A Year In The Country: Work
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).
Well, after the last post I feel like I need a good shower to wash and scrub away the grime of Englands past.
In lieu of that, thinking and pondering about this album/book will do.
Quite frankly it’s a beautiful object. Even though times were a little cash strapped in AYITC Towers when I first saw it, it was one of those things that I just had to have (and not spend ages thinking about whether to purchase it, adding it to electronic baskets and wish lists, stepping back, thinking about it some more etc as is often my wont).
Indeed, it’s a good example in these increasingly digital times of how the presentation of music in a physical form/package can still be an important and vital way of doing such things (says me, typing this into the electroic ether).
Anyway, it’s a finely and lovingly produced artifact, all bespoke attention and design (from the rounded corners to the extra thick cover, via the recess for the CD and a strap to hold it together which recalls the notebooks which it recalls inside)… it seems like a good way of presenting a tribute to the sadly departed Ms Waterson, curated by her daughter Marry Waterson
…and is it just me or are the photographs of her notebooks just entrancing? I could stare at and lose myself in them all day.
You can have a look-see at a rather nice slideshow of the book on the old internet goggle box here (uploaded by Topic Records, who published the book/album).
PS I don’t know if this trivial but I also like the sort of indie-mod-folk-beatnik styling of Lal Waterson herself on the cover. Cuts rather a dash I think.
Although the phrase hauntology has often come to mean a particular aesthetic (ie a particular kind of often sample lead music and found imagery, often drawing on library music and TV/film soundtracks of the later sixties through to the early eighties; see Ghostbox, Julian House etc), if you consider it in a more general sense to mean the present being haunted by spectres of the past then Luke Haines is probably one of the more hauntological musicians I can think of.
Why? Well, his music often seems to literally be haunted by the past, his own and society/cultures and bogeymen/figures of one sort and another from previous decades.
Take this album How I Learned To Love The Bootboys, by one of his previous combos, The Auteurs. Lead track The Rubettes borrows liberally from 1970s pop (Sugar Baby Love by it’s namesakes), their are maruding skinhead bootboys from a similar era, we’ve an ode to a 1950s pop/rock band (the singer of whom is “dead within a year”), imbibements popular in other eras (Asti Spumante; known as a “noxiously sweet poor man’s Champagne”) and so forth… alongside a sometimes and possibly recurring sense of the playground dread of an arty-schoolboy looking back to the marauding dangers of his 1970s childhood.
Elsewhere, such as on his solo album Off My Rocker At The Art School Pop there are teddy boys discos and Vauxhall Corsas, “the three day week, half-day Wednesdays, the spirit of the Blitz”, an unsolved 1960s celebrity boxers death and that’s before we get to an entire concept album dedicated to 1970s and early 1980s wrestling (called in a “it does what it says on the can” manner Nine and a Half Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and early ’80s… a fine title and subject matter).
Or indeed, it’s before we get to the sublime Black Box Recorder, his trio with cohorts Sarah Nixey and John Moore. This combo often sounded to me as though they were singing from some kind of brutal, sneering, imaginary 1970s hinterland, all arch pop noir and hidden away in cupboards secrets along with Lord Lucan-esque classy British sleaze…
…which reminds me in a way of Rob Young’s review of a Moon Wiring Club album in Uncut magazine where he talks of the enclosed music being “slathered in the fiction that it comes from an older, weirder England”… and so we come back round to what is considered hauntological culture in a more conventional sense.
So, Mr Luke Haines, a curious gent and I think an interesting example of how pop/rock can be conjoined with a certain intellectual stance and influence and still be, well, good pop/rock songs (I say pop as both The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder bothered the singles charts in the days when such things kind of still mattered a bit… oh and the songs are often catchy. “Non-populist pop”? to quote the sleevenotes to The Eccentronic Research Council’s first album).
I find that there’s a certain British nature/countryside brutality to the cover of How I Learned to Love The Bootboys (particularly more so in the original full colour cover version… the red dye splashed on the sheeps coats seems to conjure the edges of nightmares and the blood soaked history of the land. Or is that just me?).
I’m suprised returning to the cover as well as in my head the sheep are next to and below an imposing dark grey cliff. Misremembered cultural memories and all that.
Well, on my electronic ether wanderings I stumbled upon this festival around and about the environs of Halifax and Hebden Bridge… one of those times where I suddenly find myself counting my pennies and wandering if I can afford to go to all of it if I stay at a rather (ahem) budgetly priced hostelry and eat chips for six days.
It seems like one of those times and events where somebody who works for the council/public services has had some particularly interesting get-up-and-go and has started to put something they’re genuinely passionate out into the world… the festival is actually to mark the relaunch of the Calderdale libraries Wyrd Britannia collection of films, books etc… and judging by the lineup and the photograph of the collection below it’s a collection below it includes areas of culture that you probably wouldn’t expect to see gathered together in a public library. To quote from the council’s site the collection “reflect(s) the dark and complex underbelly of English rural tradition and beliefs”. Blimey, see what I mean? It’s not three shelves or more full of some supermarket friendly blockbusters by the same author as you sometimes see in such places.
I’m not knocking libraries though. They’re some of my favourite places and I seem to visit them in the same way I used to track down record shops and to tell the truth I often get the sense that whoever is organising/buying the stock has an eye and ear for the left-of-centre (double Swans live albums? Check. Book of lost New Orleans Juke Joints? Check. Etc). Tip of the hat to them.
Anyway, this festival features some of the core films of what could be called English hauntological* folklore (The Wickerman, Robin Redbreast and the superb, intriguing and rather rare Penda’s Fen) alongside performances (installations?), readings and the like by Magpahi, Folklore Tapes, author Chris Lamber (Tales Of The Black Meadow… more on that I expect in a later post), author Andy Roberts on his Albion Dreaming book etc.
Well, it’s good to know that there are corners of the world where the public coffers can still be spent on such things.
Thankyou to those involved.
Wyrd Brittania at Calderdale Council
Wyrd Britannia on dear old social media
*Hauntological? Is this the first time I used this phrase in A Year In The Country? Something of a catchall in a way but it does seem to have come to represent a particular cultural sensibility and atmosphere…
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.
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.
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 Music
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.
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.