Saturday, 16 January 2016

Black Dog Traditions of England

Black Dog Traditions of England
Ian Humberstone, David Chatton Barker, et al.

  • 12” LP featuring acousmatic sound compositions, site-specific field-recordings and original audio of local storytellers spinning out black dog yarns.
  • DVD containing a 10-minute film by David Chatton Barker, hand-treated using haunted materials and distressed in rust, accompanied by a special mix of the project’s audio.
  • Full-colour, 80-page book by Ian Humberstone, containing original articles focussed on each tale covered by the project, as well as photography taken on-site during fieldwork.
  • Riso printed poster of Dob Park Lodge and Troller’s Gill—two locations featured in the project.
  • All contents captured in an embossed, hand-numbered and hand-stamped box.
  • Edition of 500 with first 100 copies containing an additional cassette version of the project audio. Available to pre-order here from Monday 18.01.16

What is a black dog? Well, that is a question more easily asked than answered. Listen close and I will tell you all that I know.

A black dog is a nocturnal terror, a prowling and ill-omened animation of the witching-hour. Whether plying its trade as a ghost or goblin, a demon or devil, its principle description remains—it is a horrid thing of prodigious size, black and shaggy-haired, in the rough shape of a dog (though greater in stature than any natural breed), with glowing eyes as large as tea saucers that glitter and gleam in the murk. Its recurrent associations are with death, misfortune and the darker shades to human endeavour.

These are dread-makers that lurk in the forgotten, twilit corners of this world: the lanes, crossroads and graveyards of isolated villages; the tumuli, ruins and ravines of the open moors; the site at which a gibbet stood or murder was committed in more populous places. They are wont to wander. Those associated with a particular road or lane are often said to patrol a certain stretch or ‘beat’ along it, while those that once haunted a specific site have frequently expanded their activities to a surrounding locale, as their story waxes in its retelling.

These are unholy-hounds that stalk their sorrowful haunts at dusk or midnight—those liminal hours when the darkling night might shelter their fetid furs. A black dog may appear or disappear instantaneously, mutate at will, shrink or swell in size, emit a sulphurous stench, even trail a great clanking chain behind it as it goes. It may howl and yowl, or roar and rumble, shrieking and screeching through the squally night. Or it may be silent, save for the unpropitious padding of its giant paws upon the ground behind.

How long, exactly, these deliria have tottered along in mankind’s wake is uncertain. In their most basic construction—black, ill-defined, malevolent creatures of the beyond—they are likely as ancient as human fear itself. Yet each generation has added to the image, creating a shifting, legendary mongrel-breed, charged with myth and story.

Black Dog Traditions of England tells the tales eight spectre-hounds in an expansive, multi-disciplinary box-set. It is the product of extensive fieldwork conducted by Ian and David throughout 2015, as well as Ian’s own researches into black dog folklore dating back to 2007.

The LP features acousmatic sound compositions, site-specific field-recordings and original audio of local storytellers spinning out their black dog yarns. The hand-treated and rust-degraded film contained on the DVD incorporates materials gathered in the field, such as ashes from the fireplace at Dob Park Lodge (above) and scorched waterweed from Troller’s Gill. The project book is notable in its own right—a detailed, original study tracing the history of each black dog story from its earliest textual source to the present day. The book also includes a map and full-colour photographs from the project’s many expeditions. An embossed, hand-numbered and hand-stamped box holds the contents firm.

The box-set is a reliquary of objects, stories and sounds centuries, if not millennia, in the making. These are resonances of the never-was: artworks informed by those long-forgotten who, out lurking in the half-light of a country lane, saw shapes somehow darker than the surrounding night that preyed upon their idle minds.

LP Tracklisting
  • Black Dog Summons
  • The Barguest of Dob Park Lodge 
  • The Black Dog of Uplyme 
  • The Legend of Black Vaughan 
  • The Procession at Black Dog Village 
  • Tales of Black Shuck 
  • The Barguest of Troller’s Gill 
  • The Black Dog of Newgate 
  • Watchdogs of the Wambarrows

Black Dog Traditions of England - The Barguest of Troller's Gill from Folklore Tapes on Vimeo.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

FTCCIII: Mid-winter Rites and Revelries

Image of Folklore Tapes Calendar Customs Vol.III Mid-Winter Rites & Revelries

Folklore Tapes Calendar Customs Vol.III: Mid-Winter Rites & Revelries
Artists: Various
Format: Embossed cassette box including printed green cassette. screen printed sleeve, research booklet, essay, evergreen bough, poster, download code.
Release Date: 04/12/15
Edition: 250

