Keith Seatman, Doctor Who and Time To Dream But Never Seen

British seaside towns exist in their own, weird pocket universe. The gaudy fairgrounds, the extravagant ice creams, the Kiss-Me-Quick hats and flashing arcades. The chips dusted with sand, the dogs on the beach. The works outings fuelled by beer and rock dummies; the windswept piers, the cockles and mussels, the inscrutable soothsayers and fearsome landladies. They are towns that teeter on a weird tipping-point between real-life hell and Carry On heaven, a direct portal from the everyday to the world of the 70s sitcom.

Time To Dream But Never Seen, the new album by Keith Seatman on the Castles In Space label, captures these feelings perfectly. It is strange, beautiful, utterly transportative: the very essence of modern psychedelia. And it seamlessly continues a lineage of British wonkiness that includes The Alberts, The Bonzo-Dog Doo-Dah Band, Syd Barrett, and every bizarre, half-baked novelty act that ever clattered onto a wooden stage in some draughty, tumbledown, end-of-the-pier palace of varieties.

I love it. Almost beyond words, although God knows it’s inspired me to write a few. It has weird fairground organs, bamboozling radiophonic noises, sleeve notes by Ghost Box Records‘ Jim Jupp, and regular Seatman collaborator Douglas E Powell reciting a bizarre list of unlikely rustic aphorisms that never cease to make me laugh out loud: “Where the acorn lands upon the ground, the hare, mouse and pig are found.”

On the weekend of the album’s release, I called Keith at his home in Southsea, the Hampshire seaside resort whose culture, landscape and social history has clearly seeped into the album’s very DNA. We talked for almost an hour and a half, and it was wonderful. Here’s how the conversation went:

Tell us about your background as a musician… I know you were in a 1980s indie band called The Psylons, but had you done other things before that?   

No, that was the first thing. It was 1986, we were a load of twentysomethings kicking around, and we released a single that got Single Of the Week in the NME. Then it got into the Indie Charts, and then I think John Walters phoned up one day… I can’t quite remember, one of the other band members dealt with it! But it was basically: “John Peel wants you to come in for a session.” And we said “Right OK…” and we did that!

Then, about four or five weeks after that, we got another one. We got two sessions! We did a John Peel session and an Andy Kershaw session, and thought “Wahey, here we go!”

But we were just really unlucky. It went kind of pear-shaped.

This is an example of our bad luck, it’s absolutely true. The second single got played by Janice Long, and those were they days when – if you got a play on early evening Radio 1 – you were quite lucky. I got in one evening, and my Dad said “You’ve had a phone call from someone called O’Connor…” So I dialled the number up, and it was Hazel O’Connor’s brother, who worked for Martin Rushent, the producer. And he said “Martin wants to record you, can you come to Genetic Studios?”

So we piled in the car, went down to Genetic Studios in Berkshire, and we’re thinking “Christ, Martin Rushent… he’s done The Human League, he’s done Buzzcocks… wahey!” But after that we didn’t hear anything from him for weeks, and then the weeks turned into months. And we suddenly saw, in the NME, that they’d gone bankrupt. It kind of always happened like that, we were always just really unlucky. We sustained it until the 1990s, we finally got an album out that got good reviews in the Melody Maker and NME, but by then we were just fed up. We were all drifting in different directions, musically. And that was pretty much it.

So even in The Psylons, did you have that psychedelic influence in your music?

It was real post-punk. Noisy, with bits of psych and backwards guitar, and other bits and bobs. We had a list of hardcore things that we were all into, and that was… Teardrop Explodes, Echo and the Bunnymen, very early Pink Floyd, a lot of psych. Then it kind of drifted. I was really into a lot of post-punk synth stuff, and Tangerine Dream. And they could never understand my love of Hawkwind, so there you go.  

Actually Jim [Jupp] and I were discussing Hawkwind recently, and trying to convince Douglas Powell how great they were. But he wasn’t having it at all!

Didn’t you first meet Jim when you were in The Psylons? Did he come to see you live?  

It’s one of those weird connections. I didn’t know Jim, but he came to our gigs. And Jez Stevens, who did the Avoid Large Places video on Youtube, was in a band with him. I got to know Jez through some other projects, and then became aware of Jim… it’s all mutual friends, really. Friends of friends in the pub, that kind of thing. And time crept on, and it became quite close-knit. Jez and Doug knew Jim, and I knew Jez and Doug, and it came together like that. And now we go for long walks together!

So was this pre-Ghost Box?

Yeah, because Jim then disappeared for a few years… was he an architect? It was a high-level, posh job! But then we all came together again. Jez was always in touch with him, and we all got together again in the late 1990s or early 2000s. And that’s continued to this day. We’re all going out on a Last of the Summer Wine day! Me, Doug, Jez, Jim and our friend Russ… we’re going for a walk to Lewes on the South Downs. It’s a lovely walk. We’ll end up in Lewes, in the Lewes Arms – which is a fantastic pub – and then at Jim’s. We all kip on Jim’s floor, and muck around into the night… it’ll end up with me and Jim trying to convince them all that Hawkwind are brilliant.

