My aim with The Eye is to shine a light on music, film and literature that deals with landscape in a multitude of ways.

The space below will be taken up by images from a series of landscape poems, which are now available in a limited run of signed A5 booklets here.


 
 

Requiem for a Village by David Gladwell
 
 
David Gladwell’s 1976 feature film revolves around the nostalgic reveries of the groundskeeper of a village graveyard in Sussex. We join this elderly man as he leaves his home on a housing estate and cycles slowly through the numerous haunts of his past, journeying back through time to a humbler existence among the farms and workshops that defined his young life. As he cycles, images flicker across the screen of the livestock he once tended – rendered in artful slow-motion – as well as dazzling scenes of a close-knit rabble of villagers at work in the fields.

The film allows us access to this community, whose members buried aspiration in a simple life. We drift into a workshop, scanning slowly over the exquisite handiwork involved in the production of a cartwheel. A plough, recalled briefly by the groundskeeper with its precise coils gently turning the soil, is soon spotted in the present day, rusting and derelict among the elements. Later, dwarfed by its hulking frame, he throws a clod of earth at its wheels in an act of impotent rage at the ancient livelihoods it slowly came to eradicate.

A juxtaposition is made between the sheer physicality of the past and the comfort and passivity of the consumer age. Alongside memories of the villagers toiling to harvest the crops, we return to see the groundskeeper cycling at a glacial pace, with considerable effort, alongside speeding lorries and motorbikes. Tellingly, he barely acknowledges their existence, despite their violent intrusion on his day; his is a radically different way of being, one that he has cordoned off from the chaotic modern world. We are, however, encouraged to reconsider the concrete shopping centre, a symbol whose peculiar peace was made possible, somewhere down the line, by the very same tide of machinery that rendered the scythe and plough obsolete.

In Requiem‘s most famous scene, the village council meet up in the church to discuss proposals for housing developments on local land. A passionate speech prompts the dead villagers to rise from their graves in rebellion. The rabble is presented as a kind of living memory, stirred from death by the need for their working lives to be valued. We also flash back to the protagonist’s wedding day. He is joined by old friends, who we assume they now occupy the graves that the groundskeeper chats away to while he ambles through the day. After sneaking off after the reception to bed his new wife, we witness a child being born in visceral detail.

Gladwell’s earlier short, An Untitled Film (1964), focusses on the sinister side of agricultural life, as the killing of a chicken is drawn out torturously on camera. We witness violence and terror here too – a woman is singled out and sexually abused without any possibility of repercussion for her attackers. Echoes of her suffering are glimpsed on the graveyard grass, as the groundskeeper looks on in horror. His inevitable death is loaded with significance – he is happily reunited with his memories, the past providing comfort and sanctuary from the tide of human progress.
 
 

This is the fifth in a series of recordings captured at locations around Sheffield.
 
 

The Old Weird Albion by Justin Hopper
 
 
The Old Weird Albion is a poetic investigation by an American searching for an obscured English heritage in the South Downs, and encountering an abundance of myth, memory and mysticism in its place. This article will concentrate on the third chapter, ‘Antiquaries’, in which our narrator joins a crew of ‘archao-astronomers’ to learn about (in his guide’s words) the “earth energies, standing stones and secret histories that [keep] Sussex moving on a astral level.”

After a brief visit to the top of an ancient sacrificial stone, we meet Simon and Mick, catalysts for Hopper’s on-going interrogations. Simon, described as an unassuming jack-the-lad with the patter of a London cabbie, wants to rediscover the ancient knowledge that was wiped out when the Romans came to dominate the land.

Mick is described as follows:

“Even driving blind and wet and skittish, Mick inspired confidence. Maybe it was the Marlboro Light dangling from his mouth, like a cowboy, or the calm with which he made even the most dangerous manoeuvre. Mostly, it was because the Downs and Weald are Mick country. He knew this territory better than most of us will ever know anywhere. For more than half a century he had struck out and receded back into it, a guerrilla fighting an occupying army with his old, weird spirituality. Simon scowled at the chain pubs and zebra crossings as we passed through picturesque villages populated by politicians and their wealthy psychotherapists. To Mick, the modern world was an invasive species. His Sussex lived on quietly beneath it.”

