The Haunted Generation in the Fortean Times – Issue 404

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 404, dated April 2021.

“I remember reading about Charles Walton when I was a kid,” remembers Jonathan Sharp, the genial Cumbrian behind The Heartwood Institute. “And he was referred to as The Toad Man! Apparently, one of his magical powers was the ability to hook natterjack toads up to a miniature carriage, and run them across fields to blight peoples’ crops. That’s the kind of thing that sticks in your mind…”

The new Heartwood Institute album Witchcraft Murders is a musical investigation into two of the 20th century’s most notorious unsolved crimes. Charles Walton was the farm worker who, in 1945, was murdered with his own pitchfork near the sleepy Warwickshire village of Lower Quinton. This grisly killing has been linked with rumours of local occultism, as has the intriguing 1943 “Bella In The Wych Elm” case – in which the remains of a still-unidentified woman were discovered inside the trunk of a Worcestershire elm tree, sparking decades of cryptic West Midlands graffiti.

“Really, I think these were simply two terrible murders, but they’ve picked up extra trappings over the years,” continues Jonathan. Rather than lingering over the gruesome details, the album explores the strange baggage of both cases with a sense of atmospheric melodicism that will delight fans of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. It’s available from libraryoftheoccult.bandcamp.com. And while you’re there, check out Death Walks On Nitrate, a groovy 1970-style film soundtrack from label boss Tom McDowell, recording as Dream Division. There are – and I don’t say this lightly – mellotrons.

Jonathan has also been collaborating with Bristol’s James “Hawksmoor” McKeown on a record inspired by J.G. Ballard’s classic 1974 novel, Concrete Island. Their album of the same title is a monolithic slab of Tubeway Army-esque workouts, perfectly in keeping with the book’s themes of surrealist alienation. Find it at spunoutofcontrol.bandcamp.com. And similarly lost in the concrete wilderness is Gordon Chapman-Fox, recording as Warrington-Runcorn New Town Development Plan. His new record Interim Report, 1979 mercilessly evokes the golden age of Brutalist town planning, with dystopian analogue synths conjuring images of graffiti-covered subways, desolate multi-storey car parks and crumbling branches of C&A.

“The estates of Runcorn were space-age futurist with external plumbing, rounded windows and raised walkways,” says Gordon. “But as housing, they were a failure. The album looks at this gap between vision and reality.” It’s available from castlesinspace.bandcamp.com.

From the same label comes The Eccentronic Research Council’s Dreamcatcher Tapes. Adrian Flanagan and Dean Honer have set recollections of genuine dreams, recorded by the likes of Maxine Peake and Benjamin Myers, to sympathetic musical landscapes. Adrian nominates the dream of singer Evangeline Ling as his favourite. “It’s amazing,” he says. “She goes from being strangled by the hair of the Greek mythological character Circe to being seduced by women with breasts like ‘bouncy castles’. Then there’s someone on her roof ‘taking syrup’. It’s like a three-minute Jan Švankmajer film – in audio”.

Meanwhile, Dean is fascinated by the dream of musician Micky “Milky” Graham. “It could be a scene from Un Chien Andalou,” he says. “But instead of Salvador Dali dragging around a dead donkey, we have Micky strolling along, talking to the baby elephant under his arm…”

Elsewhere, Frances Castle is celebrating the 10th anniversary of her sublime Clay Pipe label with reissues of its first two releases. Her own album The Fields Lie Sleeping Underneath, recorded as The Hardy Tree, is a wistful exploration of London’s “past beneath the pavements”. And Thalassing, by Michael Tanner and Kerrie Robinson, is a folky, improvised evocation of the dark beauty of the coastline. Both are available from claypipemusic.co.uk. And on Ghost Box Records, Portuguese psych outfit Beautify Junkyards follow up their excellent Cosmorama album with a 7” single recorded with label co-founder Jim Jupp, in his Belbury Poly guise. Available in May, it’s a cover of the Incredible String Band’s ‘Painting Box’. Further 2021 releases include a physical release for the excellent 2020 compilation album Intermission, and a new album from German experimentalists ToiToiToi. Visit ghostbox.co.uk for more details.  

