Tag Archives: Pagan

The Forest Holds Many Secrets…

“After losing her job and her partner in one fell swoop, journalist Elspeth Reeves is back in her mother’s house in the sleepy village of Wilsby-under-Wychwood, wondering where it all went wrong.

Then a body is found in the neighbouring Wychwoods : a woman ritually slaughtered, with cryptic symbols scattered around her corpse. Elspeth recognizes these from a local myth of the Carrion King, a Saxon magician who once held a malevolent court deep in the forest.

As more murders follow, Elspeth joins her childhood friend DS Peter Shaw to investigate, and the two discover sinister village secrets harking back decades…”

The latest book to be read via my Kobo e-reader is a crime thriller with a sort of pagan / supernatural edge to it. Penned by young Darlington-born author (and comic writer) George Mann, this is something of a departure from his previous work which has seen him writing a number of books including adventures for famous characters Dr. Who and Sherlock Holmes as well as his own Victorian crime books featuring London detectives Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes.

George Mann

“Wychwood” uses the author’s imagined legend of the Carrion King, a mythical figure who used occult rituals during the Saxon era to obtain supernatural power. In modern-day Oxfordshire people are being killed in ways that are in keeping with the stories of the Carrion King. When Elspeth, newly both single and unemployed, moves from London back to her mother’s home in a small village backing onto the titular Wychwood it takes her journalistic instinct no time at all to get herself involved in the investigation – handily enough being able to hook up with childhood friend (and now police detective) Peter without anyone raising any real objections.

I enjoyed this book, which I believe is set to be the first in a new series for Mann. That said, a certain suspension of disbelief was required. Not in relation to the magical / supernatural elements (though these are never really resolved one way or the other), but in terms of how the actual story unfolded. As hinted above, I found the ease with which Elspeth was able to get herself involved in the police investigation – and in truth her friendship / relationship with Peter wasn’t convincing (but makes a good bridge to further books I guess).

The identity and motivation of the baddie was also obvious pretty early on, though not quite like an episode of TV’s “Columbo” as our crime fighting duo were often quite slow at putting the pieces together. Despite this I did, as I said, enjoy the book – largely I think because of the mixture of modern-day police procedural and historical ritualistic elements. Certainly worth a look…

Advertisements

Solennial

Sophie Day

A recent musical discovery for me has been West Midlands-based doom metal outfit Alunah, via their latest album “Solennial”. The band was formed in 2006 by vocalist Sophie Day along with her husband David Day (guitars), Jake Mason (drums) and Andy Barnett (bass).

Alunah In 2008

Barnett had been replaced by Gareth Imber by the time the group’s debut album “Call Of Avernus” was recorded and released in 2010 and was to appear on second album “White Hoarhound” (2012) as well before departing and being himself replaced by current bassist Daniel Burchmore. “Awakening The Forest”, the band’s third album, surfaced in late 2014.

David Day

March 2017 witnessed the release album of number four, the aforementioned “Solennial” – the groups’ first with label Svart Records (home of Trees Of Eternity and Jess & The Ancient Ones amongst others). The record was recorded at Skyhammer Studios by producer Chris Fielding who has previously worked with artists including Winterfylleth, Sir Admiral Cloudesley Shovell and Electric Wizard.

Jake Mason & Daniel Burchmore

As with so many bands within the doom metal scene, Alunah clearly take inspiration from a fellow West Midlands act – the rather well-known Black Sabbath. However, whilst other groups of their ilk are content to use said inspiration as a template from which they seldom deviate Alunah have over the course of their previous three records sought to expand their own sonic palette.

Alunah In 2014

“Solennial” begins with a gentle and soothing “The Dying Soil”, as a cascading guitar part and barely-there drums lay a backing for Sophie Day’s delicate delivery of lyrics concerning the transition from Autumn to Winter. This introduction gathers in eerie intensity until coming to an abrupt conclusion as the fuzzy guitar tones of David Day usher in “Light Of Winter”, a song that shows the band’s pagan leanings as it concerns Alban Arthan – a Druidic festival at the Winter Solstice.

Alunah Live In 2017

“Feast Of Torches”, the second longest track on the album at a little over seven minutes, has more variety within its duration. This, and the vocal delivery brought to mind the sound of Blood Ceremony to me. This is underscored really by the psychedelic passages that occur throughout the album.

Thornborough Henge

“The Reckoning Of Time” has a fluid and melodic guitar solo amongst some nice light and shade before the monolithic riffing returns with the fabulous “Fire Of Thornborough Henge” – a song inspired by the fire festival of Beltane being celebrated at Thornborough Henge, a monument in Yorkshire spanning built approximately five thousand years ago.

Alunah In 2017

The next number “Petrichor” (which means the earthy scent produced with the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather) is another track with a nice balance of light and shade but is itself eclipsed by the rather good “Lugh’s Assembly” which addresses some Irish mythology concerning the pagan God named Lugh and his foster-mother Tailtiu who seems to have also been Queen of the Fir Bolg. Whatever the story it’s a great tune!

