Caught by the River

A Folklore Tapes Calendar

Lara C Cory | 18th December 2017

Lara C Cory assesses the latest output from the wonderful folk at Folklore Tapes

“Do you believe in witches?”
“Yes, I do sir.”
“And what did you hear last year?”
“I heard the witches frying their pancakes”
“And what did it sound like?”
“It sounded like the wind was going through a stream.”

A man interviewing a child about witches on Pancake Day is one of the charming sonic minutiae that caught my ear on the audio compilation tape that accompanies David Chatton Barker’s (of Folklore Tapes) 2018 calendar for The Ritual Year (Customs & Rites of Britain). Horse hooves, fires crackling, horns blowing and bells ringing are some of the sounds you’ll hear on Barker’s cultural mixtape that combines material from over 100 amateur recordings posted on YouTube.

The audio clips capture rituals, songs, and ceremonies from all over the country, starting with the Bodmin Wassail – The First Song and continue through the year to the Penzance May Horns Ceremony and the Beltane Procession at Glastonbury, to finish with Burning the Clocks at Brighton and the Allendale Tar Barrel Festival, with recordings dating from as early as 1990 to the present day.

‘For me the process of making the tape was interesting, as we now inhabit a time when anyone can collect field recordings of folk traditions etc, whereas 20+ years ago, only a few people would have had the equipment to capture such material. I found myself as a sort of conduit for the amateur material, creating a seasonal stew of deeply rooted traditions’. Barker specifically chose YouTube clips that only had a handful of views, with a quality of sound that is surprisingly good. ‘Once divorced from the video footage,’ Barker says, ‘the material becomes something quite different’.

The risograph-printed calendar contains regional and national customs and rituals of the UK throughout the year — such as the well-dressing in Derbyshire and Llanwrtyd Wells Bog Snorkelling — and includes lunar phases, tree months, planet cycles and cosmic events. With simple colour combinations and collaged images and motifs, the design presents more like a screen print and remains loyal to the Folklore Tapes aesthetic tradition.

For Barker, making the calendar felt important, ‘if only for me and my friends to know about goings on around the country. This can be inspiring for ideas of stuff to do and just nice to know’. You might never have heard of Mousehole Tom Bawcock’s Eve or the Slaithwaite Moonraking Festival, so Barker has included a listed of each custom/ritual with a description of its origins and meaning.

A perfect gift for fans of the label and anyone interested in the colour and clout of Britain’s rich regional cultures. Barker will also be releasing a reissue of four cassettes made in the past three years as a four LP box set with booklet, called Calendar Customs Box Set.

Both are available to buy from today, and are available here.


Lara C Cory on Caught by the River/on Twitter