Stange & Sinister Encounters [2008-04-01]The English Heretic are a mysterious musical/ literary collective who investigate ocultic matters, blurring the lines between fact and fiction, their music is a layered and sinister mix of dark electronics, folk and source recordings & ambience. And their written word a mixture of ocultic history, true crime and horror fiction. Their Music and texts together make an intoxicating and often highly un-nerving whole. Andy Sharp one of the main minds behind the project kindly agreed to give me an email interview.
m[m] How and why was the English Heretic formed? Was it your first musically/ sound project?
Andy English Heretic really developed from a project called "Lost Objects" that I was working on for a tiny record label called Queasy Listening that I've run for a good few years. "Lost Objects" involved location symbolic recordings that were then left at an appropriate site for someone to accidentally discover. Around October 2003, I became interested, or rather the spirit of Michael Reeves, became interested in me. I discovered I lived about 1/4 mile from where his ashes were scattered and the more I read about him and visited the crematorium, the more I felt there was some remnant of an unquiet soul needing to be exorcised and commemorated. The original idea was to create a Lost Object for Reeves. Concomitant with this I started becoming obsessed with those ridiculous DeAgostini part magazines, you know those ones that inspire you start on some brand new hobby like building a scale model of the Cutty Sark or something in a 1000 parts. These seemed to be the epitome of adult hopelessness in trying to find a new meaning to life. I also loved their cheesy format, the whole layout with sound bites and graphics. Interestingly, I subsequently found out why these magazines come out in January and are published by Italian companies. It's partly to capitalise on "new year’s resolution" syndrome and partly to take advantage of Italian tax loopholes. Hilarious! The final strand was having a young family and always visiting English Heritage sites, I was intrigued by their souvenir shops, their commoditisation of history... it seemed like something that needed subverting and an opportunity to play with the form of a web site and make art of it. So really all these strands came together to form English heretic.
m[m]Who’s involved in the project and who does what?
Andy Basically all the writing, website and design is done by me (Andy Sharp). For the music I've had help from a couple of friends (Phil Legard and Johann Wlight) for a number of tracks (Open The Mithraic Stargate, Oh Whistle And I'll Come To You, Season Of The Witch, The Brundish Horror with Phil. Johann did most of the work on Threnody For The Energy Spectres). My wife Helen helped out on Sacred Geography Of British Cinema 1 - doing the vocals for The Hills Of Arcady. She also helped with the vocals for Ephialtes which appeared as an MP3 release for Woven Wheat Whispers, "English Heretic Annual 2006".My kids David and Hannah read a poem I wrote for "Alectromantic Hymn For The Red Cock of Mabon". Hannah appeared on Sacred Geography of British Cinema and they both make a fleeting appearance on Mystic Art which was recorded at this strange pyramidal mausoleum at Blickling in Norfolk - like something straight out of 70s Dr. Who.
Andy The recording I am working on at the moment based on the rituals of Kenneth Grant's New Isis Lodge has some spoken word contributions by a chap from the Norwegian OTO. So, really it is a slightly it monomaniacal project. It's kind of like a much reduced theatre company. I tend to ask people I like (both personally and creatively) and trust to do specific roles. I like this way of working. As a youngster I used to really admire the way Current 93 was set up, as a kind of nebulous creative entity. And these days I think people like Crass had the right idea, so they are quite inspirational, but essentially English Heretic is a fictional device. By that, I mean English Heretic, the project, the web site and is an exploration of the fiction of forms - CDs, tour guides; booklets etc.
m[m] Did you decide from the outset to mix texts, music & sounds? And can you see yourself extending into film work?
