Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Buried Treasure - Rare Psych, Moogs & Brass - Remixed

Over the past few years Wyrd Britain's good friend Alan Gubby has been responsible for unearthing and releasing some stunning artefacts from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop archives both in conjunction with Jonny Trunk over at Trunk Records (Alan was instrumental in their two John Baker releases and the more recent Delia Derbyshire 'Circle of Light') and on his own Buried Treasure label where he's released another John Baker collection - the astonishing 'Vendetta Tapes' - and various other neglected gems such as electronic music pioneer Alan Sutcliffe's EMS Synthi explorations.

One of the first things we bought from Buried Treasure was another of their archive digs of electronic music of a slightly different form in the shape of 'Rare Psych, Moogs & Brass' a collection of undeniably funky and downright groovy 'big band grooves, moog synths, psychedelic funk, dub disco & more produced between 1969 & 1981' collected from the Sonoton Music Library.  We're suckers for library music here at Wyrd Britain and this collection of rarities became a fast favourite.

Now we are very pleased to tell you that Buried Treasure has released a companion volume to that album of remixes featuring tunes by the amazing folktronic ensemble Revbjelde, Jung Collective, Zyklus, Monoslapper, Buff Plaza & the frankly gloriously named Jazz Spanky (most - if not all - of which involve Alan in some form or other).  Just like it's parent volume this set is a toe tapping, bum wiggling, head noodling assemblage of tumescent delights that twist and turn the originals into various flavoured cocktails of sleazy, loungey, dancey, acidy, groovy, psychy gold.

If that's got your tastebuds tingling then hit the player below to have a listen or click through to the bandcamp page where you can download the remixes for a paltry £3 or the original CD with the remixes download thrown in for the bargain price of £8 - be quick though at the time of writing there were only 6 left.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 24

Stephen Jones (ed)
Robinson

For nearly twenty-five years The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror has been the world's leading annual anthology dedicated solely to showcasing the best in contemporary horror fiction. Comprising the most outstanding new short fiction by both contemporary masters of horror and exciting newcomers, this multiple award-winning series also offers an overview of the year in horror, a comprehensive necrology of recent obituaries, and an indispensable directory of contact details for dedicated horror fans and writers.
The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror remains the world's leading annual anthology dedicated solely to presenting the best in contemporary horror fiction.


I don't often do modern anthologies - for no other reasons really than I don't find them very often and I have more than enough old ones here to keep me going  - but I came across this one recently and it caught my eye due to the presence of Mark Valentine and Reggie Oliver, the first being a writer I like very much and the second being one I've wanted to check out for a while now.

The collection is bookended by two long reviews of the year (2012) with the first being a what's happened and the second a who's died.  Neither of these interested me much so I skipped them in their entirety. Of the stories, of which there are 22, they are generally pretty sound, which you should hope from the title of the anthology.  There are some big names included here, Neil Gaiman provides a poem which didn't do much for me but I'm generally not much of a poetry buff,  Ramsey Campbell provides a great fun, witchy bingo story full of cackling old women and Joe R. Lansdale has a fairly tasteless and unpleasant zombie tale.

Of the others there were a few standouts, Mark Valentine's 'The Fall of the King of Babylon' is a dark fantasy with interesting and unexpected tinges of Mervyn Peake and of Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane stories, Steve Rasnic Tem's 'Waiting at the Crossroads Motel' had me singing a theme tune to myself (if you're a Brit of a certain age you'll know the one - if not) but offered up a satisfying piece of Loveceraftian mischief whilst Glen Hirshberg's 'His Only Audience' was an interestingly open ended slice of devilish whimsy.  The rest were all readable to varying degrees with none standing out as particular stinkers and provided a suitable distraction as I navigated new year with a stinking cold and has left me quite curious about the other year's collections.

Buy it here - The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 24 (Mammoth Books)

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Shades of Darkness: Seaton's Aunt

Written by Walter de la Mare in 1922, 'Seaton's Aunt' is a psychological horror which tells a tale of cruelty and familial abuse and, perhaps, of psychic vampirism.