Hopper is equal parts sceptic and convert, enraptured by the world that Simon and Mick inhabit. While sketching out the ‘earth energies’ of St. Mary Magdalena church with dowsing rods in hand, he readily admits that he “wanted to believe, but it wasn’t getting any easier”. Later he becomes convinced, as the rods turn, that he has indeed stumbled across a supernatural force in the acting out of this bizarre ritual. He acknowledges that he has a different way of analysing the world; “…mine is the world that puts up signs, Mick’s is the world that ignores them.”

Hopper laces his account with references to the works of other writers and poets and does so in a way that’s sensitive and appreciative of the legacy he is taking on. Hopper recognises that his companions are drawn to the land for reasons greater than many would acknowledge; “that flame is enchantment”, he writes, “the uncanny experience of the land that Whitman described: ‘Something else is also here.’”


 

By way of Philip K. Dick’s short story Paycheck – in which a man wakes up to discover he has traded in all his worldly possessions for an envelope of inanimate objects (a bus ticket, a casino chip), each of which save him when he finds himself in mortal danger – Hopper playfully suggests that the major archaeological sites of the UK may have been designed by seers intending to offer us a lifeline from a disaster we have not yet encountered.

He goes on to relay a tale of eccentricity, involving golf umbrellas, ‘muggy snorkels’ of hash, and pre-packaged sandwiches. Hopper writes about the decidedly unglamorous elements of a British jaunt in the countryside with a romantic eye, mentioning that “Simon and Mick were trying to make me see the landscape with a sense of wonder” and that “the effect was intoxicating.” Hopper picks apart his visceral experience with the pair to discover an underlying thread: beneath the smoke and mirrors, their esoteric adventures are all about connectedness.

The chapter ends with a gardener relaying her experience in setting up an eco-practise. In one section, she explains how visitors are encouraged to walk out into the ‘wild’ area they have cultivated and ask nature to help them with a problem they are facing. It is the ‘soft fascination’ of working outside that provides respite for these people – the comfort of attuning oneself to the seasons and rhythms of the land, something that’s particularly pronounced for city-dwellers, who, in the words of William Burroughs, are victim to a ‘continual stream of second attention awareness. Every licence plate, street sign, passing stranger is saying something to you.’

The Old Weird Albion is at its most arresting when it engages with the personalities that bind the South Downs landscape together, as well as investigates the meanings people invest in its subtle signs and half-buried histories. Its pages highlight a shared fluency in the language of the natural world, a force that binds this disparate collective of people together through talk of trees, rivers and hills – the elements we all depend on for life.
 

 
Thanks for reading. If you have enjoyed this zine, please consider subscribing to future issues by clicking here.


 
 
My aim with The Eye is to shine a light on music, film and literature that deals with landscape in a multitude of ways.

The space below will be taken up by images from a series of landscape poems, which are now available in a limited run of signed A5 booklets here.


 
 

Holloway by Robert MacFarlane, Stanley Donwood & Dan Richards
 
 
Holloway outlines two journeys taken by Robert MacFarlane to investigate the ancient walkways that many centuries of footfall have carved into the sandstone rock in Dorset. We journey through a labyrinthine network, largely buried from the everyday observer by nettles, briar and branches, which form a dense canopy overhead.

The first trip with Roger Deakin – described as “swimmer; writer; naturalist; collector; worker with wood; writer of books; maker of friends” – unfolds at a languid pace, with descriptions of the history and topography of the area assuming a focal point in the narrative. Illustrations by Stanley Donwood compliment and enhance the spectral quality of MacFarlane’s descriptions; his ink-drawings are inspired by first-hand experience after he joins the expedition detailed in the second half of the book.

MacFarlane’s stories of myth and legend place emphasis on the ghosts and memories that occupy these sunken tracks. In a memorable passage, he recounts in lurid detail the experience of the poet Edward Thomas hearing “the speech of a vanished village: the ringing of hammer, shoe, & anvil from the smithy, the clink, the hum, the roar, the random singing from the inn” as he passed the crossroads of similar paths in Hampshire. An other-worldly view of the landscape colours our impressions as the book unfolds, guiding us back through layer upon layer of the forgotten past.

