In January 2015, Louise from the band Hysteria Ward contacted me to ask if I was interested in a load of stuff in a box. A mysterious question to which I answered; “Yes I was”.
On visiting I found that the box contained several 1/4 inch master reels of various recordings (by various bands) that were released on the All The Madmen record label back in the 1980’s.
At the bottom of the box I noticed a master reel for Clair Obscur, music from that reel that was eventually released by All The Madmen records as ‘The Pilgrims Progress’ in 1986.
I handed this master reel to Pete Fender (ex of Poison Girls / Rubella Ballet / Omega Tribe) when we managed to meet up in Dagenham, and later on that year, the master reels were carefully restored and remastered by Pete.
Pete then returned the restored master reels with the remastered raw files and mp3’s on CDR’s. The master reel that was carefully restored and remastered by Pete has turned out beautifully crystal clear.
‘The Pilgrims Progress’ album is a live recording by French Gothic / Industrial performance artistes Clair Obscur that was released on the All The Madmen record label in 1986.
In my opinion (which is never an exact science) this band seemed to have similarities musically to the Virgin Prunes and I also noticed a slight nod musically to Chrome from San Francisco on some of the songs.
I have never seen a Clair Obscur performance, the band might not even have visited the dis-United King-Dome but what I have learned was that the band always took care over a performance ensuring excellent stage sets and peculiar performance styles.
At one performance Clair Obscur were on stage with a guy sitting on a chair reading a paper, and with clothes drying on a washing line once I think! The ‘Pilgrims Progress’ performance that was recorded for release on the All The Madmen record label took place in a hall transformed into a forest (I nicked that last bit of information from the text below from the Clair Obscur website!)
A short biography written in the text and the performance photograph below are taken from the Clair Obscur website.
Clair Obscur was founded in Creil in 1981 by Thierry Damerval (bass), Christophe Demarthe (vocals) and Nicolas Demarthe (guitar). Clair Obscur strives to nurture their musical creativity into atmospheres, rather than just dispel mere melodies.
Their shows mixing music and visual performances were very quickly recognised, and became a reference to both the buying public and the up and coming French independent radio stations.
In 1982 they were invited to play at the Cirque d’Hiver de Paris for the French magazine Actuel which spoke of “young cultured barbarians” and of “rock Artaud”.
The first cassette of Clair Obscur was released the same year. Later re-published on vinyl and on CD, nearly 7000 copies have been sold since then.
In 1983 Clair Obscur were invited to play at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts de Paris as well as to support Killing Joke at Le Palace in Paris. The stage was cluttered with furniture and domestic objects (between the drums and the amplifiers a couple lived their daily life during these performances).
Their first single Santa Maria was released the same year.
In 1984 Clair Obscur published the 12″ single ‘Dansez’ and created a show at the Théâtre du Forum des Halles in Paris. In a hall transformed into a forest the four musicians of the group became actors to tell a social fable, ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’.
The recording of the ‘Pilgrims Progress’ concert was released on the All the Madmen record label in 1986. The album was greeted warmly in the British press by the New Musical Express and by Sounds.
From 1986 on Clair Obscur decided to play more with their audience. Their shows proposed situations which could take place only if the spectators played the game. Thus at La Grange à Musique in Creil a pseudo-TV game took place with real candidates.
The British label Cathexis Recordings published the 12″ single ‘Smurf in the Gulag’ which was a wink at disco music, the genuine industrial music.
Each show of the group had to be a unique event always different from their previous show. Clair Obscur attempted to break the established sketches of the performance.
In October 1986 the Théâtre Déjazet in Paris, an Italian style theatre, became the pretext of a feigned bucolic decorum, featuring a chamber orchestra and replicas of famous impressionist paintings, which happened only to be destroyed immediately after.
This gave birth to the album ‘In Out’ recorded thanks to the French national radio France Culture and released by V.I.S.A. (France) in 1988.
