Category: Folklore

Terror never sounded so good

Uncanny Japan review

Rating –

Uncanny Japan logo

I love folklore, and (as I have said before) living in Wales there is plenty on offer. Because of this, I am often drawn to the more mysterious style podcasts. Whether actual folklore or fiction inspired by folklore, I just can’t get enough. Maybe it’s because of my love of J-Horror or Anime, but Japanese folklore has captivated me for years. When I stumbled across Uncanny Japan I immediately subscribed and pressed play with baited breath.

So what’s it about?

Each episode, the host, Thersa Matsuura explores a different aspect of Japanese Folklore. Don’t expect to yawn through well trodden tales of the Kappa, Urei and Yokai so beloved of western audiences. This series also covers the lesser known traditions, festivals, and mythical beings said to lurk in the shady corners of the country. These episodes are what you could call “bitesize”. Most podcasts on folklore tend to run at one hour plus, so these 20 minute gems are very short in comparison. I think there have been a few even shorter!

The episode starts out with a brief introduction with the beautiful binaural recordings, and then Thersa starts telling the stories. Not all of these are discovered from ancient sources, although many are. There are some modern day cases that crop up too, and in the later episodes there are similar tales from all over the world. While this does technically leave the Japanese side of the stories, I don’t mind. All stories have a shared source, and drawing these parallels are great fun.

Is it any good?

Definitely. Thersa expertly covers so much ground in each relatively short episode, yet it never feels rushed. The fact that a 20 minute episode can feel much longer could be used as an insult for a review of a lesser show, but here it is absolutely a compliment. This is partly due to her amazing calm voice and the use of atmospheric recordings of her surroundings. The incessant piping of frogs or chirping of cicadas could be somewhat Lovecraftian in the bleak heaths of New England. Here though, it really brings her stories to life.

These sound effects coupled with Thersa’s soporific voice would lend itself to be the perfect sleep aid, although I can’t guarantee a peaceful night’s sleep from some of the content here! There are some very creepy tales indeed, and the thought of having some of these dark denizens of the Japanese countryside invade my dreams isn’t something I’d relish.

Final thoughts

This is one of those shows that you don’t have to be interested in the subject to enjoy. Thersa is a joy to listen to and her knowledge of her subject matter is immense. She has also published books of fiction based on Japanese folklore as well (we are occasionally treated to some excerpts of these on the show).

Where other folklore shows have fallen by the wayside, either through the podcast coming to an end, or me getting bored, this one has got real staying power and is always great to listen to. Do yourselves a favour and give this series a go. You can thank me later.

This is also one of two podcasts on Japanese folklore that I had subscribed to, and the only one I am still subscribed to. Truth be told, I only ever listened to two episodes of the other one and gave up on it. Thersa has set the benchmark for Japanese culture!

You can listen to Uncanny Japan here:

uncannyjapan.com

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

The Usborne Legacy

As Yet Unexplained review

Rating –

As Yet Unexplained logo

I first heard of this podcast from Richard Daniels (of The Occultaria Of Albion fame). Unfortunately it wasn’t originally available on every podcatcher and in the interest of fairness, I avoid reviewing such shows. The reason for this is that not everyone has Amazon, or iTunes or Spotify, so I don’t want to review shows that not everyone can enjoy. However it seems that it’s being shared on all apps now, so with great eagerness I subbed and settled down to binge on the whole thing as quickly as possible.

So what’s it about?

This is probably best described as an audio version of the now beloved Usborne books on the unexplained. These were very popular when I was a child and are now experiencing something of a renewed popularity (by people my age, as it goes).

Each episode looks at a different subject. They range from ghosts to UFOs, and from folklore to strange military cover ups from the East and West. There are some very creepy stories here indeed and they are all very well narrated.

Whether intentionally or not, Westley Smith’s narration lends itself to the vintage patina of the show. I can almost imagine him like James Burke on some windswept moor accompanied by a hungry cameraman as he investigates ancient burial chambers, or strange lights in the sky. Also, his voice reminds me of a mix of the character James Hunter from Haunted: An Audio Drama and Jonathan Sims from The Magnus Archives.

Is it any good?

I love this show. The whole thing has a very retro feel. From the logo to the soundtrack, this is a very good pastiche of classic mystery books and shows from my childhood. To be honest, there won’t be any new information here for anyone with an interest in such things, but that really doesn’t matter. Westley Smith does such a good job telling the stories that you almost forget that you know the stories and get sucked into the tales being told. Surely that is a mark of a great orator.