The Cure – A Forest

Finally we have a cover of “A Forest” – originally recorded by The Cure way back in 1980. The intro riff here is a slowed down version of the original which retains a gothic rock quality but that quickly gives away to doom riffing at funereal pace and a masterful reinterpretation of a song that – as with many of those preceding it – is concerned with the natural world around us, specifically forestry, and ancient lore.

David Day & Sophie Day

Performance-wise, the drums and bass of Mason and Burchmore are perfectly suited to this material, underpinning everything with unfussed economy, with the spotlight falling onto the two Days with the huge riffs providing a great counterpoint to the often ethereal quality of the lead vocal delivery.

Doom metal certainly isn’t for everyone, but Alunah’s sound is undoubtedly at the more accessible end of the spectrum with the aforementioned comparison to Blood Ceremony indicating that they are closer to that band’s doomy psychedelia than, say, the heavy intensity of Electric Wizard and I believe that most metal fans would find a lot to appreciate with this record…“Solennial” tracklist:

1. The Dying Soil / 2. Light Of Winter / 3. Feast Of Torches / 4. The Reckoning Of Time / 5. Fire Of Thornborough Henge / 6. Petrichor / 7. Lugh’s Assembly / 8. A Forest

Songs From The Fyrgen

Winterfylleth

I have written in the past about Manchester black metal band Winterfylleth – looking at their 2016 “The Dark Hereafter” album as well as a 2014 live show in Birmingham supporting Polish act Behemoth. Artist Dan Capp has been involved with the creation of Winterfylleth’s artwork for a number of years and joined the band as lead guitarist in early 2015.

Dan Capp

Wolcensmen is Capp’s solo project that has been in the works for several years, and was inspired by the acoustic parts of music by the likes of Ulver, Opeth and Empyrium and also by Capp witnessing an Irish folk band playing in a Dublin pub, leading him to reflect that he felt an English version – local pubs etc. with acts regularly performing English folk music – was lacking. Wolcensmen is his answer to that void though, as he says, “…as it happens, the music I’d go on to record had none of the happy, merry-making appeal I’d first envisioned, but anyhow…” I’d venture that Wolcensmen are the English equivalent to the rather super Norwegian act Wardruna who aim to create musical representations of Norse traditions.

Children Of The Stones

“Songs From The Fyrgen” is the debut album from Wolcensmen. The “fyrgen” in the album title refers to mountain woods or a wooded hilltop, so it’s natural that the music contained within should evoke such surroundings. I suppose that the closest his day-job band come to the music found on the record would be something like “Children Of The Stones” (also the title of a super TV series originally broadcast back in 1977) or perhaps “Æfterield-fréon” – both excellent, delicate and atmospheric acoustic pieces.

Jake Rogers

So it is with this album. Beginning with one of the shortest numbers “Withershins” this is full of acoustic guitars and very natural vocals by the main man, augmented by percussion by Dan & Mark Capp, flute (by American Jake Rogers), some synthesizer (by Grimrik from Germany), piano (by Dries Gaerdelen from Belgium), cello (by Canadian Raphael Weinroth-Browne) and some ritualistic vocals from Norwegian Nash Rothanburg. Despite the multi-national support cast I feel that this record is a very English sounding one.

Grimrik

And that was certainly Capp’s intention. He stated in an interview that Wolcensmen is “…specifically a celebration of old England…”. It is also definitely thematically heathen – “…the Heathen aspect is vital, because I am a Heathen and Wolcensmen is essentially a cultural statement. It is meant to be romantic, and I simply can’t see that there’s anything to romanticise about post-Christian England. It was the beginning of our decline. The stories are mine, except for ‘The Mon o’ Micht’, which is lyrically traditional, and ‘Hoofes Upon the Shymmeringe Path’ whose lyrics are based on the names of the horses belonging to the Asa (Aesir) gods, on which they ride across Bifrost, ‘the shimmering path’, to Asgard. My other lyrics are inspired by folk tales, natural phenomena and esoteric concepts…”

Dries Gaerdelen

“The Fyre-Bough” is up next and is one of the high points of the album for me. Capp’s voice is almost acapella at points here and there are no rock star histrionics, just an understated delivery that sits perfectly with the theme of the music. The cello and flute parts really shine though on this track too. “Sunne”, the album’s briefest track at 2:42, follows and leads into the excellent “Hoofes Upon The Shymmeringe Path” which has the aforementioned Rothanburg intoning ancient Norse poetry in the background.

Raphael Weinroth-Browne

The ten-minute plus Heathen epic “‘Neath A Wreath Of Furs” contains all that’s good about the album and just about knocks the later “The Bekens Are Aliht” into second place in terms of my favourite numbers here. In truth there really isn’t a bad track here and the album as a whole is, in my opinion, up there with Skuggsjá’s “A Piece For Mind & Mirror” and “Mausoleum” by Murkur – in fact, had I discovered “Songs From The Fyrgen” last year when it was released, rather than recently, it would likely have elbowed its way onto my top ten albums of the year.

