FOLKLORE ON SCREEN: Conference reflection

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Friday 13th 2019 came with the Hunter’s Moon and Scooby Doo and the gang were celebrating 50 years of ghost-busting and so too began the 2 day Folklore On Screen Convention organised by David Clarke, Diane Rodgers and Andrew Robinson of the Centre For Contemporary Legend at Sheffield Hallam University.

Folk Horror Revival were honoured to have a presence there in form of myself founder Andy Paciorek talking about British Dystopia in relation to our side project the Urban Wyrd. Therefore it would be biased for me to pen a review as such but instead I present this as a reflection on what was a fantastic weekend.

The event kicked off with Mikel Koven’s talk Return of The Living Slave: Jordan Peele’s Get Out as a Zombie Film, which gave a very interesting consideration on the subject matter with relation to both traditional magical beliefs and also modern culture.
Get Out Topples The LEGO Batman Movie at the Box Office - IGN

Image: Get Out

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Image ; Mikel Koven by Centre for Contemporary Legend

From there we entered into the Monster Mash the first featured panel of the weekend with Matthew Cheeseman’s Dracula’s Fangs talk leading us from the vampire’s dentiture into Derby’s utterly bizarre House of Holes – an adult entertainment crazy golf club and bar. Housed in a haunted building that in a previous incarnation many moons earlier was one of the first theatres to present the stage play adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. From the images of the ‘murder hole’ the surreal, quirkily disturbing  featuring a host of punctured inflatable sex dolls, it would seem the spirit of the vampiric count maybe got a shock sinking his fangs into the necks of these ‘voluptuous’ maidens.
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Photo: Matthew Cheeseman by Diane A. Rodgers

Sneak peek inside adults-only crazy golf course opening in ...

House of Holes. Derby – photo via https://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/

Craig Ian Mann then followed this with Pack Mentality: A Cultural Approach to the Werewolf Film in the 1970s, which as well as reminding me of some films I haven’t seen since I was a child and introducing me to a few unfamiliar ones, brought a smile to my face in seeing the fantastic poster  Werewolves on Wheels (1971) displayed in the presentation. It is not a film that was really in the Oscars running of that year but I do think it deserves more than its 4.3 IMDB rating … well maybe… With its dark age of Aquarius subtext and the presence of a satanic cult, Werewolves on Wheels deserves to be more widely known among the folk horror community too, if only as a peculiar guilty pleasure.

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Image: Werewolves on Wheels

Rebecca Bannon then brought us Ghost of the Past Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Liminality which discussed the haunting of the titular character and director Tim Burton’s aesthetic approach in bringing what was a rather corporeal down and dirty tale of cannibalism to the screen as an opulently Gothic ghostly musical.

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Image: Sweeney Todd

Then followed the parallel panels of the day. As it was unfortunately not possible to see all talks and difficult to choose which to watch, I will give the running list here but can only pass comment on those I saw; but from the engaged and enthusiastic conversations which surrounded the breaks in the event, it would appear that all the talks went down well and touched aspects of different people’s psyches.

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From the birth of a modern mass panic that arose from a strange piece of  to the cursed tales of Crying Boy paintings (which although being rather kitsch in style and with a grisly reputation of misfortune surrounding them I’d rather quite like one) to finding out about a dark artist previously unfamiliar to me but one whose work has intrigued me since and is something I brought away from the conference in my mind and perhaps under my skin.

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Image by Bragolin

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Photo by Centre For Folklore, Myth & Magic

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Image by Peter Booth

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Photo: Momo from Stella Gaynor’s talk

Then the talks ended for the day but not the entertainment as the night treated us to excellent music sets by Hawthonn, Phil Tyler and Sharron Kraus

And also a specially brewed beer for the weekend!!

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Photo by Diane A. Rodgers

The next morning brought the Haunted Generation of which I was delighted to be a part. Talking about nuclear war and the end of the world should perhaps not be so enjoyable but sharing the panel with the founding father of Hookland David Southwell and Fortean Times The Haunted Generation’s Bob Fischer was an absolute pleasure and the talks they both gave were fantastic.
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Photo: Bob Fischer by Centre for Folklore, Myth & Magic

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Photo: David Southwell by Diane A. Rodgers

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Photo: Andy Paciorek by Centre for Folklore, Myth & Magic

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Photo: The Haunted (Re)Generations by Adam Spellicy
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Then followed the Parallel Panels, which again it would’ve been nice to bi-locate like Padre Pio to see all, but between the two lecture halls were discussions on topics ranging from Cat People to the Wickerman to Invisible Women to the Children of the Stones. Devils, Witches, Fairies, Foundlings, Holy Fools and UFOs all put in an appearance in some fantastic talks.