So after The Psylons, did you quickly want to make music as a solo artist?  

Yeah, I tinkered around with Jack and Simon who were in The Psylons. I still do stuff with Jack, he does a lot of my mastering and co-producing, because basically his studio is a damn sight better than mine! So I did stuff with Jack and Simon, and recorded bits and bobs, but it was the late 1990s and early 2000s again before I started really tinkering around with stuff. And to be honest I wasn’t that confident.

But by about 2008 or 2009, I had all these tapes and CDs of stuff, and Jez gave me a good talking-to in the pub one night. He said “You’re going to have to release it, otherwise you’re not going to do anything.” And I wasn’t that confident about releasing it… I thought “No-one’s going to buy this old crap!” (laughs) You think you’re working in isolation and that no-one’s going to like it.

But I released a couple of things on Bandcamp, and a few people did like it. In fact, one of the early people – this would have been about 2011 – was probably Kev Oyston, of The Soulless Party. We contacted each other through e-mails because I bought a copy of Exploring Radio Space, which I really liked. It looked like a Ladybird book! And I bought his Close Encounters album, too.

I was really lucky. I released the second album, Boxes, Windows & Secret Hidey Holes, and Shindig reviewed it. And I thought “Good Lord, somebody really does like it!” And it just progressed from there. Somewhere along the line, Stuart Maconie played a track… and it just genuinely seems to have snowballed, with a lot of support from a lot of people. Jim’s been fantastic, and yourself… if I had to write out a list of people to thank, it would be a massive list. One day I’m just going put it on the blog page. Without them, I probably would have been sitting in a room, recording stuff but not doing anything with it.  

Time To Dream But Never Seen really spoke to me, and reminded me so much of my childhood visits to the seaside. We’d get the train to Redcar or Saltburn, or the coach to Scarborough, and I was just transfixed by the otherworldiness of these places, and how different they were to the towns that I knew. The whole culture was so exciting and exotic – the fairgrounds, the arcades, the dummies in glass cabinets that laughed when you put a coin in… 

We’ve still got them! There’s one in the city museum, it’s fantastic – you put in 20p and he laughs away. You can hear the motors whirring and clicking away inside. It’s brilliant.  

Well, all of that came back when I was listening to the album. Did you intentionally set out to capture the atmosphere of the seaside, and the fairground in particular?

Oh, I’ll sound really pretentious here, but it really was a subconscious thing. It all just came together. In 2017, I did the All Hold Hands And Off We Go album, but then I got really bored. My attention span went completely, and I thought I’d just release EPs and singles for a while. So I did one of those, and then the Ghost Box 10″ with Jim and Doug… but I carried on recording. And I got quite obsessed in 2019, building up to finishing work for the summer [Keith works at a local college]. I was talking with my sister about the build-up to my nine weeks off, and I was saying that it was exactly the same feeling as when we were little. For two weeks before the holidays, there’s just a buzz in the air at work. The students are fed up with us, we’re fed up with them, and we’re all just looking forward to hitting the summer.

Living in Southsea, we always had access to the beach. And I was saying – the summer holidays would kick in, so we’d have six weeks off. And you could guarantee that, for the first few weeks, we’d be down the beach, at the fair, on the pier… arsing about doing stuff. And I suddenly realised that some of the tracks that I’d done sounded like that and I thought: “Oooh, there’s something going on here!” And then I started thinking about it more, and I realised that the summer holiday basically broke down into three periods.

So the first two weeks would be that build-up, and excitement, and you’re with your mates and getting up to stuff, drifting home, having your tea and going back out again.  

And then you’d hit the middle, where it was almost like… “OK, where’s it going now?”

And then, in the last two weeks of August, there’d be this weird feeling of impending doom. The whole seaside thing disappeared, and we’d go out with Mum and Dad to country fêtes. You know, where you’d stick your head through a piece of cardboard, and people would throw sponges at you. We’ve got the New Forest close to us, so we’d have all those weird fêtes with their home-made jams. And you’d realise that, in this strange, six-week period, you’d drifted from “all the fun of the fair” to these rural tents.

I remember getting told off by my Dad for jumping over the ropes on the tents! He used to say “If you fall over the rope, you’ll get harpooned by the tent peg, and it’ll go through your heart…”  

And then, inevitably, it would piss down with rain. You’d be at a fête and everything would be soggy, and then… well, the summer would be over. So it went from that initial excitement at the beginning, to a weird limbo in the middle, and then stuff with the family towards the end. And before you knew it, it was the autumn. For that last week… you always knew the autumn was on its way, creeping in.

Have you seen the TV series, This Country?  

Only a couple of episodes. I need to see more.

In the very first episode, there’s a scarecrow festival. And that’s what it reminds me of. There’s a bit of a breeze… it’s not cold, and it’s not hot, and there’s just this weird feeling of knowing autumn is on the way. Like Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes… that first chapter, where they’re getting ready for the autumn, and talking about the “autumn people” turning up. It’s a fantastic book, and it’s that feeling. There are clouds on the horizon.

