wanders off into other areas and becomes closer to art. Her work often feels ghostly, from some other ethereal world and there is a lovely aged texture to many of her photographs. Not dissimilar in a way to photographer Sarah Moon and I think both of those ladies have influenced me one way or another over the years and I can see traces and vestiges of both in my own work. Here is one of Ms Turbeville’s images from the exhibition…
Below is a photograph of some of the interior pages to her Past Imperfect book from when I (briefly) owned it. Something of a masterclass in book design…
Kay Nielsen’s illustration of The Brothers Grimm Hansel & Gretel (on the right)… which to my eye looked like the cover to a semi-lost French acid folk record from the 1970s. Why do I say that? Well, it made me stop and think of Emmanuelle Parrenin’s 1977 Maison Rose album (a pathway you may want to wander down).
I particularly liked Alison Goldfrapps collection of personal objects; generally tiny ornaments, bears in a variety of poses, figurines in matchboxes and the like…
Also, there was a pleasant lack of ego present in the collection… it didn’t feel like “I am a STAR, look at me and my things”, more a gentle wandering around somebody’s personal and creative psyche.
If you should go-see then you can also discover the temptations of The Wickerman, Simon Periton’s Owl Doily for Philip Otto Runge and his owl-ish shopping bag mask, Anna Fox’s nature-glam-noir Country Girls, Lotte Reiniger’s cutout animation Hansel & Gretel and the “well, one really must questions the gent’s sanity but they’re rather impressive at the same time” outsider art of Henry Darger.
All good food for thought on my voyage through A Year In The Country…
I think the one disappointing thing was the lack of a book to accompany the exhibition as it would make a sumptious momento and would bring together Ms Goldfrapp’s aesthetic to cut out and keep as it were.
Ah well, I shall have to tide myself over with my collection of fliers/posters featuring the artwork from Goldfrapp’s first single Lovely Head (see top of this post); there’s something of a softspot for multiple sizes of similar things here at A Year In The Country.
Alison Goldfrap – Performer As Curator can be found at The Lowry in Manchester
Emmanuelle Parrenin’s Maison Rose album at Light In The Attic Records
*Mind you, if you stop and think about fairy tales in general as I did during visiting this exhibtion, they are at the least quite odd and dark. Princess trapped in a tower with the only way of enabling her lover to visit her being if she drops her extraordinarily long hair? Princess falling asleep for a hundred years after eating a poisoned apple? Children intended as lunch by a witch in the woods? Etc. Hmmm…
Artifact #4/52: Variations On A Meme 12 x archival Giclée card set.
Limited edition of 12 sets.
Each set is held in a hand made/rough textured envelope.
Each envelope is hand stamped and signed/numbered.
Cards printed using archival Giclée pigment inks.
Each card is hand signed and numbered on the reverse (cards are otherwise blank/unprinted on the reverse).
Card size: A6; 14.8 x 10.5 cm / 5.8 x 4.1 inches (includes 5 mm / 0.2 inch border).
Printed on gloss 280gsm fade resistant paper.
I came to A Dream Of Wessex via a trail of cultural breadcrumbs dropped by Rob Young in his book Electric Eden (it’s featured towards the end of the book and connected to his visiting of a Ghost Box event which he describes as subterranean and an “exercise in consensual hallucination”… the connection between it and the book shall hopefully become clearer as you read down the page).
It’s curiously hauntological book in many ways (alithough it was written before the term had been created). Here’s a (slightly edited and reworked) collage of lines from the book:
“Deep inside her, a spectral memory flared like a match-flame in a darkened cellar
and a spectral version of herself recoiled in horror…
Time was deposited like layers of sedimentary rock and it could
be excavated with their imagination…
It was not a form of travel through time but a controlled, conscious extrapolation,
visualized and given shape by projection equipment…
Much has been heard about the ‘time-travelling’ ability the participants
developed when their minds were electronically pooled…
The tide was going out, and for a moment Harkman had an hallucinatory image of some bottomless drain far out at sea, into which the water was emptying, drawing back
from the shore and leaving the bay sodden and bare,
the muddy remains of the twentieth century scattered like shipwrecks across the land…
His memories before that date were his hold on reality: so long as they extended before then he knew that his identity was safe…
(It) had become an unconscious refuge for all the paticipants…
It was as if she had not been there, that she did not exist except as some palpable extension of his own imagination, which, like a childhood ghoul, had substance only as long as he concentrated on it…
They were all of the twentieth century.“
“The muddy remains of the twentieth century scattered like shipwrecks across the land” and “They were all of the twentieth century“? It sounds like part of a manifesto from or description of a release by the ultimate hauntological record label.