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Photo: Tom Clark – The Devil Made me do it by Centre for Folklore, Myth & Magic

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Photo: Evelyn Koch by Diane A Rodgers
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Photo: Andrew Robinson by Diane A. Rodgers

The convention was rounded off with Helen Wheatley’s Haunted Landscapes: Trauma and Grief in the Contemporary Television Ghost Story which featured some of the beautiful cinematography and aesthetics that accompany modern telly’s tales of haunted places and haunted minds.

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Photo: Helen Wheatley by Diane A. Rodgers

A great weekend filled with intriguing talks, evocative music and some very interesting and fun conversations.

A big Thank You and Congratulations to Centre for Contemporary Legend for hosting a great event and hopefully more to come.

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Photo: Diane A. Rodgers by Paul Dorrington

Urban Wyrd: Folklore On Screen

 

via GIPHY

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Folk Horror Revival founder Andy Paciorek will be talking at the Centre For Contemporary Legend’s Folklore on Screen conference on

Friday 13th– Saturday 14th September 2019,

Sheffield Hallam University, South Yorkshire, England, UK.

Andy will be appearing on the Saturday speaking about Urban Wyrd: Dystopia and Apocalypse on British TV and will be forming part of a  Hauntology panel alongside Hookland’s David Southwell and The Haunted Generation’s Bob Fischer.

Full line-up and ticket details here – https://contemporarylegend.co.uk/events/
The Friday night also includes a great music event featuring Sharron Kraus, Hawthonn and Kath & Phil Tyler

Urban Wyrd : Spirits of Time and Place

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Now available from Wyrd Harvest Press
Folk Horror Revival – Urban Wyrd: 1. Spirits of Time

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Discover Hauntology, Weird Technology & Transport, Hauntings and much much more in the realms of TV, Film, Literature, Art, Culture , Lore and Life. Travel in time and spaces with Adam Scovell, Stephen Volk, Scarfolk, Julianne Regan, Sebastian Backziewicz, Sara Hannant, The Black Meadow and many other contributors.

And
Folk Horror Revival – UrbanWyrd: 2. Spirits of Place

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Urban Wyrd – Spirits of Place. Discover within its winding streets Psychogeography, Genii Loci, Edgelands, Urban Exploration, Weird Places and many other strange matters within film, TV, music, literature, life and culture. Perambulate in the company of such contributors as Will Self, K.A. Laity, Bob Fischer, Iain Sinclair, Diane A. Rodgers, John Coulthart, Karl Bell and many many more.

Available now from –

https://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?keyWords=urban+wyrd&type=

100% of profits from FHR / Wyrd Harvest Press books sold in our Lulu store is charitably donated at intervals to different environmental, wildlife and community projects undertaken by the Wildlife Trusts.

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NEW BOOKS: Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd Spirits of Time + Place

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…This is not a test … we interrupt this transmission to alert …

Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd –

1. Spirits of Time

+

2: Spirits of Place

are available to purchase now …

Launch offer 35% Discount on each book

(20% added automatically – to gain a further 15% Discount enter code  ONEFIVE  at checkout – Code valid until end of 27th June 2019)

Purchase both volumes together to save on shipping costs

Buy now from

Spirits of Time

+

Spirits of Place

All sales profits from purchases made at our book shop

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/andypaciorek

are charitably donated to The Wildlife Trusts

This is not a test …repeat this is not a test …

Contents – (to enlarge when viewing on computer – right click – view image)

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Summer Spirits: Shadows on the Fen and Kit Lewis Interview

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CULTure Babylon and Folk Horror Revival present a one-day Midsummer celebration of the spirits and folklore of the East Anglian landscape in fact and fiction. Including talks, live music, live readings of stories of the supernatural and a rare screening of 70s Folk Horror Classic, Penda’s Fen. We felt it was about time we told you a little more about this wonderful event, and the rather fabulous speakers we have lined up for you.

Summer Spirits takes place 2pm – 10pm Saturday June 22 at the Space Upstairs – the Priory Centre, Downham Market, Norfolk. Tickets priced £15.

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Louise Hodgson: Deep into the Land – the Beauty and the Terror

Louise Hodgson, has spent most of her life in areas of natural beauty.
She has taught classes at a local College on ‘Landscape and Spirituality’ and given workshops on both the Earth Mysteries and Shamanism.

We are very pleased that Louise will be bringing her talk sharing her fascination with the hidden landscape and exploring some of her own experiences of both light and dark sides of connecting with the landscape.

