Inspired by Robert McFarlane’s book Holloway, Adam Scovell has made – with participation from the writer himself, the book’s artist Stanley Donwood and the other original collaborators – an 8-minute film that attempts to distill the essence of the book’s themes into a visual palimpsest that I like a lot. It reminds me of Derek Jarman’s Journey to Avebury in terms of the mood it evokes, one of seduction into the deep strangeness of the landscape, a strangeness that being raised in the urban technoswarm tends to leach out of us, but it’s something I find deeply inspiring in terms of my own art. There’s no holloways where I live, but I’ve only got to step off the local cycle path into what remnants of ancient woodland have survived the building of the M4 and successions of housing estates, to find myself in another world, one of birdsong and shredded light that demands a kind of pagan reverence.
Adam Scovell – Holloway
The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.
A 2013 painting, inspired by overdosing on Blake, which is no bad thing. The original painting is now ‘lost’ and I’m sometimes tempted to paint a new version, though to my current tastes this seems a little brash and lurid. That said, my reaction to Blake’s best art has always been akin to my hearing the Sex Pistols for the first time, so perhaps a little brashness is entirely appropriate. I always took the above quote from the man himself as a justification for my life-long aversion to teachers (and, to be honest, to ‘authority’ figures in general), which in turn bolsters my preference for fierce and unapologetic autodidacticism. My daughter is currently going through the modern British school system, the one devised by ‘New Labour’ and perpetuated by the Tories, and seeing how much these kids are being groomed to the dictates of ‘business’ is alarming and depressing. To her credit, she’s already figured out who The Enemy is and will not be falling for any of their nonsense. The choice, as if she needed telling, is simple: why be a tamed horse, when you can be a wild tyger?
In 2007 I found an article in the news about a decades-long mystery in the English Midlands, a long-forgotten story of mystery, murder and witchcraft that had resurfaced after some enigmatic graffiti was found daubed on a crumbling Victorian folly. The article included a photograph of said folly, The Wychbury Obelisk, a spike of stone standing on a bleak-looking hillside under brooding skies. Written on its base in white paint were the words: WHO PUT BELLA IN THE WYCH ELM?
I was immediately fascinated by the story, and still am. My research at the time led to a painting and then to the writing of what I hoped was the definitive study of the case, which all started in 1943 when four Black Country lads were in the woods, looking for bird’s eggs, when inside the trunk of a wych elm tree they found a human skull. The full story that unfolded from there is incredible, involving Nazi spies, Rudolf Hess, Aleister Crowley, corpse-robbing and witchy happenings by moonlight.
The case has always been aligned with another from that time and place – the ritual murder of Charles Walton in Lower Quinton in 1941 – and my article covered both, as it seemed to me that together they expressed something about the technology-reliant city dwellers disquiet for the wild countryside and its ancient ways, the nightside of something to watch while waiting to die tosh like Escape To The Country which finds its most potent expressions in David Pinner’s Ritual or The Wicker Man.
Unable to find anyone who would publish the article, it eventually became part of my true crime magnum opus The Hangman’s Breakfast. Just as I was finishing my two years spent writing that book, my friends in the musical collective The Sinister Insult were preparing to make field recordings at Hagley Wood, the very location of the Bella mystery. These recordings were taken to their Tomb Of Doom studio where producer and aural wizard Anthony Fielding cast his spells. The finished result was a six-track, 60+ minute soundtrack for “a film that need never be made, because no single interpretation could do justice to the strange and haunting story.” Here’s what some had to say about the album:
I am not decrying the profession of accountancy, only its appropriation of competence in every field. And if, as it looms, we are entering on a period biased toward materialism at the expense of progress, then we are in the hands of the accountant, a spiritual Ice Age, where all will be frozen and there will be no risk, and without risk, no movement, and without movement, no seeking, and without seeking, no future. Darkness will be upon the face of the deep. We must get aback of this.
