Interview with Erland Cooper, Composer of a New Score to the 1928 Silent Classic “The Wind”.

The latest commission in Opera North’s FILMusic series is Erland Cooper’s new live score for the classic 1928 silent film The Wind. Cooper has composed his predominantly vocal score for the women of the Chorus of Opera North. Folk Horror Revival were lucky enough to catch up with Erland just a few weeks before the tour kicked off in Gateshead to learn a little bit more about the project.

FHR: First off, thanks for agreeing to the interview. I suppose the first thing I really want to ask you is a bit about yourself and your musical history? Your bio states that you’ve worked in a variety of different fields of music, so if you could tell us a bit about that?

EC: Yes, it’s quite a diverse background probably, but I suppose on reflection… joining the dots back it all makes perfect sense. I grew up in the North of Scotland and folk music was quite accessible. That’s pretty much the mainstay of an island, passing troubadours would come in and out, great fiddle players, Aly Bain, accordionists…you know, all sorts of brilliant finger pickers and things like that. I kind of had this guilty pleasure of enjoying that while my mates were playing football. I was sneaking in to the town hall to listen to Phil Cunningham and Ali Bain.

So, when I got to London, I still had a real kind of interest in two things – one, recording studios, how I’d read about residential studios, and I  just turned up and found one and knocked on the door. It was Ridge Farm studio, they recorded everything from Queen to…you know, Bohemian Rhapsody was recorded there. Big, big records, big, big songs, and I thought I want to see one of these residential studios. I knocked on the door and it creaked open like in a vampire film and this guy came out with jet black hair and a white strip across his fringe and I said Oh hello my name is Erland, I’m from Orkney, would it be possible to see the studio? He swore and said “fucking hell, you’re from Orkney, you better come in”. I think he thought I’d travelled that day from Orkney. This guy introduces me to the producer Youth, who’s starting a folk label, Youth’s a big producer who’s produced loads of hits. Anyway, Youth introduces me to Simon Tong, Simon was the guitarist in a band called The Verve, and then Simon and I started writing together, we both had a love for psychedelic folk, acid folk, traditional folk. Not just someone with an acoustic guitar that they call folk music, we’re talking Bert Jansch all the way through to obviously Sandy Denny, and Jackson C Frank, but even further back Cecil Sharp, Ralph Vaughan Williams collecting these folk songs and transcribing them. So we both had this big love of that, and we just hit it off, Simon and I, and every week I’d go to his house and we’d write songs. To cut a long story short, Youth was doing a folk night and Damon Albarn was there. My first gig in London, my first gig, I get thrust up on stage in some bohemian club in Notting hill completely out of my depth, out of my comfort zone, looking out and seeing some of my idols as a boy. I get up and play these really earnest folk songs and I last… two minutes. It’s a loud din and then silence and they start again.

Anyway, a month later and we’re in Damon’s studio and we’re cutting a debut album, which took folk songs, much like Fairport Convention were doing, and other bands, Pentangle. Just twisting them up and before we knew it, it was out in the world. We did three records with that band. Then I did another project called The Magnetic North, which was really centred on place, Skelmsdale, Orkney, and that had more traditional orchestration.

So, I was starting to get a real interest in classical elements of working within shoegaze and psychedelia. So, if you look at it, over those 10-15 years, kind of psychedelic rock band to slightly more sophisticated indie band, and then because I’m not classically trained, I am constantly learning. I’m up early every day studying myself, but writing, I feel like I’m just getting warmed up, you know. I get to write these 8 or 20 notes and give it to a violinist like Daniel Pioro and he makes them sound incredible, it’s like a joy. I didn’t intend to be a solo artist, that has just happened.  And now I’m commissioned to compose music, so that’s what I do. So that’s the thread of where it come from and I suppose it adds a different way of seeing or looking at things, maybe if I had studied classical music I wouldn’t approach it in the same way as slashing its face with a guitar line.

FHR: It’s really wonderful that you’ve come to classical music via an alternative route to most other people.                                                                                                                          

EC: Yeah, I’m glad you’ve said that… I feel like you can bring in your influences and look at things slightly different. Being Scottish and not having classic training kind of adds a level of being the underdog, which is quite fun.

FHR: But also it means you’re using probably different influences to those who have come from a classical background. You may have classical influences but some of you influences are coming from the psychedelic and acid folk bands you’re listening to.

EC: I think the one common thread with all of these projects is storytelling. The ability to tell a story in different form.  I’m actually inspired more by what I call real artists, painters, architects, film directors and producers and art curated shows. I’m more inspired by that than musicians generally. Although I am inspired by classical musicians, when I see someone walk in with a cello, I get really excited, the same kind of excitement I used to get when I was learning how to record on a Tascam tape machine, kind of, what can I do here?

FHR: I wanted to ask a question in relation to Opera North and particularly the film music project. I was really interested to see you’re following in the footsteps of some pretty amazing artists; Matthew Bourne, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Hildur Gudnadottir to mention but a few. How does it feel to be in such company?

EC: I love all their work. I mean, Johann’s work, which was vastly collaborative with Hildur, particularly over the five years prior to his death is an absolute constant. Johann would be a great collaborator, that’s what I take from his work. This idea that collaboration is being in the room constantly, that’s what it was in bands, jamming. For me, it’s different in this world and I enjoy it much more. You’re working on something on your own for ages and you get it to 80%, somewhere that’s really close, and it’s that last 20%, you just don’t know, you’re bringing in someone, Johann would work with Hildur and then that piece would just transform into something else. Was it Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe? He’d worked with this incredible vocalist on the Arrival soundtrack and that soundtrack is, I think the best soundtrack of the last decade. I don’t know if you know the film or if you know the soundtrack, just listen to the soundtrack alone, it’s brilliant.

FHR: I think it’s the same with all of his soundtracks, I regularly just stick one on while I am working or something…actually it’s often distracting, and I end up listening to the music and not doing any work.

EC: We’re going to be quite geeky now, have you watched his First and Last Men? Watch it, and listen to the soundtrack, it’s fantastic. Hildur’s on there and Robert and another Icelandic bass player. I think you’ll really enjoy that, but anyway…

FHR: Now we’ve got a basic idea about you and your work, how did this project come about?

EC: They commissioned me to help tell this story. It was one of the last silent films, as you know, but it came at a time where it fell between the cracks, because the talkies were coming and people felt it was old hat, but now on reflection its beautifully put together. The artistry was quite cutting edge, so I see it as a kind of requiem for a dying art form. Off it goes and another art form replaces it. So, I kind of wanted to touch on that as this sub narrative of what is going on, as well as this sense of the fear of the other, for them it’s the wind, but I think it’s deeper than that, I think it’s fear of native Americans, Indians… and fear of isolation, loneliness, fear of mental and physical abuse. It touches on some very insular and dark themes, and the Mojave Desert wind is this prominent fighting force. Growing up on an island, just to answer your question, surrounded by wind, I felt some kind of connection. In the winter months from the end of September through to Feb it’s isolating and the weather dictates the terms of what happens that day.

So, they came to me, and I watched it…I muted the sound, because several people have done stuff, and I just muted the sound on YouTube and watched it and thought OK yeah, I’d be honoured  to do it, but I’d like to set an ambitious manifesto. To just make the whole score out of the human voice, predominantly. So, all the electronic elements you hear, this kind of sound design, this distortion, these sub layers are actually made out of the… I think it was 12 singers voices. I did a pre-recording with them, it’s going to be 18 when we work on stage live but I’ve also got some recordings already and I manipulated them and I put them through a tape and I processed them in an interesting way and also my own voice. To my left here I have tape machines and microphones and so all these layers come out of the human, and everyone is so harmonically rich and different. I just thought that would be interesting, I’ve since added a few subtle additional layers, there’s a bit of woodwind, but for them most just the voice, but they don’t sing all the way through. This is what I noticed, other people who have approached the score, it was just kind of wall-to-wall music. Just back-to-back, what makes modern scores quite interesting, Johann in particular whilst we’re on the subject, is the use of silence and space, but in a silent film that’s harder to utilize because you’ve got no sound design, you’ve got no foley, you’ve got no sound effects. So, when you’re silent, you’re just silent again so I think people have just filled it with music, and so I’ve tried to turn that on its head…and go. There are three or four themes that happen throughout, and the rest is my own made sound design and using the wind of the Mojave Desert, processing it in a particular way and combining it with the women of the Opera North, of the chorus and doing some things that make it sound interesting to my ear. I’ve gone slightly mad.