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Dr Francis Young: Bogie Tales of East Anglia

Dr Young, an expert on the history of catholicism in East Anglia will be talking about his most recent publication – a reprinted edition of the earliest book devoted to East Anglian folklore, Bogie Tales of East Anglia (1891) by Margaret Helen James. Bogie Tales is an important folklore collection and until now has been so rare that copies have been known to sell online for over £1,500.
http://francisyoung.wordpress.com

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Ed Parnell: Reading from ‘Ghostland’

Edward Parnell has had a lifelong interest in ghost stories and horror films. His first book, the gothic, WWII-set The Listeners (2014), won the Rethink New Novels Prize. His new narrative non-fiction book, Ghostland, will be published by William Collins in October 2019. In it he examines the haunted landscapes that inspired writers including M. R. James, Algernon Blackwood and William Hope Hodgson – as well as trying to lay to rest his own haunted past.

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Christine Pike: Live readings of tales of the supernatural and macabre

Christine is a lifelong fan of Gothic fiction and is the inspiration behind Lady Chillers – a touring project created to revive the works of forgotten women authors of ghost stories in atmospheric performed readings. Christine will be reading three stories, including one from Norfolk’s own Elizabeth Coulson.
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Sharron Kraus

Sharron Kraus is a singer of folk songs, a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose solo work and collaborations offer a dark and subversive take on traditional music. As well as drawing on the folk traditions of England and Appalachia, her music is influenced by gothic literature, surrealism, myth and magick. Sharron will be performing two live acoustic sets for us.

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FILM: Penda’s Fen (1974) Writer: David Rudkin Dir. Alan Clarke

Set against the backdrop of the Malvern Hills, Penda’s Fen has become a classic of Folk Horror television. An adolescent parson’s son must question everything he believes and holds true: his religion, his sexuality, his family, in order to grow and develop into an adult. Angels, Edward Elgar and King Penda himself all make appearances in this made-for-television drama, which after 45 years remains powerful and challenging.

Tickets for this wonderful event are priced at just £15.00 per person.

http://summerspirits.culturebabylon.com

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Kit Lewis Interview

We also thought it was high time we  had a chat with Kit Lewis, head honcho at CULTure Babylon and the driving force behind Summer Spirits. Kit very kindly took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about Summer Spirits, CULTure Babylon, his other event Fear in the Fens and Folk Horror in general.

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1.Can you tell our readers a little bit about CULTure Babylon, what it’s aims are and how it all came about?

CULTure Babylon is an arts organisation that aims to put the CULT into culture – we provide events based around cult film and other media combined with leading speakers on related subjects.
People seem to find something very satisfying about this combination of information and pure entertainment.  

2. Summer Spirits – Shadows on the Fen is a new event that is taking place June 22nd in Downham Market, Can you tell us a little bit about the event and those involved?

This is going to be a different kind of event to some that we’ve put on, as it is going to have such a wide variety of entertainment, from live readings of ghost stories to film, and from book readings to acoustic music. Throughout the day, there will be something different happening all the time.

We’ve got some great speakers:

We are very pleased that Louise Hodgson,will be bringing her talk Deep into the Land – the Beauty and the Terror in which she shares her fascination with the hidden landscape and explores some of her own experiences of both light and dark sides of connecting with the landscape.

Dr Francis Young will be talking about his most recent publication – a reprinted edition of the earliest book devoted to East Anglian folklore, Bogie Tales of East Anglia (1891) by Margaret Helen James. 
Bogie Tales is an important folklore collection which had almost entirely disappeared from view. Very few copies survive, and the book is so rare that copies have been known to sell online for over £1,500.

Ed Parnell will be reading from his book, ’Ghostland’– a narrative non-fiction book about how the British landscape has influenced various writers, filmmakers and artists whose work deals with the weird and the eerie.  

We’ll also have live performance:

Christine Pike is a lifelong fan of Gothic fiction and is the inspiration behind Lady Chillers – a touring project created to revive the works of forgotten women authors of ghost stories in atmospheric performed readings.She will be reading stories set in summer – that have a winter chill about them.

Sharron Kraus is a singer of folk songs, a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose solo work and collaborations offer a dark and subversive take on traditional music. As well as drawing on the folk traditions of England and Appalachia, her music is influenced by gothic literature, surrealism, myth and magick. Sharron will be providing two short sets for us during the day.

3. Summer Spirits is billed as a celebration of East Anglian landscape in folklore, fact and fiction, can you tell us a little bit about some of the foklore that is local to the area?

Like a lot of very rural areas, Christianity came to Norfolk quite late, so the ‘old ways’ remain very much part of the culture here. The most notable legend is teh giant balck dog with red eyes called Black Shuck, which can either be an omen of death, or a protector of those out on the fens at night, depending on which stories you listen to.
This was also where Matthew Hopkins did a lot of his work, and there is a lot of history around the witch trials in the region too.

