Folk Music Gig Horror

Sheffield Live Update Megapost #1 2024

The New Year is here, and so is this very delayed type up of a couple of shows we saw in 2023. It is delayed but important to talk about them before going forward. Let us get into this spicy combination of live music and theatre without further delay.

Ben McElroy plus Antique Doll – 10 November ’23

We return to Bishops House (Sheffield) for more electronic wonderment in association with micro label, Sonido Polifornico. This old home for modern performances, electronics and sampling is perfect for a late, dreamy and dark night.

First we see Antique Doll, a Sheffield duo of Fiona Jervis and Richard Gibson, whose image is probably recognisable to locals, as throughout town and in publications we have oft seen the slightly kitchy, retro image, the old telephone and washes of pastels seems to be all over. Described as having the sound of “eerie ’70s kids TV Shows” by Shindig magazine they cut a space of sound that is either sat right on, or at least a little adjacent to, a folk horror nightmare of a soundtrack.

The experience of the set is accentuated with a careful pick of visual accompaniment. There are cluttered visuals of leaves, sticks, piles with a girl whose very mind seems to be exploding on to the moving canvas. It is alchemical, there are jars in rows with suspect ingredients having pickled away for who knows how long. This makes a lot of sense as later on we find out if is a Russian Alice in Wonderland with a liberal use of stop motion. It is a hypnotic loop that affirms the experience of the early act.

There is a selection of tracks to be had, there is a performance of “The Grip and the Twine”, the quiet interludes of pre-lockdown “You Got This” (from a time the band admits was not largely productive), and of course, Rocking Horse, “you should have spoken, if it was broken”. The band’s sound is a channel of quiet tragedy, though their scattering of little numbers has the bright colourisation of that badge jacket your best friend has. Their songs are a contrast between those shiny reminders of places you have spread your wings to and the jarring finality of an old telephone call with a bad line that writhes with the hisses and crackles of the clipped voice and scratchy line. A quiet, bullfinch of a set to start the evening.

Ben McElroy participates in “folk based experiments” and specialises in creating (mostly) instrumental soundscapes that wash over the mind and drip into your pool of thoughts. With a large inclusion of one of his later albums “Beacons of Wilderness” to the set (his ninth); McElroy’s confidence grows as he adds more vocal layers in fore and background to evoke what is happening within. His set starts with a looping fiddle, a calm and slow drone. The guitar is then added and the room becomes a quiet vortex of a green wilderness. A plane splutters off in the distance; the wind rushes around but at first doesn’t make a sound. The track builds to a soothing, idyllic day before a reflection washes over like the quiet drops of water on forest leaves. McElroy The soundscape gently rises and falls into the trees, nature is impishness as it reveals it’s thoughts through the tune in this title track of “Beacons of the Wilderness”. His later inclusion of “Stinkhorn”, a mushroomy aside, echos this but instead that it is characterised more by a kind of fumbling, a rumble of sound and the hint of a bark scent underneath the track. The soil of the song is a compacted hum with a bright promise of strings over the top.

We are also treated to “We wandered through memory”, a more human-centred work drawing on McElroy’s work in residential homes. It comes and goes, bright like the sun in a care home garden on a lazy afternoon, it’s flute and harmonies raising the spirit up high. The memories and history dance and are honoured in the way you would hope a nearest family member would be in such a place. McElroy’s set also takes us out of the local and into the wider world with “The Sailor and the Albatross”, a long drone-heavy example of an environmental song about the climate crisis that seemingly calls out from the earthly core itself.

Intimate and evocative as ever, the Sonido Polifonico events at Bishops House ( continue to excite and intrigue with more events on the way.

Scarred For Life 12 November ’23

Television and film is not what is used to be.

Well that’s what a lot of people who look back into their past with a sense of warm nostalgia might say to you when you try to be evangelical about the newest-hotness. For every Marvel film, there is something by Cary Grant but, obviously it is all a subjective game of taste, art and personal preference lest we all be boring robots. In other instances nostalgia can be anything but comforting and it will take a distintly dark turn with us remembering the trauma of something terrifying we saw on our screens from our childhood (whether intentional or not).

As part of a tour of “Scarred For Life: Folk Horror”, a duo of fine purveyors of such a memory (Stephen Brotherstone, co-author of “Scarred for Life” and Bob Fischer, broadcaster of folklore/writer of the uncanny and unsettling) came to the University of Sheffield Drama Studio as part of the “Performance Venues”, “Three iconic venues, one university, endless opportunities” ( Here the performers dig up scary old content to purposely poke and tickle our childhood traumas somewhat and evoke that sense of dread all over again.

Currently situated within what is regarded as a “boom” of “folk horror” in television and film, the show does a good job of introducing the idea of this genre with examples such as the exceedingly well known (The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General) to the more obscure (Bagpuss, Worzel Gummidge), aspects of culture that “scarred us for life”, and the historical and sociological events that shaped this genre. We loved the presentations around ’70s and ’80s television, especially the observations about the bleak, cruel and intentionally scary atmosphere of public service commercials. It also satisfied by shining a light on the witchcraft boom in the 70’s by reference to the ’71 docuementary “Power of the Witch” and some of the media offshoots from this. We look forward to when they tackle the 90’s which was when I was indeed in WH Smith buying “Prediction” magazine.

It is worth seeing just for their observation of when they believe the UK achieved “Peak Folk Horror” and a trip down nostalgia lane (even for those of us not around in the 70’s) as a means of getting even more ideas of things to watch from a much more unregulated time where the occult and horror was awash in society. They point out all the tropes here and that aspect of the first half culminates in a helpful and entertaining summary in the guise of a skit they call, “The Sex Witches of the Fens”.

There is social media for Scarred for Life ( as well as an excellent podcast where they speak to celebrities about what has left more than a mark on their childhoods (

For reference (if the presenters are reading), here are my top three scarring bits of programming from by youth:

Princess Mombi from 1985’s dark and downbeat sequel to the Wizard of Oz, “Return to Oz”
SV7, a character from “Robots of Death” (Dr. Who).
Chucky from “Child’s Play” (1988)

The “Scarred For Life” team have some excellent books covering evverthing you can imagine from the 70’s and 80’s, please look here:

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