Wyrd Question Daze: Kemper Norton

Welcome to a new occasional feature on the Wyrd Daze blog: the WYRD QUESTION DAZE!
First up, and setting the tone brilliantly, is Kemper Norton.

Hello, I’m Kemper Norton and I’ve been making what I once fatuously referred to as “slurtronic“ folk music for a few years now. The general themes tend to the folkloric, the gnostic, hidden or neglected with a particular focus on my childhood home of Cornwall.  I use a mixture of cheap digital synths, harmonium, occasional singing, field recordings and anything else lying around.

Our latest album (Troillia) was inspired by traditional Cornish dancing and Scottish playground chants and is dedicated to my parents (who are Cornish and Scottish respectively). The reception has been positive, but Radio 3 did point out how I had successfully removed all elements of danceability from the source material. Which was the goal.


Where did you come from and where are you going?

Physically: from Scotland, Ghana, Oman, Cornwall and Sussex. Where am I going? Towards old age (hopefully) and watching my daughter eclipse and dominate me in all ways possible. I’d hopefully see out my days basking somewhere hot, but my partner fancies Northumberland. So that needs to be resolved.

Spiritually? I came from nothing/everything and I guess I’ll go back there. Feeding a tree.

What preoccupies your mind these days?

Family parenthood, intimacy, the joys and horrors of “community”, the toxicity of national identity, and the importance of being kind. Also if Celtic will ever get a new manager.

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

In that order: Korean chilli sauce, holding my daughter’s hand, my daughter laughing, sunlight on the sea, fresh rosemary on your fingers after you rub a live plant.

Describe one of your most vivid dreams or nightmares

A lot of my dreams feature playing football with Rod Stewart, which is occasionally frustrating but not usually terrifying. I guess the one where I was chased around Cornwall by undead Nazis on motorbikes for what felt like a couple of weeks was a memorable one. Oh yes, and I was the Virgin Mary in that one.

Have you ever had an uncanny experience?

Several, but one that has always stuck with me was at the Neolithic fogou (burial chamber) Carn Euny in West Cornwall on the eve of the eclipse in 1999. Myself and a friend stayed on the site overnight and while playing some quiet music inside the chamber felt a hugely powerful presence. It wasn’t necessarily malevolent but very disquieting, and one of the key messgaes we received was that we shouldn’t really tell people about it. So I’ll leave it there.

Our album Carn obliquely references this memorable evening (as well as a similar experience at Chanctonbury Ring in Sussex, which other have reported and even made subsequent albums about) but doesn’t give too much away. I hope.

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

Exploring and communicating with places and locations was the original motivation for any kind of creative expression, The details of my life are quite inconsequential but they obviously bleed into the work but I think there’s already more than enough confessional singer-songwriters around the place talking about themselves. I live a boring life and only want to share a few of its elements in encoded or subliminal form. That way my family or close friends  may spot any personal content but I’m not boring anyone else with it. It feels far more interesting to discuss or explore history, folklore, hidden or neglected places and people, and stories that may not be familiar.

An early motivation was also to describe in sound what certain locations (mainly in Cornwall) sounded like. I was often frustrated with ambient or synthy stuff that purported to do so, and I always felt digital, grainy or mangled windblown textures rather than smooth analogue synths was more like the sound of the Cornwall I know. Mind you, now the county’s becoming a millionaires’ playground and second home paradise, easy listening may be a truer modern soundtrack….

What has particularly touched or inspired you recently?

The direct community action in Glasgow to prevent an enforced immigration…it’s that kind of thing that needs to happen more across Britain if the most vulnerable are to be protected.

In terms of films and music, I’ve been enjoying the works of Alice Lowe (Prevenge, Sightseers) and feel she should be our next film superstar. Fantastic recent music by Armand Hammer and MXLX and less recent but no less wonderful stuff from Terry Riley (particularly the mighty Shri Camel) has been soothing the soul. 

Tell us a good joke, story or anecdote.

I’ll never forget the final words my beloved grandfather spoke to me.

