Reviews of The Rowan Amber Mill
The Book of the Lost reviews
MOJO Magazine - February 2014 issue
Of 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."
Certainly 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.
Western Morning News - Lee Trewhela
IT'S ONE thing having a brilliant idea, but it's another executing it brilliantly.
But that's exactly what Falmouth-based Emily Jones and Exmouth's The Rowan Amber Hill have done.
The Book Of The Lost is a 10-track mini-album based around imaginary British horror films from the 1960s and 1970s, consisting six full length songs and four shorter excerpts from the "films".
It was conceived and recorded by Emily and the band in a collaboration which took place entirely over the internet, over the course of a year.
Both are huge fans of the original real movies from this era (such as The Wicker Man, Psychomania, Witchfinder General, Hammer movies, etc) and the films featured on the album are an affectionate pastiche of them.
Musically the tracks range from psychedelia to pastoral folk, with a few respectful nods to artists like John Barry and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop along the way.
Special deluxe versions of the album, featuring coloured lobby cards in a presentation book-style slip case are available on limited release from , fittingly, Hallowe'en priced £7.50, exclusively from www.thebookofthelost.co.uk and www.millersounds.co.uk, with a general retail release to follow early next year.
What's On's Lee Trewhela said: "I haven't heard anything so evocative of a golden era of leftfield British films and music, even down to the Oliver Postgate-style narration. If you didn't know any different, you'd be adamant this is a lost soundtrack from a cult classic. Utterly brilliant, it deserves a huge audience."
Falmouth packet review - Georgina Carter
Active Listener Review (Nathan Ford)
The creepy Halloween goings on begin here at Active Listener HQ with the arrival of this intriguing mini soundtrack from two artists that long term readers should be familiar with ( they both featured on this - the "folk" side of the Active Listener's First Birthday limited edition tape from last year ).
A shared love of English horror films of the sixties and seventies and a natural aptitude for disquieting folk music of acidic hue were the catalysts for the pooling of these talents, and the results are unlike anything else you'll hear this year.
I'll be straight up with you right now so as not to waste anyone's time - this is a niche project. If you didn't grow up alternating between Tigon horror films, seventies U.K telefantasy and tatty paperbacks of M.R James short stories then you should probably move on. This is not for you.
If however, you hold a special place in your heart for period horror and the ingenuity of low budget vintage British television shows that credited their often young audiences with more than the modicum of intelligence that it's modern counterparts do, then "The Book of the Lost" is exactly the sort of thing that you're looking for.
The opening and closing theme captures a totally authentic mid seventies telefantasy vibe, with the combination of vintage analogue synthesizer and natural acoustic instrumentation merging seamlessly in a fashion that few outside the BBC Radiophonic Workshop have mastered. I immediately thought of both "Children of the Stones" and "The Omega Factor", although the sweeping strings towards the end (which I'm assuming are coaxed from a synthesizer, despite what my ears are telling me) would have seen the BBC's accountants tightening the purse strings I'm sure.
Between these neat bookends lie murky tales of pastoral, pagan terror (think "Blood on Satan's Claw" meets "Witchfinder General") neatly told through a combination of extracts from the original soundtrack of these non-existent films and best of all, mystical songs with a supernatural folk lineage traceable back to "Tam Lin" and other Childe ballads. These songs form an emotional core that will see you reaching for this dusty tome often, with exceptionally well observed attention to detail and atmosphere that could only have come from artists who live and breathe the folklore of their area - the best of which,"A Necklace of Shells" casts Jones in a role of ethereal fragility akin to an elfin Shirley Collins.
The CD is available for a limited time in a Deluxe Edtion comprising a hand-numbered, die-cut slipcase which contains five full colour reproduction lobby cards along with the Standard Edition CD. The Standard Edition CD itself is housed in a four panel digipack, with included four page lyric sheet and proper pressed CD (i.e. not a CD-r).
