The image of The Wicker Man is burned (no pun intended) so deep into our pop media consciousness that when most of us think about anything to do with folk culture in films, television and music it’s the wooden giant in flames that we picture first. In fact, even those people who have never seen The Wicker Man still know exactly what The Wicker Man is, and probably think that the subculture of otherly pastoralism begins and ends with Robin Hardy’s masterpiece.
Stephen Prince’s A Year in the Country proves there is so much more to folk culture than that. His densely packed tome covers everything from folkloric film and literature to electronic music to acid folk to folk horror to the dystopian fiction of John Wyndham and the classic unearthings of Nigel Kneale to the formation of under-the-furrows record labels like Trunk, Ghost Box and Finders Keepers, with The Wicker Man only receiving a brief chapter to keep the Summerisle fans happy. There are excursions to Kate Bush and broadcast, fondly remembered ‘they don’t make ‘em like that anymore (more’s the pity)’ television shows like Children of the Stones and Sapphire and Steel, the psychogeography of the Uncommonly British Days Out books and even a visit to the gentler landscapes of Bagpuss and The Good Life. This incredibly well-researched book, which is obviously written by a man with an enormous passion for this subject, is probably as comprehensive as it is possible to be.
A Year in the Country is itself, an outgrowth of a much larger project which you can discover more about online at http://ayearinthecountry.co.uk/. Maybe because of that, and because it isn’t lazy enough to dredge up all the old timeworn references like Witchfinder General and The Blood on Satan’s Claw but, instead, is aimed fiercely at turning over the soil in pastures new, this is probably not the book someone with little or no knowledge of the subject should really choose as their first incursion. But, if you’re already interested in folk culture and want to be astonished by how deeply its roots run, you’ll treasure A Year in the Country enormously. As a long-time admirer of folk horror and dark folk music, as well as related TV offerings like Robin Redbreast and Penda’s Fen and a little-known movie called Tam Lin, which receives some especially welcome coverage within these pages, this writer was pleasantly surprised to discover how much he didn’t know, and almost every one of the 52 chapters sideswiped me with a revelation that is already making me look at a genre I love with new, more appreciative eyes.
Books this culturally valuable don’t grow on hedgerows, so make sure you harvest it immediately.