The Haunted Generation is also a regular column in the Fortean Times magazine, rounding up new releases and forthcoming events. From Issue 413, dated Christmas 2021…
THE HAUNTED GENERATION
Bob Fischer rounds up the latest news from the parallel worlds of popular hauntology
“As a child growing up in the 1980s, the threat of nuclear war was always present,” remembers Dr Michael Mulvihill. “And the possibility of being given four minutes’ notice of the world ending. RAF Fylingdales was built to provide that notice…”
Michael is, slightly implausibly, artist-in-residence at this beautifully windswept military base on the North York Moors. At the height of the Cold War, its iconic “golf ball” geodesic domes were built to detect incoming Soviet missiles, and these memories of lingering dread have inspired Worldly Noise and Electronic Atmospheres, a new album recorded by Michael and North-Eastern electronica wizard Chris Tate. “We wanted to capture the flow of electro-magnetic waves through equipment, and the invisible churn of radio frequencies over the moors,” he continues. “The result hopefully speaks of a sense of threat, but also evokes the hills, the North Sea and the extra-terrestrial domain of low Earth orbit…”
Michael and Chris, recording as One Key Magic, have conjured an affecting album of stark, radiophonic ambience. It’s the herald of a wider project to explore the base’s fascinating history. “In the next few months we’ll be launching the Fylingdales Archive, an online portal through which anyone will be able to explore the artefacts gathered by the base since it became operational almost 60 years ago,” explains Michael. “These include consoles from the ‘golf ball’-era space operations room, thousands of photographs showing the construction of the base, and a immersive sound archive of field recordings.” In the meantime, the album is available from cruelnaturerecordings.bandcamp.com.
Also exploring the darker chapters of 20th century history is artist Frances Castle. Part One of her beautifully-illustrated multi-part graphic novel Stagdale was set in the summer of 1975, with disaffected schoolgirl Kathy struggling to adjust to a new life in the creepy, titular English village. It ended with her discovery of the lost diaries of Max, a young wartime refugee, and the freshly-published Part Two is the touching story of Max’s 1938 escape from Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport. “The story starts on Kristallnacht,” explains Frances, “The Night Of Broken Glass, when Nazi thugs smashed up Jewish properties and set fire to synagogues. Max’s family are hiding in a cupboard, and narrowly escape.”
In future instalments, the stories of these two children from contrasting eras will intertwine, with Frances taking inspiration from the wartime remnants that peppered her own 1970s childhood. “Near where I live, in Finsbury Park, there was still an anti-aircraft emplacement,” she recalls. “And I remember walking to school in Putney, and in front of the shops they were digging up an old air raid shelter…” Stagdale Part Two – accompanied by an EP of Frances’ own electronic compositions – is available from both claypipemusic.co.uk and thehardytree.bandcamp.com.
Delving into more supernatural realms are Black Channels, whose 2015 album Two Knocks For Yes is the subject of a spanking new vinyl reissue. Alarming recordings of chilling supernatural anecdotes (“The baby had been lifted out of the cot… she was sitting at the top of the stairs, half asleep”) are woven into a terrifying soundtrack partly composed on a vintage Buchla Electric Music Box. It’s a brilliant concoction by Brighton-based producer Simon James, and comes complete with a “Ghost Spotting Report Form” for more phantasmagorically-inclined listeners to record their own encounters. It’s available from castlesinspace.bandcamp.com.
The label has also given a welcome first vinyl pressing to Mordant Music’s influential 2005 album, Dead Air. Here, shadowy overlords Baron Mordant and Admiral Greyscale imprison veteran ITV continuity announcer Philip Elsmore (and yes, it’s really him) in a post-apocalyptic TV studio as the world collapses around them. Both darkly playful and woozily nostalgic, it’s an almost overwhelming experience: head-throbbing soundscapes combine with the spectral echoes of regional idents as Philip loosens his kipper tie and recalls a fascinating career as both actor and announcer. Spoiler alert: There are mentions of The Des O’Connor Show, Dr Scholl foot plasters and a long-forgotten Michael Elphick milk advert.
And Philip isn’t the only TV continuity man being pressed back into service. Before joining the Radiophonic Workshop in 1972, Roger Limb was a velvet-voiced BBC announcer and his dulcet tones are heard once again on La Planète Sauvage, a terrific collaboration between the esteemed Workshop (comprising, in this case, Roger, Dick Mills and new-ish recruit Bob Earland) and Liverpool art-pop band Stealing Sheep. It’s a re-imagined soundtrack to the 1973 French animated feature of the same title, and its keyboard-heavy prog workouts, loose-limbed drumbeats and whizzy sound manipulations perfectly complement the film’s heady, psychedelic sci-fi ambience. It’s available from firerecords.com.