4. You are screening the Alan Clarke classic Penda’s Fen, one of the true Folk Horror masterpieces of UK 70s TV. Do you think that modern Folk Horror films can stand the test of time in the same way something like Penda’s Fen, Red Shift or The Stone Tape can?

Time will tell… in my experience of cult films, it’s often the least popular film of its day that goes on to gain a lasting audience.If you think of a film like Psychomania (1973), which was considered so poor at the time, that George Sanders is said to have killed himself after seeing a preview – that’s a film that gets a lot of love now.

5. Can I ask you how you got into organising events of this nature? 

My wife was working in an art gallery that had a pop-up cinema kit for hire.
I hired it for the evening, screened my favourite film, Night of the Demon (1957) and asked Tony Earnshaw (who wrote the definitive book on the film) to come and talk about it…

We got around 30 people to turn up for that, and I just about broke even.
I basically wanted to put on the kind of events that I’d like to go to (but nobody did)… I’m now in my fourth year of running a three-day festival!

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6. Fear in the Fens has become something of a favourite weekend in the Folk Horror calendar and this years looks like being no exception with a marvellous lineup taking shape. Do you think Summer Spirits has the potential to become another key event like this?

I hope so. Fear in the Fens takes up a lot of time and energy, so I can’t put on as many small events as I’d like, so last May we put on ‘Ruined Childhood’ a celebration of children’s television of the 70s, which was great.
There’s definitely a vacant slot for a summer event for CULTure Babylon, and it would be great if Summer Spirits could become a regular thing.

7. One question we always like to ask is how would you define Folk Horror?

To me Folk Horror is about the notion that nature is sentient – and does not wish us well. I’ve often been in the countryside and had an unsettling sense that, despite the landscape being aesthetically pleasing and the environment itself not hazardous, it was hostile. There was a pretty woods on the River Tamar near where my sister lived in Devon. I felt that hostility there and later learned it had been the scene of  number of unpleasant incidents…
That to me is folk horror, a sense of place, and a feeling of dread.

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Summer Spirits takes place 2pm – 10pm Saturday June 22 at the Space Upstairs – the Priory Centre, Downham Market, Norfolk. Tickets are priced £15.

https://tinyurl.com/y6obofm3

 

Folk Horror Revival – Winter Ghosts 2019 – First Announcement!

This December, Folk Horror Revival, will be returning to Whitby for our second Winter Ghosts event. The all day happening takes place at the Metropole ballroom, on December 14th 2019. The event will run from 1pm until after midnight and features some truly outstanding talks, stories, music, films and much, much more besides. The lineup itself has been handpicked by our team, and features some truly incredible talent that we simply can’t wait for you to see.

It is with much excitement that we would like to announce Al Ridenour as our first guest.

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Explore the authentic folklore, history and contemporary practices associated with the Krampus with Al Ridenour, author of The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas and
preeminent English-language expert on the subject. Ridenour’s lively presentation,
illustrated with slides, archival video (and a drop-in by a LIVE KRAMPUS) reveals how
this often-misunderstood figure is connected to centuries-old witchcraft beliefs and an
older darker understanding of the Christmas season as a time offering access to the spirit
world. Now in its second printing, The Krampus was described by LA Times’ books critic
Elizabeth as “gleefully erudite,” and a book that “deserves to become a classic.”
Ridenour is also a producer of Krampus events in Los Angeles, an artist and mask-maker,
and host of the folk-horror podcast, Bone and Sickle.

Home

https://www.boneandsickle.com/

Joining Al for more Krampus related fun and frolics will be Whitby’s very own Elaine Edmunds and Laurence Mitchell of Decadent Drawing, organisers of the annual Whitby Krampus run that takes place each December, and raises much needed funds for The Whitby Wildlife Sanctuary.

https://www.decadentdrawing.com/

 

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We don’t want to say too much at this stage, but we can promise Al, Elaine and Laurence have something a little special planned for Winter Ghosts, and we can’t wait for you all to see it.

Our first musical addition to the lineup is the sensational Burd Ellen, the new solo project from Debbie Armour (Alasdair Roberts, Green Ribbons, Alex Rex) featuring Gayle Brogan (Pefkin, Barrett’s Dottled Beauty) and Lucy Duncan (Luki). The group uses traditional song to explore and evoke dark landscapes and deep stories. Innovative instrumentation, drone and sound-wash support detailed vocal work to create a unique sonic atmosphere.
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Burd Ellen self-released their debut album SILVER CAME in Feb 2019, on limited edition CD. A record exploring women’s narratives in British folk song, SILVER CAME investigates ideas of persistence, defiance, devotion and transformation. The album was recorded by Jer Reid (Painted X-Ray, Claquer, Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra) over two days in the rehearsal space of Glasgow Theatre Arts Collective.

