Friday, 25 September 2020


Brian Catling
Swan River Press

"There hadn’t been monks at the abbey since 1600. Not living ones, that is."
When the puckish spirit of a monk begins haunting the storied village of Pulborough, known for its ancient abbey, Maud Garner, manager of the Coach and Horses Inn, arranges for the famous ghost hunter, Walter Prince, to come investigate. And from there, things spiral out of control.

I read 'The Vorrh' (UK / US) by Brian Catling about a year or so ago after reading a host of glowing reviews by folk I admire but whilst I could see why they'd like it I personally found it to be a little bit smug and a tad aimless.  It was though very nicely written and so I decided, when I saw that Swan River were releasing a new work by him, to give him another go.

Munky is the story of the arrival of a ghostly monk into the abbey at Pulborough and the impact his arrival has on the congregation and the town.

Right from the off I found myself reminded of Max Porter's excellent 'Lanny', not in plot or style but in the more nebulous realm of 'feel'.  I can't put my finger on why really but they just felt like they shared a reality.

The narrative of 'Munky' is loose to say the least.  We are provided with snapshots of a larger story, glimpses into the reactions and the behaviours and we are left to fill in the blanks ourselves in a way that is simultaneously irritating and satisfying.

It's a super fast read - again like 'Lanny' - what I think of as a single sitter.  It's like watching one of those wonderful little one off supernatural TV plays they were so good at making in the 70s like 'The Stone Tape' or 'Murrain' (to name two by Nigel Kneale) and as much as I enjoyed it I think I'll get even more out of it on repeat readings.

Buy it here UK / US

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Time, A Falconer: A Study of Sarban

Mark Valentine
Tartarus Press

In this new biographical study Mark Valentine enables us to understand more of John William Wall (1910-1989), the diffident, compassionate, highly intelligent and sensitive man who wrote under the pseudonym Sarban.

Having read and very much enjoyed Sarban's 'Ringstones' a short while ago I was delighted to unexpectedly take delivery of a copy of 'Time, A Falconer' Mark Valentine's short biography of the author and analysis of his published and unpublished work.

I very much enjoy Mark's studies of forgotten and underappreciated authors, his 'A Country Still All Mystery' and 'A Wild Tumultory Library' (both Tartarus Press) are both fantastic reads full of interesting details and intriguing diversions.  Reading each has proved to be enlightening to both mind and wallet and I've learned to always keep a notebook handy when reading one of his studies which again proved useful here as I now have (another) small list of books to track down.

John William Wall published 3 books under the Sarban pseudonym - 'The Sound of His Horn' (1952), 'Ringstones and Other Curious Tales' (1951) and 'The Doll Maker and Other Tales of the Uncanny' (1953) - whilst working in various parts of the world as a diplomat for the UK government.  Based mostly in the Middle East his stories often reflected life in the Levant whilst also sharing a Machen or Blackwood like love for the wild spaces and the thin places.

Mark's study provides an overview of Sarban's life and the places he served but happily the focus is very much on the literary work he produced in his spare time. He gives his typically thorough examination of the published work providing context and possible inspiration and further to this we are gifted tantalising insights into unpublished works that saw the light for the first time in a Tartarus Press volume published alongside this one.

Obviously as a study of the work of an obscure author this is likely to be of interest only to those already familiar with Sarban's work and to those people I highly commend it.  If however you haven't sampled his writing then I can only recommend that you rectify that situation immediately by tracking down one of the trio of works and then coming back and treating yourself to this fascinating exploration.

Available from the link above.

Below is a short video by Tartarus Press co-publisher R.B. Russell exploring Sarban's books as well as the unfinished works left in the authors archives.


