Interview with Gareth E. Rees

I

Gareth E. Rees is founder of the Unofficial Britain website and author of three books, Marshland (2013), The Stone Tide (2018) and Car Park Life (2019). His most recently published book is Unofficial Britain, a remarkably vivid exploration of a Britain that exists beyond the conventional and the prescribed. This is a book which peels by the layers of cultural conformity to reveal the previously hidden magic and strangeness of industrial estates, factories and pylons, motorways, ring roads and flyovers, hospitals and houses and housing estates. Noticing the strong connection to psychogeographic current which pulses through the veins of many members of the Folk Horror Revival, John Pilgrim took the opportunity to make some ‘routine enquiries’.

FHR: How have the towns and cities which you have spent time in shaped your identity and psychology – at the time and in the subsequent chapters of your life? Does the residue of place, especially the unofficial locations which you document live on in us?”

I’m half Welsh, half Scottish, with an English accent, and experience of living in Scotland, Wales, Northern England, London and the South Coast. Also I was born outside the UK. So I’ve been gifted with freedom from regional patriotism or prejudice. It means that in a book like this, I’ve been able to connect my own memories and experiences to many of its varied national locations.

The main thread of influence, particularly in my childhood, was that I lived in a threshold between countryside and city. Firstly, Kirkintilloch, just outside Glasgow, on the Forth and Clyde Canal. Then we moved to Glossop which is just east of Manchester, nestled in a landscape of old mills and factories beside the Peak District National Park.

The landscape of my youth was characterised by a mixture of industrial and rural, on the edge of things. When I eventually moved to Clapton in Hackney in my 30s, I began to walk the Lea Valley, London’s former East End industrial heartland, now a nature reserve. That was where my landscape writing began – the process which lead to Unofficial Britain.

In my first book, Marshland, I put my fascination with the marshes down to its evocation of my childhood landscapes. I believe that those early saturations of place stay with us for life – and they are valid and important no matter what that childhood environment was, be it deep rural countryside, suburban town, or urban council estate. Unofficial Britain is about looking at everyday places in which we live and acknowledging their place in our personal and collective memories.

FHR: In part, your book seems to be a challenge to the basis upon which traditional norms legitimise our experiences of the poetic and profound – is this right?

If you remove subjective notions of ‘ugliness’ and ‘beauty’, along with concepts like ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ and instead consider every object as having within it all the ingredients of the universe – then a huge world of possibilities open up, where a breeze block can be as interesting or meaningful as a rock, or where the undulations of the tarmac in a car park can be as fascinating as ripples on a pond.

FHR: Following on from this, you have said elsewhere that ‘everywhere is magical – everywhere is valid’. Pushing the logic of this a bit further it seems that this is both a personal invitation for a change in perceptions but also one which has cultural and political implications?

Yes, because it defuses this idea of an authentic pure ‘nature’ that must be revered (even though in a British landscape almost entirely reshaped by human activity since the Neolithic, it doesn’t really exist) while the places we all live are somehow sullied and unworthy. It also goes against this conservative, and often racist, idea that magic, folklore and myth belong in the rural past and to ‘proper’ British people (who also don’t really exist), because now we can see how imagination, storytelling and wonder continue in our contemporary world of industry, retail, housing estates and motorways.

FHR: Your book offers the prospect of an ‘urban reimagining’ – a chance to identify and connect to previously hidden aspects of our city environment. One example which I particularly liked was the role of roundabouts and your meeting with Stuart Silver in Glasgow and his call for urban paganism. Are roundabouts a good starting point in this respect? What are the roundabouts which you have known and loved?

Roundabouts are local lodestones in urban areas. They attract traffic from all angles then repel them in different directions. This gives them an undeniable power and influence. It is common for them to contain horticulture, sculpture, local advertising and other forms of local identity. So, roundabouts often have more to them than people think. Quite often they are situated on sites of importance – ancient crossroads, the sites of churches and prehistoric dwellings.

In the book I write about ‘the Urban Prehistorian’, Kenneth Brophy, who sees roundabouts as a legitimate fieldwork target for archaeologists. He gives the example of the Greenyards Roundabout near Bannockburn in Stirling, the construction of which in 2010 exposed post holes, Bronze Age roundhouses and evidence of agricultural activity. Sites like this offer an opportunity to peer through portals into the past. But it’s not only about looking back. Kenny believes that the roundabout has its own inherent value as ‘the latest aspect of the biography of this location’.

For an eye-opening roundabout tour, I recommend people visit Cribb’s Causeway Retail Park, just north of Bristol. It first appeared in my previous book, Car Park Life, but I make a return to it in Unofficial Britain. There are a series of roundabouts within the retail complex that have mysterious shapes and uncertain meanings – possibly relating to erogenous zones. I’ll leave it for people to get my book to find out more.

FHR: One chapter in your book draws out the terror and the anonymity of the hospital experience. Was it a therapeutic for you writing this chapter? And how might we encounter hospitals differently?

When I originally conceived of the hospital chapter, I was thinking primarily about the weirdness of the external areas – the seemingly chaotic jumble of disparate buildings, modern improvisations bolted onto the old, and the sometimes terrifying glimpses of the visceral reality – biomass chimneys burning tissue and bloody rags, tossed-away kidney dishes and signs for ‘blood letting units’. Beyond the grand facades of sliding doors and the smooth white interiors, there is a horror of sorts, in walking the back stage area. That stuff is in that chapter.