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“sonically adventurous … with an emotional range and a raw inventiveness which is all too rare in contemporary folk circles.” – Alex Neilson
“A masterclass in shimmering, ethereal folk music… Cannot recommend highly enough” – Kyle Lonsdale, Earth Recordings

burdellen.com – burdellen.bandcamp.com
Sweet Lemany music video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSRB5Vsvx2A

Our final guest for this first announcement is George Cromack, a writer, sessional tutor and lecturer whose core subject areas are creative fiction, specifically Scriptwriting for film & T.V, and Film Studies. For almost ten years George taught on a number of programmes at the University of Hull’s Scarborough Campus – including modules on their Creative Writing Degree. It was during this time he developed his interest in what has become widely known as the Folk Horror genre, the subject of his film based PhD thesis, delivering a paper on some of its narrative conventions at the Fiend in the Furrows Conference in Belfast.  A keen advocate of adult and community education, George also teaches evening classes in Film Studies & Creative Writing for the local Scarborough branch of the WEA and introduces the occasional film screening at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Recently one of his fictional short stories was included in Terrors Tales for a Winter’s Eve, a small collection of ghostly tales from local writers.

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George’s talk ‘Home for the Holidays’ will take inspiration from adaptations of popular children’s stories in film and television such as The Children of Green Knowe, Moondial and the Amazing Mr Blunden examining their use of the ‘time slip’ narrative, notions of ‘ancestral mystery’ and speculating on their appeal.

Right that’s it for now, we’ve much more still to come, so please keep checking back for further announcements. Tickets are available from the link below priced at £13 for the full day and £7 for the evening. So what are you waiting for, grab your tickets now while stocks last.

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

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Folklore Thursday: The Rye Wolf & The Tit Wife … and Other Tastes of Ergot

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Ergot (Claviceps purpurea) is a fungal parasite of grasses and cereal crops, particularly Rye, which if cooked and ingested, generally as bread, can cause wild symptoms including the sensation of burning of the limbs, gangrene necrosis of the flesh, intense hallucinations, miscarriage in pregnant women, and in the extreme, a horrific painful death.

Ergotism is sometimes known as Holy Fire or Saint Anthony’s Fire, named after the hermitic Desert Father Saint Anthony of Egypt, renowned for the visions of seduction and terror that he endured whilst in the solitude of devotion. The monks of the Order of St Anthony were said to be very skilled in dealing with Ergotism victims.

Convulsive Ergotism due to its profound symptoms and hallucinatory influence, has also been suggested as the possible cause of several outbreaks of Werewolf and Witch Hysteria in Europe, including the instance of Elfdale and Mora in 17th Century Sweden, whereupon a number of people were executed upon the testimony of children. The English Anglian Witch-hunts and also the infamous Witch-trial of Salem in 1692 have also been suggested as possible cases of Ergot infestation. Regarding the latter it was said that the New England founding fathers reputedly preferred bread made from Rye rather than the native Maize (which does not become infected by Ergot).

In Germanic and East European lore, Ergot is associated with the Crone-goddess, Roggenmutter ~ the Rye Mother. (Known also as the Iron Woman, Rugia Boba and the Tit-Wife, there has been comparison drawn to Baba Yaga, the witch of numerous Russian folktales). It is said that
the Rye Mother will lure children to the grain fields and suckle them upon her iron, Ergotamine-tainted nipples, causing them to become wild and insane.

Ergot and the Rye was also associated with wolves and included amongst the many colloquial names for Ergot are Roggenwulf (Rye Wolf), Wulfzahn (Wolf’s tooth) and Roggunhund (Rye Dog). An old Germanic saying states “The werewolf sits amid the grain.” It may be a cruel coincidence that in the harshest weather where the poor may have had no choice but to eat tainted bread (Ergot infestation also causes a considered drop in yield) were also the same conditions which may have forced starving wolves to enter the towns and villages.

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It has suggested that the name of the mythical Anglo-Saxon hero, Beowulf, translates as ‘Barley Wolf’. He is of course remembered for his battles against woeful otherworldly monsters.

Though apparent accounts of Ergotism date back to 857AD and there is theory that the ancient Greeks and Mesopotamians were well aware of the properties of the unassuming smut on grass and folklore had drawn the association between the tainted cereal and the malady, science started to draw the link between fungus and symptoms in the 18th Century, and it wasn’t until the 20th Century that proper research was conducted upon Ergot. Whilst synthesising Ergot alkaloids in 1943, chemist Albert Hoffman accidentally absorbed traces of the active chemical d-lysergic diethylamide into his skin. His cycle ride home from work was far from the usual and upon that day LSD was born into the world.

