Serious houses: The Lud Heat Tapes, 1979

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Goldmark hardcover, 1987.

The old maps present a sky-line dominated by church towers; those horizons were differently punctured, so that the subservience of the grounded eye, & the division of the city by nome-wound, was not disguised. Moving now on an eastern arc the churches of Nicholas Hawksmoor soon invade the consciousness, the charting instinct. Eight churches give us the enclosure, the shape of the fear; – built for early century optimism, erected over a fen of undisclosed horrors, white stones laid upon the mud & dust. In this air certain hungers were activated that have yet to be pacified; no turning back, as Yeats claims: “the stones once set up traffic with the enemy.”
—Iain Sinclair, Lud Heat

A serious house on serious earth it is
—Philip Larkin, Church Going

“Serious” is a word with many meanings. The Oxford English Dictionary gives one of these as “attended with danger; giving cause for anxiety”, a definition that wouldn’t suit Philip Larkin’s poem describing a visit to a moribund country church, but which is easily applied to a longer cycle of poems by Iain Sinclair. Lud Heat: A Book of the Dead Hamlets is the collection of writings that lifted Sinclair’s authorial profile out of the poetry ghetto in which he’d been situated throughout the 1970s. He published the first edition via his own Albion Village Press in 1975 but it wasn’t until the arrival of Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor a decade later that wider public attention began to turn in Sinclair’s direction. Lud Heat set out for the first time a series of observations concerning the peculiar and sinister qualities of the churches built by Nicholas Hawksmoor in 18th-century London: Christ Church, Spitalfields; St George’s, Bloomsbury; St Mary Woolnoth; St George in the East; St Anne’s, Limehouse; St Alfege Church, Greenwich; plus those built in collaboration with John James: St Luke Old Street, and St John Horsleydown. The book separates the poetry with prose pieces—diary extracts, accounts of a film viewing and an art exhibition—that anticipate the author’s subsequent explorations of London’s margins and esoterica. Like many of Sinclair’s later writings, the texts in the early editions are accompanied by a variety of illustrations: engravings, contemporary photographs, and a map of London drawn by Brian Catling that posits a network of “lines of influence…invisible rods of force” connecting the churches with each other and with significant locations such as William Blake’s house, Cleopatra’s Needle and so on. Paperback reprints omitted the illustrations* but retained the map which was redrawn by Dave McKean. The new version gave greater emphasis to the Egyptian symbols that Sinclair and Catling had scattered across the city: jackal-headed Anubis as as the presiding deity of the Isle of Dogs.

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Photo by Charles Latham from London Churches of the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries (1896) by George H. Birch.