Despite the lack of new information, there are some genuinely creepy moments in the series. The haunting of 50 Berkeley Square will never not be scary, but there are other tales to chill your blood too. The ghosts of Charterhouse, the San Pedro Haunting, and the stories of Russian Cosmonauts drifting off into space are terrifying. The latter especially so, because despite the transmissions being classified, there were people around the world who happened to stumble across them. 

While a show like The Occultaria Of Albion wears its hauntological badge with pride, that show represents a fictional 1970s UK. This is more like the actual late 70s TV shows and books. In the episode on ancient UFO sightings, he’s describing woodcuts that I had studied as a child in my parents’ books on such things. That only reinforces the nostalgia factor, for me at least.

Final thoughts

I really can’t recommend this show highly enough. It’s easy to digest and very well produced. As I mentioned earlier, there aren’t any groundbreaking revelations here, but that’s ok. You can enjoy the show for what it is, and what it is is excellent. Almost immediately, this rose to the top of my favourite podcasts on such subjects.

***NOTE***

I apologise for the constant comparisons to Richard Daniels’ show, but they come as something of a package deal. Indeed, after every episode, that dastardly Richard Daniels manages to inject a subliminal advert for TOoA just to further his own nefarious agenda!

You can get As Yet Unexplained here:

https://asyetunexplained.wixsite.com/home

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

Taking the normal out of paranormal

Occultaria Of Albion review

Rating –

The Occultaria Of Albion logo

I heard about this very recently on one of the many facebook pages I frequent. I duly subscribed, as I always do when a new podcast crosses my path. I’d planned to put it off for a while, I’ve got a few new series on the go and I’m trying to review those first. I’m also trying to avoid those pesky “queue jumpers” that inevitably appear from time to time. Every time I opened my list of podcasts though, I’d see this one calling out. This morning I finally gave in and took the plunge into the strange world of the Occultaria Of Albion.

So what’s it about?

The Occultaria Of Albion is a strange beast. At first glance (and indeed at the first episode), it appears to be one of the many folklore podcasts that are springing up like fairy rings. But scratch below the surface and you find something very interesting indeed.

The host and head archivist Richard Daniels investigates a different subject every episode, from ghosts to cryptids and UFO sightings. The episodes are split between retellings of traditional stories and interviews with eyewitnesses.

The first episode is a very low-fi release, recorded on what sounds like a mobile phone or cheap microphone. This isn’t a bad thing in this case however as I imagine him sitting in a shed that smells of creosote talking into a strange recording device. It reminds me a lot of the old Oliver Postgate animations, which were also created in a shed that no doubt smelled of creosote.

Is it any good?

After the first episode or two I wasn’t sure if I’d go the distance with this. This seems like a very low budget affair and as such the voice acting isn’t always up to scratch. There are a few occasions where you can almost see the person reading off a bit of paper. I can forgive that though because the mythology and the whole aesthetic is so good.

I’m glad I did stick with it though, because every episode gets better in terms of content.

There are a lot of genuinely funny moments and Richard Daniels is a very talented writer and host. His wit shines through any production shortcomings. Don’t think that this is just a purely comedic exercise though. There is a lot of folkloric and horror knowledge here that gets parodied very well. This is very much like Les Dawson playing the piano. You have to be very talented and knowledgeable to make something seem so “amateur”. (Please don’t take that the wrong way!)

This is also another one of those podcasts that has me wondering if it is entirely fictional or if some of the stuff presented is actually worth googling (at the risk of being caught out). As I have said previously, I don’t mind that at all. And I have to resist the urge to look up any film or book that gets mentioned.

Final thoughts

From the analogue bleeps of the little interludes, to the very 70s hauntological look of the OoA releases on their website (they look like releases by Ghost Box or The Belbury Poly) there is a lot to love here, especially if you’re into that sort of thing. There’s a lot to love even if you’re not. Another hauntological note here is the similarity of the yoga teacher character to the legend of the Radiophonic workshop Delia Derbyshire. I’m not sure if this was an intentional impression or not, but it made me smile.

This is well worth your time to listen to. Each episode is different enough to seem fresh. I assume this is because the release schedule is somewhat “sedate”. Although as I write this, I’m awaiting the imminent release of the new episode at the end of the week. I should also point out that I’ve listened to the whole back catalogue of episodes in a day, well about 4 hours truth be told.