But then I bean to think about all the drama, horror, tragedy and joy that occurs within the hospital itself, which is rarely allowed to imprint itself on the disinfected and polished walls, floors and furnishings, yet which exists in the memory of those who experienced it. In moments of crisis, the hospital becomes the theatre set for the biggest dramas in our life – from birth to death – where we notice all the microdetails, the smells, textures and sounds. Then it’s all cleaned and packed away, leaving only this memory – which over time becomes a kind of fiction as we edit and shape that memory. In this way, a hospital interior is largely a psychological entity. Then when you think of the sheer volume of stories that happen in that space, it becomes an anthology of narrative that cannot be seen, but which does exist in the collective consciousness.

I don’t know if it will change the way we encounter hospitals, only that we maybe reconsider how weird they are – this non-place that is also fundamental to our family stories of birth, death, suffering and redemption

FHR: I saw that you were recently on television talking about your love of carparks. How might you persuade sceptics to re-evaluate the appeal of car parks? I personally find multi-story carparks to be quite sinister – is this your experience?

The appeal of car parks, for me, is that they are spaces in full public view, which many of us use daily or weekly, which are also unexplored as place in themselves. Why can’t a car park be as interesting as a wood? People use them to park cars and shop, but when you walk around them, poking into the corners, searching for clues, they reveal strange energies, weird juxtapositions and hidden stories. Google ‘car park + violence’ and you’ll see tales of horror, depravities, and a society with its wheels falling off. The heart of darkness might not be at the end of a river through the jungle, but in the space outside Tesco.

Car Park Life was specifically about chain retail store car parks, but in Unofficial Britain I explore the multi-storey, which are like crumbling Norman castles – one in almost every town and city. People find them beautiful but also sinister – in the book I talk about ghost sightings and experiences, as well as the creepiness of the decay inside these unique spaces.

FHR: In the book you share accounts of hauntings, often in quite mundane settings such as council houses. What is your own view of such things and how do they shape your philosophy of how we might broaden our experience of Unofficial Britain?

I wanted to get across the idea that the supernatural can seep into, and out of, every structure no matter how modern or seemingly mundane. Folklore and myth are not fixed in a halcyon past, but ongoing. They are carried in our hearts and minds, and therefore any place can be haunted – a 60s council house, a multi-storey car park, an industrial estate. We have lived for over 70 years in an urban landscape of council estates, shopping centres, motorways, pylons and cooling towers. They’ve been around long enough to become storied with love, loss, grief, violence, sexual awakenings and rites of passage. The book is an attempt to find some of the fresh shoots of future folklore as they burst from the concrete, seeking the light.

FHR: Can you say a little more about your literary influences. Clearly Richard Mabey’s Unofficial Countryside provides an important touchstone for challenging what is considered to be of significance in our landscape. Are writers such as JG Ballard and Iain Sinclair important to you? What are the pros and cons of being influenced by other writers?

Neither of those writers are particularly important to me, although Ballard inevitably crops up in the chapter about motorway flyovers. I am mainly influenced by other people who I’ve connected to online, who are ploughing similar – or complementary – furrows. I made a conscious decision to hat tip all the influences in the book itself, so you’ll see mention of websites like Scarfolk, Hookland and Anatomy of Norbiton, artists like Maxum Griffin, Jane Samuels and Mark Hollis, writers like Salena Godden, Nick Papadimitriou and Gary Budden, academic practitioners like Phil Smith, record labels like Ghost Box and musicians like Mark Williamson. The bibliography even includes Folk Horror Revival. These are the sorts of influences I have, and I can’t see any downsides to that – they are a source of ideas and inspiration. What I produce is something very different to these projects, so I am not burdened by the pressure of trying to compete directly.

FHR: Why is it that there seems to be a growing appreciation of pylons across the country? You document your own experiences vividly in the book but there are others who are connecting to this current – Hookland for example and the cult of The Children of the Hum.

One of the themes of the book is the way that landscape features become engrained in both our personal memories and the public folk consciousness. This can happen with industrial structures in the same way as natural topographical features. For everyone alive right now, pretty much, pylons have always been there. They’re huge, imposing structures that transcend town and city. On top of that, they’re highly sculptural, with phallic and feminine qualities. Depending on their location they can be menacing, majestic, serene or terrifying. Beneath the surface there’s a lot going on with pylons, as I reveal in the opening chapter which includes Illuminati conspiracies, Egyptology and alien invaders.

FHR: You are a musician. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on how music and sound can change our experience of everyday environments. What artists do you admire – for example do you have any affinity with Brian Eno, ambient music or the Ghostbox project?

In my first book, Marshland, I used what I call ‘soundchronicities’, which are walks where you also listen to music at a volume that doesn’t drown out the external noise, creating a unique DJ mix, never to be repeated. I used a lot of ambient and experimental electronic music for that, including Eno, but also Ekoplekz, TVO, The Psychogeographical Commission and Jon Brooks. This technique allows you to open up new interpretations of a place, influenced by the mood of what you’re listening to.

In Unofficial Britain, I didn’t use music in that way, but I do write about some of the ways that pylons, underpasses, power stations, motorways and other modern structures have been expressed in music, poetry and film. So I write a little bit about Ghost Box Records, and touch on other genres too – for instance, the M6 feature in multiple tracks by Half Man Half Biscuit, while the building of the M1 was subject of a radio folk ballad by Ewan MacColl.

FHR: Finally, what three unofficial places in Britain would you recommend visiting?