Nash Rothanburg

Another quote from Capp is that “…Wolcensmen exists for a specific purpose – to inspire people to reconnect with their ancestors and the old ways of their people. It is Romanticism – not in an unrealistic sense but in an idealistic… don’t settle for what is, strive for what could be… I’d like Wolcensmen to be a small beacon of light in an age of darkness; a small reminder to those not yet dead inside to maintain their inner-spark whilst many of those around them have let it die, wanting for nothing more than to consume and follow…” This really is a fantastic record that transports you to an arguably better time and place. Here’s hoping that this isn’t the last we’ve heard from Wolcensmen. Highly recommended to anyone with a love of good folk music, nature, mythology etc…15192708_1298269950233600_1833899633855275345_n

“Songs From The Fyrgen” tracklist:

1. Withershins / 2. The Fyre-Bough / 3. Sunne / 4. Hoofes Upon The Shymmeringe Path / 5. ‘Neath A Wreath Of Firs / 6. The Mon O’ Micht / 7. Snowfall / 8. The Bekens Are Aliht / 9. Yerninge

How Not To Make A Cult Classic

“Inside The Wicker Man is a treat for all cinemagoers, exhaustively researched and achieving a near-perfect balance between history, trivia and serious analysis. Allan Brown describes the filming and distribution of the cult masterpiece as a ‘textbook example of ‘How Things Should Never Be Done’. The omens were bad from the start, and proceeded to get much, much worse, with fake blossom on trees to simulate spring, actors chomping on ice-cubes to prevent their breath showing on film, and verbal and physical confrontations involving both cast and crew. The studio hated it and hardly bothered to distribute it, but today it finds favour with critics and fans alike, as a serious – if flawed – piece of cinema.

Brown expertly guides readers through the film’s convoluted history, attempting along the way to explain its enduring fascination, and providing interviews with the key figures – many of whom still have an axe to grind, and some of whom still harbour plans for a sequel…”

81ahtpypxfl

I’ve written previously about the 1973 film “The Wicker Man” which without doubt belongs in my top five films of all time. Well, I have just finished reading “Inside The Wicker Man – How Not To Make A Cult Classic” – a book all about the problematic making of the movie, written by Scottish journalist Allan Brown.

Originally published in 2000, I read the revised 2010 edition. Since publication of this edition Sir Christopher Lee passed away last year and a sort-of “sequel” mentioned in the blurb above has appeared with the release of Robin Hardy’s 2011 film “The Wicker Tree”. Hardy himself died earlier this year.

I haven’t previously read a book like this one. That is to say a book about the making of a specific film. I’ve read plenty of biographies that cover a multitude of projects but not one concentrated solely on one. As a result I can’t really compare the book to any similar works, so any observations are purely reactions to having read this one.

Allan Brown
Allan Brown

The first thing that struck me were the somewhat daft chapter descriptions, for example “Chapter 9 – Burrowhead : In which a goat urinates on Edward Woodward, and Anthony Shaffer threatens to burn some pandas”! I guess this is a reflection of the author’s sense of humour but, as I say, seemed a bit daft to me.

There’s a fair bit of detail relayed in the course of the book and it soon becomes clear that practically everyone involved – Shaffer, Hardy, Lee, Woodward, Britt Ekland, etc. etc. – have vastly differing views and memories of the whole experience. The most pronounced differences occur between the deceased pair of Shaffer and Hardy – former business partners who became rather adversarial subsequent to the making of the film – who seem unable to agree on anything and intent on taking the majority of the credit for themselves.

On balance, despite the feeling that the author has an agenda and is most definitely in the Shaffer camp, I’d have to say that given other testimony contained it seems probable that Hardy’s claims are the less likely. That would certainly go some way to explaining how someone who claimed to be largely responsible for “The Wicker Man” could go on the produce the rather poor “The Wicker Tree”.

The story of the genesis and making of the film, editing, marketing and distribution issues and problems that took place between 1972 and 2010 (plus a chapter on the near-comedy that is Nicolas Cage’s 2006 remake) takes up the first two-thirds of the book.

The Wicker Man Poster
The Wicker Man Poster

Following that are a number of appendices, of varying interest to this reader. The technical information on filming locations, scene by scene, and full cast and crew lists, for example, are all well and good but only really for reference purposes. An extract from Lee’s autobiography concerning the film is more interesting, but for me the most interesting appendix was the screenplay for Shaffer’s proposed sequel “The Wicker Man II”.

The premise is certainly interesting, and in its favour you’d have to say at least it’s not a simple retread like the aforementioned “The Wicker Tree”. There is an attempt to follow on the story from where the original film ended but I, and I suspect many fans of that film, find the addition of overtly supernatural elements and various folklore details from a variety of cultures alter the balance of the proposed sequel too much.

There is a tendency to repeat events and quotes – perhaps a result of the update? – and the timeline flits back and forwards rather confusingly sometimes, particularly with the very convoluted events once the film had actually been made. The author attempts to portray the film as something of a glimpse into the (in 1973) future, which I feel is far more coincidental than Brown seems to, but overall a decent read on an interesting subject matter…

wicker-man-books-10-vi-12-003

Lord Of Misrule

Lord Of Misrule

Sean Kennedy
Sean Kennedy

Originally hailing from Toronto, Canada, psychedelic occult rock band Blood Ceremony were formed sometime in 2006 by guitarist Sean Kennedy, who recruited vocalist / flautist / organist Alia O’Brien, bassist Chris Landon and drummer Andrew Haust.