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Sunday, 20 September 2020

Crucible of Terror

Crucible of Terror Mary Maude Mike Raven
Made in 1971 by small independent studio Glendale Film Productions Ltd, the studio who would later also make 'The Asphyx' (UK / US),  'Crucible of Terror' is a low budget horror set on the Cornish coast.  It tells of art dealer John Davies (Likely Lad, James Bolam) who, along with is wife Millie (Mary Maude) and their bickering friends Jane (Beth Morris) and Michael Raven (Ronald Lacey - The Baby-Eating Bishop of Bath and Wells), heads to Cornwall to try and talk Michael's father Victor (Mike Raven) into parting with some of his artwork.

Roger Delgado lookalike Victor is a reclusive, womanising, artist who we know from the off has a penchant for covering young women in plaster and then pouring molten bronze into the eye hole.  He lives with his downtrodden wife Dorothy (Betty Alberge), his model / mistress Marcia (Judy Matheson - 'Lust for a Vampire' (UK / US) and 'Twins of Evil' (UK / US)) and his friend Bill Cartwright (John Arnatt) in a house previously owned by a "weird sect".  Victor takes a fancy to both Jane and Millie and its all downhill from there for everyone involved.

Crucible of Terror Mary Maude Mike Raven
Reputedly part funded by Radio Luxembourg DJ turned actor Raven 'Crucible of Terror' is a cheap and cheerless schlocker with a tinge of the giallo about it.  Raven made 4 movies in his short career, the others being 'Lust for a Vampire' for Hammer, 'I, Monster' (UK) for Amicus and 'Disciple of Death' also co-starring Ronald Lacey, and he really is the most appalling ham but definitely nails the lecherous nature of his character if not particularly the malevolence.  Lacey is his usual creepy self whilst the majority of the rest phone their performances in with the exception of Maude who stands out as the unwilling object of Victor's lust.

Beyond the performances the script is confused, the ending is gibberish and it's riddled with enough casual 70s sexism to make a 'Carry On' writer flinch but I do love a bad movie and this is definitely a bad movie but well worth a watch.

Buy it here - UKUS - or watch it below.


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Saturday, 19 September 2020

Peel Sessions 2

This is the music from week two of our celebration of the 37 years worth of Peel Sessions recorded by the BBC for the various John Peel shows.

This week...
Fairport Convention (1968)
Motorhead (1978)
Cocteau Twins (1983)
ISAN (1999)
Electrelane (2004)
Kevin Ayers, Daevid Allen & Gong (1971)


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Friday, 18 September 2020

Peel Sessions 1

Most mornings over the last few turbulent months I tried to remember to post a song over on the Wyrd Britain Facebook page as a way of saying "Good morning" and connecting with folks during this difficult time.  This usually took the form of whatever favourite tune happened to pop into my head each morning and as such could be anything from 'Sebastian' by Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel to The Damned's 'Love Song', from Sunforest's sublime 'Magician in the Mountain' to Napalm Death's prog rock epic 'You Suffer'.

Over the last two weeks I've modified this approach slightly and instead have decided to celebrate two deeply missed cultural icons, John Peel and his long running Peel Sessions where for over 30 years he invited a staggeringly diverse assortment of around 2000 bands and solo artists into the BBC studios to record a suite of songs for his show.  

So the other day I sat down and made a list of some of my favourite sessions by bands that I like and that I thought would be of interest to readers of this blog. So each morning (Monday to Saturday) for the next little while I'm going to be posting a Peel Session for your listening pleasure and in the spirit of the man it's going to be as eclectic as I can possibly make it.  To fit with the ethos of the blog it's only going to feature British artists which means lots of very wonderful sessions won't feature (they're probably on YouTube though so go look them up) but I think you'll find lots to enjoy nonetheless.

It occurred to me earlier though that many readers don't follow the Facebook page so each Saturday evening I'm going to collate them in a blog post to share here.  It's already been running a week so here's the first batch with week two tomorrow.
Hope you enjoy.


