The Shildam Hall Tapes

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The conceit of a “soundtrack for an imaginary film” dates back at least as far as Gandharva by Beaver & Krause, although only the second half of that album was the imaginary soundtrack, and a rather vague one at that. (A variation on the Gandharva suite did become genuine soundtrack music, however, when Robert Fuest asked Gerry Mulligan to rework his sax improvisation for The Final Programme in 1973.) The imaginary soundtrack idea didn’t really catch on until the late 80s and early 90s, with serious efforts such as Barry Adamson’s excellent Moss Side Story emerging alongside an increasing and often lazy use of the term “imaginary soundtrack” as a descriptor employed by journalists writing about instrumental electronic albums.

The Shildam Hall Tapes is neither lazy nor mis-labelled being the latest in this year’s themed compilation albums from A Year In The Country, and a collection described as “reflections on an imaginary film.”

In the late 1960s a film crew began work on a well-funded feature film in a country mansion, having been granted permission by the young heir of the estate. Amidst rumours of aristocratic decadence, psychedelic use and even possibly dabbling in the occult, the film production collapsed, although it is said that a rough cut of it and the accompanying soundtrack were completed but they are thought to have been filed away and lost amongst storage vaults.

Few of the cast or crew have spoken about the events since and any reports from then seem to contradict one another and vary wildly in terms of what actually happened on the set. A large number of those involved, including a number of industry figures who at the time were considered to have bright futures, simply seemed to disappear or step aside from the film industry following the film’s collapse, their careers seemingly derailed or cast adrift by their experiences.

Little is known of the film’s plot but several unedited sections of the film and its soundtrack have surfaced, found amongst old film stock sold as a job lot at auction—although how they came to be there is unknown. The fragments of footage and audio that have appeared seem to show a film which was attempting to interweave and reflect the heady cultural mix of the times; of experiments and explorations in new ways of living, a burgeoning counter culture, a growing interest in and reinterpretation of folk culture and music, early electronic music experimentation, high fashion, psychedelia and the crossing over of the worlds of the aristocracy with pop/counter culture and elements of the underworld.

The Shildam Hall Tapes takes those fragments as its starting point and imagines what the completed soundtrack may have sounded like; creating a soundtrack for a film that never was.

Track list:
1) Gavino Morretti—Dawn of a New Generation
2) Sproatly Smith—Galloping Backwards
3) Field Lines Cartographer—The Computer
4) Vic Mars—Ext – Day – Overgrown Garden
5) Circle/Temple—Maze Sequence
6) A Year In The Country—Day 12, Scene 2, Take 3; Hoffman’s Fall
7) The Heartwood Institute—Shildam Hall Seance
8) David Colohan—How We’ll Go Out
9) Listening Center—Cultivation I
10) Pulselovers—The Green Leaves of Shildam Hall

I’ve always enjoyed this kind of thing when it’s done well, as in Barry Adamson’s case, so was already predisposed to the new collection even before hearing it. The cumulative effect is much better than anticipated, thanks in part to a few deviations from earlier A Year In The Country compilations. The opening piece is by Gavino Morretti, a newcomer to the AYITC stable, and a musician whose albums to date are all in the imaginary soundtrack sub-genre. Morretti provides a marvellous piece in the Goblin/Fabio Frizzi manner that effortlessly conjures a title sequence of mists, coloured filters and Art Nouveau typefaces.

The following contributions range from the spookily atmospheric (Sproatly Smith, A Year In The Country, The Heartwood Institute) to electronic numbers such as The Computer by Field Lines Cartographer which suggests some kind of paranormal investigation like those in The Stone Tape and The Legend of Hell House. The biggest surprise for me was David Colohan’s How We’ll Go Out which is another electronic work, and very different to his earlier folk-oriented compositions. If, like me, you’ve been missing the “ghost” quotient among the recent releases on the Ghost Box label, then The Shildam Hall Tapes is a very welcome substitute: sinister, perfectly-pitched and leaving enough gaps in the scenario for the imagination to operate. I’m no doubt biased towards the format but for me this is the best A Year In The Country compilation to date so I’m now wondering what the follow-up will be like.

The Shildam Hall Tapes will be available for pre-order at Bandcamp from 10th July, and released on the 31st.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Audio Albion
A Year In The Country: the book
All The Merry Year Round
The Quietened Cosmologists
Undercurrents
From The Furthest Signals
The Restless Field
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

The original Gandharva

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Cover art by Wilfried Sätty. Lettering by David Singer.

