Home OnTheGraniteShore RHEA7DA006LabelBVig RHEA7DA006LabelAVig






Saturday, 17 May 2008

Written in granite: The Bells of Dunwich

Stone Angel's eponymous debut album was released in 1975, although you'd never know it from listening; if someone told you it'd been recorded in 1875 as a result of Doctor Who going back in time and happening to have a 16-track studio in the Tardis then you'd be inclined to believe it. And that's seriously weird, because the album features electric guitar, an instrument we generally associate with music made from the 1950s onwards. What's more the electric guitar is of the distorted, "acid-fuzz-folk" kind to be found on a certain genre of often rather wonderful folk-rock recordings made post-Liege And Lief in the early 1970s. Things like the Fresh Maggots album... However Stone Angel sounds nothing like Fresh Maggots – the latter is a fine album but very definitely a product of its time, the guitar-playing is essentially blues-based, so the FM sound is basically folk acoustic guitar and blues fuzz electric with the odd bit of embellishment and voices. The Stone Angel album is something else altogether, it sounds so OLD. No, "old" isn't the word... It sounds ancient... antediluvian... Some of the instrumentation might suggest Incredible String Band-type whimsy but believe me, there is nothing whimsical on this album. This doesn't sound like hippies... It just sounds absolutely bloody terrifying, in a Wicker Man kind of way, I suppose. The electric guitar just adds to it, because it kind of drones, playing parts that sound sometimes like some early viol, then there are Jew's harps, pipes... It really is eerie. And it was recorded in 1975. The voices are both male and female, the male vocals sound like some English agricultural worker, who'll join you in a pint down the pub then take you outside for ritual sacrifice at closing time. The female voice is otherworldly.

And then there are the songs. The album opens with The Bells Of Dunwich. Now, given that they were from East Anglia, it seems safe to assume that this is about the legendary lost Suffolk town (indeed the sleeve-notes say something about this) but I'm sure a lot of you will also associate the name "Dunwich" with H.P. Lovecraft. The Dunwich Horror springs immediately to mind. I lived in East Anglia for a few years when I was a child, on the Norfolk-Suffolk border by the sea, and the whole album conjures that bleak but scathingly beautiful landscape and coastline to my mind.

Another of the reasons the album hasn't dated is that there are no drums. The record has phenomenal power, the rhythm comes from the guitars, sometimes the electric droning away, mostly the acoustic thrashing away, with bass occasionally underpinning but more often playing over the top, as on the title track, Stone Angel itself. This record isn't alone in its field of course, there's also other scary folk such as Comus and the less frightening but equally ancient sound of former Incredible String Band member Clive Palmer's wondrous C.O.B. whose Spirit Of Love album is also timeless.

There was a second Stone Angel album, East Of The Sun, made literally years and years later, and there's also a kind of alternative version of this first album called The Holy Rood of Bromholm, although I must admit I've never heard either. I must put this right, for the first, eponymous album, is one of the finest – and most English - records ever made. Oh and did I mention how scary it is? As with Doctor Who, you might find yourself hiding behind the sofa...

No comments:

Home OnTheGraniteShore RHEA7DA006LabelBVig RHEA7DA006LabelAVig