Posted on Leave a comment

Day #4/365: Electric Eden; a researching, unearthing and drawing of lines between the stories of Britain’s visionary music

0002-A Year In The Country-Electric Eden-Rob YoungFile under:
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, 0002-A Year In The Country-Electric Eden folds 1024if 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

Posted on Leave a comment

Day #3/365: Gather In The Mushrooms: something of a starting point via an accidental stumbling into the British acid folk underground…

0001-A Year In The Country-Gather In The MushroomsWhile wandering down the A Year In The Country path, there have been an awful lot of cultural reference points which have inspired, influenced and intrigued me (the three i’s as it were).

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…

File Under:
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.

0001-A Year In The Country-Gather In The Mushrooms-back It’s a fine compilation by the way. It’s sub-titled The British Acid Folk Underground 1968-1974 and well, it does what it says on the can.

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.

0001-A Year In The Country-Early Morning HushIf you should wish to purchase it, you could start a-looking on Amazon… Early Morning Hush or Discogs etc.

File Under:
Trails and Influences: Touchstones. Case #1.


Posted on Leave a comment

Day #1/365: Welcome To A Year In The Country

Welcome To A Year In The Country

Well, here goes. 365 days of A Year In The Country.

Scary trees-for first page-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.