The Haunted Generation in the Fortean Times – Issue 400

The Haunted Generation is also a regular column in the Fortean Times magazine, rounding up new releases and forthcoming events. This was the most recent feature, from Issue 400, released Christmas 2020.

“It’s a map for people who aren’t allowed outside,” explains Richard Littler. “That said, I’m sure many people wouldn’t want to venture outside, given what awaits them on the streets of Scarfolk…”

Richard is, of course, the artist and writer whose sprawling multi-media project documents life in the somewhat maladjusted town of Scarfolk, a rabies-obsessed dystopia stuck in a nightmarish 1970s timewarp. We’re discussing the beautifully-illustrated Scarfolk map, a spoof Tourist Information guide to such locations as the Demon’s Abyss Housing Estate, the Cooling Tower Coven and the OAP Recycling Centre. It comes complete with barbed wire postcard (“Gateway to Europe”) and “Outsider Visa”, and continues Littler’s drift towards using the unsettling tropes of the mid-20th century to satirise current political events.

“The Scarfolk Twitter account is now followed by high-ranking cabinet ministers, and more than a few people have noticed the similarity between Scarfolk’s dystopian public information and genuine government messaging over the past few months,” he chuckles. “Personally, I think Scarfolk’s guidance might be a bit more coherent…” The package is available from herblester.com, and HM Government’s Coronavirus response is further lampooned with a range of pandemic-themed Scarfolk beermats (pint of Super Spreader, anyone?) sold through saatchigallery.com.

Meanwhile, the woozy synth soundtrack to Richard’s alarming 1970s-style animation Dick and Stewart, composed by Cold War-obsessed Chris “Concretism” Sharp, has now been issued by the Castles In Space label. The label has been in terrific form all year, and Dick and Stewart is part of a triptych of winter releases that should warm the cockles of any blissfully disquieted nostalgist. In addition, there’s Six Twenty Negative, an utterly joyous new LP by The Twelve Hour Foundation. Jez Butler and Polly Hulse create staggeringly accurate tributes to the Moog-drenched, radiophonic library music of the mid-1970s, and the album is brimming with gleeful melodic invention.

And there’s great fun to be had with Scarred For Life 2, a second sumptuous double vinyl compilation of themes to imaginary TV shows of the 1970s. Highlights include ‘The Day Before Doomsday’, Cult of Wedge’s strident electronic soundtrack to a hitherto unnoticed West Midlands nuclear apocalypse, and ‘What’s In The Box’, Handspan’s homage to the waltzing, discordant theme of unsettling ITV daytime staple Picture Box. All three records are available from castlesinspace.com, and the label’s new subscription service is well worthy of investigation too.

Also contributing to this latter album is South Yorkshire musician Mat “Pulselovers” Handley, whose own label Woodford Halse continues to plough a fascinating furrow. December’s releases include the immersive Formic Kingdom by modular synth supremo Field Lines Cartographer, an album influenced largely by cult 1974 ant-based sci-fi flick Phase IV. Less insect-heavy is Last Witnesses, an album of experimental synth workouts by Dogs Versus Shadows, inspired by Svetlana Alexievich’s 1985 collection of childhood memories from the wartime Soviet Union. Dogs Versus Shadows is the musical incarnation of Lee Pylon, whose Kites and Pylons radio show continues to be an eclectic delight. Visit kitesandpylons.com for the wireless, and woodfordhalse.bandcamp.com for the records.

Meanwhile, old school Forteans might be interested in The Left Outsides’ musical exploration of the infamous Moberly–Jourdain incident. In 1901, Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain claimed to have experienced a timeslip to the late 18th century in the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, leading to an encounter with – amongst other anomalous figures – Marie Antoinette. ‘The Wind No Longer Stirs the Trees’, the opening track of new album Are You Sure I Was There, is the song in question, and is the gateway to a splendid collection of psychedelic garage-folk. “I found the whole concept fascinating,” explains singer Alison Cotton. “How the whole atmosphere changed when they entered this other time, how everything became flat and lifeless… I wanted to capture that feeling in song.” Alison has also released a solo record, Only Darkness Now, a glacial treasury of gothic pastoralism driven by the haunting loops of her own spectral viola and wordless vocals. Both albums are available from theleftoutsides.bandcamp.com.