I had these large fans and I put a valve on them so I could control the speed and I was blasting them at the piano with a speaker and I created a wind tunnel in the studio, and all of a sudden I started to distort it and I thought, interesting, now it sounds like the wind, now it sounds like the other, now it sounds really scary, now there’s something I can’t control. And the reason I got it, I was reading that when they did the film, they got loads of huge aeronautic propellers that would whip up this storm and I thought that must have been terrifyingly loud, that must have been full on. So that’s what I’ve done in the studio, made a wind tunnel. I’ve tried to imbue that into the score. So, actually  thinking about it, talking to you about it for the first time, it might be closer to how it felt making the film. We’ll never know, but that’s how it feels. I can imagine that noise, the fake wind, because wind doesn’t have a sound, wind only makes noise when it rubs up against an object. So, that’s when I was looking at the science and that’s how I’ve approached it. So, what I mean by all this rambling is that I’ve tried to make sound design. Not foley, but sound design, so it’s got something so then I can cut it and have silence that feels like…ah I can have a break. So, it’s not just wall to wall music and the Opera North aren’t just singing from start to end because that would be too much, I think.

FHR: The decision to use the female voices in place of music, where did that idea come from?

EC: I just think the human voice is so harmonically rich, as I touched on, also the kind of Theatre of Voice as, what’s his name the composer, I forget his name. I started at 4 this morning on five different things.

[He is referring to Paul Hillier, the English composer, conductor and baritone who worked with Jóhan Jóhannsson on several of his later works.]

In fact, that heavily inspired the Arrival score, and I thought it would be interesting to not use a string quartet, to not use a big timpani drum, like everybody would. I thought I’m going to strip all of that out and just use the voice, and I guess it will either work or it won’t, but I guess the idea is just, it feels like it humanizes it a bit more to me. It kind of makes it feel more experimental as well and it makes it more challenging. I like to set parameters, or barriers, they’re not set in stone. I made them I can break them, it’s nice to do that. You know when you’re faced with a blank canvas, it’s no wonder people have writers block when they have every digital instrument on the planet at their disposal. I just use one synth, I love really learning one instrument, it’s a joy for me and using it in a way that maybe it shouldn’t be used or hasn’t been used or isn’t how it’s supposed to be used, then you get something interesting. And so, I knew I could take the voice and put it through other things, other processing. So, putting the voice through the filter of a synthesizer, suddenly sounds like a synthesizer but it’s not it’s still the voice. The sound source is organic, and I think that comes from me using predominantly, or I have used in my solo work a lot of field recordings, a lot of found sound and using found sound in a way that sounds familiar, but also kind of interesting and different. I guess that’s why, it probably came from there.

FHR: It says in your profile that you have an interest in the relationship between landscape and psychology. I guess we can say these things are intrinsically linked in this film and it’s pretty powerful stuff. Looking back and thinking this was made in 1928 and the themes and ideas are quite powerful and strong?

EC: I think the ending was changed, what actually happens in the end was supposed to be that she walks off into the wind, never to be seen again. Instead, she falls in love, and it’s like you’ll do let’s run off together. So American, so kind of… we can’t leave them with an unknown. To a modern audience now, we’d expect that question mark of this powerful woman…she leaves all the men in her life behind her and goes, I don’t need that, but they read it as she walks off and ultimately passes. All because she couldn’t deal with it. So, they said no because she was a producer, remind me her name…

FHR: Oh it’s Lillian Gish.

EC: She worked really hard to produce, put it together, fight to get the finance, to then have it pushed back at the end. The ending isn’t Hollywood enough. For then, the film to really not make a splash as it should have done. I think one review had said this film is ridiculous, the hats would have blown off their heads. They just wanted to hear talking and were fed up of that medium. Actually, we look at it now and think wow! With what they had at the time in 1929 or 1928…brilliant.

FHR: Yeah, it looks astonishing when you consider the year it was made. If you look at the silent films of that era and consider they didn’t have the budgets they have today. We can marvel at the creativity of the set designers and film makers responsible for the likes of Metropolis or Haxan and ask ourselves how they did it.

EC: Maybe, that’s another reason. They were limited in their technical ability and resources. I wanted to kind of do the same and kind of like limit, not just shove an orchestra on let’s not do a Zimmer-esque score, let’s think about it more. That would be more pleasing on the ear I think, I think an audience would probably have liked, and may have expected me to do a string quartet piece with piano and voice. When they asked me I just kind of said I will do it, but not in the way you probably think I’m going to do it. They were really open to just “you do whatever you want” but maybe as a tip of the hat to the limiting of resources, I’ve tried to limit my set of screwdrivers and tools.

Thanks very much to Erland Cooper for his time and for chatting to us. Just to round things up, the performance is going on a mini tour starting at the Sage, Gateshead on February 24th, RNCM Manchester on 25th February and closes at the Howard Assembly Room, Leeds on 26 February.

You can check out the trailer for The Wind on YouTube from the link below.

Tickets for the Manchester show are available here:

Tickets for the final performance in Leeds are available from:

Mandrake Petals and Scattered Feathers by David Greygoose

Mandrake Petals and Scattered Feathers: Tales from the Forest and Beyond:  Amazon.co.uk: Greygoose, David: 9781838024734: Books

Every now and again a book comes along that really captures the imagination. Mandrake Petals and Scattered Feathers is one such book. Written by David Greygoose, this volume of short stories is nothing short of excellent. A veritable smorgasbord of classic fairy and folk tale tropes, mixed with Greygoose’s wonderful knack for telling a story, Mandrake Petals and Scattered Feathers is a must read for fans of traditional storytelling.

Mandrake Petal and Scattered Feather features a multitude of interlinked stories, that not only  showcase Greygoose’s brilliant storytelling capabilities, but his richly fleshed out cast of characters. Pickapple, the loveable trickster at the crossroads, Mullops, the man who falls prey to Pickapple on a number of occasions, Elmskin, the lovelorn, who is searching for Rimmony, the love of his life, who has just dropped everything and gone off in search of Flax Wing, a potentially mythic being who she thinks she she saw once bathing in a clearing by the river and who she believes has spoken to her. Mandrake Petals intertwines the stories of these characters and many others into a complex but moreish whole that draws the reader in and won’t let go.

David Greygoose writes with a passion that leaps off the page, his stories, regardless of length always leave you wanting more and ready to move on and find out what happens to these characters who you have become so invested in. The only sad thing about this magical book is that it has to come to an end.

Hawkwood Books | Mandrake Petals and Scattered Feathers

Mandrake Petals and Scattered Feathers is a modern-day masterpiece of storytelling. It mixes short stories, poetry and songs, just like the folk traditions of old and it is all done with such elegance and flair. The book itself features recommendations from some pretty big hitters in the form of legendary storyteller and folk music icon Donovan, Phil May from the Pretty Things and Melanie Xulu, from Moof magazine.

As a rather lovely promotional tool, David Greygoose has created a short film that introduces us to the world of Pickapple, Rimmony and the others. This serves as a wonderful introduction and if my review doesn’t whet your appetite for the book, then hopefully the video will.

Mandrake Petals and Scattered Feathers is released by Hawkwood books, and is available from the rather wonderful indie bookstore News from Nowhere.

http://www.newsfromnowhere.org.uk/books/DisplayBookInfo.php?ISBN=9781838024734

Folk Horror Revival Winter Ghosts 2021: We have Wyrms!

After having to cancel last year’s Winter Ghosts due to our old friend Covid-19 we are pulling out all the stops to ensure this year’s event is a sumptuous feast for the eyes and ears. This year’s event features the usual selection of talks and music as well as some pretty exciting performances, that we’re keeping a little bit under wraps for the time being, as well as a classic film that we will be unveiling in the very near future.

As many of us are based in wyrm country, up in the North East we have chosen a cryptid theme to this year’s event. So, expect to be regaled with tales of dragons, serpents and sea monsters.