And then it’s here, it’s the autumn. And the summer, all that stuff – mucking around with your mates, falling in the sea, trying to chat girls up, not succeeding at all – it’s all gone. It could almost be a lifetime away.

You go back to school, and everyone seems older. Before the holidays, they looked 13 or 14, and then suddenly they look 30! They’ve all got beards! How they hell did that happen? I was still standing there under my Buzzcocks and Undertones posters looking really pasty, and other students were coming in looking like Lemmy…

So it wasn’t a conscious thing to begin with. But once it was, everything seemed to match, and that’s how it all came together.

So the album was structured to reflect the changing feel of the summer holidays?  

Yeah, once I’d got the idea. The actual title track, ‘Time To Dream But Never Seen’, was probably about the fourth track I had, and then it started to come together. I thought I’d make that the final track, but I still had so many ideas, folders with samples, bits and bobs, and stuff laying around. There was a lot of stuff that I ditched that didn’t work at all.

In my head, I’d thought we were doing a CD, but then Colin [Morrison, from Castles in Space] said “No, we’re doing vinyl!”

“Oh crap, I’ve got to rethink it…” (laughs) I knew then that Side 1 had to end with ‘Compact Bedroom Circus’.

And ‘Waiting By the Window’… I got the title for that because I was once sitting in our house, on an afternoon towards the end of summer. It was absolutely piddling down with rain, and I was waiting for my Dad to come back… we were supposed to be going out, doing all that summery stuff. And I remember staring out of the bay window at the rain, just thinking “If I go away, and come back in five minutes it’ll be better. The sun will be out.”

But it wasn’t. It rained and rained, and I remember my Dad coming in with a look on his face that said “Yeah, we ain’t going anywhere…” And that was it, the end of the summer. It was Mousetrap and Ker-Plunk for the afternoon.

Your relationship with the seaside is an interesting one. Has it always been about Southsea for you?

Yeah, I grew up down this way. I’ve lived away a few times, but always come back. I went for a walk down the beach when it was windy the other day, and I thought – I’ve got a real affinity with it. I’d have a real problem moving inland, away from the sea. Even when I go to see Doug in the West Country, he’s not far from Barnstaple in North Devon, and it’s smashing – there’s sea up there, too! I’ve got to have some sort of water. It’s nice to come out of the house, go for a walk on the beach, and I can look at the sea forts from Doctor Who, The Sea Devils….

Is the strangeness and otherworldliness that I got from seaside towns something that you can appreciate when you actually live, and grew up, in one?   

Yeah. Definitely. There’s also a weird thing… I was chatting with my daughter about this: you go to the beach in the summer, and it’s pretty horrendous. Nowadays it’s barbecues, and there’s literally a dark cloud of apocalyptic smoke hanging over the beach – it’s appalling. You see families with binbags of 500 sausages from Iceland! But again, it’s that “end of summer” thing. When you go back to the beach in the autumn, when it’s still slightly warm… that’s what I really like. All the holidaymakers have gone, you can see the grassy bits on the beach again, and it can be eerie and wonderful. We actually went to see the sun come up on the beach on Christmas Day, two years ago. All sitting there at 7 o’clock in the morning… it was lovely.

Down this way there’s a lot of old history, a lot of forts and derelict sites. The eerie one is Fraser Range, where The Sea Devils was filmed. I had a wander down there the other week, because they’re slowly knocking it down and turning it into flats, which is a real shame. But growing up, it was so exciting going down there. It was an active range, and you’d hear the guns on a Saturday and a Sunday morning. They’d fire out into the Solent and put marker buoys out, to stop ships from coming in. And that’s basically what you see in The Sea Devils, when the hovercraft comes up, and they’re all running around. That’s Fraser Range.  

But you go down there now, and it’s all covered in graffiti. Online… they’re called urban explorers, aren’t they? They go into old buildings? There’s one for Fraser Range and it looks fantastic.

So yeah, it’s that sort of mystery. It’s quite nice. Even walking through the fair in the autumn, when everything is under canvas – you know, they cover everything up for the winter. As soon as dusk falls, anything at the funfair looks weird. With a full moon and eerie shadows.

So that Doctor Who story, The Sea Devils from 1972… obviously the fact that it was filmed in your town had a huge impression on you, but it’s also got one of the harshest radiophonic soundtracks ever! Malcolm Clarke’s music for that story is so experimental. Did that get to you as a kid as well?

It’s those screechy bits – I’m going to do one now! Weeeoooweeeeeeeooo! I was obsessed with that when I was a kid. Absolutely. My two favourites, and the only Doctor Who stories I’ve got on DVD, are The Sea Devils and The Daemons. I’ve always been a “take it or leave it” Doctor Who fan, but they’re my absolute favourites. One was filmed down here, and the other…well, it’s The Daemons! Set in the village church, there’s the little guy called Bok, the huge Daemons… and that’s got some good sounds on it as well.

