Sunday, 16 December 2018

Space 1999: Dragon's Domain

Space 1999 was a British (ITC) / Italian (RAI) co-production made by the former Century 21 (Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90) partnership of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. It told the unlikely story of the moon - along with it's moonbase inhabitants - breaking it's orbit and plunging through black holes and space warps finds itself adrift far out in the universe.

At it's time Space 1999 was the most expensive television series on British television and featured a double act of US stars in the form of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain at it's head in a blatant appeal to US networks.  It ran for two series between 1975 and 1977 and while still having a devoted following has to some extent been relegated - some would say deservedly - to the status of a bit of an also ran.  I have to admit I'm in that latter category but apart from 'Captain Scarlet' I'm not much of a fan of any of the Anderson's productions.  With the exception of that killer Barry Gray theme tune and the very cool Eagle spaceships (I always loved the way the pilot's seats slid into place) I thought it was a pretty bad show then and a recent rewatch failed to convince me otherwise.

If you want to check it out for yourself though the entire series is here, albeit in a slightly eccentric running order...



There is an exception though.  One episode in particular has stuck with me all these years, 'Dragon's Domain'.  I didn't really get scared much by TV shows as a kid.  I always kinda liked scary / gory things even as a nipper but there were a few things that put the frighteners on me.  One was the end of Assignment 4 of Sapphire and Steel, another was the opening credits to 'Armchair Thrillers' and the third was this episode of Space 1999 and a recent posting of a screengrab of the alien from it over on the Wyrd Britain Facebook page showed I wasn't the only one.

This episode is the story of Eagle pilot Tony Cellini's (Gianni Garko) encounter with a very hostile alien.  We get an extended flashback sequence to a doomed mission he had undertaken 3 years prior to the moon going walkabout that resulted in the gruesome deaths of all the others on the mission (including Grange Hill's Mr. Bronson, Michael Sheard).  Back in the present the moonies find themselves once again confronted by the mysterious spaceship graveyard that had been the previous mission's downfall.

Whilst cursed by the clunky acting and the typically ropey effects of the era, 'Dragon's Domain' with it's Lovecraftian tentacled horror from deep space with it's huge, glowing, hypnotic eye and it's gaping maw that strips a human down to a skeleton in seconds is still pretty effective even if it doesn't seem to be able to get through doors.

Buy the series here - Space: 1999 - The Complete First Series [DVD] [1975] - or watch it above (or below)



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Friday, 14 December 2018

3 Wyrd Things: Frances Castle

For '3 Wyrd Things' I asked various creative types whose work I admire to tell us about three oddly, wonderfully, weirdly British things that have been an influence on them and their work - a book or author, a film or TV show and a song, album or musician.

Frances Castle Clay Pipe Music
This month, Frances Castle.

Frances is a London based illustrator and designer who also runs the amazing Clay Pipe Music record label.  Her delightful and idiosyncratic work has adorned books and magazines for clients as diverse as The Guardian,  Imperial War Museum, British Heart Foundation, Cambridge University Press and the BBC but it was her eye-poppingly lovely sleeve art for the releases on her label that first grabbed our attention here at Wyrd Britain.  With releases from artist such as Jon Brooks (he of The Advisory Circle), D Rothon, Vic Mars and Sharron Kraus.

You can find out more about Frances' work at the label website (linked above) and at her own site and a very interesting '15 Questions' with her here.

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Listening

I’m choosing two artists who use synths, but really differently. The first is Steve Hauschildt who is an American artist, he used to be in the band Emeralds. I think he has made 4 or 5 solo records they are all really good. His latest is called 'Dissolvi' and came out this year, but the one that I have listened to most is ‘Where all is Fled’ which came out in 2015. He just makes beautiful electronic music that (on this album at least) uses a lot of arpeggiation. It is very hypnotic and draws you in, I guess there is quite a lot of melody involved as well. There are a lot of people making this sort of music now, but Steve Hauschildt does it really well.



The second is Isao Tomita – Snowflakes are Dancing.

I suppose Isao Tomita was really big in his time. You can pick his records up cheaply, and they are easy to find, so he must have sold a lot. My partner was played his music at school by his music teacher.