That’s a hard one to answer. The main point of the book was to avoid obviously extreme or interesting locations and show that there is fascination in the everyday. We all live in places that are full of magic, weirdness and stories, if we can just dwell in them a while, look closely, and allow our imaginations to roam. So really I wouldn’t recommend visiting three specific places in the map – but instead visit three types of place near you and see what happens. I’d recommend: an underpass (ideally beneath a roundabout); an industrial estate; and a multi-storey car park. Go there, wander, poke about, and get the feel of the place. See what happens. You never know.

The Occultaria of Albion

A folk horror `zine series exploring the weird & unusual in Albion – reviewed by Jim Peters

I imagine that a fair percentage of you are, like me, a fan of the local guide to an area’s myths, legends and hauntings – the sort of slim publication you can pick up in the Tourist Information Centre, library or small local museum shop. Sometimes you can pick up a second hand copy which approaches the subject matter from a slightly different angle to a modern version and of these it is those from the late 60’s-70’s that are the most pleasing. There is something about this period that sets it aside as a high tide mark for all things folkloric, esoteric, occult and otherworldly and this is reflected in these wonderful little guide books. Written by people with local knowledge (“for local people – we’ll have no trouble here”) and a willingness to believe in the stories they heard as they were growing up, they present the most farfetched and dark tales with a non-judgmental innocence punctuated with groovy artwork, long lost fonts and, if you are lucky, a handful of adverts for local attractions and tradespeople.

Recently there has been a resurgence of self-published magazines which take a look at the same subject matters but do so in a studious, serious style for the already converted and while they are a refreshing sign of people’s changing tastes and the rise of folk horror and other dark topics in the public’s conscious they don’t have quite the charm of those small run local guides of yesteryear. Their production and the quality of the end product is very impressive indeed and makes for a thing of beauty but they look more like the coffee table read of Jerry and Margo than the 70’s charm of Tom and Barbara’s rustic kitchen table…..for that you need to visit Scaraby and pick up a copy of The Occultaria of Albion.

This charming, oddball publication is the brainchild of writer Richard Daniels and illustrator Melody Clark in which `the damned and dusty files of (the hidden, haunted Lincolnshire village) Low Scaraby are opened, releasing a howl of unsolved mysteries and oddities.’ The perfect size, length and subject matter to enjoy with your afternoon cuppa on an autumnal day.

Lower Scaraby was introduced us to in Richard’s wonderful short story collection Too Dead For Dreaming (previously reviewed by FHR) and each edition of The Occultaria of Albion focuses on a different aspect of the Folk Horror landscape and legends of the countryside around the village. We are treated to tales of a tiny model village with its own inhabitants and urban myths in the Isle of Drumgunnan issue, the portentous psychedelic summer gatherings at Wickstead House, Highway robbery and UFOs on the A2358 and all manner of other wyrd folk horror wonderfulness with hopefully plenty more still to come.

You can get your back issues and keep an eye on future releases on Richard’s Plastic Brain website:

( The Plastic Richard Daniels )

The Plastic Richard Daniels

Expect literary weirdness!

And you can also support them through Patreon and get all manner of goodies for your time and effort…as it says on the Patreon page –

Come; step through the fog and the velvet drapes and into an Albion which has always existed, though only ever glimpsed in the shadows. If you become an OCCULTARIA of ALBION KNIGHT (OAK) means you are part of an exclusive group of men and women – yes, in centuries past you would have been burnt as a heretic but today, you are a seeker of truth!

Note: the OA Trauma Helpline has now been disconnected. You’re on your own.

( Occultaria of Albion is creating a zine series exploring the weird & unusual in Albion | Patreon )

Occultaria of Albion is creating a zine series exploring the weird & unu…

Become a patron of Occultaria of Albion today: Get access to exclusive content and experiences on the world’s la…

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The Wulver’s Stane Zine

The Wulver’s Stane is a zine of folklore and forteana by Urban Wyrd contributor and FHR admin SJ Lyall. It features articles on folklore horror in punk, Edinburgh’s standing stones, Perth’s pagan rituals, woodwoses and an account of a roadtrip round some weird sites in the USA. Features cover art by Alex CF and back cover art by Graeme Cunningham.
Issue two currently in the works.
Copies are available here.

Book Review: Unofficial Britain by Gareth E. Rees

We think of folklore as taking place in misty moors and dark forests, but as ways of life changed and people moved from countryside to town, they didn’t stop telling stories or having unusual experiences. Instead these now take place in tower blocks or underpasses, crossroads are replaced by roundabouts and motorway junctions, and strange beasts are now encountered on the fringes on cities rather than deep forests. Unofficial Britain looks at the generally disregarded locations of the modern landscape that feature in people’s stories. There are chapters on the strangeness of pylons, urban geomancy, haunted housing estates, weird experiences on motorways and the non-places of service stations, and strange creatures and liminality in industrial estates. This features a look at the nightmarish Greenock catman, which sees the author go clambering through bushes behind Greenock bus depot in the hunt for him.

While the book documents a range of people’s experiences, it’s also a very personal book, taking us through the author’s life and the stories he told himself about the smokestacks and gap sites around him. It’s extremely readable and taps into an eclectic selection of sources- historical accounts, first hand experiences, urban druids and punk bands to name a few. Essential reading if you are interested in the urban wyrd and how folklore is mutating and developing in modern times.