Alia O'Brien
Alia O’Brien

The band’s name was apparently taken from the English translation of the Spanish horror movie about the Countess Elizabeth Báthory from 1973 titled “Ceremonia Sangrienta”. This is rather appropriate in two ways. Firstly the band’s music is firmly rooted in the early Seventies, the likes of which you may have found on the legendary Vertigo label (particularly early Black Sabbath) as well occult rockers Black Widow and the great Jethro Tull, the latter thanks to O’Brien’s flute work. Secondly the band’s lyrical stance is concerned with all manner of occult themes – witchcraft, magick, devil worship etc.

Lucas Gadke
Lucas Gadke

The group’s debut album “Blood Ceremony” was released in 2008 and was followed in 2011 by the record through which I originally discovered the band, their second album “Living With The Ancients”. By this time bassist Landon had been replaced by current bass player Lucas Gadke.

Michael Carrillo
Michael Carrillo

A further line-up change occurred prior to the recording of album number three “The Eldritch Dark” (2013), with Michael Carrillo taking over the drum stool from Haust. That record, influenced in part by classic horror film “The Wicker Man”, had a much less overt Black Sabbath influence than the first two, and continued the improvement in the band’s sound and material.

Blood Ceremony
Blood Ceremony

Now, following lead single “Old Fires”, comes the group’s fourth album – and second with the line-up of Kennedy, O’Brien, Gadke and Carrillo – titled “Lord Of Misrule”. The album kicks off with a fabulous seven-minute-plus song “The Devil’s Widow” which contains all that is great about this band. Doom metal style guitar riffing, progressive twists and turns, folky flute playing to rival that of the aforementioned Jethro Tull and a nicely sinister vocal delivery from the frontwoman – not to mention that it’s really catchy too.

Sean Kennedy
Sean Kennedy

Chief songwriter Kennedy has done a marvellous job here, as there is not one duff track and the album feels like a natural progression from the last one. Gadke and Carrillo provide solid foundations, but it is the material and guitar playing of Kennedy and the multi-talented performances of O’Brien that really give this band their magical retro-inspired sound.

Alia O'Brien
Alia O’Brien

Personal highlights on the album include “Loreley”, the acoustic “Things Present, Things Past”, the brilliant “The Weird Of Finistere”, “Half Moon Street” and “The Devil’s Widow”. The band have stayed true to their early Seventies vibe and pagan sensibilities whilst also managing to broaden their sonic scope. A great album that really appeals to my love of Seventies progressive and folk rock, great songwriting and, of course, matters related to paganism and the occult. Fabulous stuff and highly recommended…Roadburn-2016-Blood-Ceremony

“Lord Of Misrule” tracklist:

1. The Devil’s Widow / 2. Loreley / 3. The Rogue’s Lot / 4. Lord Of Misrule / 5. Half Moon Street / 6. The Weird Of Finistere / 7. Flower Phantoms / 8. Old Fires / 9. Things Present, Things Past

The Wicca Woman

“Thirty years ago a young girl was found murdered in a sleepy Cornish village, and her death was the trigger for a spree of other killings.

The rest of the children have now grown up, and are still living in the same Pagan village.

But they have become as disturbed, frenzied, and often as dangerous as their deceased parents.

They still follow age-old sacrificial rituals to bring peace and prosperity to their lives.

But are the adults, who witnessed horrors in their childhood, now corrupting the next generation?

Into their midst comes the lithesome and mysterious, Lulu, who is determined to save the village.

But death, mayhem and terror follow in her wake.

And on Millennium Eve, ‘The Wicca Woman’ comes to its terrifying ritualistic and sacrificial climax.

But is this only the horrific beginning of what is yet to come…?”

wicca woman header

David Pinner - Ritual
David Pinner – Ritual

When I recently stumbled over English author David Pinner’s most recent novel “The Wicca Woman” I knew instantly that I had to read it. The reason for my enthusiasm is that it this was the sequel to his debut novel “Ritual”. Published in 1968, “Ritual” was the inspiration for the cult classic horror film – and a huge favourite of mine – “The Wicker Man” – which clearly influences Pinner in his choice of title for this new (published in 2014) book.

Now, I must confess that I have never read “Ritual”, but figured it must be pretty good to have been responsible, even indirectly, for such a fantastic movie.

Well, having now finished “The Wicca Woman”, I have to say that if the first book was anything like this then I am frankly amazed that “The Wicker Man” came to be such a revered film. I really struggled with this book.

Aside from a few continuity errors – a character named Jimmy gets referred to as Paul then as Jimmy again, a chair becomes a sofa mid-scene – I found the actual writing to be the biggest barrier to enjoying the book.

David Pinner
David Pinner

None of the characters are particularly well-developed, so you don’t get a real feel for their personalities, and they all speak in a practically identical way. There are so many sentences that begin with “Yes…” or “See…”, as well as many passages of speech being punctuated by “…well,…”. To make matters worse no one actually says anything, every character’s speech is “riposted” or pretty much anything other than “said”.