(A quick comment before I go on: I know that people often baulk at the labelling of their/others work but I think hauntological has come to represent a particular cultural aesthetic and spirit and it has become a good shorthand for that. I don’t really mind the labelling of genres as long as it doesn’t result in work becoming too narrow or slavish to a set idea and can make navigating record shops etc a little easier.)
To quite a degree part of the ending of the book reminded me of Rob Young’s fictional piece that was featured in the packaging for Belbury Polys Belbury Tales album. I wander if it was conscious or not?
The book is also curiously prescient of modern day escaping into a virtual digital/social media world: the plot involves a group of researchers in an underground (or subterranean) centre who join a group projection (a pre-runner of virtual reality) of a future Britain in order to try and learn about and provide solutions to modern day problems. (Spoiler siren noise) This virtual world eventually becomes more attractive than the real world, it’s participants not wishing to leave and it possibly becomes self-sufficient/creating.
(In this prescient sense of future behaviour and media, it reminds me of Nigel Kneale’s 1968 play Year Of The Sex Olympics, where a population is subdued by sexual performances on television and eventually harsh reality shows).
Essentially the book narrates a mass dream or hallucination, which thinking about it makes it’s inclusion in Rob Young’s book at the Ghost Box/hauntological juncture all the more fitting. As mentioned earlier he describes the Ghost Box event he attends as being “an experiment in consensual hallucinaton”… or indeed it could be connected to another of his concepts/phrases; that of imaginative time travel (used to describe voyagers in folk and other cultures when they interact with and attempt to visit or summon other times and ways of living through their work).
The phrase “Time was deposited like layers of sedimentary rock and it could be excavated with their imagination” also has particular hauntological connotations and in some ways reminds me of contemporary cultural behaviour wherein all of past culture is mined, reformed and given a different sheen/repurposing to it’s original intentions when it become part of new cultural artifacts (I could wander off down a path of discussing William Gibson’s comments about how culture has now become atemporal but maybe I shall leave that for another time… although I shall briefly mention that as a society we do not consider it odd that for the first time we can hear and see the voices and images of the dead through media recordings. Ghosts indeed).
And talking of ghosts…
This reforming can be seen in the work of the also aforementioned record label/reimagined world creators Ghost Box/designer Julian House who “conjure a world where TV station indents become occult messages and films for schools are exercises in mind control and collective hallucination” (from an ICA description of a Ghost Box event/film showing and a particularly good and concise summing up of the world they create and it’s intentions). In a way it’s a form of deliberate misremembering of the past, filtering it through your own personal vision, reimagining it in your own form, something which is mirrored in the researchers in Dreams of Wessex creating and shaping their own version of the future in their projection.
This is a book that I knew about and thought about for a long time before I bought and read it. It’s hardback cover in itself seemed to become quite a point of influence/reference for my A Year In The Country work and my attempt at an expression of an otherly countryside (hmmm, scratches beard in pseuds corner).
It’s actually quite a traditional painting of the countryside (by Paul Nash) but something about my knowledge of the plot of the book, it’s appearance in Electic Eden, my own state of mind and the paperback cover made it become something else… in part a reflection of my own version of reimagining.
PS I’m not normally bothered about such things but I quite like that my copy is signed by the author. Not sure why. Also that the dustjacket is clipped (do booksellers still do that today)… plus Christopher Priest looks like just how I think somebody who wrote left-of-centre intelligent science fiction in the 1970s should look. He looks a little like he should be writing science fiction that had somehow snuck into prime time TV but was a curiously off-kilter thing that lived somewhere between Blakes 7 and Sapphire and Steel but with more ooomph, oddness and cereberalness.
The condition could also be probably be described as “fine”. Again, I’m not too bothered about such things, being more of a reader than a collector but with this book it seems appropriate as it seems like quite a precious thing.