Andy Absolutely! I've always been uncomfortable with trying to define yourself as a "writer/musician/artist/record label", because from my experience the more
you try to define who you are, the more you conform to your own expectations of how a writer or a musician or a record label mogul should behave. For example, when I was younger and was thinking of becoming a writer, I found I unconsciously adopted a writerly manner, endless pontificating and extrapolating in probably quite a dull way on every single issue of modern life. In fact that's where the Dr. Alain Champagne character came about - he was originally conceived as a dodgy Post-Modern Occult Philosopher who would spend his afternoons in shopping malls endlessly imbibing the ojas of adolescence... A real pseud... The Robert Navane character is his psychotic guinea pig. I got the name Navane from an advert in a psychiatric journal from a brand of anti-psychotic medicine. However, these earlier masques of English Heretic seem to be falling away... not sure why, I think it's probably simply because a facade becomes easily tiresome.
Andy Indeed the common misconception about English Heretic is that is an organization of people, probably because I parodied English Heritage's web site when setting it up. I had no idea that people would actually think it was a real organization. If it is an organization it is an organization of creative thoughts and modes of expression.
Broadly speaking EH is divided into people - Black Plaques (The English Heretic Collection); places (Sacred Geography of British Cinema) and Imagination (Wyrd Tales).
Regarding film work: At the beginning it really was the intention to move into film - but it is incredibly time consuming just editing a few minutes of video, let alone scripting, set design and all the other things that need doing and so that’s rather on the back burner.
m[m] Name your top ten Horror films & why?
Andy 1:Witchfinder General- This is so imbued with the Suffolk landscape that when I walk in the country, esp. in certainly lights i feel i am in the film. Researching and visiting the locations for film gives this a personal talismanic significance. The cinematography is beautiful. The ending is as bleak and hopeless as Michael Reeves's tragic death.
2:Blood On Satan's Claw-The near pre-Raphaelite ritual cinematography of Dick Bush elevates this film into something more than the sum of its parts. I'd say the abduction and murder of Cathy is one of the most powerful moments in British Horror. The conscious superimposition of the case of Mary Bell is a stroke of genius.
3: Devil Rides Out-The ceremonial ornamentation is wonderful and Charles Gray as Mocata, the sinister charismatic ,never fails to impress. His hypnotism of Marie Eaton is marvellous "The power of mind ... over mind..." The temporal conceit at the end gives the film an Grantian outreness "Time itself has been reversed for us". The opening credits are a work of art
4:Invasion Of The Body Snatchers-The scene on the Saturday morning as they look from the surgery window at the townsfolk is pure Ballard. Paranoid and downbeat, with great verve and wonderful noirish voice overs - "So That's how it began, out of the skies" has a strange resonance with the verse from Crowley's Book of the Law "Another prophet shall arise and bring fresh fevers from the skies".
5: Don't Look Now-Spine tingling, beautiful,tragic and hermetic: one of the few films I have seen that seems genuinely alchemical in its editing techniques and imaginal narrative. Sutherland's death throes at the end were based on newsreel footage of Bobby Kennedy's assassination according to Roeg. The theme music is really gorgeous.
6:Texas Chainsaw Massacre- Delicious Kodachrome 70s colours give this an extra dimension of nostalgia. The proto-industrial soundtrack is ahead of its time. I suspect being brutally murdered on a highway by an inbred family of psychopaths would be EXACTLY like this.
7:Cannibal Holocaust-Ritz Ortolini's sentimental strings overlay fake atrocity footage. Clearly an influence on Blair Witch Project this is a deeply subsversive and cynical film. The film maker characters are so abysmally amoral, that you feel like eating them too at the end. The penis amputation always shocks. Curiously the crude decapitation technique employed by the cannibals reminds me of the internet footage of the beheading of Nick Berg.
8:Wicker Man-The sweetshop/pharmacy scene is the single biggest influence on english heretic. The environment of a pure pagan surrealism in which reality is subverted to an internal logic is very reminiscent of Bunuel's finest moments and was the mood I was attempting to invoke in the reader and listener of english heretic - psychotic occult cheeriness...
9: Dunwich Horror-For the credits alone and Lex Baxter's psychedelic exotic theme. I first saw this as a student. I had fallen asleep on the sofa and woke up in the middle of the hallucinogenic scene half way through. For years I thought the whole film was like that scene.
