Sunday, 8 May 2022

 


As part of the Silverhill Press Presents events on 21 May I shall be promoting Accumulator Press and giving a short presentation on the book Netherwood: Last Resort of Aleister Crowley.

The few remaining Accumulator Press books that I have will be on sale: Decadent London, Netherwood, Secret Tunnels of England and there will be the opportunity to crowdfund/pre-order my next book Mansion of Gloom.

Accumulator Press on Big Cartel here

Electro Studios St Leonards on Sea 11-7.

The illustrated Crowley at Netherwood talk will begin at 1pm 

A Talk in St Leonards on Aleister Crowley at Netherwood

 










Tuesday, 12 April 2022

Small Press Fair in St Leonards

 

I shall be representing Accumulator Press at a small press publishing event in St Leonards on Saturday 21 May 2022, organised by Silverhill Press.

It will take place at Electro Studios.

Arrangements are still being made, but it looks as if I will have a stand/table and will be giving a talk at some point about Netherwood. There will also be talks, music and poetry during the day from other publishers.

I imagine it will be free - more details when I get them.

Thursday, 3 March 2022

Whistler Talk March 2022





I have agreed to do an online talk about Whistler, which will go out on the evening of Tuesday 15 March.

Details here.

It's free to book and over 300 people have already made a reservation.

I also hope to sell some copies of Decadent London via Big Cartel and eBay on the night.

Above photos from a recent exhibition of recreations of famous paintings including Whistler's Mother by ethical taxidermists Field and Young. More details on them here.


Tuesday, 8 February 2022

Back in Action

It's time that I returned to this blog, now that I'm feeling better - not 100% but enough to get out and about and do stuff. Obviously COVID has also had a big effect on limiting the boundaries of life.

I've been working for some months on a new book - more in due course. I hope to publish it later this year.

I've been able to keep the Accumulator Press sales going, although Netherwood is out of print and there are only around 30 copies of Decadent London left. I'm hoping to have a stall at a small press fair that has been planned for St Leonards in the spring. News to come.

There may also be some talks - in person and online and maybe one or two walks, if I feel up to it.

There's a lot of catching up to do. I had plenty of time to read a great deal and watch many films (partly as research for the book).

From late autumn I felt well enough to go back to live concerts:

11 September 2021  The Catenary Wires The Piper, St Leonards see here

9 October Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 

31 October  The Nightingales Con Club, Lewes here

21 November Hedwig Mollstad Trio Cafe Oto, Hackney see here

24 November 2021 Black Midi Chalk Brighton see here

Coming Up in 2022

22 January  Porridge Radio  Marina Fountain St Leonards here

1 March   Hastings Fat Tuesday

5 March   Henge The Piper St Leonards here 

27 March  Gong The Forum Tunbridge Wells here 

16 April  Sparks De La Warr Pavilion Bexhill here 

29 April - 2 May Hastings Jack in the Green here

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Layer Marney and Catacleuse







I haven't been posting much this year, as an illness (not Covid), diagnosed in January, has tended to affect my energy levels - hopefully things should be better in a couple of months time when treatment has finished. I have plans for events next year and I've recently started work on what may turn into a new book.

Despite the paucity of new postings, I see that this week the number of total views exceeded 250,000 and there are plenty of other posts to read.

We recently enjoyed a short break in Maldon, Essex, a pretty town, well situated for visiting local sights, one of which was the beautiful church of St Mary the Virgin, Layer Marney. Inside I was impressed by the tomb effigies of the Marney family, but had a problem identifying the unusual stone from which they had been carved. As always, Alec Clifton-Taylor came to my rescue on page 156 of his excellent and comprehensive The Pattern of English Building, an indispensable guide to the building materials: 

 'Akin to dolerite, and another member of the group of rocks loosely termed greenstone, is catacleuse, a rare material deriving its name from the only place where it occurs, Cataclew Point, west of Padstow (so perhaps originally Cataclew's stone?). This can also look greenish in some lights, but normally it is almost black, slightly mottled, and with many spangles of a dark material known as augite. Since it is of finer grain and not as hard as most of the basic igneous rocks, it can be tooled and even carved, as can be seen, surprisingly enough, in the effigies of the first Lord Marney (d.1523) and his son (d.1525) at Layer Marney in Essex. The explanation is that Lady Marney came from Mawgan-in-Pydar, a few miles south of Padstow. It was also chosen for the fine effigy of Prior Vyvyan (d.1533) at Bodmin. As a building stone it is best seen in the church closest to the quarry, St Merryn, and was used for the font and much of the window-tracery at Padstow.'