To me its quite magical, and inventive, he is trying to make synths sound like an orchestra, and fails and makes something other worldly.




Watching

Carel Weight
https://www.instagram.com/carel_weight

I’m taking a slightly different tack on this, and choosing an artist rather than a film or TV show.

I’ve been aware of Carel Weight for a long time, I have a book of his paintings that I’ve had since my late teens, but I recently started following him on Instagram. I’m not sure who is posting the pictures – certainly not Carel as he died in 1997! but I’ve really enjoyed looking at them, he painted a lot so most of them are new to me.

Carel lived and worked in Putney, West London and this is an area I knew quite well as a child so a lot of the settings to his paintings are very familiar to me. What I like so much about them are the strange and eerie things going on in every day Victorian streets. There is usually some sort of narrative, but it is not always exactly clear what is going on.


Reading
J.L Carr - A Month in the Country (Buy it here)

I initially picked up this book in a bookshop earlier this year because it had an image by my Grandfather on the front. He designed posters for the railways in the 1940s and 50s, and the posters often show up repurposed up on book covers and cards etc. It turned out to be a good omen, because when I turned it over and read the blurb on the back I knew it was a something that I wanted to read. Its a short book – just a little over 100 pages long, that covers a few weeks of one man’s summer, directly after World War One. Tom Birkin has been employed to conserve a hidden medieval wall painting in the country village of Oxgodby. It’s a slow moving book where not a lot happens – he spends his days working alone uncovering what appears to be a rare and important wall painting, while immersing himself in village life and falling (partly) in love with the vicars wife. Without too much being implied you realise that the landscape and the work he is involved in are slowly helping him recover from the trauma of the war.

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Thursday, 13 December 2018

Jizzle

Take a dip into a world where reality trembles and sanity is all in the mind — a world created by the brilliant author of The Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes. 
There’s a monkey with a unique artistic talent. A man living his life over again. A tube in the rush hour that was so crowded it seemed like hell; in fact it was hell...
Jizzle will grip you from cover to cover with its unique blend of horror and fantasy — a combination which can never fail.

I had a copy of Jizzle here a while back but didn't like the cover art so I couldn't bring myself to read it (yes, I really am that picky).  This newly acquired copy with it's apocalyptic artwork was a different animal and I couldn't resist it.

This anthology is a collection of short stories written pre-1954 and includes stories previously printed in 'Argosy', 'Women's Journal' and 'Everybody's'.  They are, on the whole, pretty whimsical and there's a lightness here that is missing in many of his more famous works.  A sense of fun that, whilst not being something that I felt was lacking in those novels, was a nice thing to find here.

Love and relationships are at the core of many of these tales, often of course with a twist, such as the title story of a malicious monkey or the dream man of 'Perforce to Dream', the flea circus setting of 'Esmerelda' or the drunken fortune hunting of 'How Do I Do?'

Amongst the tales of the heart we do have some weirdness in the form of a rich old man getting to live his life again in 'Technical Slip' and the train ride to Hell in 'Confidence Trick, a ghost story ('Reservation Deferred'), science fiction ('Una') and even a post-apocalypse tale ('The Wheel'). Scattered throughout there are a variety of less satisfying stories that were, at best, a diverting piece of frippery but offered little more than that.

I am though at the final reckoning quite pleased to have found an aesthetically pleasing edition of what transpired to be a fairy enjoyable read that displayed a more playful side of an author I like very much indeed.

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Sunday, 2 December 2018

The Man and the Snake

Based on a short story by American writer Ambrose Bierce, 'The Man and the Snake' is the story of Harker Brayton (John Fraser) who spends an evening with the family of a young boy he's tutoring and is introduced to his host Dr. Druring's (Andre Morell) passion for snakes. A discussion on mesmerism and a series of close encounters with the creatures leads to tragic consequences.

I've read a good few of Bierce's stories but I must claim ignorance of the source material here.  The adaptation though is a fun little piece.  Truthfully there's not much to it and the ending is more than a little daft but the dialogue is good, the cast are excellent - Morrell in particular - and it's tightly directed by Sture Rydman.



