For '3 Wyrd Things' I ask various creative people 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.
Matthew Shaw is a Dorset based composer, author and artist who has been releasing music since 2000 under his own name, as Tex La Homa, and with a variety of collaborators.
Matthew has recently worked with Shirley Collins on her new album Heart’s Ease for Domino Recordings. With Shaun Ryder and John Robb as Spectral & with Richard Norris composing the score to ‘The Filmmakers House’ a film by Marc Isaacs.
In 2019 Matthew worked with Mark Stewart and Gareth Sager on #BloodMoney as The Pop Group x Matthew Shaw, featuring a reworking of songs from the ‘Y’ album.
Atmosphere of Mona, a book of prose poetry and photography was published by Annwyn House in 2020 and is available here.
I first ecountered Matthew about a decade ago when he submitted some of his music for review in my old Wonderful Wooden Reasons music zine, later I released one of his albums on my Quiet World label and today I'm very pleased to present his choices in this months 3 Wyrd Things.
You can find Matthew in all the usual places and via his website at - https://www.matthewshaw.org/
Folk Roots, New Routes and Anthems in Eden have both occupied a central position in my listening of Shirley Collins for many years. It is Anthems in Eden, probably more than any other record featuring Shirley, that continues to surprise and delight and to always sound fresh and unique.
I was a teenager when I first heard Anthems in Eden, and on first listening everything about the lp seemed strange and yet familiar to me. The cover art, the inside of the gatefold cover of Shirley and Dolly, the instrumentation and arrangements. This was an album that somehow combined the folk music I was discovering at this time, along with the hymns and choral pieces my dad would come home singing after his concerts with the Crewe male voice choir, and the classical LPs he would play at home.
The first side of the LP contained a suite of songs that are still unlike any other record I own. The combination of Shirley’s pure unparalleled singing voice lifts the emotion, emphasising the heartbreak and hope within each word. Dolly playing the partitive organ, cutting through with her unique style of playing, alongside David Munrow’s direction and early music orchestra of Crumhorn, Rackett, Sordum, Recorder, Sackbut and so on. This album is musical time travel, the alchemy of a narrative set after the first world war, pared with early music instrumentation and timeless vocals. It is as if the people in these songs are able to step through the music and into the present moment. A Dream, Lowlands is the one song that I love more than most. A ghost song about a dream of a dead lover returned, a tale of shipwreck, are we off the English East Coast towards The Netherlands, or even further back in the remnants of Doggerland?
We have seen such a triumphant return from Shirley in recent years and with Lodestar (UK / US) and Heart’s Ease (UK / US) we have an artist as vital as ever. I hope we see a greater appreciation of Dolly as a result, as these albums the Collins sisters made together are all magical objects. Not to mention Dolly’s orchestral arrangements for Peter Bellamy on the fantastic The Transports folk opera. If you can find a copy of the original double album you are in for a treat.
Whitsun Dance has recently been reworked from the version on Anthems in Eden into a new version on Heart’s Ease. Here is a clear example of the songs adapting to new times through the same singer, recorded many years apart. Both versions are essential listening. On Heart’s Ease I worked with Shirley to recreate Crowlink, bringing this place to people’s ears and imaginations ,so that the listener may stand with us a while at Crowlink and look out to the sea.
The Living Stones
I first discovered Ithell Colquhoun from an issue of the poetry journal Ore. It contained two of her poems, The Tree-Month Ruis and Here. Without The Living Stones by Ithell Colquhoun, I would never have written Atmosphere of Mona. In fact my work would be very different, as Ithell has informed a way of seeing and experiencing. I’ll explain more as we go.