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Reading and Listening

 





Harry Sword   Monolithic Undertow In Search of Sonic Oblivion (2021)A study of the drone in music that begins with prehistoric acoustics and rapidly advances to Ravi Shankar, Master Musicians of Joujouka, Lamonte Young, Tony Conrad, Pauline Oliveros, Ash Ra Tempel Popol Vuh, drone metal descendants of Black Sabbath such as Electric Wizard, Cathedral, Sleep, Sunn 0)))), and of course Brian Eno. I found the earlier part of the book more interesting as I was already familiar with much of the later material, although it did make me search out music by Cathedral, Electric Wizard and Sleep. Well written, but the word 'heinous' is heinously overused. Nice cover.

Richard Morris Time's Anvil: England, Archaeology and the Imagination (2012) There's something in every chapter to make you rethink some of your assumptions about English history and archaeology.

Christopher Hadley Hollow Places (2019) one of the best folklore books I've read. Hadley goes into massive detail to track down just one local Hertfordshire folktale about a local man slaying a dragon - or is there more to it?   Reviews here and here. General reviews here.

I've been getting back into buying vinyl and am currently listening to Pyramid by Jaga Jazzist, Cheater by Pom Poko and Sweater by Black Midi - looking forward to their new lp out soon. First post-lockdown gig will be Squid at the De La Warr Pavilion Bexhill on 9 June.

Friday, 26 March 2021

Italian Gothic Horror


 






In recent weeks I've been gorging on Italian Gothic Horror films of the 'classic' era: 1957 to the late 1960s. Many of them can be found online, although where possible I've tried to view them on DVD or Blu-ray. One of the few I haven't managed to track down in its full English version is An Angel for Satan Un Angelo per Satana - any help appreciated. 

As my guide I've been using Jonathan Rigby's Eurogothic and the definitive book on the subject: Italian Gothic Horror Films 1957-1969 by Roberto Curti (quite pricey to acquire it has to be said).

My preference is for horror films with atmosphere rather than buckets of gore, although many of these Italian Gothics are more explicit and violent than British films from that time - some versions have brief nude scenes for example. The Ghost (Lo Spettro) includes a grisly razor attack -from Barbara Steele of course - seen from the victim's point of view with the screen gradually reddening, which is very gross for the period. One of the most important early Italian Gothics The Horrible Dr Hichcock has a central character who is a necrophile. The Ghost is a kind of sequel to this film and both are directed by Riccardo Freda, who adopted the alias Robert Hampton as it was thought at that point that British names on the credits made a horror film perform better at the box office.

After viewing a few it becomes difficult to differentiate one film from another: the eldritch castle, billowing curtains, secret passages and the same actors - especially Barbara Steele whose fame rests on her work in this genre - she's still alive at time of writing. If I ever see another hand reach from offscreen to touch an unsuspecting character on the shoulder I'll scream louder than one of the terrified Gothic heroines. I do love the production design of many of these films, again something that Bava excels in, but there are a number of other impressive examples.

The chief influences are clear - it's interesting, as with most movies, that they rely more on previous films than the literary works on which they are often based - Edgar Allan Poe is frequently referenced, but few of these films faithfully recreate any of his stories (he even puts in a personal appearance in the excellent Castle of Blood/ La Danza Macabra 1964).  Roger Corman was making a good job of transferring Poe to the big screen and The Pit and the Pendulum was admitted by many of the Italian directors to be a big influence. Other obvious sources are: Hammer's 1959 Dracula, Franju's Eyes Without a Face, Clouzot's Les Diaboliques and Hitchcock's Rebecca. Vampires are popular, but one recurrent theme is the search for eternal youth or eternal life achieved through blood transfusions, a trope that also occurs in one of my personal favourites The Mill of the Stone Women which substitutes a creepy windmill for the ubiquitous cobwebbed castle and unusually is set in Holland.

Apart from the obvious candidates such as Mario Bava's Black Sunday and Kill Baby Kill (mentioned in a previous blog post) some other favourites were: Nightmare Castle (Mario Caiano 1965), The Whip and the Body La Frusta e il Corpo (directed by Mario Bava, with Christopher Lee administering the flagellation, very explicit for the period) and The Witch/ La Strega in Amore (see here also), a very stylish and absorbing film that's almost Pinteresque in its characterisation. 

My least favourite was The Bloody Pit of Horror (1965) which I thought was terrible - it does however have its fans, see here. The director Domenico Massimo Pupillo's two other forays into the genre are much better: Terror Creatures From the Grave and La Vendetta di Lady Morgan.

