Saturday 30 November 2019


Matthew G Rees - Keyhole - Three Impostors
Matthew G. Rees
Three Impostors

Several writers, Arthur Machen among them, have spoken of their certainty of our co-existence with another world – one that we are close to in our daily lives and from which we are separated by the finest partition; a place of ancient forces and wisdom, and darker, more peculiar things.

'Three Impostors is a publisher based out of Newport, South Wales that takes it's name from the work of Arthur Machen - born and raised in the nearby town of Caerleon - and which has at it's heart a desire to further explore those fertile lands that the master so beautifully chronicled.

Rees' debut collection offers us keyhole peeps into an other land, an other Wales in actuality which is the cause of my only complaint with what is an otherwise excellent collection as it does lend a slightly parochial feel to the proceedings that raises the spectre of the type of worthy Welsh literature that was inflicted on some of us unlucky souls in our schooling.  Such feelings are fleeting though as what raises 'Keyholes' is Rees' lively prose and an imagination as bright and colourful as the kingfishers that swarm around the head of the young lady of the books' title piece.

Within the covers of the book Rees takes us to places where pensioners wager their teeth, where the spirits of soldiers stalk the hills, where men float through and away from life, where revenge, comeuppance, grief and humour are all in evidence and where the pub is the ultimate refuge.

This is a hugely recommended collection that marks Rees out as a writer capable of spinning tales of vibrant imagination and who is unafraid to peer into stranger places.

Available from the publisher at the link above (tell them Wyrd Britain sent you)


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Tuesday 26 November 2019

Other Edens

Christopher Evans (ed)
Robert Holdstock (ed)

This 1987 collection of sci fi and fantasy shorts was produced to address a perceived gap in the availability of a mass market anthology collection at the time.  A hark back to the myriad of books of shorts that covered book shelves of the 1970s.  It went on to spawn two sequels over the next two years.  This first one boasting a line up entirely consisting of UK based - not necessarily British - authors proved to be an enjoyable if slightly inconsistent read.

The standout story here is Robert Holdstock's 'Scarrowfell'. Having just emerged from his 'Mythago Wood' I was enthused to read more and it certainly delivered with another piece of pagan Celtic fantasy that felt both uncontrived and remarkably fresh.

I'm a huge Michael Moorcock fan so the biggest disappointment here is undoubtedly his 'The Frozen Cardinal' which I thought was just daft although the treatment of women in many of the tales was an equally disappointing experience with both Tanith Lee's 'Crying in the Rain' and Christopher Evans' 'The Facts of Life' reducing them to mere property and Lisa Tuttle's 'The Wound' to that of a mutation.

Ian Watson's 'The Emir's Clock' is an interesting piece with a dumb ending and R.M. Lanning's 'Sanctity' was an interesting set up to an ending that reminded me of  Monty Python joke and David Langford's ' In a Land of Sand and Ruin and Gold' owed a real debt to Moorcock's 'Dancers at the End of Time' series.

Graham Charnock's 'Fulwood's Web' was an entertainingly old fashioned bit of 'man shouldn't meddle' fun. David Garnett's 'Moonlighter' gave a tweak to the hoary old parallel dimension trope whilst M. John Harrison's 'Small Heirloom's' was intriguing but needed far more room than it had here. Gary Kilworth's 'Triptych' was one interesting idea sandwiched between two lesser ones but Keith Roberts' 'Piper's Wait' was very much the redemption of the book's latter half.

As I said an inconsistent read redeemed entirely by Holdstock's tale but not without a smattering of other interests strewn across it's pages.


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Sunday 24 November 2019

A Child's Voice

Set in ye olde bygone days of radio as the primary source of in home entertainment this late 1970s story by David Thomson tells of popular radio host Ainsley Rupert MacCready (T.P. Mckenna) who reads ghostly tales to enraptured audiences.

"Radio fixes the person, but frees the imagination... and the people most affected by it were those who lived and listened alone."

His latest reading tells of a young magician's assistant who dies trapped inside a vanishing cabinet and whose ghosly voice torments the magician unto death.  It's after telling the first part of this tale that his life begins to mimic his art as he receives a midnight telephone call from a child asking him not to finish the story.

"The Story you are reading. I would prefer you to go no further with it. It troubles me a great deal."

Mckenna is an always reliable presence and the fabulously portentous narration by (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's 'Deep Thought' and Doctor Who's 'The Black Guardian') Valentine Dyall is a real treat. It's a fine low key and affecting tale that uses it's simple premise and obviously minuscule budget well although it does miss it's natural ending and continues on for just a couple of minutes too long.

The poor quality of the film serves, I think, to add to the unsettling ambience of the tale as we're left to decide whether this is the story of something breaking through or of someone breaking down.