Arthur Seaton is a rather meek and nervous boy, bullied at school by his classmates and at home by his domineering aunt.  Following a small kindness he invites the more vigorous and popular Withers home for the holiday where the visitor is shown the deeply unhealthy relationship between the boy and his guardian and is brought into Seaton's confidence regarding what he believes to be his aunt's 'true' nature.  Further visits, as an adult reintroduces Withers to the household and the depths of the antipathy that exists between it's residents.

Adapted in 1983 as part of a little known anthology series, 'Shades of Darkness' this version features Mary Morris as the titular character.  More widely known in Wyrd Britain as the old shaman Panna in the Doctor Who episode Kinda and, in the episode "Dance of the Dead", as one of the many inhabitants of the Number Two chair in The Prisoner, here she turns in an outrageous performance filled with sarcastic vitriol and scenery chewing grandiosity.  As Seaton and Withers, Adam Lal and Joshua de la Mare as the young versions and Paul Herzberg and Peter Settelen as the adult provide sympathetic portrayals of the two very different men but all pale next to Morris' gothic harridan.

Until the final act this is a fairly faithful recreation of the original and when the change, which does rob the story of much of it's supernatural ambiguity, happens I found I didn't really mind all that much with the televised ending being perhaps being as characteristic of the time it was made as much as the, arguably much better, original ending is it's own era and they both conclude with the same devastating final statement.

The version below has embedded subtitles, there is a version on youtube without but that's because the bottom quarter of the screen has been removed.  I found the subtitles to be fairly unobtrusive and hopefully you will too.
The actual film is 51 minutes long with the last 10 minutes of the video below being a loop back to the beginning.

Friday, 19 January 2018

The Best Ghost Stories

Various
Hamlyn

With a title as seemingly clear and straightforward as that one up there you'd imagine that this here 750 page house brick of a book would be chock full of ghostly mayhem but you'd be fairly wrong in your assumption.  There's a little note at the beginning to the effect that they've played fast and loose with the term 'ghost story' and they're not lying. 

Spectral types do figure but they are mostly conspicuous by their absence.  In their stead we have a veritable smorgasbord of the grim, gruesome and ghastly; black magicians (Edward Bulwer-Lytton's 'The House and the Brain' and M.R. James' 'Casting the Runes'), werewolves (Saki's 'Gabriel-Ernest'), other dimensions (Algernon Blackwood's 'The Willows'), ancient evil (H.P. Lovecraft's 'Rats in the Wall'), death itself (Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Masque of the Red Death'), Pan (Arthur Machen's 'The Great God Pan' and E.M. Forster's 'The Story of a Panic'), vampires (J. Sheridan le Fanu's 'Carmilla') and even a spirit or two (Oliver Onion's 'Are You Too Late Or Was I Too Early').

Amongst these are a host of other tales with certain authors featuring multiple times - there are 3 Machen's and 4 Lovecraft's for instance.  There are a few stories that keen anthology readers like myself will know well like W.W. Jacobs' 'The Monkey's Paw' but in general this is an intriguing selection that isn't afraid to sit a longer tale such as the Machen or le Fanu I mentioned earlier alongside a more fleeting tale such as Guy de Maupassant's 'Was It A Dream'.

It's all the better for it too.  The size of the book kept me subsumed in it's various world's for the best part of a fortnight, I even read some of it whilst holidaying at Baskerville Hall which seemed appropriate.  It is a delightfully atmospheric and absorbing read and I applaud the decision for multiple tales as it allowed for a deeper immersion in both an particular writer and in the book itself.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Robert Aickman: Author of Strange Tales

Created by R.B. Russell and Rosalie Parker of Tartarus Press who have been responsible for championing and republishing Aickman's work this is a fascinating documentary of the life and work of a particularly enigmatic author.  With contributions from friends and fans - such as The League of Gentlemen's Jeremy Dyson and author and playwright Reggie Oliver - it tells of his writing, his wider involvement in the arts and his work preserving the canalways of Britain and gives many fascinating insights into the life of this most compelling of writers.