As I said previously, Richard Daniels is a very talented writer and I can’t help but wonder if this series would be improved if it was just him retelling these stories. The excerpt from a talk that he gave on the Halloween episode was amazing, and I could really listen to that stuff all day. I’m prepared to overlook the poor voice talent, but I’m not sure if you would be.

You may wonder when then, after my seemingly relentless nitpicking of the acting, why I gave this a five brain rating. I think in this case it is deserved because it is so bloody good. That’s the only thing that there isn’t to like, and even then the actual script is very good. So there. It’s my blog and I’m in charge!

You can get The Occultaria Of Albion here:

https://redcircle.com/shows/occultariaofalbion

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

***NOTE***

This is possibly the only podcast I’ve found that doesn’t really have it’s own webpage. The official TOoA site just recommends you search for the podcast, and the link I provided above seems to have links for all possible podcatchers.

Bleeding saints and forest witches

Bone And Sickle review

Rating –

Bone And Sickle logo

Honestly, I’ve been a fan of this show for years now. Therefore I feel it’s high time I got my lazy ass round to waxing lyrical about it. Originally, it had crossed my mind to write these reviews in some kind of chronological order from when I first heard them. Discovering so many great series though, meant that the inevitable queue jumpers soon put paid to that.

So without further ado, join me in the dusty yet cosy library in Al Ridenour’s ancient manor house, and lets delve into the weird and wonderful world of folklore.

So what’s it about?

Bone And Sickle (as mentioned in the previous paragraph) is primarily a folklore podcast. Now don’t roll your eyes and expect some boring academic banging on about corn dollies and morris dancing. This is a very entertaining show indeed.

The host, Al Ridenour is something of a recluse, holed up in a sprawling mansion. His only companions are his books and his long suffering servants (originally his butler Wilkinson, and more recently his housekeeper Mrs. Karswell).

Originally started as a companion to his book “The Krampus And The Old, Dark Christmas”, it has grown to encompass not just Germanic folklore, but all manner of global traditions and tales. I haven’t read this book, but if it is half as good as this podcast it’ll be a really great piece of work.

Each episode he looks at a different subject, and using some (quite frankly amazing) research, he uncovers little known facts and alternate versions of well known (and not so well known) folk tales and celebrations. There’s lots of debunking too, as some well known “facts” get dispelled. It’s interesting how stories change over time, sometimes centuries. What we think of now as “well known” is often completely different from the original tales.

Is it any good?

I’ve listened to this for so long, I can’t remember how I discovered it. I suspect that Mr Ridenour was interviewed on one of the other folklore podcasts I listen to. As soon as I’d finished the first episode I was hooked. There is an awful lot of information crammed into every episode. It never feels “academic” though, and it’s certainly never boring.

The inclusion of the butler Wilkinson, and then the apiarist MrsKarswell add both some comic relief, and some of the creepier meta stories that occur as the series progresses (from possessed mummified cats to the disappearance of the gardner). Interestingly, Sarah Chavez who plays Mrs Karswell also has her own very good podcast series all about the perception of death around the world. This isn’t her review though, so that’s all I’m saying for now!

The content here is similar to a series like Hypnogoria, where a great deal of knowledge is presented in an entertaining (and occasionally very funny) manner. There is also some inevitable overlap of the subject matter occasionally, but that’s ok, I don’t get bored of listening to this stuff. I’m loath to keep the comparisons going here, but I can’t help it. Both this and Hypnogoria deserve your time for the same reason.

Final thoughts

Al Ridenour is a brilliant host. A mix of eccentric weirdo* and folklore academic, he really makes these subjects interesting and easy to digest. Also, Sarah Chavez is great as Mrs. Karswell. A long suffering servant, who I suspect has some very creepy backstory and is usually in no mood to put up with Ridenour’s strange behaviour. She does her best to keep this ship on course, although her own eccentricity is hardly up to the task. Somehow though, the two of them manage.

The butler Wilkinson was also a great foil, and I was rather sad when he left, but Mrs. Karswell has been perfect at filling the gap. My mother was also rather enamoured with Wilkinson, although I don’t think she ever went so far as to join the Patron to get the signed photo of him, but I digress.