Alan Garner, The Voice That Thunders
I’m not sure how this bloke’s work has passed me by for as long as it has, so it’s thanks to Robert MacFarlane for his piece on ‘Eerie England’ in The Guardian that tipped me off. Richard Skelton is a British musician, originally from the north west of England, but now relocated to the west coast of Ireland. Since 2005 he’s produced an incredible amount of material – albums, poetry, pamphlets, posters and books – all presented with a reverence for the material that shames me in my own casual attitude to what I do with my art. The music is most easily described as ‘ambient’ but it’s got a consistency and depth that makes the thousand of other dabblers in this ‘genre’ look like they’re just not trying. He was ‘inspired’ by the death of his wife in 2004 to start making work as a form of posthumous collaboration. Given the nature of that inspiration, the mood is elegiac and intensely melancholic, invoking references to Arvo Part for some reviewers, though for me it’s closest comparison would be early Eno (On Land, Thursday Afternoon, Discreet Music) or Alan Lamb’s Night Passage. It’s not even soundtrack music, as it’s just too personal, too loaded, for such application. Stringed instruments are given studio treatments to produce shifting washes of tone, samples add texture, and there’s no concerns about variety. It’s like he’s photographing the same places, day after day, over and over again, looking to capture the subtlest of changes. Skelton’s wide variety of projects, presented under many different names besides his own, are all informed by an intensity of purpose and deep connection with the land, the wildlife and the history of human intervention within the land. “To make work about landscape, you must become an antenna.”
I’ve only begun to work through his vast output but I’m already very impressed by the Wolfrahm album, which suggests to me a yearning for the lost species of England – the deer, the bear, the wolves – hunted into extinction in a less tender age than even our own. That’s something I can strongly relate to, but I’ve lacked the courage of my convictions at times, falsely believing that no-one else but me cares about these things. Skelton’s example has reminded me to stay true to my obsessions and my instincts.
I also really like this small booklet – Domain – gorgeously illustrated by Rebecca Clark. It’s a poem about the kestrel, a bird whose numbers are in serious decline as rapid over-development encroaches upon their natural habitat. Growing up in Yorkshire in the 1970’s, Barry Hines’ novel Kes was a holy text for me, and Alan Clark’s film adaptation was a no-excuses required viewing experience whenever it was on TV. They’re my favourite birds (see my painting of a kestrel here) so the impetus behind this publication, all profits from which go to the Hawk Conservancy Trust, is one I respect.
As already stated, I’m still exploring the full extent of his back-catalogue but Skelton’s entire aesthetic and belief in his sense of purpose has been a revelation and a wake-up call. If I cannot bring the same intensity and commitment to my own work then I’ve got no business making art myself.
Clouwbeck – Placer
Richard Skelton – Threads Across The River
I drew this about 4 years ago, inspired by an overdue re-reading of Moore’s first novel, Voice Of The Fire. First published in 1996, I remember finding my copy in a remainder shop in Leeds, shelved alongside many unwanted copies of Bill Drummond & Mark Manning’s Bad Wisdom. A copy of each cost £1, a bargain, but it’s only Moore’s book that has endured several house moves and berserker clear-outs over the years. The Alan Moore I started reading in 2000 A.D. and Dr Who Weekly could not have written this book, but the Alan Moore who thwarted a mid-life crisis by announcing he was a sorcerer dedicated to the worship of a Roman snake god, that man could write this book that successfully conforms to Iain Sinclair’s maxim: “Is it mad enough?”. The world is a better place for Alan Moore having gone slightly “mad”, and this novel pisses all over anything offered up by the Booker Prize mob. Set firmly in Moore’s home town of Northampton (“and environs”), the interconnected stories span 5000 years of British history, from our distant pagan sub-lingual origins, through the tumult of the Middle Ages, right up to the late 1990’s, where Moore himself walks onto the stage and ruminates upon the repeating motifs of the book – blood, fire, black dogs and skulls. It’s impossible to improve upon Robert Mason’s original cover painting, but I wanted to at least express something that captures the darkness and intensity at the heart of the book. Moore’s next novel – the long-promised and insanely-ambitious Jerusalem – is due to be released in early 2016, and based on the evidence of his first novel, I’d suggest it at least deserves the attention of the prepared reader.