“Stop shaking that ladder you little c**t“

Wyrd Daze Lvl.4 **** The Phoenix Guide to Strange England: Hookland

Best experienced in the PDF zine

The Black Cattle of Barrowcross, Northmoor Track, Barrowcross

Most outsiders to Barrowcross and Hookland tend to snigger when they see a picture or catch wild glimpse of the moor’s Black Cattle as they are in fact white-coated and red-eared. Kinder Hooklanders, able to tolerate the one-sided laughter of humour long lost in repetition, may explain that it is more than just the county’s noted sense of irony behind the name. Many etymologists believe the Black derives from the Anglo-Saxon blac – meaning pale or white. An angular, primitive breed with a pronounced sloping rump, the Black Cattle of Barrowcross are one of the rarest and oldest breeds extant in England. Semi-feral, the animals are similar to other small herds scattered across the country known as White Park cattle, which experts speculate hold resemblance to and share heritage with extinct aurochs. In recent years, the distinctive porcelain colouring of the Black as well as their graceful, upward curving horns shared by both males and females, have made them a favourite subject of postcards from south-western end of the county.

Bos taurus and shade

To allow tourists to observe the animals without causing disruption to their habitat or placing travellers at undue risk, the Barrowcross National Park Authority have created a number of lay-bys off of the Northmoor Track road which cuts across the northern top of the moor. These viewing areas themselves have become much photographed themselves thank to the somewhat unusual signage placed at them. Alongside the expected reiteration of Park rules, prohibitions against feeding and other interactions with the cattle as well as some history on the breed and its place in local folklore, the signs also proclaim: ‘The cattle are under the protection of the Faerie Court. The National Park Authority is not responsible for any curses you may incur due to aggravating the noble animals and their unseen guardians.’ When the author of the Guide rang Elizabeth Wadsworth, the Public Relations Manager for the Nation Park, to ask about the curious wording on the sign, they were told: ‘It is obvious you are not from around here. It means what it means. The faeries look after their own. You can put it down to whimsical humour if you wish, but there’s no explanation needed and we won’t comment further.’ There is no doubting that the Black Cattle have a niche not only in the unusual ecology of Barrowcross, but in the crowded fields of Hookland folklore. Also known as the Old King’s cows and faery-rides, it is said that the red colouring of their ears comes from being gripped by invisible sprites who are carried on them at night. Their entwinement with the Otherfolk is longstanding, with claims made that the current herd originates from a pair of the beasts given to the Grimp family in pre-Norman antiquity by the Queen of the Summer Court. In ale establishments close to the Northmoor Track, it is still possible to catch some suggestion among the oldest of pub uncles that Alfred Grimp released his draught oxen and milking cattle into the wild care of Barrowcross in 1913 after ‘consulting with the faeries’.

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

Wyrd Daze Seven: Hookland

Best experienced in the PDF zine

The Broken Oak, Damsel’s Cross

Some taverns tell their tales in the free public library of swinging signs. Some like The Broken Oak will only give up their strange stories if you venture inside. While its name and sign is simple memorial to a lightning-tortured tree that once stood on the village green, once inside, the establishment offers a unique look at old method of dealing with troublesome spirits. For the price of a pint, you can take a look at its perpetually locked ‘ghost room’.

In the late 18th century, The Broken Oak was so troubled by an unruly spirit that scratched and scarred both the landlord’s wife, her young maid and several of its patrons, that a ghost-layer was called. When the sanctions of the Church of England were unable to end the spiritual terror, the services of the cunning folk were sought. The one who answered the call was Tom Warden, one of the then Walking Nine.

The Walking Nine refers to the folklore claim that there are always nine cunning women or men not tied to any parish who wandered abroad in the county at any time. Given they are the class of cunning folk traditionally viewed with most suspicion in Hookland, it suggests the haunting of the tavern must have become a desperate for one of them to be trusted to resolve it. Warden proved up to the task, even if he resorted to employing a long-established measure used only against the most intractable spirits.

For upstairs at The Broken Oak is a room that has been sealed since 1797. Previously a bedroom when the establishment was an inn, it was sacrificed by Warden to end the haunting. In the ghost lore of Hookland, when a dead spirit refuses all forms of banishment and exorcism, there is a chance that it can be dealt with by trapping it. Although ideally this is done in a bottle which can easily be disposed of by burial or placing in running water, it is also possible for a ghost-layer to confine it into specific place where, by use of ritual and sealing marks, it may rendered powerless and forever shut in.