Lud Heat is a beguiling and potent book; it’s also a book that’s of its time in its suggestion of malefic “rods of force” scored across the capital. Sinclair’s map may be the earliest artistic development of a process begun in 1969 when John Michell published The View Over Atlantis, an elaboration of ideas set forth in his earlier volume, The Flying Saucer Vision. Michell’s free-wheeling speculations gave new life to the innocuous studies of Alfred Watkins, inflating amateur archaeological ruminations into full-blown Aquarian metaphysics. Where Watkins considered that “ley lines” (a term of his own invention) might have been ancient trading routes, Michell’s enthusiasm for the full range of Fortean phenomena transmuted the alleged paths into channels of unspecified “earth energy”, flying-saucer guides, and the axes of a sacred geometry. Other crank scholars were eager to follow Michell’s lead, leaving an opening for Sinclair to adopt the conceit for its poetic resonances; the New Age trappings were inverted to reveal a darker pattern more suited to London’s history of plague, murder and mass destruction. (The Hawksmoor churches had been built to compensate for the devastations of the Great Fire of 1666; two of them were hit by bombs during the Blitz, with one being damaged beyond repair.) This isn’t to suggest that Sinclair was borrowing directly from Watkins and Michell; in an interview he mentions an earlier precursor of both his map and Watkins’ ley lines in Prehistoric London: Its Mounds and Circles (1914) by Elizabeth O. Gordon. But something was in the air in the 1970s. Lud Heat appeared shortly before the release of a pair of albums that borrowed heavily from Michell’s books—Green (1978) by Steve Hillage, and Blake’s New Jerusalem (1978) by Tim Blake—and two TV serials that exploited the idea of ley lines as channels of earth energy: Children of the Stones (1977) and Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass (1979). Lud Heat stands apart from these works by concentrating on urban structures rather than isolated monoliths and ancient pathways. The suggestion that the city of London could be home to mysterious “rods of force” is an especially intriguing one, hence the appropriation of the idea by Peter Ackroyd in Hawksmoor and Alan Moore in From Hell. Any church of a sufficient size or age is a kind of time machine, maintaining in its appearance and its grounds a pocket of history separated from the changes that take place around it. The churches in Lud Heat are also batteries of stone, impregnated with the unspent energies of the dead who lie in their crypts. These latent forces overflow their containers, spilling into the streets beyond the church walls. Sinclair has always been adamant that his Lud Heat map is a fabrication; the degree to which he believes in the rest of his thesis is for the reader to decide. It is a fact that St George in the East is close to the location of the Ratcliffe Highway Murders of 1811 (Sinclair includes a illustration of the murderer’s corpse in Lud Heat), while Christ Church, Spitalfields, sits at the centre of maps of the Jack the Ripper murders; the fifth and most brutal of these occurred a short distance from that colossal porch on the opposite side of Commercial Street. “Dead Hamlets” also has many meanings.

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Weekend links 358

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Painted beetle (2016) by Akihiro Higuchi.

David Horbury: The Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition ignores the pioneering scholarship of Emmanuel Cooper, author of The Sexual Perspective: Homosexuality and Art in the last 100 years in the West (1986).

L’Androgyne Alchemique is an exhibition at the Azzedine Alaïa Gallery, Paris, by pascALEjandro, a collaboration between Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky and Alejandro Jodorowsky.

• At Strange Flowers: an interview with DJ Sheppard, biographer of poet Theodore Wratislaw (1871–1933), one of the models for Max Beerbohm’s hapless Enoch Soames.

Eloise or, the Realities is a new 122-page comic book by Ibrahim R. Ineke “inspired in part by Children of the Stones and The Owl Service“.

• Cormac McCarthy hasn’t published a novel for over ten years now but this new piece of writing addresses the mysterious origin of language.

• “…she invented a kind of symbolic code that channelled the occult and the Renaissance masters”. Yo Zushi on Leonora Carrington.

John O’Reilly on the Samuel Beckett cover designs created by Russell Mills and Gary Day-Ellison for Picador.

Porter Ricks (Thomas Köner & Andy Mellwig) have announced their first album in 18 years.

• At The Daily Grail: Alan Moore on science, imagination, language and spirits of place.

• All 66 issues of Performance Magazine (1979–1992) are now available online.

• The Throbbing Gristle catalogue is being reissued (again).

Lost Soul In Disillusion (1967) by The Power Of Beckett | Liquid Insects (1993) by Amorphous Androgynous | Biokinetics 2 (1996) by Porter Ricks

Summerisle revisited

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I don’t buy many of my own things from CafePress but I had some credit in the account from recent sales so I had to get one of these. (I’m also not in the habit of carrying whisky around but it’s good to have the option.) When I have a spare moment I may add this design to more of the burgeoning range of products. For the moment, these are the available options. Happy Equinox and slàinte mhath!

Previously on { feuilleton }
Summerisle souvenirs
Wicker mania
Milbury souvenirs
Children of the Stones

Summerisle souvenirs

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Presenting the second in what is now a series of travel posters for the fictional regions of Old Weird Britain. In 2012 I created a poster for the village of Milbury from Children of the Stones, a design derived from the London Transport posters of the 1920s promoting destinations outside the city. At the time I had a vague idea of maybe doing more in this style but it’s taken this long to produce something new.