10:Incredibly Strange Creatures That Stopped Living-People regard this as a "so bad it's good", but it's a brilliant film. That fact is Steckler doesn't need a huge budget and special effects to make a wonderful piece of cinema. Imagination, wit and resourcefulness are the key ingredients, as the flashes of inspiration you get on youtube testify. The dance scenes are among my favourites of all time and Cash Flagg as the James Dean parody is a superb angst ridden and funny rebel - Along with George Kuchar's Forever And Always this is the film I most admire for being made.
m[m] Clearly you put a tremendous amount of work/ research with each song & project- how do you going about selecting your places & subjects?
Andy In general, they choose me - it's by the process of the wyrd, fate. It's akin to possession - there's this comment by Frances Yates about Giordano Bruno's sigils in which she says they appear to be drawn as if entities are trying to invade a magic circle. So generally I try to apprehend characters and places as they skulk half sentient about the perimeter of my consciousness. I think this is a very important part of my take on Occultism. The aim is to identify and use these obsessions as they develop and also trust them. If you can trust your obsessions then, they constantly offer you further pathways into deeper interests. In Wyrd Tales there's a constant repetition of this general theme.
m[m] Have you had any problems getting access/ permission to record on certain sites?
Andy I've never asked. The real censorship comes from my own self-consciousness... which is interesting in itself, because visiting and recording becomes a rite of self-initiation. My friend Phil Legard has recently released a booklet describing his philosophy toward musical psychogeography, which is very interesting and his approach was a big influence on English Heretic to begin with. However, As English Heretic develops; I am finding that I am doing less and less musical recording on site, and more surreptitious straight field recordings - more like magical phonography, in which raw sounds, people's conversation become highly symbolic. I suppose it might be the equivalent of a witch obtaining a lock of hair from their intended victim... Most of the sites are public access, which always creates interesting events and I do find a paranoid interplay invariably happens when you there for nefarious reasons ... though in reality there is nothing nefarious about them, other than it being a slightly 'odd' hobby... indeed just that sense of doing something odd at public places reminds me of that Ray Bradbury short story "The Pedestrian" where the mere act of walking along the street is considered subversive. And that's really sad - when children go to visit castles they invariably engage in imaginative play with their surroundings, so why not carry on that sense of creative play into adulthood. That said, I am glad to say there's plenty of other folk doing this sort of thing - some really great projects, sites, blogs and groups out there that are investigating the landscape in a wry, quirky and imaginative way.
Andy There is also what seems be quite a thriving hobby of visiting and documenting, TV, film and book locations. My personal favourite is the GetCarter.co.uk web site, which is an absolutely wonderful piece of obsessive documentation.
m[m] What’s the most un-nerving, disturbing or strange placed you’ve visited?
Andy The church of St. James at Bix which I visited when researching the ritual murder scenes in Blood on Satan's Claw. I did the research on Beltane Eve and by early evening there was quite a foreboding atmosphere about the ruin especially with its temporal significance. Anyhow when I later developed the photos from the trip, I noticed a huge swastika had been daubed on the inside of the chancel arch, which I had not noticed at the time. Given Nick Goodrick-Clarke's exposure of the activities of right wing occultists in The Black Sun, it made me wonder whether the place had actually been used for some rituals of some of the creepy unpleasant magico-fascist groups that operate such as Myatt's ONA!
m[m]How did the idea of the Black Plaques come about? And do you get funding to mount them? What’s the next Plaque to be put up?
Andy The idea was pretty much as I described above. One thing I want to say is it's not some serial killers homage. I recently saw a very funny forum post at Fortean Times where people were complaining about my use of the word "psychopath". You have to be aware that psychopathology is not the exclusive license of the murderer. If you read Hillman's Dreams And The Underworld he has a section on dreams containing the psychopath. The psychopath is something immutable, never changing, an archetype. If you remember Ballard's Zodiac 2000 short story there's "the sign on the psychopath". So with these people I am investigating, psychopathology is something that touches me and one with which I feel empathy - Reeves clutching his scrapbook as he descends into barbiturate depression, always struck me as having close parallels with Ian Curtis a decade later. In fact the design and font used for the "Temple Of Remembrance" CD was a secret link between these two 'tortured poets'.