Added to that is the overly flowery text, seemingly following the mantra why use one word when a dozen will do, and the constant reminders of who people are – a journalist / writer is referred to as “the writer” more than once every time the character is involved.

Far too much background information is presented in the form of the various characters’ thoughts, as if they all go round constantly thinking back over all manner of things, and the number of times that a group of characters, be they a group of children or of adults, seem to be able to react to things by “chorusing” complicated sentences together beggars belief.

Ultimately this would have made an OK short story, but not nearly enough action takes place in between all the purple prose to keep the interest going and I found the climax of the tale to be something of a let down too. I always try to be as positive as I can when writing about things – books, music, films – but in this instance that’s proven to be a challenge. Disappointing…

wicker2-e1332201029869

England Is Born

My wife and I have just finished watching “The Last Kingdom”, the BBC’s adaptation of the Bernard Cornwell novels “The Last Kingdom” and “The Pale Horseman” – the first two in the author’s Saxon Stories series.

the_last_kingdom_600

Hopefully the TV series was successful enough that the BBC will want to carry on and adapt the rest of the books too – there are, to date, nine novels in the Saxon Stories (also known as the Warrior Chronicles).

Bernard Cornwell - The Last Kingdom
Bernard Cornwell – The Last Kingdom

The synopsis for the first book reads as follows : “Uhtred is an English boy, born into the aristocracy of ninth-century Northumberland. Orphaned at ten, he is captured and adopted by a Dane and taught the Viking ways. Yet Uhtred’s fate is indissolubly bound up with Alfred, King of Wessex, who rules over the only English kingdom to survive the Danish assault.

The struggle between the English and the Danes and the strife between Christianity and paganism is the background to Uhtred’s growing up. Marriage ties him to the Saxon cause but when his wife and child vanish in the chaos of the Danish invasion, he is driven the face the greatest of the Viking chieftains in a battle beside the sea. There, he discovers his true allegiance”

Bernard Cornwell - The Pale Horseman
Bernard Cornwell – The Pale Horseman

Book two, meanwhile, has this synopsis : “As the last unvanquished piece of England, Wessex is eyed hungrily by the fearsome Viking conquerors. Uhtred, a dispossessed young nobleman, is tied to the imperiled land by birth and marriage but was raised by the Danish invaders—and he questions where his allegiance must lie.

But blood is his destiny, and when the overwhelming Viking horde attacks out of a wintry darkness, Uhtred must put aside all hatred and distrust and stand beside his embattled country’s staunch defender—the fugitive King Alfred.”

Matthew Macfadyen
Matthew Macfadyen

An eight part series, the action begins in AD866 with the Lord of Bebbanburg (now called Bamburgh) in Northumbria, Ealdorman Uhtred (Matthew Macfadyen – “Spooks”, “Ripper Street”) looking to avenge the death of his eldest son, also called Uhtred. His second son Osbert, aged ten, now renamed Uhtred.

Peter Gantzler
Peter Gantzler

The Ealdorman enters into battle against the invading Danes at Eoferwic (now called York) but is killed during the battle. The ten year old Uhtred attempts to attack the Danes and is captured by Earl Ragnar the Fearless (Peter Gantzler – “A-klassen”, “Danny’s Doomsday”) who decides to adopt Uhtred into his household, along with a young Saxon girl named Brida.

Joseph Millson
Joseph Millson

During this time Uhtred’s uncle, Alferic (Joseph Millson – “I Give It A Year”, “Casino Royale”), claims the title of Ealdorman, along with Bebbanburg, for himself despite Uhtred being the true heir.

Alexander Dreymon & Emily Cox
Alexander Dreymon & Emily Cox

As Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon – “Blood Ransom”, “Resistance”) grows up with the Danes and learns their ways he grows close to Brida (Emily Cox – “The Silent Mountain”, “Futuro Beach”) and becomes like a son to Earl Ragnar – viewing Ragnar’s son, Ragnar Ragnarsson (Tobias Santelmann – “Hercules”, “The Acquitted”) as his brother.

Tobias Santelmann
Tobias Santelmann

When Earl Ragnar is killed Uhtred and Brida head off to Danish-held East Anglia only to find that Uhtred is being blamed for Ragnar’s death, and so soon find themselves moving on to Wintancaester (now called Winchester), the capital of the Kingdom of Wessex.

Ian Hart
Ian Hart

Once there they meet Father Beocca (Ian Hart – “Finding Neverland”, “Best”), a priest who knew Uhtred as a child in Northumberland, who is now in the service of King Aethelred.

David Dawson
David Dawson

King Aethelred is mortally injured in battle, and his very religious, and seemingly rather fragile, brother Alfred (David Dawson – “Ripper Street”, “Banished”) takes on the throne.

Thomas W. Gabrielsson & Rune Temte
Thomas W. Gabrielsson & Rune Temte

In his ultimate quest to reclaim his title and land back in Bebbanburg, and despite being labelled Uhtred the Godless, Uhtred finds himself working for the new Christian King Arthur against the Dane warlords Guthrum (Thomas W. Gabrielsson – “The Killing”, “A Royal Affair”) and Ubba (Rune Temte – “Hotel Caesar”, “Ulykken”).