Sunday, 14 January 2018

The Hospice

Robert Aickman was an English writer of  'strange stories' (his term) of which he wrote some 48 that have been collected and reissued most recently by Tartarus Press and Faber & Faber.

Taken from the collection 'Cold Hand In Mine', 'The Hospice' is a deeply unsettling tale of a man stumbling into a situation that he cannot understand when lack of petrol and an inexplicable animal attack lead him to seek refuge in a remote building offering "Good food, some accommodation".

Screened as part of an obscure, late eighties HTV West anthology series called 'Night Voices', The Hospice is a bold and I think mostly successful attempt to film one of Aickman's more inscrutable stories.  The director, Dominique Othenin-Girard (who went on to make Halloween 5 and Omen IV) makes some clunky decisions (the moving statue @1:15) but he creates an uneasy atmosphere characterised by the gurgling radiators of the overheated building, the amorphous creaks and squelches reminiscent of the digesting of the massive portions of food served at dinner and the discordant musical score alternating between ethereal voices and avant garde jazz stabs.  The enigmatic nature of Aickman's story is maintained but in the more blatant world of film and stripped of the elegant obfuscation of the author's prose we are given a far more blatant indication of intent and meaning than in the original.  In the lead role Jack Shepherd (now far more widely known as Wycliffe) is excellent as Maybury as are Alan Dobie (as Hospice maitre d, Falkner) and Jonathan Cecil (as his unexpected room mate, Mr. Bannard) but Marthe Keller is given little to do as Cecille.

This is a story that resides more fully in the weird than in the supernatural it sits more easily alongside Kafka, The Twilight Zone or the works of David Lynch than it does M.R. James or Algernon Blackwood.  It is a phantasmagoric fever dream that drags you into a world both seductive and unpleasant with little justification offered or resolution provided.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Ghost Stories

I've got to admit I wasn't hugely taken by Jeremy Dyson's book of ghostly tales 'The Haunted Book' when I read (some of) it a few years back.  I'm not going to knock it because what I read wasn't bad and he has an obvious love for the genre but the first few stories just didn't really grab me, my interest wandered and I never finished it.  I dislike not finishing a book especially in such a rude and dismissive manner so may have to go back and have another try especially in light of this new trailer for the upcoming 'Ghost Stories' movie written by him
 and Andy Nyman.

Adapted from their play of the same name 'Ghost Stories' tells the story of...

'Phillip Goodman, professor of psychology, arch-sceptic, the one-man ‘belief buster’ – has his rationality tested to the hilt when he receives a letter apparently from beyond the grave. His mentor Charles Cameron, the ‘original’ TV parapsychologist went missing fifteen years before, presumed dead and yet now he writes to Goodman saying that the pair must meet. Cameron, it seems, is still very much alive. And he needs Goodman to find a rational explanation for three stories that have shaken Cameron to his core. As Goodman investigates, he meets three haunted people, each with a tale more frightening, uncanny and inexplicable than the last.'

Now I know you can rarely judge a film by it's trailer - we've all seen amazing trailers for appalling movies and vice versa - but this one has got me really hopeful for something nicely creepy.

Peter Bradshaw reviewing the movie for The Guardian following it's screening at the 2017 London Film festival wrote -

'Ghost Stories is a barnstormer of an entertainment, a fairground ride with dodgy brakes. It’s an anthology of creepy supernatural tales in the intensely English tradition of Amicus portmanteau movies from the 1960s, such as Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, or the Ealing classic Dead of Night.'