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Thursday, 22 November 2018

D. Rothon - Nightscapes

Clay Pipe Music

David Rothon is a multi-instrumentalist from London who has worked in collaboration with artists such as Ian Masters (vocalist / bassist of 4AD shoegazers Pale Saints) and singer / performance artist Claudia Barton but, I must admit a completely new name for me.  This is good though as I'm going into this promo of his brand new album on Claypipe with no preconceptions other than my knowledge that they're a label that has built up a fearsome reputation for quality releases over the last few years from folk such as Jon Brooks (he of the Advisory Circle) and Vic Mars.

Wrapped in the idiosyncratic and characteristically stylish and beautiful artwork of label boss and illustrator Frances Castle, 'Nightscapes' is a collection of tunes that walk the hinterland between hauntologically tinged electronica, 70s radiophonics and library cues.

At times early on there is a slight seeming disconnect with the title as the music feels to be not so much 'Nightscapes' as maybe 'Dawnscapes'' as the album opens with a real sense of optimism; a swell into the grandeur of the dawn.  As we move through the album this becomes less the case as it sometimes presents itself with a bittersweet melancholy, othertimes as a queasy calliope melody and still again dripping with noir-ish cool.

'Nightscapes' is a procession of vignettes / snapshots that form almost a travelogue.  Glimpses of other people's lives through gaps in the crowd or flashes of a story seen via the headlights of a passing cab which makes it a very compelling listen that I have been returning to often over recent days.

'Nightscapes' released on 14th December and is available direct from the label.




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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much appreciate a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Mrs Acland's Ghosts

When tailor, Mr Mockler (John Bluthal), receives several unexpected letters from a Mrs Acland (Sara Kestelman), who has plucked his name at random from a telephone directory, he finds himself drawn into a story far beyond anything his quiet existence has prepared him for.  In the letters she tells him about her circumstances, her childhood and of her siblings whose ghosts haunt her and who soon begin to haunt him too.

This 1975 episode of the BBC Playhouse series, directed by Mike Newell from a script by William Trevor, is a subtle and delicately controlled exploration of madness, imagination and quite possibly the supernatural. It's beautifully composed, filled with credible and satisfying performances from the entire ensemble in a story that implies much but never truly reveals it's secrets and is all the better for it.



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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much appreciate a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Tomato Cain and other stories

Tomato Cain and other stories by Nigel Kneale
Nigel Kneale

This one has been up near the top of my list of books to track down for years NOW and to finally get my hands on a copy was a real treat.

The book holds 26 stories of which there were only two that I'd read before, the haunted house of 'Minuke' and the amphibious revenge of 'The Pond'.  I'd read enough reviews of the book to know that it was going to perhaps be a bit of a patchy read but I'm ever the optimist and so dived right in.  Turns out it's a bit of a patchy read.

There are some nicely effective tales here.  There are moments of light horror such as the two stories already mentioned and 'The Stocking', a ghost story or two ('Patter of Tiny Feet' & 'Peg'), a fun snippet of sci-fi ('The Calculation of M'Bambwe'), stories of madness ('Jeremy in the Wind'), illness ('The Photograph'), innocence ('A Lotus for Jamie') friendship ('The Excursion'), deceit ('Oh Mirror, Mirror') and death ('Zachary Crebbins Angel') to name just those stories that had the most impact.  There are many more that felt like filler.  All readable enough but with little about them that was either interesting or memorable'

I am though very glad to finally get to put a mental tick next to this one and that it had some very enjoyable moments - 'Jeremy in the Wind' and 'A Lotus for Jaime' in particular.  It wasn't all I hoped it would be but it was much more than I feared.

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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much appreciate a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

Sunday, 11 November 2018

The Shout

The Shout 1978
As you can probably infer from it's title sound is very much at the heart of 'The Shout'; the sonic experiments of Anthony Fielding (John Hurt), Crossley's (Alan Bates) playing with his wine glass, the diegetic sounds of the rural setting, the progish / ambient soundtrack by Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks of Genesis. and, of course, the mortiferous Shout itself.  The sound design by Alan Bell is the shining jewel at the heart of the movie.

The Fielding's, Anthony and Rachel (Susannah York), live an idyllic existence in a small coastal village until their lives are turned upside down by the arrival of the interloper Crossley who claims to have lived with Australian Aborigines in the outback where he has learnt their magic; a magic that he soon brings to bear on the couple.