Collage artist Wilfried Sätty has been in my thoughts this month, it being ten years ago that Jay Babcock, Richard Pleuger and I drove up to San Francisco and Petaluma to talk to Walter Medeiros and David Singer about Sätty’s life and work. Looking today at the Sätty cover art for Gandharva (1971) by Beaver & Krause reminded me that the original pressing of this album came with the sleeve in a predominantly pink colouration rather than the more familiar blue. I have three copies of the album—vinyl and two CDs, one of which pairs it with Beaver & Krause’s In A Wild Sanctuary (1970)—but I’ve never seen one of the pink variations, and didn’t even know they existed until they started appearing on the web. The CD reissues favour the blue version, as do I, although this may only be a result of familiarity. I’ve enthused about Sätty’s cover a couple of times already but the music is worth hearing for its connections backwards to Cammell & Roeg’s Performance (for which B&K provided the ominous synthesizer tones), and forwards to Robert Fuest’s The Final Programme. Fuest asked Gerry Mulligan to score his film after hearing the Gandharva suite (described in the sleeve notes as “a score from a non-existent film”) which occupies side two of the album.

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Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Occult Explosion
Wilfried Sätty album covers
Nature Boy: Jesper Ryom and Wilfried Sätty
Wilfried Sätty: Artist of the occult
Illustrating Poe #4: Wilfried Sätty
Gandharva by Beaver & Krause

Weekend links 180

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One of Jonathan Andrew‘s photos of coastal bunkers and concrete defences from the Second World War. In 2006 JG Ballard looked at the way these structures embody the functional nature of Modernist architecture.

• “Utamaro, whose prints of famous courtesans were regarded as the very models of sober beauty by 19th-century Western collectors, in fact produced more Shunga books and albums than non-erotic works.” Adrian Hamilton on the Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art exhibition.

• “…in Samoa, as in many traditional cultures around the world, androphilic males occupy a special transgendered category.” Alice Dreger on gay male couples and evolution.

• Robert Fuest’s film of Michael Moorcock’s first Jerry Cornelius novel, The Final Programme (1973), is out on (Region 2) DVD this month.

Masked by reticence and cloaked in tweeds, [Herbert] Read was the unexpectedly ardent and frighteningly prolific champion of nearly everything that was radical in the first half of the twentieth century: Imagism, Surrealism, abstraction, the Bauhaus, Marxism, anarchism, Freud and Jung, progressive education, Gandhian nonviolent resistance. Though now somewhat dimly remembered, he was, for decades, the Victoria Station of the arts, England’s primary explainer of the modern.

Eliot Weinberger introduces Herbert Read’s strange fantasy novel, The Green Child (1935).

• KW Jeter’s steampunk novel Fiendish Schemes is published (with my cover art) by Tor on the 15th. There’s an extract here.

• Mix of the week: An early Halloween mix (and interview) from Joseph Stannard of The Outer Church.

• At Dangerous Minds: Codex Seraphinianus: A New Edition of the Strangest Book in the World.

A trailer for the forthcoming Blu-ray release of Murnau’s Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror.

• Kenneth Halliwell: lover, killer… artist? Philip Hoare on the collages of Joe Orton’s partner.

• Clive Hicks-Jenkins looks back at Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête here, here and here.

Anastasia Ivanova‘s photo portraits of lesbian couples in Russia.

Christopher Fox on electronic music’s sound of futures past.

• At Strange Flowers: Melchior Lechter’s book designs.

Vaughan Oliver‘s favourite 4AD album covers.

Swinging Sixties Japanese film posters.

John Foxx’s favourite albums

Beauty And The Beast (1977) by David Bowie | Slow Motion (1978) by Ultravox | I Am The Green Child (2000) by Coil

Jon Finch, 1941–2012

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Macbeth (1971).

There are few actors I’ve ever felt sufficiently cultish about who could make me watch films or TV dramas I wouldn’t otherwise be interested in. Orson Welles would be one (up to a point, he was in a lot of crap in later years), Patrick McGoohan another and Jon Finch most definitely a third. Having watched Finch just over a week ago in Roman Polanski’s superb adaptation of Macbeth it’s been a shock to discover that he’d died shortly after Christmas, the news of his funeral only being announced this week.

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Frenzy (1972).

