Musty Books: “Come Back, Lucy” by Pamela Sykes (1973)

Who wouldn’t revel in the fun of a carefree 1970s childhood, with T. Rex blaring from the radio and a noisy, knockabout Christmas on the way? Insular 11-year-old Lucy, that’s who. Orphaned young, then raised (and indeed home-schooled) by her elderly Aunt Olive amid prim Victorian mores, her plight in this low-key, touching ghost story is the perfect encapsulation of the swift transformation of British society in the mid-20th century. Even as the 1970s began to swing in earnest, the stiff, formal pre-war rituals of Olive and her generation were being rigidly maintained behind the closed doors of gloomy, austere townhouses, and Lucy’s enforced journey between the two provides the trauma and grief at the heart of this book.

When Aunt Olive dies, Lucy is immediately transported from her Victorian bolthole, effectively friendless and at odds with the entirety of her generation, to live with a houseful of distant relations: the ultra-modern Aunt Gwen and Uncle Peter, and their children Patrick, Rachel and Bill. It’s a household straight from a stereotypically 1970s sitcom: imagine a moustachioed William Gaunt and a bob-haired Wendy Craig presiding over a gaggle of unruly kids in flared jeans while endlessly dashing to badminton lessons and local committee meetings; free-spirited denizens of a beige-coloured neverland where the fondue dip forever runs free. For the pinafore dress-sporting Lucy, raised on cribbage and lavender-picking and accustomed to nothing more rowdy than the clack of Aunt Olive’s crochet needles, the transition is little short of a living torment.

The contrast between the two households is, paradoxically, driven home by their similarity. Like Aunt Olive’s quaintly-named house The Shrubbery, Gwen and Peter’s family home is Victorian-built. But whereas Olive revelled in the insular familarity of this bygone age, Peter – an interior decorator of Sunday supplement repute – has delighted in replacing the vintage fixtures and fittings of Lucy’s new home with the pampas grass, central heating and abstract artwork of the new decade. “That’s Dad’s thing, modernizing old houses,” explains a proud Rachel to an aghast Lucy. “There was a big article about him in a glossy magazine not so long ago.”

Still consumed with grief following the loss of both her Aunt Olive and her secure, cloistered lifestyle, Lucy’s disgust and fury with her adoptive family is absolute: “She heard thunderous footsteps on the stairs as the boys chased each other down. She hated them. She wondered where Aunt Gwen and Uncle Peter were, and how she was to endure life with these strange people. She hated them all.” The anger and powerlessness of childhood is touchingly captured, but salvation soon arrives in the form of that most quintessentially 1970s of otherworldly experiences: a Victorian ghost.

Although describing Alice as a “ghost” is a potential misnomer. Alice, we learn, was a lonely child who lived in Gwen and Peter’s house exactly a century earlier; abandoned by absent parents to the care of her haughty governess (“Mademoiselle”) and with a cloistered upbringing and a passionate disdain for modern living that almost precisely mirrors Lucy’s. And it is a literal mirror that provides the two girls with a link across time. By concentrating on reflective surfaces (at first, she uses a Victorian mirror stashed carelessly in the attic, but later even her reflection in a puddle is enough to puncture the constraints of linear time) Lucy is able to transport herself back and forth between the 1970s and the 1870s. And the two girls effectively become ghosts in other’s respective eras: Lucy as Alice’s secret Victorian friend, evading the watchful eye of Mademoiselle, and Alice as a baleful spectre in Gwen and Peter’s 1970s household, a fleeting but powerful figure whose presence is eventually detected by the entire family.

The totemic power of Lucy’s reflection is pivotal here. Because Alice herself is a reflection of Lucy. Or at least the side of Lucy that wallows in kneejerk, reactionary hostility to anything – or anybody – that intrudes into the cossetted world of her pseudo-Victorian upbringing. It’s a harsh lesson: after all, Lucy’s upbringing is no fault of her own, and – for crying out loud – the poor girl is still dealing with the death of the only person in her short life to offer any semblance of safety and security. But Alice is a child seemingly without hope of redemption. Callous, selfish and manipulative, she has been consumed by her loneliness, and intends to claim Lucy as a permanent fixture of the 1873 household, little more than a permanent plaything to add to her lavish collection of possessions. And the message is starkly clear: unless Lucy begins to face the future rather than dwelling on her past, she too will become just as cold and self-serving as her Victorian counterpart.

This dawning realisation goes hand-in-hand with Lucy’s growing appreciation that Victorian life wasn’t all formal dances in frilly dresses, a point driven home when Uncle Peter’s bridge-building tour of the modern-day house reaches the cellar – or, as it was during Alice’s childhood, the scullery. “Damp and dark and full of cockroaches no doubt,” he points out. “But that kind of thing was considered good enough for servants.” The changes in Lucy’s attitudes are depicted with a warming subtlety, arriving as gently as a slow down on a winter’s morning, and – appropriately enough – it is the family’s last-minute preparations for the Christmas celebrations of 1973 that really bring her into their fold. Although it’s not overtly mentioned, one suspects that – on the big day itself – she might even have twitched a conciliatory foot to the chart-smashing sounds of Wizzard and Slade.

And while not a “Christmas Book” per se, the trappings of the festive season provide some evocative moments; particularly that of a gaggle of mysterious carol singers who – like Alice and Lucy – seem to flicker back and forth between the centuries, and a wonderfully creepy Victorian street scene that made me hanker for a handful of Quality Street. And Alice herself has a final, horrifically wintry trap to spring for Lucy that will conjure memories of both seasonal childhood nightmares and vintage Public Information Films alike. The intrusion of such a dark and baroque conclusion into the easy charm of upwardly-mobile 1970s family life is the perfect summation of the aesthetic of this downbeat but ultimately heartwarming story.

POINT OF ORDER: In April 1978, Come Back, Lucy was adapted into a six-part series by ATV. It didn’t star William Gaunt and Wendy Craig as Uncle Peter and Aunt Gwen, rather future Dalek voice actor Royce Mills and the always wonderful Phyllida Law. It has a brilliantly unsettling title sequence, too. Inexplicably, there has never been a full DVD release, but Episode 1 is available on this splendid compilation:

https://networkonair.com/drama/1265-look-back-on-70s-telly-issue-4

MUSTINESS REPORT: My 1980 edition has pages the colour of fondue, and at some point a large price sticker has been removed from the back cover, leaving a sticky, rectangular patch that acts as a handy magnet for purple fluff and dog hair. A girl called Kirsten Clarke has written her name at the top of the inside cover, but that’s all the detail she’s left. Kirsten, if you’re reading this – get in touch. I have previous form in returning long-lost books to their original owners:

https://hauntedgeneration.co.uk/2020/02/25/musty-books-mandog-by-lois-lamplugh-peter-dickinson-1972/

Electronic Sound: Buried Treasure – “Electrosound” by Ron Geesin

(First published in Electronic Sound magazine #62, February 2020)

Unearthing Electronic Gold

The track titles alone sound like long-long episodes of early 1970s Doctor Who. ‘Troglodyte’; ‘Enzymes In Your Ear’ and ‘Songs Of The Wire’ would surely be rollicking and terrifying adventures, although it’s hard to imagine Jon Pertwee not raising a bemused eyebrow at Side 2’s opener, ‘Organ In The Clouds’.

Curiously, it could almost have happened. Ayrshire-born sound experimentalist Ron Geesin turned down a mid-1960s invitation to join the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, fearing that even this hotbed of Heath Robinson-esque invention would overly institutionalise his maverick spirit. Instead, he became a pivotal counter-culture figure; famously drafted into Pink Floyd’s 1970s sessions to complete the troublesome Atom Heart Mother album, and also working with Roger Waters on the soundtrack to The Body, a documentary about human anatomy. This latter opus combines traditional folk songs, contemporary classical workouts and innovative sound collages, one of which is called ‘More Than Seven Dwarfs In Penis-Land’. It is somewhat of its time.

Electrosound, from 1972, was the first of Ron’s adventures into the deliciously illicit world of library production music. Music composed and recorded for “the industry”, for TV and film producers to licence at will, and never intended for the record racks of Woolworths or HMV. It was distributed by EMI’s legendary KPM label, whose impressive catalogue had previously provided the themes to Animal Magic, Dave Allen at Large, and This Is Your Life. Ron’s magnificently other-worldly compositions were unlikely ever to signal the arrival of Eamonn Andrews and his famous red book, but they remain – almost five decades on – an evocative and utterly immersive body of work.

You can never accuse Ron of being precious. “The pieces herein displayed may be combined with themselves (as much out of synch as possible) to achieve thicker diffuse atmospheres,” he instructed on Electrosound‘s sleeve notes. “And playing things at different speeds could not be wrong!”. Tempting as it is, I’ve always listened to each track separately, at the correct speed, and they’re still utterly transportative.

So ‘Glass Dance’ is the sound of gleaming citadels gliding through alien skies; ‘Slow Sprinkle’ the plaintive cries of wonky robots shambling across purple deserts, baking beneath the heat of a blue, triangular sun. ‘Syncopot’ sounds like a rogue computer (the size of a house, with clanking reel-to-reel tape spools) attempting to control the mind of a wild-haired scientist in some secret government laboratory. ‘Commuter’ begins in gently sinister fashion, with manipulated piano rhythms wrapping themselves around pulsating electronica, before ‘Car Crusher’ chucks the whole kaboosh into… well, what does indeed sound like an industrial scrapyard compactor, chewing on the remains of a written-off Ford Anglia.

Anyone who grew up during this halcyon era will recognise the sound of “the future”… a future that consisted of bacofoil and bubblewrap, and all those 1980s moonbases and Mars missions to come. That Geesin recorded this album in his own self-built secret laboratory in the Sussex countryside only adds to the charm; the perfect 1970s combination of visionary experimentation and bucolic retreat. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart would be proud.

Ron Geesin’s official website is here:

https://www.rongeesin.com/

Electronic Sound: Reviews (Issue 62)

Reviews originally published in Issue 62 of Electronic Sound magazine, February 2020: 

KEITH SEATMAN
Time to Dream But Never Seen
(Castles In Space)

“Owner of some synths, and always a tad lost.” So goes Keith Seatman‘s self-effacing description of himself, and both are apparent in this utterly magical concoction, an album steeped in the sweetshop mysticism of a stranger, gentler England. Certainly the wistful tootlings of ancient keyboards are present and correct, conjuring delicious images of topsy-turvy fairground rides, of wonky, body-bending mirrors and clanging Ghost Trains. With Seatman himself marooned in the throng, bemused and out-of-time, a static observer in a stop-motion crowd scene.

