Fabricstate

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hannah-peel

Some fine artwork from Hannah Peel’s new EP Fabricstate… I’ve posted before about Ms Peel and The Magnetic North, and these four new songs are great, including ‘Chloe’ which won a Royal Television Award for Original Title Music (Channel 4′s drama Dates). Gone are the folksome wanderings of before – now she’s crafting the sound of haunted, dust-blown cityscapes that stretch from here to the other side of the world… a sound captured beautifully in the video for ‘Desolation Row’ here…

Last year’s Nailhouse EP is also good stuff (the title ‘Nailhouse’ refers to the homes of those who refuse to leave to make room for development, a term originating from China, an influence that runs through the title track).

Curiosities

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Emily Sutton, Still Life with Red Lion

A painting by Emily Sutton, one of the few people who can do this sort of thing and side-step mawkish cuteness, for want of better words. Maybe it’s because there’s something about her particular kind of stylised representation that recalls the slightly off-kilter folk art you’d get in 19th century prints celebrating murders or debauched princes – the eyes in her work are always a little empty, like Staffordshire dogs.

Emily Sutton also created a fabric for St Jude’s called Curiosity Shop. Lots of her work captures the kind of thing I loved in a Transport Museum poster by Martina Selway, which I blogged about here.

January sky

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HewnCross

Pew Tor (above) and Beckamoor Cross, Dartmoor. The stones here at Pew Tor are a strange profile, an ancient head raised to make a low cry to the heavens. It makes me think of Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr, where ominous stones circle the house a girl has created in a dreamworld.

Finding normal

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Matthew Weiner is the creator of the TV series Mad Men, a powerful documentation of life through the 1960s based around a New York advertising agency. One of its key strengths is the ability to capture a period so well that you aren’t noticing it.

Clearly everyone did, because Mad Men has been a huge influence in the mid-century direction of mainstream design we’re currently living through. What I mean is that it doesn’t patronise or fetishize the past – it just presents it and in doing so lets the relevance to our own times resonate.

Mad Men

Talking about Season 6 in 2012, Weiner made this observation about the direction of the series, and the link between the sixties as a time of great change and the start of the 21st century.

“There’s a feeling right now, ‘When is everything going to get back to normal?’. I thought it was just my age and everything, but I feel the world is in the midst of a tremendous change… this feeling of ‘I’d just figured out how everything works, and now I’m adrift…’ “.

I’m fascinated by this because in the last few years I’ve reached the age where we’ve always assumed the start of mid-life gives us a greater understanding of the process of living. (Bear with me, not going to attempt anything profound here, I’m not capable, for a start…).

You get the feeling that perhaps you’ve assumed too much, and that tool-kit for dealing with the everyday needs constant updating. It’s comforting to think it’s not just me: we’re all growing older in a world where life no longer exists within a framework, a blueprint, whatever you want to call it. It’s all fluid, and if we can keep it balanced with the gentle ebb and flow of a lava lamp then we’re doing alright.

Life changed in the 1960s because one size didn’t fit all: humanity couldn’t live in a design cut and tailored as one of Don or Betty Draper’s Mad Men outfits, only really comfortable for the few. It split at the seams, buttons flew off and everyone took what remained and cut their own cloth. That freedom is always going to be unpredictable, untidy and at times confusing.

Some will try to sew it all back together as a Frankenstein monster, others will see what we can learn from then and now, still more will march blind into the unknown that shouts loudest.

And then there’s our digital age creating ‘something’ which hasn’t quite taken shape (and is there really anything to take shape anyway?). Is it really any different to what people have experienced before? Technology is simply reaching every part of our life, making us share life and thought  – which can be good, if it weren’t for the doubt that the driving force isn’t the cosy aim of shared human experience but more ruthless ways of getting us to buy, just as 1960s TV on one hand shared culture and the other sold lifestyles.

We don’t have to be racing and leaping around looking for the signs that point to the future. It might make us feel temporarily secure in the present, but it’s still only the ancient things that matter: health, shelter, food, warmth, friendship, love. Yes, it’s a trite, banal observation. But that’s where ‘normal’ lives, and what most of our real lives are made of, whatever time we live in.

Song of the Christmas Eve Squirrel…

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When this is past, a merry crew,
Bedecked in masks and ribbons gay,
The Morris Dance, their sports renew,
And act their winter evening play.
The clown turned king, for penny praise,
Storms with the actor’s strut and swell,
And harlequin, a laugh to raise,
Wears his hunch-back and tinkling bell.

Christmas

Old customs! Oh! I love the sound,
However simple they may be;
Whate’er with time hath sanction found,
Is welcome, and is dear to me,
Pride grows above simplicity,
And spurns them from her haughty mind;
And soon the poet’s song will be
The only refuge they can find.

Verses by John Clare (1793-1864)

Wishing a Merry Yule to followers old and new, and thanks for reading: the thoughts, comments and likes are really appreciated…

Ten things…

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A few weeks ago Elaine Canham mentioned Whistles in the Wind as one of the blogs she enjoys, the penalty being to list ten things about myself, and then add ten other blogs I visit.