But yeah, The Sea Devils is really extreme, isn’t it?  

I love the fact that we were exposed to avant-garde, experimental electronic music on BBC1 at a Saturday teatime. And not just that… I think it was actually considered really healthy at that time for children to experience leftfield art and music.

Jim said something once, when we were discussing stuff like that. That we were all into the same odd and strange stuff, but you never knew who else was into it… so when you met someone that was, it was quite exciting! A friend and I showed the intro from Children of the Stones to his son, who was about 18, and his daughter, and they just stared at it and said “What the hell is this all about?” (Laughs) And does anything actually happen? But they thought the opening was quite freaky.

And the intro to The Owl Service… that totally shook them up! They said “What’s it all about?” And I said “Well I’ve read the book, watched the TV show again recently… and I’m still not absolutely sure.” I’ve got two lovely editions of the book, one of them a lovely hardback that I picked up in an old junkshop, and I’ve got the DVD of the bloody series… but I still wouldn’t like to explain it to someone.

It’s one of my favourite books. It doesn’t give up its secrets easily, but I like that. 

Yes, you’ve got to keep reading it, and you’ll keep seeing different things in it all the time. We were all subjected to stuff like that, and I suppose – going back to The Sea Devils – it all fits in. The strange avant-garde electronica, the kids’ programmes with weird beginnings… I don’t know why it worked like that back then, and why it doesn’t work now. I’m going to sound really old, but everything has to be explosions now.

Although saying that, I did watch Doctor Who the other week, and there were a lot of Cybermen in it. And I thought “OK – I’ll go with this!” I like a good Cyberman.

The track you contributed to the Scarred For Life album was an homage to another unsettling TV series, Escape Into Night.  [NB the album is discussed in detail here]

Yes! I watched that with my sister. We had the book at our primary school, Marianne Dreams. I remember it being in our little, basic school library, next to Bedknobs and Broomsticks. And again – I didn’t have a bloody clue what was going on, apart from these rocks getting closer to the house, and scaring the crap out of me! I re-watched what I could some years ago, when it started appearing on Youtube, and I tracked down the paperback and re-read it, and it’s an absolutely fantastic story. And the crackling voice on the radio: “We can see you…”. Again, coming back to that Doctor Who approach… I don’t know if they just shoved a microphone through an old fuzz pedal, but it’s really, amazingly distorted. So that’s why I did that one!

I love ‘Avoid Large Places’ on the album, and I was trying to work out where I knew the sampled speech from…  

It’s not actually one sentence, it’s cut together from a larger bit of speech on a junior poetry album. I had to chop the whole middle bit out, so she doesn’t actually say “Avoid large places, keep to small…” It’s “Avoid large places… blah blah blah… keep to small!” I’ll try to dig it out. I pick up cranky old poetry albums, and record these samples, and I forget where they came from.

There’s a second-hand record shop in town, and somebody brought in an amazing collection. I was chatting with the guy in the shop, and he went downstairs and said “Oh, someone’s just brought in a load of BBC stuff… ” I ran down, and it was the usual sound effects albums, and I already had a few of them, but it also had these BBC albums of poetry and nursery rhymes, and an original copy of the orange-covered Play School album. So I just bought the whole lot… I think he wanted seven quid! It’s not what he would normally deal with…

So I think it’s from one of those. I do tend to scour eBay for odd poetry albums, I’ve got a couple from a series called Voices, they’re 1960s albums done as educational things. Shirley Collins is on them doing a couple of pieces, they’re on the Argo label. There was a whole series of them, but I’ve only got a couple. And then there’s one called The Searching Years… there seemed to be all these albums around then, with strange kids reading poetry! And glockenspiels being hit, and kids belching into microphones.

That’s another thing from that strange era… it was very acceptable for kids to have these odd albums. “Here’s a microphone and here’s an elastic band!” Nowadays, it’s all bloody laptops (laughs).

The Seasons, by David Cain and Ronald Duncan, is my textbook example of that. The music is so harsh, and the poetry is often quite disturbing and inappropriate… and yet it was absolutely intended to be played to primary school-age children. I wasn’t actually sure if ‘Speak Your Piece’, Douglas Powell’s spoken word piece on Time To Dream But Never Seen, was a little nod to The Seasons.  

Well, do you know what? I gave him a call on the Dougphone – I always imagine it’s like the Batphone, he lifts the receiver up and says “Yes, Keith!” – Diddleiddleiddleiddledum! [this is Keith doing the Batman music]

I said, “It’s that time again, I’ve recorded something, it’s really quiet… and I don’t want singing!” I said I wouldn’t mind some sort of poem. And he said “OK, leave it with me,” and then sent it to me…  and I can imagine some old sage sitting in the corner by the fire, recounting these tales to the young lad who lives up the road.

They actually reminded me a bit of Kev Oyston and Chris Lambert‘s Black Meadow stuff, especially Chris’ folk stories.