This exploration of the haunted aesthetic by artists with a background that transcends the stereotypical 1970s British upbringing continues to fascinate. Mat Handley’s Woodford Halse label, based in cosmopolitan South Yorkshire, boasts two excellent new releases by international artists. Firefay’s album Tales of Monsters and Fairies is a collection of artfully-arranged supernatural ballads, all sung by multi-lingual French chanteuse Carole Bulewski. Meanwhile, in the States, Virginia-based Personal Bandana have recorded This Time It’s…, an album of vintage Casio synths that evokes fuzzy memories of crackly, early 1980s PBS science documentaries. Both albums are available from woodfordhalse.bandcamp.com.

And what do you know? You wait a lifetime for an album about the 1977 “Dyfed Triangle” spate of Welsh UFO sightings, then two come along at once. Hot on the heels of The Night Monitor’s Spacemen Mystery of the Terror Triangle comes an unconnected new album by Spurious Transients. Something Strange Came Out of The Skies is the brainchild of musician and writer Gavin Lloyd Wilson, whose sister Belinda had her own 1977 UFO encounter in the same vicinity. And it’s a very different album: a collection of dramatic spoken word pieces accompanied by delicious drones and even the odd sitar. Sadly, Belinda herself died shortly after recording pivotal track ‘Mystery Object Over Llangwym’, an affecting account of her own experience, and the album is both a fascinating document of the phenomenon and a touching tribute to her memory. Visit spurioustransients.bandcamp.com.

Turning to matters literary, Lincolnshire-based Richard Daniels and his partner-in-strangeness Melody Clark are the shadowy powers behind The Occultaria of Albion, a series of glossy zines spoofing the paranormal partwork magazines of the 1980s and 1990s. Imagine Vivian Stanshall editing The Unexplained. There have been eight issues so far, but the first seven worked backwards, so the last of them to be released was Issue 1. Keeping up at the back, there? Each edition explores the supernatural links of a specific location, and the first (ie seventh) covers “Melwerther Hall”, located –  obviously –  in the East Midlands market town of Hexhorn.

The series affectionately sends up the arcane tangles of traditional British weirdness. Melwerther Hall, it seems, is linked to both the missing “Omnia Daemonia” book compiled by King James I, and the strange experiences of 1980s children’s TV favourite Sally Swift. I laughed at the account of Hexhorn District Youth Choir’s recording of ‘Jerusalem’ being carried into deep space by the missing Prospero I probe, and had splendid fun examining the small print of the local adverts at the back. “Connie Crone’s Exemplary School of Dance & Expressionist Movement: NO FLASHDANCE”.

Issue 8, ‘Cragsyke Bay’, is out now, and features long-overdue credit for the sterling work of Frank Bourne, founder of the Lost Glove Society. Head to www.plasticricharddaniels.com, or become a patron at www.patreon.com/occultaria.

And to finish: a conundrum. Lots of us have been delighting in the Youtube adventures of loveable pixie-hunter Erwin Saunders, whose 17 short videos – uploaded between September 2017 and July 2019 – detail his quest to uncover the secrets of the “Morsu pixies”. As Erwin bumbles around idyllic-looking woodland, fleetingly-glimpsed sprites scuttle teasingly around him. The videos are utterly charming, but the 17th instalment –  uploaded on 10 July 2019 –  showed a distracted and dispirited Erwin, and his subsequent radio silence made many wonder if the game was up.

Nevertheless, on 5 February 2021, an 18th video was finally uploaded to Erwin’s channel. Teasingly entitled ‘?.?.?’, it bears little relation to previous instalments: it’s a static illustration of what appears to be a headstone coated in mystical symbols, with further runic figures visible in the stormy sky above. It’s accompanied by 1 minute 56 seconds of mournful bagpipes, and – after 58 seconds –  a breathy vocal joins in, but the lyrics are indistinguishable. Those of a morbid disposition might be tempted to conclude the picture shows Erwin’s final resting place, but the “ES” signature in the bottom right-hand corner of the drawing suggests otherwise.

On further inspection, there are three fish on the ground at the foot of the headstone, and possibly a few Flying Saucer sweets. These, remember, are Erwin’s pixie-bait of choice: as he sagely advised in the second video to be uploaded, “they go mad for the sherbet”. I guess the riddle might be solved if anyone was actually capable of deciphering the symbols, but – given that I am frequently baffled by the Teatime Quickie Crossword – the task is probably best left to those with more finely-attuned minds than mine. The illustration is replicated here… send any suggestions via natterjack toad carriage to the usual address.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s