A brace of timely reissues from the cult hauntology label’s catalogue of delights
As a precursor to Ghost Box Records’ 10th anniversary celebrations in the autumn, which will include a much-needed compilation of this slavishly revered label’s output to date, this remastered pair of vinyl-only releases (download codes accompany, of course) serve as a well-timed reminder of the surprising broadness of this most British of imprints.
Founded a decade ago by then 30-somethings Jim Jupp and Julian House, like-minded best mates since school, Ghost Box’s nature is singularly idiosyncratic, aesthetically stunning and musically uncompromising. Importantly, though, their brand of retro-futurism is eminently accessible and, particularly with regard to The Advisory Circle’s work, cerebrally playful and wildly inventive. Synonymous with – and in many ways defining of – the hauntology genre, the label attracts almost religious levels of devotion from some quarters, for whom their touchstone references conjure so much.
Those references encompass a great deal, but often, though certainly not always, they grapple with our half-remembered and misremembered recent 20th century past. There are nods to library music and the Radiophonic Workshop’s wonky incidental soundtracks, public information films and long-expired short-wave radio broadcasts, as well as wyrd kids’ TV series like ‘Children Of The Stones’ and ‘The Owl Service’, with their attendant pointers to our deeply buried yet stubbornly cherished folklore and prehistory. All this and more is wrapped in warmly evocative analogue synth hooks, which at times bring to mind Boards Of Canada, Air, and even Jean-Michel Jarre.
‘Other Channels’ is a perfect example of this. In many ways, it’s early Ghost Box canned, so it’s an ideal entrée for the uninitiated. It was label stalwart Jon Brooks’ first full-length release as The Advisory Circle and tracks like ‘Civil Defence Is Common Sense’, ‘Hocusing For Beginners’ and ‘Mogadon Coffee Morning’ flummox and delight in equal measures, setting moments of surreal daftness against summery pastoral keyboard tones awash with well-judged wistfulness. Evocative liner notes by writer and broadcaster Ken Hollings set the music in an environment of Cold War paranoia, crystallising much of what we connect with when tuned in to this most brilliantly realised album.
The juxtaposing of a very British kind of mundanity alongside the fantastic is another oft-visited Ghost Box theme and this provides the context for the Mount Vernon Arts Lab reissue, the ‘Hobs Lane’ of the title being the fictional tube station where the action of Nigel Kneale’s cult 1958 BBC sci-fi series ‘Quatermass And The Pit’ takes place. A darker and more challenging proposition than ‘Other Channels’, ‘The Séance At Hobs Lane’ is the work of avant-garde musician Drew Mulholland, latterly also composer-in-residence at Glasgow University’s department of Geography and Earth Sciences.
Mulholland has help from a cast of big-hitting collaborators, including Portishead’s Adrian Utley, Belle & Sebastian’s Isobel Campbell and Add N To (X)’s Barry 7, and the result is a master study in psychogeographical electronic composition, immersing the listener in murky, eerily resonant subterranean nether-worlds. A live performance of this substantial piece has recently been commissioned and it’s hoped that the ensemble of musicians originally involved will participate in the event, which will most likely be in Glasgow. And it will no doubt form a rather impressive focal point for Mulholland’s contribution to the ever-intriguing story of this most outstanding of labels.