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by J.Lynch

In 1998, in a police house in the obscure and most distant, hallucinatory memories of some fleeting night-time moment in Devon, Roddy plays ‘Jehovah Kill’. As it plays, he explains the lore of ‘Akhenaten’ and why Cope wrote that song. I have never felt the need to confirm the accuracy of his story, and this is at least part of the point here, folklore upon folklore. And Julian Cope is already folklore perhaps. Megalithomaniac. This moment brought together in me music, and the undertow of Paganism that exists, patient and benign at the bedrock of Christian Britain. The threads of identity that Susan Cooper pulls at so elegantly in the Dark is Rising. ‘Very old them crosses are, rector’ Old George corrects the clergyman, ‘- Long before Christ’, dismissing any role that his God might play in the unfolding events of the acquisition of the Sign of Stone, having, perversely, just attended mass. 


This delicate weave of gradual appropriation seems most apparent perhaps, at the edges of the islands (I am mindful of the imposition of Christian myth on the Callanish Stones that grace ‘Jehovah Kill’s’ sleeve).  The places that share bracken, gorse, heather and granite. The places where Catholicism never really took hold, and residents favoured the austere simplicity of ‘chapel’, while brazenly continuing older ritual in quasi-secular fashion. North Wales, Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles, the Hebrides, Cornwall. My own journey slithers from the far northeast of this list to the gnarled edges of the southwest. I have written before about the dislocating effect that the smell of bracken causes in me, and it remains a feature of my life. One that I enjoy greedily when it occurs. With these plants comes the rock, and with the rock come the stones, monuments, ruins, and barrows, and in turn then come the stories.


People built around these things, often with an alarming proximity that smacks of a certain insensitivity to the apparent cultural weight of the sites. With this proximity comes a kind of interchangeable incongruity, the direction of which can be switched. Is the ancient incongruent where it remains, indifferent to the contemporary, or is the modern incongruent to the robust presence of the old? Either way, the jarring juxtaposition is beautiful. Consider the Tesco by Clickimin Broch, or the sports centre at Roche Rock, rather like isolated peers to the omnipresent ancient architecture that props up contemporary Rome, these relics insist themselves upon the landscape and will long outlast the new-built homesteads that fan out beneath their shadows like creeping lichen. 


The folklore of Cornwall is curiously compressed. Concertinaed into a sort of plywood of stories as though the land itself were not big enough to contain so many ghosts, giants, and betrayals. It is difficult to imagine the Lady occupying the same watery space as the tortured, treacherous Jan Tregeagle as both play out their parts at Dozmary Pool. The lineage of such stories has been wonderfully corrupted by un-rigorous enthusiasts in more recent times where hearsay and speculation replace aural tradition, and the linguistic Brythonic roots of such things are crushed to insignificance by specious English supposition. Not what it might mean, but what it sounds like when pressed close against the invading language. Capital takes its stake too in the cancerous growth of new age shops that seek to monetise whatever magic they can insinuate from the traditions that inscribe waterfalls and castles along the Arthurian scaffold of the north coast. But as with the water that follows, the ribbons are not tied where the Holy Well truly is.


As I was making the music that became ‘Brythonic Problem’ my interest in the specifics of the stories was overtaken by thingness of the sites. Their meaning in folklore overwritten by a real time experience of place and material. This shift in focus reveals questions on the writing of music about place. If heritage has something to do with a coexistence of temporal practices, then to make music as a response to site or place brings with it a soup of subjectivity. The music we already make, what we know, what we feel, our habits, interests and preoccupations pre-exist the noises we eventually bring into being. There is too, a qualia of site. What does it feel like to be in a place? To whom? How can it be shared? We can, and do, work with onomatopoeia, but where both music and place elude representation and language, and just as our experience fails to break linguistic structure to reach the Real, what is left must be a legitimate response, but perhaps just in phenomenological terms. We are never simply at or in a place, but in dialogue(s). With our sensory experience, our memory, our knowledge, our imagination, and a pluralised set of contexts, we experience place as a sort of portmanteau of Bachelard and Tuan. As ‘a whole past comes to dwell’ we might rebuild the ‘centre of the universe’ wherever suits. All of this is in play when I make music in response to the stones and their surroundings.


I’ll try to clarify. From the winding single track road that runs from Madron and Morvah, a person can visit in less than four miles; Madron’s Holy Well, Lanyon Quoit, Ding Dong Mine, Bosiliak Barrow, Green Burrow Engine House, Boskednan Stone Circle, Mên-an-Tol, White Downs Longhouse, a nameless Bronze Age Barrow, and Men Scryfa (monument to a ‘Raven Prince’). All of these are on the right-hand side of the road as you head away from Madron. This haphazard collection spans thousands of years and presents a heritage that is explicitly Cornish, unfettered by Roman or Viking influence, and curated only by happenstance. The landscape offers up the neolithic and industrial on strangely equal footing via the rocks. The result is, broadly speaking, animist. It speaks to us (to paraphrase Peter Doyle).


The conflation of things conspires to create experience and then response. The olfactory, both real time and memory, weaves into a narrative driven by sound, wind, temperature, and view. The rooks play out their secret omens, and things take on the appearance of talisman within the stifling weight of history. I remember the bloodied stoat, scrambling amongst the thorns and scattered yellow of protective gorse. Its broken head a visceral image of death. So, I am at once above Uyeasound looking down on my childhood house, behind Frachadil by Calgary Bay pondering the hollowed, eye-less corpse of a highland cow in the brook, at the foot of Cader Idris evangelising a novel to my wife, and here. Just here by myself as I have so often been. The taste of rain, the passing of my infant children through the circle at Mên-an-Tol in defiance of my own baptism, and the lazy circling of buzzards become the same thing. Coexistent. I took in the stones in turn, familiar now with each. I cannot guess how much has been dug away beneath me. All the elements are my home. I imagined how to sound this place, what of it belongs to me. And so, like Cope on seeing the cross of the stones, ‘I stretched my arms way out’. I went back with recordings, and I made noise.

Bythonic Cover High Res.jpg

Listen to B3312 drone here.

Listen to Brythonic Problem here.

J.Lynch's 'Brythonic Problem'  album is out now on Krautpop records.


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