Similarly delving into the realms of traditional Forteana is Neil Scrivin, in his guise as The Night Monitor. His new album Spacemen Mystery of the Terror Triangle uses analogue synths and snippets of authentic eyewitness interviews to explore “The Dyfed Triangle” – a series of bizarre 1977 South Wales UFO encounters that caught the imagination of the youthful Neil. “My interest goes back to reading about it in The Unexplained magazine,” he says. “The case is filled with inspiring imagery –  spacemen seen at remote farmhouse windows and saucers landing near 1970s school playgrounds. It’s a potent mix of the mundane and mysterious”. Head to thenightmonitor.bandcamp.com.

Neil’s recollections also act as a reminder that two original artefacts of the traditional haunted era are now available to revisit. Usborne Publishing’s legendary 1977 UFOs book, by Ted Wilding-White, has been reissued with a new foreword by avowed saucer enthusiast John Culshaw. It follows hot on the heels of a successful 2019 reprint for fellow school library staple Ghosts and the book is just as charmingly engaging as its predecessor. Where else can one find detailed speculation about the home planet of the “Hopkinsville Goblin” that terrorised a family in 1950s Kentucky?

And square-eyed folk horror aficionados may be drawn to Play For Today: Volume 1, a new BFI Blu-ray that brings together seven vintage instalments of the long-running BBC series. Notably, it includes 1977s ‘A Photograph’, John Bowen’s loose sequel to his notoriously unsettling 1970 entry in the canon, ‘Robin Redbreast’. When an unexplained photograph of two mysterious women beside a traditional Romany caravan is sent to the home of an bemused arts journalist (John Stride) and his suspicious wife (Juliet Bravo’s Stephanie Turner), it leads to a web of rural terror, where – of course – the “old ways” look set to prevail.

A less distressing but no less affecting sense of the bucolic can be gleaned from a new spoken word project by poet Nancy Gaffield, recorded in collaboration with Kent-based band The Drift. Wealden is an exploration of the county’s shifting, transitory shingle coastline, released as an album with an accompanying 28-page pamphlet. A strong connection to place is rendered all the more profound by the impermanence of that landscape: “The topaz light on the cliffs at Fairlight, the rhythms of the natural world distilled in the nightjar’s eerie mechanical aura…” recites Nancy, to sympathetically organic musical backing. Head to thedriftband.bandcamp.com.

I can also highly recommend Yarmouth, a new album by Tindersticks founder member David Boulter. Inspired by his 1970s childhood trips to this genteel Norfolk resort, it’s a jazz-tinged, Lowrey-organ fuelled encapsulation of that exquisite sense of summer holiday stillness. A second vinyl pressing is due in January, and available to pre-order from claypipemusic.com.

Drifting into the world of the literary, The Sodality of the Shadows are a noir-tinged musical collective who take both name and influence from the esoteric (ie boozy) society founded in the early 20th century by writer Arthur Machen and occultist A.E. Waite. Their album Phantom Cities is riddled with the music of the night: drifting organs, twangy guitars and offbeat percussion all accompany Rosalie Parker’s occasional spoken word recitations, and the sumptuous vinyl edition comes with a booklet of accompanying prose. Visit rbrussell.bandcamp.com.

Meanwhile, the throbbing electronica of Nick Edwards – possibly arriving via the night’s Plutonian shore –  underscores David “Dolly Dolly” Yates’ atmospheric reading of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, on a new album by Holy Moloch. When I last saw David in action, he was entrancing an audience deep underground in the Kelvedon Hatch nuclear bunker in Essex, and he remains a captivating presence. The album is available from holymoloch.bandcamp.com.

And, from the world of supernatural fiction, I can certainly recommend Will Maclean’s new novel The Apparition Phase, freshly published by Heinemann. Set in early 1970s Suffolk, it’s a riot of references that will thrill the disquieted children of the era: the opening chapters alone namecheck Doctor Who, Borley Rectory, The Stone Tape, the Ghost Monk of Newby and the BBC’s classic 1972 Ghost Story for Christmas, ‘A Warning to the Curious’.

But these are merely the trimmings of a twisting and chilling story. It recounts the disturbing tale of proto-Goth teenage twins Tim and Abi Smith, who –  passing the time in a family attic converted into their own macabre bolthole of supernatural books and Victorian taxidermy –  decide to fake a photograph of a ghost and use it to spook their ostracised classmate Janice Tupp. Hoping for a mild tabloid furore and some passing notoriety, they are jolted out of their self-satisfied superiority when Janice faints and injures herself in class, and – on a subsequent visit to the attic – transpires to have unlikely contacts beyond the veil. “I see you…” she warns. “I see the broken house with all the broken people in it. I see it coming back for you…” The twins’ prank, she claims, has unleashed a genuine ghost. And then Abi vanishes…

The book is both unsettling and compelling, and – I’d venture – the perfect Ghost Story for Christmas 2020.

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