Belbury Poly: Where The Wild Things Are

Ghost Box Records founder Jim Jupp is returning to his otherworldly roots with ‘The Gone Away’, his first solo album as Belbury Poly in four years. It’s not about ghosts this time, though. It’s about fairies 

“If I had said the new album was about ghosts, people would have said, ‘OK, that’s interesting’,” smiles Jim Jupp, Ghost Box co-founder and the genial rector of Belbury Poly, the music world’s spookiest academic institution. “But when you say it’s about fairies, you get this look of… ‘What?!’.” 

He laughs, as he does often. 

“Fairies just exist in a childish world, but I’m interested in them from a folkloric point of view. There’s a rich tradition of these stories in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. And the stories don’t stop. People still see odd things, or perceive odd things, especially in rural environments. In the wild, in the countryside, people have weird experiences.” 

When I ask him if he’s had one himself, he hesitates for a moment. 

“About 10 years ago, my wife and I were driving on the M25 on a brilliant, sunny day. I glanced out of the window to the fields flashing past, and in the middle of one field I saw a giant hare. We were travelling at speed and it was probably a deer or a pile of sticks, but I saw it as a hare. It was huge, about five feet tall, so the size of a person. I couldn’t have seen it, of course. But I did. It was a misperception and I find that interesting, these things that we see out of the corner of our eye. Or things we misremember as having seen. And that kind of mood was what I wanted to capture with this record.” 


Jim Jupp’s latest offering is ‘The Gone Away’ and it’s a perfect distillation of the Ghost Box ethos. His first solo album as Belbury Poly since ‘New Ways Out’ in 2016, it eschews its predecessor’s leaning towards Chicory Tip-era glam and returns to the darkly electronic roots of the imprint. Exploring the idea of Britain’s remote woodlands playing host to malevolent, pre-Tinker Bell fairy folk, it is a work of sinister but melodic rustic strangeness, filtered through the fuzzy memories of a half-forgotten 1970s childhood. 

Was it a deliberate back-to-basics album for him? 

“Absolutely,” confirms Jupp. “It really was that. I went back to my very first recordings and to stuff that had always interested me. I’ve also revived some of my old working methods, so there are no other musicians on the album. I played everything on this and it’s a bit darker than some of the other things I’ve done recently.” 

The album is accompanied by a hallucinogenic promotional video provided by filmmaker Sean Reynard, the man responsible for the character Quentin Smirhes, who looks like a bearded remnant from some shadowy 1970s TV hinterland and has become a YouTube sensation. Sporting unsettling underpants and a mustard-coloured jumper, Quentin Smirhes is frequently seen puffing into peculiar and elaborate medieval instruments. The feel of early pastoral music has clearly seeped into ‘The Gone Away’ too. 

“I connected with the music in Sean’s films straight away,” says Jupp. “I sometimes think of synthesisers as extensions of these bizarre medieval instruments. The BBC Radiophonic Workshop, especially in the time of David Cain and Paddy Kingsland, would play elements of medieval music with electronic instruments. 

“Like folk music, I suppose it taps into something older and more mysterious. And this being the world of Ghost Box, it’s medieval music as received through film and TV. You’d watch ‘The Avengers’ and there would be a solo bassoon or a crumhorn as John Steed was creeping through the forest. The Radiophonic Workshop created similar atmospheres in ‘Doctor Who’. If there was an old castle, the music would suggest something ancient and spooky.” 


Jupp and his Ghost Box co-founder Julian House were school friends in South Wales and every aspect of their childhood seems to have fed directly into the spirit of the label. Jupp grew up in the semi-rural Newport suburb of Caerleon, the 19th century birthplace of horror writer Arthur Machen (himself a firm believer in fairy folk) and a town steeped in Arthurian legend. Its Roman amphitheatre was reputedly the inspiration for King Arthur’s Round Table. Julian House lived in nearby Caldicot and the pair spent their youth poring over HP Lovecraft’s lurid tales from the 1920s. This was at a time when electronic music was beginning to dominate the UK charts.

“I was in a band at school in the early 1980s,” says Jupp. “There was a boy in my class called Kingsley Sage, a very eccentric kid who had a couple of synthesisers. I’d never been close to one before! He used to build bits of electronic equipment too. He would take synths and guitars apart and tinker with things. I thought, ‘Wow, this is incredible’. It was a real epiphany for me and I ended up getting my own synthesiser. In retrospect, I owe Kingsley a debt of gratitude for my entire musical career.” 

What was the band called? 

“State Of The Art,” he chuckles. “Awful, isn’t it? It was when Depeche Mode were starting to have hits. We had three mono synths, a little SoundMaster drum machine, and a couple of organ and string machines. It was the era when you had to be really inventive and we’d multitrack on a stereo reel-to-reel, stretching everything to the limit.” 

The band even attracted the attention of a London A&R bigwig, who summoned them to an unlikely meeting in the capital. 

“It might have been Polydor or maybe Beggars Banquet,” muses Jupp, with modest vagueness. “It was two minutes and it was really just for him to say, ‘Keep at it and come back in five years when you’ve grown up’.” 

Jupp and House weren’t the only hauntology pioneers plotting in the Newport suburbs, though. James Cargill, future mainstay of Broadcast, also lived in Caerleon. 

“One summer holiday, the three of us even spent a couple of days recording a thrown-together comedy space opera soundtrack in my bedroom,” remembers Jupp. “The tape has long since vanished, but I think that’s probably just as well. We were teenagers and it was the 1980s and… well, you can imagine.” 

