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Aural Histories- “A Year In The Country: The Restless Field” (album review)

A Year In The Country is an extraordinary multimedia project that incorporates a musical collective, record label, website, and physical artwork. It describes its raison d’etre thusly:

“It is a wandering amongst work that takes inspiration from the hidden and underlying tales of the land, the further reaches of folk music and culture and where such things meet and intertwine with the lost futures, spectral histories and parallel worlds of what has come to be known as hauntology.” (1)

Over the course of the last three years, A Year In The Country has released several compilations of music, each centered around a specific theme. Released on 2 May 2017, The Restless Field is “a study of the land as a place of conflict and protest as well as beauty and escape; an exploration and acknowledgment of the history and possibility of protest, resistance and struggle in the landscape/rural areas, in contrast with often more referred to urban events.” (2)

Opening with Field Lines Cartographer’s “Ghosts of Blood & Iron,” The Restless Field establishes an aura of “hauntology” immediately. The track includes unearthly sounds that run the gamut from muted, malevolent laughter to weeping. Are these the voices of those forgotten people killed in battle or protest calling to us from the beyond? Have their cries been absorbed by the land itself?

“Mortimer’s Cross,” from Vic Mars, references the 1461 event of the same name, a major battle in the War of the Roses between those forces who supported King Edward VI and those who supported Edward, Earl of March.

As the morning sun slowly emerged from the sky on that February 2, the meteorological phenomenon known as a parhelion, also known as a sun dog, occurred. The optical illusion made it seem as if three suns were rising. According to Wikipedia, this parhelion frightened Edward of York’s troops, although he “convinced them that it represented the Holy Trinity and that therefore God was on their side.” (3) The tolling church bells in the track are appropriate for the parhelion being interpreted as a religious sign. A flute, accompanied by the tinkling sounds of a music box, gives the piece a fairy-tale like quality.

Bare Bones’ “[fears] avaunt! upon ‘the’ hill” takes its title from “When The King Enjoys His Own Again,” a Royalist battle song from the time of the English Civil War (1642 – 1651). (4) The music is a march with fiddles, banjos, and drums, but feels more like a funeral dirge than a call to arms, perhaps an acknowledgement that the hope of victory is often outweighed by the fear of death.

“Then fears avaunt, upon the hill

My hope shall cast her anchor still

Until I see some peaceful dove

Bring home the branch I dearly love”

The catchiest composition on The Restless Field is Assembled Minds’ “3am M5 Field Raid,” a paranoid excursion with all the sonic cues of a movie chase scene. If this is the sound of a rave being disrupted by police, then the next track, Grey Frequency’s “Agrarian Lament,” is an outdoor concert where the land itself is producing the music, complete with birds chirping. Such a lament may have been inspired by the life and history of Gerrard Winstanley and the True Levellers/Diggers.

While the English Civil War itself is familiar, the story of Winstanley may be a mystery to those outside of the United Kingdom. Winstanley’s cloth-making business was ruined by the English Civil War, prompting a “spiritual crisis” that resulted in a series of “visionary theological books.” (5)

Winstanley considered “true freedom to reside in access to land” and felt that “the landless poor should be free to cultivate the commons and waste lands in order to support themselves.” As a result he and his followers began to cultivate common land, much to the dismay of local freeholders.

Endurance’s “Beneath The Cherry Trees,” opens with more birds chirping, but while “Agrarian Lament” is solemn and sedate, this track is imbued with the ecstasy experienced when fully communing with nature, possibly the musical apotheosis of Winstanley’s ideals.

Another significant event relating to land ownership and cultivation The Restless Field addresses is found in Listening Center’s “Congested District.” Due to the immense poverty and congested living conditions in Ireland in the nineteenth century, The Congested Districts Board for Ireland was established in 1891. (6) This track is as disquieting as “Beneath The Cherry Trees” is calming, with bleeps and bloops, drum machines, and celestial noises in the background, possibly an aural representation of the miserable conditions present in Ireland during that time period.

Depatterning’s “Last Best West,” a track full of noises that sound like mysterious code, is so named for “a phrase used to market the Canadian prairies to prospective immigrants.” (7) There is obvious tension in the piece, something that may represent the tension between the First Nations of Canada and the encroaching European settlers, as well as the subsequent bloodshed.

While many of the compositions on The Restless Field address well-known historical events such as these, Mat Handley of Pulselovers takes a more personal approach. Upon a visit to his hometown of Daventry, Northamptonshire in 1983, Handley took a photo of a piece of graffiti that “intrigued [him] enough to want to capture it for posterity. In black spray paint with letters a foot or so high was the inscription ‘Badby 80 – 8 arrest, 8 innocents’.” (8) Handley could not imagine something so sinister taking place in such a peaceful village and despite repeated queries made to neighbors, friends, and family members, was never able to figure out the meaning of the graffiti. It has remained an enigma ever since.

There is more hidden history – quite literally – in Sproatly Smith’s “Ribbons,” the sound of a eulogy given at the burial of an important discovery, in this case the Rotherwas Ribbon. This “4,000-year-old archaeological site [was] uncovered by roadbuilding work near Hereford in 2008.” (9) According to contemporaneous reports in the Hereford Times, “specialist post-excavation assessments… concluded that the Ribbon was a ‘special monument’ hosting ceremonial activity.”

Sadly, despite several years of protests, a road was built over the site before any in-depth studies or preservation attempts could be completed. The Heritage Journal reported in 2011 that “since the road has been built it has been established the ribbon stretches for hundreds of yards and is even more significant than previously thought and of course it is totally, totally unique.” (10)

The eerie synths and propeller noises of Polypores’ “Graveney Marsh,” reveal more examples of hidden history. The track is named after the last battle with a foreign entity fought on English soil, one which “took place on September 27 1940 between the crew of a downed German bomber and a company of British soldiers who had been holed up in a pub.” (11)

“The incident was hushed up during the war as the British did not want the Germans to know that they had captured nearly intact one of their most modern bombers. Therefore, the newspapers of the time made no mention of the ‘Battle of Graveney Marsh’ and over the years it effectively faded out of people’s [sic] memory.” (12)

Time Attendant’s “Black Slab” is the most foreboding piece on The Restless Field, heavy with ominous synth beats and an EDM flavor. It may be a reference to 1985’s Battle of the Beanfield, which took place at the last Stonehenge Free Festival, an annual event that had been taking place since 1974. There were 600 Travellers on their way to attend the festival when they were “ambushed by more than 1,300 police officers,” including those who clubbed pregnant women with truncheons as well as those holding babies. (13)

A 2005 article in The Guardian states that “it remains a mystery why the police felt compelled to use such violence. With evidence that radio logs of conversations between officers on the day have been altered, the full story may never be known.”

Another horrifying chapter in Britain’s history of police versus protestors is touched upon in A Year In The Country’s “A Mutable History Under A Bright June Sky.” The Battle of Orgreave, part of the British Miners Strike, took place on 18 June 1984.  Wikipedia notes “historian Tristram Hunt has described the confrontation as ‘almost medieval in its choreography… at various stages a siege, a battle, a chase, a rout and, finally, a brutal example of legalized state violence’.” (14)

The track is comprised of electronic music interrupted by scratching, digging, sounds of heavy breathing, and the rapidly fluttering wings of birds, or perhaps more dismaying, the panicked sound of people’s footsteps as they tried to escape.

The mournful clarinet of David Colohan’s “Beyond Jack’s Gate” closes the album, a title which could refer to the Newcastle Woods in Ireland. According to the Discover Ireland tourism site, “the entrance to the larger block of forestry is known locally as Jack’s Gate, the reason being that Jack Clearly lived in the gate lodge across the road and was known to be very strict on providing access to the estate.” (15)

This provokes the question of what lies beyond the history we think we know or what we’ve been told. The Restless Field, like all of A Year In The Country’s releases, expands the concept of “folk horror” into something that reaches further than tales of witches or demons into an exploration of those secrets that are kept within the earth, the trees, and the air.

 

Biblilography:

“About,” A Year In The Country. http://ayearinthecountry.co.uk/about/. Accessed 21 July 2017.

“Artifact Report #15/52A: The Restless Field – Preorder Available,” A Year In The Country. Index Year 3, http://ayearinthecountry.co.uk/artifact-report-1552a-restless-field-preorder/. Accessed 21 July 2017.

“Battle of Mortimer’s Cross,” Wikipedia. Parhelion, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Mortimer%27s_Cross. Accessed 21 July 2017.

“When The King Enjoys His Own Again,” Napoleonic Guide.com. Music, http://www.napoleonguide.com/music_whentheking.htm. Accessed 21 July 2017.

“Gerrard Winstanley,” BCW Project. Biographies, http://bcw-project.org/biography/gerrard-winstanley. Accessed 21 July 2017.

“Congested Districts Board for Ireland,” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congested_Districts_Board_for_Ireland. Accessed 21 July 2017.

“Last Best West,” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Best_West. Accessed 21 July 2017.

“Currently Working On: 1st May 2017,” Pulselovers. http://pulselovers.blogspot.ca/2017/04/1st-may-2017.html

“Remains at ribbon site,” Hereford Times. News, 15 June 2008, http://www.herefordtimes.com/news/3161281.Remains_at_ribbon_site/. Accessed 21 July 2017.

“Remember the Rotherwas Ribbon?” The Heritage Journal. 22 March 2011, https://heritageaction.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/remember-the-rotherwas-ribbon/. Accessed 21 July 2017.

“Kent battle between German bomber crew and British soldiers marked after 70 years,” The Telegraph. History, World War II, 20 August 2010, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-two/7956015/Kent-battle-between-German-bomber-crew-and-British-soldiers-marked-after-70-years.html. Accessed 21 July 2017.

“The Battle of Graveney Marsh,” The History Learning Site. World War II, World War II In Western Europe, Britain’s Home Front in World War II, 20 April 2015, http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/world-war-two/world-war-two-in-western-europe/britains-home-front-in-world-war-two/the-battle-of-graveney-marsh/. Accessed 21 July 2017.

Thompson, Tony, “Twenty years after, mystery still clouds Battle of the Beanfield,” The Guardian. UK, The Observer, 12 June 2005, https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2005/jun/12/ukcrime.tonythompson. Accessed 21 July 2017.

“Battle of Orgreave,” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Orgreave. Accessed 21 July 2017.

“Newcastle Woods,” Discover Ireland. Activities / Adventure, http://www.discoverireland.ie/Activities-Adventure/newcastle-woods/74710. Accessed 21 July 2017.

 

About Less Lee Moore

Less Lee Moore fell in love with weird music and movies during countless hours spent watching Night Flight and listening to college radio as an impressionable teenager. She is the founder of Popshifter, and also writes for Rue Morgue, Everything Is Scary, Biff Bam Pop, Modern Horrors & more. She has a degree in Film Studies from UCSB and a Hannibal tattoo.

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