I am afraid there isn't any funding for any part of English Heretic. It currently operates at a huge personal loss to me, which I am trying to rectify by constantly revising how to put material out, that doesn't rip folk off, but also looks reasonably professional.
Andy The next plaque is probably going to be Joseph Kennedy, the brother of JFK. He took part in an insane suicidal bombing mission, which was devised and launched from a airfield in Norfolk at Fersfield. Again there's an element of possession with Kennedy, as his appearance in my conscious was pricked after doing the "Menabilly Barton Working" in which I had a vision of a spectral airman at the threshold of a dilapidated air raid shelter. Spookily enough I created some collages for the Menabilly Barton working using a series of paintings by Jacek Malczewski called "Thanatos". When I visited Fersfield and the old mess huts, the interior of one of the buildings bore a marked similarity to a scene in one of these paintings. All these "wyrd" events to me are signs you are exploring something fairly deep in the hinterland between occultism and archetypal psychology - a kind of private John Keel Mothman Prophecy experience, what the writer Patrick Harpur terms the daimonic reality.
m[m] Any thoughts on playing live to an audience possible from a haunted or notoriously site?
Andy Well there's hopefully a small gig coming up at Easter as part of an art show I am taking part in. Alas it won't be an overtly mysterious place, taking place at
a bar in Kings Cross- but I like Kings Cross' seediness and the pub's called the Carpenter's Arms which has Masonic overtones. The gig should be taking place on the eve of Good Friday, so we are playing on the mithraic connotations of Good Friday, with the Rite of the Taurobolium. Most definitely, it was always the intention to move into a live arena and a site of heresy in particular. Two ideal venues would be Kentwell Hall and the dungeons of Orford Castle, both in Suffolk. Kentwell was used for the ducking scene and the hanging of John Lowes character in Witchfinder General. The dungeon was the setting for the final scene of the same film - the main problem is the prohibitively expensive costs of hiring these places.
m[m] What sites/ subjects would you like to cover next?
Andy Oh there's plenty, in fact a huge backlog, though going forward, I am researching the locations used in JG Ballard's Crash, as well as some of the key biographical points of interest from Kenneth Grant's Typhonian Trilogies, places like Auguste Busche's occult emporium. I want to visit some places in London where horror films were filmed: for instance the Putney church which was used for the Omen, St. Botolphs in the City which was used for the invocation in Dracula AD 72. That said, I like to revisit places, as you get the sense of deepening as you become more familiar with a location - all this investigation has a longer term aim of making them the future furniture of my imagination.
m[m]What are you working on at present and what’s the next Due release?
Andy Well there are lots in the pipeline. Currently I am working on an exhibit for an art installation, it's an interactive piece, where people visit a cell of the qliphoth (Niantiel), listening to an Aossic Radio recording. Studio stuff: The next release is a long planned project that I mentioned. It's a soundtrack to the rituals of Kenneth Grant's New Isis Lodge. Following on from this there will be a Sacred Geography Of British Cinema 2, focusing on the film Blood On Satans Claw. That's been three years in gestation and there are alot of very strange tangents that have developed with the project. There's also a Wyrd Tales II, that has a paper I delivered at a recent Symposium of The Weird, along with some new pieces of fiction. A story called Hippomania, and a set of stories called the Dunwich Tapes. In addition to this there's another English Heretic Collection slowly developing called Britain At Occult War, which is a development from the "The D-Daimons of Menabilly Barton".
Thanks to Andy for his time and efforts with the interview and supplying the pictures too. The English Heretic’s domain can be found here where you can find out more info & purchase recent works. I reviewed The English Heretic’s - Wyrd Tales(cd & book) here and Visitor Guide: Your passport to the Qliphoth here. Also available from woven Wheat Whispers is The English Heretic’s 2006 Annual go here to find more info.Roger Batty