Caught by the River

Where (the) Time Goes

Alistair Fitchett | 23rd August 2023

Alistair Fitchett walks ‘The Path’ — a new album of spoken word and music by Belbury Poly, overlaid with Alfred Watkins’ lines and underlaid with ancient stones.


It is easy to blink and miss things, particularly in these speedy times and particularly as we age and get slower. I’ve done this with Belbury Poly over the years, as a glance at Jim Jupp’s discography bears out. Seven albums, assorted singles and EPs of which I now realise I must have heard barely half. Where does (the) time go?

It’s the same with Jupp’s Ghost Box label. Prolific isn’t the word. Yet whilst there will doubtless be hordes of people who have avidly collected every single artefact over the past nigh-on two decades, I have found myself drifting in and out. It’s like one of those things that becomes a Constant by stealth. In the background, continually creating little gems that I discover almost by accident. A word spotted here and a nod encountered there. I tell myself I ought to treasure these things more, for if there is one thing true of Constants it is that they end. Yet I always end up blinking. Distracted again and wondering where (the) time goes.

So The Path is a new record from Belbury Poly and the Ghost Box label that emerges into my sight between blinks, as it were. It reunites Jupp with poet/author Justin Hopper, with whom he collaborated alongside Sharon Kraus on 2019’s Chanctonbury Rings record. That project illuminated particular aspects of Hopper’s The Old Weird Albion book which was published a couple of years previously, but the two have become so conflated in my personal timeline that I no longer remember if I read or heard his words first. Now I’m sure it ought not to matter, but I admit that there is something a little ‘off’ about hearing an American voice speaking about ancient English mystical landscapes. This perhaps says as much about my own hard-wired expectations and prejudices as anything else, yet perhaps not, for that peculiarly jarring juxtaposition of accent (aural, written and experienced) and subject is not entirely accidental — in The Old Weird Albion Hopper explicitly writes about his sense of being an imposter in an alien landscape, his ‘otherness’ amplifying the energies of place. This was particularly true of Chanctonbury Rings and the notion continues in The Path; indeed, was to an extent the initial impulse for the record whose seed was initially sown on a South Downs walk with Jupp. 

The Path, however, is less about specific physical and mythical space/place and more about the wider landscape. A landscape overlaid with Alfred Watkins’ lines and underlaid with the stones that humankind’s ancestors piled and aligned. Paths literal and metaphorical. Real and imagined. Physical and mythical. Where does (the) time go? It travels on these paths.

Musically The Path is a smorgasbord of references that also meanders through time. The influences of 1970s film soundtracks by the likes of Roy Budd and Roger Webb might be discernible in the easy-going jazz ambience, but it feels more as though those influences have themselves been fed through a blender set to mid/late 90s downbeat hip hop so that at times it conjures memories of the likes of Spacer’s Atlas Earth LP or those earlier U.N.K.L.E. collaborations like The Time Has Come before Mainstream Success beckoned and it all got a bit banal. Max Seidi’s drums and percussion no doubt help create these kinds of connections, at least in my head, whilst occasional Poly collaborator Christopher Budd’s bass, guitars and sitar also contribute to that early 70s mild psychedelia of children’s TV and fiction created by middle-aged survivors of the age of Aquarius. It’s not quite Prog, but you sense it could easily head off on that tangent, and fair play if it did. Elsewhere there is something medieval in the music too, which perhaps is down to Jesse Chandler’s (of Midlake, Mercury Rev & Pneumatic Tubes) flute and clarinet which colour proceedings with a more ancient psychedelia of nutmeg and mushrooms. It’s a terrific flavour, and indeed this notion of casting back and drifting forwards permeates the entirety of The Path and might be the single unifying ‘theory’ in all the Ghost Box catalogue, filled as it is with reference to (Pop)cultural history and the insistence of personal recollection. Each moment instantaneously becomes the past, which immediately begins its decay and dismemberment within our perception. We mould these into artefacts according to our skills. In Jupp’s case, these vessels of memory are cast in the magic of music whilst in Hopper’s, the plasticine of text. Together they combine admirably to make a record where the co-dependence of the strands might result in something greater than the sum of the parts, but where each can equally flourish by itself. Instrumental versions of some of these tracks and Hopper’s written sleeve notes persuade us of the skills of each. The Path then is a record of music with words spoken, as opposed to a record of spoken word. Small distinctions can be the most important.

As Hopper’s text dives into a more Noir-ish arena, to which the musicians respond (or is it the other way round?) with the kind of Film Noir jazz soundtrack that Robert Altman might have utilised, moths appear — The Path’s metaphorical Existential Outsiders. Although this is nicely done, these moths also seem to metamorphose in reverse, and inhabit a form that exists between worlds — which could perhaps be read as a lazy symbol of identity fluidity, and ultimately results in the naïveté of placing hope in ‘the children’. I’m sceptical of this endlessly repeated and quaint idea that our offspring will somehow magically transform the realms in which we dwell, although I appreciate this may just be thirty years of teaching teenagers leaving a stain of pessimism on my soul. But The Future Will Be Better seems increasingly like a laughable concept. How many generations have ultimately thought the same? How many have reached the end of their lives and realised the inevitable ridiculousness of that hope they once held dear? 

So yes, as Hopper suggests in his opening words of the record, we follow The Path despite knowing better. Indeed, we follow The Path because we know better. Because we understand the falsehoods that ‘better’ contains. We follow The Path because of an instinctive awareness that Belief > Knowledge and because we sense that tripping backwards is ultimately healthier than swaggering forwards. This is where (the) time goes. 

Lead on.


‘The Path’ is out now on Ghost Box.