Recording our own ghosts; a review of ‘A Year In The Country – Wandering Through Spectral Fields, Journeys in Otherly Pastoralism, the Further Reaches of Folk and the Parallel Worlds of Hauntology’

Grey Malkin

For nearly five years the A Year In The Country project has been diligently producing field reports from the more haunted and folk horror inclined borderlands and wyrder areas of popular culture. Transmitting via their regularly updated webpage and issuing audio relics in the medium of themed compilation CD/ downloads featuring such artists as The Rowan Amber Mill, Sproatly Smith and United Bible Studies, A Year In The Country (AYITC) has amassed a valuable archive of all that is uncanny, unusual or unsettling in modern culture, whether it is film, TV, literature or music. Be it Bagpuss or Beyond The Black Rainbow, Shirley Collins or Sapphire And Steel, AYITC has documented these idiosyncratic yet highly significant moments in modern media.

A-Year-In-The-Country-Wandering-Through-Spectral-Fields-book-Stephen-Prince-6-copies-front-cover

These writings (or transmissions) are reproduced, revised and expanded upon here, in the first AYITC publication ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ (for the musical side of the project please do visit AYITC’s splendid Bandcamp page). Divided into 52 distinct chapters (one for each week of the year), the book is described as;

an exploration of the undercurrents and flipside of bucolic dreams and where they meet and intertwine with the parallel worlds of hauntology; it connects layered and, at times, semi-hidden cultural pathways and signposts, journeying from acid folk to edgelands via electronic music innovators, folkloric film and photography, dreams of lost futures and misremembered televisual tales and transmissions’.

Indeed, AYITC embrace a wide range of avenues to bring together not only a sense of how far reaching and varied the origins, mainstays and current players of genres such as folk horror or hauntology can be, but crucially also how they intertwine and cross pollinate. There are chapters therefore on 70’s acid folk and its impact and influence on today’s folk artists, on ‘Folk Horror Roots’ (including an entire chapter on ‘cultural behemoth’ The Wicker Man) but also on ‘Folk Horror Descendants’ such as Kill List, on apocalyptic popular culture through the decades (taking in the horrific The War Game as well as Frankie Goes To Hollywood) and on dystopian literature and cinema such as No Blade Of Grass, The Midwich Cuckoos and The Day Of The Triffids. Television series that have become a part of the folk horror conversation also feature prominently, such as The Owl Service, The Changes, Penda’s Fen and the influential Robin Redbreast (arguably a forerunner for The Wicker Man). Each chapter expertly charts its chosen subject’s impact upon the public consciousness as well as indicating that these artefacts are now part of a greater cultural cobweb that may well have threads and components that are radically different in genre or style but that equally have a strong commonality in their sense of unease and their haunted content; of similar ghosts in the machine (or spooks in the television and bookshelves). Further investigations delve into folklore, TV public information films and the landscape itself as a medium through which a certain mood, an uncanny, can be evoked.

Speaking to author Stephen Prince, we discussed this sense of cross pollination, over genres overlapping and finding common themes and ground;

SP: I think, to a certain degree, the way in which it isn’t easily definable how the different and loosely gathered areas of culture that are discussed in ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ appear to connect, influence one another, have become part of a lineage etc is an aspect of what is appealing about them and that gathering; it is part of what creates a certain mystique around it. Possibly in an age where every area of culture, no matter how niche, can be investigated and explained by for example a brief online search, it is the sense of a hidden history and stories, of an at least partly unexplained aspect to such work that is one of the things which may draw people to it. Along which lines, some of the older culture, although at times inherently containing a left-of-centredness, was initially produced and intended as quite mainstream entertainment. However, over time it has gained an otherlyness and also become points of interconnected reference and inspiration for future hauntological/ otherly pastoral work or again a loose “tradition” or set of themes:

 

“…they have come to be touchstones or lodestones that seem to invoke a hidden, layered history of the land but which also encompass and intertwine with a wider, hauntological, parallel, alternative version of Britain…” (Wandering Through Spectral Fields, P. 38)

 

In Chapter 4 of the Wandering Through Spectral Fields book (Cuckoos in the Same Nest: Hauntological and Otherly Folk Confluences and Intertwinings) I discuss some possible shared ground for such work, including a yearning for lost utopias; whether Arcadian dreams within more folk/pastoral orientated work or the lost progressive futures of hauntology. Connected to which you may know of this article but in Robert Macfarlane’s “The Eeriness of the English Countryside”, that he wrote for The Guardian in 2015, he suggests a possible more overtly politically orientated or at least rooted explanation for this curious confluence of culture:

 

“What is under way, across a broad spectrum of culture, is an attempt to account for the turbulence of England in the era of late capitalism. The supernatural and paranormal have always been means of figuring powers that cannot otherwise find visible expression. Contemporary anxieties and dissents are here being reassembled and re-presented as spectres, shadows or monsters: our noun monster, indeed, shares an etymology with our verb to demonstrate, meaning to show or reveal (with a largely lost sense of omen or portent).” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/apr/10/eeriness-english-countryside-robert-macfarlane

 

There’s not really an overarching and definitive name for this “broad spectrum” of work but in that article he describes such “eerie counter-culture” as being an occulture; which seems appropriate and connects to the earlier mentioned sense of the hidden within such possibly disparate seeming work as some of the roots of the word occult are from the older French word occulte meaning “secret, not divulged” and the Latin occultus which means “hidden, concealed, secret”. I’m wary of seeming overly serious (!) about such things; to a certain degree you could see such cultural exploring as in part a form of grown-up make-believe and world creation, a form of escapist fun. At the same time and connected to the above comments by Robert Macfarlane, that escapist aspect may also at times have roots in more serious areas in that such intertwined work and the worlds it creates could be seen to also create a bulwark from what some may see as the more potentially overwhelming, rapacious or secularly monotheistic aspects of modern life, culture and dominant belief systems.

 

Philosopher Jacque Derrida, who again as you may know introduced the idea of hauntology, suggested that in a certain stage of society (what has been described, possibly erroneously/precipitously, as “the end of history”) the present will start to orient itself towards ideas and aesthetics that can be thought of as rustic, bizarre or “old-timey” or towards the “ghost” of the past. Much of the culture that I discuss in ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ whether older or more contemporary, folkloric and/or hauntological, could be seen as having an “old-timey” or nostalgic aspect. At the same time often rather than purely providing the potentially more comforting, familiar and recreation of the past aspects of nostalgia, it also has reimagined, unsettled or eerie aspects:

 

“A re-imagining and misremembering (that creates) forms of music and culture that seem familiar, comforting and also often unsettling and not a little eerie, creating a sense of work that is haunted by spectres of its and our cultural past…” (P. 27-28; from a section in ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ that brings together some of the recurring themes of hauntology and which could also be applied to work which explores the flipside/undercurrents of folkloric culture).

 

The flipside of folk/pastoral culture and hauntology seem to interconnect to create those familiar but also reimagined, unsettling, eerie and spectral aspects; creating a cultural harvest that on paper and technically you would not expect to, as you also say, cross pollinate but which has proved curiously and intriguingly fertile and hardy.

 

FHR: Can you say more about your motivation for producing ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ and the possibility that this may just be a first volume of many?

 

SP: In terms of why I produced ‘Wandering Through Spectral Field’s as a book separate from the AYITC website; at heart and in part it’s not all that much more complicated than it was a book that I wanted to read, that I found myself looking for over the years. Previous to and since its publication/I finished writing it there have been a number of books released which have explored some similar areas but they have generally more tended to focus on one particular area of related culture; semi-consciously I wanted to bring all these different aspects together as, well, they seem to fit, interconnect and influence one another. Online and print orientated publishing both have their pros and cons, their strengths and weaknesses and I’m not didactically more inclined towards one or the other but the more possibly curated, edited etc aspect of a book can bring a particular theme or set of themes into focus – or again as you say, on reading a collection of writing in book form it is hopefully possible to “see how they become part of a larger cultural tradition”. In terms of ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ possibly becoming part of a series of books; we shall see (!).

