Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Travelling Bag & Other Ghostly Stories

Susan Hill
Profile Books

From the foggy streets of Victorian London to the eerie perfection of 1950s suburbia, the everyday is invaded by the evil otherworldly in this unforgettable collection of new ghost stories from the author of The Woman in Black.
In the title story, on a murky evening in a warmly lit club off St James, a bishop listens closely as a paranormal detective recounts his most memorable case, one whose horrifying denouement took place in that very building.
In 'The Front Room', a devoutly Christian mother tries to protect her children from the evil influence of their grandmother, both when she is alive and when she is dead.
A lonely boy finds a friend in 'Boy Number 21', but years later he is forced to question the nature of that friendship, and to ask whether ghosts can perish in fires.
This is Susan Hill at her best, telling characteristically flesh-creeping and startling tales of thwarted ambition, terrifying revenge and supernatural stirrings that will leave readers wide-awake long into the night.

This lovely looking little collection came into my hands only recently but the inclusion of an occult / psychic detective story will always help a book to leap frog it's way up the reading pile.  As it happens that one was probably the least satisfying story of the four.

Opening the collection is the title piece with it's psychic investigator or as I'm going to think of him a 'psychic noticer' because he does little investigating in what is a fairly rudimentary sort of revenge tale with a nice ending but the framing device about the detective is a little pointless.

The second story is kinda lovely but feels entirely underdeveloped as we, perhaps, get to meet 'Boy Twenty One' in a jumble of comings and goings.

The longest story here, 'Alice Baker', again seems slightly lacking in development as a new worker joins a close knit team of office workers.  There's much to like and Hill builds the atmosphere beautifully but the crisis point is confusing (the sudden and rather pointless appearance of the child) and the newspaper revelation ending was just piffle.

The book ends with it's most successful story as a well meaning couple invite his malicious stepmother to live in 'The Front Room' only for things to go bad fast.  It reminded me of some of Joan Aiken's creepier moments as the children feel the full force of her malice.

A mixed reception then for the 4 stories most of which could have benefited from a strong editorial hand but equally none of them stay around long enough to bore - indeed I'd have liked the second story to have stayed longer - and the book itself was a nice accompaniment to a quiet evening with a glass of something tasty.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Sapphire & Steel: Counting Out Time

In the pantheon of Wyrd Britain TV there are a couple of shows that sit above them all; Sapphire and Steel is most assuredly one of them.  From the perfect casting of the two leads,  Joanna Lumley's icily, beautiful 'Sapphire' and the cool, unbreakable, inflexiblity of David McCallum's 'Steel' to Peter J. Hammond's gloriously inventive scripts and the isolated, claustrophobia of the settings.

We've discussed the show on Wyrd Britain before - here - so today I'd like to show you a short retrospective featuring the two leads, the writer and producer Shaun O'Riordan reminiscing about their time on the show.

Enjoy.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Delia Derbyshire

Today - May 5th 2017 - marks what would have been the 80th birthday of the composer Delia Derbyshire, the lady responsible for, as I'm sure you all know, that theme tune.

Delia joined the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1962 and stayed there for 11 years her music appearing on programmes such as 'Doctor Who', 'Out of the Unknown' (for which she wrote 'Ziwzih Ziwzih OO-OO-OO') and later through her work for the Standard Music Library on shows like 'The Tomorrow People' and 'Timeslip'.

Outside of her television work Delia was also part of White Noise who produced the phenomenal and pioneering 'An Electric Storm' LP, for radio she collaborated with dramatist Barry Bermange on the hallucinogenic 'Inventions for Radio: The Dreams' and with film-maker Anthony Roland on the film of Pamela Bone's photography, 'Circle of Light'  the soundtrack of which has recently been unearthed by Buried Treasure's Alan Gubby and released by Trunk Records.

Delia died on 3rd July 2001 leaving a massive back catalogue of music, much of which remains unheard, unreleased and unappreciated.

So, in memory of the great lady here are two documentaries celebrating her work.

Happy birthday Delia.

 

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The List of Seven

Mark Frost
Hutchinson 

Dark Brotherhood
As the city of London slumbers, there are those in its midst who conspire to rule the world through the darkest and most nefarious means. These seven, seated in positions of extraordinary power and influence, marshal forces from the far side to aid them in their fiendish endeavour.
Force of One
In the aftermath of a bloody séance and a terrifying supernatural contact, a courageous young doctor finds himself drawn into a malevolent conspiracy beyond human comprehension.
All or Nothing
The future is not safe, as a thousand-year reign of pure evil is about to begin, unless a small group of stalwart champions can unravel the unspeakable mysteries behind a crime far more terrible than murder.