Johncoulthart.com feuilleton review
A recurrent feature of the music landscape of the late 80s and early 90s was the "soundtrack for an imaginary film", a sub-genre that proved especially popular among the electronica crowd when DJs realised they needed a description to justify their collections of downtempo instrumentals. Two of my favourite examples were produced away from the dance world: John Zorn's Spillane (1987), and Barry Adamson's solo debut Moss Side Story (1989), both of which took their thematic cues from crime novels and film noir. The artists on the Ghost Box label haven't gone down the imaginary film route but many of the tracks on the Belbury Poly and Advisory Circle albums are reminiscent of TV theme tunes from the 1970s. The closest you get to an imaginary film in the Belbury sphere is the unseen giallo horror in Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio with its score by Ghost Box allies Broadcast, and a title sequence by Julian House .
Given all of this, The Book of the Lost , a collaboration between Emily Jones and The Rowan Amber Mill, is a logical next step: a CD collection offering a theme from a forgotten TV series "shown on Sunday nights in the late '70s and early '80s" which broadcast four of the equally forgotten horror films upon which the accompanying songs are based. Between each song you hear a brief snatch of dialogue, just enough to whet the appetite without getting too involved. One of the films referred to, The Villagers , belongs to that current of British folk-horror that runs through Witchfinder General , and Blood on Satan's Claw , to Ben Wheatley's intoxicatingly weird A Field in England . Pastiching aside, all projects of this kind depend upon the quality of the music, and the folk-inflected songs here are very good, as is the Book of the Lost theme itself which is as spookily evocative as Jon Brooks' Music for Thomas Carnaki .
If that wasn't enough, there's a special numbered edition of the CD which comes packaged in a die-cut slipcase (above) containing cards giving details of each of the films. In addition to promotional artwork there's also a synopsis, a production history and even a cast list. Other films are mentioned in passing- The House that Cried Wolf , Ghosts on Mopeds -that imply there was a lot more happening in Wardour Street in the 1970s than we previously suspected.
"Having quietly raved about the Rowan Amber Mill's previous release, a mini-album called 'Midsummers', it's a real pleasure to be able to turn our attention this time to 'Heartwood', the Devonshire-based acoustic folk-psych trio's debut full-length - available I believe from early next month. The copy I have comes an exquisitely hand-crafted card and felt cover which I'd imagine would have to be very limited indeed; the album's well worth seeking out though whether in a standard jewel case or in the limited form.
'English Shire' kicks things off (apt timing for a dedication, giving the Post Office's recent announcement that English shire counties are henceforth to be abandoned), with Sharon's butterfly-strong vocals now hovering over and then punching through a gently plucked folk harmony, with sparkling guitars and elements of the "woodland orchestra" providing the backdrop. It's a style which the band revisit several times across the album, perhaps to greatest effect on 'The River' which immediately reminded me once again of long-lost eighties outfit The Stormclouds. After that, 'Face of Flowers' is one of my favourites on the album, with a lovely acoustic guitar coda from main-man Stephen which brings to mind those two fabulous and unjustifiably overlooked albums on Woronzow Records from guitarist Mick Wills - 'The Woodcutter' and the fabulous 'Patchwork Paint (Reprise)' is another song in a similar mould. Other songs, the jaunty ride-along 'Happy Home' notable amongst them, are more trad. folk sounding, whilst the stand-out of the whole album for me at least is the five-minute long 'This Road Gets Lonely' which culminates in a kind of orchestrated freakout. Lovely stuff! Get it before it's gone." (Phil McMullen) Terrascope - Terrascope Online (Reviewed August 2010).
"The Rowan Amber Mill and their album Heartwood come across like a British version of first album-era Espers - all melodius vocals, earthly splendour and quiet grace. It's very pleasant overall, even if not as skilful or moving as the mighty Philadelphians. However it's when The Rowan Amber Mill try something a bit more adventurous that they properly stand out. Thus 'The Hunter' with its pared back feel, is by far the best track here. It's almost like an aria with the barely-understandable lyrics sung tautly and trippily by Sharon Eastwood. More such as this - clanking against the edges of expectation reather than sticking to the safer routes - would be very welcome. There's ample proof they can do it". Shindig magazine (September - October 2010 issue).
