Rediscovering the Book of the Lost

windowOf all the memories that British TV fans of a certain age hold most precious, the wealth and welter of supernaturally-themed tales aimed at young and old alike stands among the early-mid 1970s most remarkable achievements.  Hour long scare-athons like Thriller, Supernatural,and Beasts; childrens’ fare that reached from The Ghosts of Motley Hall to Children of the Stones; Doctor Who’s encounter with the Daemons, ghost stories for Christmas and one-off thrillers like The Stone Tape and Robin Redbreast… whose grasp on England’s rural pagan past is oft-described as a major influence on the cult movie The Wicker Man….  

And one you may not remember.  The Book of the Lost.  In fact, you certainly won’t remember it, because it didn’t actually exist.  But, if it had, the Emily Jones and the Rowan Amber Mill know exactly what it would sound like, and let the rest of us into the secret via The Book of the Lost, an utterly spellbinding CD soundtrack for the show that never was.

Their own writings add a few more formative influences to the brew, half-remembered viewings of Witchfinder General and Blood on Satan’s Claw, a rucksack heaving with Hammer horror gorefests that were a staple of late night television scheduling.  Low budget sets, lower budget sound effects, portentous voice-overs, gruesome and gore.

The Book of the Lost website offers up a database of the show that the pair devised; an episode guide littered with titles that make you yearn to see them: “They Went to Ride the Beast”; “The Red Crow’s Banquet”; “Children of the Scorpion”; “Faceless Jack.”  A video trailer opens the door a little wider, with a taste of the show’s score and its edgy, eerie credits.  And a deluxe CD edition includes lobby cards for four of the shows, and a numbered, handcut slipcase.

All of which are simply appetizers for the main feast.

Musically, The Book of the Lost slips into the same corner of the collection as great swathes of the Ghost Box label output – itself largely dedicated to imaginary incidental music to shows that should have been shot.  Broadcast come to mind, too, but merged throughout with the skeins of mystic folk with which the likes of Owl Service, Judy Dyble and United Bible Studies so delightfully flirt.

But working within the parameters of a single, readily defined time and place lends a haunting cohesion to album, ten tracks that drift as darkly, or blaze as fiercely as any of the action they might dream of accompanying, and while many of them are little more than vignettes (only four tracks top three minutes, and the whole disc fades out at half an hour), then that too speaks loudly for the project’s filmic “origins.”

marshlobbyCertainly the atmospheres conjured by even the briefest cut are electrifying, instrumentation and production linking like the bony, long fingers that the best TV witches used to enjoy clasping together; while “Marsh Thing,” the first of the “conventional” songs included here would not sound out-of-place on a volume of Piccadilly Sunshine, a slice of dark-dreamy lost and lovely psych, with Jones’s marvelous voice a wraith-like presence that is both childlike and ageless.

Later, “A Necklace of Shells” could itself be a newly-exhumed out-take from the Wicker Man soundtrack, itself regarded as the apogee of pagan folk thematics, and with “Middlewitch Lake” black and foreboding near the album’s end, The Book of the Lost spools out among the most intriguing, intense and, most of all, alluring CDs you’ll hear all year.

Or at least until the same team serve up something else.

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