Write his name in the centre of a crumpled notepad, and – as this extraordinary musical adventure unfurls – let the comparisons explode around it. You’ll end up with Syd Barrett, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, even Tommy Cooper and the remnants of Music Hall. But they’re not influences, nor inspirations. It’s more than that. It’s genetic. This is the sound a man of whose DNA is infused with the spirit of what The Alberts once described as “British Rubbish”. It’s the glorious inheritance of arcane weirdness, and it’s painfully touching to acknowledge that such a thing even exists any more. It’s like finding a beloved, elderly relative, long assumed dead, living in a disused lighthouse on the South Coast, surrounded by wheezing harmoniums and stuffed puffins.

You need actual proof? Try the zig-zagging, end-of-the-pier Wurlitzer of ‘Tippy Toe Tippy Toe’. The spectral, skeletal waltz of ‘Compact Bedroom Circus’. Or ‘Speak Your Piece’, in which poet, songwriter and regular collaborator Douglas E. Powell invokes the spirit of Ronald Duncan in his Seasons pomp: “Where the acorn lands upon the ground, the hare, mouse and pig are found.” We’re now six albums into the career of this Puckish troubador, this mercurial genius on the fringes of popular hauntology. But, like those old ‘Nationwide’ weirdies who would row to abandoned sea forts in the Solent and declare them an independent state, Seatman has become the king of his own beautifully bespoke realm.

And a tad lost? Yes, but wonderfully so. Stay lost Keith, and keep sending us postcards like this. Assuming he’s on the same calendar as the rest of us dreary mortals, it’s barely February. But he might already have made the album of the year.

Album available here:
https://keithseatman.bandcamp.com/album/time-to-dream-but-never-seen


Interview with Keith Seatman here:
https://hauntedgeneration.co.uk/2020/03/12/keith-seatman-doctor-who-and-time-to-dream-but-never-seen/

REVBJELDE
Hoohah Hubbub
(Buried Treasure)


Always the most genial of sinister overlords, when Alan Gubby isn’t staging immersive gatherings in remote MOD facilities, he’s marshalling the collected musical forces of Revbjelde. “Chaos is coming!” barks post-punk legend Peter Hope on the opening title track of this follow-up to 2017’s eponymous debut, and he’s not understating the matter. What follows is a white-knuckle ride through lusciously tangled psychedelia, with Hope a growling, forceful presence throughout, and Magic Mushroom Band drummer Jim Lacey lending a potent, muscular urgency.

There’s anger here: it’s an album whose creation Gubby says was “enveloped in a post-referendum smog of lies, schemes and misinformation”. ‘Swamp Gas’ is a gloriously filthy Beefheart-esque swipe at fossil fuel carmaggedon; while ‘Geistig’ is thrillingly discordant, sax-drenched beat poetry – in its own words, “well-versed in structureless defiance”. But there are tender moments, too: ‘Verdant Green’ is sensual, blissed-out jazz-prog with a whiff of early Floyd. Alternately furious and restorative, it’s the antidote album for an already troubled new decade.

Album available here:
https://buriedtreasure.bandcamp.com/album/hooha-hubbub


Interview with Alan Gubby here:
https://hauntedgeneration.co.uk/2019/07/27/the-delaware-road-alan-gubby-and-ritual-resistance/

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Par Avion
(Modern Aviation)


Seeking an album of somnambulant, hallucinogenic daydreams to soundtrack lazy, Spring afternoons? Look no further. It’s a rare compilation that works as a seamless, coherent suite of music, but label boss Will Salmon has assembled an impressive roster of contributors to achieve precisely that. The soothing harps and swooning ambience of Rupert Lally‘s ‘Every Home Should Have One’ give way to the melancholy, fractured piano of newcomer Benjamin Winter’s ‘Still Animals’; which in turn surrenders to The Leaf Library‘s gently burbling ‘Wave Of Translation’. It’s rather overwhelming.

Elsewhere, Ghost Box alumni ToiToiToi brings skittering beats and accordions, redolent of austere, Central European childrens’ dramas on long-ago school holiday mornings. And Polypores‘ ‘Absent Farther’ could be the lonely, electronic communication of a slowly disappearing space probe. Salmon claims the collection has no distinct theme or remit, but it has an overpowering air of sweetly wistful loneliness, both contemplative and soothing. A gorgeous, splintered reverie of an album.

Album available here:
https://musiqueparavion.bandcamp.com/album/v-a-par-avion

KID MOXIE
Not to Be Unpleasant, But We Need to Have a Serious Talk
(Lakeshore Records)


This soundtrack to a Greek indie film – in which a serial womaniser discovers he is carrying an STD lethal only to women – sees Greek-born, LA-based Kid Moxie (aka Elena Charbila) combining her considerable talents for both bombastic synth anthems and haunting electronica. There are joyous covers of Alphaville’s ‘Big In Japan’, and – curiously – ‘The Night’, a 1983 reunion single from The Animals. But original instrumental pieces like ‘The Distance Grows Again’ are beautifully stately, elegantly wearing the influences of Charbila’s previous collaborator Angelo Badalamenti.

Album available here:
https://kidmoxiesoundtrack.bandcamp.com/

MABE FRATTI
Pies Sobre la Tierra
(Unheard of Hope)


The title means “Feet On The Ground”, but it belies the lofty ambitions of Guatemalan cellist Fratti, whose improvisational background shines through on this experimental and uplifting album. Ambient electronica, contemporary classical, even shoegaze… they’re all in there, fused together by Fratti’s restless cello and effortlessly shimmering vocals. And on penultimate track ‘Direccion’ the combination coalesces into a melody that is genuinely transcendent. The Cocteau Twins and Oldfield’s Ommadawn might offer vague comparisons, but really – she’s in a world of her own.

Album available here:
https://tinangelrecords.bandcamp.com/album/pies-sobre-la-tierra

Electronic Sound – “the house magazine for plugged in people everywhere” – is published monthly, and available here:

https://electronicsound.co.uk/

The Haunted Generation in the Fortean Times – Issue 395

As well as this weekly blog, the Haunted Generation is also a bi-monthly column in the Fortean Times magazine, rounding up new releases and forthcoming events. This was the most recent feature, from Issue 395, dated August 2020.

THE HAUNTED GENERATION

Bob Fischer rounds up the latest news from the parallel worlds of popular hauntology

“I am the Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water. Ready to trap the unwary, the show-off, the fool…”

A merciless instigator of childhood drownings, drifting silently through building sites and beauty spots alike, this sinister spectre made a profound impact on the 1970s childhood. The central character of a 90-second Public Information Film produced to deter cagoul-clad tearaways from high-jinks around stagnant pools and dystopian duckponds, he now weaves his dark magic on a new Blu-ray collection from the British Film Institute.

There have been collections of Public Information Films before, of course. Some released by the BFI themselves, and also by Network – whose comprehensive Charley Says DVDs gathered together almost 300 of the unsettling, minute-long shorts that peppered our TV schedules for decades. Lonely Water aside, this new set – The Best Of COI: Five Decades of Public Information Films – largely eschews these short, sharp shocks for longer, more ambitious productions, comprising 23 films produced by the Orwellian-sounding Central Office of Information between the 1940s and 1980s. It’s an immersive, languorous insight into a long-vanished Britain.

Predictably, it is the 1970s films that provide the real trauma. Apaches, from 1977, is the most notorious inclusion here, a 27-minute agricultural bloodbath in which six children, lost in their own Wild West-inspired fantasy world, descend on a rain-sodden farm and are systematically picked off by a combination of tractors, slurry pits and rat poison. It’s the dark side of Farming Outlook; Sam Peckinpah directing for the Children’s Film Foundation.

Cut from similar cloth is 1978’s Building Sites Bite, in which sensible Paul and Jane are visited by posh-but-dim cousin Ronald. “I reckon he’s a twit…” muses Paul, and employs comprehensively grim methods to prove it. Imagining himself and his sister as silver-suited cosmic overlords, he inflicts multiple imaginary deaths on his cravat-sporting nemesis by transporting him (via a garden shed TARDIS) to a succession of deserted building sites. Here, exposed electrical cables and collapsing walls repeatedly nudge Ronald from an increasingly thankless mortal coil. Connoisseurs of similarly bleak 1970s oddness may also enjoy Drive Carefully Darling, in which Colin Baker, John Challis and Christopher Owen play lab-coated Numskulls, respectively operating the Brain, Ego and Memory of a reckless driver caught in a fatal car crash. Baker’s despairing attempts to contact the rest of the dying body (“Brain to eyes! For God’s sake, come in!”) are genuinely chilling.

Less traumatic but equally redolent of their respective eras, the set’s earlier films offer tantalising glimpses of a promised future that never quite materialised. 1952’s Brief City dares to imagine a bright, almost sci-fi existence; its Festival of Britain-inspired roam around London’s transformed South Bank including glimpses of the floating, rocket-like ‘Skylon’ sculpture that almost pointed the way to the Space Age. Similarly exciting visions are dangled in 1965’s Design For Today, a wordless film collage of a life filled with the new wave of poptastic British design, cruelly promising a future of E-Type Jaguars parked outside gleaming skyscrapers and plush apartments grooving to the sounds of funky Hammond organ workouts.

This combination of thwarted utopias and childhood unsettlement has provided untold inspiration for the legion of 21st century artists whose work features regularly in this column, and this immaculate collection acts almost as a set text. It epitomises a pivotal moment in mid-20th century Britain, when the plummy-voiced agents of these state-funded films graduated from reassuring, post-war optimism to a grim acceptance that death and danger were omnipresent. There are fascinating diversions: 1944’s Children of The City looks at Scotland’s approved school system, and Insight: Zandra Rhodes is COI stalwart Peter Greenaway’s revealing glimpse into the life of everyone’s favourite pink-haired fashion designer.

