Chanctonbury Rings is the result of a musical and spoken-word project from electro/acoustic folk musician Sharron Kraus and writer Justin Hopper, recorded in conjunction with The Belbury Poly. The timeless soundscapes and curiously unplaceable tone of the poetry evokes a long-lost vein of British art.
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It’s not his fault, but Justin Hopper’s spoken word delivery on Chanctonbury Rings reminds me of one Tyrion Lannister. His gentle and thoughtful North American cadence speaking its way through poetry and prose on topics that are distinctly British and ancient can’t help but do so. It’s kind of apt mind. This is an uncanny record. It’s on Ghost Box, how could it not be. But especially for its subject matter, the rings of its title, a prehistoric hill fort in West Sussex. Though the fort is long gone now, leaving only the barest impression that people were ever there.
The music is supplier by Sharron Kraus, who does a brilliant job matching the ring’s inherent strangeness with insistent synthesisers and Wickerman-flutes. Hopper’s delivery is quite restrained for the most part, leaving Kraus to generate a truly powerful sense of atmosphere. She sings too, on the beautiful ‘Wanderer’, accompanied by distorted guitar strums, breaking up any potential monopoly from Hopper’s voice.
Hopper’s words are massively evocative, finding everything from humour to horror in the rings. ‘Changebury’ sees him and others cycling through a number of absurd mispronunciations of the place, my favourite probably being “chankleberry”. But he also speaks of the known deaths that have taken place there, both ancient and recent.
The album is bookended by a title theme from the Belbury Poly, colouring the whole thing as some long-forgotten BBC documentary. But I think there’s something of a tonal mismatch here. The Belbury Poly’s synth-nostalgia is at odds with the rural-psychedelia Kraus so successfully embodies. Regardless, the album definitely works. Why? Because I want to visit the Chanctonbury Rings now.
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- Chanctonbury Rings by Justin Hopper & Sharron Kraus with The Belbury Poly
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