A few years later, Jupp felt the pull of acid house, which grew stronger after he enrolled as a computer science student at Portsmouth Polytechnic. 

“I got together with a pal there,” he continues. “It was a guy named Jez Stevens, who still records a lot of electronic music. We had a two-man rave outfit in the mode of Orbital. We were called Angeltech. We didn’t get many gigs, though. We played in a couple of pubs… I can’t believe that I’m telling you this!” 

He laughs again and leaves a mental image of Angeltech in their neon headsets, pounding away in the corner of some half-deserted Dog & Duck while the nonplussed regulars watch the racing on Channel 4. 

“And then in the 1990s, I joined another band in Portsmouth called Annie Hates Cordial.” 

He’s on a roll and it’s fascinating to hear Jupp opening up in this way, especially since Ghost Box often thrives on anonymity and mystery. The label’s releases arrive fully formed from some alternate late 20th century dimension, where Jon Pertwee is Doctor Who in perpetuity and unspeakable pagan rites are conducted in secret Cold War bunkers. For years, there were no publicity shots or artist biographies, just beautifully atmospheric music swathed in House’s evocative artwork. And yet this enigmatic approach is never reflected personally by Ghost Box’s warmly amiable founders. In the days following our conversation, Jupp gleefully sends over photographs of his formative bands. 

Annie Hates Cordial, helmed by the magnificently named Tom Rex and Tom Dangerous (“They were like Mick and Keith”), are pictured in front of a mid-90s Berlin Wall, with keyboard player Jupp resplendent in shades, a polo neck and a mod crop. He looks like he’s stepped straight from the line-up of Corduroy or the James Taylor Quartet. Diligent internet research reveals a 1993 single, ‘Pamela Anderson’, and a support slot with Blur at Portsmouth’s Gaiety Show Bar. Jupp, on a temporary hiatus from the band, unfortunately missed that. 

“We were very much an indie band, but with punk and ska elements,” he says. “Sounds bad, doesn’t it? We did a lot of gigs around Portsmouth and played a bit in Europe. It was fun for a while, but it became all-consuming and I kind of fell out of love with the grinding poverty. It was very rock ‘n’ roll and there were lots of arguments. So that petered out until I moved to London. I hooked up with Julian again and we started making music from there.” 


Ghost Box, the label that spearheaded the vanguard of hauntology, launched in 2004, its stated mission to explore “the misremembered musical history of a parallel world”. The disquieting iconography of Jupp and House’s shared childhood flowed joyously into the early aesthetic of the imprint – brutalist architecture, public information films, and unsettlingly supernatural children’s television. The parallel world was even given a name, Belbury, which was a village in ‘That Hideous Strength’, CS Lewis’ 1945 novel about a scientific facility beset by paranormal forces. 

“Julian and I wanted to create a fictional place as a setting for the music,” says Jupp. “We always thought we’d be fairly anonymous, so the idea was to have the artwork and the overall concept almost standing in for the personality of the artist. If you record for Ghost Box, you have to understand that the world of Ghost Box is just as important.” 

Did elements of his own education find their way into his mental image of Belbury’s primary academic institution? Is Belbury Poly essentially Portsmouth Polytechnic? 

“I hadn’t really thought of that before,” he exclaims. “Belbury Poly is an academic institution, but maybe not in a city like Portsmouth. I was certainly used to being educated in very utilitarian 1960s buildings and the Student Union at Portsmouth was in an old army NAAFI hut. The atmosphere of places like that probably inspired the idea of Belbury Poly, although it was possibly more from a time that I can’t actually remember, the 1950s and 1960s, when institutions of that sort were built. 

“It was during the post-war years, when we had a socialist government, the welfare state was new, and all those bold construction projects were happening. It was a brief period when utopian ideas were at the forefront. But then that also went hand-in-hand with maybe an authoritarian, paternalistic government as well, so it’s an uneasy mix.” 

Formed as an outlet for Jupp’s electronica and House’s affecting Focus Group sound collages, Ghost Box has slowly accumulated a sympathetic roster. Multi-instrumentalist Jon Brooks (aka The Advisory Circle) was an early recruit and cold wave connoisseur Martin Jenkins (recording as Pye Corner Audio) has brought contemporary beats to Belbury’s parish hall. How has the label evolved over the years? 

“It’s become more bloody work,” laughs Jupp, who is based in rural Sussex these days, on the fringes of the South Downs. “Which is good, because it’s now my full-time job. The roster has grown and we’ve tried to work with people from other backgrounds and cultures. We’ve got Beautify Junkyards from Portugal, ToiToiToi from Germany, and with Pye Corner Audio we’ve brought in Martin’s love of dance music and explored how that intersects with us. So the label is moving on stylistically, but very slowly. We’re quite happy to develop ideas gradually and bring in outside influences whenever we can.” 

In the meantime, Belbury Poly’s ‘The Gone Away’ acts as a delightfully chilling evocation of both Ghost Box’s roots and Jim Jupp’s own deliciously haunted childhood, swapping ghost stories with Julian House in the rustling woodlands of Gwent. An album where tooting ocarinas and austere school recorders battle an advance guard of folk-infused Mellotrons, while disembodied voices mutter from the twilight. 

“I’m not a true believer in the supernatural,” concludes Jupp. “But as I was saying earlier, some people have unusual experiences and we don’t have any explanations for them. And that’s enough for me.” 

‘The Gone Away’ is out now on Ghost Box 

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