But the collection’s concluding presentation is peak hauntedness. Never Go With Strangers, from 1971, alerts unsuspecting infants to the dangers of abduction with a gentle sternness that is both chilling and heartbreaking. “Most people are good and kind, but there are some that want to hurt children,” it warns, as a procession of smiling, sinister loners attempt to lure unsure poppets away from their favourite playgrounds and funfairs. Shown extensively to terrified children in parquet-floored school halls, it’s a stark reminder that the COI – for all its antiquated charm – played an important role. Not just in helping to define an era of British pop culture, but in placing a gently protective arm around the vulnerable. The fact that it frequently did so with such inventiveness, imagination and sheer cinematic flair is perfectly encapsulated by this hugely evocative collection.

The Best Of COI: Five Decades of Public Information Films is available now from www.bfi.org.uk

Felt Trips: “MASK” by Paul Childs

There’s a real poignancy to the adolescent Christmas. Awake at 8am rather than 4am, and unwrapping presents with a studied languor as the fevered excitement of childhood dissipates, year on year. The presents change, too: nothing signifies the end of innocence more than those muted, interim Christmas Days when garish, bulky toys are gradually replaced by sober books and albums.

For Paul Childs, the tipping point came in 1986… but it inspired a flurry of early teenage artwork influenced by one of the less-remembered 1980s toy franchises. And, as a bonus, his story also boasts a tangential link to the pop career of Miami Vice star Don Johnson:

Over to you, Paul…

“December 1986 is lodged firmly in my memory for a couple of reasons. It was the first year I got music for Christmas. I received tapes of Now That’s What I Call Music 8 and Hits 5 (also known as The One With A Red Die On The Front) and a boombox from my parents.

As kids were wont to do in the 1980s – with the internet only existing in movies like Tron, Jumpin’ Jack Flash and WarGames – I decided to write down the lyrics to all my favourite songs from these two albums. Well, those that hadn’t been printed in Smash Hits magazine, anyway. I sat, finger poised over the pause button, pen in hand. I gave up after four lines of Duran Duran’s lyrically confusing ‘Notorious’… which Now enthusiasts will know is Tape 1, Side 1, Track 1.

But I’m rambling. I’m here to talk about the other reason Christmas 1986 was important to me.

It was the last year I got toys for Christmas.

The big toy fad that year was MASK – ordinary cars, motorcycles and trucks that transformed into military vehicles. A very cool concept, and of course it came with a cartoon to sell them. That September I started secondary school and, while I still very much wanted the MASK toys, I started to notice other things that I’d rather spend my time thinking about. Like girls and clothes and hair gel.

Here’s me (right, wearing very fetching brown leather slip-ons with tracksuit bottoms) proudly displaying my musical haul, including very 1980s headphones, and my brothers Barrie (middle) with his Wuzzle Bumbelion and Lee (left) playing with my Thunderhawk. This was MASK leader Matt Trakker’s Chevrolet Camaro, which transformed into a fighter jet… the doors opened to make the wings.

A month or two later, in the spring term of 1987, I took one of my MASK toys to school to show to my friends. While we waited for Miss FitzPatrick to arrive and let us into the chemistry lab, I took it out of my Hi-Tek sports bag at the foot of the portakabin stairs. As I showed off my treasure, I heard a girl I really fancied laughing with her friends. When I glanced up they quickly looked away, but I knew they’d been laughing at me.

That was the day I stopped playing with toys.

However, I didn’t stop enjoying the adventures of Matt Trakker and his pals. As well as the toys and the show, I had also been reading the British MASK comic. When we moved house in 1988, the toys went to my Uncle Keith’s car boot sale in Kettering but I continued to read the comics, while hiding this fact from my schoolmates. The very idea behind MASK – ordinary folk who wore masks to protect their identity when they saved the world from the Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem (VENOM) – became an allegory for my own secret guilty pleasure. A phrase I hate, but which seems apt in this context…

The UK MASK comic was published by IPC from November 1986. It ran for two years before it merged with Eagle, just like my other favourite mid-80s comic, Scream!. Many of the same people behind the likes of Scream!, 2000AD and The Eagle were involved. Artists like David Pugh, Joe Colquhoun, Carlos Pino, Ian Kennedy and Peter Milligan provided spectacular monochrome art which, when coupled with some fairly dark stories, gave the title a much classier, adult feeling than the more colourful, frivolous style employed by Marvel at the time.

Drawing had always been a favourite pastime of mine so I started to copy panels from MASK, using a black Berol pen to craft my very own illustrations. And I got quite good at it.

No, I’m being modest. I got very good at it.

So good in fact, that my mum said I should send one of my pictures in. Which I did, not expecting anything. But in issue 52 (dated 9th April 1988), my work was selected for Drawing of the Week and I won a crisp tenner for it. That’s about £29 when adjusted for inflation to 2020 – a veritable fortune to a thirteen-year-old!

1988 was also the year I started buying Your Sinclair magazine, quite possibly the most important thing I have ever read. It was an incredible influence on me. With its daft, irreverent Viz-like style, it shaped my sense of humour and, even to this day when I write non-fiction, I can feel YS’s influence pouring out onto the page. In 1990, I drew this with the intention of sending it into the magazine:

It’s based on the box art for Ocean Software’s 1989 video game Beach Volley, but with the heads exchanged for members of the Your Sinclair writing team: the ‘Joystick Jugglers’ that were Davey ‘Whistling Rick’ Wilson and Duncan ‘Advanced Lawnmower Simulator’ MacDonald. I don’t know why, but I never sent it in. I suppose this must be a World Exclusive. This drawing has moved house with me seven times in the last thirty years, and I didn’t realise I still had it until I found it while tidying up a few weeks ago.

And then, when I started Sixth Form, I stopped drawing. I don’t know why. I just did. And I drifted away from comics too. Writing – which I also enjoyed – got the chop too. Being a teenager on the cusp of adulthood apparently meant 18 certificate films, rock music, beer and girls.

Well, I enjoyed plenty of films, music and beer.

Skip forward a few years to the year 2012.

After a chance encounter with novelist G.P. Taylor and this roadsign on the A6003 between Corby and Kettering (not at the same time, I have to point out), I started writing again. The full story is on my short story website, BadgersCrossing.co.uk.

After the writing, I began re-collecting the old toys I used to own as a kid. I started on Star Wars (I have all 79 of the standard figures and am always on the lookout for the 1984-85 special edition figures known as The Last 17), then picked up a few from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, E.T. and Battlestar Galactica. I’m currently 75% through completing The A-Team (with only Templeton ‘Face’ Peck to go), and I’ve started buying comics again… Spider-Man and 2000AD.

All this has made me realise that those things – the comics, the toys and the writing – made me happy back then. I stopped doing them because I was worried about what other people thought.

Finally, just a week or two ago, I picked up an old graphics tablet I was given years ago but have never used and thought “I wonder… can I still do it?”

I pity the fool who tells me I can’t.”

Thanks, Paul! Felt Trips is a collaborative effort. If anyone wants to contribute their own childhood drawings from the era, I would be utterly delighted – please drop me a line using the “Contact” link at the top of the page. A good quality scan would be perfect, but – if not – then a clear photo of your artwork, lying flat, is fine. And maybe a few words of explanation, too: when the drawings were done, how old you were, what inspired you to tackle those particular subjects? Thanks so much.

The Home Current, Martin Jensen and the Candy Jungle

(Originally published in Issue 61 of Electronic Sound magazine, January 2020)

CURRENT AFFAIRS

With seven acclaimed albums in eighteen months now under his belt, what has made Danish producer Martin Jensen – aka The Home Current – such an unstoppable force? Among the unlikely answers are Brexit and birdwatching

Words: Bob Fischer


“I bought my first record when I was seven, in the late 1970s,” says Martin Jensen. “It was Cliff Richard…”

Not a great deal of Cliff’s influence has since found its way into Martin’s subsequent output as The Home Current, but that hasn’t stopped this Danish-born, Luxembourg-based artist forging a reputation as one of the most versatile and hard-working producers of contemporary electronica. 2019 alone saw the release of five new albums, beginning with the Factory and 4AD-influenced Civilian Leather, released on the equally prolific Castles in Space label. The Splendour of Change and The Ardennes swiftly followed, the latter being a touching, melancholy tribute to the tragic wartime history of his adopted home. And Palermo Traxx Vol 2 and An Evening with The Home Current, a brace of albums inspired by his formative years as a teenage house music obsessive, rounded off the year in style.

Attempting to unravel his musical influences and back story uncovers a rich tapestry of precocious 1980s clubland adventures, near-misses in the mainstream pop world, and – brace yourselves – some pretty hardcore birdwatching.

“I then made it into the Sankt Annæ Gymnasium music school as a choirboy,” he continues. “All my friends and classmates were into jazz-funk, but I just went into electronic music. So I was the odd thumb out, listening to this music that was characterised as ‘Ah yeah, but that’s not music! You just push a button and it does everything for you!'”

“I have the Kraftwerk single, ‘The Model’. I don’t remember buying it, but I did. On Fridays, my mother gave me some money to buy some food from the school canteen. And I never did. I bought a record! Fridays were really, really hungry days back then…”

Growing up in 1980s Copenhagen, the teenage Martin found himself increasingly drawn into the orbit of one of the city’s coolest independent record shops.  “It was called Street Dance Records,” he smiles. “And it was the meeting hub for all of us freaks and outcasts that had taken an interest in this music. One of the very early records I bought there was ‘Beat Dis’ by Bomb The Bass. I thought it would probably have a lot of funky slap bass, and I could impress the friends at school who were into Spyro Gyra and Yellowjackets. But it turned out it was something completely different…”

“I think that record was the one that really kicked open the door for me, electronically. Monday in Street Dance records was imports day, so the UK and US singles came in then. And Wednesday was for Europe, so Italian, Belgian and Dutch singles. Those two days I pretty much lived there, spending my all disposable – and even non-disposable – income. And I started DJing heavily as a part of a little group of people. Back then in Copenhagen the scene was so small, so the dreads, the hip hoppers and house heads were all in the same community.”

