You can’t help but admire Belbury Poly and Ghostbox label main man Jim Jupp’s formidable parade of influences. One look at the self-styled Vicar of Belbury’s blog reveals a total commitment to hauntological paraphenalia, a mélange of ‘old-new’ and ‘new-old’ artifacts, where retro-futurist chicanery meets BFI reissues and happenings celebrating the landscape of the left of centre.
And like that online playground, the latest Belbury Poly offering – The Belbury Tales – pays further homage to the contours of that landscape, a Venn diagram in muted greens, where folk, psych, and synthy dabblings meet, mix and match. There is a more polished feel to the current sound, the input of new musical collaborators adding a more ensemble like, lyrical feel to some of the folkier tracks, that, at times, recalls great English eccentric leftfielders of the past, such as Neil Ardley and Michael Garrick – equal parts English whimsy, layered harmonies and earthy vocals, invoking distant childhood memories and a homage to diurnal forces. The enhanced instrumentation sometimes sounds a little too clean for these ears, but the rich layers reward repeat listening. Folkiest at the outset, the tracks meander through krauty outcrops and proggy undulations, sometimes summoning up the spirits of Comus on the hillside paths, and sometimes coming on like a newly grunged soundtrack to David Gladwell’s extraordinary ‘folk’ documentary Requiem for a Village.
It’s strange but not disconcerting, abstract but somehow familiar, and, for the most part, upbeat. The darkening shadows are tempered by an optimism that recalls the work of celebrated 90s electro-folk duo Ultramarine, whose 1993 album United Kingdoms, was way ahead of its time, ploughing a similar artistic furrow. Belbury Tales is eccentric, involving and accessible; its strong emphasis on melody starts us off in a pastoral soundscape of wistful Norma Winstone like folktales, moves through heavier motorik arpeggiations, with radiophonic glue sticking it all into place like a John Baker helmed public service announcement.
Meanwhile back in Belbury Parish, all was strangely normal. It seemed most likely that the Vicar had done it yet again. With Colonel Mustard and Mrs Peacock still in the drawing room, should our thoughts now turn to the rope or the lead piping? Or perhaps things were just not as they seemed…