Ten things (about me)…

One

Apparently I schedule my blog posts to give the illusion of being out of bed at ‘the same time as normal people’.

Two

I didn’t pass my driving test until my thirties. Let’s just say I tried. Even now parking in company is difficult, particularly if my partner ‘gets out to help’ by hovering on the pavement in a not-particularly-engaged way saying, ‘You’re fine, you just have to straighten up a bit’.

Three

My current favourite drink might be a Tom Cobbler – rum, apple juice and cinnamon – though I’m not sure it’s really a cobbler. That’s the name it was given at the music festival where I discovered it, the downside being I now have several CDs by mediocre acts I’ll never play again.

Four

I look like an eighty-five-year-old with mild incontinence – at least that’s what the staff at my dad’s nursing home tell me: “You’re exactly like him!”

Five

Apparently I once took a pregnant woman’s taxi. I’ve pointed out that the friend in question protested that being pregnant didn’t make her an invalid and that she wanted some sea air on the way to the restaurant, but the bald fact remains.

Six

Back in the 19th century, so my brother discovered while researching the family tree, a great-great-great grandma (not sure how many of those are needed) was a Yorkshire chartist who organised a village rally against the coronation of William IV. She also delayed officials on the way to break up a protest meeting by giving them ‘a roll in the snow’ (not of the amorous variety). Perhaps when I’m vilifying the hypocrisy of the Waitrose weekly paper, over a ‘Heston Blumenthal for Waitrose’ Earl Grey hot cross bun, it’s her voice that’s speaking.

Seven

I always take a liking for dogs as a sign of innate goodness.

Eight

I love stationery… cards, paper, fountain pens, blotting paper, etc. but don’t use them enough. (There are lots of things I don’t actually use much but need to know they are there.)

Nine

The most embarrassing experience of my life was aged 18 in a cinema in Paris. (This is not salacious.) There was a rather large, elderly usherette, not unlike Les Dawson, and few seats left. She counted the rest of my friends into the remaining seats and cut me off before strolling purposefully to the other side of the cinema, where she bellowed, in French, to no-one in particular.

The cinema was now full to capacity so I wasn’t sure whether she was demonstrating emergency exits or selling ice cream. I was expecting to spend the next two hours playing with the pigeons outside until I became aware of increasing tittering from the audience. Finally, there was a dramatic bang as the usherette flapped open a tiny seat on the far wall, gesticulated wildly, and the penny dropped I was meant to crouch my six-foot-plus frame over there. I had a walk of shame down to the front, past the screen, while the audience applauded my stupidity and the usherette smugly lapped up adoration for humiliating the stupid English boy.

It was a Woody Allen film.

Ten

Isn’t that enough?

Blogs I enjoy… taking the recent-visited ones from my lap-top history list only … so here are the warm rays of the Sunshine Award for those “who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere”… of course, no-one has to go and and add ten things of their own, it’s ‘just for fun’, most have had loads of nods already so probably quite blasé by now, but it’s Christmas…

Bookish Nature

A box of delights: words woven with the skill of the mice in The Tailor of Gloucester.

À la Blague

I imagine the mention of a ‘Sunshine Award’ would make this blogger hurl projectile vomit, and I’ll remove mention on request, but this is a fine, dry vintage covering modern life and beyond. Fascinating stuff about the artist Carel Weight too.

FishInk

A prolific, inspiring round-up of mid-century related illustration and design.

The Grass is Dancing

A British ex-pat writer who upped and left for life in Sweden, is clearly having a whale of a time, but making the rest of us feel better about still shopping in Morrison’s by pointing out the odd awkward moment.

Lantern Room

Some stunning images of landscape from somewhere in Wessex.

Landscapism

Rides through ancient landscape with a Garner-ish atmosphere.

Diana J Hale

Immersive art with daydreaming skies and rippled water, fascinating journeys through art in the landscape.

Kasia James

A writer covering work, motherhood and a passion for science fiction with natural, direct observation on creativity.

Paula Marie Fay

A studying illustrator whose work echoes wild and windy landscapes; lovers of 60s/70s children’s illustration are sure to enjoy.

Christmas Eve update: Have this morning discovered this rather brilliant one devoted to film analysis with some great explorations of British folk horror film and TV…

Celluloid Wicker Man

Joan Fontaine – missionary of gothic

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Followers of WhistlesintheWind will know that Jane Eyre and Rebecca have come up a few times in posts, usually exploring the gothic allure of rambling houses – the kind that are as much a character as the inhabitants themselves. They are both fascinating, now intertwined novels, and one actress lived both in the 1940s.