 

The AYITC webpage continues to be updated with new thoughts and recollections, new features and films, books, television and music that seem to exist either in a more liminal space outside of the mainstream or that instead occupies the mainstream in a more liminal and unusual manner. Seek it out if you are not already a regular visitor. And for those who favour a little Quatermass with their Wicker Man, a touch of Belbury Poly with their Incredible String Band or a taste of Children of the Stones with an offering of Chocky, this volume is highly recommended.

 

With thanks to Stephen Prince for his time and answers. ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ is available from ayearinthecountry.co.uk as well as Amazon.

 

Advertisements

A Year In The Country; Notes From The Edgelands…

 

18317935_1478540725551063_1953895057_o

For Folk Horror Revivalists who wish to further explore off the beaten track into the wyrder corners of literature, TV, film and music, you are invited to explore the rich, tangled undergrowth of ‘A Year In The Country’. A blog, website and music label, for the last few years AYITC has been quietly but ceaselessly documenting the edgelands of popular culture whilst adding their own unique contribution via such album releases as ‘The Quietened Village’ and ‘The Restless Field’ (featuring folk horror friendly artists such Sproatly Smith, Polypores and Keith Seatman); music which AYITC feels ‘draws from the above strands of inspiration – the patterns beneath the plough and pylons’.

Alongside their musical excursions, AYITC are keen curators of the unsettling and the bucolic. The scripts and writings of Nigel Kneale, the music of The Owl Service, hauntological favourites from TV past such as ‘The Changes’ or ‘Children of the Stones’, contemporary explorations such as Rob Young’s acid folk tome ‘Electric Eden’; just some of the otherworldly characters, programmes and emissions from which AYINC draws its inspiration and focus for its regular features and postings. The site’s curator describes his vision as;

’A set of year-long explorations of the undercurrents and flipside of bucolic dreams, the further reaches of folk music and culture, work that takes inspiration from the hidden and underlying tales of the land and where such things meet and intertwine with the lost futures, spectral histories and parallel worlds of what has come to be known as hauntology. The main website features writing about such work and themes, posts that are intended as a trail of cultural breadcrumbs, starting points for their readers’ own wanderings and pathways through related fields’.

18297283_1478541075551028_562663136_o

A highly recommended excursion for all curious and avid Revivalists there is much to be found in AYITC’s darkened hedgerows and industrial borderlands. Find them here and wander freely;

ayearinthecountry.co.uk/

article by Grey Malkin

Story: A Poem by Carmit Kordov

Story

Yearning for the old language of my blood, bone, skin.

Searching for my stone, my soil

stained with grief

splintered with joy.

Echoes, wistful, reverberate a desire in me.

Layers of my past, senses, corrupt my present

force me toward a hard and piercing future.

But mollify too with soft promises.

I mourn the tanned, weathered experiences, pieces of myself.

I strain to hold them tight around me like protection against wind.

I seek out rivers, streams and ponds

forge through elemental forests

rejoice in the leaves’ breath harsh and tender

brush against walls, stone, foundations dense with histories

push along through familiar unfamiliar streets.

Forced to make choices, take paths one way only.

The present infiltrates, shoves and urges me forward

cuts into viscous layers of the past.

Here I am: child, girl, woman.

I am the storyteller.

I demand the past bind itself to me and keep with me in the present.

I am the story

I will not disappear.

Words and Picture (C) Carmit Kordov

Please visit Carmit Kordov Words and Pictures (https://www.facebook.com/carmitkordovwordsandpictures/ ) for more poetry, photography, writing and cultural content that veers towards Magic Realism.

This poem appeared in Corpse Roads (https://folkhorrorrevival.com/folk-horror-revival-corpse-roads/), a Wyrd Harvest Press book (https://folkhorrorrevival.com/wyrd-harvest-press/).