Anyway, without further ado, here is our first lineup announcement. We are keeping all the juicy details close to our chests for now, but we wanted to share with you the supremely talented individuals who will be set to entertain you across the weekend of November 27th and 28th.

Speakers

First up on the speaker list is an old friend of Folk Horror Revival, Dr Sarah Caldwell Steele – proprietor of The Ebor Jetworks, Gemologist, jewellery designer and expert in all things Jet. Sarah will be presenting a fascinating new talk for us.

The Shrouded Republic is a performance piece inspired by Rev. Robert Kirk of Aberfoyle author of  “The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies: A Study in Folklore and Psychical Research” and brings together once again the team that were responsible for the rather wonderful Leasungspell. Led by poet and author Bob Beagrie this promises to be a fascinating piece that needs to be seen.

Up next is Dr David. R Rowe or “Doc” for short. Doc Rowe is an archivist and collector, who has been recording and filming cultural tradition and vernacular arts, folklore, song and dance of Britain and Ireland since the 1960s. His collection currently represents the most extensive collection of audio and video material to celebrate the variety and richness of traditional folk culture of these islands. We look forward to revealing more details about his talk.

We are also incredibly proud to announce that Richard Freeman – Cryptozoologist, writer of both fiction  and non-fiction and one of the world’s leading experts on all things Dragon will be joining us to present a talk on what lies behind the dragon legends and is there a possibility that these were more than just folklore?

We are also joined by The Hazelsong Theatre, whose work is rooted in the songs, stories, myth and folklore of the North and the Borderlands and the many cultures that have made the North their home. Hazelsong creates performances which bring together music, storytelling, puppetry and theatre borne of the knowledge that these stories and songs are very much alive. For us they will be presenting a talk on John McKinnell with a vaguely tame wyrm or two in attendance.

Evening Music Lineup

Our evening musical lineup is also very strong and features some of the most interesting performers working within the field today.

Folk Horror Revival are really pleased to be working with one of the brightest new lights in electronic music, Everyday Dust. Everyday Dust is a producer based in Scotland, who uses analogue synthesizers, effects and tape machines to create his own unique narrative-driven music. His most recent album for Castles in Space records, Black Water is a deeply immersive electronic album of sonar explorations which celebrate the ongoing search for the creature at large in Loch Ness. We think you’ll love what could well turn out to be his debut live performance.

https://everydaydust-cis.bandcamp.com/album/black-water

Nathalie Stern and the Noizechoir are local legends in the Newcastle music scene, mixing drones and lush harmonised vocals Nathalie and the choir perform music to invoke elder gods to. Why not have a listen to last year’s Nerves and Skin album by Nathalie, that should give you an idea of what to expect from what is a hotly anticipated set.

https://nathaliesternmusic.bandcamp.com/

Our final musical act are darkwave and industrial legends Attrition, after more than 40 years of producing interesting dark electronic music they remain as strong as ever, continually adapting and honing their sound, the group led by Martin Bowes remain at the cutting edge of modern day electronica and remain as influential on today’s artists as they ever have. We are very excited to see what they have in store for us at Winter Ghosts.

https://attritionuk.bandcamp.com/album/the-alibi

Ok that’s almost it, apart from one more artist, a super-secret film screening that we will be announcing in the not-too-distant future, and the relaxed Sunday lineup that is also coming soon. I hope that has whetted your appetite for this year’s Winter Ghosts. Tickets are available now from our Eventbrite page below priced at a modest £13 for the whole weekend. We hope to see many of you there.

Reviews: Devil’s Advocates, Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Witch.

by Darren Charles

Having previously reviewed John Towlson’s wonderful Candyman monograph from the Devil’s Advocates series from Auteur books, I was delighted to receive another two books from the collection with some serious folk horror credentials. The books in question are David Evans-Powell’s monograph of The Blood on Satan’s Claw and Brandon Grafius’ treatment on The Witch.

The Devil’s Advocates range is aimed at exploring the classics of horror cinema, and the contributors are generally firmly entrenched in that world via careers in academia, journalism or through their own contributions to the literature of horror. What is evident from the very beginning is that those who have been asked to write these books are passionate and knowledgeable about their subject matter and whilst the books have a certain academic quality to the writing they are never overly wordy or impenetrable.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw by David Evans-Powell

Liverpool University Press: Books: The Blood on Satan's Claw

One of the unholy triumvirate of films that are deemed the very cornerstones of the Folk Horror movement, Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) is a supernatural horror movie set in a small rural English village in the 18th century. After the discovery of a sinister looking skull in a freshly ploughed field, a series of bizarre occurrences take place among the village’s young people culminating in a ritual rape and human sacrifice. In recent years the film has become a classic of the Folk Horror genre and David Evans-Powell’s monograph is a thorough and interesting delve into the film’s history, looking at its position within the Folk Horror oeuvre, its relationship to the landscape and nature, and its socio-political message, particularly its relationship to the late 60s and early 70s counterculture.

The book is divided up into series of different sections, the first provides a brief synopsis of the film and an introduction that places the film within the context of the time it was made, and in relation to other films of the time. The next section looks at the film’s production and reception, this introduces the reader to some of the key figures involved in making Blood on Satan’s Claw such a runaway success. There are sub-sections on cinematographer Dick Bush, director Piers Haggard, composer/musician Marc Wilkinson and screenwriter Robert Wynne-Simmons, as well as the film’s production that provide a lot of valuable information about the film’s genesis and how it all came together. The next couple of sections deal with the importance of the landscape and how it is used in the film, as well as looking at nature and the way the setting juxtaposes the simple superstition of the rural setting with that of the rational, enlightened city (London).

Beyond that Evans-Powell delves into ideas about a past the refuses to be forgotten, the concept of “reviving forgotten horrors” to paraphrase the great Patrick Wymark in his role as the judge. This section is interesting and provides some fascinating and detailed discussion of our pagan past. The final section is called Anarchy in the UK and features a fairly in-depth discussion of the film’s relationship to the counter-culture movement of the 60s and 70s, particularly the darker side of that movement with a focus on the Manson murders and English child murderer Mary Bell.

Evans-Powell has written a powerful and fascinating monograph that is very readable. He manages to cram a lot of intriguing detail into such a short book yet it never feels as though the reader is overloaded with information, and it always feels relevant and interesting.

The Witch by Brandon Grafius

The Witch (Devil's Advocates): Amazon.co.uk: Brandon Grafius:  9781800348059: Books

The second of our two books is a monograph based around the Robert Eggars film The Witch. Much like Blood on Satan’s Claw the film has become synonymous with the Folk Horror movement and has achieved a similar status as a classic of the genre. If Blood on Satan’s Claw, The Wicker Man and Witchfinder General are the classic unholy triumvirate, The Witch is one of the titles that fits the bill as their modern equivalent, alongside films like Kill List, November, In the Earth and Midsommar it sits at the forefront of the Folk Horror revival.

Brandon Grafius is a Professor of Biblical studies at the Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit, and is well noted for his writing on the subject of religion and horror. The book is heavy on facts and Grafius provides some tremendous background information about the time in which the film is set. Eggars himself spent an inordinate amount of time and energy on researching the period in order to bring the film a realness. Grafius does much the same for the study of the film, and after delving into New England’s puritan past and considering the context of the witch trials that took place in the late 17th century, he takes the reader on a whistle stop journey through the realms of literature, cinema and folklore in order to place The Witch within the context of what we call folk horror. The sections on The Witch as folk horror and the folklore associated with the film and witchcraft in general are excellent, well researched and kept me hooked in. These are followed by a section discussing the film’s main characters, that features some interesting analysis of not only the family and their flawed existence but even Black Philip himself.

Much like Evans-Powell’s Blood on Satan’s Claw, The Witch is a well-researched and beautifully written monograph that provides a fascinating and in-depth study of a classic film in around a hundred pages. As with the previously reviewed Candyman it has be said that Auteur have really come up trumps with this wonderful series of short monographs looking at the classics of horror cinema. I have already started to build a list of the other titles in the series that I need to check out.

