Eight years after “The Willows”, his third title on the Ghost Box label, Belbury Poly is beyond any suspicion. He may not be as famous as label mates like The Advisory Circle or The Focus Group, but his status in hauntology and electronic retro-science fiction circles is just as big, if we look at the quality and evocative ability of his music. It's no coincidence that Jim Jupp is a co-founder of Ghost Box, along with Julian House: he's been around forever, and he's the source of the ideas behind a healthy scene that brought back that very British way of making music, so naïve, exploring the supernatural (the “Unheimlich”, in German, precisely one of the track titles here), which gave such good results in the years of transition from the sixties to the seventies, with influences taken from acid folk, radio sound effects, early Moog music and progressive rock from the rural areas (like another version of “Electric Eden”, Rob Young's book about English 20th century folk music). “The Belbury Tales” is, like the rest of Belbury Poly's discography, a tribute to an era, to a method and a sound drawn with sepia colours, covered in dust, somewhere between child-like and daring.
There's no clear dominating line in Jupp's work, though there is the novelty of two musicians, Jim Musgrave on drums and Christopher Budd on bass, making the tracks more powerful. The start of the record is bubbly, reminiscent of the first times synths were used to make pop songs, which in the case of “Green Grass Grows” is music for children, even sung by a child's voice, and on the intro of “Belbury Poly Logotone B” takes the shape of a kind of cross between the classic score of terror film “The Wicker Man” and a sci-fi interpretation of “Swan Lake” (though on this LP it's most of all a tribute to the short pieces inserted on certain records in the sixties to calibrate the equaliser of the stereo set, hence the circular modulation and the changes in volume, as if the piece were circling around the listener). But as Belbury Poly dives into analogue waters, other subjects he's interested in come onto the scene: folk paganism, almost ancestral and with its origins in Celtic music (“The Geography”), as well as the prog scene, with Jethro Tull-like progressive flutes or synths imitating those flutes, pointing to another trail of bread crumbs on Jupp's path, which leads to Canterbury and Stonehenge: this record feeds off the pastoral psychedelics of Soft Machine, a constant influence on these 13 tracks, but also off of bands like Caravan and their greater instrumental baroque quality and long, improvised passages, for example on “A Pilgrim’s Path”.
Though the escape routes aren't clear, “The Belbury Tales” manages to offer some pleasant surprises (pleasant because they're well done and also unexpected), ranging from the canonical imitation of the Kraut-rock motorik rhythm on “Chapel Perilous” (Neu!-like percussion and a melodic arpeggio that becomes obsessive) to the reproduction of soundtracks like those by Pino Donaggio (the aforementioned “Unheimlich”, on which you expect Trish Keenan to come in any minute), or the acid trip Bollywood sound of “Goat Foot”. Belbury Poly continues to refine a retro-futurist brand of electronic music like few others do (“Summer Round”), without exaggerating the retro bit (like AIR; in fact, “Earth Lights”, with those friendly Jean-Jacques Perrey-like keyboards, sounds more AIR than AIR) and sounding more modern than expected, as if, instead of an explorer of the past, Belbury Poly were continuing a kind of music full of clavichords, worrying textures and psychedelic excursions with uninterrupted bloodlines. At first, his music (and this record in particular) is attractive because of its exotic quality, but it bewitches you because of its naturalness, its irresistible charm, as if it were the logical consequence of the world we live in, so old in some ways, so modern in others.