Review by SJ Lyall

`Rural Eerie’ – New album from Flange Circus

`Rural Eerie’ by Flange Circus

Review by Jim Peters

`Rural Eerie’ is the new album from electronics and hauntronica trio Flange Circus available as a digital download and limited edition DVD in which they set out to explore the strange side of the countryside through sounds and words. Much like the Wyrd Harvest Press publications, who’s profits go to the Wildlife Trust, allprofits from the digital sales of Rural Eerie will, most fittingly, go to the Woodland Trust.

Introduction track Mouldy Heels soothes the listener ready for this nostalgic journey through sound with the kind of ambient drone that is the staple of any modern horror film but plenty of fresh touches to hold the listener’s attention. Strangely aquatic sounding birdcalls filter through the swirls with an echo that William Orbit would be proud of before heavy synths prelude an ominous piano refrain – A refrain that seems to come from the same place in our musical past as that of The Rolling of the Stones. All this before the introduction of some dramatic treated vocals that have a Wagner feels that hints at the gothic, pagan pomp of some of the finest Nordic drones and Runic rock…. building, building always building until we are primed and ready for the rest of the album – and remember this is just the introduction.

The rest of the album is a mixture of these musical/soundscape interludes that serve to shift the focus and reshape the landscape between collages of spoken word and poetry. It is an approach not dissimilar to how John Cameron scored Kes with the music only coming to the fore during the scene setting between the visual poetry created by Ken Loach from Barry Hines’ words.

`The countryside: a place of tranquility, less compromised by modern life, harmonious communities, innocence and safety. This much is the rural idyll. Yet the rural is also the unknown rustling in the hedgerow as the country lane is traveled at night. It can be the half-seen shapes and shadows in the woodland and copse; the desolate hillside, the treacherous rocky crag; the lone leafless tree atop the knoll. The countryside is the space where supposed closely-knit social ties become like suffocating and impenetrable knot weed to the outsider, the incomer, the blow-in. It is the place of curious rituals, wyrd practices and often unfamiliar and still-surviving lore: a space haunted by the ghosts of occluded pasts. Beyond the supposed rural idyll malevolent forces often work, uncanny sensations prowl and the eerie is always lurking and ready to be encountered.’

The album plays out as an inspiring, evocative, and at times mesmerizing tapestry of music, sound, spoken word, and poetry. Sepia tinted reminisces, self-fulfilling ritualistic behavior, tales shrouded in the warm breath of the land, and imagined histories now made real. The collective that have been gathered to create this wonderful body of work is made up from a core of musicians and a number of poets and writers who were commissioned for the album. Each provided a selection of evocative keywords from their work which informed the music and soundscapes and so the album slowly evolves and morphs with each new voice taking the listener on rewarding journey.

The musical side of the album is in the very safe hands of the three members of Flange Circus:

Pete Collins: Keyboards, Programming, Noises.

Bon Holloway: Keyboards, Programming, Field Recordings, Noises.

John Taylor: Keyboards, Accordion, Noises.

With field recordings collected from various rural locations in: Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Oxfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, and North Yorkshire it is not just the locations of this. It aural harvesting that shape the album. It hangs heavy with the air of the northern climes of this sceptred isle with the spoken word conjuring up the past and present of the North West – of the Lancashire landscape carved at and reformed by the long faltered advance of the industrial revolution and also of the uncompromised liminal spaces left untouched in-between. This is almost how the album is presented with the musical excerpts in-between the spoken word. It is as if the listener is swooping over a land of patchwork fields each with a story to tell and a memory to be harvested from the furrows below.

There has been is a beautiful moment of synchronicity as I listen and re-listen to this album and write this review with the warm summer breeze bringing me the majestic mewing of the Red Kites through my open window adding to the listening experience. At times it has been hard to discern if the field recordings seemingly woven into the tracks are from my garden or already on the album. It’s a beautiful occurrence and one that has made listening to Rural Eerie even more magical.

The overall effect of this collection of works is one that feels rewarding, as if you have just been shown something very precious and special from its creators and this is result of the different voices and tones of the words being fed to us. With the post-production and additional atmospherics, the musicality of these voices is brought to the fore. The first spoken word section is a wonderfully effective and evocative example of this with Emily Oldfield’s voice becoming another instrument – her soft tones and soothing delivery wraps itself around the lyrical language she employs to tell her tales and the listener is drawn in and given a seat at the bedside.

Even the title of the album `Rural Eerie’ and the names given to the instrumentals summon up a simpler, if darker, past…. of times before cities, roads, and the railways brought everything together. A change that instead of allowing stories and experiences to be shared and spread molded them together into an excepted version of our past that had no time for ancient beliefs nor a life shared with our landscape. It feels like it is this change and what came before that it that Flange Circus are trying to address with `Rural Eerie’ with references to ‘Mould Heels’ (the nickname of Katherine Hewitt one of the Pendle Witches), ‘Godspeed the plough’ (a banner from a news item about rural customs), and ‘Nineteen Corvids’ which is a play on Covid 19. This in turn links to Louise Holloway’s reading of `Desolation’ which is itself about Eyam (the famous plague village in the Peak District) and includes some recordings of the recent clap for carers.

In the challenge of addressing these themes – very successfully fulfilled – it seems on paper that Flange Circus tread the same furrow as the likes of Sproatly Smith and although the two are very different musically I would love to see these two share a bill sometime or maybe even collaborate. That aside I am more than content with Flange Circus to conjure up these many different and varied bucolic, musical tales –` real, half-remembered, imagined, absent and present’.

This is an ambitious project and the results are fantastic. I highly recommend this to anyone with a love of folk music, electronica, poetry, our rural past, the voices of the landscape, and real genuine talent.