Paying customers of the inn with a disposition for spook curiosity, are allowed by the current landlord to go take a peek at what regular patrons call the ‘Never Open’. Previously plastered over, renovations in the 1920s exposed the entrance to the ghost room that had become part of local legend. Now encased by a glass box that covers a metal grill put across the threshold after Tom Warden had finished his work. Visible evidence of the spirit attacks of 1797 reduced to an ancient wooden door. The once open wound of its keyhole sutured with solder; seven heavy iron bolts, inscribed with the names of angels, drawn; a network of mystic symbols carved into it providing map to the occulted mind of the 18th century cunning folk.

There is something about seeing the door that infects the imagination. At first you may think you are troubled only by the thought that superstition was once so strong that rationality as well as a room were abandoned. However, the idea that evolves and refuses to be expelled is that something must have actually happened, something tangible and dreadful that such a drastic action was undertaken. If you ask downstairs about any phantom problems since 1797, you will be told that Tom Warden did good considering he was one of the Walking Nine. The only more recent suggestion of an alleged trapped entity, come from claims by some visitors like yourself that when they tapped on the glass, they were certain they could hear them answered by knocks coming from within the ghost room.

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.

Creator of the
And introducing:
The Phoenix Guide to Strange England: Repton

Wyrd Daze Six: The Phoenix Guide to Strange England: Hookland

For the full Wyrd Daze experience,
access the PDF zine

Greenstone Tea Room, Damsel’s Cross

It is the nature of war to spawn secrets. While the many military bases found in the county would be the obvious breading grounds, evidence of wartime clandestine activities may also be glimpsed in some unlikely places. However, the small cottage tea room of Greenstone on the High Street of Damsel’s Cross, must rank as one of the most improbable locations to find details of a once classified Admiralty operation.

Under oak beams and amid embroidered tablecloths, fresh flowers and tables burdened with apple butter cream teas known in the county as Hookland Delight, are souvenirs of the strange life the establishment’s first owner, Mrs. Lucy Bowman. If you ask politely about the vintage Admiralty charts, photographs of First World War U-boats and Royal Navy ships carrying depth charges that hang incongruously on the walls, the waiting staff will likely call the current proprietor and Mrs. Bowman’s grandson, John Moore to your table. With a charm and energy that surprises in being unbroken despite the number of times the tale has been told, he draws patrons attention to various letters from the Admiralty and objects on the walls while unfolding the most surprising biography of his grandmother.

In January 1917, the recently widowed Lucy Bowman offered her services to her country as dowser. In an impassioned letter to Admiral A.L. Duff, who had known her father when they both served above the cruiser St. George nearly two decades before, she claimed that her skills as a ‘spiritual dowser’ would enable her to pinpoint the location of enemy U-boats if she were provided with accurate Admiralty charts. Duff, who had been appointed Director of the Anti-Submarine Division of the Royal Navy, responded with an invite to a meeting at an Ashcourt naval establishment.

It is not entirely clear why Duff took such an extraordinary measure. It may have been out of desperation to tackle the problem of the German’s unrestricted submarine warfare which was costing losses of up to 500,000 tonnes per month and greatly eroding public morale. It may have been due to the link with Bowman’s to father or an existing belief in the efficacy of dowsing. However, after meeting her, Duff granted Bowman access to Admiralty’s secret submarine tracking room where with the aid of an iron saddlery needle suspended by the tail hair of white horse, she attempted to track U-boat movements in the North Atlantic.

As various letters on wall suggest, she was successful enough in her endeavours, to be invited back to provide assistance to the navy on several occasions right up until the Armistice of 1918. Mrs. Bowman’s part in the war below waves was kept secret right up until her death in 1959, after which her daughter turned the tea room she inherited into an informal museum celebrating her mother’s clandestine contribution to the war. When pressed by the author of The Guide about the reaction this revelation caused at the time, John Moore admitted:

“Mother did have a visit from a commander in naval intelligence when she first put the letters up. He asked to take them down, but she gave him short-shift and they soon gave up making a fuss, in the end just asking for a picture of nanna’s needle for their own archives. I am only sorry I’ve no talent for dowsing as that thing only passes down the female side in my family.”

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.

Creator of the