You can see the full range of Auteur’s Devils Advocates series at the following link: https://www.liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/series/series-15364/

Blood on Satan’s Claw by David Evans-Powell is available to buy from Amazon at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Blood-Satans-Claw-Devils-Advocates/dp/1800348061

The Witch by Brandon Grafius is available to buy from Amazon at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Witch-Devils-Advocates-Brandon-Grafius/dp/1800348053/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+witch+brandon+grafius&qid=1621965775&s=books&sr=1-1

The Psychic Audio Group

The Psychic Audio Group are a collective of paranormal investigators and music technologists based in Leeds who generate audio based around hauntings, drawing inspiration from Nigel Kneale’s ‘The Stone Tape’ they reconfigured their equipment to generate noise, producing some remarkable psychic feedback when installed at certain haunted locations. Here we review their three recordings thus far released.

Collected Recordings of the Psychic Audio Group, Volume 1

The first release of the Psychic Audio Group, features 11 tracks of suitably wyrd phonics, mixing ambient drones with glitchy off kilter electronics, field recordings and found sounds. I really enjoyed this one, there’s a level of dread filled intensity about the recording that verges on audial assault, and the whole thing has a sinister blackened noise vibe to it. Links to Nigel Kneale’s ‘The Stone Tape’ and EVP just add to the creepiness of the project. I guarantee this will go down a storm with Revivalists everywhere. This is highly recommended for fans of John Carpenter, Haxan Cloak, Burial Hex, Demdike Stare and the Nate Young (Wolf Eyes) and Steven Kenney (Werewolves) project Demons.

https://psychicaudiogroup.bandcamp.com/album/the-collected-recordings-of-the-psychic-audio-group-volume-2-eycheil

Also worth mentioning is the accompanying video, featuring the same sequences of audio as used in the album, but coupled with visuals from the recording sessions.

Sea of Ink

Sea of Ink is a stand alone track recorded during the sessions for their second album. What we get is more of the same glitchy electronic drones and sinister sounding atmospherics as the debut album. A work of creepy excellence.

https://psychicaudiogroup.bandcamp.com/track/sea-of-ink

The Collected Recordings of the Psychic Audio Group, Volume 2: Eycheil

The third release and second full length album from the Psychic Audio Group is an absolute doozy from start to finish. Recorded entirely on location at the Theatre Eycheil in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, with each track concieved in relation to the atmosphere of the site, and boy what an atmosphere it must have as this is off the scale for creepiness.

The album features 7 tracks of more of the same, but once again it excels at what it does. Darkly atmospheric electronic noise that recalls some of the most sinister music ever placed on vinyl. Nighmarish and disquieting, the whole thing has a deeply malefic aura about it. If someone were to ever remake John Hough’s 1973 supernatual tour de force ‘The Legend of Hell House’ these guys should record the soundtrack.

https://psychicaudiogroup.bandcamp.com/album/the-collected-recordings-of-the-psychic-audio-group-volume-2-eycheil

Vanishing Faces

Duo Joanne and Andrew Walker have been busy over the last twelve months with three separate releases to tempt Revivalists.

Foretold E.P.

First up was the Foretold E.P. which was released in April . I was lucky enough to receive a physical copy of the limited edition CD, one of only 78 copies released. The album is beautifully packaged, featuring some lovely artwork from Joanna herself. As you can see from the photograph below it is obviously designed to fit perfectly with the stories of the songs, which is something I really love about it. Alongside the fantastic cover art we are treated to some really nice little extras, stickers, a badge and a tarot card, the Ace of Wands in my case. This is a great card to receive in this instance as it represents creativity, passion and enthusiasm, all things that are abundant in this release.

This, their debut release is also sonically very good, and features 5 tracks of glitchy electronic folk infused with their love of traditional British folklore and the esoteric. The mix of traditional and modern instrumentation works really well and one can’t help but hear the influence of the likes of Current 93 rising to the fore every now and again, however it must be noted that they do possess enough of their own sound to keep it from turning into a pastiche. Overall, Foretold is an excellent debut release and one the duo can be very proud of.

Two Songs for the Summer Solstice

This was a two track single released to coincide with the Summer Solstice, on 20th June. Both tracks were heavily inspired by previous solstice celebrations that took place at Stonehenge and Avebury, and were a reaction to the current situation with regards to the Covid-19 lockdown, and the fact those sites were not accessible during the 2020 solstice.

‘To the Day’ represents the duo’s fond remembrance of past solstices, whilst Midsummer’s Dream entwines their own song with the fairy’s poem from the beginning of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Both tracks take the listener down a tangled acid folk drenched pathway that winds its way through the British countryside. This is a perfect midsummer release.

Wolf Moon E.P.

Released at the death of 2020, Wolf Man is a three track E.P. that the duo began composing under the wolf moon, the first full moon of 2020.

Opener, ‘Wolf Moon’ is a spoken word track that again mixes traditional instrumentation and modern technology, perfectly capturing the mood of the piece. This is followed up by ‘Cold Moon’ an instrumental with its feets firmly planted in ambient electronics. Beautiful and atmospheric, the track is perfect for laid back listening sessions. The final track is a remix of ‘Wolf Moon’ by Grey, it’s a fascinating amalagamation of drum and bass and ambient electronica that works really well. The band themselves have labelled the track ‘dub folk horror’ and who am I to argue?

All of their work can be heard and bought from their bandcamp page at:

https://vanishingfaces.bandcamp.com/

May’s Folk Horror Revival Sketch Challenge Winners.

Facebook Group member Brian Gomien devised a cunning plan to get FHR members sketching. He set up the Folk Horror Revival Sketch Challenge, a weekly competition for members to show off their artistic skills. We were so thrilled to see the competition take off that we asked Brian if he would continue to curate the competition in conjunction with the group. Thankfully he said yes and it seems to grow in popularity week on week.

Anyway, what we’ve decided to do is put together a blog post once a month highlighting the amazing work of each week’s competition winner. Folk Horror Revival was always intended to promote the work of the amazingly creative people in the group so this feels like a natural thing for us to be doing. So without further ado, here are the first batch of sketch challenge winners.

Jesseca Trainham

Week 1. Black Philip

 

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Week 2. John Barleycorn

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Two time winner Jesseca Trainham graduated in 2001 with a BA in Studio Art from SUNY Potsdam. In 2005 she began selling Norse Myth and Viking-inspired woodworking on eBay, later moving to Etsy under the seller name Lady Buckthorn. She has produced illustrations for author Robin Artisson, as well as heathen poet and scholar Eirik Westcoat, among others. Jesseca resides in rural central NY, where she is currently taking a sabbatical to reinvent her style.

https://www.etsy.com/people/ladybuckthorn

 

Naama Mimis

Week 3. Cabinet of Curiosities

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Naama Mimis is a concept art and digital illustration student from Israel, with a love of all things vintage and retro. Naama has been fascinated with folk horror since the age of five.

https://www.instagram.com/naamamimis/?hl=en

 

Andrew Foley

Week 4. A Wyrd Celebration

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Week 5. A Plague Year

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Andrew Foley was born in St Andrews in Scotland in the 1970’s. Raised in an ex-mining village, Blantyre, in South Lanarkshire, Andrew went on to study illustration and design at the Glasgow School of Art graduating in 1992. He has worked in the arts ever since, as a freelance illustrator but also in the field of community arts, education and in collaboration with his wife, artist Fiona Foley, working in the medium of stained glass. Andrew now lives in the Southern Uplands of Scotland in a small ex-mining village, where from his home studio, he continues to explore a number of creative avenues, whilst raising his three children alongside Fiona.

http://www.leafywonder.com/biography.html

 

Thank you to all of the talented artists, firstly for taking part and most importantly for allowing us to reproduce their incredible artwork. I would also like to thank Brian for bringing the whole thing together and making it such a roaring success. It gives me great pleasure to see such strong competition among Revivalists and I very much look forward to seeing future entries. That’s pretty much it for now, other than to ask the question, which is your favourite?

Interview with Will Parsons of the British Pilgrimage Trust.

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Pilgrimage is experiencing is a revival.  Many of the currents which animate this resurgence also pulse through the veins of the Folk Horror Revival. A re-imagining of our experience of the landscape. An uncovering of forgotten paths. An openness to explore strange edges and the fascinations of writers such as Ronald Hutton and Robert Macfarlane. FHR’s John Pilgrim was the natural person to enquire about these shared currents and the work of the British Pilgrimage Trust more generally.  His interview with Will Parsons of the BPT took place in 2019 and takes the reader along some curious paths.

