Sunday, 25 June 2017

Knights of God

The Knights of God is a dystopian science fiction series made by TVS and broadcast in 1987.  It tells of the aftermath of a brutal takeover of the UK by the titular 'Knights', a fascist religious order under the control of Prior Mordrin (John Woodvine) and the creepy Brother Hugo (Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes).  Opposing the Knights is the resistance led by Patrick Troughton's Arthur and its various regional leaders like Owen Edwards (Gareth Thomas) in Wales and Colley (Don Henderson) in the Wasteland (formerly known as Lancashire and SouthYorkshire).

The story centres around Owen's son (and Uri Geller lookalike) Gervase (George Winter) who, along with much of the remaining population of Wales, is forcibly interned in a re-education camp in the north of England where he becomes increasingly embroiled in the machinations of the various factions vying for control of the country.

'Knights of God' is perhaps justifiably forgotten, it's obscurity not just a result of it's unavailability on home media.  The more recognisable faces in the cast are their usual reliable selves throwing themselves into the job at hand with aplomb but neither of the two young leads are particularly engaging or believable and at 13 episodes it's a little long.  As a Wyrd Britain artifact though it has it's merits not least in the casting of both the Second Doctor and Roj Blake but also as Patrick Troughton's last transmitted role.  It does have it's moments especially if, like me, you're a sucker for these sort of shows and wobbly sets and ropey acting have never been much of a barrier to enjoyment.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Fenstanton Witch

I  recently stumbled upon this M. R. James story in an anthology called 'Tales of Witchcraft' edited by the late, great Richard Dalby which was the first time the story had appeared in print in a book.  Subsequent collected editions of James' stories have included the story but as mine predates 'Tales of Witchcraft' this came as a very nice surprise indeed.

The story tells of the efforts of two teachers at King's College, Cambridge and their attempt to harness the powers of a recently killed witch for their own nefarious ends.
The recording is taken from 'The Complete Ghost Stories of M. R. James: Volume 2' and is read here by David Collings who some of you may know as 'Silver' in 'Sapphire and Steel' and also as the English language voice of the titular character in 'Monkey', the theme tune to which I'm sure has just earwormed it's way into your head (it's in the link back there if you want to hear it).  He is an excellent reader and his many years of experience with companies such as the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company means his delivery is spot on and he gives the story (and the others in the set) just the right level of gravitas.

Enjoy.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Fuzzy-Felt Folk : Collection Of Rare,Delightful Folk Oddities For Strange Adults

Regular readers of Wyrd Britain will know that I have an abiding love for the label Trunk Records.  Ever since Jonny Trunk became the first person to release The Wicker Man soundtrack back in 1998 I've been hooked.  That he followed it with things such as the Dawn of the Dead OST, music from the Clangers, Ivor the Engine, The Tomorrow People and so very much more only cemented my love of the label.

In amongst all this televisual shenanigans trunk has also mined a bountiful seam of outsider music from the forgotten corners of both this odd little country and others just as wonderfully weird.  A hunt through the archives will reveal music from BBC Radiophonic Workshop pioneers Daphne Oram, John Baker, Delia Derbyshire and Tristram Carey,  UK jazz creators like Tubby Hayes and Basil Kirchin who has become almost a centrepiece of the labels output.

One of Kirchin's compositions, 'I Start Counting', opens this collection of whimsical and sometimes obtuse music. Joining Mr. Kirchin on the album are such folk as the Barbara Moore Singers, Pierre Arvay with his classic 'Merry Ocarina' (which some of you will remember from 'Vision On'), Reg Tilsley, The Piggleswick Folk and more.

It is a frankly ridiculously cheerful and quaint selection.  As a CD it's one that has a tendency to come with me on long drives as it never fails to lighten the mood but equally it's just as good on a quiet summer evening with a glass of something tasty.

Buy it here (or listen below) - Fuzzy-Felt Folk


Saturday, 10 June 2017

All Hold Hands and Off We Go

Keith Seatman
K.S. Audio
CD

We at Wyrd Britain are long time fans of the work of the estimable Mr Seatman.  Over on our old music blog - Wonderful Wooden Reasons - and here on WB we've sung his praises on several occasions with his last album, 'A Rest Before the Walk', being a real favourite around here that still gets brought out to play pretty regularly.

Keith's music, particularly of late, offers a twisted pastoral and darkly bucolic melding of electronic music and english folk, the latter in collaboration with North Devon Singer/Songwriter Douglas E Powell.