Oh, that’s fantastic stuff. I’ve got all the books now, and I bought a few as Christmas presents! I’ve met Chris a few times now, and I went to Reading to see one of the Black Meadow stage productions, with all the kids…

I saw the same show in Whitby! It was great! [Chris is a secondary school drama teacher, and enlisted his students to perform a Black Meadow play… you can read more about it here]  

It was really, really good. I just sat there and thought – “Brilliant!” It must have been a great adventure for the kids. I’ve only really met Kev once, and I felt very humbled. I’m always like that when I meet people. “Argh! It’s Kev! Kev from The Soulless Party! Can you sign me book please?” (laughs) That was in Reading Library, they put another Black Meadow thing on there, and it was fantastic. I tend to get a bit overexcited.  

Kev’s funny. When The Utopia Strong played in Newcastle, he somehow arranged for me and him to interview Kavus Torabi and Steve Davis  

I met Steve at the Delaware Road event. I was leaving at about 11pm… I’d watched Chris Concretism then made a move for home, but grabbed a coffee before I went. And I bumped into my mate Jez again, and he was chatting to some bloke. He said “This is Steve,” and I said “Alright, Steve, how you doing…”

“No, this is STEVE”!

And then I did a Scooby Doo head turn and went “You’re Steve Davis!” And then I didn’t know what to say. I think I just said “Smart… and really sorry, I’ve got to go!”

Jez said something about me and Castles In Space to him, and I just said “Yes, it’s coming out in the New Year…”

I bet Steve Davis has heard your album. He’s into everything.

I picked up the Utopia Strong album, and it’s frighteningly bloody good. I was chatting with someone a while back, and saying they really had to hear it. I said it’s Kavus from The Cardiacs, and it’s Steve Davis [and, indeed, Michael J York from Coil]. He said “What – Snooker Loopy Steve Davis?” But everyone’s known for a long time, he really is Mr Prog. He knows stuff about Turkish prog-garage bands from 1967.

And he still went “Steve Davis? Snooker? World Champion?”

He sits there with his big synth… it is amazing.

He told Kev and me that it felt like a new lease of life, starting a completely new career at the age of 60-odd. He was really excited.  

I was reading a really lovely interview with him, about how he just drifted into it. And I thought – yeah, imagine being in that position where you’re 60-odd years old, you’ve done all your snooker stuff, and you’ve got this whole second life. He’s a massive Magma fan, isn’t he?

That’s where him and Kavus met, they were at a Magma gig in Paris.

It’s absolutely amazing.  

One more thing about your album… I wrote a review of it for Electronic Sound magazine, and it got a bit florid. But the album really, really spoke to me… and I ended up talking about the “glorious inheritance of arcane weirdness”, and how you tapped into a lineage of strangeness that incorporated The Alberts and The Bonzo Dog-Doo Band, all that kind of thing. Did that strike a chord with you, or was I just rambling?

I showed that to my friend Greg that night, we were having a few drinks. And I said “I’ve got something to show you…” He said “Is it Mr Fischer’s review?”

And he read it, and looked up, and said “That’s pretty much nailed it!” (laughs). You mentioned Tommy Cooper…

It’s just that whole lost scene of strange British variety acts. Your album reminded me of that tradition. And, for some reason, him in particular.   

I enjoy a bit of Tommy Cooper. Greg and I always end up discussing old episodes of Dad’s Army, or Steptoe and Son. And the sadness of Steptoe and Son. We’ve sat there and analysed it, half sloshed, about how absolutely tragic it is… this grown man lives with his Dad, who’s so needy and won’t let him escape. He’s an absolute bastard.

And I very much like Ivor Cutler too, things like that. There’s a few Bonzo tracks that I like, but also – I have a massive love of The Cardiacs. Again, it fits in with that strange quirkiness. So yeah, I read it again, and Greg read it again, and said it had hit the mark.

And bearing in mind he’s from Stalybridge in Lancashire, he didn’t even say anything derogatory about North Yorkshire!

At this point we ended up rambling about my beloved North York Moors, but lost our train of thought when Keith knocked an empty beer bottle onto the kitchen floor (from the previous evening’s recycling – he was keen to point out that he hadn’t been drinking that lunchtime). So I’ll just say thankyou to Keith for a delightfully entertaining conversation, and point out that Time To Dream But Never Seen can be ordered here…

https://keithseatman-cis.bandcamp.com/

And sod it… here’s the full review I wrote for Issue 62 of Electronic Sound magazine. Which is well worth subscribing to, you can do it here.

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 tootling 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.

The Haunted Generation in the Fortean Times – Issue 389

As well as this regular 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 389, dated February 2020.

THE HAUNTED GENERATION

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


“The general reaction from the press seems to be surprise, but also that it makes perfect sense,” says Jim Jupp, co-founder of Ghost Box Records. “It certainly does to us. His eclectic career takes in a lot of the areas that are part of the Ghost Box landscape – psychedelia, folk, electronica – and more generally I think it’s probably fair to say that his work often re-explores sounds and styles from the past, without them being straight re-enactments.”