Brian Vernel
Brian Vernel

Various other characters are added to the mix including Odda the Younger (Brian Vernel – “Let Us Prey”, “Offender”) who opposes Uhtred at every opportunity and who clearly has designs on Mildrith (Amy Wren – “Silk”, “uwantme2killhim?”) Uhtred’s pious Christian wife.

Amy Wren
Amy Wren

Others include Skorpa (Jonas Malmsjö – “Real Humans”, “Psalm 21”) a vicious Dane warrior, Leofric (Adrian Bower – “Mount Pleasant”, “Teachers”) a Saxon friend of Uhtred’s, Aethelwold (Harry McEntire – “Tower Block”, “Unconditional”) the son of the late King Aethelred, and Iseult (Charlie Murphy – “’71”, “Love/Hate”) a pagan Queen.

Jonas Malmsjö
Jonas Malmsjö

Some of these characters are based on genuine historical figures, some are based on the author’s own ancestors and others are from Cornwell’s imagination. This goes for the events contained within the tale too.

Adrian Bower
Adrian Bower

What is important though isn’t how true it all is but how entertaining it is. Well, quite simple it’s very entertaining! Condensing two full-blown novels into a little under eight hours of television drama is no mean feat, particularly as Cornwell’s books are usually pretty lengthy (there were around 800 pages to cover here), so there are obviously many things that didn’t make it to the screen.

Harry McEntire
Harry McEntire

What did make it to the screen, however, is a thoroughly engrossing saga. Lots of violence, as you would expect from such a brutal era, though not overdone, and what I presume to be a fairly accurate representation of the conditions folk lived in during that era of history.

Charlie Murphy
Charlie Murphy

Alongside the battle for supremacy waged between the Danes and the Saxons is the battle between paganism and Christianity on these shores. Ultimately we know who the biggest winner was in that particular battle but I did rather enjoy some of the scenes that came as a result of this particular struggle.

Jason Flemyng
Jason Flemyng

One such scene sees King Edmund (Jason Flemyng – “Gemma Bovery”, “Welcome To The Punch”) trying to convert the invading Danes to Christianity in return for him remaining King in name only. The Danes decide to test his claim that his Christian god, as the only true god, would protect him and do so with an onslaught of arrows despite Edmund trying to back out at the last minute! – which showed a nice touch of humour that was present in various places throughout the series.

Alexander Dreymon & David Dawson
Alexander Dreymon & David Dawson

Performance-wise I was really impressed with Dawson’s King Alfred, which was full of nuance, but clearly that star of the show was Dreymon as Uhtred.

Alexander Dreymon
Alexander Dreymon

My wife and I were unable to agree whether Dreymon was responsible for voicing Uhtred’s recap of the series so far at the start of each episode. I’m sure it was him but she is equally sure it was someone else trying to sound like him.

Bernard Cornwell
Bernard Cornwell

I am usually of the opinion that film or TV based on pre-existing novels are inferior to the source material and, in all honesty, that remains true here. That said, this was a high quality drama series in it’s own right and I do hope that the BBC continue with future adaptations of Cornwell’s series.

Visually, the show looks great, with not too much CGI evident making the whole thing feel more real than it might otherwise. Overall, fans of “Vikings” or “Game Of Thrones” should find much to enjoy here with the added bonus of some genuine history thrown in.

la-et-st-the-last-kingdom-bbc-america-tca-20150731

Mother Moon

Cover

Incubus Succubus In 1992
Incubus Succubus In 1992

Hailing from Gloucester, gothic / pagan rock band Inkubus Sukkubus were originally formed in 1989 by graphic design students Tony McKormack (guitars, keyboards, programming), Candia Ridley (vocals) and Adam Henderson (bass) at college in Cheltenham, initially under the name Incubus Succubus.

Incubus Succubus - Beltaine
Incubus Succubus – Beltaine

A self-released debut album “Beltaine” was issued in 1990 and by the time their first album for label Resurrection Records “Belladonna & Aconite” surfaced in 1993 the group comprised McKormack, Ridley, Henderson and drummer Bob Gardner. In 1995 the band revised the spelling of their name to Inkubus Sukkubus and Gardner switched instruments to handle bass, with drum parts being provided by drum machine.

Tony McKormack
Tony McKormack

In the past twenty years more than a dozen albums have seen the light of day and the band have built a solid reputation, albeit without a great deal of media exposure, as a good live act.

Coming some eighteen months after “Love Poltergeist”, October 2015 sees the release of the band’s sixteenth (I think) studio album “Mother Moon”.

Candia Ridley
Candia Ridley

Opener “Mother Moon” reminded me a little of 80s gothic band All About Eve, up tempo and quite poppy in a way. More in keeping with pagan folk is “Dance Of Death” with plenty of acoustic guitars under Candia’s vocals, a theme continued on the slow burn ballad “Lose Yourself At The Nymphaeum”.

“Shadows In The Darkness”, “Witch Child” and “My Demons” are far more rock-based numbers, with plenty of synths in place too, giving a somewhat nostalgic 80s goth rock feel, which is no bad thing.