Though scientific and agricultural practice have sought efficient measures to counter the problems of Ergot, Ergotism outbreaks are not impossible in the modern world. In 1951 in Pont St Esprit in France, 6 people died and 130 were hospitalised (many describing being attacked by wild animals as they were admitted) following the consumption of ergot-tainted bread.

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Text and images © Andy Paciorek

An Interview with David Bramwell, on his upcoming Cult of Water show.

David Bramwell is a name familiar to many Revivalists, his Singalong-A-Wicker Man show has become almost legendary in our little corner of the internet. David is an incredibly busy and talented man. He has produced programmes for BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4, he gives talks and performs one man shows on a variety of fascinating topics from tricksters to ghost villages. He also co-hosts the Odditorium, a rather splendid podcast based around the book of the same name, one of several that he has co-written with Jo Tinsley (formerly Keeling). We could go on, David’s achievements are many and varied, but they are always interesting and always done with an incredible sense of joy. His latest one man show The Cult of Water opens at the Soho Theatre in London on the 28th January, and I was lucky enough to catch up with David for a chat about this new show and a few other interesting titbits Revivalists may enjoy.

 

 

FHR: Hi David, can you tell us a little bit about your new show, The Cult of Water? Would it be fair to describe it as a psychogeographical journey around the waterways of the Yorkshire of your youth, or is that perhaps a little too simplistic a reading of it?

 

David: That’s a pretty good summary. I grew up in Doncaster. It’s a personal journey up the river Don – told through story, music and and archive film – in search of the supernatural secrets of our inland waterways and to uncover a mystery concerning the drowned village at Ladybower Reservoir in Derbyshire. It’s also a journey back through time to the source of the Don and an age of water worship; the Don originally took its name from the water goddess, Danu.

Along the way I learn about hydromancy from magician Alan Moore, encounter Jarvis Cocker on his own adventures sailing down the Don on an inflatable inner tube, and come face to face with ‘the spirit of dark and lonely water’ from the old public information film of the 70s.

I also uncover the story of artist Mark Golding who, with the help of LSD, unearthed a sacred spring in Hastings – believed to have been frequented by Aleister Crowley – and whose waters saved his son from a terminal lung disease.

At the heart of The Cult of Water is an exploration of the symbolism around water, its association with feminine power and the profound ways in which the elements affect our psyche.

https://sohotheatre.com/shows/the-cult-of-water/

 

 

FHR: I believe you’re being joined in the show by folklorist Chris Roberts who is going to discuss the lost rivers of London? This sounds like a fascinating talk in its own right. What can you tell our readers about Chris and his work?

 

David: Chris is a South London based tour guide, author and expert on many aspects of London folklore and history. Most of his walks are river focused, whether Thames or other, and all of them are rich with legends of the city. He’s written a book (Cross River Traffic) on the history of London’ Bridges and articles on the lost gods of the river as well as delivering talks on the folktales associated with London’s water from feral swine in the Fleet to sacred wells to Saxon goddesses and the ongoing religious rites on the Thames from the Jewish, Pagan, Christian and Hindu traditions.  He was folklore consultant for Stella Duffy’s theatrical piece Taniwha Thames in which a New Zealand river spirit follows a ship back to London and takes up residency under Waterloo Bridge.

 

In 2007 Chris founded the magazine One Eyed Grey, which took many of London’s old myths and legends – such as the legendary shape shifting sorceress of the sewers and hidden rivers Queen Rat – and re-imagined them in a modern context. It culminated for the two of us in a collaboration for Radio 4, a programme called London Nights, in which Chris did the heavy lifting in actually writing the stories while I read them out in my best Martin Jarvis. These stories featured a ghost boat on the Thames and a mermaid at Brockwell Park Lido. Brockwell lido is sort of Chris’s unofficial office, all year round. He’s a water baby. And made of hardier stuff than me.

 

FHR: Can I ask what inspired you to write this show now? Is this something that has been on your mind for some time or was it triggered by recent events in your life?

 

David: I’ve wrestled all my life with thalassophobia – the fear of large bodies of water – and wanted to confront this fear. In the last ten years I went down a rabbit hole researching water cults, sacred springs and wells. I wanted to pay my respect to water. I also became interested in the idea of following a river back to its source. I knew if I was going to make this journey as a pilgrimage it’d have to be along the river Don where I grew up, to search for its lost water goddess and to trace its biological and metaphorical death and resurrection over the millennia. When I discovered that Sheffield adopted Vulcan – the Roman god of fire and forge – as its mascot in the 1800s, the story began to catalyse as a mythic battle of the sexes: goddess of water vs god of fire. During the industrial revolution Danu was the equivalent of a princess locked in a tower and being force-fed MacDonalds for 200 years.