Summerisle is an obvious choice but not necessarily an easy one. The popularity of The Wicker Man means that a small cottage industry of Summerisle souvenirs already exists, most of the products being concerned with the events of May Day 1973. A travel poster would represent a location rather than a single date so that wasn’t a problem, but I also wanted to avoid any Wicker Man silhouettes. The appearance of the Wicker Man at the end of the film is a secret being revealed, it’s not something the islanders would broadcast to the world, hence the concentration here on the village, the manor house and the standing stones. The sole nod to the island’s customs is the group of people lurking behind a wall. Another temptation would be to use the Nuada sun as seen in the film but others have already made use of that so I took a sun face from an old Tarot card.

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As with the Milbury poster, this is now a design available on a range of CafePress products. These are mostly paper goods for the time being; setting up new shops at CafePress becomes increasingly time-consuming as the company adds more yet clothing, phone cases and household goods. Among the new products, however, there’s a stainless steel flask which I wouldn’t usually add but which is perfect for a design promoting a Scottish island. I think I’ll have to order one for myself.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Wicker mania
Milbury souvenirs
Children of the Stones

Wicker mania

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US reissue poster (1979).

The restored version of The Wicker Man (1973) has been showing in UK cinemas recently, and the Blu-ray edition of the film is released this week. My copy arrived from Moviemail, and while I’m not in a great hurry to watch it again—this is one film that’s so familiar I could lip-synch along with it—it’s been a pleasure to compare the restored scenes to the long-version DVD which appeared in 2002. The earlier version had its missing scenes taken from a 1-inch videotape which was considerably poorer quality than the rest of the film. The restored scenes still look grainy and slightly washed out but now they at least look like pieces of film, not interpolations from video. The screengrabs below show the difference between scenes from the 2002 DVD compared to their equivalents on the Blu-ray. The rest of the film looks pristine, of course.

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The new version isn’t as long as the longest version, however, a preliminary sequence in and around the mainland police station having been excised. In a lengthy feature in the October edition of Sight & Sound director Robin Hardy explains that he disliked what he calls “the Z-Cars section” (referring to an old UK TV series), and it’s true that it doesn’t help the story at all. Whether they like it or not, viewers of the film have to accept constable Howie as their proxy within the story, and he’s an insufferable prig throughout. That’s bearable in the context of his presence on Summerisle but the mainland sequence throws his character into relief against his less priggish colleagues.

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Another slight omission is the title card which used to precede the film thanking Lord Summerisle and the islanders for allowing the filmmakers to observe their rituals. In its place we have a zoom into the face of Nuada the Sun God, a painted rendering of a carved figure seen in the film. I’ve always liked this face which has become an emblem of the film even though it’s not present in all versions. (For more detail about the tangled history of the various prints, see this site.)

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Cover photo by Oliver Hunter.

A rather bad drawing of the Nuada face appears at the beginning of each chapter of the novelisation which Hamlyn published in 1979 (and on the cover of the US edition from the year before). This was the year when the film’s reputation began to take off, and also the year it was reissued in the US. Although Hardy and screenwriter Anthony Shaffer are both credited for the novel I suspect the writing is mostly Shaffer’s work. It’s pretty good, and goes into considerable detail, fleshing out the story and Howie’s character, and also showing how much research the pair put into the pagan side of things. You also get the lyrics of some of the songs. Until the complete soundtrack appeared in 2002 the novel was the only place you could find the salacious missing verse from Willow’s Song which describes a maid milking a bull.

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And speaking of the soundtrack, the three-disc Blu-ray edition includes the complete soundtrack on one of its discs, a considerable bonus if you don’t have it already. I should note that my good friend Gav insists I mention that the film’s final brass fanfare—labelled as Sunset on the soundtrack album—is a Bulgarian folk tune entitled Rodopska Devoika Zamrakanala Mona Jana, something neither of us has ever seen credited.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Children of the Stones