Bob Gardner
Bob Gardner

That said, my favourite tracks are the more acoustic pieces, which include “I Am The One”, “Zephyrus”, “Bitter Sweet Succubus” and “Honey Song Of Lorelei”, which I personally feel tap into the pagan subject matter more effectively.

Inkubus Sukkubus In 2014
Inkubus Sukkubus In 2014

The final track “No End To War”, replete with bells, begins with a Western (as in cowboy film) feeling before the guitars come in later in the song. A few minutes silence are followed by the hidden coda of the track, this time presented in a monk-like chanting style.

Another high quality album – particularly bearing in mind that resources are likely tight for a band at this level – with some very good songs, performances and production, and a worthwhile addition to the band’s catalogue.

11960107_1182566361770407_482581678732060740_n

“Mother Moon” tracklist:

1. Mother Moon / 2. Dance Of Death / 3. Lose Yourself At The Nymphaeum / 4. Shadows In The Darkness / 5. Zephyrus / 6. My Demons / 7. I Am The One / 8. Dark Sisters / 9. Bitter Sweet Succubus / 10. Witch Child / 11. Honey Song Of Lorelei / 12. No End To War

Forged By A God. Foretold By A Wizard. Found By A King.

Had a trip back in time today, in two ways. I watched a movie that was released in 1981 and was set in Albion during the late fifth / early sixth century and concerns the legends surrounding King Arthur.

Excalibur-movie-poster

Sir Thomas Malory - Le Morte d'Arthur
Sir Thomas Malory – Le Morte d’Arthur

The film, “Excalibur”, was directed by John Boorman (“Deliverance”, “Point Blank”) and is best described as a fantasy drama. Filmed entirely in Ireland, it is based on the various stories contained in a collection of stories written and compiled by Sir Thomas Malory entitled “La Mort d’Arthur” which was originally published in 1485.

Nicol Williamson & Gabriel Byrne
Nicol Williamson & Gabriel Byrne

The sorcerer Merlin (Nicol Williamson – “Black Widow”) takes the legendary sword Excalibur from the Lady In The Lake and gives it to Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne – “The Usual Suspects”, “Ghost Ship”) who uses it to secure a peace pact with the Duke Of Cornwall (Corin Redgrave – “Persuasion”).

Katrine Borman
Katrine Borman

That peace is shattered by Pendragon’s lust for Cornwall’s wife Igrayne (Katrine Boorman – “Hope And Glory”). Whilst Cornwall is away from his castle chasing Pendragon’s men, Merlin is persuaded to temporarily transform Pendragon to look like Cornwall so that he can seduce Igrayne, on the condition that Merlin can keep whatever results from Pendragon’s lust. Igrayne is impregnated during the subsequent encounter, even as Cornwall is dying in battle – something sensed by his and Igrayne’s daughter Morgana.

Katrine Boorman, Gabriel Byrne & Nicol Williamson
Katrine Boorman, Gabriel Byrne & Nicol Williamson

Nine months later Merlin returns to claim the new-born son of Igrayne and Pendragon, who he names Arthur. In pursuit, Pendragon is killed but thrusts Excalibur into a stone as he is dying. Merlin then declares that whoever will be able to withdraw the sword from the stone shall be King.

Nigel Terry
Nigel Terry

The film then shoots forward in time some years where we witness Arthur (Nigel Terry – “The Last Of England”) attend a jousting tournament and remove the sword from the stone when all others, including Sir Leondegrance (Patrick Stewart – “X-Men”), have failed. Arthur later meets Leondegrance’s daughter, Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi – “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein”) and falls in love with her.

Nicholas Clay
Nicholas Clay

A further jump forward sees the meeting of Arthur and Lancelot (Nicholas Clay – “Sleeping Beauty”), the foundation of the Round Table and Camelot, Lancelot also falling in love with Arthur’s new bride Guenevere, and the reappearance of Morgana (Helen Mirren – “Brighton Rock, “The Debt”) who wants to become Merlin’s apprentice.

Liam Neeson
Liam Neeson

Later, Morgana uses her powers to influence Sir Gawain (Liam Neeson – “Taken”, “Darkman”) to accuse Guenevere of driving Lancelot away with her desires, so forcing Lancelot to defend Guenevere’s honour in a duel. Arthur then discovers the lovers in the forest together and thrusts Excalibur into the ground between their sleeping bodies.

Helen Mirren
Helen Mirren

Merlin is subsequently enchanted by Morgana, who in turn disguises herself as Guenevere in order to get Arthur to impregnate her. The result is a child, Mordred (Robert Addie – “Robin Of Sherwood”), and a curse upon the land causing famine and sickness. In an attempt to end the curse, Arthur sends his knights out in search of the Holy Grail.

Paul Geoffrey
Paul Geoffrey

Years later most of the knights are dead at the hands of Morgana and Mordred. However, Perceval (Paul Geoffrey – “Greystoke – The Legend Of Tarzan”) manages to unlock the mystery and bring the grail to Arthur who is revitalised – as is the land.

