Back in London… A city I can appreciate on many levels, but can
never quite warm to. My last visit had been in 1999 or 2000, probably
for a Fortean Times UnConvention. My lightning-raid incursions tend to happen over weekends of busy intensity,
so I’m perhaps unqualified to judge the place. Besides, the denizens seem
to be managing quite well with out me.
London provides a home to several of my friends. Mark Pilkington, of the Strange Attractor posse, was involved in putting on Megalithomania in conjunction with Third Stone magazine, in Holborn’s Conway Hall. A delegations of the Blather Inner Circle decided
to attend. So we did.
Mr. Kavanagh – Blather.net‘s Man In London – was up and gone early
on Saturday morning, in order to catch John Michell’s talk and to help out. The lovely Ms. Maria Behan and myself, after coffees and cake,
sailed into Conway Hall about 1200hrs, completely missing Michell’s
apparently bewildering ‘Introduction to Megalithomania’ and Andy
Worthington’s History of the Stonehenge Free Festivals.
After catching up Flaneur Joe McNally and having
blowing some quid Sterling on books, we caught some of Andy Letcher’s
talk on ‘encounters with fairies by road protestors’, before availing
of some urban antiquarianism by way of Rob Stephenson’s discussion
of London as ‘The Legendary City’. Stephenson led us through what
lies behind and below London, mixing archeology, history, prehistory
and myth to paint a picture of London’s past. Stephenson, a registered
London guide, knows the ancient city backwards… It’s impossible
to adequately summarise the extent of his talk, such was its breadth (The following
day, we joined Mr. Stephenson on walk through The City, more of
We spent lunchtime in the park across the street, eating tasty
Italian food, and fighting the pigeons.
For a California-based academic, Leslie Ellen Jones knows a hell
of a lot about obscure British TV programmes. Her lecture covered
the prevalence of megaliths in movies and TV – and she was just
as inclined to discuss bad, ugly films as she was the more artistically
blessed. She accompanied her talk with clips from Dr Who, footage
of Children of the Stones, Quatermass and the hilariously crap 1971
British movie Psychomania (in which ‘The Living Dead’, a gang of
motorcycle hoodlums, seek immortality through ritual suicide in
a stone circle). And that wasn’t all. As Joe McNally pointed out
on the forteana mailing list, Jones was ‘the only speaker of the
day to illustrate her talk with excerpts from "This is Spinal
The Rev. Alan Walker seems to have been a highlight for many Megalithomaniacs.
Stepping up the lectern in his black clerical garb, collar and the
kind of boots you wouldn’t expect to see on a clergyman,
Rev. walker led us on a religious trail around London, defining
the religious boundaries and precedents, from pre-Roman times to
the present day.
Missing Robert Wallis, we bounced back from a coffee and cake break,
we arrived two-thirds of the way through Ian Sinclair, which was
marginally worse than not making it all. Sinclair was on a very
particular psychogeographical groove, and we weren’t. It was urban-megathomaniacal
beat poetry. Or something. Perhaps I should read his book.
No matter. We had spent most of the day in the gallery, with the Ethical Society’s
huge ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’ inscription glaring at us from
above the stage. As the evening drew in, the skylights
faded, and we found a comfortable vantage point for Paul Devereux’s talk.
Paul discussed the reasoning behind ancient sites throughout the
world, backed up by an impressive set of slides. He argued that
*many* of these sites are located *where there are* due to significant physical landmarks. In some cases, the builders were drawn to the sites by
the natural simulacra (e.g. giant faces on mountainsides) around
them. In others, the megaliths themselves mimic mountains of spiritual
importance, or other natural landmarks.
The conference dissolved for dinner – the speaking was over, the
music was next. On our arrival at Conway Hall, we were first subjected
to some 111Hz noise – apparently a frequency found to be conducive
to trance-like states, while watching a documentary about the view
of the rising sun at Loughcrew, a megalithic site here in Ireland.
Worked for me – I had been complaining of tiredness beforehand,
but 10 minutes of 111Hz woke me up. According to some research by Devereux and others, standing waves have been achieved in several ancient sites – Newgrange and Loughcrew included – at a frequency of 110-112Hz.
Next up were the folkish melodies of two bands, Wigwam and Gorodisch.
The talents of the musicians in the former hinted at greater things
– but the voice of the main singer was distinctly *normal* and unengaging.
Gorodisch didn’t impress me much until they did the ‘Gently Johnny’ number
from *The Wicker Man*.
I wish I had paid more attention to Mount Vernon Astral Laboratory. Instead, I wandered off to the bar. When I returned, it was to a cacaphony that sounded
like a bunch of evil sperm whales planning world domination, recorded
on a reel-to-reel via an air-conditioning system. Coupled with
an eerie slide show of stark, ruined military citadels, disused
nuclear installations and industrial units, the show provided a cold, clear
The evening was brought to a close by Coil, who started off well.
Backdropped by trippy animations of water drops breaking the surface of calm water, they crawled around in white ‘forensic’ suits with compact disc pendants, Teletubbie
style. Either side of them were stationary figures in black, in outfits very reminiscent
of Spanish Semana Santa costumes, complete with cone-shaped headgear. The music
roared, with a tense nervousness. Coil seem to be as much about
performance as music – they threw very *definite* shapes on stage,
rolling about… very slowly.
After an age, the coneheaded figures moved. Slowly… Front man John Balance
vanished back stage, and came back with what appeared to be a cuddly
rabbit, which he proceeded to flagellate himself with. At some point
– and this is where it gets vague, everyone has a different version
– Balance jumped off the stage, and beat the rabbit to a bloody
pulp. Some people apparently thought it to be a real bunny. He threw some water on the audience, beer was thrown back. Some gangly bloke in dreads
sprinted forth from a corner of the gallery, flung a beer can towards
the stage. It cracked some innocent bystander on the head. The
angry young man (with a beer in his hand) made his apologies, slunk back to his seat, defeated.
Balance shouted into the microphone some more. And it was over.
While I appreciated having seen Coil, and having enjoyed the first
1/3 of their set, I wish they hadn’t done effectively the same thing
for the other 2/3. I felt it lacked depth…
The next morning, we dragged ourselves into the City, to meet a
crowd of Megalithomanics on the steps of St. Pauls Cathedral. Saturday’s
speaker Rob Stephenson led us off into a sneak preview of the *London
Before London* exhibition in the City of London Museum. Workmen
were still finishing the lighting as we passed by cases of lion,
mammoth and hippo bones, ancient tools and human remains and other
artefacts leading up to Roman times.
A quick dash around some of the rest of the museum took in artefacts
from the Temple of Mithras, which was a temple dedicated to the
Persian Sun God, discovered in the Walbrook area of the City, after
World War II.
After we left the museum, Rob Stephenson led us, in pissing rain,
around some interesting sites – the Temple of Mithras itself, in
its *new* location, Walbrook – it’s original location… the London
Stone, stuck in the wall of a financial company’s office, through
the ruins of the Church of St. Mary, Aldermanbury designed by Sir
Christopher Wren in 1667, destroyed in the Blitz in 1940, and subsequently
rebuilt in Fulton, Missouri…
I left via the City Airport on a grey wet October evening, my attitude towards London changed slightly . I had gained a sense of *what lay beneath* the pavement, of a truly ancient city.
While Dublin has been a city one millennium old, it doesn’t have
that have the ancient high culture to equal London’s past.
Letcher – ‘Virtual paganism’ or direct action? The implications of road protesting for modern paganism
Rob Stephenson – London Earth
Jones – Movies and Megaliths
Leslie Ellen Jones – Druid Shaman
Devereux on acoustic research
Church of St. Mary, Aldermanbury
of Mithras (Britain Express)
of Mithras (Museum of Antiquities, Newcastle University)