 

FHR: Please can you explain the background to the formation of the British Pilgrimage Trust?

 

The British Pilgrimage Trust was formed in 2014, initially as a Charitable Trust, and since 2017 as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (1176035).

 

There are many reason why the BPT came into being. As I see it, the lack of accessible pilgrimage in Britain was getting silly, which annoyed the Universe.

 

In personal terms, a more immediate reason for founding it (with Guy Hayward and Merlin Sheldrake) was what happened when Guy and I went for a walk to the source of a song.

 

I met Guy the year before at Rupert Sheldrake’s house (the scientist behind the ‘Morphic Resonance’ theory, and the BPT’s first patron). Guy had seen my wandering minstrel work and wanted to go for a walk. I offered the plan of walking a Romany Gypsy song back to the place it originated.

 

The song was called The Hartlake Bridge Tragedy, and it was written in 1852 about 37 hop-pickers who all died when a bridge collapsed over the River Medway. In one family, three generations were lost. Upkeep of the bridge had been the responsibility of the Medway Navigation Trust, local businessmen like the Mayor and his pals. But the hop-pickers were poor Irish and Gypsy itinerant labourers, not the sort of people who could expect too much justice in Victorian England. Sure enough, at the Inquest the Navigation Trust was absolved of all blame.

 

A subscription was taken up, which raised enough for a small concrete memorial, ambitiously said to resemble an oast (a building in which hops are dried). All 37 are buried there.

 

But the most moving survival of this tragedy is a song, written by family members. Its melody lilts jollily, while its lyrics hang heavy with coded social protest. It is a strange classic. The song reached me via the song collector Sam Lee, who learns Romany folksong from its living lineage holders. It was never really any good for busking, but you know how it is with songs – once in, you can’t unlearn them. So I suggested to Guy that we take this song home, by walking it from my house to the bridge where it happened.

 

Guy agreed, and we prepared. He was not ready. He didn’t know that boots can keep out water, or sleeping bags zip up. He came straight from 23 unbroken years of school – education-old but world-young. I have a ‘before’ and ‘after’ photo from this walk, and you can see his eyes go from screeny to hawkish.

 

We walked, and the journey was strong. We met the right strangers, some who taught us songs, including the bedtime lullabies that an 80 year old ex-Methodist minister sung to his Dementia suffering wife. We met an ex-Eastenders star who would not sing, and Kent’s oldest Yew trees at Ulcombe. Guy had boots that didn’t quite fit his feet, so he had blisters within the first half hour, but I knew the right leaves and we kept walking. We slept in the woods, filtered water from streams and cooked on fires. It worked.

 

At this point, nobody I knew was talking about pilgrimage. I had spent ten years as a wandering minstrel, a ‘close-but-definitely-not’ pilgrim, and as such I had never made a journey with such a specific destination, or so clear an intention. My multi-month walks had always been ‘West’, ‘to Cornwall’ or ‘to Wales’. But now I knew exactly which bridge I was going to, and what to do when I got there. I had always believed such a model of journey-making was inferior, a contrived version of wayfaring with insufficient liberty – but I soon found myself wrong. It turns out that the limitations on the journey enabled a tightening of the field, to allow co-incidence to flourish. It really worked. Having an intention and set destination was like tightening the strings on a fiddle – suddenly everything hummed with new intensity and harmonic potential, and we could sing along.

 

The best example came at the journey’s end. Not at the bridge itself, where things got a bit strange, but before that, at the grave of the dead hop-pickers in Hadlow village church. We arrived here after five days walking, to find two other people stood graveside. This is rare in a Kentish churchyard. So we asked – gently – why they were there at that time. They told us that they were related to three of the hop-pickers who had died.  We were amazed. Did they come often? Never before. So we asked if we might sing the song? They answered: what song? They’d never heard of it. So stood over the bodies of the hop-pickers, beside their living descendants, we sung the song. And it was the most incredibly resonant connection to realise that we were not returning the song to a river, but to its bloodline.

 

I can still feel the shocking wholeness of this moment, the comforting echo of its extreme unlikeliness. The song had become (had always been) a gift from the dead to their living descendants, given through generations. For me, this moment first triggered my understanding of the framework of pilgrimage, as a journey on foot with an intention and a holy destination.

 

After the graveyard, we walked to the bridge, where we met old Mother Medway, in the form of a fearsome rambling shell-suited lady with a muzzled Jack Russell cross. The dog was eating other dogs’ poo, and its muzzle was smeared foully, but the lady, who kept disappearing into bushes then reappearing in different places, repeatedly asked Guy to ‘touch the dog – go on, touch him, just once’. Guy did not. I’m still not sure if he passed the test or not.

 

We nearly came a cropper soon after, when I was inappropriately trying to film us singing on my phone and mini tripod. We began to discuss keeping our pilgrim staffs, rather than flinging them into the river (as a gift). We had intended to, but now fancied holding onto them. But as soon as we said this, Guy banged his head against the bridge, although he was stood still and looking right at it, and my tripod leg pinged off, sheared clean away. The sun went in, and up rose a confused awareness of imminent threat. Translating this, we realised we could not retract the promised gift, so we gave our hazel bodies, with a whoosh and plop, to be claimed by River Medway.

 

This was the first time I had ever made a pilgrimage that ‘worked’. And in the greater journey of life, the timing was good for me. Wandering minstrelsy had dried up (everyone had children). And this new (ancient) pilgrimage format of setting an intention and destination seemed to lead me straight back into that parallel Britain, the good old land beyond the tarmac and supermarkets.

 

So the BPT was formed, in an attempt to renew Britain’s pilgrimage tradition. We vowed to remain a spiritual organisation, as well as a tech start-up, and a social movement. We would remain independent of affiliations, belonging only to ourselves, but welcoming faiths and non-faiths equally. It seemed like the fruitful middle ground, in fact the whole plateau of pilgrimage in Britain, had been left abandoned. It was an opportunity just waiting to happen, with potentially huge benefits. What else could there possibly be to do?

British Pilgrim Photo 5b

 

FHR: What do you hope to achieve through the formation of the Trust and what are your hopes for the future?

 

To me, the BPT was a way to give my dreams respectability and efficacy. This started off as ‘The British Pilgrimage Revival Trust’, until original Trustee Merlin Sheldrake advised we cut Revival out: “People need to know that pilgrimage never went away!”.

 

What is great about a charitable trust is how easily they can be set up. You simply need a constitution (downloaded off google and adapted) with aims that benefit the public. Then you need three trustees and a witness, some signatures and a tenner in an envelope, and you legally exist as an unincorporated Charitable Trust. We got a friend to make us a logo for £20, and we built an ultra-simple website. Help started to come.

 

I hoped that this organisational form would let us present pilgrimage with clarity and authority in its simplified universal form (an intentional journey on foot to a holy place).  It seemed to me that the main reason pilgrimage was not already happening in Britain was its confused religious affiliation. Was it Catholic? Christian? Pagan? Humanist? Could Muslims and Hindus and Atheists do it? Who was making up the rules? Who was is in charge? It seemed no-one was. So we decided to be.

 

The vision was to offer an inclusive and unifying centre space for British pilgrimage. I hoped for many more people to travel on foot, connecting the holy places of our landscape – the hilltops, ancient trees, stone circles and river sources, as well as the chapels, churches and cathedrals (of all faiths). Britain’s holy places I see as a single unified pilgrimage landscape, to which we all share access (and responsibility). The BPT’s aim was to help more people walk slowly among these beautiful, powerful and spiritually brilliant places in Britain.