Cherie Lunghi
Cherie Lunghi

Arthur is reconnected with Guenevere, who has kept Excalibur safe, whilst Merlin wakes from his enchanted state and is able to trick Morgana into using up her powers, leading to her death. Arthur and his remaining knights fight the Battle Of Camlann against Mordred’s larger army, and are boosted by the return of Lancelot. Finally, Excalibur is returned to the Lady Of The Lake by Perceval as Arthur is taken off to the island of Avalon.

Helen Mirren Robert Addie
Helen Mirren & Robert Addie

I missed this movie when it was first out, as I was too young to watch it at the time and, sadly, did not have a great interest in history once I was old enough! Those days are way behind me, though, and I do now enjoy a good movie about this country’s history.

Nicol Williamson
Nicol Williamson

As well as huge portions of the Arthurian legends, the film also has hints of the conflict between paganism and Christianity in that era and the Druid origins of Merlin as his many gods are usurped by the one god of Christianity.

This is a long film at two hours and twenty minutes and still contains quite a few jumps in time, as I have noted. The timespan covered is essentially the whole of Arthur’s life (starting even before his conception) so there is a lot of ground to cover. This means that from time to time the movie feels a little disjointed and you could lose track of what’s going on if you don’t pay close enough attention.

That said, the production values are really strong and I think that the film holds up really well thirty four years after it first appeared. The acting is really very good and the staging, costumes and cinematography are excellent, transforming the beautiful Irish landscape into the mainland of the Dark Ages.

A hugely enjoyable slice of our mythical history…

Excalibur-1981-affiche-poster

Four Years On…

Fours years ago today my wife and I got married…

There had been months of planning and preparation. Lots of things to do. Finding and booking venues for the ceremony and reception. Designing and making invites, orders of service, table decorations, seating plans etc. Booking a honeymoon. Getting the right suits for the boys and I, and most importantly the right wedding dress for the bride!

Our Wedding Invitation
Our Wedding Invitation & Stationery

We had gone for a pink and black colour scheme, the beautiful bride wearing a fantastic pink dress and groom all in black (except for a pink tie).

Theme wise, we went for music and marbles, with old 7″ vinyl records complete with new labels used for invitations and also for table markers, and marbles adorning all the stationery and on the tables in large glass bowls.

Marbles Table Decoration
Marbles Table Decoration

The day before the ceremony we had enlisted our children and some friends to help us cart stuff to the village hall, that we had booked  for the reception and evening do, to set up tables and chairs and all the table decorations etc. etc.

Village Hall
The Village Hall

The wedding day started early for the boys and I, as we headed back to the village hall to set up the laptop and sound system for our personalised playlist (that took a lot of work to choose!) and photo gallery to be set playing by our eldest before the newlyweds entered the building.

Putting Out The Floral Decorations
Putting Out The Floral Decorations

Then it was off to the church to put out floral decorations and for the two younger boys to distribute the orders of service.

We were fortunate in that it was a beautiful sunny day. The children (ours plus our two wonderful nieces) all looked great and were brilliant in what they each had to do – best man, ushers and bridesmaids – and the arrival of the bride at the church ensured that the day continued throughout the ceremony and reception as perfectly as we had hoped.

During the ceremony itself, we had chosen lyrics from Bob Dylan’s “Wedding Song” for a reading, which I think are worth reiterating today:

“I love you more than ever, more than time and more than love
I love you more than money and more than the stars above
I love you more than madness, more than waves upon the sea
I love you more than life itself, you mean that much to me

Ever since you walked right in the circle’s been complete
I’ve said goodbye to haunted rooms and faces in the street
In the courtyard of the jester which is hidden from the sun
I love you more than ever and I haven’t yet begun

You breathed on me and made my life a richer one to live
When I was deep in poverty you taught me how to give
Dried the tears up from my dreams and pulled me from the hole
I love you more than ever and it binds me to this all

The tune that is yours and mine to play upon this earth
We’ll play it out the best we know, whatever it is worth
What’s lost is lost, we can’t regain what went down in the flood
But happiness to me is you and I love you more than blood

It’s never been my duty to remake the world at large
Nor is it my intention to sound a battle charge
‘Cause I love you more than all of that with a love that doesn’t bend
And if there is eternity I’d love you there again

Oh, can’t you see that you were born to stand by my side
And I was born to be with you, you were born to be my bride
You’re the other half of what I am, you’re the missing piece
And I love you more than ever with that love that doesn’t cease

You turn the tide on me each day and teach my eyes to see
Just being next to you is a natural thing for me
And I could never let you go, no matter what goes on
‘Cause I love you more than ever now that the past is gone”

Although my wife has often commented that Dylan sounds like an old drunk when he sings – and let’s be honest, his isn’t the smoothest voice around – there is no doubting that the man has a way with words!

The Woods
The Woods

Later in the evening I was able to surprise my new wife by joining the live rock ‘n’ roll band that we had booked, The Woods, on stage for a rendition of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”. This was great, except for the fright I got when I realised that, as they were missing their lead guitarist that night, the band were expecting me to do a solo (thankfully handled instead by the singer/guitarist) and the fact that my mind went completely blank when it came to what chord to start the intro riff with!! Fortunately, a further performance with the band on Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World” at the end of the night was less stressful!