Twelve Thousand Days offers a guest contribution by Benjamin S. He recently did a substantial interview with Alan Trench concerning his neo-folk formation Twelve Thousand Days (together with Martyn Bates) and his new ritual project Temple Music. For your historical perspective, you may want to read an earlier interview which Benjamin had with Alan Trench, which can be read at the late FluxEuropa.

Twelve Thousand Days is presumably one of the most wise and quiet formations within the sector of neo-folk. They have nothing in common with the everlasting problem childs of the scene who hide their lack of originality and musicality behind catchphrase pathos, vague samples, unambiguously ambiguous symbols and a notorious posing in front of battle monuments. On the contrary, Martyn Bates (ex-Eyeless in Gaza, Anne Clark, various solo albums) and Alan Trench (Orchis) are pure musicians with a keen sense of a timeless folkloristic atmosphere. Their compositions and lyrics come about in a wide cultural space somewhere between Jungian night sea journey, collective subconscious, shamanism and the English landscape the way it is perpetuated in old tales and poems.

cover At the Landgate After “In the Garden of Wild Stars” (2000) and “The Devil in the Grain” (2001), they are now back with “At the Landgate” (on the Polish label Shining Day), an appetizer for the upcoming LP “From the Walled Garden”. In the meantime Alan Trench initiated his ritual project Temple Music and released the two stricitly limited and haunting “Vol I” and “Songs of Absolution” (via Shining Day) making this interviews subject area become even more immeasurabe.

The upcoming Twelve Thousand Days release will be entitled “From the Walled Garden”. As the topos “walled garden” is related to the biblical paradise, might your work be seen as a spritiual search for a place/time before the great division (from plants and other beings), a place without guilt and shame, and no necessity of hard labour?

Alan Trench: Strange as it may seem, the biblical associations genuinely never crossed my mind! It‘s actually intended as a Sufi reference. Though certainly there is a spiritual search and it could be interpreted in the way you say…

In the lyrics of Twelve Thousand Days there seems to be some fascinating fusion of biblical and celtic tone/motives going on. Is that a conscious ambition of you? Would you say, the songs adress to some higher instance apart from existing religious set-ups?

I think all the existing systems stem from the same source, from which they have diverged over time; organised religions seem to me to take far more than they give; and while they generally espouse ideas or ideals it is difficult to argue with the orthodox line is generally not helpful to individual developement. Mystics from all backgrounds seem to be in general agreement on the mystical experience, once you filter out the cultural baggage, though it takes some time before they are taken on by the religion they started out with. Like it or not, I have a christian upbringing, and that is always going to colour my work; there are more concious, sought out references there, some of which are more specifically Anglo-Saxon/Ancient English and Nordic than Celtic, though of course a lot of references will be similar. The imagery I use is specific to me, but is also there for a specific purpose; to set up resonances that hopefully will inspire what I am trying to convey in the listener. What that is may not be (and I wouldn‘t expect it to) be exactly the same as what I have in mind myself, but should address the specific within that person. That is the sense in which I hope we‘re accessing some kind of collective unconcious dealing with, I don‘t know, `original spirituality`. Is the closest I can come to it.

Where do Martyn Bates and you differ in interests, ideas and methods? Do you like the music he makes apart from your collaboration?

Similar, alike and different…. Martyn balances me and I him. Broadly we have the same interests – he recommends stuff to me and I to him, and we‘re usually right about it, tho there are massive areas of divergence; in a way Martyn is more of a purist – no, that‘s not really it… he‘s more aware of being a link in the chain then I am; I‘m more selfish. We approach things from a very different angle, but it always surprises me if people can‘t tell my parts from his, lyrically, as I think we are quite individual in that respect – though I‘ve never once asked him the `meaning` of anything, nor he me, so maybe we are more alike than I realise. I like pretty much all of Martyn‘s music, especially later Eyeless and the albums with Mick Harris. Martyn is so under-rated it‘s criminal; he‘s like a conduit or a force of nature. I don‘t understand why he isn‘t a household name!

Could you imagine to dedicate an album to a poet the way Martyn (and Anne Clarke) did to Rilke? Which poet would you choose – in which poet do you see a kindred soul, Hölderlin?