We learn that the holloways’ use has changed considerably over time, that they served both as “lanes worn down from the packhorses of a hundred generations”, and as sanctuaries for Catholic missionaries, who would use them as hideaways from soldiers in the 16th and early 17th centuries. The tunnels also bore witness to brutal tortures and hangings when fugitives and runaways were caught. As the group battle their way through the undergrowth, loosely following a path mapped out in Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household – which serves as something of a spiritual guide on their journey – Deakin suggests that “you could live undisturbed and undetected here for a long time…”

In MacFarlane’s words:

“Down in the dusk of the Holloway, the landscape’s pasts felt excitingly alive and coexistent, as if history had pleated back on itself, bringing discontinuous moments into contact & creating correspondences that survived as a territorial imperative to concealment, escape, & encounter.”

Following Deakin’s death in August 2006, MacFarlane returns to Dorset, this time with Dan Richards and Stanley Donwood. The second half of the book takes a markedly different approach to the first; his experiences within the scenery are now recounted in the awe-struck tones of a mystic wanderer. A startling account is offered of the way the group, lost for a moment in the frozen fields, “moved lost in [their] own luminous socket of mist… there were times when [they] showed as silhouettes…” He also continually sees flashes of Deakin in his peripheral vision, whose presence seems permanently tethered to the wilderness.

The language becomes increasingly abstract and fluid, with MacFarlane honing in on the psychology of the group, which echoes their ever-shifting environment. He writes of night terrors, paranoia that they are being followed back from the pub, the feeling that their temporary camp in the ditch is being encroached upon and swallowed up by the spirits of those who walked before them.

After seeing Deakin’s apparition on their return trip, he says:

“I now understand it certainly to be the case, though I have long imagined it to be true, that stretches of a path might carry memories of a person just as a person might of a path.”

 
 

This is the fourth in a series of recordings captured at locations around Sheffield.
 
 

Whistle and I’ll Come to You by North Downs Cinematograph Society
 
 
Adapted most famously by the BBC a decade on from this version, M.R. James’ ghost story involves a university professor who has his belief-system rattled when he awakens a mysterious agent from the past. This silent 1956 short-film gives us snippets of plot-line to untangle, cultivating mystery and a deep sense of the eerie across its ten-minute runtime.

As Jonathan Miller’s introduction in the BBC version attests:

“This is a tale of solitude and terror, and it has a moral too. It hints at the dangers of intellectual pride and shows how a man’s reason can be overthrown when he fails to acknowledge those forces inside himself which he simply cannot understand.”

The opening scenes of a beachfront unfold in patient and studied detail. Our protagonist, casually foraging in the sands for treasure, stumbles upon a whistle, which he inspects briefly then pockets, returning to his hotel. The camera hangs on the shoreline; we glimpse a figure, looming in the background – faceless, its shape grainy on monochrome film stock and cloaked in a white sheet.
 
 

 
 
Sharing his discovery with a companion at the bar, the professor notices an inscription on the flute, and asks him to translate it. Five words emerge: ‘Who is that who comes?’ He returns to his room, merry and bemused, and blows on the whistle playfully before retiring for the night. Immediately, something jolts outside the window from the darkness, like tectonic plates shaken from a deep slumber. He shrugs it off and undresses for bed. The second-hand crawls around the clock, from midnight to half-one, and we are transported into the professor’s dream-life.

The faceless figure we saw earlier is chasing him down the beach, in a feverish scene from which there appears no escape. He is suddenly startled awake to find a poltergeist at work. The windows burst open; the furniture shakes and trembles. Gradually, he notices the sheets on the bed next to his are quivering with a dark energy. They slowly rise up, echoing the paralysing terror that gradually, and utterly, consumes his weakening body. He is contorted and writhing against the bedroom wall as the sheets glide across the room and slowly begin to suffocate him.

Hearing the commotion, his companion rushes in. When the lights flicker on the sheets are limp and disembodied once more. The pair wander back to the beach in the morning light and – to the sound of tinkling pianos and disquieting feedback – throw the whistle back into the sea, returning the instrument to the clutches of the old world.
 

 
Thanks for reading. If you have enjoyed this zine, please consider subscribing to future issues by clicking here.


 
 
My aim with The Eye is to shine a light on music, film and literature that deals with landscape in a multitude of ways.

