The evening before the Magickal Battle of Hastings I shall be in London, appearing at the 50th Salon in the City amongst a host of London writers, artists and commentators. 10 of us have 5 minutes each to talk about a character associated with London. My subject is most likely to be Aleister Crowley and his associations with London. See here, although the date should be 30th November.
Talks for 2018 have recently been arranged. A talk on Underground Folklore in Great Britain at Kensington Central Library, an excellent lecture theatre, on Thursday 15th February and another - subject to be confirmed - on Thursday 15th March. More details to follow.
Also a talk on Tunnels Under Holborn for Camden History Society at Burgh House, Hampstead, a very nice venue. See here.
There are still places for the free talk on the Folklore of London at Kensington Library on Monday 23rd at which copies of Netherwood will be on sale. Here
Here's some of the feedback received so far from customers who bought the new edition:
'Netherwood is a beautiful production with the end-papers giving a feel of post-war Britain. The envelope with the brochures is a fine addition and the rich assortment of photos is tempting. I can't wait to read it.'
'It really is beautifully researched and written.'
I'm very excited to be part of this event taking place in the Masonic Hall in St Leonards. I shall be talking about Netherwood early in the evening, Matthew Shaw will be providing accompaniment to a short film and English Heretic will headline with a Boleskine-themed set (with film taken inside the now-ruined house). It's likely that one or two others will be added to the bill - more to follow.
Some more information:
"Matthew Shaw is a Dorset based artist & poet, using landscape perception, site specific recording techniques and meditation as a compositional gateway. Exploring the theory that each piece could only happen within the exact place, time and atmosphere it is created. Working with present tense composition and the spirit of place, 'The last resort' will be performed for the first and only time on December 1st 2017. An imaginal sound work, channelling lost and recreated conversational fragments from Netherwood along with field recordings from the area as it sounds now."
To Chichester last Sunday to see the John Minton exhibition at the excellent Pallant House Gallery. Most of the best works from his tragically short career were on display, including his beautiful book covers for the likes of the influential publisher John Lehmann and best sellers such as Elizabeth David's A Book of Mediterranean Food (1950) and French Country Cooking (1951). I had never seen the large-scale history paintings he produced at the end, but I thought these the least successful in the show - sadly he took his own life in 1957 aged 39.
I would love to have time to see more live music, but it isn't possible at the moment. Just these for now:
Tuesday 10th October Meier Budjana Group (with Asaf Sirkis on drums and Jimmy Haslip bass) Jazz Hastings
Great show. If you are interested in World Music, Prog and Jazz you should catch them on their tour. Amazing playing from all concerned.
The support band Get Your Gun (from Aalborg in Denmark) were very good. Sounds like Brendan Perry from Dead Can Dance singing over guitar from the school of My Bloody Valentine or Spiritualized. Powerful and convincing. More on them here.
Wednesday 25th October Public Service Broadcasting De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill
Thursday 26th October Salon for the City with Sarah Wise and Kim Newman talking about (I hope) Quatermass and the Pit.
I shall be giving a folklore talk in London on Monday 23rd October. Book here. Copies of Netherwood and other books will be on sale.
Watched Psychomania yesterday - a favourite of English Heretic - a kind of zombie biker story. Enjoyable, not scary at all, but with some very effective scenes: the atmospheric opening, showing the slo-mo bikers riding through a stone circle (created for the film) that has importance for the finale; a 360 degree pan around a morgue that initially shows the police guarding one of the gang members pretending to be dead and finishes with the policemen dead inside the glass-fronted chilling cabinets (unlike most movie morgues). The interior design of the gang leader's mother's (played by Beryl Reid) house is also striking - pure late 60s early 70s (the film dates from 1973) with one of those ball-shaped televisions that you only ever see in films or tv shows from the period (did anyone actually own one?). The extensive stunt work is also impressive. There are some funny moments such as the burial of Nicky Henson's gang leader sitting on his bike and some of the dialogue. Soundtrack by noted composer John Cameron whose other credits include Kes.
The cast includes George Sanders as a sinister butler in his last film and a young Robert Hardy whose performance (and accent) is pretty poor. An insightful review here and information on locations here.
Also watched the utterly bizarre Mutations (1974, dir. Jack Cardiff), a mad scientist (Donald Pleasence) genre piece, with a late psychedelic aura, but featuring very unsettling and gratuitous (literally eye-popping) footage of a freak show at its heart. The show is based in Battersea Park, which was interesting to me, as I grew up near there and regularly went to the funfair which also appears, as does an atmospheric Albert Bridge. One of the hapless student characters bears the amusing name Tony Croydon. Despite being facially unrecognisable in disfiguring makeup Tom Baker (just prior to Doctor Who? He already has the long scarf) is still unmistakably Tom Baker. Also another unusual and discordant soundtrack courtesy of Basil Kirchin. Online review here. Day of the Triffids meets Tod Browning's Freaks.