Prog-tinged, spoken word explorations of the uncanny are clearly in vogue. Tom McDowell, sinister czar of the Libary Of The Occult label, is planning a year-long series of short stories with different narrators and soundtrack composers, all written by Folk Horror Revival stalwart John Reppion. With the umbrella title Tales from the Library of the Occult, they’ll be issued monthly on 12” vinyl. January’s instalment, Wolf, is soundtracked by Tom himself – in his guise as Dream Division – and narrated by Possum director (and actual Garth Marenghi), Matthew Holness. It’s delicious retro terror, set in the winter of 1980 with appropriately squelchy synths, and will delight Hammer House Of Horror fans. And for those who can’t wait, I’d recommend – from the same label – Blood Mansion, a heroically psychedelic “erotic horror” soundtrack from Garden Gate; aka Philadelphia-based Timmi Meskers. It’s great. As is Ascending Plume of Faces by Kyron… that’s João Branco Kyron of Ghost Box Records favourites Beautify Junkyards, here presenting a collection of delightfully unsettling electronic compositions inspired by the life of occultist painter Austin Osman Spare. To immerse yourself in this cavalcade of wonderful oddness, visit libraryoftheoccult.bandcamp.com.
Speaking of Ghost Box, their choice of Christmas single might lead to suspicions the label has been hitting the cooking sherry a little early. A cover of Madonna’s 1987 chart smash ‘La Isla Bonita’ seems unlikely territory for these founding fathers of the haunted scene, but in the hands of prog-fuelled heavy rockers Large Plants, it becomes a darkly psychedelic masterpiece. And brilliant B-Side ‘Please Don’t Be There For Me’ is equally ‘eavy psych-rock, all twiddly guitars and folk harmonies. It’s out now as a deluxe gatefold 7” single. Equally invigorating is the fourth album on the label by Pye Corner Audio, the recording pseudonym of Belbury beatmaster Martin Jenkins. Entangled Roots is peppered with the sparse beats and spectral synths that have become his trademark, and is the perfect album for the turning of autumn into winter: an exploration of “mycorrhizal networks and human attempts to listen in and communicate”. Mists and mellow fruitfulness abound at ghostbox.co.uk.
Meanwhile, two men with an insatiable desire to ferret have been as busy as ever. Jonny Trunk has spent the year celebrating 25 years of Trunk Records (and the anniversary compilation Do What You Love is a glorious mish-mash of vintage electronica, porn soundtracks and, erm… Mike and Bernie Winters), and has an exciting Christmas 7” lined up: Roger Webb’s groovy theme to the early 1970s ITV anthology series Shadows Of Fear. Head to trunkrecords.com. And Alan Gubby’s Buried Treasure label marks its eighth birthday with Octocorallia, a fabulously varied collection of rarities and unreleased tracks from the cream of electronic experimentalists – including Drew Mulholland, Howlround, and Alan’s own dark, psych-tinged outfit Revbjedle. And he promises a busy 2022 schedule, including an omnibus edition of his graphic novel series The Delaware Road, a darkly twisting tale of radiophonic occultism. Best keep an eye on buriedtreasure.bandcamp.com.
And if anyone fancies a breath of fresh air (or, indeed, an unsettling lungful of fetid air from some desolate vista) over the festive period, then surely a trip to St Barbe Museum and Gallery in Hampshire is in order? It’s playing host to Unsettling Landscapes, an expansive collection of artwork inspired by the more disquieting aspects of the English countryside. Subtitled The Art of the Eerie, it gently guides visitors through almost a century of pastoral unease, from the twisted, post-war paintings of Paul Nash and Edward Burra to the 21st century illustrations of Stanley Donwood and Julian House. It has been curated by Steve Marshall, Gill Clarke and – in something of a coup – best-selling writer Robert Macfarlane.
“We split the exhibition into four themes,” explains Steve. “Firstly, ‘Absence/Presence’. Which goes back to the writings of Mark Fisher: his idea that we feel the eerie when something is present that shouldn’t be, or when something should be present but is missing. Secondly, ‘Unquiet Nature’: the idea that nature isn’t always comforting, it can also be threatening. There’s an Edward Burra picture in the exhibition where all the twigs look like claws that might reach out and trap you…”
“Then there’s ‘Ancient Landscapes’. Places like Stonehenge and Avebury are amazing places that have a real presence, and we still don’t really know what went on there. And the last theme, ‘The Dying of the Light’, is just about atmosphere: how light, and even the time of day, can make something seem eerie.”
The exhibition runs until 8th January 2022, and a sumptuous hardback catalogue is also available. Find out more at stbarbe-museum.org.uk, and it might be best to pack your wellies.
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