Arianne Churchman - Fourth Solo Cutty Wren Ritual
Dean McPhee - The Devil's Knell
Rob St John - Fire Rites
David Chatton Barker - Wheel of Life
Sam McLoughlin - Tangerines in Socks
Magpahi - The Lady of the Mountain
Mary Stark - Holly & Ivy
Ian Humberstone - Carrying the Clavie Fire
Carl Turney & Brian Campbell - lo Saturnalia!
Mary & David - Wassailing

Mid-winter is the low ebb of the year, the heart of the lifeless season when the sun describes a wearily flattened arc across the sky: its luminosity dimmed and wan, its passage brief. Shadows lengthen, branches grow bare and bony, temperatures drop and darkness prevails. There is a need for cheer, for hope and conviviality, for reminders of Spring’s renewal to come. Old mid-winter rites and rituals, centring around Christmastide observances and celebrations, bring a little warmth and light to this chill time of scarcity and spiritual despond. And it is these rites to which Folklore Tapes turn their collective eye in this the fourth season of the solar year.

The artists contributing to this limited edition cassette compilation have each researched a particular mid-winter ritual and, informed by their findings, conjured a sound piece in response. The movements take their listener on an audiological journey around the old ways of winter, with acousmatic carolling, text-sound collage, composed music and augmented field-recording. These are playful retellings of long-forgotten observances: library sounds, carried on a wisp of smoke from the bonfires of winters past.

The cassette comes housed in a hand-numbered and stamped box, accompanied by a detailed booklet and essay focussing on the customs and rituals covered. Also inside is a poster and evergreen bough to cheer the peruser through the long, dank night. So come gather round the ceremonial fire as Folklore Tapes toll the Devil’s knell, hunt the sacred wren, light the Yule Log and enact saturnalic mischief in the deepest depths of winter’s long night.

Available from the Folklore Tapes shop.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Folklore Tapes at the Arnolfini, Bristol, September 12th

Tomorrow, at the Arnolfini in Bristol, Folklore Tapes present a full evening of acts, including a one-off performance focusing on the stone circle at Stanton Drew, as well as spectral projections, tape manipulations, storytelling and light puppetry.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Black Dog Field Notes

Ian Humberstone navigates Troller's Gill in the Yorkshire Dales. This limestone gorge is said to be the spot where a wizard met his maker at the muzzle of a barguest. The tradition is long-standing in the district, and commemorated by a ballad dating to the early nineteenth century.

The Wambarrows on Winsford Hill in Somerset. These ancient tumuli are rumoured to conceal a hidden treasure, which is guarded by a ghostly black dog. The phantom is said to appear on autumn nights, its saucer eyes glowering in the gloom. Approach it and death will follow, stand motionless and the vision will slowly fade away into the moorland mists.

Arianne Churchman's notebook, laid out on a table at the Locks Inn, Geldeston. In the nineteenth century, a 'Hateful Thing' in the form of a black dog, but keeping no regular shape or size, appeared near here to a mother and daughter. The daughter took great fright at the apparition, but the mother at first saw nothing - it was only on touching her daughter's hand that the creature revealed itself to them both. Great significance was placed upon the fact that the daughter was born 'under the chime hours' and could therefore see things others couldn't.

David Chatton Barker takes a break at Black Dog village in Devon. A black dog was said to haunt the well here at the time of the Civil War. More recently, a procession, involving guisers decked out in a black dog costume, was set up in the 1990s to honour similar reports of 'a beast' seen along the local roads.

The black dog weather vane in Bungay, Suffolk. On the fourth of August, 1577, a great tempest occurred here during divine service at St. Mary's church. A contemporary pamphlet records that in the midst of the storm a black dog, or 'the devil in such a likenesse', ran about the church assaulting the parishioners. Several are said to have been slain by the creature, which caused one man to shrivel up like a piece of leather 'scorched in a hot fire'. The Black Dog of Bungay has since become a local emblem.

The interior of Dob Park Lodge, an austere Tudor ruin overlooking the Washburn Valley near Harrogate. Legend tells us that in the foundations of this old manor there are a number of hidden passageways and chambers. It is said that deep down within the subterranean lair there lives a talking barguest that guards a chest of gold from any foolhardy enough to seek it.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Merry May: 'Minehead Hobby Horse' Research Notes


The Minehead Hobby Horse: An Awakening - Becoming Horse/Boat/Myth - Horseplay


Warning Night, An Awakening:
The horse is awoken; the rider begins their process of becoming animal, their body assimilated into the horses.

