One of the finest poets of the Great War, Wilfred Owen—who is best remembered for his atmospheric verse ‘Strange Meeting’ in which a German and a British soldier encounter each other in the Underworld—was killed just one week before the Armistice was declared. On the day the guns finally fell silent his brother Harold, a naval officer, was overwhelmed by a feeling of apprehension and was later ‘visited’ in his cabin by Wilfred’s spirit. Harold’s reaction to the presence of his brother contrasts with the fears of fictional characters who are confronted by unquiet spirits, and for that reason his experience is strangely comforting. Harold was unaware of his brother’s death at the time of their own strange meeting.
The Victorians were very fond of ghost stories and the most popular authors of the period relished competing with one another to see who could make their reader’s flesh creep the most. One of the era’s best loved storytellers was Charles Dickens, though surprisingly the author of ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘Oliver Twist’ and other classics was not a believer in the supernatural. In fact, Dickens was a hardened skeptic until he had a disquieting paranormal experience of his own…
It is not an exaggeration to say that today psychics are consulted on an almost routine basis when the authorities have exhausted all conventional avenues of investigation. But in Victorian England ‘spiritualists’, as they were then known, were regarded at best as being either a novelty Music Hall act or at worst, fraudsters preying on the weak-minded and bereaved. The fact that clairvoyant Robert James Lees had been consulted on several occasions by Queen Victoria did not, however, make him a credible witness as far as Scotland Yard were concerned. When Lees offered his services as a psychic sleuth it is said that they laughed him out of the building. However, if the account published by ex-Scotland Yard officer Edwin T. Woodhall (author of ‘Secrets of Scotland Yard’) is to be believed, they were soon to regret their rash decision.
It may be of little concern to the bureaucrats who drew up the Trade Descriptions Act, but it’s an undeniable fact that there isn’t much punk in steampunk. At least not of the three-chord thrash variety spat out by the snotty, glue sniffing, safety pin and spiky hair, pogo-till-you-puke brigade who stormed the barricades back in ’76, or ‘Rock’s Year Zero’ as the NME would have it. Back then it was ‘Anarchy In The UK’ and the wholesale slaughter of the dinosaurs of corporate rock. Now it’s more like anachronistic fashion accessories in the UK and US as the likes of Abney Park, Sunday Driver and Vernian Process describe a dystopian fantasy world through rose-tinted goggles with a sentimentality that would make the late Bill Grundy doubt he could goad them in to saying something risqué about Queen Victoria.
In 1985, just prior to the release of the ‘VU’ album (a collection of previously unreleased tracks recorded in 1969 and intended for their fourth album), I had the privilege of interviewing Nico, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker for a national Sunday newspaper. At the end of each interview I mentioned that I was preparing a new album (to follow ‘Burnt Orchids’) and asked if they would consider playing on it, if I could get the multi-track tapes shipped to the States. They agreed and Sterling seemed particularly keen as he was eager to get back into music after taking time out to study for a university degree. I remember that he was very complimentary about my songwriting after he heard the tapes (backing tracks with guide vocals, not demos) and in a couple of telephone conversations he mentioned that he found the structure of the songs unusual and that interested him. But the tape formats were not compatible with the equipment in the studio he was using at the time and I let the project lapse, assuming that we would sort it out at a later date. I even had a letter from his attorney asking me to give him extra time, but I had an offer from UK psych label Bam Caruso and needed to deliver an album by a certain date, so I shelved the songs I had written for the VU and moved on. Then, sometime later, Sterling died and so did Nico.
It was not until last year, 27 years(!) after writing those songs that I thought of digging them out, dusting them off and recording them as I had been itching to get back to playing with a rock band after a year spent creating a solo acoustic project (‘Grimm’). The resulting album, ‘Bates Motel’ (which also includes songs written for a John’s Children reunion album at the invitation of frontman Andy Ellison), is released next month on the German label Sireena Records.
