at The Waiting Room
9 Station Road, Eaglescliffe,
Stockton-on-Tees, TS16 0BU
2018 saw the reissue on DVD and Blu-ray of Threads… surely one of the most hard-hitting and frightening TV dramas ever made? Barry Hines’ BAFTA-winning depiction of a Britain struggling to exist in the wake of a cataclysmic nuclear war is shockingly and stunningly realised, with actor Reece Dinsdale gaining deserved plaudits in the role of terrified young father-to-be, Jimmy Kemp.
It was a breakthrough role for Reece, although he’d already enjoyed an acclaimed stage career, and had made an early film appearance alongside Michael Palin and Maggie Smith (and a wayward pig) in Alan Bennett’s A Private Function. Full-on TV fame followed, with 1985 seeing the debut of hugely popular ITV sitcom Home To Roost, in which Reece played the rebellious son of a divorced (and reluctant) father, forging a formidable sitcom double-act with the great John Thaw.
Deliciously eclectic film and TV success continued; he played Guildenstern opposite Timothy Spall’s Rosencrantz in Kenneth Branagh’s big-screen adaptation of Hamlet, and won Best Actor at the Geneva Film Festival for his lead role in ID, playing an undercover police officer dragged into the murky world of football hooliganism. Further TV credits include Spooks, Life on Mars and Silent Witness, and two years in Coronation Street as the ill-fated Joe McIntyre. In recent years, Reece has earned acclaim for his portrayal of Richard III at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and has also moved behind the camera, directing episodes of BBC1’s drama anthology Moving On. He has also appeared in folk horror favourites Robin Hood and The Storyteller.
In the latest of our regular ‘live chat shows’, Reece will be interviewed onstage by writer, BBC broadcaster, Haunted Generation archivist and self-avowed film and telly geek Bob Fischer.
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.
Image: Get Out
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Image by Bragolin
Photo by Centre For Folklore, Myth & Magic
Image by Peter Booth
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!!
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.
Photo: Bob Fischer by Centre for Folklore, Myth & Magic
Photo: David Southwell by Diane A. Rodgers
Photo: Andy Paciorek by Centre for Folklore, Myth & Magic
Photo: The Haunted (Re)Generations by Adam Spellicy
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.
Photo: Tom Clark – The Devil Made me do it by Centre for Folklore, Myth & Magic
Photo: Evelyn Koch by Diane A Rodgers
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2018 is already again a busy year for both Folk Horror Revival and Wyrd Harvest Press.
Lined up are talks at others’ events or media presences and again a fruitful focus of books.
Our first venture into publishing back in the winter of 2015, Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies was very much a cutting of teeth. Using multi-contributors from many a field close and far for inclusion in a charity book and testing out unfamiliar Print on Demand demands led it is safe to say a headache or ten … But we were left in our hands, somehow put together by a new and relatively unexperienced quantity a tome that featured amongst its pages , contributions by the likes of Philip Pullman, Robin Hardy, Alan Lee and also a cornucopia of interviews with or essays by a surge of new talent. Field Studies, I think it is fair to say, opened more eyes to the genre of folk horror and its revival. Furthermore, though its creators have not made a penny from it; conservation and biodiversity projects conducted by The Wildlife Trusts have benefited well from its presence.
It was not a perfect book however, as some reviewers fairly pointed out, there were some formatting issues which gave an uneven appearance. A minor complaint, but one we took note of …..sooooooo …. this year sees a Second Edition of Field Studies, which not only sees the design improved but also features numerous new interviews and essays featuring the talents for instance of Susan Cooper, Pat Mills and Ronald Hutton and themes such as cults in cinema, communications with the dead and the wolf in the rye, amongst others.
The original Field Studies is no longer available to buy from our book-store but a new, bigger and better version is coming soon.
It will be followed by Harvest Hymns (a 2 volume extravaganza released simultaneously). Pieced together by the mysterious music-magician Melmoth the Wanderer, prepare to be treated to the sumptious tastes of the twisted roots and sweetest fruits of Folk Horror music. Delving first via essays and interviews, into a paganistic past of folk music, experimental electronics and witchy metal we are brought into the present of dark folk, drone and many other strange and wondrous aural delights.
Also this year, we will bring to you a collection of contemporary ghost stories gathered by the author Paul Guernsey from a pool of talented haunted souls, whose nightmares have been illustrated by Andy Paciorek.
Andy Paciorek has also been in cahoots again with professor and traditional storyteller Dr. Bob Curran to unearth the grisly tome that is The Wytch Hunters’ Manual.
Also on the agenda and in progress for this year or beyond are Goddess – a volume brought to you by a female powerhouse delving into a wide variety of topics, The Choir Invisible, a book that deals with death in its varying shades of morbidity and beauty; and Urban Wyrd – a study into what happens when the harvest of folk horror and other strange fields, spills beyond the lines of town and country, both in place and mind.