The space below will be taken up by images from a series of landscape poems, which I plan to release as home-made booklets in the near future.
 

 
 

Field of Reeds by These New Puritans
 
 
‘This Guy’s in Love With You’

Silver trains, fizzing, washer, “the heart’s racing, I need your love”, cosy home, male brass, breathing, tight, wide, break, relief, organ high.

‘Fragment Two’

Propulsion, spittle on foam, wide open space, running gaps close, “crushed glass” emptiness, bass drum pulse, thump, “in between the islands where we used to swim”, secret meeting place, bleak memory, worlds imagined, clack, throng, tuba, cymbals, beauty, white and black, clean landscape.

‘The Light in Your Name’

60s ballad, odd, chords writhe, twisting, back-up, a body as one, hold, practise and repeat, here they come, joined and thickened, agreement relief, “light that’s blinding”, buzz over city, over motorway, roundabout, walkways, bridges, cut together, hidden in shadows, bubble out and over, voice as bass, life string, now it begins, fear, tension, synchronicity.

‘V (Island Song)’

“Lonely island, there are no places or people”, pattering keys, “magic trick in the woods”, tease, disjointed, from the trees, reeds voice, low gravel, clean power, “not the seeker, not the found”, thwack, glimmering, metallic, splashed static, urgency story, chinks, “not the questions, not the answers”, mystery evermore, alien haunting, meditation bell, cleans the air, cold, fog rolls in, dew on grass, riverside, tall, white figures, stoney, silent, austere, sound alarm, creatures scurry forth, beautiful ride, die down, fade away, whisper to sleep.

‘Spiral’

Majesty, bold and brave, beast, takes on new voices, exorcism, song of disintegration, waves of sound, continents shift, dimensional, children, terror, all say their piece, breadcrumbs, bowed and aching groan, wait, “watch the fireworks from the beach”, lone clarinet, story to sing, meek and innocent, now friendly, conversation, lyrical quest, quiet strength, sleep.

‘Organ Eternal’

Here we go, spiralling magnetism, woody, propulsive, thick, warm, in your arms, background, distance, being followed, knights among the trees, thunder in, relief, catharsis, questions, in the plain, alone, at night, gather around, a force, away, stragglers, tired determination, thunder and rain hits the ground, canopies, keep pushing on, sweet ring, playing.

‘Nothing Else’

Waves, mourning, seagulls, generator, fishermen, glides over the shoreline, high line, currents of air, no anchor for voice, then clean, pure melody, investigate, find the source, toying, answers underneath, through history, prism of thought, grandfather, carried forward, distant lives suddenly close, if I speak to you, real or unreal, realities touching, face-to-face, float away, death pulls, honey, close, yearning.

‘Dream’

“These are all words lost in dreams, travelling the speed blood pumps, I feel your breath that carries my hope, in the way ships pass at night.”

‘Field of Reeds’

Drift in, choral voices, doomed, feelings, the end is coming, ghosts rise and enter the room, announcement, curious, vitality, new life and old, atmosphere full, quivering, bulging, and calm, over the sea again, fresh spray, relief, ending, home, colour, robes, worship, away.

 
 

This is the third in a series of recordings captured at locations around Sheffield.
 
 

Arcadia by Paul Wright
 
 
Arcadia explores the conflict, politics, and inherent mystery that lie at the heart of the British landscape. It begins with a tense introduction from Wright, who sets the scene for a kaleidoscopic, often overwhelming, hour-and-a-half montage of archive images. His fairy-tale of a troubled maiden and her quest for the ‘truth in the soil’ sets the stage perfectly for a grand inquisition, yet we leave the cinema with a head full of loose threads and suggestions, rather than solid answers.

Our timeline begins in the post-war period, with black-and-white footage of shire horses and working farms painting a bucolic vision of village life. An unnamed narrator speaks of England as a “country that, for many centuries, has enjoyed a special fame”. Almost instantly, this ideal distorts. William Blake’s Jerusalem is whispered by a young female voice like a private prayer, taking on a tone of quiet horror as the camera scans across rugged, wild moorland.