Unearthing Forgotten Horrors

This week’s Unearthing Forgotten Horrors features new music from Joseph Curwen, alongside classics from Power of Zeus, Bulbous Creation, Forest, Fabio Frizzi, Tudor Lodge and David Hess to name just a few. It all kicks off Monday evening at 7pm UK time on (A1Radio – Online, Anytime)

image
A1Radio – Online, AnytimeA1Radio is an Internet Radio station broadcasting from Peterborough in the UK. We broadcast 24/7 with live shows throughout the week, and you can interact with us o…
View on a1radio.co.uk Preview by Yahoo

Unearthing Forgotten Horrors’ is an hour-long delve into the darker recesses of the musical underworld. A chance to immerse yourself in obscure horror soundtracks, dark drones, weird electronica, freaky folk, crazed kosmiche and some of the most abhorrent and twisted psychedelia ever committed to vinyl, CD or cassette.

(http://www.a1radio.co.uk/)

(episodes from) The Field Bazaar

(episodes from) The Field Bazaar

In the early 1970’s, so the story goes a group of young up and coming Portuguese script writers recruited from adverts in trade magazines and on university noticeboards were locked in a room together with a projector, an endless supply of coffee and cigarettes and a pile of books. The books were mainly short story collections of the weird and esoteric fiction variety whilst the projector showed episodes of American sci-fi/supernatural TV show The Twilight Zone in continuous rotation.

This inexperienced collective were charged with producing the first six episodes of what was hoped to be Portugal’s response to a current trend for surreal storytelling and macabre tales. Given the work that Spanish filmmaker Amando de Ossorio and Italians Jess Franco and Dario Argento were currently involved with it is easy to see why television executives thought there was an opening in the market for Portugal’s take on the genre. The dream was to create a weekly TV show much like The Twilight Zone but with European art house sensibilities that showed leanings towards the current trend for the more grisly macabre work of those three directors.

This claustrophobic setting and the darkly intense atmosphere of the continuously flickering projector led this band of writers to emerge almost two days later with the now fabled ‘O Campo Bazar’.

Full of hope for this exciting project, filming began with alarming speed – but with scripts still being finished on set and the technical equipment in the hands of an equally inexperienced and amateurish crew the project seemed to be dying before it had even been fully born. The resulting pilot episode was critically panned and although it is cited to be Alfred Molina’s screen debut he now strongly refutes the fact claiming no involvement whatsoever in the doomed project

Critics were relentless in their damning of everything to do with this project from the sets and stories to the acting and directing. There was however one factor that caused such embarrassment that it is often cited as the last nail in the not very convincing coffin.

To affiliate this fledgling series to an already established genre and gain credibility, Vince Price had been employed to provide the voiceover introduction. It transpired that a staggeringly significant percentage of the overall budget had been spent on securing Price’s services – money that everyone agreed should have been spent on the program itself. What made this so embarrassing however was the fact that Vince Price’s pronunciation and overall delivery of the Portuguese introduction was so cringingly bad as to sound like a mocking stereotype. With no money left to find another actor of Price’s stature to rerecord the part, and with newspapers and radio programs daily mocking this particular aspect of the show, the station programmers decided to cut their losses and pull the plug.

‘O Campo Bazar’ would have disappeared without a trace – as was the TV Company’s wishes – had it not been for the release of the` (episodios de) O Campo Bazar’ e.p. Indeed there are no known surviving prints of the six episodes – of which only four ever saw the light of day – but the existence of this e.p. has ensured that the legacy of this doomed project is not forgotten. ` (episodios de) O Campo Bazar’ was a promotional gimmick marketed as `a sampler of instrumental works created especially for the programme’ and has since become an ultra-rare curio hiding out with the national collection of Hen’s Teeth.

Cover of the 1973 release `O Campo Bazar’

The original press release states that `the stunning full colour sleeve features O Campo Bazar in horrifically realistic costumes’. This is the only reference ever given to the performers who were – and still are – a mystery. Released in Portugal in 1973 on the Gravacoes Freeworld label this collection of sinister synth led soundscapes is long overdue a rerelease.

