Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

The Badgeman - Ritual Landscape

The Badgeman
Ritual Landscape

AOTM #91, December 2007ce
Released 1992 on Paperhouse Records
Side One
  1. Grey Area (8.25)
  2. Liturgy (5.33)
  3. Black Song (9.38)
Side Two
  1. Seethe Shanty (4.29)
  2. Auto Da Fé (6.04)
  3. Tumuli (3.57)
  4. Swarm (13.53)

Note 1: I’ve attempted to make this record Album of the Month on two other occasions, but both times I was eventually dissuaded at the eleventh hour because the lead vocals seemed to let the overall sound down. However, throughout the years I’ve come back to this record again and again, and, on each return, I’ve always played the whole thing through and found it to be totally life affirming. So it seems to me that the singing may only seem weak nowadays because most of the music I listen to is replete with vocals of the full-on, howling-at-the-moon variety. Judge for yourselves, of course, but listen to the sound as a whole and the noise this quartet unleashes on RITUAL LANDSCAPE is surely right up there with most of the so-called best post-punk music thus far released.

Note 2: South Wiltshire’s The Badgeman took their name from the mysterious figure (said to be) standing behind the bushes upon the so-called ‘grassy knoll’ that overlooked the stretch of Dallas highway on which JFK was assassinated. Some conspiracy theorists, believing that they could see the glint of a police badge there in the foliage, concluded that the president’s death was not the work of Lee Harvey Oswald, but of ‘The Badgeman’.

(L-R) Messrs. Packwood (guitar), Wigglesworth (bass), Hancock (vocals, guitar) and Kerley (drums) in full flight.

Awake from your dreams and see what you’ve done

For the Gnostic rock’n’roller, ie: those of us whose long-term obsessions with electric rock music are primarily concerned with unleashing the wild spirit within us not by running to epiphany via the safety of some long-established religious system (Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, etc.), nor by following some even dodgier new age cult (Wicca, Kabbalah, etc), but instead by activating the Godlike Higher Self within us by dancing, sweating, moshing, drugging, head-banging our Moronic Lower Self into righteous oblivion, I would suggest that The Badgeman’s album RITUAL LANDSCAPE is of major use to us on two important counts: firstly, that repeated listening to the music contained within these grooves will take you precisely where you need to go (ie: Above and Below simultaneously); and secondly as a splendid symbol of how rock’n’rollers can, when they put their collective psyches together, push each other into achieving at least 20 times more than they had achieved previously. For not only was this remarkable RITUAL LANDSCAPE album an incredibly cohesive and spectacularly rigorous artistic statement, but – even more remarkably – it was also brought forth from the most unexpected of quarters, delivered in 1992CE by the same four young men whose releases of the previous two years (on album, 7” and 12”EP) had been barely worthy of comment; neither good nor bad, but certainly never previously containing anything more than a spirited hogwash of late ‘60s and late ‘70s-informed bedsit indie girl-song pleasantries entirely in keeping with the rest of this band’s (for myself) too retro-obsessed generation... until the release of RITUAL LANDSCAPE, that is. Suddenly (and as though by magic), all of The Badgeman’s twee and syrupy jangle pop was jettisoned along with their generic scattershot all-purpose indie titles (eg: ‘Cupid’s Exploding Harpoon’, ‘Sean’s Seen the Light’, ‘Extraordinary Girl’), replaced instead by incredibly poetic and lyrically insightful heathen, nay, actively pagan folk dirge-dances, each of which was propelled along by the weightiest of Post-Punk/P.Hook/P. De Freitas rhythm sections (the titanic rumble of that fucking HALL-OF-THE-MOUNTAIN-GRILL bass sound, sheesh!), and each track bearing such grave [sic] titles as ‘Tumuli’, ‘Liturgy’, ‘Seethe Shanty’, ‘Auto Da Fé’ and the like. Furthermore, where this group’s songs had previously been mainly of the 2/3-minute variety, their new heavy oeuvre now regularly clocked songs in at between 7-13 minutes in length. Indeed, so huge was The Badgeman’s seemingly overnight transformation from 8-legged-groove-machine into sky skrying wandering priests of the Wandsyke that even their new promo photos could not disguise this new ecstasy and endeavour, guitarist John Packwood and bassist Simon Wigglesworth portrayed backs to the camera, obsessively enveloped in a life-or-death struggle with their instruments (early Jesus & Mary Chain/Pop Group-stylee), as blissed out singer Neale Hancock slumped across the foreground, his eyes tightly shut and his lion’s mane of hair thrown back in obvious communication with the heavens. However we interpreted the evidence, this new version of the band had no more in common with its earlier incarnation than a streamlined rocket plane shares with a biplane. Moreover, like Warsaw’s legendary metamorphosis into Joy Division, The Badgeman had achieved this spectacular new enlightenment without making even one change to their personnel. But whereas the phenomenally accelerated change from post WW1-style biplane flight to futuristic proto-spaceship rocket could be deemed to have taken place in barely a decade1, even the most optimistic types among us would have to admit that this scary achievement had only occurred due to the accelerated technological priorities brought on by WW2. So what kind of psychic wars did the members of The Badgeman live through between 1990-92 in order to update their collective psyche so eloquently and so comprehensively? Or was their Salisbury home so close to Stonehenge and Old Sarum that the groans of the ancestors inevitably came roaring through their PA during rehearsals? Perhaps we must remember the early ‘90s context in which The Badgeman worked in order to ascertain just how huge and how high was that jump up to the material for RITUAL LANDSCAPE2. But, then again, perhaps I’m precisely the wrong person to do the contextual detective work, as I’ve been listening to this record regularly since I happened upon it back in the summer of 1993CE, a period when I was still giddily in thrall to the British landscape and each waking moment appeared more and more plagued/blessed by my ever-mounting list of essential prehistoric temples yet to be visited in these islands for inclusion in my tome THE MODERN ANTIQUARIAN (then still five long years away from publication). And when my eyes lit upon the CD version of RITUAL LANDSCAPE while in an Edinburgh record shop, right after a tour of the Highlands & Islands of Scotland (Orkneys, Shetlands, Hebrides), I immediately recognised that it shared a kindred spirit with my own work, breathing a sigh of relief that such an album not only existed, but had even gained a full release on so cool an independent label as Paperhouse Records. Better still, RITUAL LANDSCAPE soon revealed itself to be a work of brutal but gargantuan beauty, a quintessentially-English heathen følk racket of the most muscular post-punk variety, and of a type such as I’d not heard conjured up since gigs with my long lost poetic northern brothers (most especially) Joy Division, Echo & the Bunnymen, (Steve Reynolds’ tragically unsuccessful) Colours Out Of Time, and others of their vainglorious ilk. Like these aforementioned bands, the music of RITUAL LANDSCAPE eschewed such obvious tactics as lead guitar breaks and Dionysian choruses in favour of highly arranged and ominous displays of collective percussion rushes, or swirling Dervish-like song annexes over which barnstorming Ur-rumbling bass blitzes remained the sole beacon of tangible and traditional melody. Badgeman tracks such as ‘Blacksong’ were declarations of poetic intent, songs about the duty of singing the song ‘that has to be sung’. Choruses, where there were any, often appeared at the end of the song itself, earnest declarations of intent all created to be sung collectively and with extreme gusto by the entire assembled company, as in the tailout of ‘Liturgy’ and (even more emphatically) on ‘Auto Da Fé, whose rousing chorale was as wide-eyed and defiantly guileless as Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ 1981 Projected Passion Revue period:

“This is our song we’re singing,
This is the truth we’re bringing,
This is all ours but we’ll do it for you,
If it’s too heavy, we’ll give you a hand,
If it’s too hard, we’ll help you understand,
The birds for the air and the men for the land… the men for the land.”

Ritual Landscape LP

And after just a couple of listens to the whole record, RITUAL LANDSCAPE so captured my heart that this new Badgeman sound enveloped me and dragged me down into my own personal underworld, psychically waylaid in a manner that I had not been forced to address for over a decade, but which left me thirsting once more for that too-brief late ‘70s period when Pete De Freitas and Joy Division’s Ian Curtis had still been so very alive, present and correct on the many early concerts stages that our bands had shared. Other than RITUAL LANDSCAPE, nothing of The Badgeman’s time alluded to those heady late ‘70s days of northern Post-Punk music, apart from maybe the occasional Woodentops tune, and perhaps certain moments during JO IN NINE G HELL by the post-Loop ensemble Hair & Skin Trading Co. And so, during those early years with this record, every time I spun it, I yearned with a gnawing hunger for my own lost scene, that brief period even then barely more than a decade past yet so very long ago that I was forced to ask myself “Had it ever existed at all?” And though I adored each hearty and collectively declaimed Badgeman chorus, and inwardly hailed their brotherly declarations of unity on the sleeve of RITUAL LANDSCAPE (‘percussion: allofus’), still I knew as their elder that such a period of time would be all too brief. Moreover, each time the final bars of their long record began its long long fade, I would once more feel left alone, inconsolable and bereft; stricken with a feeling of utter cosmic loneliness, trapped by the reluctant recognition that even though that spirit was once more moving among us, nevertheless would these hopeful young men with the weight of the world resting on their too-slight shoulders be forced to endure – just as my own generation had been forced to endure - having that great spirit broken3. Yes, RITUAL LANDSCAPE exerted that kind of extraordinary effect on me each time I played this bizarre post-John Barleycorn Wessex song-cycle that had dared to strike out for the Unknown Future by first invoking our distant ancestors. From time to time down the years, I have often been pushed to meditate on what happened (or didn’t happen) for these four young Englishmen whose final album was so anachronistic, so very pagan, so poetic, so humble and yet simultaneously such a barbarian classic. Did The Badgeman even rate this work highly themselves? Then, after mentioning RITUAL LANDSCAPE briefly during my review of Litmus4 in December 2004CE, I learned something of The Badgeman’s fate when I was contacted by their bass player and lyricist Simon Wigglesworth, who told me that the band had imploded right after RITUAL LANDSCAPE had failed to ignite, and noted that they’d even been J. Cope fans. Well gentlemen of The Badgeman, wherever you all are now, I’d like to take this perhaps too-late opportunity to salute ye all and thank you for your fine achievement. Yes, your final album was criminally under-investigated on its release, but I’m positive that time will prove it to have been a work of enduring genius. And the evidence? Why, the evidence sits right there before me on my turntable. For here is one Wessex-based motherfucker who has never stopped listening to RITUAL LANDSCAPE’s effortlessly epic and life-affirming declarations.

  1. As late as 1936, the Heinkel company was supplying the Luftwaffe with their He51 biplane fighters for use in the Spanish Civil War, despite that aeroplane offering a maximum speed of 205mph. And yet, that same company had by 1944 implemented production of their Heinkel 163 Komet, capable of almost 600mph.
  2. For myself, I know that the haphazard but incredibly highly-paced recording sessions for my own PEGGY SUICIDE album one year earlier had precipitated huge self-doubt in my old friend Rolo of the Woodentops, who’d himself been in the process of recording an almost all-electronic album (under the band name but without the band), ie: until he saw the Uber-primitive manner in which I was recording and became fixated on doing the same (much to the chagrin of our shared manager Seb Shelton, who was bankrolling the Woodentops’ project).
  3. As I noted on the sleeve of RITE 2, the collective experience of ‘broken hope’ is often a far more powerful and resonant one than that of ‘hope’. As the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko once commented to Bob Dylan: “Broken hope unites people rather than hope, because broken hope people have experienced and hope they haven’t really experienced.”
  4. See the Album of the Month #55