Rebecca 1940 a2

Joan Fontaine with Laurence Olivier in Rebecca (1940), directed by Alfred Hitchcock from Daphne du Maurier’s novel

As a child in the 1970s and into the 1980s, sunday afternoons in winter often found one of the great ‘old’ black and white movies on our TV screens. It was here that a big part of my imagination was forged, leading me to later spend hours immersed in epic Victorian novels and their later successors, joining the characters as candles flickered in stone-built hallways, along oak bannisters, or where lanterns gleamed in winter light over mist-hung moors or ragged coasts.

Jane Eyre (1944)

Joan Fontaine, who died this week, played both Jane Eyre alongside Orson Welles and the second Mrs de Winter with Laurence Olivier. Both films remain classics today; Hitchcock’s Rebecca will never be matched, and the 1944 version of Charlotte Bronte’s novel still has great power (and is also faithful to its setting – I can’t ever forget the Yorkshire scolding from Grace Poole as Jane explores the attics: ‘What art tha doin’ up ‘ere – get thee dahn!’).

Fontaine’s performances are restrained, nuanced, yet charismatic, and have carried the films along through the decades. So WhistlesintheWind here salutes her, missionary of gothic, 1917-2013.

Robin Redbreast – villages that bite

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There’s a peculiarly British film and TV genre of the late 60s and early 70s which you could call ‘Pagan Village Conspiracy’. Nowadays, everyone recalls 1973’s film The Wicker Man. It’s legendary, as much a part of folklore’s history as Frazer’s The Golden Bough.

Viewed from the 21st century, the setting for these stories is a distant but parallel world. We can recognise the remnants still visible to us now, with their innocence that steps from the landscape and into our consciousness – the once-familiar street furniture, old pub signs, patterns, the set of a grandmother’s hair or the particular colour of a cable-knit jumper.

Today, there’s an aggressive sweep of modernisation throughout our built and natural landscape, not experienced so fully – arguably – since the remodelling of towns and cities in the decades after the Second World War. At such times, perhaps there’s an innate longing for something uncanny, something larger than the frenetic floundering of human progress. Will there always be something ancient and strange, or will we all walk bravely into a world as ordered as the edicts of corporate identity?

In many of these films, now over 40 years old, the city turns to the village and treats it as a pause button on ‘now’. But the village won’t behave as it’s supposed to. It snaps and bites at manicured hands.

Robin Redbreast

“I’ve come to take you to church…” Freda Bamford (left) and Anna Cropper in Robin Redbreast, 1970

Robin Redbreast was first broadcast just before Christmas 1970, as part of the BBC’s Play for Today series. Norah Palmer, played by Anna Cropper, buys a cottage in the country and modernises it. She intends to take time out from her media career in London and recover from a failed relationship. There’s a similar opening in the more visceral play The Exorcism (from the 1972 series Dead of Night) where Anna Cropper, again, is part of a couple who’ve left the city and given a full mod-cons makeover to a rural cottage.

In both plays something ancient and strange bites back. In Robin Redbreast, folk rituals appear, tiny splashes and ripples of the uncanny on the surface of the comfortingly familiar everyday world. In The Exorcism it’s something deeper and darker that rises, with a merciless swipe at the bourgeoisie. The souring of a fine Chianti is just the start of it.

Dead of Night The Exorcism

The Exorcism, an episode from Dead of Night (1972)

John Bowen, who created Robin Redbreast, also wrote 1977′s The Photograph for the Play for Today series. It’s another foray off beaten paths to the dark underside of rural charm. Anyone who’s heard Freda Bamford utter the words, ‘That’s country wine, that is’, will never feel quite the same about the joys of home brewing. (She appears to be reprising her role from Robin Redbreast as a salt-of-the-earth countrywoman.)

The Photograph

“Country wine, that is…” Freda Bamford in ‘The Photograph’, Play for Today, 1977

There’s another PVC (Pagan Village Conspiracy) in an episode from Brian Clemens’ ITV series Thriller. From 1973, A Place To Die finds a doctor and his wife buying a picturesque rural practice, a new beginning as she recovers from an accident. The villagers fawn increasingly over ‘My Lady’ and soon the easy honest-to-goodness-ness is disturbed by strange gifts on the kitchen doorstep. While not in the league of John Bowen’s work, it’s a must for lovers of League of Gentlemen humour.

A Place to Die Thriller

An effective moment from ‘A Place To Die’ in Brian Clemens’ series ‘Thriller’: the village fool appears at the door, beckoning to strange ceremonies, the church tower behind him…

(On which point, Mark Gatiss’s BBC adaptation of M R James The Tractate Middoth is one to watch this Christmas.)

Worth mentioning here, though not a PVC, is Baby from Nigel Kneale’s series Beast. Another young couple, this time a vet and his wife (it’s the 1970s, in TV world women weren’t always allowed careers) buy a cottage, modernise and live happily ever after… For about three days actually, because there’s an occult relic in the kitchen cupboard. Baby is really not without its unsettling moments either.

BFI have recently released Robin Redbreast and Dead of Night (The Exorcism) on DVD. Thriller is available as a 43 episode box set, but YouTube is worth trying for A Place to Die. Beasts is on DVD. A Photograph is currently unavailable.