100% of profits from FHR / Wyrd Harvest Press books sold in this store will be charitably donated at intervals to different environmental, wildlife and community projects undertaken by the Wildlife Trusts.
A review of Austin Osman Spare: The Life and Legend of London’s Lost Artist (Phil Baker, Strange Attractor Press, 2012) and Madeline Montalban: The Magus of St Giles (Julia Phillips, Neptune Press, 2015)
The chances are, you are more likely to have heard of Austin Spare than you have of Madeline Montalban.
Saying you’re into the work of Austin Osman Spare these days is like saying you’re into the work of Throbbing Gristle, or Nico’s solo work, or Scott Walker’s late era: sure, it’s not a household name, but he’s not exactly unfamous either, and if you have even a passing interest in the occult these days the chances are you’ve heard of him. And that’s OK! His posthumous reputation, although largely mythologised, is deserved.
For my part, Madeline Montalban was part of the furniture of my life since childhood. I could have told you who Madeline Montalban was when I was nine. Dad’s jumbled up collection of Prediction magazines meant that I rarely read them in order; I’d find them in caches around the house, all mixed up, and I don’t recall reading her obituary as a kid (although I must have: It’s in the issue with the picture of Battlestar Galactica on the front that includes Doreen Valiente’s article about the Necronomicon).
I remembered her mainly as having written most of the articles about the Tarot, mysterious and forbidden.
(As a kid I found once a mouldy miniature Tarot deck, rotting in my dad’s garage, but it smelled bad and I left it there, and it ended up binned.)
I had seen Austin Spare’s art before I’d known his name. The lascivious, bare-breasted and faintly malevolent Isis Unveiled on the cover of my Dad’s copy of Francis X King’s Magic: The Western Tradition and several of the illustrations within, that was Spare.
Phil Baker’s Austin Osman Spare: The Life and Legend of London’s Lost Artist(Strange Attractor Press, 2012)is about as comprehensive a biography as one could want of anyone, exhaustively researched, annotated and indexed. It’s a useful reference work without once being any less than enthralling. It’s the sort of thing people call a “tremendous achievement”.
Austin Spare (1886-1956) was feted as an artistic genius in his teens. It didn’t work out for him. He crashed out of Crowley’s Argenteum Astrum. W B Yeats (who always seems to come off like a colossal prick in anything I’ve read) picked a fight with Spare over the illustration of his poems. Spare tried to launch magazines and exhibit work, and founded his own magical system. As time went on, his star waned, and a succession of reversals and misfortunes beset him, culminating in him getting bombed out of his home and losing everything during the Blitz.
He ended up in poverty, but kept ploughing his furrow, in magic and art. He exhibited his paintings in pubs, and in his final few years got tangled up with the flamboyantly imaginative artist/occultist Kenneth Grant who, it’s fair to say, is the reason for Spare’s enduring fame and influence over the occult scene as it is today, particularly through the growth of Chaos Magic.
A good biography needs a linchpin, an idea that forms its heart, and Baker, right from the beginning, stresses that Spare was above all a Cockney. This serves as an effective centre to his story, if not for the unfortunate effect of causing me to imagine Spare’s voice being exactly like the voice of the Phantom Cockney from The Mighty Boosh (I respectfully submit that should the all-too plausible BBC4 dramatisation of his life ever come to pass, Noel Fielding is a shoo-in for the title role).
Spare was, so Baker says, the man Gerald Gardner, the father of Wicca, went to in order to extricate himself from curses, something Gardner seems to have had a problem with. Spare didn’t seem to go much on the man – when Kenneth Grant introduced Spare to Gardner, Spare would later opine that “Dr. Gardner has never met a pukka witch…”
I wonder if Spare ever met Madeline Montalban (1910-1982). Certainly their circles overlapped: she knew Crowley, Gardner and Grant to some extent or other. But I think that if anyone described her as a witch, pukka or otherwise, they would have been subject to her wrath to an exquisite degree.
This was not, as far as I could tell from Julia Phillips’ biography, Madeline Montalban: The Magus of St Giles (Neptune Press, 2015), an altogether unusual occurrence. Montalban was, it seems, a fierce presence, capricious and mercurial, and yet truly beloved by her friends and students.
Looking at the issues of Prediction I have which carry her work, all of which come from the last five years of her life, none of this comes as much of a surprise. She wrote most of the astrology section (although towards the end she got a colleague to ghost it for her), had a regular column on the Tarot, and every issue supplied a piece in the middle of the magazine that was only ever called in the contents “Madeline Montalban’s long astrology article”.