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Monday 4 November 2019

Alice Through the Looking Glass & White Rabbits in Sussex

Peter Howell & John Ferdinando - Alice Through the Looking Glass
In 1974 a young composer named Peter Howell joined the BBC Radiophonic Workshop where he stayed for the next 23 years composing some of the Workshop's most memorable pieces of that time including "Greenwich Chorus", "The Children of Green Knowe" and the reworked Doctor Who theme used throughout the early 1980s.  Previous to his time at that venerable institution though he, along with his friend John Ferdinando, had been part of several psychedelic folk bands - Agincourt & Ithaca - who produced several - now insanely collectible - albums.

The duo were also responsible for one particular beautiful oddity when they composed the 'soundtrack' for The Ditchling Players 1969 amateur performance of Lewis Carroll's 'Alice Through the Looking Glass'.  Originally only released as a private press (50 copies) on Howell's own label it is the single most perfect audition tape he could ever have made for his later employers; full of odd instrumentation and tape experimentation it's pastoral folk experimentalism meaning it's every bit as eccentric and idiosyncratic as both the source material and his future workplace.

Peter Howell & John Ferdinando - Alice Through the Looking Glass
You can hear the album in the embedded player below and whilst it may not be to everyone's taste I encourage everyone to give it a try as personally I think it's fabulous but before you do please also allow me to point you in the direction of a fantastic 30 minute documentary on the album produced by BBC Radio 3 a couple of years back.

Presented by David Bramwell it tells the story of the album and beyond that of the influence of the landscape of the Sussex Downs with the participation of the two composers, some of the Ditchling Players themselves and musical luminaries such as Shirley Collins and Arthur Brown.  It really is very much worth 30 minutes of your time and can be heard at the link below...

White Rabbits in Sussex

And then there's the album itself...


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Sunday 3 November 2019

Night of the Big Heat

night of the big heat
The original novel that spawned 'Night of the Big Heat' was written by UK writer John Lymington (real name John Richard Newton Chance) who produced a seemingly endless stream of sub John Wyndham sci fi through the 1960s, 70s and even into the 80s - indeed fellow sci fi writer Brian Stableford suggested that Lymington chose his nom de plume specifically because of it's similarity to Wyndham's name - and this, his first, is very much in that category.

Set on the island of Fara where despite it being winter the locals are suffering in an intense heat wave.  Onto the sweltering island comes vampish secretary, Angela Roberts (Jane Merrow) in an attempt to rekindle her affair with novelist / publican Jeff Callum (Patrick Allen).  Already on the island are various locals including Dr Vernon Stone (Peter Cushing), a team of meteorologists and a brash scientist called Godfrey Hanson (Christopher Lee) who is investigating the heatwave and uncovering some unexpected results.

night of the big heat
Directed by Hammer stalwart Terence Fisher (The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula) and starring that companies two biggest stars - although Cushing is very much a supporting cast member here - it seems strange that this was made by the obscure Planet Film Productions but perhaps that goes a long way to explaining just how cheaply made it seems but continuity errors and dodgy effects are the stuff that all our favourite B-movies are made of and this is definitely a B (possibly even a C).

The film is often achingly slow being a creature feature with an uninspiring creature that resembles a stranded jellyfish and with a script that was, at least in part, written by  Pip and Jane Baker - more familiar for their work some 20 years later on Doctor Who - this is a film that is saved by it's cast as Lee is obviously relishing his role, Cushing dominates each of his few scenes and Merrow is deliciously vindictive as the bonkers femme fatale.

In all it's a mess but it's a mess with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing at it's heart and that's a pairing that is always going to make me happy.

Buy it here - UKUS - or watch it below


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Friday 1 November 2019

The Vorpal Blade

Peter Cushing The Vorpal Blade Tales of the Unexpected
In this sixth series episode of Roald Dahl's 'Tales of the Unexpected' Peter Cushing, as an ageing German officer, tells the story of a duel fought while at school.

Told in flashback Cushing himself appears only in the the framing sequence and as the narrator and whilst age may have robbed him of the physicality he used to bring to his performances it certainly has had no effect on the grandeur of that voice.

Peter Cushing The Vorpal Blade Tales of the Unexpected
With it's title taken from the name Lewis Carroll gave to the magical blade that slays The Jabberwock in his nonsense poem featured in 'Through the Looking Glass', Cushing here tells the tale of a schoolboy duel; of jealousy, of pride and of fear.  He tells of a time in 'his' younger days when he was forced to fight a duel and of the consequences of the decisions and actions of the participants.

The story he relates is, in all honesty, a little weak and the final revelations are easily deduced long before they are played out but a chance to catch one of the final performances - he was to act on screen only 5 more times after this - of one of the greats of wyrd British cinema is not to be passed on.


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