You can download the album from – https://flangecircus.bandcamp.com/

The Dark Earth of Albion

There is something in the soil……

The Dark Earth of Albion by Gareth Spark

Plastic Brain Press is a creative and mind expanding enterprise putting out collections of short stories and poetry that dabble on the dark side with a lysergic sense of the surreal. Folk Horror Revival has previously reviewed Richard Daniels’ `Too Dead for Dreaming’ for this blog (also from Plastic Brain Press) and so when the postman delivered The Dark Earth of Albion to my door I knew I had an appointment with hours dreadful and things strange…..

The first thing to say at the start of this review is that rather than read this review you should order a copy of this book and read it for yourself.

The individual stories in this collection of 13 short tales reveal a multitude of characters and nightmare tinged settings from throughout this land’s dark and twisted past, present and maybe even our future. The introduction and unveiling of these various tales and their protagonists is an experience that no book review will ever do justice to.It is these experiences that links these stories together and the disassociated, outsider feel of these tales is as potent as is their link to some mysterious ancient invocation of the earth. Go and buy this book and immerse yourself in Gareth Sparks world.

The tales themselves vary in both length (some being just over a page long), subject matter and setting with Gareth turning his hand to desolate industrial estates, wartime nightclubs, remote coastal villages and muddy woodland clearings telling tales of abduction, apocalyptic survival, ancient rituals, Norse raids, biker gangs and polar bears in Whitby. What carries through all of these short stories and briefly glimpsed vignettes is Gareth’s delightful and delicious use of language. These stories are poetic – they flow with words that don’t just describe – they create, they mould and shape the story deep inside your head and occupy your thoughts.

As the press release states `The Dark Earth of Albion’ is a collection of tales tuned to a strange and savage folk horror frequency. Stories which have crawled from the mud and now stand dripping on your bedroom carpet watching you sleep. Stories that have the power to haunt, like the warning cries of crows on a cold northerly night.’ There are indeed stories here that genuinely chill and unnerve. Stories that begin weaving a dark scene onto which even darker events are played out…..

`Dane Franlkin lived in the far side of the forest close to where the tall, black pines shaved down to the moor as hair shaves down to a skull, He lived in the remains of an old caravan with his sister, Suzanne, who has, over the years, turned more than a little crazy. She’d wander the moors and woods in stone-cold rain and beneath clouds the colour of bruises in a wind that ripped like a flail across bracken and heather.’

After reading this as the start of a story who wouldn’t want to read on and find out what dark twisted paths Gareth is leading us down. And believe me it is very dark and twisted indeed!

Many of these tales exude creepy folk horror vibes and it can be no mere coincidence that Gareth Sparks hails from Whitby – a part of the world that holds up and is itself held up by local legends and folklore. A part of England where every window you look out of and every view you stop and admire is a story in itself – and that is exactly what Gareth has created here. A collection of writings that invite us to see the way he views the world through his window onto Albion’s grey and unpleasant lands. There are no dark and satanic mills here instead you are left with the impression that every mill is dark and satanic – or has the potential to be. The same goes for every cottage, wooded glade, derelict building, rain darkened moor and swollen brook.

As Gareth says `Folk Horror interests…as a response to a banal culture dominated by the vulgar and corrupted by commerce’. In `The Dark Earth of Albion’ he has certainly responded to that in a very powerful and entertaining way. Whilst some tales totally absorb the reader others will unsettle and unnerve but they are all presented with a sense of poetic understanding that is anything but banal.

You can find out more and order you copy of Gareth Spark’s `The Dark Earth of Albion’ from Plastic Brain Press here –

https://plasticbrainpress.com/product/the-dark-earth-of-albion-by-gareth-spark/

Reviewed for FHR by Jim Peters

British Folk Horror TV of the ’50s

In this series of articles I hope to create as complete a list as possible of folk horror-relevant programmes produced for British television, hopefully including documentaries and others that are not strictly folk horror but which are still relevant.

There will doubtless be some missing, so if you have any updates, additions, corrections etc. please either write in the comments or tweet to @folk_horror, and hopefully the article can be kept updated. Also if you have recollections of watching lost and forgotten productions from when they were broadcast I’d love to hear them.

This first part spans the 1940s and 1950s. Very little survives from this era due to most productions being performed live and not recorded, and most of what was recorded was not retained. There is also limited information that I could find for many of these productions and I’ve been fairly inclusive, so there may be some listed which didn’t have a significant component of what would now be considered folk horror.

Saturday Night Stories (15 mins, 20 episodes?)

Broadcast details: BBC/ 24th Jan 1948-22nd Oct 1949

Archive Status/ Availability: Missing

Notes: BBC Genome lists most of these as having been read by the author Algernon Blackwood, but also mentions readings by another famous writer of weird fiction, Lord Dunsany. Also mentioned are ones by Compton Mackenzie and Sir Christopher Lynch Robinson, so it is likely the series was not all supernatural. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find any details of which stories were read, and although there were 20 broadcast some of the stories may have been repeated.