These articles were not always astrology. Looking at them in recent years I’ve often felt that she just turned in whatever the hell she wanted just because she could, and knew they’d pay her to print it, whatever. It doesn’t matter: these articles are almost entirely pretty great. It went both ways, I suppose. Prediction trusted her to bring in the esoteric goods just as much as she trusted them to print her writing. Prediction was still publishing articles by her at least into May that year, although interestingly, one of the last articles she supplied, “The Throne of Understanding”, a cracking piece about using the Old Testament of the Bible as a grimoire, was printed twice, in the February and March 1982 issues. No reference is made to that mistake in any of the issues I have (although I’m missing June and July of that year, so it might be in there). My own writing is heavily influenced by her.
I owe her an awful lot.
Phillips’ biography of Montalban is barely a quarter of the length of Baker’s biography of Spare. It neither has a table of contents nor an index and it’s arranged by rough topics rather than chronologically. I think that’s a deliberate choice: It’s apparent that the bulk of Phillips’ research relies heavily on first hand accounts of Madeline Montalban’s life from people who knew her and survived her, and this necessarily means that the book skews towards living memory, and hence the latter half of her life. By avoiding a chronological structure, Phillips also avoids a more obviously lop-sided book. And it’s the right decision.
I mentioned Austin Spare’s encounters with Gerald Gardner before, mainly for the sake of comparison. Here, there’s an entire chapter on Montalban’s association with the founder of Wicca, including evidence in Gardner’s own handwriting that he had also consulted Montalban on the subject of avoiding curses.
It seems that she was a close associate with Gardner, especially during the writing of High Magic’s Aid, Gardner’s pseudonymous Wiccan ur-text (it’s originally credited to “Scire”) written as fiction for the simple reason that in 1949, witchcraft was still illegal in England. It’s incontrovertible that Montalban was Gardner’s typist and sub-editor.
According to Phillips she claimed right up to her dying day that she actually ghostwrote the whole thing, based on Gardner’s jumbled notes. The whole affair is further complicated by Montalban’s refusal to have anything at all to do with Wicca after Gardner’s death in 1964, even to the extent of cutting off the late Michael Howard (a writer on magic, not the Tory grandee) for a few years after he was initiated into a Wiccan group. Phillips gives getting to the bottom of why this happened her very best shot, but, dependent on recollections of Montalban’s surviving friends and pupils, she has to throw up her hands and let the mystery remain unsolved.
And this is largely a problem Phillips faces, which Baker doesn’t. Austin Spare is heavily documented, both in his own words and those of others, as presented in contemporary accounts from throughout Spare’s life, and Phil Baker is able to show with sensitivity and depth how the man changed over the decades; Julia Phillips’ Madeline Montalban is in some ways frozen in the memory of those who knew her, in the way that the beloved people we lose over the course of our lives so often are. With so few accounts contemporary with the earlier phases of her life, we largely see the final twenty-five years or so, and what we see of her earlier life is through the lens of that later period. This isn’t Phillips’s fault. Her perspective depends on what she had to work on, and personal retrospective, with all its problems, is the bulk of that.
In her lifetime, Madeline Montalban was undeniably far better known than Austin Spare was in his, but their afterlives seem to have afforded them opposite trajectories, I think. Spare, richly documented and mythologised, is collected by celebrities and rock stars and thanks to Kenneth Grant and Pete Carroll, is now very much part of the furniture of the occult stage. Montalban might have been published every month in an internationally distributed print magazine during the peak life of print and the heyday of public interest in the occult, but barely three decades after her death, her life is already beset with lacunae, her early existence a cipher, beloved and well-remembered in anecdote only by survivors and committed enthusiasts.
The record of her role in the history of twentieth century British occultism is in danger, even with work like this, of being forgotten. Her unwillingness to publish her writing in a more permanent form is part of it, I think; she refused to write in book form on principle, according to Phillips. As a result, her legitimately vast body of work (for example, in five years’ worth of magazines I have easily a couple hundred pages of text by her) lies largely in ephemera, in pamphlets, correspondence courses and mainly in a magazine that, reduced to a shadow of its former self, finally ceased publishing about four years ago. In a world where it seems that most things are always available in print or PDF, Madeline Montalban has become increasingly hard to track down.
Of course, one wonders if she would have had more acolytes and prophets had she not been a woman, a disabled woman at that (she’d had polio as a child, with the consequences that brought), and a powerful, awkward, difficult figure. History is kinder in general to difficult men than it is to difficult women. We call difficult men free thinkers and iconoclasts, grand, heroic labels. We call difficult women bossy and selfish, diminutives designed to make them seem childish and ridiculous. It’s easy to do.
She mattered. I suspect that it goes against her own wishes (and hence against the wishes of her literary executors) but I can’t help thinking that perhaps someone should compile Madeline Montalban’s writing into a more permanent form before it vanishes altogether. Before we lose her entirely.