Ghost Box At The ICA via The Belbury Parish Magazine.
Christopher Priest’s site.
Although part of the aim of A Year In The Country is to look at, work with and hopefully create a new take on nature/landscape photography (one which will hopefully make sense to my own and maybe other’s subcultural sensibility), I have looked at suprisingly little of the work of other landscape/nature photographers.
This has been reasonably deliberate: quite possibly I didn’t want to be influenced by what had gone before in this field and I have had a fairly extreme, almost allergic urge to look away from and put down books that contain the work of other such photographers*.
An exception to this was Paul Hill’s White Peak Dark Peak, published by Cornerhouse Publications in 1990 (and I expect photography publisher Dewi Lewis who later had his own imprint had a hand or two in it).
In the very early days of A Year In The Country gestating in the old brainbox I travelled to another city’s library in part largely to look at this book (mirroring how the youthful me used to travel to record shops when hunting down records – something I’ve referred to before I think). I was coming towards the end of one of the stages of a very people orientated photography project and wasn’t sure if non-people orientated photgraphic work could have the same resonance and connection for myself and others.
But when I looked at this book some part of my brain recognised that nature and landscape photography could do something interesting and (slowly, steadily) I was off…
The book itself has been described as a visual odyssey across a very particular part of the English landscape and in parts has a quite dark/unsettling edge in the way it documents the passing of time and nature’s processes (I haven’t included any of those more darkly hued photographs here for reasons which I may discuss later).
It’s been out of print for a fair while now and fetches probably £30-60 but it may well be worth the investment.
Dark Peak White Peak at Eleven Fine Art
Paul Hill’s site.
Well, what can I say? The Stone Tape. It was somewhat inevitable that it would be here.
I suspect that if you’re viewing this page then you already know about the film/program but if not here’s a four sentence precis (slight spoiler may follow):
A 1972 TV film/program written by Nigel Kneale which features a group of British scientists holed up in a country house/mansion while they attempt to create a new recording technique (and presciently to take on the Japanese at such things). They discover a possible form of recording which exists within the substance of the house and attempt to study, initiate and capture (?) it. It’s an unsettling number which lodges itself in your mind and is a fine example of television showing a somewhat intelligent and questioning side. Slightly curiously for such things it features future cake supremo Jane Asher.
First watched by my good self on a rather fuzzy digital copy, which I think actually quite suited the nature of the film (program) and seemed to heighten the cheap off-colour tape recording of the original.
I took photographs for A Year In The Country for a year. At the end of that year I returned to the small village where I had lived as a child and had found out about the possible end of the world via two brown bakelite boxes (see About for more information on such things) alongside first discovering apocalyptic/dystopian/post-disaster fiction and fact via the Doctor Who Weekly comic, odd speculative science fiction TV programs aimed at children that dealt with food shortages and so on…
…curiously, on that day The Stone Tape was showing at the pictures in a city that I could easily visit on my return journey. It wasn’t planned that that should happen but it’s funny how life sometimes tells and sends you things.
So I sat in the darkness with my fellow travellers and had my own Cathode Ray Seance courtesy of flickering celluloid.
Really I think I should own The Stone Tape on tape. That’s the first time I became aware of it’s existence; I saw it on VHS video cassette in an educational institution library; I never watched that copy but it would consistently jump out at me from the shelves for some reason. Having watched it, I have an inkling why.
It is possible that one day when the new(ish) digital technology of laser read discs will be the old technology they will become the things that people hold dearly to their hearts and may have gained a layer or two of nostalgia and preciousness to their present and future owners: they may well become their own haunted media and to a degree visually this post/page is a reference and nod to that (all the images are from the original BFI DVD release of The Stone Tape).
The visuals of this film are sumptuous, it has supreme lenswork by Spanish cinematographer Neus Ollé. Director Alistar Siddons said that he thought the viewpoint of somebody from outside of England would bring something unusual to how the film was visually… and it does that indeed.
There is a subtle sense that you are looking in on a magical otherly world. There are folkloric elements to the film but it’s not so much those which give the sense of a world with it’s own rules and even magic. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is but there’s a certain lush, soft beauty to the rundown estate and it’s nearby countryside in the film (which is good to say as a contrast to the often standard British realist cinema take on such things)…
…but in that lush beauty there is a sense of something else, something unsettling.