"Self-described as "woodland folkadelica", they have that authentic twinkle-tinny Dr Strangely Strange / Forest acoustic guitar sound, augmented by all manner of twanked, bowed and plunked things, getting mildly orchestral and into sleeping bag medievalism in places (glockenspiel and recorder alert!). Mildly captivating in a fey sort of way, although one might need a well grilled steak afterwards". Froots magazine (October 2010 issue).
"We are asked by The Rowan Amber Mill to file their album Heartwood under 'woodland folkadelica' and are only too happy to oblige. If you've a taste for haunting, willowy, textured psych-folk in the manner of Trees and Trader Horne, this may be down your lane, although beware of ye rather creaky vocals in partes". R2 RocknReel magazine (October / November 2010 issue).
Heartwood from The Rowan Amber Mill - music to relish and savour.
"The new album Heartwood from The Rowan Amber Mill - perceptive purveyors of fantastical, flourishing pastoral psych-folk - offers more mysterious earth-magic and rustic fey music. This balm for your ears launches on 20 September 2010. To cure your ills just take of dose of its idyllic folk beauty and drift off into another wholly more peaceful and wonderful world youll love every second. On this album the Rowan Amber Mill is Sharon (lead and harmony vocals, recorders) Terry (electric bass, guitar, percussion) Stephen (almost every other instrument including lead and harmony vocals, guitars, bouzouki, banjo, double bass, woodland orchestra elements, strings, woodwinds, brass, piano, harp, chimes triangle, glockenspiel). Plus she of the powerful, moody voice, Kim Guy, vocals on tracks 4 and 5. This music could only come from these shores, for nowhere other than Britain does the elements of myth, legend and timeless rustic folk combine in the same way. And few tellers of whispered woodland tales tell them so effectively as The Rowan Amber Mill. The album opens with English Shire a more evocative rendition of rural England is hard to find with Sharons voice lifting and soaring over their mellow music. Weaving the Willow anchors their style in a delicious tune reminiscent of medieval ethereal fantasy youll hit replay a lot. With Happy Home you instantly recognise Kim Guys distinctive tones adding a deep moody feel to the track. There is so much beautifully composed music on this album its hard to choose individual songs. Patchwork Paint holds out its promise of hope and then treats you to an intricate reprise of the tune. Enticing you into its grip Asleep is a soft soporific tune that precisely echoes its title. As the embrace becomes tighter with Fire in the Wine, the delicate encirclement continues with The Bees Tell The Trees combining Sharon and Stephen on vocals. In all Heartwood offers 14 tracks to relish and savour and when you hear them you will, no question". Review by FolkWords.com August 04, 2010
Rowan Amber Mill pages on Millersounds
More artists to be announced shortly for a series of releases.Tweets by @RowanAmberMill
"Regular readers will remember us applauding the 'Beyond the pale' psych-folk compilation earlier this year, and in particular a contribution by The Rowan Amber Mill, which we described as "intense and magnificent, a hypnotic banjo adding menace while an incessant drone nags away at the back of your mind". The song was 'Blood and Bones', and appears again in a considerably reworked form on the band's CD-EP 'Midsummers' on which the trio of Stephen, Kim and Terry gambol through a collection of English folk song, from the traditional (the 14th century 'Sumer is a Cumen In', a version of which appeared as the climax to the movie ' Wicker Man' ), to the contemporary (the superb 'Spinning and Singing', featuring gorgeous harmonies and pastoral slide guitar) via 'The Paper Owl and Golden Hare', a jaunty flute-driven folk song inspired partly by the novel The Owl Service and the 1970s TV adaptation. Although unrelated, if you are already a fan of folk-psych outfit The Owl Service you'll love these guys too. Top marks for packaging as well - my copy came in a hand-crafted card cover (makes note to self: write and ask them where they found the parts to craft this, as it's truly exquisite) ".Terrascope Online (Reviewed July 2009).
