Folklore Tapes has been relatively quiet this year, but the label was not going to miss Halloween, especially when sitting on a tale boasting bunnies, the occult and the plague. The 12″ Tales of the Monstone is offered in another elaborate package that includes a 30-page stitched art book and a rubbing from the monstone itself. Bob Frith’s woodcuts and Lucy Atherton’s paintings help these tales spring to life, as do the Whitworth & Healey Vale Brass Band, St. Bridget’s Primary School Wind Band, and many more.
Sam McLoughlin fills Side A with “The Tale of the Baum Rabbit,” which relays the story of “the Earl of Blackstone and his quest to save his beloved Blanche from the terrible plague.” Some things never change! He rests beside the Monstone, where he meets fiddle-playing faeries and a card-playing rabbit. After scratching Blanche’s name in the stone, he takes the rabbit (and the cards!) home, his beloved is healed, and the rabbit becomes known as the Baum (Balm) Rabbit. The music unfolds in five parts, and follows the story well, beginning with a western-tinged traveller’s theme, marked by a repeated sound like the striking of a match. Filled with trepidation, the Earl proceeds to the stone, wondering if this fool’s errand might be the death of him … and his horse. The entrance of the faeries is signaled by unusual electronics, theremin-like in tone. The music conveys an air of enchantment, always mysterious yet never terrifying. Finally there is peace.
David Chatton Barker‘s “The Tale of Mother Red Cap” is a bit darker, as one might guess given its influence on “Little Red Riding Hood.” In this tale, two lovers are walking in the moors, the woman expressing a sense of foreboding, the man laughing it off and inviting her to see the Monstone, where Robin Hood once lay his palm. There they encounter a woman in red (no relation to the Chris DeBurgh song) who warns them that to approach will be their undoing. But of course the man approaches, and thinks nothing of accepting a ring that pops out of a raven’s mouth. (Hasn’t he ever heard of Corvid-19?) From here, things go very, very wrong, until an occultist is summoned …
The track begins in a combination of innocence and menace, with children chanting the words of the Mother Red Cap rhyme. Field recordings and percussion set the medieval tone. The combination of “la la la’s” and a grinding, rack-like noise is intimidating. And then the raven caws as abraded bells begin to toll. A sinister undercurrent persists throughout, even when the “hero” is summoned. Will there be any escape? Or will the howling winds bear the innocent away?
One may still visit the Monstone above the vale of Whitworth. Given the tales above, an encounter may alter the course of one’s existence for the better or for the worse. Is it worth the risk? Perhaps it’s safer to stay at home and be regaled by these ancient tales and their modern scores. (Richard Allen)