The cult status stems from the remarkable run of lead roles he was offered in the early 1970s: playing Macbeth for Polanski, the “wrong man” role in Hitchcock’s last great film, Frenzy, and a perfect Jerry Cornelius in Robert Fuest’s adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s The Final Programme. There were plenty of other roles, of course, but those three are standouts which also show something of his range: suitably brooding, weak and malevolent in Macbeth, in Frenzy a hounded man who seems disreputable enough for his friends to suspect he may be a murderer, in The Final Programme as smart and insouciant as Moorcock’s Cornelius ought to be.

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The Final Programme (1973): Finch with Jenny Runacre (Miss Brunner).

I’m happier that Finch played Cornelius instead of James Bond, a role he was offered after Sean Connery quit. Jerry Cornelius, “the English Assassin”, in the first novel in Moorcock’s Cornelius quartet is a kind of anti-Bond, and there were few actors around in 1973 who would have possessed the necessary charisma and intelligence for the part. Mike Moorcock was friends with Finch around the time the film was being made so when I was visiting the Moorcocks in Paris a few years ago I asked him why Finch hadn’t done more with his career after such an impressive start. Mike says he was one of those actors who often preferred to be doing something else with his time.

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Finch and Ronald Lacey (Shades) in The Final Programme.

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On the set of Alien (1978).

Obituaries will no doubt regard Finch’s rejection of the Bond role as a missed opportunity but I wish we could have seen him as intended in Ridley Scott’s Alien where he’d been cast as Kane but had to drop out after contracting a severe case of bronchitis once shooting was underway. The photo and screen grab below are seldom-seen images from the Alien DVD extras. I’ve nothing against John Hurt in the role but with Finch playing the part it would have made a cult film a little more special. He did get to act for Ridley Scott eventually with a small role in Kingdom of Heaven in 2005.

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An outtake from Alien.

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As Count Sylvius in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1994).

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Update: Found on an archive disc, this rare photo from the set of The Final Programme showing Finch as Jerry Cornelius facing off with his creator, Michael Moorcock. (Click for a larger copy.) That’s the Space Ritual line-up of Hawkwind in the background. Band and author appear for a fraction of a second in a shot during the film’s arcade scene. Considering how common it was to have rock bands in feature films during this time it still surprises me that Fuest and co. went to all this trouble then left them on the cutting-room floor. The photo was Moorcock’s own, as I recall, something we ran in one of the Savoy books.

Guardian obituary
Independent obituary
Telegraph obituary
Macbeth trailer
Frenzy trailer
The Final Programme trailer

Previously on { feuilleton }
Dan O’Bannon, 1946–2009
Patrick McGoohan and The Prisoner

Wilfried Sätty album covers

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Gandharva (1971) by Beaver & Krause. Cover art by Sätty, lettering by David Singer.

There aren’t many, unfortunately, and half the ones here have already featured in previous posts, but since I’m often referring people to Sätty’s work it seems worthwhile gathering them together. His album cover art shows he was equally adept at working with colour as with black-and-white, and might have done a lot more in this line had he been given the opportunity. (Sätty’s first book, The Cosmic Bicycle, does include some colour plates.)

The Gandharva album is the oddest in this small collection, one side being a blend of blues, gospel and Beaver & Krause’s Moog doodlings while the other side comprises an improvised Moog-inflected jazz suite recorded live in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. The setting of the latter is apt since cover artists Sätty and David Singer both came to prominence among San Francisco’s psychedelic poster designers in the late 1960s. Film director Robert Fuest liked Gandharva so much he hired Paul Beaver, Bernie Krause and Gerry Mulligan to play similar music for the soundtrack of The Final Programme.

Of the other albums the Sopwith Camel is obviously closest to Sätty’s familiar style. The covers for George Duke suit the mid-70s trend of jazz/funk albums with “cosmic” sleeve art exemplified by Tadanori Yokoo’s fantastic (in all senses) collage for Agharta by Miles Davis. Documentation of Sätty’s non-book work is still sparse so if anyone knows of any other covers please leave a comment.

Update: Added The Occult Explosion. See this later post.

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The Miraculous Hump Returns From The Moon (1973) by Sopwith Camel.

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The Occult Explosion (1973) by Various Artists.

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Feel (1974) By George Duke.

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The Aura Will Prevail (1975) by George Duke.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Nature Boy: Jesper Ryom and Wilfried Sätty
Wilfried Sätty: Artist of the occult
Illustrating Poe #4: Wilfried Sätty