Monday, 21 April 2008

April 20th - The Cusp Of Spring

Last year there was much in the news about Spring coming early. Gardeners at Kew were reported to comment that the growing season hadn’t really stopped and flowering trees and shrubs were coming into bloom four or even six weeks earlier than expected. I don’t know what has happened this year at Kew but up here in the wilds of waney Spring has only just begun to make its presence felt.

Walking in the woods on Sunday 20th April it was the rattle of dead oak leaves in the wind that was the dominant sound, although now and again the song of great tits and chaffinches broke out from above. Away deeper in the wood a jay cackled and cracked and a pheasant gave off it’s alarm. Several fat bumblebees buzzed drowsily through the shadows a few inches from the ground, as if they hadn’t yet shaken the sleep from their compound eyes.

The yellow gorse flowers where the most colourful thing in the woods, although little white stars of wood anemone were beginning to twinkle out from a thickening carpet of green. As an indicator of ancient woodland the anemone’s and bluebells point to what was once here, before mountain bike tyres rutted the paths and a local running club decided to paint “Home” on the trees to aid their orienteering.

The was a nice fresh crop of deer slots in the wet mud on the paths and away deeper into the spruce plantation and here and there the delicate white flowers of hawthorn and blackthorn were just starting to open.
Top: Flowring gorse
Middle: Fallow deer slots on a muddy bank
Botton: Wood anemone

Monday, 14 April 2008


The formless given form. The shadows cast by light caught as they pass.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

The Irreducibility of Hunting

The recent Louis Theroux programme on South African game farms will have done little to change public opinion towards hunting. The sight of fat Americans shooting captive reared game in a fenced enclosure, sometimes from hides near water or salt licks where the animals have been habituated to gather does not inspire thoughts of a “fair chase”. With professional hunters guiding clients in 4x4’s to docile animals the skills of tracking, stalking and killing appear to be secondary to the hunters desire to get a trophy or tick another species off the list.

Theroux, the very model of the over-urbanised metropolitan hypocrite who eats meat and wears leather but would rather not think about where it came from, at least seemed to become aware of his hypocrisy even if he declined to address it but programmes like this can only fail to convince a public disengaged from the reality of meat farming that hunting can be a good thing.

In his essay “The Irreducibility of Hunting” Dr Lee Foote argues for hunting both as a life affirming experience that touches deep parts of what it means to be human and reconnects us with the process of food procurement that the modern world has removed. The debates around hunting are complex and emotive and whilst we may recoil at some of the attitudes and behaviours displayed by those who hunt for fun I know that when I came across a small heard of deer grazing at the edge of a wood last weekend my heart quickened and a hunting instinct returned. Once upon a time we all had to hunt to eat and if the modern world has rid us of that inconvenience it has also taken away that truth.

The Irreducibility of Hunting

Dr. Lee FooteAssociate Professor, Dept. of Renewable Resources University of AlbertaI

I would be flattered for my gravestone to read "A good hunter; a trusted companion; an engaged and contemplative soul who lived his dreams". Inevitably we "do" but a small proportion of the things we plan, wish to, or dream of. There are too many engaging options swirling around for us to partake in more than a scant few of them. What hunter doesn't day dream ofAfrican safaris, barren ground caribou hunts, Arizona javelina; speargunning for tuna in the California kelp forests, or dove hunts in Mexico? I suggest that we should carefully choose those few we can afford then partake with all our being to wring the very essence of the hunt out of these touchstone events.

In the western, privileged, consumer countries we have unprecedented and almost incomprehensible access to resources. We live in a way where simply articulating our ankle unleashes the equivalent of a 200-horse team pulling our chariot; where our chariot can bring home the edible, wrapped portions of a large ungulate without us breaking a sweat or a spear point. Indeed, our hunting heritage may have brought about altered tooth structure, bipedalism, stereoscopic vision, language development, social behavior, tool using and even sex roles. We embraced these aspects of humanity with aplomb but it raises an important question - what relict behaviors and instincts do we share with our ancestors and how do we fit them into city life full of parking lots, mortgage payments, canned food and movie theaters? Most of us have seen the lashing tail and flicking ears of a house cat eyeing an unreachable birdfeeder; it requires little imagination to link tabby to a leopard stalking an impala. So why should we hesitate to acknowledge as instinct the quickened pulse and urgent whispers of hikers happening onto a herd of deer? It follows that those who hunt and think about their actions may be finding authentic outlets in which to exercise their instinctive drives. Might this explain the depth of commitment and satisfaction that hunters find in their pursuits? These are things we draw from our deep senses but as modern creatures we need to go one step farther to absorb and process the meaning embedded in the act of hunting to mesh it well with our new-found culture. After all, we spend relatively few of our waking hours engaged in the hunt each year. The remainder we are expected to be gentle and civil citizens.We are jerked backward and forward in time even as we unthinkingly munch South American nuts coated with German chocolate wrapped in aluminum foil from African bauxite mines and sold in North America; we are twitching like that window-watching cat as we sit in front of a big screen and vicariously live the panic of a tailback in full flight from a predaceous linebacker. Are these sensations authentic? . . . undoubtedly yes, because perception is reality in regard to interpreting our senses. We have all the tools, however deeply buried in our brain stems, to relish the fatty, oily richness of cocoa oils just as distant relatives relished the kidney fat of a mastodon calf. Our instincts are engaged and some flickering primal sense gratifies us with a small endorphin rush for passing that Brazil nut overour tastebuds. Elation awaits us for reaching the virtual cover of the endzone uncaptured. We are not alone in our vicarious pursuits - what hunter hasn't pondered the dreams of dogs in their whimpering, leg-twitching sleep. Those canine practice chases must be just as real as a young boy's dreams of a Gretsky slapshot or Jordan jumpshot. But that is where it ends. Right in our heads. That is no place to live, no rabbit fur, no hat trick, no three-pointer, no safari.

I would advocate spending time in pursuits that we not only have the instinctual tools with which to immerse ourselves deeply, but also those where our intellectual tools can be brought to bear. This is important for us to make sense of what we have wrought. Neither of these tasks is easy but the rewards are commensurate with the effort. I am talking about thinking through the endeavor of hunting with intent. Birdwatching, like baseball, gets one only halfway to this goal. Hunting is the focused intent to find, interact with and try to kill a chosen animal, sense the well-earned elation, use it to fuel our bodies, share the symbolism and absolutism of meat, tell and retell the events to others. Dwelling upon and learning from the experience brings us full circle. There may well be other activities that can do this too. Active participation in (as opposed to merely watching) most sports reaches these steps to somedegree; observe, physically act, learn & grow. Elemental physical sports with great doses of anticipation, uncertainty and interaction with other identified forces come to mind - boxing, sailboat racing, white water paddling. However, the differences between the meaning of a hunt and the meaning of team sports seem profound in their subtlety. Sports games are defined by rules concocted by humans to provide a challenge. An arbitrary bar height, a ticking clock, a chalk-delineated area of field. As we are engaged in sports games there is no abandonment of culture to move back in time to ancestral preparations of body, mind and equipment. Quite the opposite, we must use a fair proportion of our senses simply staying within the bounds of the rules because any lapse and we forfeit our goal. With hunting, there is an absolute touchstone goal that cuts across the entire activity- killing one's quarry. The finality of killing is an absolute consideration in hunting that is not duplicated elsewhere in sport with the possible exception of bullfighting. Though ethics and social norms are woven into the selection and methods of killing, there is an absolute finality and gravity in deliberately stopping a heart.

A culture has developed around most forms of hunting but as late as the beginning of the 20th century culture, rule minding was still a minor point. Passenger pigeons were taken with dynamite, ducks with rock-laden puntcanons, bears with snares, and bison from trains. Few objected to any means used in achieving an animal's demise any more than the cat is denied its mouse for the unsporting means of taking it in an enclosed dustbin. Rules have tightened about hunting as a way of prolonging the opportunity to hunt in the face of swelling human populations and more efficient technology. Even today where technology and population lag, Inuit hunters may harpoon seals, noose rabbits, and snitch eggs from goose nests. Canada's Woodland Cree set snares for moose, and shoot sharptailed grouse on their leks. Denesulfine hunters may shoot a dozen swimming caribou at a good crossing and tow them from their motorboat's transom back to camp for dog food. As human populations increase, these activities will diminish and laws, band rulings or taboos will likely crop up pragmatically to prevent their recurrence. To most people geographically or generationally isolated from eating wild-killed meat these activities seem barbaric, heartless and uncivilized. When "uncivilized" becomes a pejorative it speaks volumesa bout how far cultures have drifted from a natural way of living.

By way of contrast, a young, ethical, sophisticated dentist that wade-fishes a stream with an expensive fly rod to catch and release several dozen trout causes few emotive ripples from people that have lost their nature connection. Point of fact, however, his unintentional hooking mortality (about 10% usually) will likely kill two trout. Fifteen-inch trout in the north are probably 10+ years old; three times as old as those caribou that were shot while swimming. The trout were not used and he accepted no responsibility for their death. He has behaved in a far less defensible( some would say honorable) manner than a Tuktoyuktuk girl who eats eider eggs for supper. Her hunting, her eggs, her pride, her nutrition, and she remembers where she got them! To the raided goose she is no different, no less natural, than the grizzly bear whose tracks she crossed as she searched the river's edge. They are both hunters driven by and gratified by the same exact events, killing and eating an egg. She has maintained a clear behavioral connection all the way back into the inky depths of our evolution and she has helped carry it forward one more generation.

All this natural interplay aside, are there other compelling reasons for hunting in a modern era? There seems to be no clear link to evolutionary fitness in the short term, or is there? What does it mean for someone to say "I am happy" or "I am content"? For most, hearing a family member say that is deeply pleasing, especially if both have played a part in the state of being happy. However, ultimately people must look within themselves to recognize happiness. They give themselves permission to be happy, then they have the sense to reflect on this condition enough to say "I am happy".Often the distractions of living in a bustling crowded environment that is divided into ½ or ¼ hour time blocks doesn't allow people to ascend to the total happiness plane. Even if they manage to get there, distractions rarely allow them to settle down enough to relish the condition and roll it around in their mind. Some people learn that getting well away from other humans is the first step toward being able to hang onto their happiness and actually enjoy the privilege of being. I, like many readers herein, am most uniformly, unconditionally and purely happy when I am actively hunting. I am also most acutely aware of it because there are almost always long quiet pauses built into the process. The setting is not devoid of distractions; it is only devoid of the demanding sort that can't be ignored. These are natural reflection periods. For one thing, there is a pure escape from the socio-cultural material world. There is no discrimination between hunters based on the weight of their wallet, the expense of their wristwatch or the kind of vehicle that transported them to the field. Those commonly used economic measures of happiness are stripped away and afield we are all equal. There is an elegance to sampling the nuances of the surroundings, and the process of getting outside of one's body, area and epoch to try on different perspectives like one tries on clothing. It is a way of being-in-the-world and feeling connected to the elemental attributes of heat, cold, muscle contractions, precise hearing, deep hunger and the exercising of very primal parts of the brain that hearken back to dark and pure urges. Whatever endorphins or internal gratification feedback loops are at work here, they seem to be hardwired, but it takes some peeling back of the urban cultural layers to get to their honest core.The complete absorption in some fully occupying task is fulfilling. All but the most jaded, unthinking, vicarious-livers know the satisfaction of being fully engaged in some demanding task, be it casting a fly precisely while balancing in cold water, racing through moguls on a snowboard, gluing up a tedious 900 piece model airplane, devouring a challenging book or stalking on red-alert through an Acacia woodland. Activities of total absorption.These are what psychologists call "flow-experiences" and they share certain attributes, including a complete unawareness of one's feelings, a loss of the sense of time (My god! Where did the last 3 hours go?), a deep sense ofcalm, a peacefulness, and maybe exhilarated exhaustion after the activity is over.

These flow experiences may be so valued by adults because they are so rare. We are fortunate if we have 50 hours of fully engaged flow experiences out of the 8760 hours available each year - less than 1% of our time. Children seem much more capable of being fully in the moment and often are so deeply preoccupied with a game, contest or a painting that when they finally look up they are overly tired and famished with hunger. Some behaviorists contend that play during adolescence is preparation for life's more serious endeavors as an adult, particularly related to physically procuring food and competing for mates. So, have we prepared ourselves during childhood for something we never get around to as adults? Maybe we love the involvements that let us return to the blissful carefree unawareness of childhood. Through hunting we can re-enter the zone ofengagement that we carry instinctively in our bones, that we practiced as children and now reconnect and implement as adults. Hunting is one of the most honest behaviors we can access and even then, it is not always possible to reach the full-out screaming immersion of the six-year-olds' Ferriswheel experience. Sometimes our adult baggage creeps in and ruins the experience, or more tragically, we never get around to participating in the core activities.

There is one overriding reason hunting provides a better, more dependable passage into being fully connected, leading to a better chance of enteringflow-experiences. In hunting there is an intended quarry; another entity as fully and honestly engaged in the activity of pursuit/evade as the hunter. When hunting with commitment, one is lured or channeled into the mostcomplete level of engagement. It is the difference between waltzing alone or with a partner. If one is hunting with a dog, falcon or even a close cooperative companion, there is a second cooperative spirit that pulls one in demanding the effort to participate fully.

However, it is primarily the purity and completeness of the hunted animal's drive to elude, deceive, escape, or even attack the hunter that is the lovely expression of millennia of evolution preparing it to survive. This evolutionary response is what makes clear the steps the hunter must make to keep the dance from being a mockery. We must follow through with our best effort to kill our quarry and this for the sake of the evolutionary process that brought both of us to this point. These flow-experiences are not independent of the final milliseconds of subduing quarry. In the long pageantry of anticipation, preparation, practice, apprenticeship, travel, pursuit, killing, possessing, processing, sharing, consuming, telling, re-telling, analyzing, speculating and appreciating, the actual kill is one step on a long winding staircase. Without it though, things would be quite different and some subsequent steps would not be reached. Hunting without the intent to kill is not hunting any more than a dress rehearsal is not theater. Without an appreciat-or there is no art appreciation. Without prey there is no predator. Without predators, grouse become chickens, deer become goats; wildfowl become barnyard dabblers and mice become small hamsters.

On a hot September fencerow with dozens of doves streaking past and a very warm shotgun barrel I am sure to be reeling with the euphoria and pure engagement of a predator. I am so very very alive and I relish the sway between periods of calm quiet and the subsequent crouching, spinning and shooting. This teeter-totter of being fully engaged interspersed with introspective boredom can make the hands on my watch spin frantically until I look up and realize the sun has set and my stomach is rumbling. It is time to return to the ordered and clock-metered life with three-squares and a foam pillow. The bumpy ride back from pasture to gravel to pavement completes my transition back to the civilized realm and is accomplished witha grin and some satisfaction, not because I may have brought eight ounces of bird to earth but because I succeeded in leaving my routine role, my common sphere. I stepped out and back in time to exercise instincts long dormant. The sense of satisfaction, all bag aside, was in seeing life and death in avery different way for a few hours and the fact that I will carry this rejuvenation with me in reliving and anticipating my next experience.

Hunting continues to renew us, give us humbling mortality insights, and provide hope for our next role escape. There are so very few things in our lives that yield these most precious of gifts: renewal, humility, insight, and hope. We must treat hunting with the same reverence we hold for our religions, our children, and the world's greatest works of art.

Dr Foote is a biologist teaching at the University of Alberta, his website details his current research activities

This essay first appeared in "Fair Chase" the publication of the Boone and Crockett Club and was taken from, makers of bomb-proof bespoke hunting and outdoor kit.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Poison (Ger)

Black Metal post 1990 leaves me cold, and not in a good way. It is neither black enough nor metal enough and rather than the ultimate outsider art it set out to be it has become just another music trend for dilletantes to obsesses over before moving on to the next scene. Emo kids in day-glo headbands sport Burzum t-shirts and corpse paint is no longer a talismanic channelling of the dead but a tired joke. But it was not always so. In the 1980’s Black Metal was a term of contempt and something far far beyond even the mainstream of metal, which was itself on the margins of society. These where the days when Venom were regularly voted the worst band in the world in the annual Kerrang readers poll – the same mag that slagged Slayer, VoiVod, Celtic Frost and Bathory’s early albums before suddenly remembering around 1986 that they’d liked them all along – just in time to pump the mid 80’s thrash movement for every penny.

There are always bands who get left behind. Who now remembers Voor or Black Shepherd, and although terms like “primitive black thrash” are thrown around by people too young to own a cassette player it is rare to find something that actually lives up to it’s boasts. And then there is Poison. If you want to know where modern Black Metal gets it’s fascination with the Cult of Incompetence look no further than Poison. Modern Black Metal tries too hard to perfect a sound that bands like Poison got by the sheer fucking bad luck of not being very good musicians, having access to poor quality studios and releasing their material on cassette. Just as Venom probably wanted to be Judas Priest but never quite learned the chords Poison never quite managed to rise to the standard of Lant/Dunn/Bray. This is seriously primitive blackened thrash metal, the wailing leads aping King/Hanneman like an imbecile child trying to sing a hymn, the riffs lost in layers of fuzz and the ghastly vocals mixed with all the lumpen horror one would expect of a cheap studio in Ulm in 1984.

Given the influence that bestial 80’s German metal had on the Latin American scene it comes as no surprise to find a fan site to Poison hosted from Brazil. Maybe the brutality of those early recordings from Sodom, Destruction and Kreator spoke to something in the Latin make-up that the North American and UK bands could not. Maybe it was their blasphemy, aggression and violence. Maybe the sight of Testament dressed in five pairs of matching Reebok basketball boots just looked a bit fake. Either way Poison were an evolutionary dead end. Their sound did not progress or develop, it stayed locked in the past and remains the sonic equivalent of being flogged by a rusty bulletbelt. For when Hellhammer is too weak and you really do want something buried by time and dust.

Sunday, 6 April 2008


For Father’s Day 2008 I received a book that I already owned. Armed with the receipt I set off to Waterstones to exchange it for something else. For the booklover wandering through Waterstones must awaken the same feelings of ennui and anti-climax as a food-snob winning a trolley dash around Iceland. The shelves bulge with the pre-packaged and over hyped, low quality celebrity-backed junk with a TV tie-in. I can think of a hundred books on a dozen subjects that I want/need/desire but as I walked through the shop it was clear that I would struggle to find any of them here.

The natural history section seemed to consist only of books about garden birds and I was about to turn away when I saw the spine of “Wildwood” stand out from the crowd. I had made a mental note to myself in the summer of 2007 to buy the book after hearing it discussed on Radio 4 as I drove to work but as with most mental notes in fell off the mental kitchen wall and down the back of the mental fridge long before I acted on it. Justing by picking the book up and feeling its weight, the well designed boards and the texture of its creamy pages I knew this was something that I should have bought and that the chance must not slip away again.

Deakin weaves his personal history through the pages of the book like a spoor. References to hippy fairs in Suffolk in 1970, the Whole Earth Catalogue and The Incredible String Band point to where he came from and how his views were formed and it is clear that Deakin was part of the counterculture that saw its role as ecological activists and conservationists of both tradition and place long before such ideas had been smoothed down to fit the mainstream. The resurrection of his sixteenth century timbered farmhouse from a near derelict shell to a living home is discusses with pride and the knowledge won from hard work.. For Deakin this house, with its moat and 323 oak beams in which swallows and spiders were as welcome as he, roots him to the spot. He talks of the seeming permanence of houses as opposed to the transience of camps that he has built in the deep hedgerows but acknowledged that in reality we are just passing through, and houses, even one as old and wooden as his are just blinks in the eye of the forest.
But these are not the reflections of a middle-aged New Ager living out the rural dream in deepest Suffolk but rather a book that looks at the lives of the people who live in woods and who work with wood, artists and artisans and harvesters. For Deakin wood is a “fifth element”, a quintessence that partakes of earth, air and water to grow and in turn feeds the fires to warm and feed us, provides material to build and craft the things that support and delight us and exists in it’s own right as a thing of beauty both when alive and dead. To the medieval mind the wildwood was a wilderness, a place of monsters and outlaws in which chaos and panic ruled. It was to be contrasted with the garden, ordered and cultured, a place for courtly love and civilisation. Deakin carries on this tradition and shows how foresters have always been marginal people, living literally beyond the bounds and beyond the control of landowners, church and state. He recounts how foresters have struggled and fought to preserve rights to the land in opposition to those who would put them off it and he quotes from Thomas Hardy’s “The Woodlanders” to illustrate how poor a living was to be had from the woods. The sense of struggle for scant reward runs through the book as Deakin details the troubles of Suffolk thatchers and Australian woodsmen in providing a reasonable living from the woods and he does not flinch from proclaiming that the dynamic reciprocal relationship with the environment that was once everyday and everywhere is becoming harder to sustain.

Good travel writing should be able to invoke two complimentary yet seemingly conflicting emotions; the desire to experience new and different places whilst at the same time evoking in the reader the feeling that by virtue of reading the page they have already travelled there and know it well. Deakin’s numinous, elegiac prose on the walnut forests of southern France, the damp eerie spruce of the Ukraine and the various habitats of the Australian bush does just this. He visits each with a keen naturalist’s eye for detail and a sensitive, human desire to interact and learn from the people who continue to live and work in the forests of the world. However it is when he travels to the former Soviet states of central Asia in search of the origins of domestic fruit varieties that the book begins to stir the soul. Travelling with local foresters and researchers Deakin climbs through remote wooded valleys by day and stays by night in forest Dachas , eating the walnuts that are offered to him by every one he meets. In these valley’s Deakin describes a primal idyll of wild fruit forests that support hundreds of varieties of wild apple, plum, walnut and berry. In his journeys through the woodlands of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan Deakin does nothing less than look back into Eden, a fertile and gentle habitat among the wild places that produced the means for humanity to thrive and drift across the earth.

Books that do not make one think are not worth reading and for me there was as much to make my spirits sink in Wildwood as there was to make me soar. The saddest was to contrast Deakin’s description of magnificent, wild ancient woodland with the mean and degraded woods that predominate in Britain today. Professor Tolkien once commented that he did not think there was a single patch of wildwood left anywhere in the land, and if there was he would not want to visit it for fear of finding it littered and despoiled. When I walk in the woods behind my house with my daughters I am well aware that this is not the Ferghana Valley or even the green-man haunted oak woods of Devon. This is the remnant of a woodland, hemmed in by housing and roads, the becks running pale and dead with the effluent from industrial estates, the signs of casual vandalism showing on trees and the woodland floor as trail bikes and drunken kids leave their mark.

It is painful to see how few old trees remain in my local woods, here or there an oak or a beech growing quietly alone, towering over the younger ash and scrubby spruce trying to grow on the shaley waste from collieries. It is hard to feel satisfied with such places when Deakin talks of the Pilliga Forest or wild olive woods on the mountains of Lesbos but we are where we are. The beck might not support as many fish as it did when I was 10 but last week when I went into the woods to cut hazel poles I disturbed a pair of mallards that had swam upstream away from the flooded river. There are still huge blackthorn thickets that rise like islands where the wood meets the fields, enveloping other tree’s in their spread and providing a haven for hares and bullfinches and there is ample evidence of deer in the woods, both by the scrapings and slots along the game trails and the nibbled saplings and shoots – even occasionally the startled gallop and the sound of breaking twigs as the animals flee. The stench from the sewage works does not seem to hindered the pale grey leafy lichens from colonising acres of planted larch or the flocks of waxwings from feasting on the rowan berries in winter. There is still diversity and beauty in the woods and we should make it our business to enjoy it.

I came to the end of Wildwood with regret. Deakin had described his home and the surrounding woodlands in Suffolk with such careful detail that I felt I could log on to Google Earth and look through his window. He had written of places I had never heard of and will never see in a way that makes me thirst for them. He had found wonder and grandeur in the smallest of things – the wobbly flight of moths, the presence of plants in unexpected places and the soft chuckling language rooks use to sooth their chicks in the nest. He had praised the humble ash tree in the final chapter of the book, marvelling at its ability to bend and create organic architecture, swooning over it’s pale grey skin and tendency to have green mossy socks, which le likened to the shaggy legs of Pan, and in doing so he had made me love the local distinctiveness that makes my local woods what they are.

It was with deep sadness that I googled his name after reading the book to find obituaries. Roger Deakin died of a brain tumour in August 2006. That Wildwood should be his last book is a shame, he had planned to write a book about the county of Essex and another on the aboriginal heritage of the British Isles, both of which I am sure would have been full of the same intimate, well observed detail and poetic joy as Wildwood and it’s predecessor Watelogged. It is a strange and sobering sensation to find that the author you have just read, in which the life force and wonder of trees and woodland is celebrated in vivid beauty has himself returned to the earth.

Roger Deakin – writer, filmmaker and environmentalist
11th February 1943 - 19th August 2006

Top: Wildwood
Middle: Deakin swimming
Bottom: Rowan thicket in Weardale, July 2007

Thursday, 3 April 2008

April Revival

The advent of British Summer Time is a good point to breath life back into this blog. That is not to say that the previous months have been spent in idleness or waste, on the contrary, the reason why the blog has been neglected has been due to the amount of other work demanding time, attention and effort.

The first week of February was written off by this year’s latest variation on the norrovirus. Getting sick comes with having kids, and one can look back on those healthy days before being a family man with a sigh and a smile. Back then it was taken for granted that a good night’s sleep meant eight or nine hours of unbroken rest, rather than two or three fitful hours crammed into a child’s bed along with a cuddly seal called “Sammy”. It was also taken for granted that there was enough hours in the day to eat well, or indeed at all, and to exercise and relax. These are now the stuff of memory and as such each winter for the last few years I have caught whatever horrible virus is doing the rounds. This year was a bad one, so bad that during the four days I was on sick leave I could barely eat although I did manage to get to ASDA to buy a copy of the newly released “Live After Death” Iron Maiden DVD. Scream for me Spennymoor.

The release of the “Demon Entrails” anthology on February 18th was a twenty-five year highpoint for all Hellhammer fans, although the forthcoming coffee table book of lyrics, art and photos will surely be another. If only I knew where that Celtic Frost guitar pic was that I grabbed at the Bradford gig last year, it can’t have gone far. The new albums by RYN, “Astral Death” and Eidulon have been warmly received, vast drifts of rumble and drone like the sun breaking through miles of dense inky cloud to illuminate nothingness. I will be writing more about both releases in time. The new Black Mountain album was bought as a gamble and half paid off, I’m sure it’s mix of heavy rock and folk will be looked on as the new sliced loaf by alternative college kids in ethical hats but to anybody who doesn’t think music started last week and who already owns records by Black Sabbath, King Crimson, Wishbone Ash, Curved Air, Atomic Rooster and hundreds of others it will be politely enjoyed and put on the shelf between Black Feather and Black Oak Arkansas. Hopefully not the new Isis or Pelican.

The first three months of 2008 saw Earth, Sir Richard Bishop, Ramesses, Burial Hex and Silvester Anfang all play gigs in Newcastle. Not that I went to any of them, a combination of poor health, lack of money and an unwillingness to make the 60 mile round trip kept me at home reading Sherlock Holmes stories. In late January I found a boxed edition of the complete Holmes stories in a charity shop for only £5.99. £5.99 later I was the proud owner of a boxed collection of Sherlock Holmes stories which I proceeded to read in strict chronological order. I am a stout fan of Edwardian fiction such as the ripping adventures of John Buchan and the anti-German spy stories of William Le Quex and although I had read several of the Holmes novels before others were new to me. To completely immerse oneself in the atmosphere and culture of another time through great fiction is a rare pleasure and there is none so good as Doyle’s skilful depiction of the criminal underworld of London between the 1880’s and 1910’s.

There are always other gigs. May will see Shift return to Newcastle with a blast walls of noise and raging power electronics, “Unable to bear the silence of the world” was one of the best albums I heard last year and I have already marked this on the calendar as essential, as well as the first UK tour of Zoroaster and Genghis Tron, who will be destroying hearing as they go. June 24th has Whitesnake and Def Leppard co-headlining Newcastle Arena, my love for David Coverdale’s bluesy heavy rock is equalled only by my scorn for Def Leppard’s plastic poodle cack. What’s got 9 arms and sucks? Def Leppard. Saturday 12th July is Doom Metal Inquisition V, all-dayer at the 1in12 Bradford. Unfortunately US doom titans Orodruin and The Gates of Slumber won’t be there as planned but with Pagan Altar, Warning, The River, The Lamp Of Thoth, Lazarus Blackstar and Witch Sorrow it is going to be the biggest doom gig the UK has seen in years. Or maybe ever. Tickets on sale soon.

I have been walking along the banks of becks and field margins, looking for straight sticks and poles amongst hazel thickets and blackthorn jungles. I have always cut sticks during walks but I have decided to finally begin making “proper” walking sticks, caped with antler and thonged with leather and ferruled in steel. So far I have a nice bundle drying slowly in the rafters of the garage. It is a gentle and contemplative art and maybe only a few steps away from having a tartan flask and a Jack Russell called “Scamp”.

Lying in the warm waters of the outdoor swimming pool at CentreParc in February, with the distant rumble of the A66 and the snow drifting through the trees I realised that the tracks I had been working on for the “Hunts & Wars” album needed something more, or maybe something less. So when we returned home and I was able get some free time to spend in the studio I overhauled the first track, cut it down, trimmed it’s fat and thinned out the murk to let some of the light shine in and the darkness shine out. I also recorded 3 short pieces to act as interludes between the 4 longer tracks, smaller and quieter with less emphasis on the sturm and more on the drang. What I have now is seven pieces of varying lengths which come in at a total of about 65 minutes. The titles reflect the Cimmerian/Howardian spirit that has informed these sessions from the start.

1 Before The Hammer There Was The Horn
2 Helmwind
3 Father Of The Frosts
4 Niord’s Theme
5 Reaching For The Stars We Blind The Sky
6 Night Must Fall
7 Hunts & Wars

Each piece will be accompanied by a sigil that I have dreamed throughout the workings for this album and I am making plans for the cover that will include a nidstang pole to earth the current that the horns draw down. “Hunts & Wars” will be occidental and ancient and will partake of the epic and barbaric in their true forms.