The Living Stones explains Ithells experiences in words and line drawings, travels and thoughts of Cornwall. In particular the Lamorna valley and cove. It is this area that draws me back time and again. The Living Stones for me is the perfect guidebook to this area. I found my favourite walk there, from the sea and Lamorna cove, up the lane past the site of Vow Cave, Ithell’s home for a time. Then across the road and through the woods to Boleigh Fogou, then to The Pipers and the Merry Maidens, Tregiffian, Gun Rith, and up to the old stone cross with the figure with outstretched arms, the horizon and rising sun. The cross was illustrated by Ithell in the book, and I photographed it for Atmosphere of Mona. From here a walk across the fields to Boscawen-Un. Most of these sites are written about in The Living Stones. I find the combination of literature, walking and art fascinating, here all three are effortless to appreciate, the art in this case is the painting Landscape with Antiquities by Ithell herself, providing our map for this walk.
Reading The Living Stones reveals as much about Ithell’s interests and thoughts as it does about the physical world. It contains a whole worldview expressed through a place.
The sounds of Lamorna became something of an obsession over the years. Firstly with the band Fougou, underground music made with sound artist Brian Lavelle. Our albums made literally underground in a Fogou, and also at many of the places that Ithell writes about in The Living Stones. The name of our band came from the spelling of Fogou by T.C. Lethbridge which is ‘Fougou’. Then I went further into the footsteps of Ithell directly with the album Lamorna, recorded outside Vow Cave, at The Merry Maidens, Lamorna Cove as well as back inside the Fogou.
That first issue of Ore that I picked up also connects Ithell with The Druid Order, An Druidh Uileach Braithreachas. Ore was published and written in part by Eric Ratcliffe, poet, author, publisher and sword bearer for the order. Both Eric and Ithell often draw on imagery from ritual within their poetry, as Ithell also does on many of her pieces of art. Eric continues to publish poems by Ithell and went on to write a biography of Ithell, and there are some wonderful photos of them both in robes together from the late 50s and early 60s. All part of the quest beautifully captured in the pages of The Living Stones. The atmosphere and spirit of Lamorna and Cornwall more widely, a snapshot of a time long gone. Yet much of what you will read in The Living Stones is still there if you look in the right places, especially outside of the holiday season, and if you take in the area on foot, so let the book be your guide.
At the age of seven the world changed for me through the BBC transmission of the fourth episode of Logopolis.
Doctor Who had become a regular treat, one that captured my young imagination and was often as hilarious as it was deeply terrifying. It was in this final episode for Tom Baker though, that things took on a new meaning. The Master and his pantomime attempt to blackmail the universe was one thing, enjoyable as it was, the Watcher though was something else entirely. A ghost-like vision, not dissimilar to the kind of thing I would later see in Ghost Stories for Christmas was an unquieting presence on the screen. Who or what was this apparition? A spirit, a lost soul, an alien or a ghost? Then there was the telescope, or Jodrell Bank as I knew it to be. I could see Jodrell Bank from my childhood bedroom window, and just a few weeks before had visited and gone inside the centre for the first time. Now I was sat watching Doctor Who hanging off that very same telescope. I ran upstairs to look out of the window before remembering it was already dark. Back in front of the TV, I watched the combining of the real world outside my window and the invented world and characters in the story combine, like the acetate sheets on the projectors in every classroom of the time. So grown ups too could invent stories and characters in the real world, reimagining them as sci-fi temples, connecting the earth, outer space and the imaginal. And then it happened, the Fourth Doctor fell. The Watcher appeared and combined with the Doctor before regenerating as the Fifth Doctor. The death and resurrection show.
Peter Davison was ok but he wasn’t Tom Baker, although I did continue to watch each week and got used to this regeneration idea. There were still great adventures to come and through the time travelling ability of broadcasting I could travel through time as well, to watch those earlier episodes where Tom Baker was still out there, as well as the previous Doctors.
My younger siblings around this time discovered Button Moon, another space drama, the theme tune was composed and performed by Peter Davison and Sandra Dickinson. This show turning infants on to the idea of transforming household objects and waste for the purposes of space travel.. Not dissimilar to the alchemical process in the later years of Ithell Colhoun’s art collages and sculptural forms, using household waste and bright colour to striking and magical effect.
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