Algernon Blackwood also appeared in a 1949 series entitled A Strange Experience produced by Rayant Pictures, but again I was unable to discover where they were broadcast. Six episodes were made, and two episodes have been made available by the BFI to view online here:

‘Lock Your Door’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRy4D11qc8I

‘The Reformation of St. Jules’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATAOHgHJv3E

http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/search/0/20?adv=1&order=asc&q=saturday+night+stories&svc=9371533&yf=1948&yt=1949#search

https://nicklouras.wordpress.com/2018/01/21/rare-film-of-algernon-blackwood/

Algernon Blackwood in ‘The Reformation of St. Jules’

Sunday-Night Theatre – ‘Witch Wood’ (1 hr 30 mins)

Broadcast details: BBC/ 30th May & 3rd Jun 1954

Archive status/ Availability: Missing

Notes: Adaptation of John Buchan’s 1927 novel about a witch cult surviving into the mid-17th century in the Scottish Borders. The play was performed live on Sunday evening and again the following Thursday, but neither performance is known to have been recorded. A second BBC adaptation was broadcast in 1964.

Two Ghost Stories (30 mins)

Broadcast details: BBC/ 14th Oct 1954

Archive status/ Availability: Missing

Notes: Readings of two short stories by M.R. James with visual effects added live: ‘Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook’ (narrated by Robert Farquharson) and ‘The Mezzotint’ (narrated by George Rose).

http://www.pardoes.info/roanddarroll/MediaList.html#anchor7441

The Creature (1 hr 30 mins)

Broadcast details: BBC/ 30th Jan & 3rd Feb 1955

Archive status/ Availability: Missing

Notes: Nigel Kneale play about an expedition led by Dr. John Rollason (Peter Cushing) into the Himalayas in search of the mysterious Yeti or Abominable Snowman. The play was performed live (with pre-filmed inserts shot in the Alps) twice, once on Sunday and again on the following Thursday, but as was standard at the time neither was recorded. However, Hammer Studios released a movie adaptation in 1957, re-titled The Abominable Snowman with Peter Cushing reprising his role, and this is available on DVD.

http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/8e051ddcfcc14ae29640692616d159ec [original Radio Times listing]

http://www.britishtelevisiondrama.org.uk/?p=1141 [In depth article about the TV production]

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Abominable-Snowman-DVD-Peter-Cushing/dp/B0058CLCNY [Hammer Studios version on DVD]

Poster for Hammer Studios adaptation of The Creature

Colonel March of Scotland Yard (27 mins approx., 26 episodes in total, relevant episodes below)

Broadcast details: ITV/ 1955-56

Archive status/ Availability: All still exist, and are available on Amazon Prime UK at the time of writing

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Colonel-March-of-Scotland-Yard/dp/B01IAGGZJU

Notes: A detective series starring Boris Karloff as Colonel March. which included the following apparently supernatural episodes although I’m not sure they can be called folk horror. Episode descriptions taken from Amazon:

1. ‘The Sorcerer’ (1st Oct 1955)

"A psychologist is found stabbed to death in a seemingly sealed room. Inspector March needs to decide who had the most reason to kill him, and how did they accomplish the task."

2. ‘The Abominable Snowman’ (8th Oct 1955)

"Members of the Himalayan Mountaineering Club are threatened by what appears to be the abominable snowman, and someone leaves a strange footprint on a ledge outside Colonel March’s office."

3. ‘Present Tense’ (15th Oct 1955)

"Colonel March’s niece, a believer in spiritualism, thinks she hears her dead husband’s voice and others in the house become convinced her husband has returned as a ghost. But has he?"

11. ‘The Talking Head’ (17th Dec 1955)

"A 12-year-old boy insists his dead father told him to kill his mother’s new fiancée. But did the father truly die in an accidental plane crash?"

23. ‘The Case of the Lively Ghost’ (31st Dec 1955)

"A phony spiritualist believes she’s truly summoned a real ghost. Colonel March attends her next seance to discover the identity of the spirit’s killer- dead or alive."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonel_March_of_Scotland_Yard

Boris Karloff as Colonel March of Scotland Yard

Days of Grace (45 mins)

Broadcast details: BBC/ 18th Sep 1956

Archive status/ Availability: Missing

A Scottish ghost story based on a story by David Forbes Lorne, adapted by Moultrie R. Kelsall: "When somebody dies, his first duty is to keep watch from sunset until the day breaks, every night until the next dead soul relieves him…"

http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/471624ea5e964cbea41d9aee8367d9a7

Out of Step – Witchcraft (25 mins)

Broadcast details: ITV/ 4th Dec 1957

Archive status/ Availability: Exists, and available as an extra on the BFI’s Blu-Ray and DVD release of 1970s witchsploitation films Secret Rites and Legend of the Witches

https://shop.bfi.org.uk/pre-order-legend-of-the-witches-secret-rites-flipside-039-dual-format-edition.html

Notes: Out of Step was a series of documentary shorts looking at “unconventional opinions”, and in this edition presenter Daniel Farson interviewed Margaret Murray and Gerald Gardner about witchcraft, and discussed Aleister Crowley with Louis Wilkinson.

White Hunter – ‘Voodoo Wedding’ (30 mins)

Broadcast details: ITV/ 15th Oct 1958

Archive status/ Availability: Exists, but currently unavailable

Notes: White Hunter (1957-58) is a series about a Big Game hunter (appropriately called John Hunter) and his African assistant Atimbu which was shot in England with stock footage of Africa. In this episode a young woman believes she may have become the victim of a Voodoo curse. Probably not relevant but included for completeness.

https://web.archive.org/web/20170923163501/http://www.zone-sf.com/voodoouk.html [Archived version of 'Britain under the spell: representations of voodoo in British films and TV' by Paul Higson]

http://ctva.biz/UK/ITC/WhiteHunter.htm[White Hunter episode guide]

Armchair Theatre – ‘The Witching Hour’

Broadcast details: ITV/ 2nd Nov 1958

Archive status/ Availability: Missing

Notes: Quite possibly not relevant, but included for completeness.

