Compulsion | PO Box 19577 | Kilbarchan |Johnstone | PA10 2WX | Scotland | UK

The Triple Tree - Ghosts

As gulls soar above the coast and orchestral strings scrape, the soprano voice of Kris Force that enters, immediately evokes comparisons with wintry English carols effectively setting the atmosphere for Ghosts, a selection of compositions influenced and based on the writing of M. R. James. Tony Wakeford and Andrew King are the shadowy figures behind this homage to Montague Rhodes James, the finest ghost-story writer England has ever produced. Naturally Ghosts carries traces of Wakeford's Sol Invictus and Andrew King's traditional folk, yet with their expanded cast - including Kris Force, Guy Harries, Autumn Grieve, John Murphy, M, Renee Rosen, Mercy Liao - they go far beyond their usual projects and create something chilling and truly befitting of the work of M.R. James.

'The Three Crowns', that follows, opens with the unaccompanied singing of Andrew King, effected and layered over footsteps running along the shingle of the beach. Strings are given a mediaeval feel, as Tony Wakeford sings of the three crowns buried along the East Anglia coast to ward off invaders. 'The Three Crowns' like the majority of the tracks here are based around excerpts of James' prose.

Guy Harries refined spoken tones work well on 'The Mezzotint', as he describes the haunted engraving of a manor house, over drum rolls and marimba percussion. Its sinister undercurrents heightened by violin sweeps. The Ash Tree forms the basis for two tracks. 'Mrs Mothersole' with Autumn Grieve taking the role of a Witchhunt victim, her wispy voice languishing amidst lashing rain, soft bass touches and fluttering electronic treatments. 'The Ash Tree' follows, with lyrics derived from random selections from the Bible, read by King over sinister electronics, short drum rolls and flurries of bells.

Not to downplay the role of Tony Wakeford and others here, but it is Andrew King that really captures the essence of these stories. His voice sounds almost dredged from the past of old England. On 'The Stalls' he is in fine folk voice, reciting a charm over harmonium drone and processional beat as ghostlike voices hover in the background. On 'Lost Hearts' he recites the notes of Mr Abney's experiment; a thwarted attempt to attain spiritual enlightenment through the absorption of three hearts of persons under 21 years of age. With Wakeford leading an agglomeration of voices in the distance performing a Christian hymn it effectively captures the time period and imminent demise of Mr Abney.

'Black Crusade', adapted from an article in Ghosts & Scholars, is a fine folk ballad featuring an impassioned delivery from Andrew King, over harmonium drone, processional hand rhythms with passages of massed singing.

Autumn Grieve takes the lead on 'The Malice of Inanimate Objects', accompanied by Tony Wakeford on the chorus. It's soft bass, wispy flute melody and jazz-inflected drumming providing the most song-based outing on Ghosts. This is one of several tracks not directly derived from the works of M.R. James.

Some of M.R. James's best-known works, 'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come To You' and 'Casting The Runes', are less developed opting for uneasy atmospheres of supernatural horror. 'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come To You' is delivered as a series of whistled notes over gentle atmo-drone as an assortment of voices intone the Latin inscription engraved on the found whistle as drums are beaten and gulls sweep over the beach. 'Casting the Runes' is awash with a malevolent terror created from discordant harmonium drone, ominous sound lashes, a mire of threatening voices and the distant battering of drums. It like much of Ghosts is commendable for the way it draws upon environmental sounds to sustain the baleful atmosphere.

The opening prologue is reprised in a revised version under the title 'The Ghosts of England' sung by Autumn Grieve and Andrew King backed by a chorus of voices, its soft organ drone and flute melody, providing a fitting end to this homage to M.R. James.

This is a great release. Andrew King's cover artwork is stunning and the booklet containing lyrics and text, and photographs, given an Edwardian makeover, of the contributors are fantastic (but doesn't Kris Force look a dead ringer for Vivienne Westwood!). Ghosts is a remarkable interpretation of M. R. James' ghost-fiction and in the absence of the old television dramatisations of the stories of M.R. James you really need to stoke up the fire, pour yourself a glass of wine, settle down and let The Triple Tree chill you. Recommended, but not if you're faint of heart. For more information go to