A plucky DIY spirit and a fearless drive to engage with all aspects of leftfield culture clearly informed the teenage Jensen’s meteoric rise to club notoriety. “I grew up with my mother,” he remembers. “And bless her, she was quite confident that the friends I made would look after me. So at a very young age I was going to gigs with people quite my senior to see acts like Z’EV and Einstürzende Neubaten. I was much too young to really be there! And at the same time I made a friend, Peter Skovsted, and we started our own local radio show on Radio Lyngby, a station just north of Copenhagen.”

Their playlist of rare dance imports attracted the attention of legendary Danish DJ Kenneth Bager, a man that Martin insists is “probably single-handedly responsible for starting off dance music in Denmark. And he called up one day and invited us to his nightclub, to DJ. We hung out for a few nights, and all of a sudden we were behind the decks…”

Many of us can identify a single venue, or a regular club night, that cemented our nascent music tastes, and – in one way or another – helped to forge our adult identities. These boltholes brought us together with new social crowds from outside the comfort zones of school and college, solidifying exciting – even daring – new relationships, accompanied by soundtracks that were also impossibly invigorating. For Martin, this boils down a flamboyant, theatrical, decadent and incredibly short-lived Copenhagen club night in 1991. An experience so profound that his final two albums of 2019 have been a deliberate attempt to recreate those formative feelings, and hearing him discuss his memories with such passion and longing is enough to elicit a tangible sense of nostalgia by proxy.

It was called the Candy Jungle.

“All of a sudden,” he remembers, “There was this theatre group of people that I’d never met before, who decided to throw parties. They only did three, and the flyers were amazing… one was made with fake fur, another was glass, and another was wallpaper! They had sourced this incredible venue in a basement in central Copenhagen, and booked me and a friend, Ole Loud, to be resident DJs. It was three nights only, over a few months, and the vibe there was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before or since. It was really, really special.”

So what made the Candy Jungle so unique? The venue? The music? The people?

“All of that,” he affirms. “At the time there was an innocence to dance music. Every week, it was like a ‘wow’ moment when you bought a record. And the people there just had open minds. Totally and utterly. There were no boundaries, no empty dancefloors. Everything was just possible. Thirty years on, I’m still misty-eyed about it. Everything came together on those nights. And it wasn’t like a massive rave, it was a basement thing. Condensation coming off the walls and dropping onto your records, all of that…”

“Many people were dressed up. It was quite promiscuous…. but it just made sense in there! They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, and it was probably a little bit the same with the Candy Jungle.”

As the decade progressed, he became part of a band – Black Blue and Purple – who came within a whisker of being signed to Mega Records, the home of Swedish million-sellers Ace of Base. “Oh…” he smiles, “A DJ in the band was really the thing to have in the early 1990s. To be honest I didn’t do much, because we rehearsed on the Saturday mornings, and I often just fell asleep…”

In the meantime, his career behind the decks continued to burgeon, and he became resident DJ in the dance tent of Denmark’s legendary Roskilde Festival, with the idea of producing his own music increasingly left on the back burner. Until 2008, when he collaborated – as Iris to Hypnos – with then-wife Lene Charlotte Holm, releasing two singles on the Static Caravan label. “Then our relationship came to an end,” he says, “and around that time, the Home Current took its first embryonic steps. But it was very, very leisurely.”  

At this point the conversation takes an unexpected twist. “I’m also a very keen birdwatcher,” reveals Martin, somewhat out of the blue. “And some of our migratory birds are very threatened. So to cut a long story short, I came up with an idea to raise awareness. I started to invite people whose music I liked to contribute tracks towards a Myspace page. I got to know a few people from London, namely Glen Johnson from Piano Magic, and David Sheppard who is part of Ellis Island Sound, State River Widening and Snow Palms. We established a record label – Second Language – and the second release was a compilation called Music & Migration. It’s since gone on to become a trilogy, all in support of a charity called BirdLife international. I started recording a few pieces for those releases, so those were the very first recordings of the Home Current.”

He pauses.

“‘Theme From Mizieb’, a Home Current track on Music and Migration II, had a honey buzzard, a white stork and a cuckoo, as I recall.”

2018’s debut album Another Way of Falling Apart, released on Polytechnic Youth, earned widespread acclaim for its ambitious soundscapes, the high spot of a year that proved life-changing in many ways. “It was quite surreal really,” he remembers. “I’m still swearing by vinyl. I bought my first record when I was seven, and I have about 8,000 records now.  So it was a major milestone… just disbelief on opening the box and smelling it. A watershed moment.”

But it was to be the beginning of a prolific period of music-making that had its roots in a more worrying episode.  “I had a major health scare in 2018,” he confides. “Which fortunately turned out OK, but at the time it was really intimidating. And I plunged into making a lot of music, probably as a valve to release the worries.”

So did that anxiety make its way into the music? Much of his 2019 output has felt decidedly upbeat. Particularly those final two albums, so clearly influenced by the vintage breakbeats of the Candy Jungle era. Palermo Traxx Vol 2 even throws a timeworn ‘Funky Drummer’ sample into the mix for good measure…

“I think I tried to create an antidote, so it’s probably less bleak than I felt,” he nods. “Palermo Traxx Vol 2 and An Evening With are going back to the roots. It’s not like I’m trying to launch a dance career, I’m not able to go out and support them in a club environment. I’m a father, and I like my book in bed at night! But something must have happened there, in terms of my inspiration or drive.”

“But they still have that Home Current melancholic thing, that’s just how it is. I once made a track, and my wife asked me ‘Do you really feel that bad?'”

Ironically, he laughs heartily. “Melancholy is probably a partner of mine.”

And so is an appreciation of history, and its relationship with the current political landscape. A spell living in London ended in 2016, coinciding with the fall-out from the Brexit referendum. These events, combined with his subsequent move to Luxembourg, found their way into perhaps his most affecting album to date – The Ardennes.

“I’ve always been interested in history,” he nods. “But having moved to Luxembourg, I’m now basically living where that battle took place. I’d always read a lot about the Second World War, so I started to explore, and there are some amazing museums and monuments here. The authorities have done a lot to keep these things to the fore, and to remind people what Europe was based upon. It came from blood, sweat and tears, and huge sacrifice. The Ardennes battles made an impact on me… I’ve been numerous times to the landscape where these fights took place. It’s something that means something to me, not only historically  but also, in the present day, politically. It breaks my heart seeing the UK, for example, and what is happening there. The UK has been a country that has sacrificed so much for Europe, historically.”

Despite protestations that he may take his workrate “down a notch” in 2020, the latest Home Current album – Coal Pit Zen – is a meditative reflection on his recuperation from illness, and is out this month; the latest chapter in a fascinatingly unpredictable musical journey. And as the conversation concludes, one burning issue remains outstanding…

Martin’s favourite bird?

“Oh, the swift,” he answers, without a moment’s hesitation. “I find it absolutely beautiful to see it piercing the sky. The sound of a screeching flock of swifts in mid-August is pretty much the sound of my childhood…”

And with that, we delve into an explanation of the bird’s Latin name (Apus apus, look it up) that typifies Martin’s infectious curiosity for… well, everything really. Which in turn epitomises his thrillingly eclectic approach to making music. Long may his notches remain unlowered. 

Electronic Sound – “the house magazine for plugged in people everywhere” – is published monthly, and available here:

https://electronicsound.co.uk/

Erwin Saunders: Pixie Hunter

(This article first published in the Fortean Times No 395, dated August 2020)

Has a genially bumbling “ethereologist” captured conclusive evidence of England’s faery folk in a series of quietly-uploaded Youtube videos? Or is the whole thing merely a delightfully eccentric waltz up the woodland path? Bob Fischer loses himself in the gently beguiling world of Erwin Saunders…

Erwin For Twitter

It’s a beautiful, sun-dappled day and, in a thicket of dense woodland, an extravagantly bearded man in a camouflage hat is nervously explaining his 25-year hobby of tracking and cataloguing “wilderness folk”, in particular the “Morsu Pixies”. This – apparently – is Erwin Saunders and, over the course of seventeen Youtube videos uploaded between September 2017 and July 2019, he has created a beautifully immersive world of rustic strangeness and eccentricity. Or, indeed, proved conclusively the existence of mercurial faery folk in remote areas of English woodland. Consult your own sense of credulity and delete as applicable.

The Morsu, he explains in this opening video, are about ten inches high, with grey-ish skin. Pottering around a woodland cave entrance, he finds a tiny, discarded “hooker stick” used by the little folk (as he never calls them) to collect berries and mushrooms; this latter delicacy not only providing food for our native pixies but also the basis for their ointments and medicines. Erwin, who has a likeably hesitant and bumbling manner, becomes out of breath and loses his hat. He namechecks “Tom, the chap who’s helping me upload all of this”, and Tom remains a perpetually referenced but always unseen presence throughout all seventeen short films. We don’t, at any point in this opening video, see an actual pixie. That happens in the next instalment.

I was first alerted to Erwin’s work by Jim Jupp, co-founder of the Ghost Box record label, whose releases form a pivotal part of the Haunted Generation oeuvre). Jim had stumbled across Erwin’s Youtube channel while randomly searching for “fairy sightings” as part of his research for a future music video. “Have you come across this before?” he asked me. “Surely Fortean Times folk would know about this? I’m sure he must be a professional actor, and this is a between-jobs project…” To my shame, Erwin’s adventures were entirely new to me, but I quickly became entranced by the gloriously low-octane nature of his quest.

In the second video, accurately entitled ‘First Sighting of a Pixie’ and uploaded on 30th September 2017, we get a fleeting money shot. Making a popping noise with his tongue to imitate the sound of drums (“they’ll be curious”), Erwin is rewarded with the presence of a “scout” pixie who appears on the ridge of a towering rock formation, peering nervously down at our host and his camera. The creature is indeed a small, grey humanoid figure exhibiting skittish, meerkat-like movements. If – as we should probably assume – it’s CGI, then it’s very convincing. Erwin is predictably excited, and leaves bait around the site to encourage further sightings. These include cabbage and courgette seeds from his local garden centre, and – hilariously – Flying Saucer sweets. “They go mad for the sherbert,” he deadpans.

None of these strange vignettes are presented with tongue remotely lodged in cheek. There are no in-jokes, no winks to camera, no intimation that Erwin and his pixies are not real in any way. In fact, at no point does Erwin even suggest that he considers his hobby to be at all unusual. The videos are presented entirely matter-of-fact, as though the existence of pixies has become an accepted part of everyday British life, and he approaches his subject as though he were gently staking out a badger set for Springwatch. The only hint that he might be somewhat bashful about this curious quest comes in the very final video, in which an unseen female walker stumbles upon Erwin and is heard posing the immortal question: “Why are you filming yourself shooting leaves?”