Yes, I think so. Though I very much like Holderlin, as well as Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Donne, Tennyson, Yeats and many others, in my case it would be the English poet John Masefield who was Poet Laureate 1930 – 67 but who seems to be largely forgotten today. I came to him via his childrens books, The Midnight Folk and The Box Of Delights, which are complete genius. He‘s now remembered, if he is remembered for seafaring poems and tales, but he did these amazingly mystical nature poems in later life; there‘s one which we set for an Orchis track which worked amazingly well. It‘s the finding of the extraordinary, the metaphysical, in the ordinary and everyday. I‘ve long wanted to do something with the mediaeval Reynaert The Fox cycle, and Masefield did an epic hunting poem called Reynard The Fox… though I have palns to do that as part of the new Cunnan project we‘re working on.

Might there be a release of poems by Alan Trench some day? Do you write poems apart from the musical context?


Yes. In fact Martyn has already had one volume out – Imagination Feels Like Poison (pub. Stride). I‘m scribbling things down all the time so I have lots of notes, titles etc. and these are either worked up into poems or lyrics – it‘s very rare that I‘ll adapt a poem as a lyric. Some of the lyrics stand alone well as poetry, but that isn‘t their primary function; they have a specific context within the music. I‘m less picky with the poetry of others, I suppose because I‘m far enough removed from the original intention to see another way of doing it, or contributing to it… Part of the reason for Cryptanthus being set up was to function as a publishing house, but there just hasn‘t been time. There‘s a provisional title, and the material is there…

The “At the Landgate”-EP starts with a song called “Christmas & May”: The lyrics seem very hermetic to me. What are they about?

There are two distinct parts, lyrically, the first section Martyn‘s and the second mine. It‘s about loss, betrayal, yearning and the shamanic mind; a search on a different plane – being able to travel all the worlds in a single moment and the glimpses of other versions of realities that are retained; and that although all this is possible – and even necessary – it is the ultimate goal that is important, and to be able to focus on this and return to it. Christmas is the period of `death` and May of rebirth as the wheel of the season turns; Christmas, although a pagan survival in all but name is widely seen as christian, while May is pretty much retained as a pagan festival of fertility and rebirth. (Interestingly, if you take an entirely christian view of it, Christmas is birth and Easter is death – the opposite, although I suppose the argument would be: yes, but after death – rebirth). We wanted to show different possibilities, and I‘m really pleased with the finished track.

Temple Music


The six compositions of Temple Music “Vol.1” are named after different Olympian Gods: I wonder, if you had some ritual to prepare yourself for the “scoring”(?) of the different Gods? Are the pieces meant as odes?

Not ritual exactly, but appropriate behaviour – the correct time and attributes, in that the intent is to use the pieces as part of an invocation to manifest the god (that is, manifest the aspect of the god in oneself and therefore in the listener) – or god-form, if you prefer. The pieces pretty accurately reflect the mental state of the particular god-form – my Hermes may not be everyone elses Hermes, but should be recognisable to everyone. The Apollo represented here, for instance, is the Apollo of Delos. We travelled to his temple there, retracing the road from the ancient harbour late one October. When we were unsure of the path a crow appeared and guided us the rest of the way. We had all brought offerings; mine was a paean played on the flageolet which certainly affected the few casual tourists that heard it… I hope something of that comes over on the Apollo track, even if not the specifics the deeper feeling and meaning.

Which of the Gods do you favour personally and for which reason? How real are these Gods to you? Do you see them as metaphors – maybe as aspects of the human psyche?

Pan. With aspects of Silenus… The greeks believed that an aspect of a particular god was the spirit of a place, and misty clearings in woods, the moon rising over a carpet of leaves, the flash of sun on the silver of olive groves, the crack of a twig in the cloudless dark… all these bring Pan close enough that you can feel his breath, smell his odour. At those instances, he is certainly real; the gods now are as real as they have ever been, as metaphorical as they have ever been. Some places have something other living there; some don‘t. Whether you choose to call them gods or not is rather up to the individual, but that doesn‘t make them any less or more real.

Generally speaking, what do you think is the personal reward one can get in studying the old myths nowadays? Especially the Greek mythology seems to be a conglomeration of the rather destructive aspects of human life: betrayal, revenge, vanity, greed, torture, (child) murder. One could get the impression, they anticipate a time of a neurotic indivualism and egoism – while there are no images concerning personal healing and living in a community.