I am reminded of Robert Macfarlane’s description of ghost story writer M.R. James: “He repeatedly invokes the pastoral – that green dream of natural tranquillity and social order – only to traumatise it.” Wright’s film may go further; the fragmented narrative suggests that our centuries-old search for the spirit of Eden on home turf is the very catalyst for our digging up its disturbing opposite. A key trope of the film reinforces this reading – a booming, insistent drumbeat prompts previous clips to flash back across the screen, as our journey onward is stalked by the dark spectres of history. Whenever a rose-tinted view of the countryside threatens to dominate, we are dragged back into the mire.

The film is split into thematic chapters. Into the Wild nudges us briefly into colour, with synthesized music forcing us sideways and “deep into the land [where there] comes another truth… a hidden past, a secret history.” Stone circles and monuments, some guarded awkwardly by hard-hatted policemen, drift into view. Alice in Wonderland, in its numerous incarnations, sits alongside footage of naturist colonies and hands sinking into the soil, presenting a bizarre and intoxicating juxtaposition.
 
 

 
 
Folk explores ancient mythology, with pagan ritual assuming a focal point. Silver birches, golden fields, bale-tossing, maypole dancing, the chalk horse in a hillside at Uffington, a flock of starlings, the 60s drugs revolution, the spiritual connection between hippies and ravers. To his credit, Wright likes to show, rather than tell. With an emphasis on the weird – hand-painted lanterns and a highly charged bonfire night – we are left to unpick meaning from a disorientating vantage point.

Most obviously, we are encouraged to challenge our connection to the earth, as well as each other. Arcadia appears critical of the mass migration from farm to city that capitalist ideology demanded. We witness scenes of both economic progress and environmental destruction: the widespread private ownership of land, tree-felling, crop-spraying, landfill sites, the quiet spread of pollution, the wipe-out of natural terrain to make way for urban infrastructure. We absorb these images and recognises their effect – a loss of community, alienation from the land, and the troubling, enduring link between the two.

Towards the end of the film, we take a detour towards issues of class. We witness tribalism of two distinct types: on the one-hand, that of the upper classes in their shooting, fox hunting, and fancy-dress; on the other, the working classes’ gambling, boxing and street brawls. In a Dark Wood pushes this angle further, highlighting the history of resistance ingrained in our national psyche, skirting over the punk and mod movements, cultish festivals, riots and violent protest.

Finally, the thread loops back on itself. We are left to observe monochrome footage of roots calmly exploring the soil, just as we did when the journey began. An arresting image from David Gladwell’s Requiem for a Village (1975) is stitched into the tapestry, of stiff bodies clambering out of their flower-dressed graves to greet the present day. This conflict between beauty and brutality is central to the film. For Wright, the landscape is an amorphous character through which to study our national identity, a task that’s fascinating and dizzying in equal measure.
 

 
Thanks for reading. If you have enjoyed this zine, please consider subscribing to future issues by clicking here.


 
 
My aim with The Eye is to shine a light on music, film and literature that deals with landscape in a multitude of ways.

The space below will be taken up by images from a series of landscape poems, which I plan to release as home-made booklets in the near future.
 

 
 

The Willows by Algernon Blackwood
 
 
The Willows tells the tale of a pair of adventurers drifting along the Danube by rowing boat. They pass into a strange habitat of ever-shifting silt islands, which stretches for miles in all directions. Although forewarned of the region’s dangers, which are heightened by an impending flood, they follow the river’s tangled tributaries until forced to make camp for the night. Slowly, a sense of dread sets in – they sense an inhuman presence hidden in the silvery willows that dominate the landscape.
 

 
A stiff and motionless body bobs by the riverbank; both are frozen with fear. It rolls over in the water and they catch a glimpse of what appears to be an otter. Although they cry out in relief, they come to doubt their hurried judgment in the paranoid days that follow. Disturbingly, they then spot a man in the distance, rowing downstream at tremendous speed. He is far enough from view that they cannot make out his shape, nor the panicked words he hurls in their direction, which tangle beyond recognition in the howling wind.

At midnight, our protagonist rises from a troubled sleep, drawn from his tent to an eerie spectacle:


 
The supernatural determines to drive the travellers away from the isolated site. After a period of strained silence, worried thoughts spill over into conversation, as nervous comments give way to futile attempts to rationalise their experiences. The inexplicable becomes real, magnifying in intensity and unwittingly attracting the silent hunters towards their prey. We slowly enter this destructive headspace. Blackwood toys with the borderline between psychology and natural environment; as it slowly begins to merge, the greatest fear becomes fear itself.
 
