Thursday, 4 January 2018
A quick ramble here through an assemblage of mid-winter cultural highlights. If record shops are a species indicator of a civilised polis (which they surely are), then it was good to have affirmation that the force remains strong in Bristol with the opening of a new Rough Trade store. A first wander around the racks yielded Bright Pheobus, songs by Lal and Mike Waterson, newly re-released on vinyl. Its 'lost folk-rock classic' story is unfurled in sleeve notes by Pete Paphides largely replicated in a Radio 4 documentary. Featuring Richard Thompson, Ashley Hutchings and a seemingly endless cast of early 70s electric folk, Bright Pheobus has joined the ever-replenished cast of misunderstood or under-marketed records of the time which have resurfaced, championed anew. A highlight for me is the track, Child Among the Weeds, featuring Lal Waterson and Bob Davenport's extraordinary, unrestrained vocals.
The post-war folk music revival is not covered by Steve Roud's magisterial (i.e. dauntingly massive) Folk Song In England, but I will try and persevere with this sweeping history of, well folk song in England. A chapter on sea shanties is included, a sound brought to vivid life by a communal sing-along with Halifax's finest renderers of whaling song, Kimber's Men, upstairs at The Greenbank, Easton in November. Other reading matter on 'the book pile' comes in the form of the multitude of pagan arcania found within the pages of Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies and the no-less fascinating A Natural History of the Hedgerow by John Wright. The 'folk horror' label perhaps encompasses Ben Myers The Gallows Pole, which I enthusiastically reviewed earlier in the year and remains a favourite recent fiction read.
Elsewhere on BBC radio, The Drover's Path fitted the bill as a suitably wintry Christmas Eve ghost story, Nick Luscombe presented Radio 3's Late Junction's favourite albums of 2017 and there was a gripping dramatisation of Neil Gaiman's refreshingly non-standard fantasy Anansi Boys, starring Jacob Anderson, Grey Worm from Game of Thrones; a Season Six box set of which was my Christmas guilty pleasure. Robert Macfarlane's #TheDarkIsRising Twitter-athon led to another gem from the BBC radio archive, a 1997 adaptation of Susan Cooper's midwinter classic chronicling a duel between the Dark and the Light across snowy Sussex downland. The ubiquitous (in a good way) Mr Macfarlane also brought forth his importantly beautiful collaborative work with artist Jackie Morris, The Lost Words; if ever there was an example of a Christmas present bought for your child that would give as much pleasure to the giver as the receiver, then this was it.
Fly bird fly on your raven wings
Take to the sky and sing for the love of wheeling and turning
These words, images and songs spun around my head as a post-Christmas walk around YGrib, Waun Fach and Pen Trumau in the post-snow, but still frozen, western Black Mountains literally blew the cobwebs away; awaiting the days when bright Phoebus will shine down again.