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Rowan Amber Mill - Under the Radar

  by Keith How

published: 24 / 12 / 2018

Rowan Amber Mill - Under the Radar


Keith How in 'Under the Radar' goes on a mystical and magical English pastoral journey courtesy of eerie folk collaboration Rowan:Morrison.

A fair few years ago, after delving into Rob Young's book 'Electric Eden', I found myself returning to a love of more obscure English folk roots and experimental music. I found a whole undiscovered country of artists and musicians creating a completely hidden movement that dwelt in the back rooms of pubs and tiny venues in cities and the outlands creating the 'folktronica' and 'altfolk' genres (there has to be a label, doesn't there?). I even heard words such as 'hauntology', 'acid folk'and 'edgelands' being used as descriptive terms for this movement. Artists such as Shirley Collins, Kate Bush and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop were some of the influences from the past, the books of Richard Maybey, Alan Garner and John Wyndham are regularly referenced, and The Wicker Man became essential viewing. Musically I found a really fertile field. Artists such as Telling the Bees, the Memory Band and the Owl Service were just the tip of the iceberg. Groups such as United Bible Studies birthed pastoral psychedelia and later the Dark Britannica series of compilation albums opened the door to a whole new world. As recently as 2014 the blog 'A Year in the Country' began an intriguing journey into the further realms of culture, folk and hauntology. During my travels I came across some stunning musicians hidden away down forest pathways, in reclaimed factories and basically any room they could make into a performance space. Locally Sheffield's Heretics Folk Club, a moveable feast, hosted by Robert E Lee, led the way - putting on unknown acts in cafes, bars and art galleries and joining other underground happenings all over the UK. The Bandcamp website enabled musicians and poets to have a voice at little cost. Along one of these pathways I came across The Rowan Amber Mill on a compilation called 'Dark Britannic 2' (there are four in total!) and was intrigued. I discovered that Rowan Amber Mill were formed as far back as 2007, quietly going about their business, creating what founder Stephen Stannard loosely called folkadelica, and collaborating with various friends and associates. In 2002 the newly formed Miller Sounds, based in Devon, took on the RAM, re-releasing their early albums and tracks. These new releases featured limited-edition handcrafted creations as well as downloads and jewel-cased CDs, each one a treasure to experience. At the beginning of 2018 the RAM released 'Harvest the Ears - Cuts from the Folk Horror Archive, Vol 1' with the intention of paying homage to the eerie soundtracks and cinematic tunes that accompany tense supernatural dramas and folk horror such as 'Quatermass' or 'Children of the Stones'. These inspirations, in the form of eight beautifully authentic compositions, are reworkings of earlier experiments and are now presented in a limited-edition collectors' tin complete with badges, liner notes and glossy postcards. Fast forward to September and a new Rowan Amber Mill collaboration with Angeline Morrison finds them calling themselves Rowan:Morrison. It is yet another work of art: a seven-track EP available in normal formats or a totally gorgeous deluxe edition with prints, badges and a sticker. Entitled "Bury the Forests", the album is set around the real and imagined mystical ancient path called the Ridgeway, and the Stonehenge and Silbury Hill landscape. 'Bury the Forests' is an absolute masterpiece of contemporary English (alternative) folk music. The general theme of the EP is that of a gentle resistance to the destruction of the countryside and the increase of land development for profit. Each track is haunting and otherworldly, casting a spell of woodland magic and lost forest wanderings while quietly enticing us into another realm. 'The Buzzard and the Nightingale' invites the listener into this otherworldly place. Angeline Morrison's voice intones a magical chant "light cometh in" over a harp and woodwind backing and from here on in there is no turning back. "We Rode the Horses" is a gentle reminder of what we are losing, with gorgeous harmonies and a psych/folk setting that hints at the tension we feel about the way our world seems to be heading. 'Gather Round' and 'The Meadows Call' are equally both enchanting and intriguing, filled with ghostly vocal references to mythology and nature. The addition of electronic embellishments to the acoustic settings of harp and woodwind add to the mystery and magical ambience. The gossamer melancholy continues with the closing "Fall to Sleep" that quietly invites us to journey among the standing stones, woodlands and winter landscapes while longing for springtime. Totally captivating. Two bonus tracks are included on the EP: the original take of 'The Meadows Call' and an incredible 'At the Circles End'. The latter is an epic cinematic spoken word drama that tells of the return of the sun in Spring and how important the balance of nature is to us all. A fading harp and birdsong draw this fine piece of work to a close. Further proof of the amazing creativity just waiting to be discovered.

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Rowan Amber Mill - Under the Radar

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