Nostalgia for an England that never existed


Ghost Box, established in 2004, is an independent English record label. In 2003 Julian House and Jim Jupp put together a list of influences that they regard as their initial manifesto:

– Music for schools
– Cosmic horror stories
– Library music
– English surrealism
– Dark Psychedelia

For its founders Ghost Box music and it’s aesthetic identity are equally as important to one another- music and imagery fusing to create fully immersive new landscapes. In the earliest period of Ghost Box, House and Jupp sold CDRs burnt off and handpackaged with House’s artwork (his design work has adorned record sleeves for – among many others – Broadcast, Primal Scream, Stereolab and Oasis), the label was founded in a period before MP3 and the label managed to exist and thrive without marketing by purely word of mouth.





Musically Ghost Box explores odd ensembles, making sounds that are less timeless and more out of joint with time. They have forged a retro-futuristic view paired with a kind of nostalgia for an England that never existed. Their haunting music takes influence from old sci-fi television series, public information films, library music, B-movie horror and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Jim Jupp creates his music under two different names; Eric Zann- who quotes and references H. P. Lovecraft short stories, and Belbury Poly- an invented educational institution in a fictional English town called Belbury.

How would you describe the town of Belbury to visitors?
Belbury is at first an archetypal small English town, but what has become apparent is that there’s no particular sense of it being anchored in a certain point in time. It’s kind of an all-at-once place where it’s simultaneously every year from 1960 to 1980. Beyond that notion of temporal weirdness, we also like the feel in British science fiction of the ancient past colliding with the ultra-modern. It’s a constant theme in the TV fictions of Nigel Kneale; ancient evil or magic clashing with scientific breakthroughs. In Belbury (like many real English small towns), this often manifests itself in a jumble of architecture where mediaeval pubs nestle next to Brutalist concrete public libraries, or where a stone circle can be glimpsed from the roof of the multi-storey car park., Robin Murray interview for Clash


“It’s partly accident, but I think it’s probably one of the more accessible Ghost Box records,” Jupp agrees. “I didn’t set out to do that and it doesn’t mean it’s a new direction for Belbury Poly or the other Ghost Box artists. It was more of a focused sound for the whole album, and a focused set of references. I’m really happy with the way it came out because it’s more coherent for me than the other albums, they kind of jump around a bit… [But] it’s not supposed to be from any particular point in time,” he emphasises. “Like all the Ghost Box stuff, it’s an imaginary past. But given that, it’s from the late-70s of this imaginary past, if that makes sense?”

Unlike the slavish retro-worship and tiresome recycling that characterises so many contemporary musical artists – stuck in a past they can’ get out of – the artists on Ghost Box hold firmly to the notion that the past is irrecoverable and, for that reason, all the more interesting. It must be re-imagined, rather than copied. This impulse is, as Jupp describes it, “a nostalgia for nostalgia””. The ghosts that haunt this music are not bed-sheet spooks but the trace, folded into a past that never quite was, of a common future that never came to be. The matrix of Ghost Box influences – television soundtracks and library records, science fiction, British folklore, Penguin Books and public service announcements on the BBC – all share a certain utopian impulse, whether that lies in the belief that “all the ancient places in Britain, like Stonehenge” might be capable of transporting you to another world, or in the civilising, modernist influence of “these very worthy organisations and public bodies that were set up in the post-World War II period to educate people.” That utopias fail is part of what drives people to re-imagine them, even as that effort might be – perhaps inevitably – headed for its own failure. After all, a utopia ultimately exists nowhere., Belbury Poly interview by Emmy Hennings April 12, 2009


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