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The Delaware Road – A Surreal Post-War Albion and Quatermass Meets Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

If you don’t know about The Delaware Road, it’s a multi-media project created by Alan Gubby, who also runs the Buried Treasure record label which released The Delaware Road conceptual compilation album in 2015 alongside releases of “rare soundtracks, electronic, experimental and library music from around the globe” which has included a collection of John Baker’s work from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (more on  that in a moment).

Alongside the compilation album The Delware Road project (investigation?) has also included a book, festival etc, all of which are based around and explore what Alan Gubby described in an interview in issue 134 of Shindig! magazine with one of its editors Jon “Mojo” Mills as being:

“A very alternative history of British radio and television broadcasting, centred around the evolution and application of electronic sound from WW2 until the early ’70s. If I had to simplify it into a snappy soundbite, I guess it’s a mix of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Quatermass, a kind of psychedelic dystopia with nods to military history, government propaganda, British folklore and esoteric beliefs. It has been described by others as a surreal, post-war Albion, which I quite like.”

Well, I don’t know about you but he had me at “a mix of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Quatermass” (!)

In both the above interview and his Preface to The Delaware Road book published in 2022, which collected together a “6 part graphic zine released between 2017 and 2019, Gubby explains the “genesis” and inspiration for The Delaware Road project:

“In the mid 2000s, John Baker and Delia Derbyshire [both of whom worked at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop] were still relatively underground names in the world of electronic music… One evening I stumbled on a post by John Baker’s brother Richard, mentioning he had a box of John’s recordings, and if no one was interested he was going to put them in a skip. I sent an excited email and Richard replied saying there’d been no takers, but he just couldn’t bring himself to throw the tapes away. Soon after I was invited to his home in Leigh-On-Sea, where we made plans to digitise the material. By 2008 Jonny Trunk was onboard to help release The John Baker Tapes, which, to date, remains the only radiophonic retrospective of an individual composer’s work inside or out of the BBC… I spoke to Richard often at this time. He shared fond memories of his brother and their careers in broadcasting, but there was tragedy and intrigue also. Particularly when John’s addictions worsened and his mentahealth deteriorated in the early ’70s. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that a bigger story [which became The Delaware Road] was unfolding about the impact of electronic sound, radio and television on British society since World War Two.”

There have been a fair few hauntology etc orientated soundtracks for imaginary films released in recent years; The Delaware Road book could be considered to be a script for an imaginary film, one which utilises and explores what Gubby describes in the book’s Preface as “historiographic metafiction”, i.e. an interpretation, analysis etc of an area of history by past historians and so on which draws overt attention to the fact that it is a work of fiction.

But is The Delaware Road a work of fiction? Well, yes and no…

The Preface is fascinating as it reveals the (semi) hidden history of the project both concisely but also in considerable depth; there has been a lot of it going back almost two decades and it could be considered, particularly through the related live events, that The Delaware Road is both an “historiographic metafiction” and has also become a part of its source history itself.

The book itself is multi-stranded: it has three different introductory sections, by Mark Pilkington of the fringe and esoteric culture publishers Strange Attractor, Gubby himself and longstanding Delaware Road collaborator Dolly Dolly aka “artist, illustrator, poet and surrealist” David Yates; a text based story in film script form accompanied by illustrations (in some of which the “real world” intrudes or intertwines such as when a photograph of the iconic central London located BT Tower appears); a Delaware Road scrapbook of photographs and maps from The Delaware Road events, fliers, older artwork etc.

There is also an extensive non-fiction bibliography of books which were reference points and inspirations after each section of the “script”, which both indicates Gubby’s dedication and in depth research which underpins The Delaware Road project and also adds to the “historiographic metafictional” aspects of the book through its highlighting of both that underpinning and also by the way in which it further intertwines the book and its story with real world history.

While The Delaware Road was created and is directed by Gubby, much of the related work that has been produced is collaborative and this is particularly so in the case of the book, which alongside the script that was written by him, also includes poetry-like prose verses by Dolly Dolly; features work by multiple illustrators, including Jarrod Gosling, Nick Taylor, M. Wayne Miller, Enzo Trioli, Luke Insect, David Yates and Rob Halhead-Baker; and design by Nick Taylor, who also works as Spectral Studio and has become something of a go-to for the artwork and design of hauntology and related music, including releases by Castles in Space and Woodford Halse.

Before the story starts there are a couple of pages which feature illustrations of characters in the script with a brief background/overview of their story.

What these and the maps in the book bring to mind and seem to be are a (accidental/coincidental?) reimagining or direct line back to the “Knockouts” editions of books produced back when, which I have written about before, that were abridged versions created for “reluctant adolescent readers” and that included, in the example of the 1976 Knockouts’ edition of John Wyhdham’s The Midwich Cuckoos, an illustrated “Characters in the story” pages, which share a similar aesthetic with similar sections in The Delaware Road book.

The Delaware Road book is beautifully produced and presented, arriving wrapped in its own distinctive wrapping paper and even the “Standard Edition”  is far from standard as it arrives gift-wrapped in distinctive custom printed “British Radio Television” wrapping paper that recalls vintage BBC design viewed through a subtly occult/esoteric beliefs lens and also includes a “definitive festival document”, while the “Special Edition” for just a few or so pounds more also includes various other ephemera, artefacts etc from the world of The Delaware Road, including wax sealed postcards, prints, a BRT staff card and a “bunker sachet of DELAtab ‘anti-radiation’ sweets”, which if memory serves correctly were handed out at a Delaware Road event that took place in the Kelvedon Hatch decommissioned secret nuclear bunker.

The sold out “Deluxe Edition” added a limited edition 4″ clear vinyl “audiograph… of WW2 black propaganda”; I love the above photograph of a vintage portable record player and one of the audiographs – there’s something very vintage espionage film-esque about it that wouldn’t make it look out of place in amongst the gadgetry of a less James Bond glamour and more almost kitchen sink-like but still distinctively stylish older British espionage film, say The Ipcress File.

There is talk in the book of perhaps one more final live Delaware Road event but even if that is also the final chapter in The Delaware Road’s story I don’t think it will ever truly end as it has sent its own “transmissions” out into the world and the cosmos which now, in their own way, travel alongside those broadcast by the BBC back when that were accompanied by work by The BBC Radiophonic Workshop which in turn and as discussed above, were some of the central roots and inspirations for The Delaware Road… and so the circle continues…

Links at A Year In The Country:

 

Links elsewhere:

 

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