John Hurt in The Shout
Based on Robert Graves fantastic short story Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski brings a decidedly arthouse sensibility to the film with time jumps, sudden switches to black and white and slow motion and a deliberate and slow pace that allows the menace in Bates' performance, the confusion in Hurt's and the loss of self in York's to build to palpable extremes before the film culminates in a thunderous if perhaps slightly anticlimactic ending.

Buy it here - The Shout - or watch it below.



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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much appreciate a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

Friday, 9 November 2018

3 Wyrd Britain: Grey Malkin

For '3 Wyrd Things' I asked various creative types whose work I admire to tell us about three oddly, wonderfully, weirdly British things that have been an influence on them and their work - a book or author, a film or TV show and a song, album or musician.

This month, Grey Malkin

Musician and writer Grey Malkin was previously the guiding hand behind 'The Hare And The Moon' who released several acclaimed albums and EPs between 2009 and 2017 before going the way of all things.  You can the music archived at the Bandcamp page here.

Grey has most recently been working on new music as Embertides (with David Colohan), Widow's Weeds and in collaboration with Ashtoreth.

We are honoured that he took time out of his schedule to participate in 3 Wyrd Things.


Reading
All In The Downs, Shirley Collins
(Buy it here)
 
With regards to books, I did think about focusing on some of the literature I have been reading lately; the Arthur Machen that I am revisiting such as The Great God Pan or the wyrd tales of Robert Aickman, perhaps the vintage supernatural writings of H R Wakefield. However, it is a biography that stands out in my mind as to having a substantial impact upon me, both in terms of having an emotional pull and in not being able to put the book down. Shirley Collins is without a doubt one of my favourite singers, I could listen to Love, Death and the Lady or indeed her recent Lodestar (one of her best works in my opinion) on constant repeat. Her Glasgow concert supporting Lodestar as a part of the Celtic Connections festival is one of the finest shows I have witnessed; I was therefore already greatly interested in reading about Collins as an artist. However it was the deeply human element and the joy and tragedy in her story that swept me out of my immediate surroundings onto the pages and text of the book and held me there, until I had to return reluctantly to the outside world and wait till I could pick up where I had left off. I also read All In The Downs during the summer whilst travelling around the more rural or coastal areas of Scotland and the north of England, partly in order to witness some of the seasonal folk traditions in different towns and villages. This also seemed timely and to resonate with the book itself; there is much of the experience in living alongside the natural world and of the importance of these rural and urban folkloric rituals inherent and included in Collins' writing.

Certain passages haunt and stay with me; the dysphonia that she suffered following the deep betrayal of partner Ashley Hutchings during the Lark Rise To Candleford production that essentially ended her career for nigh on thirty years, the moving and rich memories of life with her parents and sister Dolly, her dedication to folksong as a medium for the people who have sung and carried on the tradition, her journey to the States with traditional song archivist Alan Lomax and her sensitivity to the appalling racism that was present there. Collins appears to be a strikingly strong and determined character and I find her life inspiring both in artistic and human terms. She seems to bridge eras and represents the best in each. If I can be somewhat cheeky and sneak in an extra ‘watching’ element to this piece I would highly recommend The Ballad of Shirley Collins documentary for its equally honest and quietly passionate portrayal of its subject; it is very much a suitable companion piece to this biography.


Watching
The Mad Death
(Buy it here)

Ostensibly a dystopian production about an influx of rabies into the British Isles (primarily Scotland), The Mad Death is a curious mix of late 70’s and early 80’s apocalyptic drama with elements of such shows as Survivors and The Day Of The Triffids, as well as appearing like one elongated public information film. In other words it is bleak, the countryside foreboding and the cityscapes grim; moreover all the male leads constantly shout and bellow all of their lines (what was with all the shouting men in British television drama in those eras? ‘Greg’ in Survivors and ‘Peter Brock’ in The Stone Tape are two such examples).