Another film I enjoyed recently - a kind of English version of an Italian Gothic is The Black Torment (1964) which I thought was an atmospheric piece that captured the historic period in which it's set. The director Robert Hartford-Davis went on to direct the even more manic Corruption which I reviewed in an earlier post and 1965's Gonks Go Beat (!)




Sunday, 31 January 2021

Another Roman Ghost



Yesterday, as we were in the vicinity, we paid a visit to the village of Brenchley in Kent, principally to see  All Saints church. The church was open, so we had a good look inside, but the main interest was the churchyard, which was very atmospheric on an overcast and drizzling day; also surprisingly extensive and containing a number of large, elaborate and unusually designed tombs. 

Continuing the theme of the previous post, I had read in Alan Murdie's Fortean Times article (The Romans in Britain Part 2 FT365 April 2018 p.17) that the ghost  of a Roman soldier had been reported in the churchyard. The only reference is to a book by Andrew Green called Haunted Kent Today (1977). To quote from Murdie's article: 'we have no named witnesses for the lone Roman soldier (possibly a Roundhead) at All Saints Churchyard, Brenchley ...' The only result of a Google search for this sighting gave me a reference to the FT article, so this is hardly a well-known and attested haunting, also it seems that the figure could have been a Roundhead (!) soldier from the English Civil War, making it even less reliable. Green's obituary written by fellow ghost hunter Peter Underwood, who mentions that he used 'unreliable sources' here - he lived in Robertsbridge, not far from Hastings - see a video of a local haunting here.

Having asked where the Anglo Saxon ghosts were in my previous post, I happened to read some publicity for the new Netflix series The Dig, a dramatisation of the momentous archaeological  discoveries at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk prior to WW2. Someone commented that it was the ghosts of a group of Anglo Saxon warriors seen on the site that made locals think there was something of value buried in the mounds on the estate of Edith Pretty. See here. Last summer, when the lockdown had been eased, we spent a lovely couple of days in Suffolk, visiting Ipswich and Sutton Hoo - the site and its facilities have been recently refurbished and it was a great place to visit. All the treasures are in the British Museum

Addendum: I've just finished reading A Natural History of Ghosts by Roger Clarke and he has an interesting story from his childhood on the Isle of Wight. He was told that the ghost of a centurion haunted a wood near Bembridge, which his family often drove through. 'During the course of my research for the book, I discovered the name of this wood: St Urian's. St Urian was the name of a church and village wiped out by the Black Death. It was not rebuilt and became covered in woodland. St Urian became "centurion". The name made the ghost story.' Much more detail here.



Saturday, 23 January 2021

Roman Ghosts







Why are there so few - if any - sightings of ghosts of Ice Age hunters or other prehistoric peoples in the UK? Come to think of it, I'm not aware of a plethora of Anglo-Saxon reports either. The range of what Owen Davies - in his academic study The Haunted (see below) - calls 'heritage hauntings' was supplemented in more recent years by those of Romans: usually military figures and unusually in groups (legions) rather than a single ghost. Another interesting aspect is that there seems to be a disproportionate number of these 'centurions' and 'legionaries' sighted, compared with everyday Roman or Romano-British inhabitants of these isles. The variety of Roman military equipment for identification can be referenced here for example.

While reading a Christmas present, Haunted Places of Sussex, I came across this account from Chichester, known to the Romans as Noviomagus, a walled settlement on Stane Street - the plan of the city still reflects that of the Roman street pattern. Incidentally it also is the home of one of my favourite art galleries Pallant House.  At 38 Wood Street there has been a public house since the 1780s, from 1992 named The Chichester - the building stands very close to the city's ancient walls. According to the book:

'It has long been claimed that the ghost of a Roman centurion still patrols the old walls and that his passage takes him straight through the pub. If the ghost does date from Roman times it seems more likely that he was a legionary, since a centurion was a senior soldier, a commander - but people have always called him a centurion and so it is pointless to quibble. The patrolling spectre has been seen by many people while others have felt him brush past. The whole figure is not in view, only the top half. This could be explained by different ground levels since Roman times.'  Judy Middleton Haunted Places of Sussex (2005) pp.13-14

Probably the most famous sighting of a Roman 'legion' was made by Harry Martindale in the cellar of the Treasurer's House in York in 1953, but not recorded in print until 1974. See here and here. It also includes the detail of the figures being at a lower ground level.

Another celebrated ghost of a Roman 'centurion' is said to patrol the Strood (pronounced Strode) a causeway that links Mersea Island with mainland Essex to the south of Colchester. The Rev Sabine Baring Gould was the first - in 1904 - to record the local belief that the ghost could be seen at certain times of the year, especially on the night of the autumn equinox, around 23 September. He also notes that the 'ring of swords and the clang of armour' could sometimes be heard at the spot. (Westwood and Simpson Lore of the Land 269-272).