Erwin, who has been idly pinging toy Nerf gun pellets into the undergrowth, looks flustered. “It’s a wildlife thing,” he stammers. “Just for fun, really.” Which is as fair a summation of the whole 22-month escapade as any other.

In the intervening videos, we follow Erwin on… well, not so much a roller-coaster ride of faery investigation, more a gentle merry-go-round. In the third and fourth instalments, there are further fleeting pixie sightings. Hilariously, Erwin’s sandwich is stolen, and we see it being dragged into a small cave by one of the bolder Morsu. “They’re complete kleptomaniacs,” he sighs, before revealing further tantalising details of pixie culture. They make hats and jewellery from bird skulls and claws, use slug skins for carrying water, and the “Morsu” monicker is one that Erwin has coined himself, from the Latin “Magnum Morsu” – which he roughly translates as “large teeth”. In the fifth video, ‘Morsu Pixie Temple’, we are shown an elaborately-carved mini-ziggurat in the woods, and in the eighth instalment Erwin finds tiny but elaborate walkways strung between the trees.

We have to wait until the twelfth video, ‘Searching for Wiltons Pixies’, for our clearest sighting of the faery folk at work. In a “flashback” sequence from what purports to be an older VHS recording, we see one rather cheeky-faced imp sporting a tiny backpack of collected pebbles that he lobs – not entirely successfully – to his comrade on an adjacent boulder, while a third member of the tribe lurks on the ground to collect the fallen detritus. And in the penultimate video, ‘A New Faery Species’, events take a unusually unsettling turn. Erwin ventures into a dark, forbidding cave entrance, and is startled by what he calls a “wyrm”, a large, four-legged, lizard-like creature crawling rapidly towards him. He is clearly scared, and so are we: it’s the one fleeting occasion on which the films become genuinely disquieting.

So the great mystery (aside from the actual nature of the faery folk captured on film, obviously): who is Erwin? If we assume that he’s a fictional character, then the acting is of an incredibly high standard. He blusters, stammers, gets excited and frustrated, and – despite plenty of lengthy one-take monologues to camera – never once breaks character. With his features largely hidden behind a mass of luxuriant silver hair and beard, usually accompanied by a hat and spectacles, he ostensibly appears to be a man in his fifties… but the occasional close-up sometimes betrays a younger-looking complexion. At the end of the opening film, another VHS recording supposedly dating from 2009 is incorporated into the footage, showing a leaner-looking Erwin with a darker, shorter beard.

Erwin For Blog 2

The relationship with “Tom” seems pivotal, too. Spoken of in the fifth video as a “young film-maker”, Tom exerts a sometimes fractious influence on his older colleague, and Erwin occasionally speaks wearily of his accomplice’s desire for more ambitious shots and – indeed – internet recognition. “Like and subscribe,” Erwin reluctantly urges viewers at the end of later films, with the disclaimer that this swerve towards the corporate is entirely Tom’s idea, and that it makes him distinctly uncomfortable. Nevertheless, Tom’s input has a noticeable effect on the evolution of the films. While the earlier videos are charmingly clunky, with rough edits and distorted sound, later instalments have a glossy, professional sheen: there are expertly-framed linking shots of the woodland flora, and the surprise addition of wistful instrumental music. They’re like Detectorists with a soupçon of Country File. And added pixies.

The locations are never identified. The earliest films are shot in woodland with some very distinctive rock formations, and a handful of friends have – without prompting – suggested they resemble the features of Alderley Edge in Cheshire. A landscape that, appropriately, plays host to the magical folkloric escapades of Alan Garner’s books, with The Weirdstone of Brisingamen in particular featuring small, grey, goblin-like creatures emerging into the woods from an underground cave system. Curious. The first nine videos, all seemingly shot in the same area of woodland, were uploaded between 29th September and 17th October 2017 and culminate in Erwin standing beside a duckpond in an idyllic village location, explaining that he “won’t be around for a couple of days or so” because he’s visiting London to discuss tactics with Tom.

Erwin For Blog 3

A six-month gap ensues. The next video dates from 9th April 2018, with Erwin in what initially appears to be a different woodland location. He suggests that illness, disillusionment with his lack of Youtube views, and a “squabble” with Tom are the reasons for the hiatus. It’s another month before the next update on the 14th May 2018, and then another ten-month gap until the final run of six films, all uploaded between 25th March and 10th July 2019. In the very last instalment, Erwin seems troubled, distracted and dispirited. Alarmingly, he frantically crops his beard on camera, roughly removing huge chunks of facial hair while claiming to have been shot in the neck by a poisoned pixie arrow with hallucinogenic properties. And ultimately, following the aforementioned Nerf Gun encounter, he professes to be “bored”, and wanders into the woods. And that, so far, is that.

The entire escapade is shrouded in enigma. Jim Jupp suggests Erwin’s films might form part of a viral publicity campaign for a forthcoming film or TV series, which seems entirely plausible. Personally, I like to think they’re merely the product of at least one restlessly creative mind simply deciding to have some fun on Youtube. Meanwhile, comments left on the videos suggest that a section of Erwin’s fanbase buy wholesale into the quest, and have enjoyed their own experiences with the faery folk. “When I was a child I remember making a fairy house,” remarks one viewer, beneath the second of Erwin’s films. “One day I caught one in it. It was transparent and sliver [sic] and when it saw me it looked at me and then flew away. Sometimes I think I just made it up but then I watch these type of videos and rethink.” Others are keen to share tales of similar encounters.

Pixies For Blog

One potential clue: Jim points me to a thread on the Rogue Nation internet forum, where one contributor points out that Maggie Shayne’s fantasy novel Miranda’s Viking features a fictional character called Professor Erwin Saunders, and another called Jeff Morsi. But aside from this discussion, the original Youtube videos and the odd stray Facebook post, Google brings up precisely nothing about “our” Erwin and his quest. I’ve shared the videos on social media, and asked friends from both the folkloric and artistic communities if they recognise him, but received a succession of virtual blank stares. Amid, it has to be said, a welter of praise for his work. My rogue theory is that “young film-maker” Tom is actually the real identity of Erwin, thus providing the ultimate “hidden in plain sight” in-joke, but my evidence for this is nothing more than the cynical hunch of a world-weary old soak.

The most exciting possibility, of course, is that Erwin and his pixies are entirely real. I’d certainly be delighted to hear any evidence from anyone subscribing to any of the above theories. Or, indeed, from Erwin himself. In the meantime, search for “Erwin Saunders” on Youtube and immerse yourself in the slowly-unfolding strangeness of this gentle genius at work.

The seventeen Erwin Saunders videos are here (in reverse order): 

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=UUIptHpq0tre-Mnu2V1VOoww

And the new Fortean Times (Issue 396) is now available, and looks like this:

ft396

Electronic Sound: Reviews (Issue 61)

Reviews originally published in Issue 61 of Electronic Sound magazine, January 2020: 

Black Meadow Archive Small

THE SOULLESS PARTY
The Black Meadow Archive: Vol 1
(Castles In Space)

Some artists create a distinctive sound, others an accompanying persona and backstory. Kev Oyston and Chris Lambert have gone one further: their ‘Black Meadow’ project has seized control of a real-life area of the North York Moors and used it as the backdrop for a deliberately confusing, unsettling multi-media mix of disturbing folklore and Cold War paranoia.

The story, as pieced together from a deluge of books, recordings, school plays (no, really) and “found” 1970s Radio 4 documentaries: in the shadow of RAF Fylingdales a mysterious village, trapped in a pre-industrialised web of sinister superstition, appears sporadically from the mist. Here, tales of ‘The Blackberry Ghost’ and the sinister ‘Ticking Policeman’ have attracted paranormalists and academics alike, one of whom – York University’s Professor Roger Mullins – disappeared on the moor in 1972, and has never been seen since.

Oyston and Lambert don’t so much muddy the waters of fact and fiction as stir them manically with a bloody great stick: there’s a even a commemorative plaque on the moor, marking Mullins’ ongoing absence from his faculty. This new album, primarily by Oyston but accompanied by Lambert’s book of the same title, continues to explore the story with a scale that feels more epic than previous instalments. ‘The Village Under the Lake’ is a sweeping, orchestral overture with banks of synthetic, otherworldly choirs, impressively echoing the cinema work of John Williams, and ‘A Voice in the Heather’ is similarly filmic.

Meanwhile, ‘Ghost Planes’ reverts to haunted type, with the crackle of analogue MOD communications and the rumble of discontented synths soundtracking Mullins’ investigations into a mysterious aircraft, seemingly spiralling backwards through time. And ‘Song of the Meadow Bird’ is an disquieting, pastoral delight, all ersatz harpischords and flutes, the half-forgotten theme to some spooky 1970s BBC childrens’ drama.

The bleakness of the moorland landscape pervades throughout, providing an grim undercurrent to the mischief of Oyston and Lambert’s creations. It’s a concoction forged from Quatermass and Pertwee-era Doctor Who, riddled with a laudable desire to terrify and bamboozle in equal measure. Lambert describes himself as a “a teacher, a writer and a liar”, and Oyston’s music has a similarly evasive but twinkly-eyed quality. There’s dark magic up on those moors.

Available here:

https://thesoullessparty-cis.bandcamp.com/album/the-black-meadow-archive-volume-1

Interview with Chris Lambert here:

https://hauntedgeneration.co.uk/2020/02/03/the-black-meadow-chris-lambert-and-the-soulless-party/

Rupert Lally - The Prospect Small

RUPERT LALLY
The Prospect
(Spun Out Of Control)

The task of using ambient synths to evoke a remote, lawless existence in the 19th Century Canadian Rockies almost requires a certain frontier spirit in its own right, but Swiss-based composer Rupert Lally pulls it off with some aplomb. Soundtracking his own short story – in which a bungled stagecoach robbery leads to blood sacrifice in a cursed mining town – he creates a darkly atmospheric collection, effortlessly redolent of snow-covered mountainsides and ominous, approaching hoofbeats.