 

This is the second in a series of recordings captured at locations around Sheffield.
 
 

Scatology by Coil
 
 
Named in tribute to the coil’s omnipresence in the wild, Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson and Jhonn Balance treated art as a catalyst for personal growth. Balance described himself as a “born-again Pagan” and believer in a fundamental “spirituality within nature”. Inspired by the surrealists, Coil were committed to plumbing the depths of the subconscious to uncover the hidden forces that they believed govern the universe.

Their approach involved deliberately disconnecting from outside influences to sharpen their vision, which resulted in the duo concentrating exclusively on developing their sound in the studio during the early years of their existence. In an NME article from 1985, Biba Kopf says that the duo’s “steeping of themselves in practices so anti-social earn[ed] them not only society’s complete contempt, but also liberation from its constraints”.

On Scatology, Coil defy convention by giving a platform to a slew of esoteric interests, from ancient mythology to black magick, each mapped out in the liner notes that make up the record sleeve. They also provoke their listeners with a demented carnival of sound. Coil’s compositions were, in part, designed to push male listeners into heightened states of sexual energy, a rationale with parallels in the teachings of Aleister Crowley, founder of thelema and figurehead of British occultism. Disturbing the status quo was central to the duo’s philosophy.
 
 

 
 
‘Panic’ lives up to its title, with metallic rhythms clattering beneath shrill violins. ‘At the Heart of It All’, one of a handful of mellower tracks, drifts by on understated piano chords and muffled snippets of conversation, maintaining the unnerving mood that persists throughout. ‘The Spoiler’’s punkish assault uses repetitive, mechanical distortion as a vessel for frustration and fury.

As ‘Godhead=Deathead’ coolly drifts by, it’s difficult not to lose oneself entirely in Coil’s desperate wasteland. We drift from its ear-piercing compression towards the wide, open space of ‘Cathedral in Flames’. The expansive feel of this piece is particularly memorable; field recordings, apparently stitched together from ancient historical documentaries, seem to puncture and distort the fabric of time.

‘Tainted Love’ is recast as an epic, mesmerising portrayal of the AIDS epidemic. The accompanying video occupies a permanent place in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and with good reason. It typifies the panoptic genius of Coil’s approach, demonstrating that beauty can be dredged up from the blackest of territory.
 

 
Thanks for reading. If you have enjoyed this zine, please consider subscribing to future issues by clicking here.


 
 
My aim with The Eye is to shine a light on music, film and literature that deals with landscape in a multitude of ways.

The space below will be taken up by images from a series of landscape poems, which I plan to release as home-made booklets in the near future.
 

 
 

Richard Dawson and Jim Ghedi
 
 
The evening begins with a drone. For the first couple of minutes, Jim Ghedi, accompanied by double bass and fiddle, plays his guitar upright with a bow, sending sublime tremors over the Abbeydale Picture House, Sheffield’s newest and most impressive venue.

The band lock into a lilting rhythm, with percussive fingerpicking from Ghedi, who lets his strings jangle and clank against the frets. A delicate composition takes form, with a quick changeover from violin to harmonium lifting and pushing the tide of sound onward. There’s an intuitive back-and-forth interplay between double bass and guitar on the booming low-notes, which catches the eye on the dimly-lit stage. The third piece carries echoes of Bryter Layter-era Nick Drake, with its frequent, rolling changes in pace absorbed fluidly by the band.

‘Phoenix Works’, a standout from A Hymn for Ancient Land, tells a story of Ford, a hamlet in northeast Derbyshire, and the scythe and sickle industry that dominated there as far back as 1489. Inspired by a poem left behind by a former worker, on the accompanying video Ghedi comments:

“The remnants of history somehow creep into our landscape and you can still envisage glimpses of these older traditions and industries. Whether just imagined by viewing the moss-coated stone rubble on a Sunday walk or discovering a local working forge while rambling down a forgotten pathway, it strangely shapes our imagination in places so close to home.”

The set ends with a traditional Scottish folk song, Ghedi throwing his gritty baritone across the front rows of the audience with powerful determination.
 