James Wentworth Day - mentioned here in previous posts - wrote that he was told about the centurion by Mrs Jane Pullen, landlady of the ancient Peldon Rose inn. She told him that she was accompanied on a walk from Barrow Hill on the island: 'The steady tramp of a man's feet, like it was a soldier marching, and he caught up with me and walked all the way down to the Strood. I could see no one, yet the feet were close beside me, as near as I could have touched him. I walked down the hill till I came on a man I knew. He was all a-tremble. He shook like a leaf. "I can hear him," he said, "but where is he? I can't see anyone." "Keep all along of me," I said to the man, "and no harm will come to you. 'Tis only one of those old Romans come out of the barrow to take his walk." (J Wentworth Day Ghosts & Witches 44-47).

In 1962 a man was digging in one of the burial mounds at Barrow Hills, when the ground gave way and he fell into a hollowed-out chamber. Archaeologists later discovered some Roman artefacts and an urn containing human ashes - the fabled centurion? At some unspecified date after this two naval officers driving over the causeway at night saw in the headlights a figure wearing a helmet and metal plates. When they stopped the car and got out there was nobody to be seen. (Westwood & Simpson ibid)

There is evidence of pre-Roman and Roman occupation of the island.

It seems that stories of Roman ghosts do not pre-date the 20th century. According to Owen Davies:

'The most recent addition to the corpus of heritage hauntings is also the most venerable - the roman [sic] legionnaire [sic]. A search on the internet reveals numerous sightings in diverse places such as London, Derby, the Isle of Wight and an old Roman road near Weymouth. Some readers will be familiar with a well-known case of a troop of soldiers seen by a plumber working in a York cellar in 1953. However, such sightings are a modern phenomenon, with almost all of them dating to the last fifty years. The earliest reports I have found concern a Roman centurion seen patrolling the Strood, Mersea Island, which was first recorded in 1904 and a ghostly Roman army that marched on certain nights along Bindon Hill, Dorset, to their camp on Ring's Hill during the 1930s. Distinguishing between the ghost of a Bronze Age warrior and an Iron Age one would be the task of an archaeologist, but thanks to "Swords and Sandals" film epics and the inclusion of the Roman invasion in the curricula, the dress of the Roman soldier has become as recognisable as that of a monk or cavalier. Clothes truly make the ghost.' (Owen Davies The Haunted p.42)

Apropos this observation is a passage from a short story by Grant Allen called Pallinghurst Barrow - information and text can be found here and here

'It's a very odd fact', Dr Porter the materialist interposed musingly, 'that the only ghosts people ever see are the ghosts of a generation very, very close to them. One hears of lots of ghosts in eighteenth-century costumes because everybody has a clear idea of wigs and small-clothes from pictures and fancy dresses. One hears of far fewer in Elizabethan dress, because the class most given to beholding ghosts are seldom acquainted with ruffs and farthingales; and one meets with none at all in Anglo-Saxon or Ancient British or Roman costumes, because those are only known to a comparatively small class of learned people, and ghosts, as a rule, avoid the learned ... as they would avoid prussic acid. Millions of ghosts of remote antiquity must swarm about the world, though, after a hundred years or thereabouts, they retire into obscurity and cease to annoy people with their nasty cold shivers. But the queer thing about these long-barrow ghosts is that they must be the spirits of men and women who died thousands and thousands of years ago, which is exceptional longevity for a spiritual being don't you think so ..?'

Fortean Times Ghostwatch writer Alan Murdie wrote a couple of very useful articles called The Romans in Britain on this topic and noted that:

'From the early 20th century, images of Romans became familiar from depictions in cinema, the years 1951-54 (before and immediately after Martindale's experience) being vintage ones for Hollywood treatments of Ancient Rome. Films included Quo Vadis (1951), Androcles and the Lion (1952), Julius Caesar (1953), The Robe (1953), Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954) and Sign of the Pagan (1954), with such imagery re-enforced by film posters and advertising. So could Martindale's experience have been inspired or influenced by exposure to this?' Murdie suggests a psychosocial hypothesis for such sightings, although as he admits 'Psychosocial theories remain nebulous, their appeal owing much to convenience rather than actual evidence.' Murdie also observes that there are very few first-hand accounts with named witnesses of Roman ghosts, citing the Mersea Island spectre as one of the few examples. [Alan Murdie The Romans in Britain Fortean Times 364&365 March and April 2018].