Discordant strings and pulsating Berlin School rhythms drive the bleakness. But there’s tenderness too, with piano-led highlight ‘Recovery’ seeing anti-hero Jack Delaney finding solace in the arms of the grieving widow who believes him to be her missing husband. And also deserving credit is Spun Out Of Control’s regular artist Eric Adrian Lee, whose cover designs have become an integral part of the label’s aesthetic; his filmic artwork for The Prospect perfectly complementing this grand, cinematic album.

Available here:

https://spunoutofcontrol.bandcamp.com/album/the-prospect

Interview with Rupert Lally here:

https://hauntedgeneration.co.uk/2020/01/11/rupert-lally-the-prospect-and-dune-action-figures/

Flexagon - 7 Nocturnes East Small

FLEXAGON
7 Nocturnes East
(Flexagon Music)

“What started out as an exercise in simplicity has ended up as my biggest project,” says Guernsey DJ and producer Flexagon, contemplating how 7 Nocturnes East began life as a meditative quest to capture the found sounds of his native island coastline on a series of solo walks in the smallest hours of the morning. The results are a collection of ambient vignettes that evoke perfectly the drowsy, otherworldly qualities of those liminal moments between midnight and sunrise. And indeed, the tense stand-off between Guernsey’s rugged countryside and the creeping march of development.

So ‘Spur Point 3am’ combines the hissing rain of a passing storm with a chiming lament for this wild place under threat; whereas ‘Mont Crevelt 4am’ weaves the sound of diggers and hollering workmen – labouring overnight in the harbour – with a woozy, hypnotic drone. Flexagon’s soothing brand of organic electronica proves utterly beguiling and rather touching, and the album’s release coincides with an accompanying exhibition of artwork from the Guernsey Arts Commission.

Available here:

https://flexagon.bandcamp.com/album/7-nocturnes-east

The Home Current - Coal Pit Zen Small

THE HOME CURRENT
Coal Pit Zen
(Woodford Halse)

Martin Jensen shows little signs of slowing down, citing a worrying – but thankfully fleeting – health scare as the impetus for a breathtaking burst of activity. But whereas previous albums Palermo Traxx Vol 2 and An Evening With took 1990s clubland as their inspiration, ‘Coal Pit Zen’ (named after his recuperative mental state) is a more laid-back affair, with graceful beats meeting Orb-style ambience. And album closer ‘The Dragon in the Window’ exudes a feeling of gentle euphoria, the perfect encapsulation of Jensen’s sense of rebirth.

Available here:

https://thehomecurrent.bandcamp.com/album/wf06-coal-pit-zen

Jangly Mark - TV EP

PULSE: Jangly Mark

Who he?

His name is Mark. And he is jangly. He’s from Swansea, and his new TV EP is a collection of wonderfully deadpan Ivor Cutler-esque monologues, focusing largely on the tribulations of trying to get English language programmes on his portable telly in the early 1980s. “I’ve always been a bit of an indoor type,” he confesses. “I also have a curious mind and, especially as a kid, would experiment to try to find out how things worked. Or, as would often be the case at that age, break things…”

Why Jangly Mark?

As my moniker suggests, my first love is indie-pop,” he admits, describing the fuzzy, analogue electronica of the new EP as “something of a departure”. But it’s marvellously evocative of the era, combining drifting, radiophonic soundscapes with engineering test tones and blasts of  white noise. “I could get a weak signal from the Mendip transmitter,” he drawls pithily on ‘DX’, the EP’s opening track proper. “One morning, I woke up to find channels appearing that hadn’t been there before…” Rod Serling, eat your heart out.

Tell us more…

Elsewhere, there are ruminations on being traumatised by both Threads, and the blanket news coverage of 9/11. Meanwhile ‘The Morning After The Party’ is a glorious (and true) memory of navigating his way home from a drunken soirée in an unfamiliar house by noting the angles at which nearby rooftop TV aerials were pointing at the local transmitters.  And the whole wonderfully strange kaboosh has an ultra-limited release on microcassette, the diddy tapes once ubiquitously used for office Dictaphones. “I like things that are a bit unusual”, he comments, perhaps unsurprisingly.

Available here:

https://lavendersweep.bandcamp.com/album/jangly-mark-tv-ep-microcassette

Electronic Sound – “the house magazine for plugged in people everywhere” – is published monthly, and available here:

https://electronicsound.co.uk/

 

Musty Books: “The Snow Goose” by Paul Gallico (1941)

The redemptive power of attachment – to both people and places – is at the heart of The Snow Goose, a touching novella by American writer Paul Gallico. Abandoning his pre-war career as a sports journalist for the New York Daily News, Gallico moved to the small Devon town of Salcombe and surrounded himself with a menagerie of cats and dogs, enthusiastically embarking on a new career as a writer of short stories. And the bleak, rugged splendour of the British coastline seeps into The Snow Goose, a book that received a sniffy response from some contemporary critics  (“One must have a heart of stone not to read The Snow Goose without laughing” – Julian Symons) but became a firm favourite with a wartime British public who were understandably not averse to a dose of warm-hearted sentimentality.

The Snow Goose Cover

The story is short and simple. Philip Rhayader is a disabled young artist leading a solitary existence in a disused lighthouse on the Essex marshlands. He is treated with suspicion by the villagers of nearby Chelmbury, where a mis-shapen hand, curvature of the spine and a bushy black beard are apparently valid enough reasons for widespread ostracisation. But he finds refuge in the company of the birds and other wildlife that he paints, and – ultimately – in a delicate friendship with Frith, an orphaned 12-year-old girl from the oyster-fishing hamlet of Wickaeldroth. In 1933, Frith tentatively arrives at the lighthouse desperately seeking help for a “hurted” bird that has been shot by trigger-happy local fowlers. When the gentle Rhyader builds tiny splints for the bird’s wounded leg and and identifies it as a rare Canadian snow goose, an unlikely relationship of mutual belonging is cultivated between man, girl and animal.

The symbolic relationship between Frith and the snow goose could barely be made more clear: the bird is even ultimately named after her, and her visits to the lighthouse are initially only prompted by its presence. When the recovered snow goose departs from Rhayader’s makeshift sanctuary after seven months of recuperation, Frith’s visits cease too, and the artist learns “all over again the true meaning of the word ‘loneliness'”. Four months later, however, the snow goose miraculously returns… as does Frith, after Rhayader leaves a note for her with the local postmistress. This recurring cycle of companionship and painful solitude continues as the years progress, and the the bird continues to migrate and return, until Rhayader and Frith experience a startling revelation that alarms them both in equal measure.

The Snow Goose Illustration

The relationship is eyebrow-raising by 21st century standards, an era when an unsupervised friendship between a twentysomething man and a girl in her early teens would rightly arouse suspicions. But the truth of the relationship throughout Frith’s adolescent years is one of genuinely innocent companionship, and Rhayader’s deeper feelings only emerge as she approaches her twenties. And it’s a terrifying revelation for both parties: in perhaps the book’s most upsetting scene (which is some achievement, given the sadness to follow), the adult Frith sees “the longing and loneliness, and the deep, welling, unspoken things” in Rhayader’s eyes, and – momentarily stunned by his dependence on her – turns on her heel, leaving him in the company of the now permanently-resident snow goose. The bird has found its home, but Frith has not – a decision that she instantly regrets. It is a moment of haunting, silent shock.

For the looming presence of war, a darkening shadow throughout the duration of the story, ultimately tears them apart. Rhayader takes his tiny boat across the channel to assist with the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation, an act of selfless bravery that costs him his life. And, as he dies, he is accompanied by the snow goose, circling above. The bird – and, by extension, Frith – is with him. And a touching suggesting that Rhayader’s spirit enters the bird, uniting with the snow goose’s encapsulation of Frith’s unspoken love for him, provides bittersweet redemption for them both. It’s a fitting, haunting conclusion to a book that depicts a complicated, fragile relationship with sensitivity and care.

The Snow Goose Back

POINT OF ORDER: My copy of The Snow Goose comes complete with a later (1951) short story by Paul Gallico, The Small Miracle. In this, a young Italian boy, Peppino, takes on the might of the Catholic church for permission to cart his poorly donkey into the tomb of St Francis of Assisi, seeking a miracle cure for the ailing beast. It’s a charming if slight story, without the emotional complexity of The Snow Goose. In other words: this one’s definitely slightly trickier to read without laughing.

FURTHER POINT OF ORDER: At Christmas 1971, The Snow Goose was adapted as a one-off TV play, broadcast on BBC2 at 9.30pm on Tuesday 28th December. It starred Richard Harris and Jenny Agutter as Rhayader and Frith, and went out just after Wheelbase, in which presenter Barrie Gill looked at the potential cost of motoring holidays in 1972. It’s a fine piece of windswept 1970s drama:

UNPRECEDENTED FURTHER POINT OF ORDER: In 1975, the Guildford-based progressive rock band Camel wrote and recorded an entire album of music inspired by their love of The Snow Goose. An unflattered Gallico, by then aged 77 and in the final year of his life, threatened legal action. The album emerged minus the planned lyrics, but it’s still a record I like a  lot:

And, in 1976, an abridged version of the story, adapted and narrated by Spike Milligan, was released on RCA Records. Milligan, along with Q8 favourite and one-time Confessions soundtrack composer Ed Welch, also co-wrote the accompanying music. With additional composition from Harry Edgington, a familiar figure from Milligan’s wartime memoirs, and the inspiration for the Goons’ ‘Ying Tong Song’ (“Edge-ying-ton”).

MUSTINESS REPORT: 8/10. My copy has decidedly orange pages; not so much the colour of a snow goose, more a mucky duck. It once belonged to Strathclyde Regional Council Department of Education (Ayr Division) and was borrowed from the school library four times in total, being due for return on 4th March 1982, 7th October 1982, 24th May 1983 and 23rd October 1985. It’s got a couple of minor stains on the plastic sleeve, undoubtedly the result of a black coffee spillage in some long-ago school staff room.

Belbury Poly, Jim Jupp and Ghost Box Records

Darkness falls fast in the woods. Unhampered by street lighting, car headlights and the pale hubbub of everyday urban life, twilight descends with the bare minimum of warning, and many a late woodland walk – begun in the syrupy sunlight of evening – has unexpectedly ended amid the sinister crackle of night-time.

