Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Luckenbooth

Wyrd Britain Reviews Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan.
Jenni Fagan
William Heinemann

The devil's daughter rows to Edinburgh in a coffin, to work as maid for the Minister of Culture, a man who lives a dual life. But the real reason she's there is to bear him and his barren wife a child, the consequences of which curse the tenement building that is their home for a hundred years. As we travel through the nine floors of the building and the next eight decades, the resident's lives entwine over the ages and in unpredictable ways. Along the way we encounter the city's most infamous Madam, a seance, a civil rights lawyer, a bone mermaid, a famous Beat poet, a notorious Edinburgh gang, a spy, the literati, artists, thinkers, strippers, the spirit world - until a cosmic agent finally exposes the true horror of the building's longest kept secret. No. 10 Luckenbooth Close hurtles the reader through personal and global history - eerily reflecting modern life today.

I really wanted to like this book a lot more than I did.  Beyond the unlovely cover art it sounded right up my street but the end result was a bit of an infuriating mess.

Jessie arrives at No.10 Luckenbooth Close having been sold by her father to Mr Udnam in order to bear him a child. Jessie's father though happened to be the Devil, now dead by Jessie's hand, so things are unlikely to go the way Udnam hopes.  The story of what happens to her and to the subsequent residents of the house over the next 90 years makes up the rest of the book.

Presented in three parts with each part split again in three we are treated to a series of vignettes, snapshots of lives in flux.  Sometimes these stories are engrossing - particularly when dealing with the supernatural as in the stories of Agnes and Dot - sometimes they are delicately lovely - Ivor - sometimes intriguing - William - sometimes bloody stupid - Queen Bee - and sometimes riddled with irritating factual errors that could have been easily avoided with the most rudimentary research - Levi. 

Fagan's writing is personable and the setting is characterful but it often it feels like being squandered and was saved from being a bit of a frustrating non-event by a couple of it's better chapters and a solid ending.

Buy it here - UK / US.
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Monday, 29 March 2021

A Trick of the Shadow

Wyrd Britain reviews 'A Trick of the Shadow' by R. Ostermeier from Broodcomb Press.
R. Ostermeier
Broodcomb Press

R. Ostermeier lives and works on the peninsula. This first collection of strange tales draws predominantly on the region’s folklore and history, yet also includes first-hand accounts of contemporary disquiet.
A Trick of the Shadow contains the extraordinarily unnerving ‘Object’ and the disturbing, Arthur Machen-inspired ‘A Tantony Pig’, as well as the novella ‘Bird-hags’, which in all truth might not be for you.


This book has been hovering around the edges of my attention for a while now but I finally dug into it on the recommendation of a friend and I'm very glad I did.

I'd gathered from what I'd seen that there was a Machen vibe and this proved especially the case in opener 'A Tantony Pig' which owes, an acknowledged, debt to that author and to his 'The Ritual' in particular.  It's an excellent play on the idea and easily finds on its own feet as a rather wonderful little strange tale.

Next up, 'Finery', is the story of a weaver and the dresses she makes for the women of the town; private clothes to be treasured and admired in secret as they speak to one's inner being.

'The Chair' I thought had the air of a 1970s 'Amicus' anthology episode to it or an episode of one of Hammer's TV shows with its mix of pseudoscience and dream horror - particularly inflicted on a child.

Less successful is 'Object' that for me seemed to be trying just a tad too hard to walk an Aickmanesque path.  It's eminently readable but for the first time in the book things did feel a tiny bit forced.

'The Intruder' continues with the Aickman style strangeness and is more successful in its telling of a man's terror at the consequences of a rash decision to embrace a new weight loss procedure.

We can again feel Machen's presence in 'The Bearing' a folk horror tale of an annual ritual whereby a series of coffins are carried around a town before the book ends with its longest tale 'Bird Hags' a nicely creepy amalgam of all the touchstones of the previous stories.

Now I've spent much of this review comparing it to other people and things which is something I generally try to avoid but here it felt unavoidable as Ostermeier is wearing these influences with pride which doesn't diminish what's here at all as the stories all work on their own merits and 'A Trick of the Shadow' proved to be a simply wonderful read.