“It’s a central idea of the label’s manifesto. If we had one, that is…”

He’s talking about one of the most unexpected musical collaborations of 2020. And some of us have barely taken the Christmas tree down. Ghost Box, the home of haunted electronica stalwarts Belbury Poly, The Focus Group and The Advisory Circle, have teamed up with the Modfather himself. Paul Weller‘s experimental EP In Another Room, released on the label on 31st January, combines abstract sound collage with a distinctly melancholy musicality. Wistful piano passages collide with mournful cellos, all infused with the sounds of distant church bells, summery birdsong, and juddering spirals of disquieting radiophonica. Unsettlingly pastoral, it evokes jumbled memories of crackly Percy Grainger 78s, of Ivor Cutler’s wheezing harmonium and the shocked delight of hearing The Beatles’ Revolution 9 for the first time. It is the sound of that late summer’s evening walk in the woods, when the darkness settles just that little too quickly for comfort. 

“We loved the four tracks he put together,” says Jim. “They connect directly to the world of vintage electronic music, musique concrète and tape music. But as you’d expect, they add a very musical sensibility, shot through with all kinds of instrumental passages. Sometimes just little sketches or dead ends that wrongfoot the listener.”

“In talking to me and Julian [House, Jim’s Ghost Box co-founder], it was clear that he’s very into early experimental electronics. Amongst others, Third Ear Band and Trevor Wishart came up in conversation.”

So how did the collaboration come about?  

“We discovered through an interview he did for Shindig magazine that he was a fan of the label,” explains Jim. “And he mentioned to the editor that he’d like to do something for us at some point, so he put us in touch. We were absolutely thrilled and honoured, as you can imagine.”

The vinyl 7″ is immaculately swathed in House’s trademark artwork; gloriously evocative of some strange, faded textbook in a dusty school library. It’s a beautiful object from a gentler, stranger era, and Jim hints tantalisingly at further collaborations. In the meantime, In Another Room is available from ghostbox.co.uk.

Elsewhere, the prolific boutique label Spun Out Of Control continues to release perfectly-crafted cassettes of eerie electronica, often with impressively high concepts. Glasgow’s Alan Sinclair – recording as Repeated Viewing – explains the genesis of his wonderfully sinister new instrumental album Nature’s Revenge: “The inspiration came to me whilst sitting up a hill in the middle of the beautiful Scottish wilderness,” he says. “The rugged landscapes of my homeland provide unparalleled moments of awe, often mixed with a sense of dread as the inevitable foul weather moves in. Is there an underlying narrative? Perhaps a poor-planned woodland wander gone sour, creepy encounters with strange forest beings, or ramblers frantically fleeing their unfortunate encounters with the ‘hill folk’…”

Meanwhile, Rupert Lally’s album The Prospect provides the soundtrack to his own short story, the tale of 19th century stagecoach robber Jack Delaney, whose bungled heist in the remote Canadian Rockies sparks a terrifying tale of supernatural visitations and blood sacrifice, all infused with a woozy, dream logic that bleeds into his epic, synth-drenched compositions. And I can’t trumpet enough the talents of Spun Out of Control’s resident sleeve artist Eric Adrian Lee, whose darkly beautiful artwork is both tasteful and outré, the meeting point between vintage Hammer Horror posters and lurid 1970s prog-rock sleeves. Visit spunoutofcontrol.bandcamp.com/merch.

I’ve also become entranced by Wrappers Delight, a book compiled by Trunk Records’ irrepressible Jonny Trunk, showcasing the incredible, house-filling collection of sweet wrappers, crisp packets, drinks cans, bubblegum cards and other 1960s and 1970s ephemera amassed by Stockport man John Townsend. Over 500 of them have been scanned and photographed, and are – ahem – a giddy confection. An overwhelming reminder of the days when Anglia Shandy, Count Dracula lollies and Doctor Who sweet cigarettes were produced by tiny factories in Brentford, Slough and Cricklewood, it’s also liable to give you an insatiable hankering for the taste of a Rowntree’s Fingammy. After a successful crowdfunding campaign, it goes on general sale in February, published by FUEL.

Paul Weller, Ghost Box Records and Jim Jupp

As a child, I was oddly fascinated by the idea of portals. I half-believed that they might be real, and that my wanderings through the grimy outskirts and overgrown fields of my rural home town would inevitably lead to the discovery of some incongruous gateway to another realm. It seemed entirely plausible that the moss-covered ruins of wartime pillboxes would, one day, echo to the ghostly sound of ‘We’ll Meet Again’, bleeding through from a shimmering timeslip. Or that a battered wooden door, abandoned in a skip or half-hidden by weeds on some frozen, tangled waste ground, would open to reveal the teeming strangeness of some magical netherworld beyond.