In this inky blindness, the imagination moves faster than the feet. Leaves hiss, bracken rustles and every minor twig snap becomes a gunshot. The resulting thoughts are inevitable. Am I alone here? Or is there someone – or something – hiding in the trees?

GBX035 The Gone Away 1400px

Such thoughts are evoked with sinister precision on The Gone Away, the new album from Ghost Box Records co-founder Jim Jupp, recording – as ever – in his guise as Belbury Poly. The album was inspired by traditional tales of fairy beings lurking in the British woodland: not the floaty elemental spirits of J.M. Barrie and co, but the malevolent goblins of medieval folklore. It has a promotional video too, in which film-maker Sean Reynard assumes the guise of his 1970s daytime TV refugee Quentin Smirhes to explore these feelings of woodland paranoia with a somewhat hallucinogenic bent:

I was delighted to catch up with Jim Jupp for a long conversation about the album’s genesis:

Bob: Was there an initial spark of inspiration behind making an album about fairies?

Jim: I don’t think so… it was an element in the bag of spooky references that I’ve always had in my mind, with regard to Belbury Poly. And something that’s always intrigued me. I’d also got interested in recording music that was more electronic again, and accidentally ended up in the place where I’d started… it was how I worked on the first album I recorded for Ghost Box, The Willows. It was a return to some of those ideas and those styles.

You dipped into Simon Young’s Fairy Census to research this album, didn’t you? It’s great – just full of quite disturbing and very contemporary reports of encounters with strange things lurking in the countryside.

Yes, the Fairy Census was great to dip into at random. With a lot of the 20th century experiences that people had, there’s a whole strand of these “true believers” accounts… and you can tell that people want to believe in these nature elementals, these benign spirits and sweet little creatures. And they do see them. But the other strand, the more contemporary reports can be very weird. There’s one that sticks in my mind from the Fairy Census, where a family are walking along a path and are suddenly buzzed by a small, flying cube. And they run away, terrified.

It doesn’t seem to make any sense at all, but there are a lot of experiences like that. They people that describe them aren’t attempting to say “It was this, and it means this…” It seems to be a subject that comes more from the realms of madness, or from dreams.

Belbury Poly - JIm Jupp 03

I think we’ve all found ourselves stuck in the woods or in the countryside when the twilight has caught us unawares, and you suddenly find yourself feeling your surroundings are a little bit creepy. Have you had similar experiences, and did they find their way into the album?

Yes. You can be in the countryside, in a gorgeous place, and you suddenly get this odd mood of disconnected isolation. A sudden burst of fear. It doesn’t build up, it just hits you. I think it’s what they used to call “panic terror” in old, weird fiction stories…

Doesn’t it literally derive from the god Pan, and a feeling that he’s present, and watching you?

I think so, yeah. And there’s just something uncanny about natural landscapes sometimes. They can be overwhelming, particularly if you’re on your own.

But more specifically, there are a few things that stand out. Just… memories, and I don’t give any real credence to them. But I must have been about six or seven, and I woke up one morning and went downstairs into the family kitchen. And there was a tiny footprint on the table, about an inch long. That made a huge impression on me… “Right, these things they’ve been telling me about, fairies and the tooth fairy… they’re real! There it is!”

And later on, I thought… well, it was just a smudge on the table. But I still had this impression in my mind of this tiny, isolated footprint. And those odd memories, even though you rationalise them later, stay with you and haunt you.

Belbury Poly - JIm Jupp 06

I used to have a little man that came into my room when I was about three. He used to stick his around the bedroom door, and call my name in a really sinister, sing-song voice. He was like a puppet, and I knew he was called Fred. I was terrified of him, and used to run screaming into my parents’ bedroom. It happened on a couple of occasions. It haunted me for a long time, and I remember trying to explain to my Mum, a year or two later, that I was still scared of Fred coming back.

How I rationalise this is… well, it would be entirely in keeping with my Dad’s character, if he’d found a little puppet or doll somewhere, to stick its head around the door and try to spook me. But he totally denies it… and let’s face it, if he’d done it once, and I’d reacted with that kind of terror, he wouldn’t have done it a second time. He’s not a complete sadist! So to this day, I don’t know what Fred actually was. And my parents have no recollection of any of this. 

[Laughs] Well I think the other thing with those kinds of experiences… there’s that stage between sleeping and waking. You’re half asleep, and you hear a noise, and sit up thinking somebody has just said something. I get that even now… I usually hear the front door opening or a window smashing. But of course it’s not happened. I think, as you wake up, your body goes into an “alert” mode, where you imagine – or even see – things. Maybe that’s where some of these entities creep in.

I hope so! We’ve talked about Arthur Machen before. Not only was he from the same town as you – Caerleon-upon-Usk, in South Wales – but he was also a believer in the fairy folk, wasn’t he?

I think so, and I think for Machen – and others writing in his era – there were two strands to fairy mythology. There was a big Celtic revival in the Victorian era, with Lady Wilde writing about Celtic mythology, and people like Yeats discovering their own Irish roots and writing poetry about that. But Machen, who was interested in history and archeology, believed in Euhemerism… and the idea that mythology could be explained by the survival of prehistoric people. So ancient, Neolithic people were here, in the British Isles… they’d been pushed to the fringes by Celtic incomers in the Iron Ages, but somehow they’d survived. Machen’s “little people” stories are about the idea that an ancient race survives underground and in the ruins. And literally inside the hills. You never really see the people in his stories, but they can squeeze through tiny gaps in walls and are somehow not quite human… just because they’re so ancient.

Arthur Machen

So he almost rationalised fairy tales, in a scientific way?

I think so. I mean, he took it further because, in his stories, they’re also supernatural beings. But I think, in the Victorian era, there had been a rationalisation of fairy mythology, and claims that these stories were actually about this ancient race. Similarly, there’s an idea that a lot of these stories are actually about outsiders, foreigners, maybe travellers. People that are mistrusted: there are stories about fairies abducting people, stealing things, and moving away.

So fairy folk tales could be an allegory for something more xenophobic?

Yeah.

How deeply did you delve into traditional folk tales?

A little bit. Where I live in Sussex, there’s a lot of fairy folklore. The fairies here are called “fairieses”, which is a very Sussex plural… ghosts also became “ghostses” and wasps are “waspses”! And that became mixed up with “Pharisees”, from the Bible. There’s a track on the album with that title, mis-spelt.

harrowhill

But the element of fairy folklore that interested me – and also partly influenced the titles – is that the stories also go: “My grandmother remembers that there used to be a boggart in that tree.” Right back to the Middle Ages, the stories are often that the fairies have left England, they’ve gone away. Hence the album title. And there’s a place in Sussex, on the Downs, not far from Brighton and Worthing – Harrow Hill. In the 1920s, there was a lot of archaeology on the hill forts around there, and local tradition said that this was the last place in England where fairies lived. And that they left when the archaeologists turned up. Which is a nice story about the passing of folklore, with science arriving to rationalise everything.

The publicity pictures for the album obviously emulate the lovely Cottingley Fairies photographs, from 1917. Where do you stand on those? They seem to have one foot in the tradition of dark folklore, and that idea of strange beings in the woods, but obviously – physically – they’ve got the look of J.M. Barrie‘s Tinker Bell. Where do they fit into the whole fairy aesthetic for you?

I think that’s an interesting period for fairy folklore. The early 20th century is when fairies morphed from being slightly malevolent goblin-like entities to being benign nature spirits. And, in literature, it’s often remarked that fairies have shrunk! In the olden days, the fairies were human-sized… they could carry you off – literally – or a man could marry a fairy princess. But these small nature spirits are, as far as I know, partly a result of children’s illustrations. At the turn of the 20th century, illustrations of the stories of the French author, Charles Perrault, were the first depiction of fairies as small, winged creatures. And that caught on with the theosophists, who saw fairies as nature elementals. And by the 1920s, theosophy was a big deal… actually, there’s a story about Walt Disney becoming a member of the Fairy Investigation Society, which was very theosophically inclined! And, from that point, when his name appeared in their membership roll, his animations were stuffed full of fairies. And they’re very much in that spirit of those nature elementals, perched on flowers and granting wishes.

Cottingley

Sorry, your question was about the Cottingley Fairies! [Laughs]. Yes, that’s where they come from… that was how fairies “looked” in that period, no question. Small, female beings with wings and floaty dresses. And these little girls were obviously obsessed with that. And I suppose it’s also a result of wanting to manipulate the media… it’s a very Ghost Box thing, of using collage to make things seem not what they are! And they took that a surprisingly long way. I think one of the girls stuck by the story and said “OK, some of these photos are fake… but not all of them…” [Laughs]

I always think the Cottingley Fairies feel like an oddly 1970s thing, too. They would regularly be featured as a story on programmes like Nationwide, and it was only in the early 1980s that the girls finally admitted at least some of the photos were faked.

Yeah, they were a standard feature in those bumper books of the supernatural. Along with the big, cowled ghost stood by the altar! The really spooky photo… I couldn’t look at that picture. It’s about nine feet tall, isn’t it?

The Newby Monk. I’ve never actually found the full story behind that photo! I mean, let’s hope it’s a fake…

I think that was one of the photos that they analysed on Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World, and obviously there was some rational explanation… [Laughs]

newbyghost

Actually, while we’re on the subject of all this, can we talk about Erwin Saunders? It was you that tipped me off about these lovely Youtube videos, where a rather bumbling amateur investigator appears to discover tribes of pixies living in the woods. They’re wonderful, and I assume you discovered them in the course of researching the album?

Yeah, I asked Sean Reynard if he’d like to make the promo video for the album, and in having a few conversations with him about my view of the album, and how that could overlap with his weird little film world, I was digging around for “footage” – in air quotes – of fairies.

And I didn’t actually find much… there are photos that probably crop up in the Fortean Times, of blurred faces in trees, but they’re often just cases of pareidolia – seeing faces in nature.

But I wondered if there was a film equivalent, and in looking for fairy sightings I found Erwin Saunders. And the first one I watched, where he spends the first five minutes talking about his hair… I thought that was genuine! The films stand together as one huge piece of work, and if you watch them chronologically, you’ll be hooked. They almost work as a mini-series, they’re great.