Several years later the cult status and mythos of the group/artist brought about the release of `The Bane Tree’– again on the Gravacoes Freeworld label. This vinyl version of `The Bane Tree’ is the only UK release for `O Campo Bazar’ there has been the. The artist(s) name had been translated into English – The Field Bazaar – and the` (episodes from)’, which was a clear indication of its TV series roots, had also been translated and kept. The name itself – `The Field Bazaar’ – comes from a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and was seemingly chosen to represent the writers own take on `The Twilight Zone’…..a mysterious place where the weird and wonderful coexist with the horrifying and the macabre.

The Bane Tree has the feel of being demos and unused tracks from the original recordings although the music is more acoustic and pastoral sounding with greater use having been made of sound effects. The performers remained unknown.

Front cover of the UK release `The Bane Tree’

Back cover. Note the full name translation for the title whereas credits list the group as just `the Field Bazaar’

Recently artwork for a previously unreleased and assumed lost (episodes from) The Field Bazaar album `A Tale of Witches, Woodland and half-remember melodies…’ was discovered in a box of old picture frames at a church jumble sale in Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire. In 2012 a ¼ inch tape also surfaced at a bankruptcy sale for a small recording studio in Bloomsbury which had been known for soundtrack and sound effect recordings. This acetate contained what is now believed to be tracks from the recording sessions for this lost album. So far a tweaked and updated `The Musgrave Ritual’ is the only track to have materialized from this lost album. The title again references Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and includes a reading of the ancient ritual from the Sherlock Holmes story of the same name.

Artwork for the recently discovered `lost’ album

Also found alongside what is assumed to be the final approved artwork for the lost `A tale of Witches, Woodland and half-remembered melodies….’ was a scribbled early sketch for the album cover – possibly drawn up by one of the unknown, almost mythical members of the band/collective/composer who made up (episodes from) The Field Bazaar. A more recognizable sketch of the final composition shows the removal of the witch’s young companion for the image –possibly considered too sinister in its implications – and also the crucifix from the front of the building.

The Long Crendon sketches – Note the inclusion of the child and crucifix in the first sketch which has been omitted in the second more familiar image.

Unfortunately there are no signatures or notes on the reverse of either piece to hint at who the artist may have been or even who was operating in the studio under The Field Bazaar moniker at the time.

Several tracks recorded by (episodes from) The Field Bazaar have been rereleased in recent years thanks to the work of a small group of geekish fans who hunt down the original studio versions, strip them down, clean them up and remix them to form even the briefest of tunes into a coherent track. Their curation and conservation of the (episodes from) The Field Bazaar’s music is not only helping to save a forgotten gem but also to bring it to a wider audience.
(https://soundcloud.com/thefieldbazaar-1)

Folk Horror Revival Spotify Playlist

Folk Horror is a beast without definition – it is a personal understanding and reaction by the participant to a multitude of different creations that all appear touched with tinges of the supernatural, the folkloric and the shadowy side of our past and landscape.

The music of Folk Horror is a very difficult `genre’ to quantify being as it is itself a non-genre. The music that is considered Folk Horror has become so due to its subject matter, its atmospheres, instrumentation and inspiration – inviting individual tracks from Acid Folk, Hauntology, Traditional Folk Music, Soundtracks, Psychedelic, Ambient, Drone, Murder Ballads, Classical and Electronica to join the Folk Horror fold.

This playlist was initially created by Jim Peters for his personal listening pleasure but has now become an ever-growing collection of tracks suggested by members of the Folk Horror Revival group. It is now curated by Jim and is becoming more diverse, educating and entertaining with every recommendation from the group.

The quest continues to create the ultimate Folk Horror playlist…..come join us – from the forest, from the furrows, from the field….

(https://open.spotify.com/user/jimofleon/playlist/4bTgHJWcWQDl9ELHY9btL1)