 

Of course, pilgrimage is a universal human tradition, used throughout history, and no more ‘belongs’ to a single faith (or non-faith) than ‘music’ does. It’s a common inheritance, probably used by people of every imaginable belief (and many more. And in modern Britain, success seemed unlikely if we tried to promote pilgrimage under the flag of a single faith, which it seemed would inspire as much opposition as unity.  So I found a canny acronym called OTA – Open to All (with the optional tagline: Bring Your Own Beliefs). This seemed to enshrine the universalist approach to pilgrimage that reflected Britain’s modern diversity of beliefs. OTA would enable everyone, whatever their faith or non-faith, to feel they owned this pilgrimage tradition. But we were also keen not to reduce the activity to mere non-spiritual ‘hiking’, to cut out spirituality for fear of excluding non-believers. I think this OTA solution works well.

 

Another key ambition for the Trust was to solve the problem of low cost pilgrim accommodation. The problem is simple: there isn’t any. While a wandering minstrel, I had either slept in strangers’ houses (with permission) or the woods (without). But that could not scale up. So there were two possible solutions: pilgrims sleeping in churches, which is currently a scheme afoot, and about which I’ve said a lot elsewhere – and Pilgrim Acres, wild-camping shrines to host pilgrims in new-planted ‘sacred groves’ with borehole-dug ‘holy wells’. I still cherish this dream, of a wild green pilgrimage infrastructure to be forever Pilgrims’ England. This network of Coldharbours would be grown from bare fields, a re-greening and OTA monastic movement of sacred woodland hospitallers. This scheme has not yet come into reality. But we shall see. Can you help?

 

One of the BPT’s main ‘actual’ projects is our flagship route, called the Old Way, a path found on Britain’s oldest road map. I walked this twice last year (it takes 3 weeks) and I am trying to get it waymarked and a guidebook written, with re-opened ancient holy wells at its start and end (Southampton and Canterbury). Other BPT projects include a database of all Britain’s pilgrimage routes, and micro-pilgrimages to every British cathedral.

 

In truth, the BPT’s ambitions are large. Probably endless. But it’s not pilgrimage if you don’t have a decent holy place to aim for.

british pilgrim photo

 

FHR: You have an intriguing and impressive range of Trustees. The interest of Folk Horror Revivalists is likely to be piqued by the involvement of Ronald Hutton who brings his expertise on ancient and medieval paganism and witchcraft; Robert Macfarlane who many Revivalists will know from his writings on landscape and his essay on the Eeriness of the English Countryside in particular and Philip Carr-Gomm, Leader of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. It is most refreshing to see the inclusion of such figures as part of a broad church approach to pilgrimage. Can you say a little about your thinking for their inclusion and the scope for opening up a broader alliance of perspectives?

 

Pilgrimage is to my mind a kind of universal yoga that spans human cultures and traditions. It is the quest, the fool’s journey, the labyrinth at large. And this dynamism is particularly suited to Western folk, the restless people, seekers of holy grail, people of Odyssey. Our heroes do not sit still and go inward, but roam outward, over the hills and far away.

 

But pilgrimage, Britain’s popular expression of this itinerant impulse, was banned in 1538 as part of the Protestant Reformation. The shrines were dismantled, the shelters demolished, and the whole premise made criminal. Much was rejected violently in a short time. This was a traumatic and harsh change, and had left a lingering toxicity and sad disenchantment about the practice, which has lasted almost 500 years.

 

So with the intent to refresh the tradition, the BPT claimed the open middle ground, as a space from which to host the revival of British pilgrimage with radically inclusive (but deeply traditional) accessibility. It simply doesn’t make sense to limit the practice into small cultural groups. When everyone in Britain was Christian, in the Middle Ages, pilgrimage was obviously a Christian practice. But now Britain is plural and diverse, so must pilgrimage be. Or it will simply continue to not happen. This is obviously not the case in Spain, where the Camino remains a Catholic church project. But this is Britain, and we had Henry VIII, so ours is a different story. I believe that OTA is how the best of all worlds can be included and expressed of the pilgrimage tradition going forward.

 

Within its journey form limits, pilgrimage enjoys free-form rituality. Almost anything can happen. Your church is the world as it unfolds around you. The guides are not dressed differently. They may not even be human. They may not even exist outside your own mind. Buy you’ll meet them, as the path you follow reveals the encounters you need. What you make of these is up to you. Pilgrimage is a creative act. You take a pill or a holiday, but you make a pilgrimage.

 

In an OTA format, people of very different beliefs can walk side by side toward a shared destination, having different spiritual experiences in perfect harmony. British pilgrimage can offer an open forum for shared spiritual practice without the reductionist bridges typically required. It doesn’t have to be either/or about religion, or require spirituality to be boiled out for popular consumption. Pilgrimage even works for hardcore followers of materialist atheism (if you believe they really exist).

 

Having a space for spirituality to enjoy both diversity and community is incredibly rare. And I believe it’s extremely important, perhaps our greatest hope for proper change in this world. I do not mean religious fundamentalism, but more like a basic accord, a common truth, a universal wink, that changes our whole minds. A return to innocence via experience. A freedom from fear. I believe spirituality will be the source of this great revolution, the one we’ve always been waiting for. It has always been about spirituality. Why else do we strive for truth, freedom, justice, love? These are spiritual pursuits.

 

I should add, this is not what we discuss at Trustee meetings.

 

Having a wide range of expert friends to guide us, like Rob McFarlane, Jill Purse, Satish Kumar, and Ronald Hutton, is essential for allowing us to keep pilgrimage hosted in this wide open middle space, in the gap between religious and not religious, in the spaces between place. This is where the BPT aims to send pilgrims, on foot, with their best hopes forward. What expert would not have something to add to this?

British Piligrm photo 6

 

FHR: You have previously spent time as a ‘wandering minstrel’. Music, singing, landscape and pilgrimage are clearly intertwined for you. How can these different aspects be brought together in fruitful ways -do you have any personal examples which are particularly meaningful to you?

 

I think that song is a sacred human mystery ritual as powerful and important as pilgrimage. Song can amplify pilgrimage by functioning as a destination, or as a gift to offer at holy places to unify and ‘tune’ your journey. The song you sing is the tune you get!

 

Songs are great for churches, where many people don’t know what to do. The right song always works. It’s an instant ritual that weighs nothing and never runs out.

 

I also use SONG as an acronym to describe the four layers of spiritual connection: Self, Other, Nature and God. The methodology to follow this is SING – Slowness, Intention, Needs, Gifts. I think I’m on some kind of spectrum with this stuff, but I find it helps.

Beltingham Yew

 

FHR: We live in troubled times. How can pilgrimage help us in the modern world?

 

Pilgrimage is the most ecologically sincere act we can make, in terms of reducing your carbon footprint. I am waiting to meet an eco-statistician who can work out how much less CO2 Britain would release if everyone in Britain made a two week pilgrimage each year.

 

But of course it is ecological, is it fundamental and basic. Pilgrimage is a dive deep into the simple animal reality of life on earth. It is a way to reconnect on many levels (see SONG above). It allows access to truth through the most immediate and powerful form – personal experience, unmediated, raw and true. It is the holy day we need.

 

Pilgrimage offers health for the physical body, by curing the disease of being sedentary lives. It gets the blood flowing, the bones and muscles in communication, and the mind active. It also helps us to relax, and to face our emotional issues. It forces us to meet people outside our normal community groups, which is good for both the pilgrim and the community.

 

Pilgrimage also offers economic benefits, for both pilgrim and host communities. It’s a cheap way to get therapy and exercise and a holiday, which in return drip-feeds the rural economy. It’s tourism without cars.

 

Another of the gifts of pilgrimage is that once the trappings of status are removed, the car, house and bank balance, what remains is something more essential. It’s you, on your path, journeying toward your hopes. This is not a loss of self – it’s more like a revealing! In the context of pilgrimage, disconnected from friends and family, work colleagues and children, the expectations to behave in certain set ways are entirely gone. Apart from walking, how you fill your mind and time is yours to decide. Who you are, really, has the space to become who you are, actually. This helps people be more interesting, happy, and beautiful.

 

Pilgrimage is a cultural practice that aims to normalise taking 3 weeks ‘off’, to walk through beautiful countryside with only the possessions you carry, meeting strangers and making friends, among the weather and the landscape, with your blood flowing and muscles moving as they were made to do. If we can make this a reality in Britain, we’ll simply have better lives.

 

Pilgrimage is not made irrelevant by the modern world. The more crazy, digital, sedentary and fearful our modern world becomes, the more relevant and timely is pilgrimage as a clarion of health and sanity.