This was something of a starting point for A Year In The Country.
I was coming towards the end of one of the stages of a large, subterranean culturally city orientated project (and indeed towards the end of a long period of living in cities) and this book seemed to catch my eye in a local charity shop window.
It was one of those charity shops where they know the value of things and price them accordingly (indeed they once had photographer Paul Graham’s A1: The Great North Road book for sale for hundreds of pounds), so this wasn’t cheap: thirty of your good British pounds indeed.
It still has the price sticker on the cover, so I must have paid that much, which is interesting because looking back at that time the cupboards were quite bare at home and so the subject matter of the book must have touched quite a chord.
The book was published in 1977 and is a document of seven years of journeying around Britain photographing traditional British customs. In many ways it is a continuation of Sir Benjamin Stone’s work and is part of a lineage that leads to Sarah Hannant’s Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids: A Journey Through the English Ritual Year book. In many ways Ms Hannant’s is very similar in some ways to Once A Year (although her photographs are in colour) and indeed apart from the hairstyles and period details some of the photographs could almost be exchanged from one book to the other.
Talking of period details, Once A Year is actually interesting as much for it’s recording of period 1970s detail and style and the way these traditional customs lived in amongst them. In that sense they remind me of the work of Tony Ray-Jones and his documentation of then contemporary English life. Along which lines, the photograph below from the book is something of a favourite:
…to wander off at a tangent a bit, I think Tony Ray-Jones was something of a genius. I don’t know if I’ve seen anybody else’s work that captures a certain time, place and spirt of Blighty as much as his did. I must admit I’m quite excited about a soon to come exhibition of his work at The National Media Museum in Bradford.
Anyway, back in course: some of the photographs in Once A Year have a genuinely eery or unsettlingly macabre air. Particularly the cover photograph, of burning tar barrel carrying in Allendale, Northumberland. The Wicker Man come to life indeed; it presents a sense of a world that feels fascinatingly separate to mainstream contemporary society and mores (then or now).
An electronic ether pathway or two you might like to peruse:
Simon Norfolk’s We English blog post on Once A Year.
Café Royal Books limited edition edited reprint of Once A Year.
Homer Sykes Once A Year page on his site.
Tony Ray-Jones at Lens Culture.
Well, The Wicker Man was likely to appear in A Year In The Country somewhere along the line.
This is an album released by unearthers of rare sonic delights Finders Keepers Records and is one which aims to showcase the British Folk songs that inspired the soundtrack to The Wickerman.
I know little or nothing about the song or who performs it (it’s not credited to anybody) and in a way I like that: in these times of instant knowledge about most everything via a click or swoosh or two it’s quite nice to keep the slight mystery of some things.
As is often the way with the good folk at Finders Keepers, the album is nicely packaged, with some rather hauntingly ethereal photographs of folk dancers. I expect once upon a time they were just ordinary snapshots but as can be the way sometimes the passing of time adds layers and patinas of something else. Which leads me to…
A curious thing The Wickerman soundtrack (and indeed the film itself): an interesting case of where something authentic has been created from an inauthentic premise. The soundtrack has come to feel as though it features songs which have belonged to these isles for centuries when in fact they were created especially for the film. The story, folk setting and history of the making of the film have become and/or inspire a form of modern day of folklore.
This could be looked upon askance as not being historically authentic but such communal cultural tales all must have a beginning (and maybe in the past were conjured from the air and mind in a similar manner, differering only in their technological recording and dissemination).
However, in culturally mediated times, the stories contained within celluloid, vinyl, digital data etc could be seen to have become our communal culture, one which is passed from person to person in a similar way that oral culture once would have done the same.
Considering it’s cult appeal, this is an album which is curiously not so easy to find, particularly on vinyl. The CD is available here.
Well, what can I say. A journey into the world of Nigel Kneale, his cathode ray seances and risograph printing…
Mr Kneale seems to have travelled with me a good while and reappeared in my life again relatively recently: previously it was mostly in printed form which I read as a child – I was mildly obsessed by the crumbling future Britain and science fiction leyline mystery of the final Quatermass chronicles. I seem to remember I purchased fmy copy of the book from the bargain paperback section of my local newsagents, picked from in amongst the more mainstream pulp fair that was on offer (it seems slightly incongruous to include the cover of that below next to the fine design work of The Twilight Language)…
Curiously though I think it was only relatively recently that I started to explore the aforementioned cathode ray seances of Mr Kneale (The Stone Tape being of particular note in my journey through A Year In The Country but more of that in a later post).
