EP review: Belbury Poly – Farmer’s Angle

Words by Grey Malkin

Initiating the start of a reissue programme that should see many of the out of print highlights and treasures from Ghost Box Recordings back catalogue resurface, comes a welcome reprint of label maestro Jim Jupp’s first outing as Belbury Poly, Farmer’s Angle, this time as a 7” vinyl EP. Belbury Poly, of course, would go on to become almost a byword for innovative, sometimes playful and frequently eerie radiophonic electronica, often dealing with themes from folk horror (The Willows), M. R. James-ian supernatural tales (The Belbury Tales) and fairy abduction (The Gone Away), alongside collaborating with the esteemed likes of John Foxx, author Justin Hopper and psych folk artist Sharron Kraus. The Ghost Box website posits the perfect description as of the Poly’s work as possible ‘soundtracks for shelved children’s TV programs too spooky to have been aired’.

2004’s Farmer’s Angle was where it all began however, originally as a limited 3” CD, and the wry sleeve notes are self-explanatory in themselves, ‘Welcome to Farmers Angle, where in addition to the latest agricultural news and weather we’ll be taking a new look at ancient rites…’. With a whimsical folkloric undercurrent, the EP is an excellent example of what the author Stephen Prince (A Year In The Country) describes as ‘otherly pastoralism, the outer reaches of folk culture and the spectres of hauntology’ and the crossover between folk music/folklore and a more synthetic retro futurist electronic approach, two genres which at first glance shouldn’t be easy bedfellows but which seem to draw from the same well(s). Here, there are four tracks chosen from the previous expanded editions, given this is a 7” release, and ‘Cool Air’ is reinstated and represented by a 2022 remix (on a recent reissue this track was replaced with ‘Warm Air’, an interpretation by labelmates The Advisory Circle). 

The EP opens with the title track, all chirruping analogue synths and bossa nova-hued rhythms, otherworldly but warm, and achingly reminiscent of a number of children’s school programmes from times past. One almost awaits a smiling, lank haired TV presenter to appear, clad in oranges and browns, introducing today’s science experiments or lessons (though this would most likely be a children’s presenter of a decidedly pagan bent, looking at you Toni Arthur of Playschool fame and practising witch…). ‘Wildspot’ follows, an EP highlight and one of this writer’s favourite Belbury moments. A cascading harmony of tightly wound and slightly ominous synths that will resonate in your memory long after listening, if there is an occult and experimental early 70’s film out there that is missing a soundtrack, then this is the perfect fit. ‘The Eleventh House’ swirls into existence amongst the calls of distant voices, an eerie, mist filled melody floating upon a robust piano/harpsichord foundation. Further faded and disembodied words emerge, only to disappear into the ether and then reappear from among the haunted electronica, accumulating an Arthur Machen-esque aura or mood as the track layer and builds ever closer to its unsettling conclusion. ‘Cool Air’ concludes the transmission in a  Kraftwerkian manner (particularly their ‘Radioactivity’ era), notes carefully rung from a welcoming base of hum and buzz, sounding not unlike a melody we might send to the stars to alert those out there to our existence. The electronics are beautifully pitched and carefully chosen, imbibed with the warmth of a collection of 70’s modular and analogue sounds. If pushed, this particular track could be described as Quatermass meets OMD’s creative masterpiece ‘Dazzle Ships’, which is a hearty recommendation.

Undoubtedly a classic work and enormously enjoyable, Farmer’s Angle is also a sophisticated and detailed debut. Belbury Poly may have gone on to release work of increasing intricacy and finely layered moods and atmospheres, however this first release comes fully formed and with a unique character all of its own. Couple this with striking aesthetics for both label and band via Julian House’s distinctive and immediately recognisable artwork, and we have a recording that is both highly creative and hugely influential.

Available on 7” and download from Ghostbox on the 28th of October, just in time for Halloween.

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