"I was waiting quite impatiently for this album to come. I discovered THE ROWAN AMBER MILL though MySpace, and have been listening to their preview songs many a times the last year. There is something in their psychedelic, pastoral folk that I find very, very attractive. Can't put my finger on what though. I just get the feeling that this is so very special every time I hear it. And I love Kim's haunting, somewhat deep vocals what that they do to lift the sound high above ground. So, "Midsummers" is the simple title. The CD comes in a simple cardboard digipak with a sticker on, holding all the artwork. From a little tray inside the packaging you can find a sheet with the titles of the tracks and some information about each and every one of them. I'd say the design and the artwork is amazing. And I'd say the same about the music. It's hard to categorize and hard to describe, but to call this neo-Wicker Man music would be pretty fair I think. It's mysterious, darkly crafted, psychedelic folk with lots of interesting and unexpected turns taken. Yet, at the same time, it's all so very obvious.
The instrumentation is a strange blend of today and yesterday. I especially fancy the hollow sounding flutes in "Sumer is a Cumen In" , a fantastic song that appears in several different dresses through out these 10 tracks. I also LOVE the ninth track, the title one called, you've guessed it, "Midsummers" , that seems to summarize the album by throwing out short clips from each track over the sounds of a flickering fire. Too bad the album is over pretty much just after it starts. Yes, it suffers from shortness, but then again, see it from the bright side; that way nothing is stopping you from playing it again and again and 10 times per day! I'd say that THE ROWAN AMBER MILL is for me today, what THE OWL SERVICE was for me last year. And their album later appeared when I summarized 2008's best albums. That statement should hopefully leave you exited enough to go look for this album. And I'm pretty sure you'll agree with me when I say that THE ROWAN AMBER MILL might just be one of the most promising folk acts to date. "Midsummers" is beautiful, interesting, intriguing and a wonderful craft." The Shadows Commence.com
"There's a good way to celebrate Midsummer's Day - listen to 'Midsummers' by The Rowan Amber Mill. Soak up this peaceful music in the fading light of a warm evening, glass of wine in hand as the breeze gently teases the trees - a true antidote for stress. This album is a gentle piece of pastoral psych-folk that celebrates the other world of the English summer. That's the world that still lies beyond the noise and haste of modern life - if only you decide to search for it. This music has a mysterious, airy quality that fits the elements and essence of summer. The album opens fittingly with two versions of the 13th Century round 'Sumer Is A Cumen In' (made popular by its inclusion in The Wicker Man). There's 'Olde & Moderne' (with vocals) and 'Medievale Carnivale' (instrumental - my favourite) for you to enjoy. And just in case you don't like either interpretation, track 8 is yet another version - complete with spooky whisperings in the background. Excluding the rearranged traditional pieces Stephen writes the intricate, engaging songs while Kim lends her moving voice. 'Blood and Bones (2009)' is classic psych folk, with a tune that creates a sense of foreboding while the portent-laden lyrics reinforce the message. 'Corndolly' blends wraith-like strings and wind to create a tranquil tune that calls to mind the gods of the harvest blessing the fields. 'Midsummers' mixes the sounds of burning fields fashioned over morphing string and pipe-driven memories of previous tunes to evoke fading summer and the arrival of Autumn. The CD offers you ten tracks, with three different versions of a traditional tune and two remixes of the same song. So perhaps this is more an extended EP or is it a mini-album? No matter, it gives a fine introduction to The Rowan Amber Mill. To discover gentle tranquility this summer there's not too much better for your soul than their music ." http://www.folkwords.com
"Some songs become so associated with an event that people forget to perform it, "Sumer Is A Cumen" is such a song, forever linked to "The Wicker man" so power to The Rowan Amber Mill for reclaiming it on the mystical and majestic "Midsummers" album, an album of English folklore and themes. You can almost smell the cut grass in the hay meadow, watching the windmill turn in the breeze whilst enjoying a countryside picnic and yet at the same time be reminded that nature can be dark and beautiful as well as pretty and faye. This album catches both aspects." Fatea Magazine.