Preview of the film “New Summer Wavelength” by Ghost Box co-founder Julian House. Music: Summer Round from new Belbury Poly album “The Belbury Tales”
In Australia, during the 70s and 80s, there were two major streams of culture feeding into the country – one from Britain, the other from the United States; as well as a small amount of our own locally created material. Even though we were no longer a British colony – Australia gained its independence in 1901 – we still had a close cultural connection to Britain, and our national broadcaster, the ABC, purchased many of its programs from the BBC, and other English channels like ITV.
We watched everything from Doctor Who and The Goodies, to All Creatures Great and Small and The Good Life, and for children growing up in a hot and sunny climate, we still managed to soak up quite a bit of the brooding English countryside.
Unfortunately, over the years, as it is true of most countries, American programming has come to dominate the airwaves. But to be fair, there is also a much more global experience of culture with the syndication of reality TV shows created anywhere in the world (Big Brother originated in the Netherlands) remade for local audiences.
For many of us living in the antipodes, however, the unique music of Belbury Poly and the Ghost Box label opens up a kind of mental time capsule of these long-forgotten feelings and sensations of our British-influenced childhood.
Left, Jim Jupp (aka the Vicar of Belbury) and right, straightening up his tie, Julian House
Label founders Jim Jupp and Julian House, by exploring their own childhood experiences, have captured an old way of making sounds and images, a culture that was strongly driven by government education programs and institutionalised creativity like that of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. They have preserved and elevated these old media-making ways into a new and treasured artform, approaching them in the same way that someone might learn the art of blacksmithing to ensure that a valued cultural tradition is not lost through neglect.
But with no one to teach them, this strange world they have created has been of their own making, re-discovered through a process of reverse engineering.
Julian House looks after all of the album art and graphic design for the label (also releasing music as The Focus Group) and has a history of making music videos for Primal Scream and the Doves. His Ghost box imagery is a strange brew of village churches, sun shadows, and neolithic standing stones.
Jim Jupp is behind Belbury Poly, and the fourth album, “The Belbury Tales” has just been released. For this new work, he has enlisted the help of additional musicians – drummer Jim Musgrave and guitarist Christopher Budd – giving the Belbury sound a new dimension with fuzz guitars, vocals, and a synthesized choir alá Popul Vuh’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God.
The album title is a play on The Canterbury Tales, a cornerstone of British literary culture, but is also drawing on more unorthodox literary traditions, like British science fiction. Included in the album’s packaging is a fictional story by Wire Magazine’s editor-in-chief, Rob Young, who has written extensively about the Ghost Box label and Belbury Poly in his book Electric Eden.
The Australian connection to all of this is an interesting one. In the sixties and seventies, many young, professional Australians moved to London to make their mark, feeling that the opportunities for advancement in their own country – which at the time had a much smaller population – were limited.
One of the people to leave our shores was the composer Ron Grainer. Born in Atherton, Queensland, he was a graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. In London, he became involved with the BBC, composing theme music and incidental music for shows like Maigret. One of his most famous works was the cracking theme for The Prisoner. However, it was his orchestral theme for Doctor Who that was famously transformed by Delia Derbyshire on electronic equipment and turned into one of the most instantly recognisable themes around the world.
A reverse journey was made by Tristam Cary, who after many years of composing his unique synthesizer music for Doctor Who (as well as helping develop its signature instrument, the EMS VCS3 with inventor Peter Zinovieff), retired to live in Adelaide, South Australia. A double CD of his original non-Doctor Who compositions was released by the Australia label Tall Poppies in 2000, and he appeared in the 2006 documentary What the Future Sounded Like before passing away in 2008.
“The Belbury Tales” is out now, available through the Ghost Box website in a 12″ vinyl format, CD, and download. If you would also like to stay abreast of happenings in the world of Belbury, you can peruse through The Belbury Parish Magazine (though I have a sneaking suspicion that the Parish church is fashioned of the same stones that were once the local druid’s circle – so watch out!)