Available from the publisher at the link above.
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Sunday, 28 March 2021

The Day The Earth Caught Fire

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Day The Earth Caught Fire'.
After an early career making light comedies director Val Guest took an unexpected sidestep in 1955 when he was tasked by Hammer with directing the movie version of the first Quatermass story, 'The Quatermass Xperiment'.  Following it's success he developed a successful sideline in science fiction with the second Quatermass movie and 'The Abominable Snowman' (both 1957) and, in 1961, thanks in part to his profits from Cliff Richard's 'Expresso Bongo', he got the go ahead from British Lions too make the apocalyptic 'The Day The Earth Caught Fire'.

Simultaneous American and Russian nuclear tests knocks the Earth off it's axis and out of it's orbit sending it moving towards the sun.  Daily Express journalists Peter Stemming (Edward Judd - 'Island of Terror' & 'Vault of Horror') and Bill Maguire (Leo McKern - The Prisoner's two time No.2) along with government typist and whistleblower Jeannie Craig (Janet Munro - 'The Trollenberg Terror') break the story and cover the aftermath as society crumbles and the world waits for salvation or death.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Day The Earth Caught Fire'.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Day The Earth Caught Fire'.
It's a gloriously mature science fiction film, there are no dashing square jawed heroes - Judd's Stemming is a bitter and broken man careering towards alcoholism - just people struggling and adapting to tumultuous times both before - the dawn of the 1960s - and after the Earth is made to go walkabout.  Guest has made primarily a newspaper movie along with many of the tropes that entails but placed it in the context of an encroaching global apocalypse. He's coloured his movie with some wonderfully hard-bitten and barbed dialogue and made good use of stock footage of fires and storms that roots the film firmly in the real.

The version presented below is the US version with bells added to the end which does spoil the deadpan ambiguity of Guest's original edit a little.

Buy it here - UK / US.





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Saturday, 27 March 2021

She's a Punk Rocker

Wyrd Britain reviews Zillah Minx's celebration of female punks in She's a Punk Rocker.
Made by Zillah Minx of the band Rubella Ballet 'She's a Punk Rocker' is a fun and timely oral history of punk from some of the under-reported but key female figures of the scene.  

With contributions from musicians, artists and writers such as Eve Libertine & Gee Vaucher (Crass), Vi Subversa (Poison Girls), Gaye Black (The Adverts), Poly Styrene (X-Ray Spex), journalist Caroline Coon, Ruth Elias & Janet Nassim (Hagar the Womb), poet Nettie Baker amongst others Minx's film is a vibrant and gloriously garish, day-glo celebration of her friends and contemporaries.

There's a follow up in the works too which you can learn more about here.



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Friday, 26 March 2021

Supernatural Tales 45

Wyrd Britain reviews issue 45 of Supernatural Tales.
David Longhorn (ed)
Supernatural Tales

Now this is a rarity, I'm actually up to date with issues of Supernatural Tales thanks mostly to wanting to catch up on all my unread zines, chapbooks and the like over this second lockdown.  Happily this one was the best issue in a while helped in no small part by stories by three authors I really like.

Carrie Vacaro Nelkin gets things off to a strong start with 'Stricken' a fun little story about the monster under the bed before the very excellent Charles Wilkinson gives a characteristically strange story about starlings and music in 'The Harmony of the Stares'.  This is followed by Rosalie Parker's 'The Decision' which is written with her customary eye for the odd and the unsettling but I must admit to being a tad confused by the ending.

Mark Valentine is on fine form here taking a turn as a football pundit and if only all match reports were like this then maybe I'd read the back pages of the newspaper.  I wasn't particularly taken with Malcolm Laughton's story which melded 'Kidnapped' with a rose tinted slavery subplot and a vengeful spirit.

I liked William Curnow's 'The Round-About' which came across like a sentimental Aickman and Iain Rowan's 'The Wildness' was a brief but interesting tale of madness before the book ends with Tim Foley's rather obvious ghost story.

Like all compilations Supernatural tales can often be a little patchy but it's always worth a read as there's usually a good story or two or three or, like here, six.

Buy it at the link above.