How did you team up with Sean?

I’d seen the Quentin videos, and always loved them. I just got in touch with him, and asked if he was aware of Ghost Box, and if he wanted to work with us. We had our first chat on the phone about six months ago, and hit it off straight away. We had loads in common, and from our first conversation I thought – this is going to work. He really gets what we’re doing. So I asked him if he’d do a promo for the album.

The thing with Sean, and why it seemed to work for me with Belbury Poly… his videos are unsettling and disturbing, but they’re funny. And I like that approach. I think that’s part of the world of Belbury Poly. The music is unsettling at times, and a bit odd and creepy, but hopefully there’s a touch of humour there. I hope it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Do you think the humour of Ghost Box gets overlooked sometimes?

We don’t really labour the humorous elements… I mean it’s there, and there are sometimes a few gags in the titles. When Julian [House, Ghost Box co-founder] and I talking about our high-level concept stuff, it’s often done tongue-in-cheek. It depends on the project and the album. Sometimes it’s suitable for it all to be done in earnest, but even then it’s supposed to be fun. We’re not writing horror stories or generation some deliberately spooky world. Well… [laughs] perhaps we are. But there’s a light touch, I think.

You’ve got your ocarina out again on this album… that’s such such an evocative instrument for me. Possibly thanks to a childhood spent watching Vision On! Have you always played it?

No, I haven’t! I can’t remember how I stumbled upon it, I think I just saw a Youtube clip and thought – “That’s that thing! That’s an ocarina! I’ll get one and learn…” I mean I can’t really pick it up and play, but my approach to all instruments is that I’ll learn the part that I need to play for a particular track. I learn that, play that for a few weeks, record it, and then completely forget it. So the next time I pick up an ocarina, I probably won’t be able to play it at all. Same with the recorder…

I was going to ask about the recorder on the album! Did you play one at school?

No! This album is the first time I’ve played one! I spent a few months coming up with a few simple melodies, and thought… “Yeah, I can use this.” But I haven’t touched it for four or five months now, so I’ve probably completely forgotten all the scales I learned.

And what is the instrument on the track “Copse”? My God, it sounds like a crumhorn or something…

It’s a Mellotron! It’s the bassoon, played on a Mellotron. The idea for that track, which is the very darkest moment on the album, was to explore that idea of panic or terror, that sense of being watched or followed in the woods. But musically, it takes its cue from the Paddy Kingsland era of Doctor Who, and that whole period of the Radiophonic Workshop. The sounds are very dry and in your face, they didn’t use reverb and echo. There’s a lot of Early Music mixed with synth, too. So using the Mellotron Bassoon in a very dry, up front way seemed like an odd thing to do – but it’s what they would have done, and it captures a certain mood.

The album certainly has a very “medieval” feel to it at times… which, bizarrely, always seems to work well in an electronic context. It feels like a paradoxically natural combination! How does that work?

I suppose electronic music is often modal, in the same way that medieval music was, so there’s a single drone that runs throughout. So you can modulate that one chord, and weave melodies in and out… it’s the same with folk music. So I guess that connects with how a lot of electronic musicians work.

Did you have a storyline in mind when you sequenced the tracks? Is there a narrative to the album?

There’s always a narrative feel, but no particular story. The final track, ‘They Left On A Morning Like This’, was written and recorded as an ending to something. And the opening track, ‘Root and Branch’ is like a title sequence… in fact, it’s very much like the title sequence to Robin of Sherwood!

Ha, yes! The opening couple of notes are very Robin!

I’ve got an old Prophet synth, which they would have used in those days, and I just stumbled upon that little fanfare at the beginning and thought… “Good Lord”! [Laughs]. Mine is a very different piece of music, but I thought I would use the little palette of sounds that they would have used when they were recording that. And I like the way Robin of Sherwood was linked to folklore and nature… in a very Ghost Box way. Our folk influences, and the musical influence of the pastoral English tradition, are influences as received from old television and old records. They’re not quite from the source. So there’s a kind of inauthenticity about them, but hopefully they capture something, and tie in with the memories of those of us who didn’t grow up in the countryside, or steeped in the folk tradition. Which is most of us!

They both went hand in hand for me, really. I grew up quite a rural area, but Robin of Sherwood really struck a chord with me, and when I went to my usual woods I suddenly began to expect Herne the Hunter to appear from a cloud of dry ice. It was really quite a profound change in my attitude to the local countryside.

The other one with a similar atmosphere, from slightly earlier, is Excalibur. The John Boorman film. That era of myth coming to the screen is quite interesting… there are a lot of early VHS fantasy films, like Hawk the Slayer. That was something else on my mind, with a couple of tracks on the album. At that age, I was quite into fantasy stuff, and the Fighting Fantasy books…

Yes, the Fighting Fantasy books are inextricably linked to Robin of Sherwood for me. They seemed to cover similar ground, and I was obsessed with them both at the same time.

Yes, and me. Absolutely. For people our age, that was our folklore and our myth. It came through Role-Playing Games, video games and TV. It wasn’t told to us by our grandparents. But it was nonetheless exciting, and it’s stayed with us. So with my recordings, if I refer to “folklore”, I can only use the language I grew up with – and that might be a TV theme.

forest-of-doom

What was your favourite Fighting Fantasy book?

The Forest of Doom.

Yes, me too! It’s woodland again. I was obsessed with woodland.

I finished that one! The map all joined up and everything.

Yes! You know what, I spent the entire summer of 1984 mapping my Fighting Fantasy collection, and one of the most disappointing moments of my childhood was discovering that the map for Citadel of Chaos didn’t seem to fit together properly…

Is the world ready to hear this? [Laughs] That stuff’s popular again now, I guess because of Stranger Things… it’s quite hip now. The kids that we would have known, playing those games, aren’t the kids that are playing them now! But to me, when I see that stuff, I can hear this Berlin-school electronic music. It doesn’t have that heavy metal soundtrack that it had for many… it definitely has an electronic soundtrack. Have you heard of this Dungeon Synth stuff?

I haven’t!

It’s a genre that I didn’t know about until a few weeks ago, when Stuart Maconie’s Freakzone did a feature on it. It’s a scene from the late 1980s or early 1990s, with homespun, hand-drawn, Xerox-ed tape covers that looked like DIY heavy metal album. All fantasy subject matter – wizards and dark towers. It was kind of New Age music, but much darker in tone. With bits of faux-medieval noodling. If you dig around on Youtube, there’s some quite interesting stuff… although a lot of it’s awful, as you can imagine! [Laughs]. I guess some of it began, or ended up, as video game music… it’s partly in that world. And I guess how that connects to what I’ve done with this album is just that idea of music as escapism. It references folklore, but it’s a fantasy. And hopefully – along with Julian’s graphics – we’ve created a self-contained world.

So The Gone Away is out on the 28th August, what have you got lined up after that? Will the new Beautify Junkyards album be the next Ghost Box release? 

Yes, I think they recorded most of the album before lockdown began, then it’s been finished off and mixed remotely. And, in the last few weeks, João has been able to go into the studio with the engineer and finalise everything. So Julian is starting work on artwork, and it should be out in October or November.

Beautify Junkyards

Can you tell us anything about it? How’s it sounding?

It sounds lovely! The title is Cosmorama. I think, in the Victorian era, they had displays that were wraparound, 360-degree paintings, and people would pay to visit them. It would be the Battle of Trafalgar or the Palace of Versaille, and as close as you could get in those days to an immersive experience. And they were called Cosmorama.

But subject-wise, and lyrically, I think it’s more of a filmic album. There are hints of Italian giallo soundtracks. It sounds very nice, it’s a lovely album, and they’re so talented. Compared to most of us on the roster, they are proper musicians! [Laughs]. They know their craft.

We’re now heading towards the 20th anniversary of Ghost Box – do your earliest recordings almost have a sense of double nostalgia… nostalgia not only for the original 1970s experiences that they reference, but also the early 2000s, when they were released?

Maybe… I’m not so sure! I think, as you get older, your nostalgic buttons remain further back in the past. And “twenty years ago” is no longer as distant as it once was. For young people, “back in the day” can mean two years ago! I think what has changed for us, sometimes at least, are the references we dig into. Part of our DNA is library music, the Radiophonic Workshop, TV soundtracks… but hopefully we’ve broadened that out a bit. But I think the records still go after this mood of the misremembered past.

Is there a certain Ghost Box-ness that you can hear in things? And if so, what is it?

I wish I knew! I think Julian and I tend to agree, and we know straight away… I’ll sometimes get a demo and pass it onto him, and he’ll say “Yeah, I think that works too”. Or, if I’m in doubt, we’ll have similar doubts. It’s very hard to define. It’s to do with mood and atmosphere as much as it’s to do with musical styles, genres or production. And that can range from surreal humorous elements, to weird nostalgia, or even “Oh yes, this sounds like that old stuff…”. If we get where the artist is coming from, and we get their references, then it fits.

What wouldn’t you do?

I don’t know… I like to think there are elements from any genre that might work if they’re taken the right way. A lot of the things I listen to, I think “Oh, I’d love to have this on the label… but we don’t have artists like this.” You know, whether that’s rock music or soul music or more dance music, or something more contemporary that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with the label. Some things would fit, and there are some artists where I think “Oh God, yeah… they create this mood”.

And I guess some artists who can create that mood aren’t necessarily renowned for it. Paul Weller being the obvious example – I loved the EP he made for Ghost Box earlier this year. Are there other artists that aren’t obviously Ghost Box artists, but you think they possibly could be?

There are artists that I love personally… Panda Bear springs to mind, who I absolutely love. I’m a huge fan. His work, and the rest of the Animal Collective to a lesser extent, creates the same spark in my imagination that Julian and I are on the lookout for, for Ghost Box. There’s something about that deep nostalgia for a past that didn’t exist, and a yearning melancholy in his music that I love.

Would you approach him?

Definitely! If I had an “in”… maybe I’ll get a call now…

Thanks to Jim, as ever, for his time and company. The Gone Away is available to pre-order here… 

https://ghostbox.greedbag.com/buy/the-gone-away/

And a further chat with Jim Jupp, about the album and also his youthful musical adventures, will be published in Issue 69 of Electronic Sound magazine, available in September: 

https://electronicsound.co.uk/