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Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Gloriana, or The Unfulfill'd Queen

Michael Moorcock

A fable satirizing Spenser's "The Fairie Queen" and reflecting the real life of Elizabeth I, tells of a woman who ascends to the throne upon the death of her debauched and corrupted father, King Hern. Gloriana's reign brings the Empire of Albion into a Golden Age, but her oppressive responsibilities choke her, prohibiting any form of sexual satisfaction, no matter what fetish she tries. Her problem is in fact symbolic of the hypocrisy of her entire court. While her life is meant to mirror that of her nation - an image of purity, virtue, enlightenment and prosperity - the truth is that her peaceful empire is kept secure by her wicked chancellor Monfallcon and his corrupt network of spies and murderers, the most sinister of whom is Captain Quire, who is commissioned to seduce Gloriana and thus bring down Albion and the entire empire.

With a noted debt to both Mervyn Peake's 'Gormenghast' and Edmund Spenser's 'The Faerie Queene', 'Gloriana' is Moorcock's reinvention of the reign of Elizabeth I relocated a hundred or so years later.

The setting of the novel is in the massive palace, the seat of governance for Albion's globe spanning empire.  Within its confines Gloriana rules by day and seeks relief from her sexual frustration by night.  The land is at peace and the Queen is beloved by the populace following depredations of the despotic reign of her father.  Working to keep this newly peaceful empire safe is her loyal chancellor Montfallcon and through him his most talented agent, the sociopathic Captain Quire.  It is when, at a moment of pique, Quire takes a new master and from his nest literally within the walls of the palace plots the ruin of Albion's peace. 

Many of the cast of the novel have their origin in real life personages such as John Dee but beyond a few references to interdimensional travel - which aren't taken seriously by most of the cast - and the Queen's best friend the 'Countess Una of Scaith' sharing her name with Moorcock's recurring character, the temporal adventurer Una Persson - and they may in fact be one and the same - there's little obvious connection between this story and his wider multiverse.

Following a bit of a sluggish slog of a start I came to thoroughly enjoy this.  As much fun as the shorter fantastical tales of Elric and the like are, for me, Moorcock comes into his own when he allows himself a larger canvas (and page count). The scope of his story here is global even whilst it remains almost entirely within the confines of the palace and the intricacies of Quire's 'art' are slowly revealed.  The ending to the scheme when it arrives is sudden and jarring although in the older edition that I read the final scene between Quire and Gloriana is horrendously unpleasant and I'm intensely pleased that it was excised and rewritten for subsequent editions as it really did marr what had been up to then a glorious romp of a book.

Buy it here -  UK / US


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Sunday, 13 September 2020

Blood of the Vampire

Blood of the Vampire (1958)
In 1958 with a couple of successful films under his belt legendary Hammer scriptwriter Jimmy Sangster was hired by Tempean Films (later to be the home of 'The Saint' TV series) to work his magic for them.

Over at Hammer where Sangster was to write some 22 films (and work on many more) he was responsible for many of the studio's classics starting with 'X the Unknown' (UKUS) in 1956 before breathing life into both of the studios greatest monsters in 'The Curse of Frankenstein' (UK / US) in 1957 and 'Dracula' (UK / US) in 1958.  For Tempean he was to reuse much of the gothic trappings that had served him so well on his previous two films but with an added twist of a slightly more modern take on the vampire myth that again took inspiration from both the movies he'd written immediately prior.

Blood of the Vampire (1958) Barbara Shelley
Carlstadt, 1880, disgraced doctor John Pierre (Vincent Ball) is convicted of murder and sent to a prison for the criminally insane run by Dr Callistratus (Donald Wolfit) and aided by his deformed assistant Carl (Victor Maddern) where he is quickly co-opted into helping with his captor's sanguinary experiments.  Meanwhile, on the outside, Pierre's fiancĂ©e Madeleine (Barbara Shelley - 'Quatermass and the Pit' (UK / US), 'Village of the Damned' (UK / US)) is determined to prove his innocence.

Kudos must be given to Sangster for trying something a little different here but the movie isn't a great success.  It's a pretty sluggish watch and director Henry Cass struggles to inject much life into the proceedings.  Neither of the two leads have the charisma to carry the plot and the always reliable Shelley isn't given anywhere near enough to do.  The stand out here is Maddern labouring under heavy make-up his performance is subtle, menacing and ultimately sympathetic all without ever uttering a single word.