On Christmas Eve, whilst at home reading, a young doctor named Arthur Conan Doyle is surprised to find under his door a letter asking him to attend a seance the next day in order to help the writer, a young woman.  So begins an exhausting adventure for the Doctor as he is saved from attack by an enigmatic young man who, along with a small crew of 'Regulars' is involved in an investigative hunt for the shadowy figure who lurks behind all the crime in England.

Now, I'm sure much of this sounds very familiar and the book is framed as Doyle's inspiration for the creation of his most famous character.  The story is an exhausting ride that reminded me very much of the Robert Downey Jr Sherlock movies and also G.W. Dahlquist's 'Glass Books of the Dream Eaters' series.  The latter in particular as they share a mix of science and magic without seemingly what to do with either and ending up not doing much them at all.

The plot never sits still and neither do the characters. The ending when it comes is sudden and a little unsatisfying but I was mollified slightly by the various codas that take the stories further but at a remove.  Frost's writing is dense but easy and with little to remind you of his TV background in the deluge of reflection and puzzlement that makes up Doyle's internal monologue.

I often found myself thinking that the book essentially was just Frost entertaining himself playing with some favourite characters but luckily along the way he managed to entertain me too.

Buy it here: The List of 7

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Shadow-Cage and Other Tales of the Supernatural

Philippa Pearce
Puffin Books

A collection of stories, both haunting and mysterious, created from everyday life and ordinary things.

Philippa Pearce is probably far better known as the author of classic children's book, 'Tom's Midnight Garden' than for anything else which, if the contents of this little Puffin anthology are anything to go by, is a real shame.

The 10 tales here show a lively and inventive imagination able to be macabre ('The Shadow-Cage'), funny ('The Dog Got Them' & 'Guess'), gentle ('Miss Mountain'), poignant ('At The River Gates'), strange ('Her Father's Attic'), brutal ('The Running Companion'), sentimental ('Beckoned'), vicious ('The Dear Little Man With His Hands in His Pockets') and a little bit silly ('The Strange Illness of Mr Arthur Cook').

As a book it is the quickest of reads - an afternoon - but that doesn't detract from the enjoyment of running around in the lady's imagination for a while. 

Available here: The Shadow Cage and Other Tales of the Supernatural

Sunday, 9 April 2017

The Changes

The Changes is a 1975 BBC serial based on the trilogy of books by Peter Dickinson.  It tells the story of a sudden, intense noise that triggers a terror and a hatred for all technology more advanced than cutlery and after an orgy of smashing reverts the country to the level of medieval times.  Through this bleak new (old) world we follow schoolgirl Nicky Gore (Victoria Williams) in her travels to find safety, family and ultimately the cause of 'the noise'.

After becoming separated from her parents Nicky attaches herself to a Sikh family who, unaffected by 'the noise', are very sensibly leaving the desolation of the cities to find a safe haven in the countryside before striking out on her own.  Along the way she is involved in a deadly battle with bandits, is accused of witchcraft and is involved in a cross country tugboat chase all of which she endures with a calm, practical, stoicism that shows such events were par for the course for a young girl in 1970s Britain.

Having been shot on film 'The Changes' still looks as good today as it did at the time and the 10 episode run means the story is allowed time to develop although it could have maybe done with being pruned by a half hour or so.  The first half of the story - mostly taken from 'The Devil's Children', the third book in Dickinson's trilogy - is arguably the more cohesive but this is no surprise as it's the closest to the source material - the only one in the series to feature Nicky.  The second half which takes much of it's story from the second novel, 'Heartsease', feels a little wobbly in places and lacks some of the conviction of the first half but still moves the story along admirably to it's rather odd conclusion.

This is classic 'Wyrd Britain' television that easily stands alongside not just other kid friendly shows of the time such as 'Children of the Stones' but, with it's darker hued moments of murder, xenophobia and religious tyranny, also with more adult orientated shows such as 'Survivors ' and that the whole thing is soundtracked on synth (and occasional sitar) by BBC Radiophonic Workshop stalwart Paddy Kingsland is a very welcome added bonus.

All 10 episodes can be found below (I couldn't get the playlist to embed) or you can buy it here - The Changes (2-Disc DVD Set) .

Enjoy.



