If you go down to the woods today you’re in for a big surprise, for deep in the heart of the Cheshire countryside there are some very strange things afoot; mystical occurrences, vanishing tapes, Arthurian legends and an attempt to breathe new life into a long-abandoned musical format. Read on and find out what was unearthed when Del Pike went in search of FOLKLORE TAPES.
David Chatton Barker is the curator of Folklore Tapes, a DIY set-up that has, over the past five years, unleashed a series of strictly limited edition, unique releases on vinyl and cassette. Intrigued by the enigmatic output of The Lost Tapes Record Club – one of David’s more expansive projects – I decided to explore this enigmatic label.
I was first introduced to The Lost Tapes Record club by Brian Campbell, the bassist from south-Sefton psychedelics Clinic. Brian, along with drummer Carl Turney, is behind the project, which deals in “ethnographic radiolore” and playful “intermedia” works. The sound pieces they put together for TLTRC are decidedly leftfield, ephemeral noises that drift in and out of the sinister sounds of singing children and into impossibly laid back summer grooves. Eclectic doesn’t begin to cover what their project does. In 2015, TLTRC released a series of cassette packs through Folklore that embrace the aesthetic of 1970s British sci-fi and public information films. Following in the footsteps, to a degree, of Ghostbox artists like Belbury Poly and The Advisory Circle, TLTRC create a world around themselves which is only fully accessible to those of a certain age or mindset, but is still equally intriguing to those who are not as much in the know. However, as demandingly attractive as cassettes may be, not all of us have access to play them following the cull of the format. With this in mind, TLTRC have started to release the cassette tracks on a series of lavishly produced 7” singles, under their own Exquisite Corpses offshoot. Songs For The Secret Apocalypse so far span two releases, each containing artefacts that appear to have come from some post-nuclear dig: a melted transparency, a piece of an ordnance survey map and a monochrome photograph of a deserted sand dune.
When I arranged to meet David and Carl to unearth some of the Folklore Tapes folklore, I wanted to meet at the source of their inspirations, so when David suggested we meet in the woods of Alderley Edge I was immediately won over by the idea. In an age when downloading and streaming has grossly enveloped the more organic, DIY ethic of physical music production, this seemed like an appropriate way to get back to the land and explore David’s work.
A rainy hour’s drive from Liverpool is The Wizard Inn, a beautiful olde-worlde pub on the edge of the woods, where you’re immediately hit by the mixture of smouldering local legend and the invasion of Cheshire new money. Here I meet Carl, who readies me for what’s to come by telling me of a time when they went experimenting in the woods, dipping tape into hallowed waters and capturing the effects onto basic recording equipment, so I was keen to find out more of this world of cottage-industry record producing and retrospective hagiology.
We started off by looking at a set of images that were produced by immersing photographic paper into the nearby Wizard’s Well. The results are somewhere between Rorschach test papers and tie-dye T-shirts with incredible glowing elements within. “These images go into sleeve art and add to the whole natural creation approach of the project,” Carl tells me. There is much respect for the surroundings from which this work is sourced, and Carl enthuses that “When you’re channelling all this old stuff you put yourself in a position of responsibility. If there’s an historical element, and this geographic location, then you can’t mistreat it. If you’re putting stuff out from your own mind, you can do what you want with it, but, with this, there has to be a certain amount of respect as to how you present it.”
After being convinced by the industry that records and tapes should be binned in favour of unbreakable CDs, we now find that vinyl reissues are filling the shelves in HMV at twice the price of their shiny counterparts. Though also enjoying a resurgence in popularity of late, cassettes appear to be struggling a little more to gain re-recognition. Yet, there are some interesting projects afoot intent on reinstating cassettes into the public conscience. The Coral, for example, have promised to record their new album over 50 lucky punters’ unwanted home compilation tapes, free of charge – genius! David’s ideas are equally as original.
Folklore’s own strictly limited releases come in the form of hardback books, pages glued together and re-covered in retrospective 70s library-book style, complete with symbolic extra items. “In them we include things from the place they were recorded, like feathers or pumpkin seeds for example in the Halloween edition. The releases trace the routes of seasonal festivities like Halloween, May Day and the Winter Solstice, where we will be putting in ivy, bay and rosemary, which will have a smell to it. The handmade aspect, the human touch, is very important.”
As we talk David hands me a package, a gift that comprises a cardboard-sleeved, hand-numbered cassette entitled Tramping And Loring Vol. II Devon, The Ashton Ascension, by himself and Jez Winship, a copy of the Folklore News Bulletin comprising articles by David and his collaborators, and a transparent flexi-disc, The Wizard’s Will. The flexi contains the fruits of the Alderley Edge experiments. I listen to it when I get home, and it is a frantic collage of sound: whirling soundscapes with layers of local voices, complex and challenging, yet strangely comforting. Tunes of sorts enter the picture but the bulk of the work is seemingly disorganised findings edited into a surreal symphony. The clicking and dragging of the flexi-disc itself adds to the home-grown ethic of Folklore.
We down the dregs of our ale and head for the woods, taking The Wizard’s Walk deep into the trees. We pass a standing circle before arriving at the well, where we are greeted by a strange wizard’s face peering out in the mossy rock formation. The well itself is a small stone trough at the base of the rock, brimming with natural water. There is an Arthurian tale attached to the location, involving a wizard and an army of sleeping knights, which David tells me in detail. “Lots of supernatural stuff, things about the Devil and UFO sightings have occurred here. If you have belief in this stuff it gives the power to make it actually happen. We are perpetuating the want to experience something magical in that realm.” To connect these musings to the cassettes he produces, David expands: “Regardless of whether anything supernatural happens, it leads you into the landscape and you have the chance of an experience whilst you’re out there which may or may not be linked to the original subject matter. You are the instigator, but the result is a collaboration between you and the elements.”
What David is doing with his collaborators at Folklore is a valuable project, not just for drawing listeners out and away from their comfort zones but also for re-inventing the cassette. It was never intended for this kind of usage: it was seen as a more portable alternative to vinyl, but now, as it has become a retro item in its own right, it seems a perfect medium for this tying-in of olden traditions. Cassettes will remain niche – the sound quality and tendency to unspool will not convince the masses to part with their cash when more reliable methods remain – but, as a piece of aesthetic art, they well have found the ideal marriage between sound and platform through David Chatton-Barker’s Folklore Tapes.