During our summer holiday we visited Mawnan in south-east Cornwall, where a peaceful old church nestles close to the cliff edge in a large churchyard that may be an ancient earthwork. A wedding had just finished and the church was locked, but we were interested in the churchyard and surrounding area.
The church and its environs were alleged to have been the scene - mainly in the mid-1970s - of the appearance of a strange entity known as 'Owlman'. More information here and here. The involvement ofDoc Shiels with the investigation should also be noted. There are also parallels with Mothman.
In one encounter the flying creature was said to have hovered over the church tower. With the aid of my children we recreated this scene (see above). There is a beautiful walk from the church along a coastal path through trees to emerge into a spectacular view over the sea and the estuary of the Helford River. Sadly, owlman failed to swoop. Wandering through the churchyard a couple of fairly recent interments caught my eye: Hugh Scully, one-time Antiques Roadshow presenter (who I didn't know had died) and Patrick Woodroffe (1940-2014) who produced cover art for many Corgi science fiction novels in the 1970s and album covers (Budgie, Judas Priest, Pallas) including that archetypal prog behemoth Dave Greenslade's The Pentateuch of the Cosmogony, for which he also illustrated the accompanying book.
Another memorable visit was to the Poldark Tin Mine, where a knowledgable and expert guide took us around the damp underground passages.
Also had a chance to revisit the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, which gets a mention in Netherwood.
A recent read has been Calvariae Disjecta: The Many Hauntings of Burton Agnes Hall (Information as Material, 2017) edited by Robert Williams and Hilmar Schaefer. I've complained in this blog before about the sloppy nature of the vast majority of 'non-fiction' ghost books that repeat earlier versions of the same story without doing any basic research and sometimes weave new details into the embroidery. The idea of this book is to take all the extant narratives of one ghost story and put them in chronological order so that the reader can see the way in the which the basic text is transformed and enlarged in the retelling, with tropes from other pieces of ghostly folklore interpolated as the legend evolves. In this instance it is the story of the so-called 'Screaming Skull' of Burton Agnes Hall in East Yorkshire. The earliest account traced thus far was printed in The Folklore Journal of November 1880 and the narrative is followed all the way up to paranormal sites on the internet. It makes fascinating reading. Review by Phil Baker in the TLS here.
At its simplest, the narrative concerns a daughter of the hall's owners who was fatally attacked by robbers - before she died she requested that her head be kept in the house; her family instead buried her whole body in the local church (or churchyard) and subsequently all kinds of ghostly goings on occurred until the grave was opened and her (by that time desiccated) skull taken into the house. If it was ever removed for any reason the supernatural outbreaks recurred. I found it amusing to see how details were added or mangled so that, for example, in one much later account the name of the family involved changes from Griffith to Griffin and clanking chains are introduced for the first time. The funniest must be the accounts of the skull rolling out of the house and bowling itself at skittles.
In many versions a maid unwittingly throws the skull from a window where it lands in a passing manure cart (later a cabbage cart) pulled by horses (or donkeys) that refuse to move until the skull is removed. By coincidence, this week I was reading Supernatural Peak District by David Clarke which has a chapter on skulls and stone heads - lo and behold there is exactly the same story attached to Flagg Hall in Derbyshire.
Apparently the Burton Agnes skull was walled up somewhere in the house at some point in the early twentieth century. The book is not so much a folklore study as an art project and also contains a dialogue between the editors and a section of various photographs of the skull motif. The photos of the skull-encrusted tomb in the local church certainly make one wonder whether the origins of the story might lie there.
I have a talk coming up in the excellent lecture theatre at Kensington Central Library on The Folklore of London. Monday 23 October, FREE, with my books on sale at reduced prices. Copies of Netherwood will also be available, but at full price. Details here.
Last Sunday I had the (expensive) opportunity to visit parts of Euston underground station not open to the public, including the deep level interchange ticket office between the C&SLR and the CCE&HR and tunnels closed to the public since the early 1960s. For the history of these tunnels see here. Apart from the abandoned lift shaft and atmospheric dark tunnels the collage effect of the historic film posters still visible on the tunnel walls was an artistic experience in itself. Some photos I took.
Author of Subterranean City, Beneath the Streets of London, London's Coffee Houses, Decadent London, The Folklore of London, Subterranean City (Revised and Expanded Edition), Netherwood, Last Resort of Aleister Crowley, Lord of Strange Deaths, the Fiendish World of Sax Rohmer; Secret Tunnels in England, Folklore and Fact