I also wanted to draw on my experiences of being haunted by the image of the drowned church of Ladybower Reservoir poking through the waters during the drought and ladybird plague of 1976. This led to a deeper exploration of the symbolism of stone and water, lines and circles, male and female, the line and circle and finally binary code. I figured if I tell this story and make amends for Vulcan then thalassophobia might loosen its grip. (It has).

In terms of how I wanted to tell the story, Alan Moore’s live spoken performances with music – Snakes and Ladders, The Birth Caul and Highbury Working – were a big influence. When he agreed to provide his voice for some of the Cult of Water I was over the moon. The central premise of his novel Jerusalem seems to be that in staying put anywhere (in his case Northampton) and digging deep enough, all the meaning and myths are there, as long as you know how and where to look. It’s the same with Alan Garner remaining in Alderely Edge for sixty-odd years and mining a different kind of landscape for stories. If Moore could rewrite Northampton as Jerusalem I figured it was time to try my hand at doing that with my old home town of Doncaster.

FHR: I believe the show is directed by Daisy Campbell, the daughter of theatre legend Ken Campbell. Have you known each other for some time, or did you specifically come together with this project in mind?

David: My first solo show, The Haunted Moustache, which delved into magic, spiritualism and the occult, was created with Ken Campbell’s help. I got to know Daisy because of Ken. She’s been a friend for many years. We’re currently collaborating on a podcast series, making her dad’s vast archive of recorded one-man shows available for the first time. Being a seeker, Daisy was the obvious choice for directing this show.

 

FHR: I believe you have worked on a number of broadcasts for both BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4 including a programme about the legendary Ivor Cutler. Can you tell us about any amusing encounters you may have had with him?

 

David: In the mid-90s I sent some scribblings to the poet Ian MacMillan who, at the time, had a slot on the Mark and Lard show on BBC Radio One. Ian seemed to like my poems so I sent a bunch to my hero Ivor Cutler. Cutler was less than enthusiastic and suggested I do something useful with my life instead, such as ‘becoming a teacher or a botanist’. He was right of course, my poetry was awful. But it’s hard getting a rejection letter from your hero.

20 years on I’d started presenting programmes for Radio 4 and got a call from a producer saying that she was considering me as presenter for an Archive Hour on Ivor Cutler and offered me a minute on the phone to ‘sell myself’. I thought for a moment then remembered the rejection letter from Ivor. ‘Do you still have it?’ she asked. ‘I dug it out, read it to her and got the job. So thanks inadvertently to Ivor, I got to make a documentary about him, meet his friends and family and even perform live on one of his harmoniums. If Ivor had still been alive to hear the programme I’m sure I’d have received another rejection letter.

FHR: Many of us know you from your rather wonderful and always well received Singalong-A-Wickerman show. What have been the strangest things to have happened during the various performances of this show? Do you think you were able to invoke something of the ritual spirit that infused the original film?

 

David: Things got strange when, ten years ago, the director Robin Hardy started showing up at our gigs, sometimes with wife and family in tow. I never imagined I’d be leading the director of the Wicker Man in the actions to the Maypole Dance. It was delight to have Robin’s support for the show but it was always a bit odd him being there; we do at times, gently take the piss out of some of the clunky dialogue in the film. The relationship culminated in us us doing the show with Robin in the Elengowan Hotel in Dumfries and Galloway, which is where all the original bar scenes were shot.

Over the years we’ve also had several individuals overcome with the desire to re-enact the naked scenes from Willow’s Song on stage with us. It’s always men. And someone in Belfast once threatened to shoot me for blasphemy. My blood turned cold when he whispered into my ear: ‘I’ve killed before and I’’d kill again.’ I believed him.

 

 

FHR: Beyond adapting The Wicker Man as a sing-a-long. Can I ask you about how the ideas of Folk Horror have influenced your work in general? Are there specific artists, film makers and writers whose work has particularly been influential to you or do you draw more inspiration from the countryside around you?

David: Folk Horror has been, and continues to be, a huge inspiration. Like many of a certain age I really was scarred for life by the spirit of dark and lonely water and haunted by TV programmes like Children of the Stones. I love the unsettled atmosphere of Garner’s work and films like The Shout, Penda’s Fen. And of course The Wicker Man, despite having watched it now over 100 times. More recently the work of Peter Strickland and films like November show the genre is evolving.