Thinking about it, in a way this book has helped complete a circle from printed form to the siren call of the screen and back to the printed form (hmmm, scratches beard and ponders).
The Twilight Language Of Nigel Kneale was published to accompany a one day event in New York, which strikes me as a curious and intriguing place for this most English of scribes to have been taken to heart: possibly his work seems particularly exotic when viewed from afar?
A quick precis of the text of the book: it’s a set of essays, conversations etc produced in response to his work and features Sophia Al-Maria, Bilge Ebiri, Mark Fisher, William Fowler, Ken Hollings, Paolo Javier, Roger Luckhurst, China Miéville, Drew Mulholland, David Pike, Mark Pilkington, Joanna Ruocco, Sukhdev Sandhu, Dave Tompkins, Michael Vazquez and Evan Calder Williams…
…what has drawn me to it in particular though is that the book feels very precious, it’s something that I pick up gently and tenderly. There’s something very, um, real about it. I think in part this is because it was printed using the Risograph technique which gives it a very tactile and matt finish.
Risograph printing is essentially like a digital version of screenprinting rather than traditional lithograph printing; ink is pushed through plates and the effect is something that feels very human, less clinical and nearer to art than most printing mass reproduction technologies I have seen. I’d not consciously come across this process used in a tradtional book form before and as a sometimes screenprinter it quite fascinated me.
What adds to this is the design work by Rob Carmichael, which is just exquisite and I think perfectly captures and reflects the spirit of Nigel Kneales work in a contemporary graphic form. Quite, quite lovely. Tip of the hat to you Mr Carmichael.
But wait, that’s not all. The book also came with a cassette tape (yes, those again) featuring specially composed work by The Asterism, Emma Hammond, Hong Kong In The 60s, Listening Centre, The Real Tuesday Weld, sometime Jonny Trunk collaborator/Ghosts of Bush House creator (more of that in another post) Robin The Fog and Misinformation-ers Mordant Music (more of that I expect in a later post – I seem to be saying that quite a bit on this page)…
…the insert to the tape is Risograph printed as well. Attention to detail and all that.
But wait again… in the package, unexpectedly was a Risograph printed poster for the A Cathode Ray Séance: The Haunted Worlds of Nigel Kneale event that the book accompanied. Blimey. All this for £16.99 (and shipped from the US). A bargain indeed.
Unfortunately (or fortunately as it’s nice to know it’s wandered out into the world) it’s now sold out, although a standard edition may be released.
Read more about the book at Strange Attractor.
View Rob Carmichaels page of his design work at Seen Studio.
A quite extensive article on the event and Nigel Kneale at frieze.
I’d been somewhat looking forward to watching this since I’d first heard about it… the premise intrigued me (a solitary woman is effectively imprisoned in a section of the countryside by an invisible wall) and there aren’t really all that many films which take and use the countryside as a setting and backdrop, particularly in what is effectively pastoral science fiction.
Anyway, it didn’t disappoint. For various reasons my viewing was in three different stages and alternated between a surreally mis-subtitled version and the dubbed English version but that didn’t seem to matter as I’ve seemed to come away thinking… stately, elegaic, calming, intriguing.
Little or no explanation is given to the reason for the appearance of the barrier or to why she is not rescued (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here) but it doesn’t feel necessary to have such expositions.
I seemed to spend quite a bit of the film wandering what the lady in question would do when say her shoes wore out (she proves suprisingly resourceful and adaptable to most tasks but I’m not sure what she would do about that)…
In a way, it reminded me of some of the science fiction I read, watched and imbibed in my childhood: the often non-city based post-disaster/invasion and sometimes depopulated fiction of say John Wyndham’s The Triffids or John Christopher’s Tripods but mostly I just appreciated watching a film that gave your mind space to think, wander and soak in the work and the landscapes rather than the sometimes endless fizzy sweet overload of much of contemporary cinema (bah humbug, in my day it was all fields around here etc).