Saturday, November 23, 2019

Unearthing Heron, pt. 1

I went down a rabbit hole with the band Heron, like many people did I assume, after reading Electric Eden by Rob Young. I had been familiar with the book for awhile but hadn't really gotten down to reading it, because I assumed, incorrectly, it would contain the same stories about Nick Drake and Sandy Denny that I already knew. And I had thought that beautiful, sun-lit cover photo of a band playing in a field was of the Incredible String Band. Which it was not.

Miked Heron, not Mike Heron
The band was Heron, which though a majestic and evocative name for a British folk-rock band, was a name too similar in my mind to the name of Mike Heron of the Incredible String Band. I believe I had previously seen the band name and just assumed it was what Mike Heron called his solo project. (Even more unfortunate is that there's a new band named Heron, who released their first album in 2017. Sorry guys, we have the Internet now, couldn't you have Googled available names?)

But all that aside, when I finally listened to Heron's self-titled first album from 1970, the one they recorded in the field pictured above, I was entranced. The album opens with "Yellow Roses," a track which makes me feel like I had been hiking the National Trails and come upon a gathering of bards. Key to the album is the allowance (by producer Peter Eden) to include natural sounds from the British countryside: birds, insects, an airplane, the casual banter of band mates between songs. I just wanted to sit with them and listen, which is why Heron became my go-to walking and sitting in parks album.

Parklife. View from my favorite sitting spot.
This bucolic feeling, combined with lyrics that tied in synchronistically to the book I had been working on (The Druid of Royal Oak), meant that quickly I became hooked on Heron. And particularly the first album. Once I learned that they used bass and drums on their second (double!) album, and it wasn't recorded in the same field (unfair because it was also recorded outside) I wasn't ready for it. I had purchased the entirety of Heron's Dawn Anthology on iTunes which includes both albums plus bonus tracks, but I used the playlist function to ensure that I would only be listening to the original 13 songs. (As an aside, the bonus tracks and 1971's Twice As Nice & Half the Price are excellent too, and it was a nice treat when I finally decided to listen to them.)

But after listening to the album for weeks, I realized that I still didn't even know who I was listening to. The Discogs listing credits G.T. (Gerald) Moore as "Guitar, Mandolin, Harmonica, Piano, Vocals," Roy Apps as "Guitar, Piano, Vocals," Stephen Jones as "Piano, Organ, Electric Piano, Accordion, Vocals," and Tony Pook as "Vocals." And clearly there were several songwriters in the band as there were different people credited with each song. But still on each individual song I didn't knew who was singing. They all had very similar voices. I also realized I didn't even know who was who in the cover photo.

Took me awhile to figure out that left to right is Moore, Apps, Pook, and Jones. 
And much like that feeling you may have gotten when you first listen to the Beatles and maybe initially don't know who's who, I enjoyed the puzzle of trying to discern the differences in their voices. Producer Eden seemed to have assisted a little by separating the musicians left to right in the stereo mix with their instruments, which I also think is part of the reason you get that feeling of being in the middle of a performance when you listen to the album.

I started to assume that the lead singer for each song (and to be clear, multiple singers chime in on most songs) was the author listed for the song. But did that really make sense? And as I listened, other questions came up as well -- such as when I finally discerned that there were female voices on "Lord and Master." And when I discovered Heron's third album from 1983, I felt like the lead vocalist on two of my favorite songs "Open up the Road" and "Traveller's Song" seemed like a completely different singer than had appeared on Heron. Eventually I realized in order to really figure out the puzzle I would have to seek help online.

And eventually help arrived, in the form of an e-mail from G.T. Moore!

(to be continued) 

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Folk Horror Podcast Episode 16: A Photograph (1977)

John Griffith Bowen, 1924-2019
First we do some folk horror news, then we pay tribute to the late John Bowen by looking at his Play for Today episode "A Photograph."

Some of the folk horror news was old so I cut it from the episode. Most notably, Folk Horror Revival have released their massive two-volume tomes on "The Urban Wyrd" which you can find here:

Here's "A Photograph" if you haven't seen it. There may be a better version out there.

Bowen's obituary:

A little bit of explanation -- Mike and I are often talking about "McGuffins" because early on in our recording (I believe during the Wicker Man episodes) Mike had talked for awhile about something he thought was a McGuffin which in editing I decided wasn't accurate so I removed it. Since then, we often mention whether something is or isn't a McGuffin, particular in regards to John Bowen, who wrote a book called The McGuffin ( which noticeably is about a film reviewer.

And here's the episode (though it's probably Summer where you are, are you sure you wouldn't rather just subscribe on your phone and listen while you take a walk?):

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Folk Horror Podcast Episode 15: Arcadia (2017), pt. 2

The second part of our conversation is now up.

Here's the trailer for Anchoress, you'll recognize several images from Arcadia:

While we're at it, here's The Moon and the Sledgehammer trailer:

And Requiem for a Village:

And here's the episode:

Saturday, June 8, 2019

The Folk Horror Podcast Episode 14: Arcadia (2017), pt. 1

We're back and talking about Arcadia. Well, at least starting to talk about the film, you know how we take a little while sometimes. I'm remembering Monty Python's "Summarize Proust" competition in which one chorus of people was only able to sing "Proust in his first book wrote about, wrote about.." repeatedly before time was up.