- which I must admit has me quite excited for the April release date.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

A Country Still All Mystery

Mark Valentine
Tartarus Press

‘The English landscape was made . . . not just for food and shelter and pleasure, but also for the journey of the soul. There is a field of supernatural stories set in this “other” country, the country of the spirit . . .’ 
In A Country Still All Mystery, Mark Valentine explores how certain writers have used their fiction to convey the idea of numinous terrain, places where we might at any moment stray into the realms of the unearthly and uncanny. 
These essays continue similar literary and antiquarian themes to his well-received earlier volume, Haunted By Books (2015). When and where was the last wolf seen in England? Why were certain lonely houses left beyond parish boundaries? Is there a missing book by T.E. Lawrence? What was the secret history of Cope & Fenwick, liturgical publishers? What became of the original Tower of Moab? 
A Country Still All Mystery will be read with pleasure by those who enjoy the out-of-the-way, the obscure, the eccentric and the outré. It will appeal to anyone who has ever strayed into remote country which seems to be not quite fully in this world.

This is a collection of articles written by Mark over the last few years on various topics that hold his passions but mostly, and at the heart of it, it's about books.  Through it's pages Mark wanders through a host of almost forgotten, half ignored and partially glimpsed authors.  His explorations and explanations of their work is fascinating and delivered in Mark's beautifully crafted prose which adds an entirely extra level of joy to the experience.

photograph by R.B. Russell
Through the course of the various essays we meet authors such as Mary Butts, Oliver Onions, Ronald Frazer, William Hope Hodgson, Randolph Stow, Lord Dunsany, Robert Atkinson, Sarban and of course Arthur Machen (from whose 'The Hill of Dreams' this book takes it's title).  We also get articles on such intriguing topics as the location of the last wolf in England and the assassins of Thomas Beckett,  we learn more about extra-parochial districts - an interest of Mark's that contributed to one of his Connoisseur stories - and several explorations of obscure religious sects.

Books like this are a pleasure I usually like to eke out.  These days I'm far more drawn to fiction than to non so when I do get the urge to read a collection of articles I tend to treat it as an event and read no more than an article a day allowing myself time to digest and ruminate on what I've read.  It can often take me the best part of a month to get through a decent sized collection. I read this one in two days as I simply didn't want to stop.  Mark's energy and enthusiasm is utterly infectious and his subject matter is compelling in the oddest way.

A hugely recommended read for anyone with an interest in the roads less traveled and in the words spoken with a quieter resonance.

Available direct from the publisher (see above)

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Boating for Beginners

Jeanette Winterson
Methuen

A pleasure boat company is transformed when the proprietor, Noah, is chosen by the "One True God" to put "sunny" faith back in the world and women back in the kitchen.

Following on from the success of 'Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit' Winterson decided to rewrite the story of Noah and his ark which, on the surface, seems a fairly odd idea until you've read it and then you'll be convinced that it is a very odd idea indeed.

Winterson's biblical tale is a fever dream of gossip, romance novels, frozen food, celebrity and stupidity. It's of us and a potential end of us but a back then sort of us that's pretty much entirely the same as the now us except with a capricious Frankenstein's dairy deity.

It doesn't work.  I like Winterson when she lets her ideas run wild - 'Sexing the Cherry' is a real favourite - but this is just a bit silly.  The core relationship between the women is fun but the rest is bogged down in absurdities and everything dissolves into a bit of a chore that fizzles out in the end.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Dr. Phibes Rises Again!

Even though he failed in his revenge on the men he blamed for the death of his beloved wife Victoria (Caroline Munro) a newly resurrected Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price) gathers up her immaculately preserved corpse, his mechanical musicians and his glamorous assistant Vulnavia (Valli Kemp) - who has somehow survived having her head dissolved in the previous film although she does look different as  Virginia North was unable to reprise her role due to pregnancy - and heads off to Egypt on a quest for resurrection for his wife and eternal life for them both.

Ranged against him are Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) and Superintendent Waverley ((John Cater) - both returning in their roles from the previous film - and his rival in the search for immortality Darius Biederbeck (Robert Quarry).  In his customary elaborate manner Phibes contrives to murder his way through Biederbeck's team in search of his goal.

With cameos from Peter Cushing, Terry-Thomas, Beryl Reid and John Thaw this sequel is a same but different sort of beast as it's predecessor, it's every bit as elaborately bloodthirsty but played more for laughs, for instance one character (Baker played by Lewis Fiander) is shown reading Henry James' 'The Turn of the Screw' before being crushed to death in a giant screw press.  Price is of course his usual wonderfully melodramatic self but Kemp is a poor replacement as Vulnavia as she lacks the poise and simmering sensuousness of North.

It's an entertaining sequel that tries valiantly to live up to the idiosyncratic original but the over-reliance on comedy, the police double act of Trout and Waverley in particular,  bogs the film down and hampers the story a tad but that said it is still a film unlike most others and a camp monstrosity of divine proportions in it's own right.

Buy it here - Dr. Phibes Rises Again [DVD] - or watch it below.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Between the Minute and the Hour

A.M. Burrage
Herbert Jenkins

I've been stumbling across various Burrage shorts for the last few years - mostly 'Playmates' and 'Smee' but others too - and invested in a copy of his occult detective stories 'The Occult Files of Francis Chard' and I've pretty much loved them all.  This 1960s collection of some of his ghostly tales has been sitting around on eBay for a while now beckoning and flaunting it's unearthly wiles and I was finally pushed beyond temptation when they dropped the price a few quid.

The big pull for me here was the presence of 'Playmates' a story I never get tired of re-reading and which makes me smile everytime but it turned out that the goodies contained within were many.

The book opens strongly with a fun little oddity from which the book draws it's name that sees a shop keeper receive some disproportionate retribution from a fairly uppity gypsy beggar woman before everything gets very dark indeed for a recuperating chartered accountant in the shadow of 'The Hawthorne Tree'.

'Playmates' is next with it's story of a bookish old man and his neglected ward finding their own lives amongst those who lost theirs.  'The Affair at Paddock Cross' is a rather silly follow up tale of circular history or possibly just a fever dream and then 'The Waxwork' which always struck me as a competently written but ultimately daft story of an overactive imagination.

'The Ivory Gods', 'The Green Scarf' and 'The Captain's Watch' all tell stories of items well hidden and the ghosts attached to them.  Of the three it's the second that is the more powerful with it's air of invading, relentless terror.  The first is an amusing dalliance and the last a fairly light tale that borrows a key aspect of it's plot from the Robert Hichens classic 'How Love Came to Professor Guildea'.

The much anthologised 'Smee' and it's ghostly party always reminds me of the 'Christmas Party' segment of 'Dead of Night' a film I've loved since childhood and so can't really read it that other one echoing in my head. 

Trees with unorthodox root nourishment make a second appearance in 'The Oak Saplings' a vividly written but essentially obvious tale of ghostly retribution which gives way to a far more powerfully realised tale of the same in 'One Who Saw'. 

Burrage once again goes for the heart with 'The Garden in Glenister Square'.  It's a story of a life ending and a love realised that tells of a good man refusing to give way to hate even in the face of betrayal and loss and it's quite lovely.

'The Gambler's Room' is an odd take on the idea of possession - by a habit rather than a spirit - that for me never quite took off perhaps because the injured party who we meet at it's beginning seems, well, happy with his circumstances.  The book ends with a fairly traditional haunted house story in 'Browdean Farm' which does give a little twist to the form at it's end.

As I said earlier, even tempted as I was I took sometime in deciding to grab this book.  From what I'd read before I kind of knew it was going to be readable at the very least with the potential of being very good indeed and in the end it proved to be somewhere in the middle.  Burrage was a writer with a strong, personable and enjoyable style and his ideas could be poignant and disturbing.  His tales are straight forwardly told but often manage to raise a chill or two. 

I am, at the final reckoning, very glad I invested in this.  I bought the book specifically to have a nice old hardback copy of 'Playmates' but in the end got so much more.