I thought of all this when I first heard In Another Room, Paul Weller’s new collaboration with Ghost Box Records; and a glimpse of the EP artwork delightfully reinforced these fuzzy, forty-year-old memories. The music is distant, fractured, melancholy; seeming indeed to be drifting fleetingly into our world from another plane of existence, one that might just be accessed through an out-of-place doorway in a remote, windswept field on the fringes of town…

The EP is officially released on 31st January, but a limited run of 1,000 vinyl copies sold out as soon as pre-orders were announced. Nevertheless, digital downloads are to follow, and Ghost Box’s Jim Jupp – interviewed on my BBC Tees show about the release – offered hope for those still seeking a physical version:

Bob: Congratulations on the EP! I’m guessing it’s been a busy time at Ghost Box over the last few weeks?  

Jim: Yes, there was a lot of frantic activity, and it sold out in 45 minutes, which took us by surprise. We’re not used to that, being quite a small indie label. It was a pleasant surprise!

Are there any spare copies out there anywhere?

We’re going to keep about 100-200 copies back, depending on the stores that have ordered them. And we’ll put those up for the sale on the actual release day, 31st January. But it’ll be first come first served again, I’m afraid.

So the best advice is to head to the Ghost Box website on the day itself?

That’s right, they’ll go online at midnight on the Thursday night/Friday morning.

This is like phoning the doctors’ surgery at one minute past eight!

Yes, and like getting a festival ticket…

It’s such an interesting collaboration. Did this essentially come from Paul Weller, in a magazine interview, saying that he liked Ghost Box? 

That’s exactly right, he did an interview for Shindig magazine, and mentioned that he was into Ghost Box, and Broadcast, and related acts. The editor said to him “I can put you in touch,” but nothing came of it. And then, about 18 months ago, I got a call and had a long chat about what we might do together.

A call from Paul Weller himself?

Yeah…

Wow! So had you seen the interview when it was originally published, and wondered if something might happen?

I’d heard about it, and put out the feelers and said that we’d be open to something, but again nothing came of it. And then I actually got an e-mail saying “Here’s Paul’s number…” and thought wow, that’s a hell of a call to make. So I texted him! (Laughs)… and he actually called me back.

Ha! That’s always my tactic, too…

It’s the brave way out!

Phone conversations are scary, Jim…

Ah, but he’s a lovely feller. So it was no problem at all, he was good to talk to.

Was it a surreal moment for you? Were you a fan of The Jam and The Style Council when you were growing up?  

Yeah, certainly when I was growing up.  It’s probably fair to say that in recent years I’d maybe fallen out of touch with what he was up to, but then a few years ago Saturn’s Pattern came out, and somebody said to me that I should listen to it, because there was a lot of electronica on there. And then the last few albums I have followed, because I think he’s woven his love of folk music and electronica together with his soulful side and his songwriting. Which you’ve got to admire. So I kind of reconnected with it… it was a good time. And I think Julian [House, of Ghost Box] has always been a colossal fan, because Julian was something of a mod when we were schoolkids.

I can see Julian in a fishtail parka! So where did it go from there? Did Paul have ideas already, or did you make to suggestions to him?

I think he had some ideas. When I spoke to him, he’d not long since done a soundtrack for the movie Jawbone, and some of that was a bit more “out-there”… a bit ambient, and he had ideas that he’d worked on, but that didn’t make it into the film. And I think that was his starting point. He also talked to Julian on the phone a few times as well, just about what he was into at the time, and he’d been listening to things like the Third Ear Band and Trevor Wishart. A lot of avant-garde British stuff from the 1960s. Quite out-there tape music, and experimental stuff.

So we thought we would take that direction, and I suggested maybe an EP would be a good format. I knew this wouldn’t be an album, but with a bit of room to manoeuver and to explore something, an EP felt like the right length. And that’s what he went for.

It could have just been an EP of experimental sound collage, but there are hints of his other musical side on there as well. Tracks like ‘Rejoice’ obviously have experimental elements, but are also very much about Paul Weller on the piano…

Yeah, definitely. I don’t think the EP as a whole is as challenging as you might think, and I wouldn’t want to put people off. It’s certainly out-there and avant-garde, but there are a lot of melodic passages, a lot of instrumentation, and a few session musicians involved. It does create an atmosphere, and I think anyone can appreciate and enjoy it.

You can see the lineage as well… Ghost Box is about taking inspiration from the past, and being playful with nostalgia, and making something new from that. And you can make a case for Paul Weller having done that a lot throughout his career – even when you look at The Jam when he was a teenager, taking elements of 1960s mod culture. And then the Style Council took inspiration from 1960s film soundtracks and even the Swingle Singers… he’s got previous form!

Yeah, I think that’s why it makes such sense for us. It’s a surprise to some, but we were honoured. He’s always had that relationship with music from the past, and where you can take it in the present moment. Which is kind of what our artists do on Ghost Box.

Have you had Ghost Box fans surprised that you were working with Paul Weller, and vice versa – Paul Weller fans surprised that he was working with Ghost Box?