"Jack Brookfield, a gambler with clairvoyant and hypnotic powers, is able to win at cards through his unique gift. But when he inadvertently hypnotizes young Clay Thorne, Thorne kills an enemy of Brookfield’s while under a trance. No one believes Brookfield’s protestations that Thorne is innocent of any murderous intent, so Brookfield teams up with retired lawyer Martin Prentice in hopes of saving the young man from the gallows."

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1092687/ [Episode synopsis]

ITV Play of the Week – ‘The Crucible’ (1 hr 15 mins)

Broadcast details: ITV/ 3rd Nov 1959

Archive status/ Availability: Reels 1 and 2 of 3 exist, but the complete programme is lost

Notes: Adaptation of the play by Arthur Miller about the 17th century witchcraft trials in Salem, Massachusetts, with early pre-fame appearances by Sean Connery and Susannah York.

The Voodoo Factor (30 mins, 6 episodes)

Broadcast details: ITV/ 12th Dec 1959-16th Jan 1960

Archive status/ Availability: Exists complete, but currently unavailable

Notes: A scientist battles against a killer epidemic that may either be caused by the curse of a Spider Goddess or contamination caused by nuclear testing. It’s surprising that a series from this era still exists complete, and a shame that it hasn’t been released on DVD as it is fondly remembered by reviewers on imdb.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0191746/?ref_=wl_li_tt

Quatermass and the Pit (30-35 mins, 6 episodes)

Broadcast details: BBC/ 22nd December 1958 – 26th January 1959

Archive status/ Availability: Exists complete, and available on DVD with the two surviving episodes of The Quatermass Experiment and the complete Quatermass 2 series

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Quatermass-Collection-Experiment-Pit-DVD/dp/B000772838

Notes: A series that really should need no introduction. While the previous two Quatermass serials had dealt with sci-fi topics, for the third one Nigel Kneale dug deep into brought in everything from ghosts, goblins, the Devil, aliens, psychic powers and more. Hammer Studios re-made it as a feature film in 1967.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Quatermass-Pit-DVD-Andrew-Keir/dp/B000HEVTKY [Hammer Studios adaptation on DVD]

Three principal sources, in addition to the obvious ones of imdb and Wikipedia, were invaluable while researching this article:

TVBrain – Database of British TV run by Kaleidoscope, dedicated to rediscovering lost British TV and have been instrumental in recovering many previously thought lost productions. Their work is ongoing and lost shows still turn up, so if you think you have a programme from the archives you can check and contact them.

https://www.tvbrain.info/

Haunted TV: A history of British supernatural television – a very comprehensive listing of British programmes, many extremely obscure, although it seems to no longer be updated.

http://webspace.webring.com/people/th/hauntedtv/index.htm

The Telefantasy List – A sadly defunct listing of principally British and American telefantasy, which is still available at the Internet Archive

https://web.archive.org/web/20160304084734/http://homepage.ntlworld.com/john.seymour1/telefantasylist/index.html

Article by Richard Hing. Thanks to all the contributors to Folk Horror Revival for giving many suggestions over the years that have helped build this list.

The Wick – A Folk Horror short.

Wick – The protector of a Witch is just as bad as a Witch.

The Wick-Poster-(Al)-Online

In August I had the tremendous honour of being invited to the wonderful Genesis cinema in Whitechapel for a private screening of the new Folk Horror short film `The Wick’. Written, produced by and starring the clearly very talented Michelle Coverley FHR caught up with her to discuss the film, how it has been received and what the future holds for her and The Wick.

Set in the early 19th century in rural England, ‘The Wick’ is a tale of deceit and persecution of a woman who fights for justice against a lawless witch hunter.

The story unfolds seventy-three years after witch trials were banned in the U.K. When Esther, a known herbal healer in a small close knit community, witnesses her friends murder at the hands of a lawless witch hunter, she finds herself entangled in a dangerous web of deceit, blind ignorance and superstition. We track Esther’s head on collision into this dark world and her realization that things clearly need to change. We follow her journey of attempting to put an end to the ignorance and barbarity of these outdated beliefs. This is a universal and timely story of a strong woman, striving for justice and fighting for the rights of the underrepresented and the misunderstood.

`THE WICK’ is a dark, period drama with the village that Esther, our female protagonist lives in, being extremely superstitious to the point that it is horrifying. What these villagers are led to believe, without much proof and the lengths that some of them go to, to ‘fix’ things is quite shocking. The deception and ignorance is quite barbaric, with folklore and religion being at the heart of it.

To this day, countless numbers of people are still being accused of witchcraft and persecuted around the world. They have no rights, no voice and are condemned by misguided beliefs

Folk Horror Revival: The Wick is a beautifully shot film with the landscape and nature very firmly embedded into the story telling adding to the sense of isolation that allows suspicion and paranoia to breed in the community. It has definite Folk Horror overtones not least in its subject matter – how do you feel now it is done and being presented as a finished piece? I guess really you are still working on it in a publicist capacity now.

Michelle Coverley: Thank you for such a great review. I’m so happy that people are picking up all those details from the film. That’s exactly what I wanted people to see in ‘The Wick’. I feel amazing now that it’s complete and that it’s setting off on its festival circuit. It was such a long journey to this point. Many ups and downs and so to finally have it finished is a big relief. Both, the director, Sabine Crossen and I are extremely proud of it.