And The Mad Death is relentlessly unforgiving and, at times, genuinely frightening. With little space given to any character’s back story or much focus on interpersonal relationships, the drama plays out like an emergency planning exercise as to just how the country would react to such a terrifying outbreak. For those of a certain vintage, there will be vivid memories of the rabid fox in the wood, its mouth a mass of yellow foam and speckled blood. That it now looks like a demented glove puppet doesn’t entirely take away its impact; this is essentially about man’s struggle to control nature and nature’s impassive reluctance to submit. The rabid dog in the urban multi-story car park or loose in the shopping centre, the rabies victims’ hydrophobia and visibly unpleasant demise; all are etched forever on the minds of those who tuned in and watched in horror all that time ago, emphasising to those young viewers that the world was a deeply unsafe, unpredictable and unforgiving place.

Indeed, I recall a period at school after some friends had managed to view The Mad Death (despite being very young and clearly far too impressionable) which then generated an urban myth about a three legged rabid fox that patrolled our back gardens at night. One boy even claimed it leapt up at his sitting room window, trying to bite and infect him through the glass and leaving saliva, foam and blood smeared across the glass. That a three legged fox would have to be some kind of acrobat to achieve this did not occur to us; it was the mad death that we feared.

Recently released on DVD, it is possible now to see the programme’s faults and lack of effects budget in the cold light of day. Yet, it is also clear what The Mad Death’s achievements are. There is little compromise, there are some truly disturbing moments and it follows its premise grimly to its conclusion in a way that would surely be softened now by character arcs or viewer sensitivities. Plus, that foaming fox is still just a little bit frightening.


Listening
Coil - The Ape Of Naples
(Buy it here)

A posthumous album in that Jhonn Balance passed a year before its release but also one in which certain songs had been frequently reworked and revisited from as far back as Coil's abandoned venture to the States to record for Trent Reznor's Nothing label, this release correspondingly sits somewhere in the liminal space between existence and another plain entirely. It is a most apt place to find Coil and there are clues, if you want to look for them, throughout the album from the opening lines of 'Does death come alone, or with eager reinforcements?' to the closing 'It just is…', the latter a sage comment from Balance that follows Going Up, a hymnal lament to the lost singer that merges the theme tune from Are You Being Served to a truly melancholy castrato and organ funeral mass. Past hauntings are subtly visible again in A Cold Cell, The Last Amethyst Deceiver and Teenage Lightning whilst It's In My Blood takes the previous A.Y.O.R. and turns it into an industrial tsunami, replete with screams and Thighpaulsandra's terrifying orchestral keyboard sweeps. All of Coil is here; from the early aural assault of Scatology, to the death psalms of Horse Rotorvator right up to the liquid moon musick of later years. And this may be why The Ape Of Naples holds such an appeal for me; it feels like the black, beating heart of Coil exists here in these songs, their manifesto and final testament combined. The last year or so has felt particularly funereal and final for me in parts and this has been a fitting soundtrack, one which I have returned to again and again for solace, humour and escape. We shall never see their like again, both Balance and Christopherson now being gone but The Ape Of Naples sits out of time and place and is possibly endless. A good thing too.

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Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Supernatural Tales 37

David Longhorn (editor)
Supernatural Tales

I've been thoroughly enjoying these quarterly magazines from the Supernatural Tales blog.  They give me a semi regular fix of a Mark Valentine story and have introduced me to a couple of other interesting writers.

I have to say though I was less enamoured of this issue than I usually am.  Mark is here and his 'The Forwarding Agent' is another delicately twisted exploration of odd hobbies and fractured reality but the other stories just didn't really do all that much for me.

C.M. Muller's 'Slattergreen' was an initially intriguing tale of loss and transformation that came to a far too sudden and jarring end that left me wondering what the point was. A feeling magnified tenfold in Jeremy Schlieve's 'Children's Castles'.

'Silver' by Helen Grant was a nicely written werewolf tale that seemed to have been inspired by the author's discovery of an interesting piece of trivia regarding glass-making rather than by the story itself and so I came out of it thinking more about the factoid and the construction of the story than the story itself.

With the exception of a couple of reviews by the editor the book closes with Chloe N Clark's 'Leopard Seals' a really intriguing story wrapped in some padding about a dream. The central idea I thought really promising but the dream stuff just seemed like filler.

A slightly frustrating read this time out but not entirely a bad one although I really could have done without the one about the castle.

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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much appreciate a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain