... ‘ghost-folk with English pastoral, fantastical, medieval roots

(April 27, 2011)

The continuance of ‘ghost folk’ ‘fantasy folk’ ‘fey folk’ or ‘spirit medieval folk’ (to give it an altogether unnecessary and more complex name) seems to have two requisites – it’s pastoral, medieval roots and the fact that it’s English. There are of course one or two bands from Europe and some from across the pond that take a similar view but in the main it is English bands that boil up the spiritual, pastoral psych-folk that despite an assumption of ‘limited market’ continues to appear.

Do it well or don't do it

The problem, and there is one with this particular branch of the folk tree is that those who do it well are rare and those that do it badly in the main simply copy those that do it well.

The rise of ‘ghost folk’ grew out of various seeds, oft quoted geneses are: the culture surrounding The Wicker Man, Children of the Stones, Twin Peaks and The Devil Rides Out; the literature of William Blake, Peter John Wyndham and CS Lewis; and the philosophies of Aleister Crowley, Samuel Liddell Mathers and Cecil Williamson. Outside of these influences come the pastoral ether of English woods, streams and the countryside in general.

The music is created by a mix of modern and medieval instruments, including ‘sound bites’ from similar topic films and plays, samples of leaves in the wind, circling birds and running water. Instruments range from such as bowed saw, lute, cello, cittern and harp to distorted guitars, moog synthesizer and Theremin. The aim being to create an ‘other-worldly’ sound and a ‘ghostly ooze’ that adds its own feel to the music. The lyrics usually revolve around the fairy or spirit world, sometimes more traditional folk songs are morphed into the ghost folk style through arrangement and sound effects. 

Fairy folk and folklore

Along with the English medieval and pastoral themes goes a certain love of fairy folklore, antipathy towards the modern world and its materialistic and shallow outlook plus a more than passing interest in pagan and occult themes, often reflecting an explicit antipathy to Christianity. Although those bands that have had that criticism aimed at them profess a Wiccan belief of ‘ it harm none’ and reject any form of anti-Christianity.

Those exponents of the style that have cut albums worth taking the time to listen to (if you can still get hold of them) include Forest, Circulus, The Rowan Amber Mill, Vashti Bunyan, The Hare and The Moon, Foxpockets, Tinkerscuss and others (and if I’ve missed you out send me a CD and I’ll listen.)

The presence (earthly or otherwise) that is ‘ghost folk’ shows no sign of abating and I for one think that’s good. The uniqueness of its approach remains although it continues to suffer from the erroneous belief in some quarters that all it needs is some weird sounds laid over toneless chanting – wrong -  listen to those that do it well to find out how to do it. And long may this idiosyncratic branch of English music flourish.

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