The Devil Has The Best Tunes

About ten years, I had a short story accepted for Laura Hird’s fiction website. It was a nice place to appear, alongside some writers I’d read and enjoyed, although not long after I sent the piece off, the website vanished, leaving me with a vague sense of unease that I’d somehow caused the whole project to fail. Anyway, Laura often asked contributors to provide a few lists of influences and favourite songs, as well as a little stub on music called ‘The Devil Has The Best Tunes’. I came across my piece– on Trough of Bowland by Woodcraft Folk– the other day, while searching some files for an old short story. I thought I’d post it here, as I want to make more use of the blog after a period focussing on poetry, and I have another post lined up about writing and music.


We long for a future, we long for a past, but knowing that neither ever really exist we can at least hold onto the music. Of all genres, folk seems to best communicate a kind of yearning. John Henry and Stagger Lee, Sir Patrick Spens and Barbara Allen: if they existed at all, they were mundane figures, their stories only surviving because of the songs. Time moved on, and the stories became more complex and scattered, with pictures and music of their own. The theme music and credits to a BBC science programme. A Polish animated film. The time you saw Kraftwerk on Top of the Pops. You only remember fragments; the narrative has disappeared.

Trough of Bowland by The Woodcraft Folk is a work where folk and electronica overlap. It is the music of computer loading screens, of a mummer’s play enacted by a worker in IT support. You can hear the same sadness at the fate of old machines that inspired Johan Johansson’s IBM 1401, A User’s Manual. A ringtone that sounds like a music box. Folk art on the pavements outside a retail park. The time you drove out to an ancient monolith listening to Orbital. Remote working from a decrepit seaside town. Deleting your child’s image from a redundant mobile phone.

Electronic music has always been more concerned with preserving the past than embracing the future. All Kraftwerk wanted was to reclaim was cosmopolitan Europe, before it all went up in flames. All robots dream of being human. Schopenhauer once described music as being ‘beyond the phenomenal world. . . it would still exist even if there were no world at all.’ Right now, music is drifting out into space, and the world won’t exist by the time it is heard.


At the time, Trough of Bowland was a regular soundtrack to my journey into London from a small town on the south coast. It’s odd how, years later, the music still throws up odd little echoes of those days. ‘Love The Monk’ might have been one of my short story titles (I wrote four stories based on a character of that name); a pub called The Old House At Home stood not far from my house, although it had closed down years before, which seemed to echo my abortive attempt to live in that area. The band turned out to be elusive, obscure, and if I lose myself to the synchronicities, it’s because I felt at the time as though I’d aligned myself with the fate of the album. If you haven’t heard Trough of Bowland, track it down. If you know the band, thank them for me. 

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