Well, life in ancient Greece was pretty tough and morality is not absolute. The point about the Gods are that they are an untrammelled aspect of the human psyche. There are no half measures; if they are going to betray or torture they will do it unhindered by any mortal worries. If you want something and you want the aid of someone to gain that thing, you don‘t want someone who will pussyfoot around… you want someone who is going to go all out. The myths and the gods are aspects which, to a greater or lesser extent, are in all of us to be harnessed or let free according to will. If you are lacking in some facet to an extent, it is helpful to know an allegorical way of reinforcing that facet; equally to know a way of controlling a facet that is too powerful. The gods are aspects of us, but extreme, and in many ways capricious and arbitrary, aspects, and there are aspects of the gods which relate to all areas of life – hearth and home as well as the areas you mention.
To ancient Greece, the gods were real, and they ruled the world of men. They had many functions; they stand as warnings – if you transgress, this is how you will be punished – but they were also like children, and could be bargained with and tricked. I think there are plenty of rewards to be gained from the study of myths; it is the lack of mythic power that is one of the roots of the problem of the West.

Temple Music


The new Temple Music album is called “Songs of Absolution”: What do you seek “absolution” for?

I personally don‘t, but most people do… each song is about a different loss. In some cases, the loss is in itself the absolution, in others it is the seeking for absolution for some real or imagined sin or transgression.

To me Temple Music heads into deep-buried layers of the collective unconscious? The images the music seem to be packed with mist, caverns/subterrenean temples, forests, swamps, ruins, night. Especially the way you make use of reverb has the effect you feel like being everywhere and nowhere at the same time, at a borderless place apart from time. Carl Gustav Jung would speak of “night sea journey” (“Nachtmeerfahrt”) music. Don’t you sometimes get frightened yourself when you listen to these songs?

Temple MusicThe function of Temple Music is indeed to engage with unconcious, collective or individual. Life used to be perceived a full of dangers, but we are now shrouded in layers of cotton wool by modern civilisation and people truly believe that life is safe and danger is both far off and unusual. I don‘t know why this is. The reality is that the world is a far more dangerous and threatening place than it has ever been, and at any given moment you are only a second away from sudden violent trauma or death. We all die every day! Sleep is the closest thing to death, the loss of the self… On a deeper level, this knowledge is present. Fears manifest in the images you mention, and sound is a powerful tool in this manifestation; sound isn‘t perceived as threatening. With Temple Music, there are levels and levels, and nothing is as it seems on the surface. In the right environment, it draws in the listener and takes them on a journey of which they know nothing. There are traps and subterfuges along the way to lull the unwary, but sometimes you realise that you are somewhere else, and it is that realisation that causes the chest to tighten. And yes, it does get me too; if it didn‘t it would be a failure. I‘d not come across the Nachtmeerfahrt term before; it‘s brilliant.

What can you say about Stephen Robinson? Will he be a permanent member of Temple Music? To which extent does he represent “the Voice of Joy” (as written in the inlay of “Songs of Absolution”) – while you seem to be meant by “the Voice of Doom”?

Yes, Stephen will definitely be a permanent member. It turns out that we absolutely must have been in the same place many times; he was involved with the Mutoid Waste people in London – I used to go to a lot of their events; he used to live and play with Terry Bickers when the House of Love were just starting, and we were at all the same tiny venues; him and Bickers used to steal stuff off the same Morris Gould I mentioned previously… yet we actually meet in Lincolnshire. I usually avoid meeting local musicians as this generally means heavy metal or jazz, but Tracy met him through her work and thought we would get on. He hadn‘t done anything for a few years other than avoid playing in heavy metal or jazz bands, and had then spent six months doing sequenced stuff with computers. We recorded a cover of Spacemen 3‘s `Walking With Jesus` on a couple of 3 string guitars and Stephen then abandoned computers for ever as he‘d always wanted to work with delay systems and had never met anyone else who felt likewise. Up to this point, I‘d never considered Temple Music as a live project, but with Stephen it worked brilliantly. Initially it was fairly confrontational, but became quite psych/trance inducing. And he is absolutely the Voice of Joy as I am the Voice of Doom. Stephen is foremost a bass guitarist (he played in the initial lineup of The Beloved), though you wouldn‘t know there was necessarily bass guitar in Temple Music from listening to it, and both of us play pretty much anything so we write according to whatever instrument we happen to be using. We now have a third full time member, Chris Patinios who previously played live percussion with us.

The second composition – “Eisendrang” (engl. “urge for iron”) – has a very striking title. Why did you decide to use the German term (did you per chance read the Grimm tale “Eisenhans”/”Iron John”)? What do you associate with “iron”?

The German term fitted the piece better than the English for reasons that aren‘t very clear to me, though it‘s definitely nothing to do with Iron John. Iron has a lot of associations, being the only metal fatal to the folk of Faery, and a a charm against the enchantment of witches; buried under a threshold it is a defence against the crossing of the supernatural. It is hard, but can be made soft and malleable, has an air of permance, but rusts and leaves ghost images of itself in soil. The urge for iron, for me, ties all these facets together; the song itself is a tool to investigate the past.