THE CHANGES épisode 1/10 (1975) V.O... by nicholas-dubreuil


THE CHANGES épisode 2/10 (1975) V.O... by nicholas-dubreuil


THE CHANGES épisode 3/10 (1975) V.O... by nicholas-dubreuil


THE CHANGES épisode 4/10 (1975) V.O... by nicholas-dubreuil


THE CHANGES épisode 5/10 (1975) V.O... by nicholas-dubreuil


THE CHANGES épisode 6/10 (1975) V.O... by nicholas-dubreuil


THE CHANGES épisode 7/10 (1975) V.O... by nicholas-dubreuil


THE CHANGES épisode 8/10 (1975) V.O... by nicholas-dubreuil


THE CHANGES épisode 9/10 (1975) V.O... by nicholas-dubreuil


THE CHANGES épisode 10/10 (1975) V.O... by nicholas-dubreuil

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Revbjelde LP

As regular readers of Wyrd Britain may know I've spent large chunks of the last 2 years fairly immobile having badly broken the same leg twice within a year which in both cases has required surgery, metalwork and months of physio.  This being the case I've had plenty of time to do three things.  I watched an awful lot of really crappy daytime TV until my television mercifully died and I decided not to replace it - please trust me when I say not even morphine can make most of it watchable.  The other two things were to read copious amounts of books and listen to a hell of a lot of music.

As I'm sure is the case with many of you I have shelves full of books here waiting to be read so each morning  my partner would put a few of them on the table next to a thermos of tea and head off to work leaving me to work my way through them.  Music was a different problem though.  I've always been a magpie for music, constantly looking for the next shiny thing to catch my eye, and so I quickly got bored of the few CDs that were to hand and had no way of getting to the record player - or even the room it was in for that matter - so I started trawling eBay and the like for new CDs to buy.

I started by filling gaps in my collection like Einsturzende Neubauten's 'Lament', Boards of Canada's 'In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country', solo albums by members of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop such as Peter Howell & John Ferdinando's 'Alice Through The Looking Glass', Trunk Records releases that I didn't have, Adrian Corker's 'The Way of the Morris' OST being the stand out which sent me down a long and winding path of soundtracks including Bullet's 'The Hanged Man' and a whole clutch of fantastic ITC multi-disc sets of things like 'The Prisoner', 'Strange Report', 'Jason King' and 'Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased)'.  I grabbed a few jazz classics that I'd neglected over the years, a couple of folk things and a whole bunch of the weird and wonderful experimental extravaganzas that have been my aural bread and butter for the last 20 odd years.

In amongst this all, via hearing about an upcoming John Baker album called 'The Vendetta Tapes', I was pointed in the direction of a label I'd not heard of before by the name of Buried Treasure and oh what a day that was.  There was only a few things available at the time and within half an hour (and with one exception because I'm a sucker for 7" singles)  I'd bought everything they had that didn't require me to climb stairs to the record player.  It was all gold - and Buried Treasure dominated the Wyrd Britain Best of 2015 - but the one I kept returning to again and again was 'The Weeping Tree' ep by the implausibly named Revbjelde.  It's gently exploratory electronic folk music seemed to encapsulate the type of things I'd been buying and listening to all the time I'd been laid up.

2016 saw them release another ep - 'Buccaboo' - with it's slightly more aggressive and experimental bent it was a more intense experience than it's predecessor and again proved that it's makers were a prospect well worth keeping an eye on.

Now, as we slowly emerge from what seemed like a particularly grey winter Revbjelde have blessed us with a full album that is bursting with colour.  For those of you who've grabbed the ep's a few of the tunes here are going to sound a tad familiar as the album features tracks from both of it's predecessors alongside some shiny new tunes but you're not going to mind because they all sound so damned good together.

'Revbjelde' - the album - is a pot pouri, a smorgasbord even, a veritable cornucopia of styles and sounds.  Revbjelde - the band - wear their influences proudly and the album shifts from ethereal (almost Clannadish) folk - 'The Weeping Tree' - to Volcano the Bear style freak-folk experimental improvisation - 'Port of Arundel'.  They bring a laid back and filmic lounge jazz vibe to 'Out of the Unknown',  there's a fantastic Angelo Badalamenti feel to 'Buccaboo' and 'Tidworth Drums' is Neu!-tastic krautrock gold.

The end result is that rarest of things, an album that effortlessly crosses boundaries and blurs distinctions without ever feeling like it's forcing itself into ill-suited or poorly conceived shapes, it has a flow and an internal logic that feels both natural and honest and above all it's beautifully played, immaculately presented and just a frankly ridiculous amount of fun to listen to.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Shadows Over Baker Street

Michael Reeves & John Pelan (eds)
Del Rey

Sherlock Holmes enters the nightmare world of H.P. Lovecraft 
New Tales of Terror! 
What would happen if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's peerless detective, Sherlock Holmes, and his allies were to find themselves faced with Lovecraftian mysteries whose solutions lay not only beyond the grasp of logic, but beyond sanity itself. In this collection of original tales, twenty of today's cutting-edge writers provide answers to that burning question.
Contributors include Neil Gaiman, Brian Stableford, Poppy Z. Bright, Barbara Hambly, Steve Perry, and Caitlin R. Kierman. These and other masters of horror, mystery, fantasy and science fiction spin dark tales within a terrifyingly surreal universe.