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Wednesday, 24 March 2021

All You Need is Blood: The Making of Satan's Slave

Wyrd Britain reviews All You Need is Blood: The Making of Satan's Slave
A short behind the scenes look at the making of Norman J Warren's 1976 horror 'Satan's Slave' that we featured here the other week (click the link back there to watch it) thefirst of a trio of horror's he made over between 1976 and 1978.

Featuring a voice over by Warren and other members of the crew, quick snippets with a couple of cast members including Michael Gough and some footage of them setting up various scenes including testing various shades and consistencies of the blood that Warren's movies are so renowned for.  

In truth there's probably nothing here that would be of any particular interest to anyone who isn't already a fan of the director or the film but personally I always love a peak behind the curtain.

Buy the movie here - UK / US.



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Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Monolithic Undertow: In Search of Sonic Oblivion

Wyrd Britain reviews Monolithis Undertow by Harry Sword published by White Rabbit.
Harry Sword
White Rabbit

Monolithic Undertow alights a crooked path across musical, religious, and subcultural frontiers, exploring a concept that is often described as 'the drone'. Harry Sword traces the line from neolithic Indo-European traditions to the modern underground by way of mid-20th Century New York, navigating a beguiling topography of archeoacoustics, ringing feedback, chest plate sub bass, avant-garde eccentricity, and fervent spiritualism. From ancient beginnings to bawdy medieval troubadours, Sufi mystics to Indian raga masters, North Mississippi bluesmen to cone-shattering South London dub reggae sound systems, Hawkwind's Ladbroke Grove to the outer reaches of Faust, Ash Ra Temple and sonic architects like La Monte Young, Brian Eno, and John Cale. the opium-fueled fug of The Theatre of Eternal Music to the caveman doom of Saint Vitus. the cough syrup reverse hardcore of Swans to the seedy VHS hinterland of Electric Wizard, ritual amp worship of Earth and Sunn O))) and the many touch points in between, Monolithic Undertow probes the power of the drone: something capable of affording womb-like warmth or evoking cavernous dread alike. This story does not start in the twentieth century underground: the monolithic undertow has bewitched us for millennia. The book takes the drone not as codified genre but as an audio carrier vessel deployed for purposes of ritual, personal catharsis, or sensory obliteration, revealing also a naturally occurring auditory phenomenon spanning continents and manifesting in fascinatingly unexpected places. Monolithic Undertow will be a book about music and the very human need for transcendence and intoxication through sound. It seeks to reveal the drone as a tool of personal liberation that exists far outside the brittle confines of commodity culture.

I'm quite torn by this book.  On the one hand it's an interesting overview of many of the prime movers in early drone music history but on the other it's a fairly repetitive mish mash of  scattershot snapshots of a - perhaps too - wide swathe of musicians many of whom have a fairly tenuous link to what can be thought of as drone music.  Either way, it's a tad too long and kind of runs out of things to say a little way before the end.

On the subject of choice of artists Sword obviously makes a case for his choices but I remain unconvinced that in this context the doom metal grind of Electric Wizard deserves three times the coverage of Pauline Oliveros or that the Stooges' contribution to the drone or Steve Albini's who both feature are of more consequence than say Zoviet France or Monos (or indeed any of the North East England scene) or Stars of the Lid or Merzbow none of whom feature or even Tangerine Dream who are pretty much passed over.

I think though my biggest issue with the book is a result of its structure.  Exploring things in a mostly chronological order it does get quite repetitive quite quickly.  I think a case can be made for a more engaging and deeper analysis by looking for commonalities and presenting the work as an exploration of the various aspects of the form - search for transcendence, compositional colour, ambience, space, etc - and show how various folks have approached these rather than he did then she did then they did then...

Like I said though I'm torn.  I'm sure that what I've written so far is going to seem like I got nothing out of the book but that's definitely not the case.  As a primer on the use of the drone it's an interesting read.  For someone like me who has been a devotee of the form for more years than I care to admit it has it's frustrations but if it's an aspect of music that you are keen to be introduced to then this will certainly set you on some interesting paths but what we have here isn't a book about drone music but a book about music with drones in and for me at least that's an important distinction.

Buy it here - UK / US.