Buy it here - UK / US - or watch it below.


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Tuesday, 8 September 2020

The Cosy Room and other stories

Arthur Machen
Tartarus Press

The Cosy Room and Other Stories is a collection of Arthur Machen’s short stories curated by John Gawsworth (aka Fytton Armstrong) in 1936. As well as exhuming some very early tales published in the first half of the 1890s, Gawsworth included Machen’s decadent prose poems from Ornaments in Jade, and later work commissioned by Lady Cynthia Asquith for collec¬tions such as The Ghost Book (1926) and Shudders (1929).

This collection from Machen runs the gamut of his entire literary career featuring stories dating from his 1890s heyday through to his late period masterpiece 'N'.  The collection was originally assembled by Machen's would be biographer John Gawsworth (real name Terrance Fytton Armstrong) for publication in 1936.  Gawsworth was a noted champion of writers such as Machen and M.P. Shiel (and possibly an exploiter of) and it has to be said that here he has assembled an intriguing pot pouri of tales.

It certainly isn't all gold, there are a couple of real duffers in there - 'A New Christmas Carol is particularly woeful - but equally he's included some gems, 'Opening the Door' remains a favourite as does 'Midsummer' and, of course, we have the undisputed gem of Machen's later years, 'N'.

This isn't a Machen collection for the newcomer.  It's too fast and too fleeting to be a definitive introduction (for that I'd direct your attention here) and too scattershot to find the soul of the man.  It does though give an insight into the breadth of his writing and the many roads his imagination travelled.

Available from the publisher via the link at the top of the page.


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Sunday, 6 September 2020

Nothing But the Night

Nothing But the Night christopher lee peter cushing
Made in 1973 'Nothing But the Night' was the sole production from Christopher Lee's Charlemagne production company for which he roped in the talents of his friend Peter Cushing and various other familiar faces of the time such as Diana Dors, Keith Barron and Fulton Mackay and 'Doomwatch' and 'The Stone Tape' director Peter Sasdy.

Lee plays retired policeman Colonel Bingham who is reinstated to the force to investigate the deaths of various wealthy members of the board of trustees of a Scottish orphanage.  His investigations soon focus on 'Mary' (played by Gwyneth Strong later to be better known as Cassandra in 'Only Fools and Horses') the sole survivor of a bus crash that has killed 3 more trustees and her mad as a hatter mother played by Diana Dors who was never the greatest actress and here is way out of her depth gnawing on every available piece of scenery and, not her fault I know but, if you watch closely you'll notice while fleeing the police on the island she hides under the same bush twice which always makes me chuckle.

Nothing but the Night Christopher Lee Peter Cushing
The end result is unfortunately a bit of a mess with the film suffering under a miniscule budget, underwhelming characters - Lee in particular seems unable to invest any actual life into his role perhaps as a result of the producer responsibilities hanging over him - and a script in desperate need of a rewrite.  In his career Sasdy made some great work but he did have a tendency for sluggish pacing in his movies and such is the case here and frankly there are too many red herrings and scenes that in retrospect just make no sense and at the end alongside the who, the what and the why we are never given a satisfying how and so are left with a somewhat unfulfilling but shockingly brutal ending.

'Nothing But the Night' has a poor legacy and, in truth it's one that is well deserved, but equally it's always fun to see the two greats together and we can only lament what could have been and chalk this up as an intriguing failure and in its finale see a premonition of the greatness to come in Lee's next movie.

Buy it here - UK /  US - or watch it below.


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Monday, 31 August 2020

John Peel's Record Box

This lovely little documentary from 2005, a year after his death, tells the story of of the life of legendary British DJ John Peel via the contents of a box of 130 7" singles that he kept under his desk separate from the thousands of other records and CDs that made up the collection.  You can find a list of the contents of the box here.