Here's the interview with Paul Wright:

Here's the first part of our talk:

Monday, June 3, 2019

A Look at Traditional Folk Ceremonies of Britain

My brother Karl originally wrote the following post for his travel agency blog, but never ended up using it. So, he let me share it here, and you'll find that it ties nicely into Mike and my upcoming discussion of Paul Wright's Arcadia!


I was hoping before the holiday of May Day (usually celebrated on May 1) to write a post about the traditional folk ceremonies of Britain.

Many tourists visit Britain without seeing any of these. You have to get “off the beaten track” and also check local calendars to be sure to catch one. Watch out for these on the traditional British holidays. Christmas and Easter of course, but also others such as May Day (May 1st), Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday, in other countries called “Carnival” or “Mardi Gras”), Guy Fawkes Night (“Remember, remember, the Fifth of November”), the feast day of St George — patron saint of England (April 23), Whitsun (fifty days after Easter), Oak Apple Day (May 29) and others. Often today the celebration is moved to the nearest Monday.

The precise details of each celebration of course differ depending on the particular holiday, but also differ between particular localities. I really could write a separate post on each one! Some elements are widespread, however. There is often a parade of people wearing traditional costumes. Folk dancing is also common, as are bonfires. And almost always the celebration concludes with everyone going to the pub for drinks. In fact, usually drink is consumed throughout the whole celebration, usually ale--which might be considered the English national beverage.

What are some of the specific customs? On Shrove Tuesday, in many villages the women compete in footraces while flipping pancakes in frying pans, while the young men participate in the original medieval version of football—a very violent sport with no limits to the number of players on a team. On various dates some villages have contests in gurning (the art of making a funny face). But many say the strangest custom is the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling, held each year at Whitsun in the village of Brockworth in Gloucester. A nine-pound cheese is rolled down the hill, which is the signal for a group of racers to take off after it, running on foot until the steepness and unevenness of Cooper’s hill makes each racer fall and start rolling themselves!

And where did these strange customs come from? Quite a few people want to believe that all of them come from a time before Christianity came to Britain, and so they are all left over pieces of much older religion. The supporters of this theory often like to talk about “fertility rites”. But when historians have looked at the records closely, they almost never find documents going back to pre-Christian times. More often the history of the custom seems to have been lost in “the mists of time." In some places, the tradition has gone on unbroken for many centuries, but in others the tradition had to be “revived” in recent decades, often because it was abolished by zealous Puritans or prudish Victorians.

British writer Jane Peyton described the attitudes behind these ceremonies in the introduction to her book Brilliant Britain:

“One thing that struck me during my research was that whilst the rituals and traditions are diverse, the participants share some common traits:
  • They really join in the spirit of the activity: ‘No problem, I’ll wear a mask, ride backwards on that donkey and agree to fall off it a few times. Oh, and get us another pint while you’re at the bar will you, mate?’
  • Their tongues are firmly in their cheeks: ‘And now, please welcome the trainer of this year’s world champion racing snail!’
  • Their attitude can be very matter of fact: ‘Oh look, there’s a man dressed up as a straw dancing bear. Anyway, what were you saying about the bus being late?’
  • Some of them don’t quite know why they take part, but no matter. Their predecessors did it, so they give it a go too; even if it means getting out of bed before dawn to deposit a few pennies on a stone at the top of a hill.
  • There is no sense of ‘Aren’t we wacky?’: people participate wholeheartedly, as though it is commonplace to gather in an orchard, hang pieces of toast from an apple tree and pour cider on its roots.”

It’s important then to note that in no place in these attitudes are the British thinking about tourists. These customs have never existed to entertain tourists. Generally, the participants and the spectators are local people. These events will take place every year on schedule whether or not any tourists come to watch. But during these celebrations the already friendly British become even more welcoming to visitors. They love to meet people who show an interest in this important aspect of British community life.

So the next time you visit Britain, be sure to keep your eyes open for one of these traditional local celebrations!

-- Karl Paananen

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Folk Horror Podcast Episode 13: Viy (1967), pt. 2

Illustration for Viy from 1901 edition by R. Shteyn

And here's the second part of the show:

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Folk Horror Podcast Episode 12: Viy (1967), pt. 1

Hello. We're back. And talking about the first and only Soviet horror movie, Viy, based on the short story by Gogol. This episode is an hour of background discussion, including biographical information about Gogol, of Eastern European mythology, and about Russian and Soviet cinema in general. We'll get to the actual scene-by-scene discussion in part 2.

Here's the audio:

Here are some things we discussed in the episode:

Excerpt from the 1915 movie "Portrait" based on a Gogol story:

A russian historian criticizes the most recent Viy remake:

Some good Russian biographical information about Gogol, including a little excerpt from the letter to his mother we mentioned (couldn't find more at the moment).

Great article in Brooklyn magazine, all about the movie Viy, including a discussion of "kotliarevshchyna."

Soviet documentary about Gogol:

Excerpt from Jim Henson's Storyteller, The Soldier and Death:

Trailer for Viy 2, starring Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger: