Wyrd Question Daze : Patrick Aston

I’m Patrick Aston and also Dark Leaves.

Dark Leaves is a solo project creating alternative folk songs of the land and sea where I live, on the West Cornwall coast.

I’m married to Sharon who’s an incredible photographer. We have 2 grown up children; our son is working in the music business, having just finished a degree in Music Business last year, and our daughter is at Uni doing a medical degree.

My music is earthy and atmospheric but also quite dark and on the alternative side of folk. I combine acoustic guitar playing with electronic and drone influenced soundscapes and hypnotic beats to make Dark Leaves.

I played guitar in a goth band in the late 80s / early 90s and in 1995 I wrote an ambient techno album recorded under the name of ‘Paranonia’, and released through the Nova Zembla label, which was a sub label of KK Records of Belgium. I was massively into UFOs at the time so there are some samples from a few films…”I saw the moon come down last night, I saw it touch the ground” – I’d welcome any thoughts on what film that’s from as I’ve forgotten…maybe ‘Fire In The Sky’ https://paranonia.bandcamp.com/releases

Through the goth and my brief venture into electronic music, I’ve always maintained a passion for acoustic guitars and the starker sounds of folk. It’s a combination of these things coming together that makes Dark Leaves, although more heavily weighted towards psych/indie folk.

My song writing inspiration comes primarily from being here at home in Cornwall. The sense of place I feel here is above all else and created by many memories, feelings, and emotive bonds. The folklore of Cornwall’s seas, woods, moors, hills and pagan seasonal festivals is an endless source.

Another source of inspiration comes from the wonderful ‘Hookland’ twitter account. There are 2 songs on my new album that are 100% inspired by Hookland; ‘The King Tide’ and ‘The Queen of Owls’. The very lovely David Southwell (Pah! He would say), who discovered Hookland, co-wrote the lyrics of ‘The King Tide’ with me, via a fantastic poem he sent. Hookland is really the only reason I have Twitter. Hookland is always close by, just an altered memory away. It’s just around the corner of the lane or just over the hedge when I’m out walking the dogs at night. It’s in the fields, in the powerlines, in the cliffs and under the sea…https://twitter.com/HooklandGuide

I record at home with a very basic set up and try to keep it as simple as possible. I don’t stress too much about the technical side of things because my knowledge isn’t great. I can usually achieve what I want by hook or by crook. I love the recording space I have in the house. It complements the vibe I try to create and provides me with exactly what I need.

Half the songs on my first album were recorded on just an iPad using Garage Band. Since then, I’ve invested in a really good microphone, Logic Pro and a MacBook. I use minimal effects on the guitars. There’s no soundproofing in my room so if you listen to the space in the quiter tracks you can hear all sorts going in the background, mostly the birds in the garden

I have a new single out that was released on 1st Oct 21 called ‘The Edge of the Light’. It was conceived on Rinsey Cliffs, in West Cornwall, while watching the sun set & the moon rise behind me. I’m honoured to have had the haunting and beautiful backing vocals sung on the track by a wonderful musician and artist called Mari Randle, magically weaving her way through the song. https://www.instagram.com/marirandle/

You can listen to my new single on all the streaming platforms and my Bandcamp site as well as my previous album ‘Grey Stone In The Wood’ and ep ‘Forest Flowing’/ https://campsite.bio/darkleaves

I’m blessed to have the wonderful art of Afsoon Shahriari for my new single and album cover.

Angela Annesley, a fantastic Cornish artist, allowed me to use her gorgeous woodcut print ‘Heart of Oak’ for the cover of my ep; ‘Forest Flowing’. My new album is called ‘Laid under leaf, under branches’. I’m really looking forward to sharing these new songs that have been recorded in the last 18 months or so. It has just been released on Ramble Records 

Where did you come from and where are you going?

I come from Cornwall and I’m home again now with my wife, after being away for a very long time. I’ve kind of arrived where I want to be. I have a day job and I’m heading towards something that I hope means I can spend less time on that a lot more time on music and the beach!

What preoccupies your mind these days?

My work and family life take up a lot of my brain, and because it’s not a very big brain, what space that’s left has to go on music…whether its listening or creating. I’m working hard to get the balance much, much better! The new album has taken far too long to create. Actual productive music time is precious.

Name a favourite taste, touch, sound, sight and smell.

Taste – red wine

Touch – I bought an old Simon & Patrick acoustic guitar for £40 on ebay which was such a bargain. That’s always great to pick up… they’re hand made in Canada and great value guitars

Sound – the rookery in the big fir trees in our garden and the owls calling into the night

Sight – rough seas during storms in the harbour at Porthleven and watching from the cliffs

Smell – Pasties

Describe one of your most vivid dreams or nightmares

My most vivid and memorable dreams, that have stuck with me, are remembered more as feelings than images. They were reoccurring dreams I had when I was young and were about feeling claustrophobic or really small against massive dark shapes…really hard to explain and quite unsettling, but yeah those ones…

Have you ever had an uncanny experience?

Yes. The first time I had some healing. Through a guided meditation, I was asked to imagine the colour green, which is a healing colour for the heart chakra. I thought I’d put myself above a huge green field to get a good eyeful because my crowded mind finds it tricky to meditate. I lost a few moments and when I came to, my heart was pounding out of my chest, my eyelids were involuntarily fluttering and the person doing the healing is asking me to come back…it was proof to me that spirituality is a thing, and that there’s another level, although I can’t say it was totally pleasant experience.

How does your sense of place affect the way you express yourself?

We live in West Cornwall, about a mile from the sea, as the crow flies. Cornwall is my home. It’s a very special place. There’s a big artist and music community here with lots of extremely talented and lovely people who draw on the magic that’s all around: in the raging sea, the beaches, the hedges, in the massive skies and in the cliffs and headlands…the music I’m writing right now is inspired by all of those things.

It’s a very slow paced lifestyle here and that makes room for creativity. I’ve also been working from home since the covid outbreak last year, and will remain working home. It suits me very well combined with the lifestyle, and has been a massive positive influence on my state of mind and creativity. I’m now able to better fit work around life, rather than the other way around.

What has particularly touched or inspired you recently?

We love being out in the winter storms on the cliffs and beaches. Storm Ciara hit Cornwall in Feb 2020. I took my field recorder to Porthleven to record the sound of the wind and waves in the harbour. I also recorded the sound of the  timber baulks in the harbour gate banging to the rhythm of the storm. The recording inspired a Hookland themed track on my new album called ‘The King Tide’. In Hookland The King-Under-the-Sea sends the king tide and he claims all that it touches as his own. Only the payment of a tythe can keep him at bay…The sound of the storm making the baulks rattle and bang in the gate became the drums for the track.

Tell us a good story, anecdote or joke.

I sat next to Robert Plant, in a little coffee shop, with about 10 other people, watching a small gig. He was constantly passing me Indian nibbles to eat.

The Phoenix Guide to Strange England – County by County: Hookland by David Southwell

Best experienced in the PDF zine

The Greencoat’s Truckle, Worstow

Hookland adores motorbikes. Possibly it’s an addiction to the excitement and the permissive freedom promised by the motorcycle. Possibly it’s the practical solution offered to the twisting, narrow roads of a largely rural county. Whatever the cause, the vehicle has seemed to fascinate many Hooklanders since the frothing press coverage given to the first Merryweather Fire Engine bike to be driven from London to Ashourt in 1889.

The Coreham Motorcycle Club founded in 1904 was one of the first of its kind established in England and until recent years, the county boasted three motorcycle manufacturers. The Hookland Victory Motorcycle Company built and sold its first vehicle in 1898 from premises at 195-197 Stonegate Road in Hook, while the Cottering & Niven Motor Company in Ashcourt was founded in 1916 to help meet wartime demand for two-wheeled troop transport. The county’s most successful motorbike maker remains Mordant-Zephon, also based on the outskirts of Ashcourt.

The county was an early adopter of utilising motorbikes for entertainment. In 1913, the first Hookland Time Trophy race was run on a hazardous course across the roads of Barrowcross, while in 1928 it got its first Wall of Death at the Coliseum amusement park in Brighthaven. By 1929, it boasted its first speedway team – the Ashcourt Lions – and its first crash-helmeted sporting ghost in the shape of Johnny Mains the same year.

Yet the escalating number of phantom riders that seemed to accrete on the highways and lanes of Hookland did little to dissuade a large number of young county folk who wanted to make a career out of their motorcycle passion. Among them was Romy Burland. When the organisers of 1932 Hookland Time Trophy race refused to let her compete on the grounds she did not meet the minimum weight requirement (a requirement they brought in an attempt exclude female competitors) she disguised herself and adopted the identity of a man to enter the competition. After coming fifth on her bike ‘the Sweet Machine’, but being disqualified when she revealed who she really was, Romy was recruited to the Lion’s speedway team as a ‘masked rider’ called Billy Brimstone – though everyone in the sport seemed to know it was her behind the darkened visor.

Burland helped the Lion’s reach the top of their sport when in 1936 and 1937 they raced at Wembley Stadium in the World Championship of Speedway. She was retired from the Lions in 1938 after pressure from the Auto-cycle Union which governed the sport. They complained of her ‘scandalous behaviour’ after the Sunday People and several other newspapers ran speculative stories about her relationships and alleged fondness for prescription cocaine. Asked about this, Burland famously quipped:

‘They got rid of me because they couldn’t handle the fact I’m the only rider with three cigarette cards – one for Billy Brimstone, one for the fastest women time trialist and one depicting my head-to-head with Fay Taylor.’

Burland also achieved a modicum of notoriety as founder of the most well-known of the county’s female motorcycle clubs – the Hookland Hellions.

During World War II, Burland was a motorcycle courier for the Women’s Royal Navy Service (WRNS also known as the Wrens). She was awarded the British Empire Medal when during one run from the blitzed capitol to Ashcourt, she was blown off her bike by a Luftwaffe bombing raid and despite suffering a broken shoulder, ran the last mile to her destination to deliver a dispatch. It was during another London-Ashcourt run that Romy Burland suffered a fatal high-speed crash on a 342cc Triumph while coming down a narrow lane near Long Lavington in the north east of the county.

Possibly due to her fame, possibly due to Hookland’s love of motorbikes, Romy Burland is one of those figures whose ghost is said to be seen in several different locations. Aside from the site of her death, where many have reported hearing the phantom roar of a bike at high speed or a sickening tearing of metal and rending of flesh, up until its closure, some racegoers and staff at the Lion’s old stadium swore they saw Romy in her Billy Brimstone disguise wandering among the other racers in the pits. Romy’s presence is also detected at The Greencoat’s Truckle pub at Worstow, much favoured as a destination for excursions by the Hookland Hellions.

An 18th century timber building, whose white wooden boards make it stand out from the strident green bordering of the main road in and out of Worstow, even in the 1930s The Greencoat’s Truckle was a popular destination for cyclists as well as two and four-wheeled motorists wanting to escape to the countryside for a drink. Rather than the ghost of Romy herself, the pub’s carpark is seemingly visited by the apparition of her favourite motorbike – a 500cc Mordant-Zephon Star. Current landlord of the establishment Jimmie Wilson told the Guide:

“We often have non-locals come into the bar and ask who the lovely old bike belongs to. They get a bit of a shock when I point at the picture in the lounge of Romy and the other Hellions posing beside their bikes from the 1930s and tell them the machine belongs to Burland. We know it’s hers as a lot of folk say they’ve seen a conker in a black silk stocking tied to the handlebars. That was her personal lucky charm and she used it in every race she had. Of course, when they go back out into the carpark it has always disappeared.”

However, the form of haunting by Burland that causes most surprise seems linked to a memorial statue of her outside the walls of her ancestral home at Greywood. The life-sized bronze of her atop a motorcycle is a striking landmark that appears to be racing parallel to the road. More than one person has stopped their car to admire the effigy only to feel someone come up behind them and hear them and declare:

“Great isn’t it? Just a crying shame they got the bike wrong. I rode a Star not a bloody Norton International.”

When they turn around there is no-one there, though some do report a lingering smell of Guerlain Shalimar and hot oil.

David Southwell is an author of several published books on true crime and conspiracies, which have been translated into a dozen languages.

However, these days, he mostly writes about place.

Twitter:      Hookland     Repton