Friday, September 30, 2022


At The Endless Bookshelf, Henry Wessells discusses Undergrowth (1913) by Francis and Eric Brett Young, a book influenced by Arthur Machen, as FBY later admitted: "the Machenery was obvious". 

This novel of the uncanny in remote country has always been elusive, but copies do turn up. Only last month Mr John Howard discovered one lurking in a cupboard ostensibly of biography in a Welsh border bookshop, and some years ago I found one in the shed attached to an antiques shop mostly selling china dogs, also in a (different) Welsh border town. Look where least expected would seem to be the watchword. 

(Mark Valentine)

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Invocation of Deities by Working of Ritual Instruments

‘Bells’, the first of two compositions on Andrew Sherwell’s album Invocation of Deities by Working of Ritual Instruments is “based on a selection of recordings of bells and ambience from churches in the South Downs, UK”.  But the bells’ tolls and peals have been slowed down, so that we hear great sonorous resonating echoes in a work that is sombre, mysterious, processional.

We also hear other sounds: the creaking and rumbling of the bells’ ponderous apparatus, perhaps; a brittle crepitation like rain or scurrying or the turning of hymn-book pages by themselves; a melancholy drone as if from a ruined harmonium.

Who are the bells summoning? The deities invoked by this music are not quicksilver Hermes or fleet-footed Artemis, but rather chthonic Saturn or sable Persephone. You stop at an English village with its Black Horse inn and you look up at the tower of the medieval church standing on a great oval mound at the end of the High Street. The weather vane is pointing north.  

You enter through the lych gate and follow the way through the yew alley to the arched door, and inside you find that the church you thought you knew, with its out-of-tune singing and flower-arranging rota and raffles and tombolas and absent-minded antiquarian parson, that church has become a Temple of the Underworld.

The second piece on the album, ‘Kang Ling’ is “based on samples from a recording given to [the composer] after a fund-raising event at the much-missed Embassy of Free Tibet in London UK, sometime in the mid-1980s’.

The album is available for download or limited edition CD (only a few copies left) on the Slow Tone Collages label, and includes artwork combining courtly portraiture with Surrealist imagery.  

(Mark Valentine)

Thursday, September 22, 2022

'With The Great God Pan in Whitby'

The Irish literary magazine Poetry Bus edited by Collette O’Donoghue and Peadar O'Donoghue bears on its masthead a Mark E Smith quotation: “If you’re going to play it out of tune, then play it out of tune properly.”

The latest issue, Poetry Bus 10, includes my 16-line poem 'With The Great God Pan in Whitby'. This was inspired by one of the memorable occasions of the original Arthur Machen Society, a weekend in the North Yorkshire harbour town when Mark E Smith, singer and songwriter with The Fall, joined us, with his girlfriend. We met at The Angel, where Machen had stayed, and explored other places associated with his visit.

MES was a keen Machen fan and wanted to hear about the Welsh writer’s stay there during the First World War, as a reporter investigating rumours of suspicious activity on the cliffs. There was nothing in the reports, but instead Machen filed pieces for his paper, the Evening News, on ‘Wonderful Whitby in the Moonlight’, and on the town’s famous trade in jet jewellery. The stay also inspired his atmospheric story ‘The Happy Children’.

The poem recalls some of the, er, interesting incidents of this Whitby encounter with MES. 

This well-designed paperback offers 55pp of contemporary poetry from a diverse international line-up.

(Mark Valentine)