"It’s Light Music, nothing else..."

Since 2004, Julian House and Jim Jupp have been putting out myriad weird and wonderful music under the Ghost Box Records label.

Ghost Box releases stick to a very idiosyncratic style; a retro-futuristic view coupled with a nostalgia for an England that never quite existed. This creative, haunting music takes its cues from old sci-fi television series, public information films, library music, B-movie horror, 1970s krautrock and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Warm, analogue synths burble and hum, tracts of speech are lovingly pasted onto audio collages, and you’re transported to a land you never knew. This world now extends to sixteen full length albums and seven singles, including collaborations with the likes of Broadcast and Hong Kong In The 60s.

Jim Jupp creates music for the Ghost Box label under two different names: Eric Zann, whose sobriquet paraphrases an H. P. Lovecraft short story, and Belbury Poly, a C. S. Lewis-invented educational institution in the fictional English town of Belbury. Earlier this year, Belbury Poly released their fourth full-length LP, The Belbury Tales. Clash spoke to Jim Jupp about the release, the Ghost Box aesthetic and what it means to be an outsider.

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What was your initial inspiration when setting up Ghost Box and did you expect the label to be as it is today?
Julian House and I initially intended it to be a website where we could sell a few burn-to-order CD-Rs of our own music that would be all tied together within certain aesthetic boundaries defined by our shared interests and Julian's graphics. It snowballed beyond our expectations and gradually grew into a legitimate record label.

Since your label has that very defined aesthetic, what would it take for a new artist to get signed to Ghost Box?
The artists we work with generally have a real understanding for what we do and their work has to feel just right to Julian and me in order for us to release it. This means we have to pass on some demos that we might otherwise like, but we feel the label's strength is its narrow aesthetic and the subsequent fictional world that builds up around it. We also get demos that are sometimes great but are too obviously trying to tick Ghost Box references, often great but a bit too much like the Radiophonic Workshop. We love the things that fit in to the Ghost Box world in an odd unexpected way, like the work of Roj and the forthcoming material from Pye Corner Audio.

There’s a strong seam of nostalgia running through Ghost Box’s releases; do you see yourself as a particularly nostalgic person?
Not really. The 1970s was a fairly bleak time as I recall it - what we do have though is a fondness for the things we can't quite remember or have remembered incorrectly. If anything, Ghost Box is nostalgia for a fiction that we've dreamt up out of half-remembered ideas and ideas from before we were even born.

How would you describe the town of Belbury to visitors?
Belbury is at first an archetypal small English town, but what has become apparent is that there's no particular sense of it being anchored in a certain point in time. It’s kind of an all-at-once place where it’s simultaneously every year from 1960 to 1980. Beyond that notion of temporal weirdness, we also like the feel in British science fiction of the ancient past colliding with the ultra-modern. It’s a constant theme in the TV fictions of Nigel Kneale; ancient evil or magic clashing with scientific breakthroughs. In Belbury (like many real English small towns), this often manifests itself in a jumble of architecture where mediaeval pubs nestle next to Brutalist concrete public libraries, or where a stone circle can be glimpsed from the roof of the multi-storey car park.

Can you talk us through the recording of The Belbury Tales album and the sound or mood you were trying to capture?
I was keen to get a rockier sound on some of The Belbury Tales tracks than I'd had previously. I wanted to offset my own analogue synth sounds against some hairy sounding bass, guitar and drums and have a nod here and there to the sounds of English prog-rock, or even a hint of Anatolian Psych.

I'd written and recorded most of the album myself with keyboards, synths, guitar and various acoustic instruments – school music room stuff like glockenspiels, ocarinas, zithers, melodicas and percussion – and then got Jim Musgrave [who records as Land Equivalents] in to play drums on a couple of tracks - he's an excellent drummer who I found after he'd sent me a demo - I realised he had just the right playing style and kit sound I was looking for, and was also technically minded enough to engineer his own sessions and add drums remotely to tracks that were already near completion. An old friend, Chris Budd, played bass on four or five tracks and also bolstered my poor guitar playing here and there as well as co-writing the album track, Earth Lights. In many ways the album came together like a library album with session players drafted in as and when they were needed. I think this is apparent on the album as it has less of a “band” feel and more of the feel of a contrived piece of soundtrack or production music. It’s not everyone's ideal of course but precisely the sound I was after.

The Belbury Tales has a cover designed by Julian House and contains a short story by Rob Young – how important to you is it that the aesthetic of the music is tied in with wider forms of media in this way?
It’s very important to us that each album feels like another missive from a parallel world, and everything about it contextualises the record and fleshes out that world a little more. Of course we hope that it stands up alone, but I think downloads will only ever give you a slightly diminished experience, especially for instrumental and electronic music which – unless it just functions as dance music – has always needed concepts and packaging, I think.

The music of Belbury Poly appears to come from a place far away from the mainstream – who or what would you say your influences are?
TV soundtracks, library music, light music and analogue electronics through to psychedelic folk, kosmische and krautrock. Those might seem a bit disparate but to me there's a continuum there and an essence that I've always attempted to capture. I suppose they are all musics of the imagination, with an escapist feel. As Belbury Poly I have no interest whatsoever in engaging with anything political or anything of contemporary importance. What I love is music that works in the same way as supernatural fiction or science fiction and opens windows onto "other" places.

Do you see yourself as an outsider and how does that affect the music that you make?
I suppose all of us at Ghost Box are outsiders - we've only ever really followed our own interests and not tried to make something for anyone other than ourselves. We're not cool in anyway nor would we have a clue how to be.

Belbury Poly is not everyone's cup of tea and I sometimes think it makes people quite angry and confused that it’s not darker, moodier and more macho than it is. It’s Light Music, nothing else. It is truly amazing when people get in touch to say they have a real personal connection to the music though. It’s not why I record it but it means a lot to me when it happens.

What does the future hold for Ghost Box and indeed the town of Belbury?
A new album from Pye Corner Audio this summer should expand the boundaries of the Ghost Box world a little more. There's a revised edition of The Focus Group's [2005 album] Hey Let Loose Your Love on the way, plus some new material that Julian House has in the pipeline which will hopefully see the light of day before the year's out. We're also continuing with our Study Series singles [collaborations between Ghost Box and non-Ghost Box acts released on 7”] - these are a great way for us to collaborate with artists we like who wouldn't necessarily fit into the label roster.

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Words by Joe Rivers

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