May Day, Becoming Horse/Boat/Myth:
Beginning at 5am the awoken horse perambulates the old borders of the town, processing from the Quay to Whitecross and then to Dunster Castle. The act of boundary marking reinforces an insular space in which non-human becomings can occur and the myths shared by the community can be invoked. This is particularly evident in the strange shaping of the horse, though technically a horse it is also unmistakably boat shaped, a shape that invokes the myth of an unmanned ghostly ship entering the harbour and another myth of Viking invaders being chased back into their boats by the town’s populace dressed as this strange beast. The horse through its becoming other acts as the representative of the community and its shared history.

The Bootie, Horseplay:

The assimilation of the rider leads to “horseplay” and chaos, which is particularly evident during the Bootie at Cher. A spectator is caught by two members of the Hobby Horse team, and is booted ten times. The spectator then has to avoid the whipping of the horses tail afterwards in a dance.

“There is a becoming-animal not content to proceed by resemblance and for which resemblance, on the contrary, would represent an obstacle or stoppage”, Deleuze and Guattari (A Thousand Plateaus, 1988).

- Arianne Churchman

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Folklore Tapes Calendar Customs Vol.II: Merry May

Title: Folklore Tapes Calendar Customs Vol.II: Merry May
Artists: Various
Format: Embossed cassette box including screen printed cassette sleeve, research booklet, essay, maypole ribbon, download code.
Release Date: 01/05/15
Edition: 250
Estimated shipping: 24/4/15

Side A: Carl Turney & Brian Campbell – SumerIsIcumenIn ; The Blue Funz - Beltane, Isle of Mull: Need-Fire and Milking Cows Through Cake ; Arianne Churchman - Minehead Hobby Horse ; Rob St John - Bringing in the May. Side B: Ian Humberstone - The Hunting of the Earl of Rone ; Mary & David - Wish Before Sunrise (May Dewing) ; Children of Alice - Rite of the Maypole: An Unruly Procession ; Sam McLoughlin - I Want to Sing like the Birds Sing, Not Worrying About Who Hears or What They Think ; Malcolm Benzie - Hawthorne

Unite and unite and let us all unite,
For summer is a-come unto day
And whither we are going we will all unite,
In the merry morning of May.

May Day is one of the turning points of the year, when the transformation from winter to spring is ritually observed and celebrated. The Eve of May displays an obverse face to Halloween’s soot-blackened mask, fixed on the opposite arc of the annular globe. Both have origins in the Celtic pastoral year and the solar festivals which lent it formal division. Superstitions surrounding May Eve, May Day and the ensuing days at the start of the month persisted well into the medieval period, and even into the post-Reformation era. Fairies might steal or sour milk, or witches spell maleficent harm on the herd.

May Day festivities are all about getting outdoors and inhaling the first breath of summer; throwing the windows wide and heading for the woodlands and meadows with a light skip in the step. The custom most widely associated with May Day is the bringing in of the May. Boughs of blossoming hawthorn would be cut and brought back from meadow’s edge and strewn about town or village, some woven into garlands, others left as they were found. Maypoles were erected in villages, towns and cities. These towering columns would be painted with colourful stripes and hung about with ribbons and flowers. They became the focal point for local festivities, for dancing, whether in a wheeling, handlocked circle or weaving approaches and evasions. Morris dancing featured frequently, and there might be pipers and harpers, drummers and Fools to fuel the festivities with music and general jollity. Mummers plays were sometimes staged, the performers disguised, which gave them a certain license to mock the high and mighty. Parades were peopled by stock figures of British folklore, religious devotion and popular legend: George and the Dragon, regional saints, Jack-in-the-Greens, Giants and Devils.

‘Merry May’ explores this world of Spring carousing sonically, with contemporary music and sound informed by specific age-old traditions. The artists contributing to this compilation have each researched a particular May ritual and, informed by their findings, conjured a piece in response. As such, the cassette takes its listeners on an audiological journey where, mounted upon clacking Hobby horses, they will meet with May Birchers and Dewers, reel around Maypoles and parade the streets in the company of the Earl of Rone and the Fool.

Now available to pre-order from