Klaus Morlock – `Bethany’s Cradle’
Unearthed at last, one of the true “holy grail” soundtracks of seventies folk horror: Bethany’s Cradle. The film that never was.
For those unfamiliar with the background, Bethany’s Cradle is one of Italian director Angelo Ascerbi’s great, lost works. Shot in the English Lake district and based on a script by Antonio Baresi and made mainly using English actors. The film was financed by the equally shadowy Lupus Pictures, known for cult Euro Horror’s like “Blood Of The Limping” and the “Seduction Of The Beast”. Bethany’s Cradle tells the story of a young woman, Bethany, an apparent virgin who nevertheless becomes pregnant, and her involvement with a strange cult who carry out their rituals on the banks of Lake Windermere in the very heart of the Lake District. As a teenager growing up in Cumbria, I have a very clear memory of a feature in the Cumberland News at the time of the filming. As I recall, local extras were being sought for scenes to be shot in the Cumbrian market town of Penrith. Accompanying the piece were some shots of director Ascerbi posing with Eleanor “Ray” Bone, the witch of Blindcrake, who was apparently “advising” Ascerbi on certain key scenes within the film.
For reasons that are still unclear, production on the film was halted after an altercation between Ascerbi and Lupus pictures boss, Billy Wolf.
Undeterred Morlock continued with the score, which finally saw the light of day later in 1979 with a very limited vinyl release through Lambent Records. Copies of this being so rare, that five figure sums are now expected on the occasions that a copy comes onto the market. Fortunately for us Mr. Morlock’s curator has managed to acquire a serviceable copy of this super rare vinyl and effected a very high quality digital transfer, which I am delighted to report captures all the warmth and crackle of the original recording.
So, onto the content:
We begin with an opening title theme in the classic seventies euro horror style that makes some clear nods to both the maestro Morricone and the workhorse sounds of Fabio Frizzi. Eventually the piece mutates into a throbbing synth driven chase scene in the classic Tangerine Dream, sequencer epic style style. It’s here that Morlock deploys both the ARP Odyssey as well as the mighty CS80, later made famous by Vangelis in the score to Blade Runner. Next up is a total change of style, with a wistful solo piano piece; Bethany’s Solitude. Here we find a strange mixture of lounge jazz and almost Satie like dreaminess. An unexpectedly beautiful little piece. Bethany’s Dream finds us back in familiar Morlock territory, fusing spiraling guitars and Melotron that eventually fade into a wall of analog delay. This then leads us into Cumbrian Twilight, starting with ominous synths, this slowly builds around a driving drum machine pattern as more and more elements are added, the piece lightens before suddenly grinding to an ominous halt.
Farewell Letter, is a short piece for guitars that is in turn charming and hypnotic. Next up we have the hard synth piece, Cloudburst. Once again this has the feel of Frizzi or Carpenter, though the disco like beats date this quite firmly in the late seventies. Not even Klaus Morlock could avoid the need for disco in a soundtrack in 1979. However, Morlock is unafraid to pull the rug from under us and abruptly this synth piece dissolves into something else altogether, a beautiful lullaby recalling the opening theme. What follows next seems to predate the kind of music that Richard James would peddle under the name Aphex Twin so successfully on his selected Ambient works albums. Here, in The Draughty Church, the full might of the CS 80 is deployed in a majestic piece of what I can only describe as “proto-electronica”. This is prime Morlock, with drifting glacial synthesisers overlaying a driving bass line, all of which slowly morphs a wall of deeply unsettling synth textures and ambient winds. Next up is Village Messenger, and it’s here that the album moves from synth and prog territory into full on chiming folk horror. A simple guitar motif and hand drums conjure up images of pagan rituals being practiced on the shore of Lake Windermere in the early morning light of mid summer. Then, almost immediately, the mood changes again and birdsong and synthesisers lead us into the The Shadow Garden. No-one else conveys innocence and threat quite so effectively. Bethany’s Departure builds on this, opening with melancholy keyboards this too becomes gradually more sinister, the unease palpable as the synthesisers build upon each other, emphasizing the growing horror of the film’s resolution. We can only assume this was a film with no happy ending.
And finally we come to the closing theme, the most experimental piece of the album. Synths and reversed guitars intertwine in an oddly musical chaos, achieved no doubt by the use of multiple Studer multi-track tape machines, inexpertly synced together by Morlock himself.
So, where does this stand in the Morlock canon? Stylistically it’s a progression from earlier soundtracks: The Bridmore Lodge Tapes and the Child Garden, while taking in some of the more prog, psych and folk rock elements of the longer form releases Penumbra and Virgin Spring. Simply put, if like me you are Morlock obsessive, you have to have this release. Even in this digital format it is pure sonic wonderment. This is music that deserves to be heard, not hoarded in a private record collection. One can only hope that Klaus Morlock’s curator continues to unearth more releases for the benefit of his many fans.
Review by Jonathan Sharp.