 

 

FHR: I was particularly interested to hear about your discovery of the old pilgrimage route from Southampton to Canterbury. This comes at a time when the work of Shirley Collins with her deep connection to the South Downs landscape is enjoying a remarkable renaissance. Some Revivalists will also be familiar with Justin Hopper’s The Old Weird Albion which charts a series of explorations of myths and forgotten histories across the South Downs of Hampshire and Sussex. With Rupert Sheldrake as one of your Trustees I am tempted to see these connections as a form of morphic resonance! Can you tell us a bit about this route and any reflections you might have on associated connections and synchronicities.

 

It may be morphic resonance – or it might be because all these people are based in London and the South East, for whom Sussex is the local fay space.

 

The Old Way route I found on the Gough Map, Britain’s oldest road map. The truth is, I only found this by following Daily Mail clickbait. But that’s how everyday synchronicity works.

 

Pilgrimage, as a connective activity, naturally encourages co-incidence and syn-chrony.  This is the whole point. It forms connections. The pilgrim becomes the connective ligament between places, communities and landscapes, and the journey becomes s connective metaphor for the pilgrims whole existence. If you are a follower of faith, the journey will bring you closer to your God. This is how pilgrimage functions. It forms connections, slowly, thoroughly, and on foot.

 

The Old Way route is Europe’s pilgrimage route to Canterbury. It was erased from history by Henry VIII, but thankfully this wonderful Gough Map survived to show its path. It connects Southampton with Cantebury, and it has been plotted to follow the best possible path. The BPT mantra for route-planning is ‘Maximum Holy, Minimum Road’. Old Way is launching in 2020. I’m currently writing the guidebook. I think it ‘may’ become one of the world’s best-loved caminos. Watch this space.

 

 

FHR: In addition to more established notions of ‘folk horror’ FHR also explores psychogeography, hauntology, folklore, cultural rituals and costume, earth mysteries, archaic history, hauntings, Southern Gothic, ‘landscapism/visionary naturalism & geography’, backwoods, murder ballads, carnivalia, dark psychedelia, wyrd Forteana and other strange edges. Are there any experiences which you have had during your various pilgrimages which speak to the theme of the haunted landscape?

 

Dark and light are strange bedfellows. Through pilgrimage, I have slept in long barrows and haunted houses, have drunk from holy wells and river sources, have sung in caves, chapels and hollow trees, to cows, snails, nightingales, refugees, madmen and Princes. I have been given food, shelter, symbols, songs, maps, lessons, animals, quests, and (once) a diamond. I have followed rivers from source to sea, and sung to their every tributary. I’ve made pilgrimage to battle sites, river confluences, hilltops, graves, pubs, hedges, trees, cathedrals, people, and an invisible palace (once). I’ve met prostitutes, mercenaries, psychics and oil tycoons. Once, I met a giant, and surrendered it my life. There have been several ghosts, and possibly one angel.

 

But the strangest thing that has ever happened, and the oddest encounter I have ever experienced as a wandering minstrel or a pilgrim, is me. Being me is the strangest challenge of my life. But it’s also pretty much the only thing I have any choice over.  I think we all know this.

 

FHR: Do you have some final reflections for Folk Horror Revivalists?

 

I’d like to leave this interview with a core message. You are already a pilgrim. And there is a journey that you already know you need to make.  So name the place that may offer your hoped-for wholeness, the completeness you lack. This is your destination, and a holy place.  Then tell yourself what answer or blessing you seek. This is your intention, and you should hold it closely. Then walk. Carry your intention to your destination, and when the two meet, connection will be made.

 

That’s pilgrimage, in a nut-shell. And now the tradition is as much yours as mine.

 

See you on the path. Walk well.

 

 

FHR Footnote: In March 2020 Will Parsons announced that he was standing down from his role at the British Pilgrimage Trust in order to follow other paths. One of these is the path from his home in Canterbury to Anglesey (and back), his aim being to connect these two great centres of British spirituality. His journey can be followed at @willwalking. Folk Horror Revival wishes Will all the best in his future travels.

Interview with Jackie Morris

 

Jackie Morris is a British writer and illustrator whose work is informed by a deep love of the natural world. Her books have been published in fourteen languages and The Lost Words, which she illustrated was voted the most beautiful book of 2016 by UK booksellers. She lives in Pembrokeshire by the sea and is fascinated by bears and myths of transformation.  Folk Horror Revival’s John Pilgrim was pleased to catch up with Jackie last year to make the following enquiries about her world.

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FHR: Let me firstly provide a bit of context for those Folk Horror Revivalists who may not be familiar with The Lost Worlds by quoting from the cover jacket of the book.

 

“All over the country, there are words disappearing from children’s lives. These are the words of the natural world — Dandelion, Otter, Bramble and Acorn, all gone. The rich landscape of wild imagination and wild play is rapidly fading from our children’s minds. The Lost Words stands against the disappearance of wild childhood. It is a joyful celebration of nature words and the natural world they invoke. With acrostic spell-poems by award-winning writer Robert Macfarlane and hand-painted illustration by Jackie Morris, this enchanting book captures the irreplaceable magic of language and nature for all ages.”

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FHR: The Lost Words has enchanted many people in the deepest sense of the word. Can you share some stories about the effect which it has had on people. How has their understanding and experience of the natural world changed?

 

JM: Since the launch of The Lost Words at Foyles in 2017 it has taken on a life of its own. Robert and I are both astonished and heart-glad at the way it has been taken into people’s hearts and homes. There have been so many tales sent to us, of how people have shared it with loved ones living with dementia, of how it has helped people to cope with depression, of how it links generations in families, how teachers respond to it, and children also.

 

It has an amazing wild life. I love how people send us pictures of the book outside in the world, tucked up with children, the work that children have done with the book as catalyst.

 

 

FHR: The introduction to The Lost Words warns us that the rich landscape of wild imagination and wild play is rapidly fading from children’s minds. It’s been inspiring to see the efforts that have been made to make the book freely available to children through schools and libraries. Can you tell us some more about this?

 

JM: It began with a tweet from a lady in Scotland who saw how the book could connect children to nature again.  She made it her mission to crowdfund to place a book in every school in Scotland.  Her success snowballed into several other campaigns, and I think the Explorer’s Notes, which are a wonderful guide to using the book in schools, also helped with this. Now almost half of the UK schools, hospices over the whole of the UK, care homes in Wales and other institutions have been gifted the book by what has grown to be a great community of crowdfunders. Their energy and enthusiasm for the book and for working beyond its pages to reconnect the lives of children and adults to the more than human world around us all is wonderful.

FHR:  The notion of wild imagination and wild play is one that strikes a chord – are there signs of hope in rekindling wildness which you’ve become aware of?

 

JM: The young people who are rising up against the ignorance, arrogance and greed of older generations gives me hope. The new wave of politically minded and erudite youngsters put our politicians and their self-serving party politics to shame.

 

 

FHR: What role does myth and folklore play in your artistic practice and experience of the natural world?

 

In the same way that some people see themselves as set apart from the natural world, when they are in fact only the tiniest part of the wonderful biosphere, so are storytellers the new myth makers. As a species we are hardwired to learn through the power of story.

I write, I illustrate, to try and make sense of the crazy world we live in, and my hope is that in so doing I help other people to do the same. And there are some powerful minds working in the field at the moment. Richard Powers’ Overstory is a case in point, teaching people to see, really see, and seek out the trees that every day are taken for granted.

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FHR: Having been being fascinated by peregrines as a boy while on holiday in Pembrokeshire I loved your book Queen of the Sky.   For those who aren’t familiar with this book, could you say a little about the themes which you explore here?

 

JM: Queen of the Sky is a book about how a friend of mine found and rescued a wild peregrine falcon and released her back into the wild. It’s a story of great patience. A love story in a way, but one where something is loved so much that the person who loves it sets it free, to be as it should be. It’s a story about respect. And if H is for Hawk is a tale of how a woman was saved by a hawk, this is a tale of how a hawk is saved by a woman.

 

FHR: What landscapes particularly inspire you?

JM: Terrestrial. Including the ocean, above and below.