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Sunday, 21 March 2021

Return Flight

Dead of Night Return Flight
'Return Flight' was the second broadcast episode and one of only three remaining episodes of the seven made of the 1972 BBC series 'Dead of Night' the rest having been wiped in the infinite wisdom of the corporation's bigwigs.  Written by legendary Doctor Who script writer Robert Holmes ('The Talon's of Weng Chiang', 'The Pyramids of Mars' and many more) and directed by fellow Who alumni Rodney Bennett ('Ark in Space', 'Sontaran Experiment' & 'Masque of Mandragora') what we have here is a more subtle production than the fantastic, exhuberant romps they are perhaps better known for.

Newly widowed pilot Captain Rolph (Peter Barkworth) is under investigation for a near air collision with a WWII era plane that only he saw.  He's cleared of any responsibilty but remains unconvinced that what he saw was real as he slowly seems to slip between his charter flight reality and a wartime fantasy.  

At it's heart is a great performance from Barkworth but Holmes' tight and gently unfolding script that leaves us utterly unsure of the cause of the Captain's experiences is the gem here.

The other surviving episodes are also availabe to view on Wyrd Britain - 'A Woman Sobbing' - and - 'The Exorcism'.

Buy it here - Dead of Night (DVD)



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Friday, 19 March 2021

The Secrets of Doctor Taverner

Dion Fortune
Weiser Books

Dr. Taverner runs a nursing home -- but it is not by any means a conventional one. It is a hospital for all manner of unorthodox mental disturbances, ranging from psychic attack and disruptions in group minds to vampirism. These are cases that conventional psychology cannot cure. Only the secret knowledge of Taverner, based on esoteric training, is enough to unravel the solutions.Each story in this collection is a complete case, as gripping and as entertaining as the stories of Sherlock Holmes. They take you into the inner worlds of the human mind -- a world full of strange twists and unexpected happenings!

Dion Fortune was an occultist, a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the founder of the Fraternity of the Inner Light and she is still regarded as one of the most influential and important figures in that field.  Alongside the books she wrote on those topics she also wrote six books of fiction including this collection of short stories detailing the escapades of psychiatrist and magician Dr. Taverner.

I love an occult detective tale so despite it's awful cover art jumped at this as soon as I discovered its existence.  In the grand tradition of these things we have a detective and chronicler set up with the twist being perhaps that Dr Tavener is perhaps far more occult than detective.  In the pages of this chronicle we find Taverner and his Watson, Dr Rhodes, encounter vampires, rogue magicians, devil dogs, astral projections, greedy relatives and more in a series of sprightly tales.

Fortune was no particular wordsmith and, especially in the earlier stories, one often feels like she is trying to recruit the reader into her Fraternity and perhaps engaging in a sort of wish fulfilment.  However, when she gets into her swing on the later tales such as the excellent 'A Daughter of Pan', 'The Sea Lure' and 'A Son of the Night' she shows she can spin a very entertaining yarn and seems far more comfortable with more earthy mysteries than those dealing with more 'traditional' horrors and by the end I was fully invested in the lives of the two leads.

Buy it here - UK / US.

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Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Through the Storm

Rosalie Parker
P.S. Publishing

Ghosts, shamans, aliens, angels and the weirdness of life all make their appearance in this new collection of Rosalie Parker’s strange tales. Her stories depict subtly shifting realities, and celebrate the fluidity of the barrier between the uncanny and the everyday. These twenty-five stories vary from contes to longer pieces, and explore the traditions of the weird tale in fresh and original ways.

This is my second trip into the imagination of Rosalie Parker, co-publisher of the fabulous Tartarus Press and editor of their Strange Tales series although the two collections of hers that I've read have been released by fellow Yorkshire publishing house PS Publishing.  Like the previous volume (Damage), 'Through the Storm', consists of a large number of fairly short tales (often between 5 and 10 pages in length) that explore matters strange and again like the previous there is a distinctly bucolic air to the stories with Parker taking a delight in the elemental settings such as the moors and the sea and finding little to recommend in domesticity or security.

For me she is always at her best when she's letting her imagination fly off in the most unexpected directions at which point her work resonates most loudly and shimmers with uncanny life such as in 'The Cinema' or when she goes for the heart like in 'Fever' where we find the venerable master of the weird still exploring the byways of his beloved London and finding solace in the now ancient soil of his own Caerleon and still sharing those adventures with those who need them.