What is the impression you get from Germany by means of the English media? What is your personal impression concerning nowadays culture/art coming from there?

Mostly there are only EU related matters, occasionaly immigration, but with the election of the new Chancellor there was a great deal in the English media for a change… both Tracy and I are somewhat saddened by this, as we have a somewhat ambivalent attitude to living here. For me, I am definitely English, and the country and all that means (there is no real equivalent for the German word Heimat) are part of who I am. But the modern state in which England is found I have no time or sympathy for; to me it is a foreign land. The only hope for England is to become more European, not less. Why should our news be more of America than Europe? It‘s the other side of the world! So any impressions of things happening in German art and culture are pretty minimal, I‘m afraid.

Can you tell us something about the movie “Haxan” you did the soundtrack for?


HaxanIt‘s a 1922 silent black and white film directed by the Dane Benjamin Christensen (the DW Griffith of the Danish film industry), and it‘s a complete hallucinogenic masterpiece, and, apparently, an influence on the Surrealists. Through a bewildering succession of narrative styles, Christensen addresses the ambiguities inherent in the mediaeval belief in witches and its relevance to modern society; it‘s both moving and tremendously atmospheric, but let down by the music – there was shorter version narrated by William Burroughs with a jazz score by Daniel Humair and Jean-Luc Ponty, and a version with a recreated score (from pre-existing classical compositions) from Christensen‘s notes, but both, for me, undermine the effectiveness of the film. Tracy noticed that the Orchis track Blood of Bone fitted perfectly with one of the scenes, which was how writing the new score came about. We‘ve now performed it live to the film at a fim festival, with other performances coming up. We manage the whole thing with just six of us – Martyn and myself, Stephen, Chris, Tracy and Elizabeth S. If you haven‘t seen the film I really recommend it to you!

As there is not much known about your biography: where did you grow up in England?

Actually, I up grew mostly in in Germany. My father was in the RAF, so we moved around a lot – I was born at home in Helston in Cornwall, which was kind of unusual in that most births in that area were in hospital… Helston is an interesting place in that there are a number of survivals there … it has the oldest continuous pub brewery (the Blue Anchor) in England and if you are born in the town as I was you get to lead the Furry Dance (now known as the Floral Dance), which is a May fertility celebration. It also has a big Mormon facility which is busy christening (if that‘s the word) the dead into the Mormon mishmash of faith. My mother was from Norfolk, which is very rural and my father from Northumbria which was very industrial; holiday times were always very different but also a constant as during the rest of the year we were variously in Suffolk, Lincolnshire and Germany (where we lived near Monchengladbach, Dusseldorf and Dortmund). When my father retired we settled in Lincolnshire as it had retained Grammar schools which my parents rightly thought were a better educational method. So really, it was a pretty rural upbringing in a lot of respects; working on farms in the school holidays, fishing, shooting. We blew an awful lot of things up.

When and how did you you start to play an instrument and make your own songs? In which bands did you play before Orchis?

My brother was given a shit guitar for Christmas one year when he was about eight. It was like playing a cheese grater, and impossible to tune; I think he may have picked it up once and then it was abandoned for good. It just lay around, and one day I picked it up, found it was really hard to play and modified it with some glass rods from a chemistry set to make it easier. Then I started copying from records (Machinehead by Deep Purple I could pretty much play all the way through) and when we moved back to England I met some like minded lads and bought an electric guitar – which I had up until recently when it was destroyed when the house of someone I lent it to caught fire. As we weren‘t that good we started writing our own stuff simply cos we couldn‘t play other people‘s very well and whether my songs were better or I was just more pushy I don‘t know but we ended up playing 90% my stuff. Punk was just happening, and we were into a fairly odd mix of stuff anyway – Syd Barrett, The Stooges, New York Dolls, MC5, Yes, Genesis, ELP, Led Zeppelin, Alex Harvey, Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin, Neil Young, The Ramones. Johnny Winter, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, the list could go on and on. So the initial stuff was a kind of proggy folkadelica with metal solos, all played really badly. I remember we used a Stylophone (a kind of primitive synthesiser toy) through a tape loop echo unit, which we thought was the height of sophistication until we managed to borrow a Wasp synth. I know we used to borrow a lot of stuff off a chap called Morris Gould, who went on to become Mixmaster Morris/ The Irresistable Force. At one youth club gig we did he was selling tapes he‘d done of his own stuff, and as for once we weren‘t that bad he did quite well… The band very rarely played under the same name twice – at the time we thought we just weren‘t that good, but I found some old cassettes recently and while odd, it wasn‘t that bad – it was simply that until punk really caught on bands just didn‘t really play their own material. Anyway, some names that I can remember we played under were The Acoustic Weasel SmokeFlote, Harold And The Lightbulbs and The Dobbers, but there were loads. The drummer, Richard Gregory, was really good and was in the early version of George Michael‘s band, Wham! but quit music and went into Japanese futures. His parents live around the corner from us, as do those of the other guitarist, Harry Houlton, so I still see them fairly regularly and we also play a bit – both Harry and his wife Claire have contributed to some Orchis tracks. I also had a mate called Jim Rogers who I did an acoustic act with; we played once only, to some farmers eating chicken in a basket in a pub. He’s‘now a top comedian under the name Boothby Graffoe (which is the name of a village down the road) and a pretty good musician; I see him every couple of years. When I moved up to Edinburgh it was all acoustic stuff; there were great sessions in pubs where top Scottish folkies turned up. My real interest in folk comes from sessions in Sandy Bell‘s from round that time; I bought a mandolin and started learning the whistle. I performed a few times, wrote loads of stuff, but was never really a singer so didn‘t do a lot. I did a fair amount of busking in London with a friend who had an acoustic bass, who also played in a noise guitar band with me called Call Doctor Bunny. We gigged around London but we really were terrible; When it gelled it was great but live it gelled maybe once. The stuff that wasn‘t making it into the band, which was more folky but with the discordant edge from the noise stuff was the first Orchis tracks.

Which CD release was a positive surprise to you lately? What kind of music do you listen to in private?

I‘ve been buying a lot of old titles on CD – Dr. John, Captain Beefheart, stuff on Lookout. The new Neil Young album is pretty good, and I really like what I‘ve heard of the Vibracathedral Orchestra. I was listening to the Iditarod the other day; I‘ve got two albums which are excellent, but I believe they‘ve split up. My listening goes through phases; at the moment I‘m listening to a lot of Carolanne Pegg, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Sandy Denny, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. Tracy and I sometime do their material live acoustically, and we did a show recently is probably why. My guilty secrets are early Yes, Genesis and Floyd, and I guess it‘s OK to like Can at the moment. I usually have The Ramones on at least once a day. There‘s a lot of Australian and NZ bands I like; Radio Birdman (particularly Into The Maelstrom and Man With Golden Helmet), Snapper, The Moffs, The Clean, The Expendables… Igloo by The Screaming Tribesmen has to be one of the best tracks ever recorded. Though my biggest surprise was hearing the new Temple Music CD being played on the jukebox in a pub last night; I think Chris, our percussionist, got the landlord to do it for a joke. Bizarrely, the landlord really liked it and is kept it on there; Harmony Rosy Cross was playing when I walked in. Be useful at chucking out time at the very least! There‘s a lot of new guitarnoiserock stuff I like, but very little I would actually buy. Art Brut I did, and I loved it, tho I couldn‘t recommend it to everyone; they played locally and were fantastic.

What can be expected of you in near future? What are you working on these days?

There are upcoming performances of Haxan; we are also doing the music for four other black and white films from the silent era. Three of these are German, one American/French – I won‘t mention the titles at the moment – and we are in talks with a company to release these as themed DVDs. That‘s at very early stages, so I‘m not expecting anything to happen for at least a year, and probably longer; but we are really enjoying doing the music. Stephen, Chris and myself are about halfway through the recording for Volume Two of Temple Music; Temple Music are also doing live shows at the moment, either as the acoustic mystic/trance version that Shining Day put with the limited version of Songs of Absolution or as the electric psychedelic version that you can hear on Thunder: Father Of Bulls. No two shows are ever the same, which is great for us to do. Tracy was talking to Amanda about finishing the Orchis recordings we have, as it seems that she may now be able to sing again; in the meantime we‘ve just done a second track with Smooth Quality Excrement from the US. They‘re putting together an album with Kris Force which should be really good. We‘ve also done some tracks for a projected split EP with Twelve Thousand Days. (The most recent track released was `I Had A Little Blackbird` for Cynfeirdd) There is also new Twelve Thousand Days material which Martyn and I have both written and ready to record. Finally, I‘m involved in a new project called Cunnan which is doing an album called Foxfire And Aconite for Woven Wheat Whispers – I expect that to be finished pretty soon.