I couldn’t answer the second… but probably! There were probably Paul Weller fans surprised, and probably mystified as to who we were! But the reactions have been positive, and I think people have understood that it makes sense. People know that Paul Weller’s tastes are eclectic, and he’s done all sorts of things over the years. And he’s interested in current bands and labels… he’s always got his ear to the ground. And we were lucky that we were on his radar at the time.

Where did the title, In Another Room, come from – was that Paul’s?

It was Paul’s title. I think he had a few ideas, and we were certainly happy with that. I guess it partly refers to it being another compartment to his career, off on one side to what he does. But it also struck us as a very Ghost Box title. And the sound of the record… to me, it’s like things happening just out of view in other rooms, and sounds drifting in from other spaces. It fits with our Ghost Box world, I think.

As always, it comes swathed in Julian’s beautiful artwork, and he’s very much taken the title as his starting point…

Yes, that was obviously the thing: to capture that idea of rooms, and doorways, and moving through into other spaces. But what he’s also done… he had a few conversations with Paul, and he looked at some graphic scores, which used to be part of the avant-garde, where the musical score was a piece of artwork itself. So you’d often start with a conventional musical stave, but there’d be dynamic paint splatters or shapes on the sheet of music. So on the gatefold of the single, he’s taken that idea and overlayed a collage onto a musical stave.

(NB I had no idea about graphic scores, but the above illustration is a section from Cathy Berberian‘s score for her experimental 1966 piece, Stripsody. Cathy’s name inspired the title of Peter Strickland’s wonderful 2012 film Berberian Sound Studio, the titles of which were also provided by Julian House. We’re travelling through portals again…)

Will you work with Paul again, do you think?

There are no firm plans. We spoke just the other day when I told him that sales were going briskly, and he mentioned maybe a Volume 2 at some point… so the door is always open as far as we’re concerned.

I do like the ways in which you’re keen to expand the boundaries of where Ghost Box can go, and I guess working with Paul is part of that. Have you other ideas of where you’d like to take the label, and indeed other collaborators that you’d like to work with?

Oooh! I don’t know… we’re always approaching people and asking people, it’s something we do want to develop. What we want to get away from, I think, is a slightly parochial, English white male thing. Which is how we started, and what we were, but we’re keen to expand it outwards. And in the last few years we’ve worked with people from different countries, from Germany and Portugal. And there are other voices on there: the Chanctonbury Rings album we released last year had the voice of Justin Hopper, who’s American. So it’s nice to get these other voices in, and open out the world a bit. But it’s still based on these ideas of a misremembered past, and a slightly off-kilter version of the 1960s and 70s that we grew up with. 

I had fallen into the trap of thinking that the “Haunted 1970s” feeling was a very British thing, limited to that era, but a lot of the stuff you’ve done recently has proved that I’m wrong. Like you say, Beautify Junkyards are Portuguese, and ToiToToi is German, and they quite clearly share those feelings, too. Has that been a nice surprise for you?

It has, and it’s slowly developed for us, too. I think we were in the same place, thinking that this is a uniquely British experience, those odd children’s TV things from the 1970s and the library music we were into… that general strangeness from the late 1960s and 70s. But I think every country had its own version of that. I think it was more something of the era than a uniquely British thing.  

I was once chatting with an American writer called Michael Grasso, on Twitter. He’s into all this, and I asked him if there was an American equivalent. And he mentioned Sesame Street…  

Sesame Street definitely, case in point!  And if you think back to what Boards of Canada were doing – even in the name – that was a North American take on the stuff that’s generally called hauntology. It’s not just a British thing.

I was going to ask about Chanctonbury Rings, the album you did with Justin Hopper and Sharron Kraus… you must have been delighted with the reaction it received, were you?

Yes, we really were. It’s an unusual one, and Justin and I spent a long time talking about what it might be, and what shape it would take. But I knew, when I’d seen their live show, that it would make an album. And it was going to be a poetry album, which is always a difficult sell. But it made sense to us to approach it in a way similar to the old BBC records, like The Seasons. Or BBC Schools Records… they did the Study Series, which a lot of people would remember from the schoolroom. The music teacher would put it on and have you doing strange activities: interpretations of poems, and that sort of thing. So we approached it in that way, and presented it in that kind of format. So yeah – I was very pleased with the reaction, and it’s done very well.

What’s next for Ghost Box in 2020?

Right now, we’re lining up the new album by Plone, called Puzzlewood, and that’s out in March, all being well.

And beyond that?

Beyond that there’s a new Belbury Poly album – my own work – out in the summer. 

Oh, how’s that sounding? Your last album, New Ways Out, sounded very glam-rock in places…  

Yeah, that was where my head was at that time. I was listening to a lot of Chicory Tip! So it was quite upbeat, that sort of vibe. I think the newer material is probably a bit darker, more electronic… back to where the Belbury project started.

Thanks to Jim for his time, as ever. In Another Room, by Paul Weller, is released by Ghost Box Records on 31st January.