This is my favourite folklore podcast, in admittedly a rather short list. Better to be at the top of a short list than the bottom of a long list though eh? And one that is well worth your time. The subjects are diverse and I have to say that whilst pretty much every podcast uses show notes, they don’t always work in my podcatcher. It’s usually just a link to the website version. Bone And Sickle though has the full show notes right there to scroll through. I think this is a really nice touch that shows the effort put in to give everyone the best experience.

*I’m sure he’s not an eccentric weirdo in real life.

You can find Bone And Sickle here:

http://boneandsickle.com/

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

The lore of the land

Ghosts and folklore of Wales review

Rating –

Being Welsh is something of a privilege. We have the coolest looking flag, and the best national anthem. We also have a Christmas tradition of having a rap battle against a horse’s skull on a pole (yes, really). This is partly why this review is being released today. But I digress…

This is another queue jumper for my review schedule, but one I think is worthy. As soon as I’d heard the first episode I knew I’d be ploughing through the whole lot in no time. I’d actually be further along with it, but the pre-Christmas work rush has put the kibosh on my 8 hour listening sessions somewhat. So without further ado, here is my review of the Ghosts and folklore of Wales podcast.

So what’s it all about then?

Ghosts and folklore of Wales is a weekly podcast by the perpetually cheerful Mark Rees, a Welsh journalist, author and folklore fanatic. In fact, according to Mark, this is the ONLY podcast dedicated to Welsh folklore. Every episode revolves around a different subject, and usually includes a few stories related to the main theme. So far he’s covered stories about the Welsh versions of the “Black Shuck” dog, the infamous Mari Lwyd, various tales of devils, and even the story of a headless Jesus driving a coach and horses. See, Wales is nothing if not fascinating.

But is it any good?

You can really tell that Mark has a great love for what he does. His enthusiasm is contagious and his witty style of storytelling is a joy. After listening to the first episode I had decided that this was a “four brain” podcast (maybe a three). I had judged too quickly though, because I didn’t realise how subsequent episodes would go. The things that I would have critiqued actually have become endearing features of the style of the show. Hopefully he keeps his special effects budget exactly as it is!

It’s amazing how he manages to research some of the stories found here. For every well known ghost, or tale of fairies, there are some really obscure local news reports that must have taken all his journalistic skill to unearth. I suspect that he spends hours hunched over a microfiche machine, or maybe poring over old archives. Maybe he just types searches into his work computer, who am I to assume? Not all of these are truly paranormal however. Stories the local ne’er-do-wells tormenting unwitting victims are just as good as, if not more entertaining than a real ghost story.

Another thing I love about this podcast, and one that sets it apart from other podcasts like this is the fact that he will translate the Welsh names of the subject of the episode. I suspect that other podcasts don’t do this because. A) the sources they use don’t do it. B) they don’t speak Welsh themselves so can’t do it. or C) They don’t think it’s important. It’s just some hard to pronounce word that sounds weird and thats good enough for them.

The great thing about translating though is that it gives more depth to the subject. I mean who knew that the dog breed Corgi, actually means “dwarf dog”. Not dwarf because it’s small, but because it was owned by the mythical dwarves? This also provides someone with only a passing grasp of Welsh (me) with plenty of head slapping moments when I try to figure it out and get it completely wrong. At the risk of perpetual ridicule, and full disclosure, I translated it to “choir dog” or even “singing dog” because the Welsh for choir is also “Cor”.

Final verdict

A lot of paranormal and folklore podcasts (and I’ve listened to quite a few) have a tendency to get rather stuffy and academic. This is probably just the nature of the beast, as a lot of the resources available tend to be stuffy and academic. What sets this series apart is the light-hearted way each story is told. I’m reluctant to use the comparison, but it’s more along the lines of Horrible Histories than some late night BBC documentary.

I’m really not putting it down with this comparison, but I feel you are more likely to retain facts when they are related in an engaging manner. An engaging manner is (thankfully) what Mark has in spades. His self-deprecating humour is endearing rather than irritating and his real sense of disbelief relating the more far fetched tales and hoaxes result in some proper laugh out loud moments. You are also guaranteed to learn some obscure nugget of wisdom from the aforementioned translations. The Dwarf Dog is absolutely being retained for when I get to go on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

I know that Mark has also written a number of books on the subjects of ghosts and folklore. I’ll be getting my hands on them soon, because if they are half as well researched and written as this podcast then they will be a great addition to any collection.

You can get the show here:

http://markreesonline.com/ghosts-folklore-wales-welsh-haunted-podcast-mark/

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

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