 

 
 
Richard Dawson ambles into activity in a charmingly bizarre manner; rather than wait around a few more minutes to begin his scheduled performance, he sings two songs as “DVD extras” before the proper show begins. After a searing a cappella Mike Waterson cover, he lurches into ‘The Magic Bridge’ from the record of the same name, melodies tumbling from Dawson’s contorted mouth and ragged guitar.

‘Soldier’ begins a run of songs from Peasant, Dawson’s latest transcendent record. The corners have been sanded off these arrangements, with beaters thudding on a minimalist kit at the back of the stage and sturdy bass providing accompaniment. There is little evidence of the creaking, buzz-saw character of the recordings, as the band fall back on a more dynamic style of presentation to give these songs a fresh vitality. It’s when the chorus kicks in that the song’s rough edges break through the sonic fog, as the trio throw thunderous frequencies into the cavernous space.

We drift into ‘Beggar’ next, which possesses its own peculiar momentum, before a fairly faithful rendition of ‘Weaver’. The sixth song is one of five pieces Dawson wrote for a prison film, set between 1400 and 1600. Singing from the perspective of a mother whose son died at war, he steps off the stage to deliver an unplugged and raw vocal rendition. The crowd twitch into silence as a motorbike surreally speeds along the road outside, intermingling with Dawson’s yearning vocal.

Other highlights include a lovely rendition of ‘Wooden Bag’ and a soaring version of ‘Ogre’, with its addictive closing refrain (“when the sun is dying”) gnawing away hysterically. ‘The Vile Stuff’, repeatedly requested, provides the highlight of the gig. This is surely the ‘ritual community’ music Dawson has alluded to in interviews when describing his work. Tribalistic rhythms accompany his tale of an anarchic school-trip, which details a day of cracked heads, Castlemaine XXXX, and an incident in which our narrator drives a Phillips-head screwdriver through his hand while breaking open a coconut. This is ageless music, determined to document the gnarly and mundane in all its intoxicating detail.
 
 

This is the first in a series of recordings captured at locations around Sheffield.
 
 

The Peregrine by A.J. Baker
 
 
In The Peregrine, A.J. Baker traces the movements of a pair of peregrine falcons over the fenlands of Essex over a seven-month period. On the surface, his account is little more than a humble attempt to capture the day-to-day behaviours of a species he has boundless admiration for. On this basis alone, the book would be considered a memorable contribution to the field of nature writing.

What lends the book its alluring edge, however, is the way in which human and bird slowly become so psychologically entwined that the boundaries between their identities begin to blur. As Werner Herzog says in the introduction to the recent reprint, “[Baker’s writing is] almost a transubstantiation, like in religion, where the observer becomes almost the object – in this case the falcon – he observes…”

From page 95:

“I found myself crouching over the kill, like a mantling hawk. My eyes turned quickly about, alert for the walking heads of men. Unconsciously I was imitating the movements of a hawk, as in some primitive ritual; the hunter becoming the thing he hunts. I looked into the wood. In a lair of shadow the peregrine was crouching, watching me, gripping the neck of a dead branch. We live, in these days in the open, the same ecstatic fearful life. We shun men. We hate their suddenly uplifted arms, the insanity of their flailing gestures, their erratic, scissoring gait, their aimless stumbling ways, the tombstone whiteness of their faces.”

Baker states early on that he finds “detailed descriptions of landscape… tedious.” He therefore sees fit to elevate his writing to a higher form, developing a lucid, poetic language that lends movement and suggestion to the mindlessly repetitive patterns of his observations. Very little happens. After a while, it seems like Baker is using the tedium of his investigations as meditation, or as a springboard for an act of intense worship. How many times can one describe a sun-dappled meadow and make it sound refreshing and beautiful?

Everything that does occur carries a peculiar weight of significance. The borderline between life and death is reduced to the beat of a pigeon’s wings or a snapping twig. He writes, “All that is still is dead. All that moves, and stops, and does not move again, then very slowly dies. Movement is like colour to a hawk; it flares upon the eye like crimson flame.” Also, it seems, to Baker, who adds pigment to his own life by quietly observing the tiny dramas of birds.
 

 
Thanks for reading. If you have enjoyed this zine, please consider subscribing to future issues by clicking here.