Book review: The Delaware Road

Words by Grey Malkin

‘The Delaware Road’ first sparked into existence in 2006, when music producer & audio researcher Alan Gubby (Revbjelde/Buried Treasure) became aware of a box of recordings, made by the illustrious BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s John Baker, that was at serious risk of being discarded and lost forever. Meeting with Baker’s brother, and then preserving and compiling these early electronic pieces for a Trunk Records release, led Gubby down a richly creative rabbit hole that, sixteen years later, has resulted in a multi-media project involving site-specific festivals, a play, various spin off recordings and an extensive and highly imaginative graphic novel. Originally perceived solely as a script for a potential documentary recounting the history of The Radiophonic Workshop, the project subsequently morphed into much, much more; a re-imaging or telling of a very particular strand of British counterculture (or occulture), in a manner that has expanded and developed into its own semi-fictional and visionary world, replete with characters such as the dictatorial Director General (played by David Yates, aka Dolly Dolly, during the theatre production and live events), the put-upon electronic composers Cissy Wakefield and Iain Parker, and the enigmatic and curiously ageless Uphall. 

Conceived of and introduced well before the recent fashion of ‘soundtracks to imaginary films’, or the penchant for retro electronica or ‘hauntology’ that has since followed, Gubby and ‘The Delaware Road’ (as well as the pioneering Ghost Box Records) anticipated the coming popularity and crossover of electronica and folklore, of the co-joining of the urban and the rural wyrd, as well as the usage of past eras or styles to inform the present. ‘The Delaware Road’ story itself references various key points in the history of the UK underground over the past half century, from the Delia Derbyshire styled characterisation of Cissy Wakefield and her Radiophonic cohort (including a John Baker-esque Iain Parker), to the era of swinging 60’s London and the psych underground scene, with an added touch of Aquarian aged witchcraft. The book’s narrative is somewhat tonally similar to kindred expositions such as Nigel Kneale’s ‘Quatermass’/’The Stone Tape’ (in its merging of something ancient, primal and pagan with modern technology), albeit with a touch of ‘The Wicker Man’ (as can be witnessed in the book’s colourful ‘Wicca Kift’ cult). A visionary and alternative reading of the history of the UK at certain historical junctures (not unlike some of Alan Moore’s similar ventures), the drama unfolds towards a hugely satisfying and pleasingly tense conclusion, with significant aspects of the country’s landscape playing an integral role, such as the Wilmington Long Man, The Maunsell Sea Forts and the Dungeness Sea Mirrors. Despite some overtly occult goings-on, the overarching theme is described by Gubby as primarily ‘an observation on belief, power and control (rather) than on the promotion of any specific supernatural tradition’. Indeed, there is a clear representation (or warning) of restrictive, secret and authoritarian governmental coercion and dominance, in contrast to the more egalitarian and community minded Wicca Kift and the rebellious instincts of Wakefield herself.

Beginning during the dark days of WW2 and the blitz, a strange, cloaked pagan ritual is occurring within the Delaware recording studio, seemingly conjuring up a violent storm against the encroaching Luftwaffe. The ritual is interrupted by a falling bomb, but the shattered studio’s tapes and reels have successfully captured the unearthly proceedings. Shift forward twenty odd years to 1960’s London, and the Radiophonic team at Delaware are developing their musical alchemy amidst typical corporation indifference, bureaucracy and cost cutting, when a chance discovery to a locked studio room, via the mysterious character Uphall, reveals a tape spool of a recording from an unfinished ritual event…Sacked and removed by the alarmingly dystopian Director General, Cissy and Iain fall into the of the arms of Uphall and the Kift, as efforts build to both complete the ritual and re-enchant Albion.

‘The Delaware Road’ book itself beautifully compiles and brings together the different aspects of this fascinatingly layered project, drawing together a fully revised script with excerpts from the ‘Black Propaganda’ graphic novel (with Nick Taylor’s striking design work and Jarrod Gosling’s expressive and foreboding artwork throughout), alongside forewords by both Strange Attractor’s Mark Pilkington and Gubby himself. There are also welcome additional appendixes containing photography and details of the associated site-specific Delaware musical festivals and happenings (held within disused nuclear bunkers and army bases, all with eclectic and innovative line ups). 

As well as these distinctive concerts, there has also been a fine compilation album under ‘The Delaware Road’ banner, featuring The Twelve Hour Foundation, Howlaround, The Rowan Amber Mill, The Dandelion Set and many more, which is well worth seeking out. Indeed, the Delaware universe feels permeable and endlessly expansive; we may well see further missives, music or stories from its archives. As an ongoing and all-encompassing project, ‘The Delaware Road’ also reminds this reader of Chris Lambert’s ‘Tales of the Black Meadow’, as well as Stephen Prince’s ‘A Year In The Country’, both of which have similarly used narratives pertaining to hidden or occult England, and then added or included strands of underground culture to produce a number of different or mixed media creations such as novellas, books and albums along the way. 

A clear labour of love for Gubby, the world of Delaware is a carefully crafted, considered, and hugely enjoyable place to visit, in whichever form it takes. This book is an ideal starting point (or a perfect spot to revisit, depending), with each chapter also offering a suggested further reading list that takes in everyone from occult artist Austin Osman Spare to psychogeographer and novelist Peter Ackroyd, to ceremonial magician Dion Fortune and Wiccan forerunner Gerald Gardener. Essential – seek this out.

Available in standard and special editions, with the latter including colour prints, postcards, a staff card and anti-radiation ‘sweets’. Find this at

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