Yule: Winter Solstice – Dec 21st/22nd
The origin of the word Yule, has several suggested origins from the Old English word, geõla, the Old Norse word jõl, a pagan festival celebrated at the winter solstice, or the Anglo-Saxon word for the festival of the Winter Solstice, ‘Iul’ meaning ‘wheel’. In old almanacs Yule was represented by the symbol of a wheel, conveying the idea of the year turning like a wheel, The Great Wheel of the Zodiac, The Wheel of Life. The spokes of the wheel, were the old festivals of the year, the solstices and equinoxes.
The winter solstice, the rebirth of the Sun, is an important turning point, as it marks the shortest day, when the hours of daylight are at their least. It is also the start of the increase in the hours of daylight, until the Summer Solstice, when darkness becomes ascendant once more.
Cycle of the Year
Yule is deeply rooted in the cycle of the year, it is the seed time of year, the longest night and the shortest day, where the Goddess once again becomes the Great Mother and gives birth to the new Sun King. In a poetic sense it is on this the longest night of the winter, ‘the dark night of our souls’, that there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred Fire, the Light of the World, the Coel Coeth.
Fire festivals, celebrating the rebirth of the Sun, held on the Winter’s Solstice can be found throughout the ancient world. The Roman festival of Saturnalia was held on the winter solstice, boughs of evergreen trees and bushes would decorate the house, gifts where exchanged and normal business was suspended. The Persian Mithraists held December 25th as sacred to the birth of their Sun God, Mithras, and celebrated it as a victory of light over darkness. In Sweden, December 13th was sacred to the Goddess Lucina, Shining One, and was a celebration of the return of the light. On Yule itself, around the 21st, bonfires were lit to honour Odin and Thor.
The festival was already closely associated with the birth of older Pagan gods like Oedipus, Theseus, Hercules, Perseus, Jason, Dionysus, Apollo, Mithra, Horus and even Arthur with a cycle of birth, death and resurrection that is also very close to that of Jesus. It can hardly be a coincidence that the Christians, also used this time of year for the birth of Christ, mystically linking him with the Sun.
That Yule is another fire festival, should come as no surprise, however unlike the more public outdoor festival of the summer solstice, Yule lends itself to a more private and domestic celebration. Yet like its midsummer counterpart, is strongly associated with fertility and the continuation of life. Here the Goddess is in her dark aspect, as ‘She Who Cuts The Thread’ or ‘Our Lady in Darkness’, calling back the Sun God. Yet, at the same time, she is in the process of giving birth to Son-Lover who will re-fertilise her and the earth, bringing back light and warmth to the world.
The history of a Christmas festival dates back over 4000 years. Ancient Midwinter festivities celebrated the return of the Sun from cold and darkness. Midwinter was a turning point between the Old Year and the New Year. Fire was a symbol of hope and boughs of greenery symbolized the eternal cycle of creation.
The term “Xmas” instead of “Christmas” is Greek in origin. The word for “Christ” in Greek is “Xristos.” during the Sixteenth Century, Europeans began using the first initial of Christ’s name…the “X” of “Xristos”…in place of the word “Christ” as a shorthand version of the word “Christmas.” Although early Christians understood that the “X” was simply another form for the name of Jesus Christ, later Christians, who had no knowledge of the Greek language, mistook “Xmas” as a sign of disrespect. Eventually, however, “Xmas” came to be both an accepted and suitable alternative to the word “Christmas.”
Many of today’s Christmas traditions were celebrated centuries before the Christ Child was born. The Twelve Days of Christmas, blazing fires, the yule log, the giving of gifts, carnivals or parades complete with floats, carolers who sing while going from house to house, holiday feasts and church processions are all rooted in the customs observed by early Mesopotamians.
Many of these traditions began with the Mesopotamian celebration of the New Year. The Mesopotamians worshiped many gods, the chief of whom was Marduk. Each year as winter arrived, it was believed that Marduk would battle the Monsters of Chaos. In order to assist Marduk during his struggle, the Mesopotamians held a festival for the New Year. They called this celebration Zagmuk and the festivities lasted for twelve days.
The King of Mesopotamia would return to the Temple of Marduk and swear his faithfulness to the god. The tradition called for the King to die at the end of the year and then return with Marduk to battle at his side. To spare their King, the Mesopotamians utilized a “mock” king. A criminal was chosen and dressed in royal clothes. He was given all due respect and the privileges of a true king but, at the end of the celebrations, the “mock” king was stripped of the royal garments and then put to death, thus sparing the life of the real monarch.