This is music that is redolent of place and time and like all good hauntological music the exact location of each is fluid and never entirely specific.  It's music of a lost Albion, a windswept land of steel skies and old ways, of dark, satanic mills built upon psilocybin drenched earth fertilised by the endlessly copulating ghosts of generations of cunning folk. Through it's hands runs a stream of British outsider music from Coil to Bowie at his most enigmatic and it feels like it's redefining the boundaries of what constitutes a truly British music.

Friday, 9 June 2017

The Enemy (books 1-3)

Charlie Higson
Puffin Books

Probably more famous in the UK as one of the stars of the comedy series 'The Fast Show', Charlie Higson has been a published author since the early 90s although it's the two series of YA books - 'Young Bond' and 'The Enemy' - that he's produced since 2005 for which he has become most acclaimed.  Being in no way a fan of the films I've little interest in the former series but as a fanatic for anything with a post-apocalypse setting I was very keen to give the latter series a try.  I read the first two in the series a few years ago and enjoyed but then got distracted by other things until a recent find of the first three as a pack proved too enticing to resist so I dived back in.

..................................................................

Book 1: The Enemy

Charlie Higson's The Enemy is the first in a jaw-dropping zombie horror series for teens. Everyone over the age of fourteen has succumbed to a deadly zombie virus and now the kids must keep themselves alive.
When the sickness came, every parent, police officer, politician - every adult fell ill. The lucky ones died. The others are crazed, confused and hungry.
Only children under fourteen remain, and they're fighting to survive.
Now there are rumours of a safe place to hide. And so a gang of children begin their quest across London, where all through the city - down alleyways, in deserted houses, underground - the grown-ups lie in wait.
But can they make it there - alive?


Written very much in the spirit of Wyrd Britain literary hero John Christopher the first of Charlie Higson's post-apocalypse zombie horror series 'The Enemy' posits a world where a sudden outbreak of disease has turned everyone over the age of 14 into a puss covered, homicidal, cannibalistic maniac.  We join the action about a year after the outbreak as a group of kids living in a Waitrose come to realise that the way they've been living is not entirely viable and so, on the advice of a new arrival, decide to relocate to Buckingham Palace.  Alongside this we follow the adventures of 'Small Sam' as he escapes from the grown ups - variously known as 'Fathers', 'Mothers', 'Sickos' - that capture him at the books beginning as he travels across a ravaged London.

It's a brutally gory read written as a deliberate response to the lack of risk to the main character in the 'Young Bond' series and Higson has gleefully picked up John Christopher's apocalyptical torch and has taken the uncompromising desolation and isolation and grimness of 'The Empty World' and added the millennial monster de rigueur, the zombie, and created a truly fabulous piece of work.  One that is about friendship and tenacity, about madness and purpose and about hope and family whilst also being about adventure and gore.  Lots and lots of gore.

Buy it here: The Enemy


Book 2: The Dead

'The Dead' begins one year "before" the action in 'The Enemy', just after the Disaster. A terrible disease has struck everyone sixteen and over, leaving them either dead or a decomposing, flesh-eating creature. The action starts in a boarding school just outside London, where all the teachers have turned into sickos. A few kids survive and travel by bus into the city. The bus driver, an adult named Greg, seems to be unaffected by the disease. Then he begins to show the dreaded signs: outer blisters and inner madness. The kids escape Greg and end up at the Imperial War Museum. A huge fire in South London drives them all to the Thames, and eventually over the river to the Tower of London.

The second book in Higson's post-apocalypse zombie horror is a prequel of sorts as it tells of the early days of the outbreak and the journey of one group of kids from the countryside to the relative safety of London.

Through the course of the book we meet a number of characters who while not exactly familiar are folks that we've met in some form or other in the previous volume.  Higson populates his books with semi-believable characters who are sometimes maybe a little too indomitable but at the same time make for good action heroes as they work / fight for survival.  The characters grow as their journey progresses and in the spirit of the series many fall along the way including those you expect to rise to the top.

Another enjoyable non stop romp across a nicely ravaged landscape that keeps this series moving forward in a most enjoyable manner.

Buy it here:  The Dead (The Enemy Book 2)


Book 3: The Fear

He doesn't know it but Dognut is about to set off a chain of events that will affect every kid in the city. The sickness struck everyone over the age of fourteen. Mothers and fathers, older brothers, sisters and best friends. No one escaped its touch. And now children across London are being hunted by ferocious grown-ups . . . they're hungry. They're bloodthirsty. And they aren't giving up. DogNut and the rest of his crew want to find their lost friends, and set off on a deadly mission from the Tower of London to Buckingham Palace and beyond, as the sickos lie in wait. But who are their friends and who is the enemy in this changed world?