There’s a line by Alan Moore that I’ve used in The Cult of Water and also in a track by my band Oddfellow’s Casino: we have wandered too far from some ancient totem. Something central to us that we have misplaced and must find our way back to, following a hair of meaning.’  For me, Folk Horror re-connects us to an age of magic, when everything was imbued with meaning. For me at least, the dark heart of Folk Horror beats strongly in The Cult of Water.

 

 

Thank you to David for speaking to us at FHR, and if you want to buy tickets for The Cult of Water they are available now from the Soho Theatre priced from £10. Just head along to the link below.

 

https://sohotheatre.com/shows/the-cult-of-water/

You can also check out David’s own website for more information on David and any future events or shows.

http://www.drbramwell.com/

Review – Jon Towlson’s Candyman

“Candyman suggests that oral storytelling and, by extension, urban legends are valuable forms of historical memory, and that the process of historical amnesia will be apocalyptic” – Kirsten Moana Thompson, 2007

 

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In 1992 director Bernard Rose released his movie Candyman, loosely based on Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden, it would go on to become a popular shocker, but there was much more to Candyman than a mere horror film. The film has several different narrative threads running through it, that deal with issues of race, gender and class.

The key protagonist in the story is Helen Lyle, played by Virginia Madsen, a graduate student undertaking research on the topic of urban legends, she visits the Cabrini-Green housing projects to investigate rumours of a hook handed killer known as the Candyman, who was alleged to have been lynched in the late 19th century after fathering a child with a white land owners daughter. With the help of resident Anne-Marie McCoy (Vanessa Williams) and a young boy called Jake, Helen was able to uncover the apartment where the Candyman killings are alleged to have taken place. Helen is later attacked by a drug dealer who is using the Candyman persona to spread fear among the residents.

Helen is eventually visited by the real Candyman, played by Tony Todd, who places her in a trance. Upon waking she finds herself  in Anne-Marie’s apartment, covered in blood, and is duly arrested for the abduction and possible murder of Anne-Marie’s baby son, Anthony. Helen must go out of her way to clear her name, stop the Candyman and attempt to save baby Anthony. I won’t go into any further details for those who may not have seen the film, but it is highly recommended if you want a little more from your horror movies than just blood, guts and gore.

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Devil’s Advocates is a new and ongoing series of monographs from Auteur publishing, concerned with the exploration of the classics of horror cinema, other entries in the series that may be of interest to revivalists include Witchfinder General, Black Sunday and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Contributors to the series are drawn from the spheres of education, academia, journalism and literature, but what they each share is a proclivity towards the horror movie.

Candyman is written by Jon Towlson, film critic and author of several classic books on horror cinema including both “Subversive Horror Cinema: Countercultural Messages of Films from Frankenstein to the Present” and “The Turn to Gruesomeness in American Horror Films”. Candyman is his first entry in the Devil’s Advocates series and I would like to think more will surely follow.

There is a great deal of information to unpack and evaluate from Candyman, one of the few films of its era to subvert the genre, and to ask more important socio-political questions about race, gender and class than most of its contemporaries. Towlson manages to handle this in a most assured fashion. His book is insightful, thoroughly researched and written in a readable and yet academic style. The section looking at the Candyman and the Return of the Repressed really gets to the crux of the film’s ideas but it also draws our attention to the different meanings that can be read into the film’s narratives, thus allowing the reader a chance to formulate their own opinions on the issues at play. One thing that is drawn out from all of this is the affinity between the Candyman and Helen, Towlson makes clear that this is at the heart of the film. He calls it a sympathetic indentification between the two. Both are framed as slave and victim, and both are exploited by the capitalist structures of white patriarchy.

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The section of the book dealing with urban legends is also of particular interest to revivalists, especially those with an interest in the Urban Wyrd. Towlson digs into those urban legends that were the inspiration for the Candyman character and how both Bernard Rose and Clive Barker were responsible for bringing those urban legends to the table in the creation and development of the film and the character of the Candyman. This returns us to the quote at the top of this review from Kirsten Moana Thompson about the validity of oral storytelling and urban legends as valuable forms of historical memory. Bernard Rose uses those myths or urban legends to engage us with those deeper problems of race, gender and class that pepper the film’s narrative.

The book also looks at how Bernard Rose took Barker’s short story and developed it for cinema, and how it was received by the mainstream media and horror fans alike. There is also a chapter dedicated to the sequels and some of the other films to have dealt with urban legends in the wake of Candyman’s success. I feel it also worth noting that there is a fascinating and informative interview that Towlson conducted with Bernard Rose in 2016 included as an added  bonus.

Candyman by Jon Towlson is available to purchase from Amazon priced at £9.99

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Candyman-Devils-Advocates-Jon-Towlson/dp/191132554X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1547639724&sr=8-1&keywords=candyman+jon+towlson