I've known of this book for quite a while after happening across a copy of the Neil Gaiman story 'A Study in Emerald' in one of his anthologies.  Just how good that story is notwithstanding I always felt that the melding of the world's of Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft's mythos was a fairly daft idea.  Holmes' world is the antithesis of Lovecraft's creation which shows in some of the clodhopping attempts to shoehorn one into the presence of the other in this collection.  It strikes me that the only truly effective way of doing this would be to utterly abandon the Holmes reality and retain only the characters.  You would need to abandon Holmes' rational mind set and instead reinvent him as an occult detective with the supernatural playing a part throughout his life rather than a sudden, "Oh look, a monster!" or a "Watson, there's something I never told you..." both of which make numerous appearances here.

It isn't all awful though, not by a long stretch, and indeed there was only one story that truly taxed my patience but equally only one that I can honestly say I enjoyed and that one opened both the book and this review.

If you're a fan of that whole literary mash-up genre then you may well find much to like here but for me it was an interesting experience but one where most of those involved failed to really get stuck into the concept and do anything truly interesting.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Greenwitch

Susan Cooper
Puffin Books

Simon, Jane, and Barney, enlisted by their mysterious great-uncle, arrive in a small coastal town to recover a priceless golden grail stolen by the forces of evil -- Dark. They are not at first aware of the strange powers of another boy brought to help, Will Stanton -- nor of the sinister significance of the Greenwitch, an image of leaves and branches that for centuries has been cast into the sea for good luck in fishing and harvest. Their search for the grail sets into motion a series of disturbing, sometimes dangerous events that, at their climax, bring forth a gift that, for a time at least, will keep the Dark from rising.

This third book in Cooper's 'The Dark is Rising' series turned out to be an absolute joy.  The first was a bit 'Tally-ho chaps' Famous Five style frolicking and the second, despite being a huge improvement and thoroughly enjoyable lacked any sense of jeopardy as everything in the story just felt like it was entirely preordained for young Will and all he really had to do was sit back and go along for the ride. This instalment brings together the protagonists of the first two in an uncomfortable alliance back in the town of Trewissick at the time of the making of the 'Greenwitch' in order to locate the Grail instructions lost in the battle at the end of the first book. 

The story here is a much more cohesive, well plotted and enjoyable read than the previous two volumes, and when I say much I really do mean much.  The others were an OK way to while away a lazy afternoon but I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

I'm not quite sure why poor Will wasn't allowed to confide in the other 3 about his true nature and so had to endure their ill manners but from the making of the Witch through the travels to the other realm and the battle with the agent of the Dark and the angry Witch I was hooked.

The narrative moved at an easy lope and there was no padding that I noticed.  The improvement / growth in Cooper's writing from the first to this is immense and the confidence she shows in playing with her world is a joy. I am genuinely excited to read the next two books.

Buy it here: Greenwitch (The Dark Is Rising)

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Murder at the Vicarage

Agatha Christie
Harper Collins / Collins Crime Club

Murder at the Vicarage marks the debut of Agatha Christie’s unflappable and much beloved female detective, Miss Jane Marple. With her gift for sniffing out the malevolent side of human nature, Miss Marple is led on her first case to a crime scene at the local vicarage. Colonel Protheroe, the magistrate whom everyone in town hates, has been shot through the head. No one heard the shot. There are no leads. Yet, everyone surrounding the vicarage seems to have a reason to want the Colonel dead. It is a race against the clock as Miss Marple sets out on the twisted trail of the mysterious killer without so much as a bit of help from the local police.

It has been a good long while since I had as much fun reading a book as I did with this one.  I've loved the various Miss Marple TV series for years but have never taken the plunge into the novels but when I found a stack of them in the local Oxfam I jumped at them.

Originally published in 1930 this is the first of the Marple books - although not the first published Marple story - and tells the story of the murder of the unpleasant Colonel Protheroe in the vicarage of the town of St Mary Mead.  The story of the investigation is told by the vicar and features a number of wryly funny observations, particularly with regard to the nosiness, insightfulness and mistrust of human nature of his elderly neighbour Miss Jane Marple, saying she 'always knew every single thing that happened and drew the worst inferences.'

Having seen several adaptations I already knew the various twists of the story so as a whodunnit it's effectiveness was difficult to gauge but it was assuredly, most satisfyingly convoluted but it was the unexpected humour that had me laughing aloud at several points that made this a real joy to read.

Buy it here: The Murder at the Vicarage (Miss Marple)