The first of these post-apocalypse kids vs zombies books launched us straight into the action a year down the line.  The second was a prequel that began just after the outbreak and followed a group of kids from the country as they fled into the city to find safety.  This third book bridges the gap between the two and gives alternative viewpoints on some of the events from the first.

'The Fear' begins at the Tower of London almost a year on from the exodus from the fire that ended book 2.  Dognut, Courtney and some others have decided to leave the tower and head off in search of Brooke and the others who escaped in the Tesco lorry.  Along the way they meet up with some groups we've heard about and the Buckingham Palace group we already know.

We get a much closer look here at the backstage scheming of David and Jester and at the latter's journey across London looking for other kids that brings him to the Waitrose and Morrison's kids.  We are introduced to a new character, who takes one of the central roles here, who goes by the rather daft name of Shadowman, who takes it upon himself to spy on the adults as they begin to organise and form into an army.

The book is as easy to read, as unrepentantly bloodthirsty as the previous two and motors along at a similar pace.  I really enjoyed that he's widened the scope of his narrative offering different perspectives on familiar events with the 'History is written by...' truism being echoed by two conflicting characters.

I think I might have to buy the rest of the series.

Buy it here:  The Fear (The Enemy Book 3)

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Tales of the Uncanny and Supernatural

Algernon Blackwood
Spring Books

Tales include The Doll, Running Wolf, The Little Beggar, The Occupant of the Room, The Man Whom the Trees Loved, The Valley of the Beasts, The South Wind, The Man Who Was Milligan, The Trod, The Terror of the Twins, The Deferred Appointment, Accessory Before the Fact, The Glamour of the Snow, The House of the Past, The Decoy, The Tradition, The Touch of Pan, Entrance and Exit, The Pikestaffe Case, The Empty Sleeve, Violence, and The Lost Valley.

This is the second of these massive anthologies of Blackwood shorts that I've ploughed my way through.  Like the last one this book has lived next to my bed for several months and picked up on occasion when I was between reads or simply needed a fix of the great man, as such much of it's a little lost in my memory.  Looking at it now as I sit down to write this, the over-riding feeling I have of the book is one of nature, of the outdoors and the spirits of place.  A scan through the contents confirms this feeling, at least to a point, as included here are such quintessential Blackwoods as 'Running Wolf', 'The Man Who The Trees Loved', 'The Valley of the Beasts', 'The Touch of Pan' & 'The Lost Valley'.

Amongst the other 17 stories we find Blackwood in full flow.  The skin crawling menace of 'The Doll', the heart tugging poignancy of 'The Little Beggar' and the strangeness and dread of the painting belonging to 'The Man Who Was Milligan'.  Then we have the brief connect with other realms along 'The Trod' and 'Entrance and Exit' other 'people' as in 'The Glamour of Snow' or simply elsewhere in 'The Pikestaffe Case'.

Not everything here works terribly well, 'The Terror of Twins' feels entirely underwritten and 'The Deferred Appointment' is merely a fairly cliched ghost story with little point to it other than a vague impression that a dull life leads to a dull afterlife.  The un-acted upon psychic premonition afforded to the protagonist at the heart of 'Accessory Before the Fact' lends a promising story a rather flat resolution whereas 'The House of the Past' with it's dream imagery and it's psychotic break seem merely to be playing around with one of the great preoccupations (and new occupations) of the times.

The remaining three stories - 'The Decoy', 'The Tradition' and 'The Empty Sleeve' - have little to recommend them, each being fairly run of the mill stories of ghostly weirdness, loss and shapeshifting perfidy.

As with the previous volume a slightly mixed bag of treats but one that definitely erred to the better and with the knowledge that even second rate Blackwood is superior to many of his contemporaries makes this a fun collection to hunt down.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Asterix in Britain (the animated movie)

There are few things in life that bring me as much joy as an Asterix book, there's a big stack of them that I've had since childhood on the shelf behind me.  I love them.  From the glorious art through the subversive naming to the sublime humour written with the outsiders perspective that allows it (and many of the other books in the series) to affectionately spear cultural stereotypes with lethal accuracy.

From the late 60s through to the early 90s various Asterix animated films were produced (at which point they, for some unfathomable reason, switched to live action) and they are a bit of a mixed bunch but when they got it right as they did with '...in Britain' it is a perfect accompaniment to messieurs Goscinny and Uderzo's book. 

For those of you with an ear for these things watch out for
Frank Welker ('Fred' from Scooby-Doo) as 'Anticlimax' and (The Simpson's 'Troy McClure') Phil Hartman as 'Stratocumulus'.

So please sit back, add just a spot of milk in your hot water and enjoy.