Paul Roland braves the curse of the critics to trace the history of HAMMER – the house of horror
During the early 1980s I was writing for a number of film and music magazines and, being a huge horror movie buff, I naturally took the opportunity to suggest a Hammer feature at one of Kerrang’s weekly editorial meetings. It is basically an introductory overview of the studio’s horror output and for reasons of space omits reference to a couple of my favourite Hammer filmsm ‘The Witches’ and ‘Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter’, but for those who are not hardcore Hammer fans it may be of interest for the brief quotes from Christopher Lee and the various Hammer ‘House’ directors. (My interview with Peter Cushing can be found elsewhere on this site).
It was a loathsome thing indeed that lay prostrate on Dietrichson’s dissecting table, a huge grub almost two feet long and eleven inches around the girth which contracted and expanded with each dying breath. Folds of glistening white skin rose and fell in regular rhythm, until at last it expired with a burbling hiss. The gas had taken its effect. Dietrichson put aside the moisture-clouded glass dome which had acted as a killing jar and examined the grub with his magnifying glass.Read the rest of this entry
Paul Roland (still) braves the curse of the critics to trace the history of Hammer, the House of Horror
The following year, Hammer released no less than three films, two of which have since become classics of the genre, while the third, ‘The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll’, remains an interesting curio. Jekyll featured Paul Massie in the title role, portraying Dr J as a bearded, insensitive scientist, and his primitive half as a handsome, clean-shaven sadist. A unique interpretation and one which easily stole the acting honours from Christopher Lee, who had been relegated to a minor supporting role.
From: Dark History of the Occult (2011) by Paul Roland
In a dark and forbidding corner of one of London’s more obscure occult bookshops stands a rack of extraordinary prints depicting hideous bug-eyed creatures that would give even the keenest naturalist nightmares. Should a customer take an interest in the display, the balding, bespectacled owner will emerge from behind the counter to explain the significance of these loathsome beings. Such creatures, he will tell them, are not figments of the artist’s fevered imagination but elemental spirits he encountered on the astral plane.
The fact that these eldritch horrors bear a striking resemblance to the winged and multi-tentacled entities described by the American pulp horror writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890–1937) is due, we are to understand, to the fact that Lovecraft had encountered these very same creatures during his uncommonly vivid dreams. Lovecraft dismissed them as mere ‘Night-Gaunts’, but then he felt compelled to do so, because he had a genuine fear of being overpowered and driven insane by the power of his own imagination. He did not want to die in a lunatic asylum as his father had done. Consequently, in letters to friends and admirers, the Providence-born writer readily admitted that his ‘black pantheon’ of nameless horrors was ‘one hundred per cent fiction’.
And yet many practitioners of the forbidden arts argue that artists and writers possess an acute psychic sensitivity as a consequence of exploring the furthest regions of their imagination, which stimulates the areas of the brain associated with extrasensory perception—a latent faculty the mass of humanity might have lost during the course of our evolution. Read the rest of this entry
Paul will be playing at the Gagarin 205 Live Music Space in Athens tonight, 15 December 2012.
Last Tuesday, 11 December, he appeared on the Greek TV show “Radio Arvyla”, a satirical news show, on the Thessaloniki-based TV channel ANT1. Paul played an acoustic medley of “Re-Animator” and “Gabrielle” (the latter being a popular song in Greece) for which he was joined by his 14-year-old son Joshua on bass guitar.
On Wednesday, 12 December, he appeared at the “Ζωντανή Μαύρη Τρύπα” (the Black Hole Live) club in the historic Ladadakia quarter of Thessaloniki supported by Giannis Kyratsos. Videos of the performance can be found on Paul’s facebook page and on the Paul Roland Music Television and the kazandbtv YouTube channels.
Following a press conference in the chic Floral bar yesterday evening, Paul with be playing the Gagarin 205 club tonight supported by Jenny Benwell (violin) and Joshua Roland (bass). Guests are Mani Deum, Athens.