Caught by the River

The Order Of The 12: 12 Inspirations

7th November 2012

Jeff – here is twelve inspirations from The Order of the Twelve that appears in Antidote 4. I deliberately put it at the start of the magazine as I felt it read rather like a manifesto for this issue of the magazine. One thing Richard mentions in particular means a lot to me – an obscure 1969 performance of Alice Through the Looking Glass by a village amateur dramatic group the Ditchling Players. Various members of my family were in the show and the music, which went on to become highly collectable and eventually re-released, was the soundtrack to my childhood.

The Order Of The 12 shot by Luke Insect at Christopher Dean and Son Blacksmiths, Rodmell, est 1910.

The Order of the 12 is a musical collective based in and around Lewes, in East Sussex. We will also shortly be releasing a series of tracks. Our music has been particularly influenced by our surroundings, here in the South Downs, a few miles inland from Brighton. Here’s 12 inspirations…

Caught By The River’s Nature Disco
Caught By The River’s Jeff Barrett asked me to mix a compilation of music and spoken word pieces he’d got selected for an event organised by the poet Alice Oswald. It took place at Sharpham House, overlooking the river Dart in South Devon. The soundtrack mixed poetry with found sound, ambience, loops and folk songs. Ted Hughes’ musings on pike sat next to Brian Eno, Sir John Betjeman reflected alongside Sea Of Bees, all blended together with a helping of Chris Watson’s field recordings. Jeff called it ‘Nature Disco’, which got me thinking. It became a starting point for creating some music that was intricately linked with it’s surroundings. A local soundtrack, something sprung from the landscape and stories of where I live, in Sussex. The Order Of The 12 was born.

The mixes are available here

Lewes, where I live, is a genteel, pretty sleepy English town, but scratch beneath the surface and something else emerges. It’s a great place for archivists and collectors, perfect for researching local tales. John Fowles obsessive tome The Collector was set on the outskirts; the original fossil collector Gideon Mantell lived next door, folk archivist and singer Shirley Collins lives a few doors up on the banks of Lewes Castle. It’s a town that likes celebrating – there’s always a literature, beer or folk festival going on. There’s three independent record shops, which is startling for a town so small. These include Union Store, which is dedicated solely to folk and country, and has two clocks set to different time zones – one for Lewes, one for Nashville. It’s home to the world’s largest Druid organisation. Every season you’ll spot druids dawn on a mysterious hill of unknown origin, welcoming the equinox. Once a year, around mushroom season, we hold the Lewes Psychedelic Festival, an all night shindig which recently took place in a three room warehouse from sunset to sunrise. This spirit, alongside the feeling you get living nestled in the rolling South Downs that surround the town, has seeped into the Order’s music.

The most riotous evening of all in Lewes is bonfire night, November 5, when up to a hundred thousand revellers watch a parade of tableaux and burning crucifixes honouring 17 Lewesian marytrs, before heading to one of seven giant bonfire sites around town. It looks like a Wicker Man out take and sounds like World War Three.

Up the road from Lewes, and home to our singer Rachel, Rodmell is where Virginia Woolf spent her last days. Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived at Monk’s House, a seventeenth century weatherboarded cottage. It’s now a National Trust property and is well worth a visit.

Crataegus, or Hawthorn, is an ancient medicinal herb, which grows all around us in Sussex. It’s an evergreen shrub, used in naturopathic and Chinese medicine. It can grow in even the most windswept reaches of the South Downs, and is a source of shelter and food for livestock, birds and insects. It has a connections with May Day, the maypole, and is known in Sussex as the ‘Bread and Cheese’ tree, as the buds could be eaten straight from the tree. It’s a popular plant in Sussex, a symbol of fertility, and the blossoms are a great sight in the late Spring.

Blood On Satan’s Claw
Alongside Witchfinder General and The Wicker Man, Blood On Satan’s Claw the greatest example of British celluloid folk horror. A ploughman uncovers the remains of a strange creature, who turns out to be the devil. Evil forces emitting from Satan’s bones take over the local villagers minds, with terrifying results. Not Sussex based – it was shot in Oxford and Buckinghamshire, but we’d love to have recorded the soundtrack nonetheless. Maybe we’ll work on a South Downs remake.

Wendy and Bonnie
Wendy and Bonnie Flower released one album, Genesis, on Skye records in 1969. The San Francisco siblings create a beautiful, plainive harmony that chimes with the spirit of the Order Of the 12. You can find it on CD and also on extended 2 CD and 3 vinyl set.

Ditchling Ghosts
A few miles from Lewes lies Ditchling Beacon, a steep chalk hill on the South Downs, the highest spot in East Sussex. Shepards would spend many a lonely hour up here, with only a sheep dog for company. The howl of the wind over the beacon gave birth to the local legend of a ghostly pack of witch hounds, hunting the souls of the damned.

Ditchling Players
You’ll often find members of the Order scouring the shops of Ditchling, hoping to find the obscure vinyl treats of the local amateur dramatic group the Ditchling Players. It’s a thankless task, as these private pressing recordings have long since passed into trainspotter lore. In 1969 the players performed a version of Alice Through The Looking Glass, that was noted for it’s remarkable soundtrack, from John Ferdinando and future BBC Radiophonic Workshop member Peter Howell. Martha Keeney, from Radio 4’s Women’s Hour, played Alice. A handful of copies were pressed onto vinyl for the cast and crew. Record dealers rediscovered this lysergic, sound effect heavy gem of pastoral psych in the late eighties, and it was reissued by Tenth Planet. Galumph galumph!

Jimmy Page and Carp
Just along from Ditchling lies Plumpton, supposedly home of a related spirit, a large, shaggy black dog who patrols the hill from Westmeston to Ditchling. It’s known locally as Black Dog Hill, an inspiration for Plumpton resident Jimmy Page’s song ‘Black Dog’. Page bought Plumpton Place, an Elizabethan manor with a moat in the early seventies, kitting it out with a recording studio. You can see Jimmy’s portrait lurking in the back of a Sgt Pepper style painting of local people that hangs in the Half Moon Inn to this day. Plumpton Place’s moat is traditionally believed to be the spot where carp were introduced to Britain, by Leonard Mascall in the reign of Henry VIII. Good job it wasn’t snapper.

Janelle Monae with Deep Cotton – 57821
Tucked away amongst the slick R’n’B moves of Janelle Monae’s 2010 album The ArchAndroid, this track was recommended to me by ex-Piccadilly Records dude Danny Webb, now a resident of the Sussex village of Piddinghoe, a few miles from Lewes. A fine tip off it is too – it’s like a lost Wicker Man gem, all sweet harmonies and subtle menace. God knows what it’s doing on the album, but I recommended it unreservedly, as I do Danny’s yearly Piddinghoe Festival.

The River Ouse
The river rises near Lower Beeding and winds its way through East Sussex, right through the middle of Lewes, and out to the sea at Newhaven. It’s ebb and flow is marvellously captured in Olivia Laing’s recent book ‘To The River’. It’s the final resting place of Virginia Woolf, as narrated in the Order Of the 12 song ‘Against The Tide’.

Richard Norris.

Music by The Order of The 12 can be heard here.

An Antidote To Indifference, issue 4, is now on sale in the Caught by the River shop, priced £4.20