 

FHR: I read that you have been learning to work with wood engravings. How has this been for you?

 

JM: I’ve moved away from wood engravings. My eyesight is perhaps not good enough for the fine detail. But also my language is liquid and sumi ink has taken over as my medium of choice. But as with everything it takes a lifetime to master. But I am learning.

FHR:  In his book Being a Beast Charles Foster relays his experiences of seeking to live as animals such as badgers and foxes. I’m not sure whether you would want to go as far as eating worms as Foster has done, but I sense that through your art you are seeking to bring us closer to animals as fellow spirits?

 

JM: I’ve not read it yet. I wanted to be a bear when I was young, but would happily become an otter. And most of my work is about shapeshifting.

FHR: To what extent do you think it is important to acknowledge that despite its beauty nature is also ‘red in tooth and claw’?  Are there dangers in projecting human characteristics on to animals?

 

JM: I’m not a fan of ego-centric anthropomorphism if that’s what you mean. Is nature ‘red in tooth and claw’? That implies some morality? It’s not always kind. But we know so little about the world around us. It has so much to teach us. We just need to listen.

 

 

FHR: Which fellow artists and writers do you admire?

 

JM: So many. I love Robin Hobb’s books. Robert Macfarlane is an exceptional writer, and I need to explore Richard Powers more. John Irving has long been a favourite of mine.  Katherine Arden, James Mayhew, Brian Wildsmith, Chagall, Tunnicliffe, Alan Garner, Shaun Tan, Frieda Kahlo, Tom Bullough. Nicola Bailey, oh, so many. Picasso.  Look at me with my gender imbalance of people who spring to mind! (Though Robin Hobb is a woman, who writes under a gender-neutral name, because many men don’t read books by women.)

 

 

FHR: What are you working on at the moment and what projects would you like to take forward in the future?

 

JM: I’m working with the finest group of musicians to make a cd/lp and show built around The Lost Words. I’m working on a book that was written almost a century ago, writing a forward to re-introduce it to the world and painting images to decorate/illustrate it [now published as The House Without Windows]. I’m working on a book called The Keeper of Lost Dreams that I hope will be a catalyst for dreaming and a solace for troubled souls in our curious and turbulent times. And I am beginning to work on a new book with Robert, but that’s under wraps at the moment until we understand more of what it is that we are making [Ed: this has now been published as The Lost Spells; other recent publications include Mrs Noah’s Garden, with James Mayhew, published by Otter-Barry Books and The Secret of the Tattered Shoes with Ehsan Abdollahi, a wonderful Iranian illustrator, published by Tiny Owl.]

 

I’m also trying to take time to open my eyes to the wonderful wild world around me, wide as wide can be, and understand what is important, what time is, and how to live.

 

Final Winter Ghosts Announcement!

So as the Autumn takes full hold it is time for us to announce the final acts for this year’s Folk Horror Revival – Winter Ghosts event that takes place December 14th at the Metropole in Whitby.

Our final musical act are the rather wonderful Scottish prog rockers Big Hogg.

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Big Hogg are a 6 piece Canterbury influenced progressive group mixing threads of acid folk , Dr John , Kevin Ayers and 60s and 70s west coast psych.They released their eponymous debut album on Neon Tetra in 2015 and built up a glowing live reputation following shows at the Barrowlands , Rockaway Beach ,Wickerman and Eden festivals. In 2017 they signed with London label BEM who released their critically acclaimed “Gargoyles” album in May of that year. Record Collector magazine described it as ” An epic fantasia through Glasgow’s grimy underbelly with tumbling brass and suspended jazz chords” , while prog magazine describes them as ” masters of weaving an aural tapestry of influences together to create some suitably brilliant and uplifting music in the true spirit of the Canterbury pioneers” The band are currently recording their third album.

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Joining the lineup is our very own Darren Charles who will be bringing his Unearthing Forgotten Horrors radio show to the event. Featuring an eclectic mix of music, Darren’s aim will be to get everyone up and dancing to the very best in prog, folk, metal, goth, alternative, electronica and psychedelic music.

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Finally we will be screening three rather fabulous short films.

 

American Witch

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Welcome to a voyage from novice to initiate. The chthonic path is the common thread that weaves together the various underground religions in America from Wicca to Voodoo and Stregheria to Santeria, and everything in between. Along our pilgrimage, we will unfold the historical background in places where witchcraft came into its own distinctive form such as Salem, New Orleans, New York City, and Los Angeles. American Witch will also explore the stories of practitioners and how it’s changed their lives.

Scarlett Amaris has co-written scripts for the seminal horror anthology THE THEATRE
BIZARRE (2011), the award-winning, supernatural documentary THE OTHERWORLD
(L’AUTRE MONDE) (2013), featuring years of her research into the mysteries of the South of France, in which she appears as a resident expert, and the horror film REPLACE (2017). She’s co-written the dark fantasy trilogy SAURIMONDE I, II & III, and her first contemporary fiction novel DESIRED PYROTECHNICS will debut in 2019. A well-regarded authority on alternative history, her research has been featured in numerous books and anthologies. She also teaches comparative mythology and witchcraft at The Crooked Path Occult Apothecary in Los Angeles, and is a founding member of the Tridents of Hekate coven. Scarlett’s screenplay for H.P. Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space is currently receiving a great deal of praise across the festival circuit ahead of its release.

Melissa St. Hilaire wrote film and music reviews for The Heights Inc. Her poetry has appeared in the periodicals Shards, The Outer Fringe, and The Laughing Medusa. She co-authored several scripts for Tone-East Productions. She has written articles for Feminine Power Circle, Savvy Authors, SF Signal, and The Qwillery, among others. She has also appeared in the anthology books Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies and Folk Horror Revival: Corpse Roads. Her debut book was a memoir titled In The Now. She co-wrote the dark fantasy series, Saurimonde, with Scarlett Amaris, and is currently finishing a sci-fi novel called X’odus. She is also a founding member of the Tridents of Hekate coven.

Conjuration

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Gary Parsons is an MA film graduate from Goldsmiths College London who specialises in short films. Utilizing both, elements of the surrealist genre and images of the occult, these films are both beautiful and at times disturbing. They also tap into the verisimilitude of the erotic and the unconventional.

Gary has been influenced by film-makers such as Jan Svankmajer, Kenneth Anger, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Luis Bunuel, Hans Richter, Man Ray and Jean Rollin. All these elements meet within a melting pot to find visual references within the work.

Gary’s films can be viewed in many different ways, as straight forward narrative pieces but also as ritual film as demonstrated by similar film-makers such as Maya Derren or even as music promo video. The films stand as an ongoing obsession of their maker as an overall understanding of the human psyche within certain specific landscapes.

Conjuration is Gary’s most recent film and is based around an Alexandrian ritual. It deals with modern day magick, but also correlates it with magick’s heritage through Gary’s impeccable choice of shooting locations. Several powerful ancient sites, notably Avebury, Glastonbury, Pompeii and Oslo were chosen for this purpose.

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Louhi, The Northern Witch

Directed by Lauri Löytökoski, Louhi, The Northern Witch is a silent film with an ambient-folk score, based on The Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, the story draws from its shamanistic aspects.

The lead character is Runoi; a nascent witch who confronts his mother’s night terrors and is quickly transported into the realm of Louhi, the witch-queen of the undead. He journeys to axis mundi, the mythical pillar connecting heaven, earth and the underworld.

Main characters of The Kalevala are introduced as vessels for him to pass through. In the lines of Carl G. Jung’s anima/animus theory, they represent subconscious element of one’s sexuality, the opposite of the dominant side.

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So, that pretty much completes this year’s action packed lineup. Tickets are currently available from the eventbrite page below. We hope to see you all there for what promises to be another spectacular weekend of music, film, talks and art.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/folk-horror-revival-presents-winter-ghosts-tickets-55468722442

Don’t forget as well as the main Saturday event there will be the Thresholds Art Show in conjunction with Decadent Drawing, the unofficial Friday ice-breaker featuring Storm Chorus at the Rifle Club, and the Ghost story readings at the Hetty and Betty Cafe in Baxtergate on Sunday 15th.

 

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https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/folk-horror-revival-presents-winter-ghosts-tickets-55468722442