The ancient Persians and Babylonians celebrated a similar festival which they called the Sacaea. Part of that celebration included the exchanging of places within the community…slaves would become masters and the original masters were obliged to obey the former slaves’ commands.
In Scandinavia during the winter months, the Sun would disappear for great lengths of time. After thirty-five of such dark days, scouts would be dispatched to the mountain tops to await the return of this life-giving heavenly body. When the first light was espied, the scouts would hurry back to their villages bearing the good news. In celebration, a great festival would be held, called the Yuletide, and a special feast would be served around a fire burning with the Yule log. Huge bonfires would also be lit to celebrate the welcome return of the Sun. In some areas, people would tie apples to the branches of trees as a reminder that Spring and Summer would eventually return.
The ancient Greeks held ceremonies similar to those of the Zagmuk and Sacaea festivals. The purpose of this feast was to assist their god Kronos, who would battle against the god Zeus and his army of Titans.
Members of the pagan order have always celebrated the Winter Solstice…the season of the year when days are shortest and nights longest. It was generally believed to be a time of drunkenness, revelry and debauchery. The pagan Romans called this celebration Saturnalia, in honor of their god Saturn. The festivities began in the middle of December and continued until January 1st. On December 25th, “The Birth of the Unconquerable Sun” was celebrated, as the days gradually lengthened and the Sun began to regain its dominance. It is a general pagan belief that the Sun dies during the Winter Solstice and then rises from the dead. With cries of “Jo Saturnalia!”, the Roman celebration would include masquerades in the streets, magnificent festive banquets, the visiting of friends and the exchange of good-luck gifts known as Strenae…or “lucky fruits.” Roman halls would be decked with garlands of laurel and green trees, adorned with lighted candles. Again, as with Sacaea, the masters and slaves would exchange places.
Saturnalia was considered a fun and festive time for the Romans, but Christians believed it an abomination to honor such a pagan god. The early converts wanted to maintain the birthday of their Christ Child as a solemn and religious holiday…not one of cheer and merriment, as was the pagan celebration of Saturnalia.
As Christianity spread, however, the Church became alarmed by the continuing practice among its flock to indulge in pagan customs and celebrate the festival of Saturnalia. At first, the holy men prohibited this type of revelry, but it was to no avail. Eventually, a decision was made to tame such celebrations and make them into a festive occasion better suited to honor the Christian Son of God.
According to some legends, the Christian celebration of Christmas was invented to compete against the pagan festivals held in December. The 25th was sacred not only to the Romans, but also to the Persians whose religion of Mithraism was one of Christianity’s main rivals at that period in time. The Church was, however, finally successful in removing the merriment, lights and gifts from the Saturanilia festival and transferring them to the celebration of a Christian Christmas.
Christmas means “Christ’s Mass” and is the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth and baptism. Although December 25th is generally accepted as being the time when the Christ Child was born, the exact date has never been chronicled with any degree of accuracy. There is neither scriptural nor secular evidence to establish the exact moment. One thing is relatively certain, however, the event did not take place in December. Since the child was born when shepherds were “abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night” (Luke 2:8), it is unlikely that shepherds in Israel would have been sleeping outside with their flocks during the month of December.
In Winter, the herders would have led their sheep outside only during the daylight hours…the nights would have been far too cold. It is known that during the very early Christian centuries, the birth of the Christ Child was not celebrated in any manner. However, tradition dictates that the occasion has been commemorated since 98 A.D. In 137 A.D., the Bishop of Rome ordered that the birthday of Jesus Christ be observed as a solemn feast. In 350 A.D, Julius I (another Bishop of Rome) selected December 25th as the observance of Christmas. This date was made official in 375 A.D., when it was formally announced that the birth of Jesus would be honored on this day…the announcement also allowed some of the older festivities (such as feasting, dancing and the exchange of gifts) to be incorporated into the observance of Christmas. The use of greenery to decorate homes continued to be prohibited as pagan idolatry but, over the centuries, this too became an accepted custom of the festivities.
Wishing all the KYPP browsers nation and worldwide a happy Christmas.