'Through the Storm' is one of those curious books that seems like it should whizz past.  Each story takes no more than a few minutes to read but I quickly found myself eking it out over the course of several weeks and dipping in each day eager to see where she was taking me today.

Buy it here - UK / US.

Read Rosalie's '3 Wyrd Things' here.

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Sunday, 14 March 2021

Satan's Slave

'Satan's Slave' is the first of a trio of horror films released between 1976 and 1978 by director Norman J Warren who died earlier this week (11/3/21).  

Travelling to visit the uncle and cousin she'd previously known nothing about - never a good sign - Catherine Yorke (Candace Glendenning - 'Tower of Evil' (UK / US) & 'The Flesh and Blood Show' (UKUS)) is involved in a car crash that kills her parents.  Recuperating in her Uncle Alexander's mansion and getting to know her creepy and psychotic cousin Stephen (Martin Potter) whilst experiencing vivid flashbacks to the torture and murder of a young woman she remains entirely unaware of their true nature and the plans they have for her.

'Satan's Slave' with it's country house and it's nefarious necromancers owes a debt to the films of the Hammer and Amicus studios and the books of Dennis Wheatley but this is pure 1970s hexploitation never missing an opportunity to put a male character in a robe or to get a female character out of hers.  Neither Glendenning nor Potter have much in the way of screen presence but Michael Gough with his effortless portrayal of the suavely devilish Alexander and Barbara Kellerman as his secretary Frances both have talent to spare.


The story moves at a snail's pace and there really isn't enough here to fill it's 80 minute runtime and would have benefitted from losing 20 minutes or so but as a low budget schlock horror with it's toes dipped in both the Brit horrors of the past decade and the new Euro horrors of the (then) current decade it's an interesting and fun watch.

Buy it here - UK / US.




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Saturday, 6 March 2021

Peel Sessions 26

The music from week twenty six and our final week of our celebration of the 37 years worth of Peel Sessions.

This week...
The Vapors (1979)
Brand X (1976)
The Clash (1978)
Urusei Yatsura (1996)
Broadcast (2003)
The First 3 Peel Sessions: Traffic, Tomorrow, The Pink Floyd (1967)













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Tuesday, 2 March 2021

The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again

M. John Harrison
Gollancz

Shaw had a breakdown, but he's getting himself back together. He has a single room, a job on a decaying London barge, and an on-off affair with a doctor's daughter called Victoria, who claims to have seen her first corpse at age thirteen.
It's not ideal, but it's a life. Or it would be if Shaw hadn't got himself involved in a conspiracy theory that, on dark nights by the river, seems less and less theoretical...
Meanwhile, Victoria is up in the Midlands, renovating her dead mother's house, trying to make new friends. But what, exactly, happened to her mother? Why has the local waitress disappeared into a shallow pool in a field behind the house? And why is the town so obsessed with that old Victorian morality tale, The Water Babies?
As Shaw and Victoria struggle to maintain their relationship, the sunken lands are rising up again, unnoticed in the shadows around them.

From his unlovely and lonely bedsit Shaw lives a life of dislocation and vague disinterest.  His life is stalled and he has little interest in restarting it.  A chance meeting in a graveyard nets him a new job delivering mysterious but seemingly mundane parcels around the country, attending séances and answering the phones on a barge-cum-office for a one man publisher / website.

Meanwhile, Shaw's occasional lover Victoria has taken up residence in her deceased mother's house in the Midlands where she meets a cafe owner with a fondness for water and the strange group that make up her (Pearl's) extended family.

Essentially we are treated to two views of a series of events as enigmatic as any Robert Aickman story and throughout I couldn't shake the feeling that what I was reading was a 21st century British reinvention of Lovecraft's Innsmouth stories as strange, aquatic beings slowly populate the land.  It's far less straightforward than that though as Harrison avoids explanatory clichés and amidst the strangeness tells a very human story of obsessions, of strained and confused personal interactions and of the difficulties of communication in a time when it is essentially easier than ever to reach out but perhaps harder than ever to be heard and understood.

Buy it here - UK / US.

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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 welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

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