Featuring contributions from his family, fellow DJs and a host of music luminaries such as Pete Shelley (Buzzcocks), Billy Bragg, Jack White (The White Stripes), Tsungi Rai & Poko (Misty in Roots), Mark E. & Brix Smith (The Fall), Laurie Anderson, Feargal Sharkey and Damian & John O'Neill (The Undertones) and loads more.

It's a nice tribute to the man and of a life lived in music.

We miss you John.


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Sunday, 30 August 2020

The Ash Tree

The Ash Tree 1975 - M.R. James - A Ghost Story for Christmas
'The Ash Tree' was the fifth and final (for three decades) M.R. James adaptation made for the BBC's annual 'A Ghost Story for Christmas' strand.  Like its predecessors (and two of its immediate successors) it was directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark who here is joined by the writer David Rudkin fresh from scripting 'Penda's Fen' the previous year.

In James' original story - published as part of his 'Ghost Stories of an Antiquary' in 1904 - Sir Matthew Fell is responsible for local woman Mrs Mothersole being hanged as a witch, having seen her cutting branches from the Ash tree outside his bedroom window, but not before she lays a curse on him saying "There will be guests at the Hall" which, as curses go, on the surface doesn't seem that bad.  Unsurprisingly Sir Mathew soon reaches his grisly end and the story switches to his grandson, Sir Richard, who soon finds himself in a similar sort of pickle as his gramps.

The Ash Tree 1975 - M.R. James - A Ghost Story for Christmas
Barbara Ewing as Mrs Mothersole
Rudkin's 'television version' makes a few cosmetic changes to the tale - uncle and nephew instead of grandfather and grandson and implying an additional rationale behind the witchcraft accusation - but essentially stays true to the core of the story.  He does though do what he does best and gives the whole thing a distinctly eerie and artful construction that bestows a dream-like quality as Sir Richard almost timeslips between his own time and Sir Matthews - both are played by Edward Petheridge - and experiences the events that lead up to both their grisly ends first hand at the fangs of creatures that seem conjured up from an early David Lynch fever dream.

Buy it here - UK / US - or watch it below.


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Sunday, 23 August 2020

The Skull

The Skull 1965 Peter Cushing & Christopher Lee
Made in 1965 by the Amicus studio 'The Skull' is another pairing of the Peter Cushing / Christopher Lee dream team.  This time out they play collectors of the arcane, Cushing's Dr Christopher Maitland because he writes about it and Lee's Sir Matthew Phillips as a lover of such objects.  They source their various macabre mementos at auctions where we first meet the three stars and from dodgy dealer in macabre memorabilia Anthony Marco (Patrick Wymark) who brings to Cushing's attention the skull of the Marquis de Sade.

The skull, it transpires, has a distinctly chequered post-mortem past and had been the property of Sir Matthew who, finally released from its malign influence, definitely doesn't want it back and warns Maitland away from it but unfortunately it's already got its teeth into him and events soon spiral out of control.

The Skull 1965 Peter Cushing & Christopher Lee
With a screenplay initially written by Amicus head Milton Subotsky from an original story by 'Psycho' author Robert Bloch the film was directed (and rewritten) by the legendary Freddie Francis the director of a plethora of Hammer and Amicus delights and the bonkers genius that is 'Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly' as well as being cinematographer on 'The Innocents' and David Lynch's cinematographer of choice on 'The Elephant Man', 'Dune' and 'Straight Story'.  'The Skull' is as stunning looking as you'd expect from a man with Francis' pedigree although it has to be said the occasional skulls eye view is a bit naff but the hallucinatory Kafka-esque courtroom scene will tell you exactly why Lynch chose to work with Francis.

Cushing and Lee (who, it transpires, cheats horribly at snooker) are both on fine form and Wymark is gloriously creepy.  It's by no means an action packed movie and indeed is a slow build carried along by the strength of the cast and that it looks so damn pretty.

Buy it here - UK / US or watch it below.


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