FHR: You must be very pleased with the end result and how it has all come together – can you tell us a bit about some of those different components (location, music, costume, set dressing)

MC: I’m extremely pleased with what my team and I have accomplished. Everything was shot on location in Sussex and we were very lucky to have found those specific places. Thanks to the Weald and Downland museum, The national Trust and Sussex Wildlife Trust, we were able to achieve a very authentic look for ‘The Wick’. Our amazing costume designer, Emma Clark added to that by designing and singlehandedly making all our costumes from scratch. Without her dedication and sheer hard graft, we never would have done it. As well with our talented production designer, Karijn Nijmeijer, who transformed these amazing locations with her magic touch. She traveled all the way from Holland to be with us!

Apart from those visual aspects, the director and I felt it was important to give the film a modern feel, to accentuate the films topical themes so to help the audience observe and connect from a more contemporary point of view. We did this through working with the amazingly talented Micha Theofanopoulou & Hollie Buhagiar on the sound design & music and then with Pooya from Panchroma Studios on the colour grade, choosing vibrant colours and stark contrast.

 

SC-Esther-at-lake@

FHR: I really loved `The Wick’ and I know it got a big round of applause at the private screening I attended. How has it been received? It must be interesting to see how different people respond to the story and its message.

MC: We got an amazing response from all our guests at the private screening. Sabine, the director and I were pretty blown away with it all. Because we have been so close to it for the past year, and I for even longer, it was so amazing to hear the audience notice all the small nuances of the subject matter come though, as well as picking up the bigger picture of the societal corruption and female persecution and to realise that it still has relevance today. I had people coming up to me telling me it really affected them, that it was hard hitting, surprising and shocking but beautiful at the same time.

People wanted to see more which was fantastic to hear! They were also pretty

surprised of the style of music and sound design we chose as it was quite obscure and different to what a ‘classical’ period drama would have used. The director and I were intent on steering clear of making it look and sound like a classic period drama. It’s turned into a period thriller with a modern edge, which I love.

FHR What are you plans for the film now? Will people be able to see it at some point? (is there a feature length version in the pipeline maybe??)

MC: Yes, I would love to make ‘The Wick’ into a full-length feature film, which is the plan. I’m at this minute adapting a treatment I did for it some months ago with a friend who’s in the industry. Watch this space!

For ‘The Wick’ short film, it’s now in the film festival circuit stage. I can’t wait to share with you when it has its world premiere. Short films usually have a two year life span at festivals till you launch it on line or it gets taken up by a distributor. The point of this is to make contacts for future projects and to showcase everyone’s talent who worked on it. I feel indebted to all the amazing people who came on-board. So trying to get it into as many great film festivals as possible is what I’m aiming for. This stage is a whole other ball game. Since finishing post-production, I’ve been scouring the internet late into the night, submitting it into festivals all over the world. Fingers crossed, they start to bite.

FHR: And what about you – what are your plans? Any future projects you can share with folk yet??

MC: After the experience with writing and producing ‘The Wick’, I’m actually pretty interested in directing my next piece. I’ve been collecting images over this past year that inspire an idea I’ve had for a while. It’s still pretty raw and the framework is all over the place but it’s a psychological thriller piece with folk horror and magic realism at its core. I’m also very excited about putting my actor’s hat on again for other people’s projects. That was the whole point in fact with making ‘The Wick’, to showcase my acting. So I can’t wait to throw myself into that again.

SC-Meadow1@

 

If you get the chance to catch The Wick at one of the many film festivals that will no doubt be clamouring to showcase Michelle’s wonderful creation then you are in for a real treat. The landscape and presence of nature is wonderfully represented throughout giving the film a reassuringly bucolic feel that balances perfectly with the dark story that gradually unfolds. At times I was reminded of the way the landscape was shot in Winstanley and Witchfinder General in which small isolated incidents of great importance are played out within the vast expanse of the English countryside. Alongside this is a fantastically atmospheric score, a deep sense of authenticity and attention to detail and a perfectly paced story…in short The Wick is a triumph and hopefully it’s just the start for Michelle.

The Wyrd Kalendar – The Dee Day Do Mix

It is the Dee Day Do!

Raise a glass to Dr Dee.

Join us. Dance with the angels you have conjured in your scrying mirror.

Celebrate Doctor John Dee with this new mix from the Wyrd Kalendar. With tracks from Damon Albarn, Roy Orbison, Pink Floyd, Arcade Fire, Elbow, Nick Drake, The White Stripes, Matt Berry, Black Sabbath, The Doors, David Bowie, Moon Wiring Club, Gavin Friday, The Velvet Underground, PM Dawn, The Cult, The Ruby Suns, Ivor Cutler, Rufus Wainwright, Scroobius Pip Versus Dan le Sac, The Dee Felicio Trio, X, Doris Day, Tir na nOg, Frank Zappa, Dolly Dolly, Soundhog, The Mortlake Bookclub and Mick Smiley.

This mix also include extracts from Derek Jarman’s "Jubilee", the Wyrd Kalendar and an interview with Peter Jimerson of the Fork Horror Revival.

Tickets for the next corporeal Folk Horror Festival in Whitby are available to purchase here… https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/folk-horror-revival-presents-winter-ghosts-tickets-55468722442

Buy the Wyrd Kalendar book: http://www.lulu.com/shop/http://www.lulu.com/shop/chris-lambert/wyrd-kalendar/paperback/product-23371751.html

Buy the Wyrd Kalendar Album: https://megadodo.bandcamp.com/album/wyrd-kalendar